I have only considered that a foreigner must apply for one of the numerous residency options available through attorneys if they plan to make Panama their new home. A recent visit to Volcan caused me to re-think these residency options. Of course, I knew there were ‘renegades’ that had chosen NOT to apply for residency for some reason, but I never really considered it a way of life.
Last week, while taking a trip to Volcan to visit the weekly Farmer’s market, I met an expat gentleman who has made Volcan his home for over 20 years. I visited his beautiful finca (farm) and enjoyed chatting with him about the numerous changes he has seen in the area over the years. I love hearing from people who have chosen to make Panama their home for 10 years or more, and hear them tell of the changes they have witnessed. Verbal history is always the best!
When the topic of residency came up, he told me he simply dashes over to the Costa Rican border every few months and gets a stamp on his passport that is good for another three months. I was a bit shocked! “You’ve been doing that for 20 years?”, and he said “yes, Costa Rica is only a few miles away. I just never bothered with the visa requirements. It was too much trouble.”
According to the current Panamanian law, a tourist can stay in Panama for 90 days on the “Tourist Visa”. In most cases, this is simply the stamp you get on your passport when you enter Panama. At checkpoints around the country, the police check the date of your latest stamp to make sure you are within the 90 days. You are required to leave the country for a minimum of 24 hours before you can get a new stamp.
For some foreigners who have chosen to make Panama their new home, there may be a variety of reasons why they do not qualify for any of the existing Visa options. They may not have a pension for the Pensianado or the $5000 cash required to open a bank account for the Friendly Nations Visa. Whatever the reason, they chose to make Panama their home and simply re-stamp their passport every 90 days to remain here legally. Others, like my new friend in Volcan, just don’t want to bother with the attorneys and complicated requirements.
Changes to residency and other laws is always possible under new leadership. For now, it is possible to live in Panama as a Perpetual Tourist.