People who come to Panama arrive with a Tourist Visa. It allows you to stay for 180 days. Sounds easy but what a lot of people do not know is that your driver’s license is only good for 90 days. that means that these visitors must cross the border in order to continue to use their home-country driver’s license.
We tried to do this quick trip across the border into Costa Rica a few weeks ago. We were told we could not do it because we would have to be gone 24 hours for them to check us back into Panama. We went to Rio Serreno, near Volcan, and there are no places to stay in this very tiny town. So we returned home and planned to return shortly.
Then our calendar began to fill and we didn’t have 24 hours until yesterday. Our Florida licenses were not valid after September 10 – we’ve been in Panama 90+ days already. We could not take our car to the border so we caught the Boquete-David bus and then the David-Frontera bus. We were in Paso Canoas in no time.
Paso Canoas is a typical border town. It’s smaller than Nogales, Az but not cleaner. It’s classier than Tijuana (before the new immigration bridge) as x-rated stuff is not on every street corner. It’s safer than El Paso, TX. That said, it is dirty, hot and dusty. It does not have infrastructure to handle the hundreds of people who cross every day. Until recently, we could just go across the border, have lunch at Chicken Brothers and return to Panama. That changed about 3 weeks ago. Now we are required to stay out of Panama for 24 or more hours. Paso Canoas is not prepared to handle this new requirement. It has places to stay and some offer air conditioning, wifi and a pool.
Unfortunately, we found a much better hotel on the Panama side of the Free Zone AFTER we registered at Casa del Sur. The hotel was creepy looking but it was clean and had AC, wifi and a pool. I still left the bathroom light on all night as I am hysterically afraid of roaches. We saw not a single bug, not a fly, not a mosquito. The hotel was clean and, more importantly, right across the street from Costa Rica Immigration.
Food in Paso Canoas does not have to be good since their restaurants are for a captive audience. The aforementioned Chicken Brothers was actually good. We had dinner at another nondescript restaurant and it was barely fair. Until Immigration closed at 10 PM, it was noisy.
There was also some kind of celebration between the two immigration buildings last night. Boys and girls were in their finest traditional dresses and suits. There was a band and fireworks. The officials from Costa Rica gave a flag to the Panamanian officials but we have no idea why. People had little boxes with lights in them.
We got up early to be at the beginning of the line when the immigration office opened at 6 AM. The office actually opened at 7 AM. It was very smooth. Out of Costa Rica, short line to get back into Panama, catch the bus and we were home by 10:30 AM.
All in all, it was painless since we have been reading about horror stories. We did not see long lines, we were not asked for proof that we each had $500 or for an airline ticket to the US. This might be attributed to the fact that we are in the process of getting our pensionados for permanent residency.
Although this was not the worst 24 hours of my life, or anywhere near the worst 24 hours of my life, I really hope that this is the last 24 hours I have to spend in Paso Canoas.
Can you spot the gringo in this picture?