Changes to Panama Tourist Visa Entry Procedure 2023
On September 8, 2023, Panama’s National Immigration Services held a press conference announcing new immigration measures. Most of the measures are directed at the increase of migrants entering via the Darien Gap. However the changes are “also to limit the entry of people with criminal records or who do not meet the tourist profile,” said Panama’s national director of immigration Samira Gozaine, in the Friday press conference, when the changes took immediate effect.
According to the announcement, in some cases, immigration officers will now start limiting tourist visas to 15 days and requiring proof of economic solvency of at least $1,000 (previously $500).
US and Canadian citizens are currently granted 180 days. Most other nations receive 90 days. As far as we understand it, this remains the same; that some tourists will still be granted 90 or 180 days and they may be asked to prove that they are entering with access to at least $1,000. Whether tourists will receive 15 days or the 90+ days is at the discretion of immigration officers after conducting an interview with each person entering. Border agents will decide based on country of origin, responses and whether or not the person appears to fit the “profile of a tourist.”
This announcement was met with mixed reactions. Some believe that since authorities have stated that immigration offers will not limit those with a “profile of a tourist” that there is nothing to worry about for legitimate visitors coming and that the tourism industry overall will not be negatively affected. Others are critical of the new profiling measures:
“It’s absurd. It cannot be left to the discretion of the officials at the airport. How are we going to promote tourism if we do not have consistent immigration policies? A tourist will not know how long to buy a ticket for and it is better not to risk coming to a country that is not clear about its policies or length of stay,” wrote Omayra Rios Arosemena, in response to a video clip of the press conference on Instagram. Lic. Rios Arosemena, author of “Un Paraiso Mas Que Financiero,” is an attorney that promotes the tourism industry and advises foreign investors in Panama.
What does this mean for Bocas del Toro tourists?
For your “typical looking tourist” from the US, Canada, Europe and the more developed nations of the world, nothing much is changing.
Where it may start to look different is for backpackers, “perpetual tourists” that go on “border runs” to renew their visa every 90 or 180 days and people traveling from South America and other nations with significant numbers in terms of migrants entering Panama and overstaying their visas.
If you find yourself in the “perpetual tourist” category, and plan to live in Panama year-round, you definitely want to consider Panama’s residency programs.
What is happening in the Darien Gap?
The Darien Gap is the 60 mile stretch of dense and dangerous jungle, where Colombia meets Panama. Migrants are known to come from South America risking sickness, fatigue, exposure to violence, human trafficking and sexual abuse; all with hopes of a new life in Panama, Costa Rica, and others traveling all the way north to enter the United States via its Mexico border.
In 2022, there were almost 250,000 cases of migrants arriving to Panama via the Darien Gap; with the top three countries of origin being Venezuela, Haiti and Ecuador. According to the United Nations, as of the end of April 2023, there have been more than an estimated over 400,000 arriving to Panama by way of the Darien Gap; on pace for a 380% increase from last year.