Hola from Panama!!! Well after residing in Panama for the last 4 1/2 months, we now have our official permanent pensionado visas! I must admit, these last 4 plus months have really flown by!
First and foremost I want to start out by saying that last Wednesday we had to send off our daughter, who was with us for four months, back to Canada to start her second year of studies at the University of Alberta in Edmonton. And although her leaving us has left an empty hole in our heart, we know that we have to let her go to find her own path in life. She, along with us, fell in love with Panama during her short time here and she assures us that she will be back!! She is pursuing a degree in accounting/finance in the School of Business with the hopes of one day working in the finance capital of Central America …. you guessed it… Panama City, Panama! We are very proud of her to have set such a huge goal for herself at the young age of 19 and whether she pursues this path in the future or finds that Canada is where she wants to be, she will always have our full support and we will back her 100% in whatever decision she ultimately makes. OK enough of the sappy stuff lol. Now back to the real reason for this post – our visas!!!
Yes, we are thoroughly happy to finally have this hurdle behind us. Once our daughter left, D and I decided it was time to start focusing on getting what still needs to get done here in Panama. So after an email to our lawyer inquiring about our visas (it had been four months after all and after hearing that friends of ours got their permanent ones after only six weeks – we felt that an inquiry was in order – lol). I must admit, however, that the one thing we have really appreciated about the law office that we used was that they always got back to us in a timely manner – even when we were in Canada trying to get all our documents in order – I would email the lawyer, and boom, within hours – sometimes minutes – I ALWAYS got a response back. So, of course, the same holds true when I inquired about our permanent visas.
My first email back from the assistant stated that she had looked into whether they were ready or not and the only way that we could find out “for sure, for sure” was by presenting our original passports and our temporary visa cards in person. Apparently immigration will not divulge whether they are ready or not, until you can produce these pieces of identification. This was strange I thought being that our friends had told us that their lawyer actually called them and told them that their visas were ready?? Seeing where I am going with this – lol. So of course I mentioned this to the assistant and she said that this was not possible because there is no way that immigration would have given this information out without the proper documentation. She did, say, however, that being that immigration was not asking for any further clarification or information on us, that she felt confident that the permanent visas were ready and maybe this is what our friends’ lawyer was also basing his/her information on.
Hmmmm! At any rate, the only way D and I were going to know for sure if they were ready was by taking the trip to Panama City and back to immigration. So we made arrangements with the assistant to do go into the city on Tuesday and meet up with her Wednesday to head to the immigration office. We thought we would make it a two day affair being that we also needed to head to the Canadian Embassy and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs office in order to get a Panamanian drivers license because, you guessed it, we were officially driving illegally in Panama.
As it turns out, when in Panama, although you can stay in the country for six months without a visa before you have to leave, your out-of-country driver’s license is only good for three months – lol. D and I knew this when coming to Panama but we also thought that once we had our temporary pensionado visas, that there was no time limit in getting our driver’s licenses – wrong!!! The three month rule still applied. So in a bit of a panic, I sent an email, once again, to our lawyer, telling him that our driver’s licenses were no longer valid. He somewhat assured me not to worry about it and that if we run into any problems to just “give him a call” – lol – and that when we came in for our visas, we could get the driver’s licenses done at that time as well. OK – then so this is what we did – good thing we never did get pulled over by one of the many radar traps they have all over the highways here in Panama!!
OK now – back to the process of getting a Panamanian driver’s license. The first step is for the person to go to the embassy from whichever country they are a citizen of (in our case the Canadian Embassy) so they can stamp and authenticate our driver’s licenses. We arrived at the embassy at about 10:30 Tuesday morning only to be told that we would have do come back the next day for the documents. We kindly asked if there was any way that they could expedite it because we were going to be in immigration all day Wednesday and you guessed it – they did!!! – lol – bet that’s not what your were guessing. So all in all we were at the Embassy for about 1 hour and had our documents in hand and after paying them a fee of $46.00 US each we were on our way to our next destination, the Ministry of Foreign AFfairs for them to now authenticate our authenticated documents – lol. We were informed by the Canadian Embassy that although you can go into the Canadian embassy dressed pretty casual that we would have to wear “big-boy pants” when going into any government office in Panama and no flip-flops! Well, of course, although D had the “big-boy pants” on, he was in flip flops. So we went to the MultiPlaza Mall, which happens to be right across the street from the Canadian Embassy (and the most expensive mall in all of Panama I might add) so D could buy some “big-boy shoes” lol, because although some “big-boy shoes” were packed in our suitcases – we had opted to take a cab to the embassy from our hotel instead of driving in the city for fear we would be pulled over or, worse yet, get into an accident (for any of you who have ever driven in or through Panama City – you know what I am talking about), and not to have proper driver’s licenses to boot.
So after buying a pair of $50 shoes for D we were off to the Foreign Affairs office, again by cab. Upon arrival at the office, wouldn’t you know it, D had no problem getting in but they were not going to let me in because, although I had proper slacks and shoes, I was wearing a sleeveless blouse, which apparently is also a dress-code “no-no” for entering government offices in Panama. It looks like D was going to be doing this one alone – lol. As it turns out, he was still able to do the paperwork for me even though I was not there with him – Whew! So anyway, because we did not arrive before 12:00, we, of course, would have to return the next day for our authenticated documents. On the upside though, their fee for authentication was only $2.00 each and not the $46.00 each we were charged at the Canadian Embassy – hmmm, things really are cheaper here in Panama!
So the following morning, our lawyer’s assistant was to meet us at the Lobby of the hotel we were staying at to pick up our passports and temporary visas cards to take to immigration. Apparently, we did not have to be present for this part of the process, so it was suggested by the assistant that, being that it could take hours, we stay back at the hotel and once it was confirmed whether everything was a go, he would come back to pick us up to go back to immigration to get our pictures taken to get our permanent cards. We, naturally, were happy with this plan … I mean who would want to spend three hours waiting in immigration if they didn’t have to – lol. The assistant showed up somewhat promptly at 9:45 AM, took the documents and was on his way. As it so happens, D and I were staying at the TRYP Hotel which is attached to the biggest mall in Panama City – the Allbrook Mall, so we passed our three hours away by wondering the mall.
At 1:00 the call came in that everything was in order and that we would be getting our permanent visa cards – I think this is a good time for another Woot Woot – for now we knew that our trip was not a total waste! We arrived at the immigration office shortly before 2:00 PM and had our permanent cards in hand by 3:15 – VICTORY was ours! Now it was time to head back to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to pick up our authenticated driver’s license documents and the assistant was kind enough to drop us off here and was willing to wait until we were finished and then take us back to the hotel but being that we still wanted to go back to PriceSmart we set him free and told him that we would take a cab. Picking up the driver’s license paperwork went off without a hitch and we were in and out within 15 minutes. Then we were off, on foot to PriceSMart to do some shopping then back to the hotel by cab to get our vehicle and head home.
Now you may be wondering, do we now have Panamanian driver’s licenses? Well, not quite yet but the hard part is now over. There are but two small steps that still need to be taken to finish the process. We must both go to a lab to get our blood types taken – for this is a requirement to have on a Panamanian driver’s license – and then to a local DMV office (like we like to call them back home) – to get the drivers licenses. Being that we were running out of time in PC, we opted to finish these last two steps in Penonome, which is a small city just 15 minutes from us… so of course we were still driving home “illegally” from PC – but we made it back without a hitch. Now we did set aside today to go into Penonome but as luck would have it, D fell ill last night, so our trip to Penonome for the final process of getting our Panamanian driver’s licenses has been delayed until Monday. I think we will stay off the streets until then and just hang by the pool and beach for the next few days :).