The Immigration Office Experience

I believe I’ve previously written about some of the process for obtaining our pensionado visa -about getting the necessary paperwork, fingerprints, FBI reports and documents together to give to our attorney. Which he then took to the appropriate offices.  In December he let us know that the documents have been approved and we need to go with him to Immigration in Panama City for the final step of signing documents and getting our picture taken for our permanent resident pensionado visa.  We make arrangements to meet him in PC the beginning of February.

To do business in Panama is a formal affair, or at the least, business casual.  This means that men have to be wearing long pants, no jeans, and women cannot have bare shoulders. In other words  people, this means no shorts, no flip flops, no yoga pants, and most skin covered up.  A little modesty goes a long way. I totally respect that there is an element of formality and don’t begrudge this at all.  In fact, I kind of like it.  Knowing this, we dress appropriately, or so I think! Jim is wearing khaki pants and a button down shirt. I’m wearing a skirt with high heels, a tank top with wide shoulders and a small scoop neck with a lightweight sweater (this is a must, it can get cold awfully fast with the AC running).

Our attorney picks us up at the hotel which is just a few blocks away from Immigration. We arrive and go through security into a very crowded room. Jim and I pretty much stand there as our attorney and his assistant are going to various lines doing this and that.  At one point the three of us are standing against a wall – all the seats are full.  I’m actually starting to get warm – I guess the AC couldn’t keep up with all those warm bodies.  I start to take my sweater off and our attorney’s eyes get big and he says “I’m so glad you wore that sweater, you can’t show your shoulders.”  I immediately put it back on, he says it’s okay, he will block me from view.  I say no, no, I am fine with the sweater.  He told us that if I hadn’t had the sweater on, security wouldn’t have let me come in!!!!!  He tells us a story of one of his clients.  The client showed up in shorts and, of course, was not allowed in.  He ended up renting pants from a water bottle vendor outside.  He paid $5.00 to rent the too big pants that he had to cinch. Apparently he thought he bought them and wore them back to the hotel, but ended up returning them the next day!!!!

So, as we are standing there our attorney asks us for our $200 ($100 each), a fee that Immigration charges.  Jim and I look at each other.  We had totally forgotten that we needed that – in cash. Immigration doesn’t take credit cards.  Plus, our attorney never reminded us of this as we were making plans with him. We have something like $194 when we notice a cash machine.  Jim goes to the cash machine over by the entrance – it’s empty. We then scrape together another two dollars in change, making a total of $196!!!  Our attorney doesn’t have any money because he gave it to his assistant who was doing things for another client. It is decided that our attorney will take Jim to a cash machine a few blocks away.

I am left alone in Immigration with no passport, no driver’s license (this was all given to the attorney that morning for the “process”), no American id of any kind, and not a dime to my name.  I am sitting with a zillion strangers in a foreign country where I know about 10 words.  It was a little frightening and intimidating.  I finally found a seat and just read my kindle.  Though at one point I was imaging a scene like in a movie – me sitting there in a crowded room, a couple hours later, me sitting there in a little less crowded room, and eventually me sitting there alone in a virtually empty room still waiting for my husband!  Good thing he likes me.  That could have been his golden opportunity!!!

Jim did come back, with our attorney, and soon our name was called.  We signed some documents, had our picture taken, and we were done. This only took a couple hours, tops.  We had planned on being there close to all day.

We are now officially legal residents of Panama!




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