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Well, things have just gotten interesting in Panama. A few really big changes have just dropped that will affect anyone wanting to visit the country.
There’s no doubt that we’ve been on a roller coaster of fun with the pandemic over the past year and a half. It’s made international travel a little stressful, to say the least.
Everything’s been a moving target and it takes some effort to stay on top of all the new rules and decrees that creep up or continue to change. Panama’s been no different on that front – a lot of surprises on coming in and out of the country.
But now, we’ve just seen some new changes that are important for travelers coming into the country to know. If you’re planning to visit Panama anytime soon, you’ll find this post very enlightening.
Some of these changes are going to affect our remaining months here in Boquete so we’re going to have to adjust accordingly as well.
#1 of the big changes… if vaccinated, no COVID test needed
Of all the changes, this one might be the strangest to me. Effective immediately, if you show proof of vaccination, you’re no longer required to get a COVID antigen or PCR test 72 hours prior to coming into Panama. Unvaccinated travelers are not exempt and must still get the test.
Lisa and I got vaccinated on our last trip to the U.S. so this does make our life a little easier. It gets a little old getting a swab shoved up your nose every few months…
But it does seem a little odd to me. I thought that vaccinated people can spread the virus just as much as unvaccinated folks. So why drop the COVID test requirement for vaccinated people?
Well, I guess eventually we have to return to some degree of normalcy and this is just one step in that direction. And according to some sources such as this Cleveland Clinic post, vaccinated people may spread the disease at a lower rate than the unvaccinated.
I’m not here to argue about COVID and vaccinations so don’t bother with that in comments. And don’t shoot the messenger – I just think big changes like this for tourists visiting Panama need to be known regardless of where you stand on things.
What I haven’t determined is what happens with children. Our daughter can’t get the vaccine yet because she’s under 12. I’m assuming she’ll still need to get a COVID test but I guess we’ll see.
UPDATE 09/07/21: Per the U.S. Embassy site, “Children under the age of 12 are exempt from all testing and quarantine requirements to enter Panama, as long as their parents or legal guardians comply with the above requirements.“
#2 of the big changes… if you’re not vaccinated, you’re going into quarantine
I’m specifically talking about the U.S. here since this is one of the new big changes. The U.S. will be added to Panama’s list of “high risk” countries beginning September 16, 2021. The list as I write this also includes:
- The United Kingdom
- South Africa
So what does this mean?
It means that if you can’t show proof you’ve been completely vaccinated for at least 14 days, you’ll be placed in a mandatory quarantine for 72 hours. If you’re a Panamanian citizen or resident, your quarantine can be at home. Otherwise, it needs to be at one of about 8 “authorized” hotels with a reservation made before arrival at your own expense.
After the 72-hour quarantine, you’ll take a COVID test. If the results are negative, you’re good to go and can be done with the quarantine. If the results are positive though, you’ll be placed in a special hotel hospital for 14 days… the stay of which will be fully covered out of your own pocket.
You can read more details about this on the official Visit Panama tourist site.
Ouch! When I say big changes, I mean big changes. That has the potential to hurt some of the tourism here in Panama.
This doesn’t affect us since we’re vaccinated, but for anyone wanting to come here who’s decided not to get vaccinated, good luck. Even worse are those travelers that already have plans to be here in the next few weeks. This was just dropped so those non-vaccinated travelers with plans already in place for sometime after 9/16/21 will have to either accept the quarantine, cancel their plans, or rush to get the Johnson and Johnson single vaccine to comply with the 14-day completion requirement. Those aren’t going to be great choices for many.
I’m happy that we got our jabs because that’ll make life a little easier for us. I know that can throw a huge wrench in the works for many folks.
I’m still trying to verify, but it looks like children 12 years or younger are automatically exempt from the quarantine if their parents are fully vaccinated. This makes sense so I’m hoping that’s the case or this would be a real problem.
#3 of the big changes… tourists can only stay for 90 days
This one’s a big one for perpetual tourists such as ourselves. Beginning October 1, 2021, visitors can only stay in the country for a total of 90 days before needing to leave for at least 30 days.
Since we’ve been living here in Boquete, it’s always been 180 days that you could stay in one visit. You could stay in the country for 6 months, leave for 30 days, and then return… not too shabby.
Honestly, 180 days has always been awful generous of the country to offer. And that’s one of the reasons we never obtained residency here. Going back to the U.S. to visit friends and family every 6 months was something we planned to do anyway, so the cost of getting residency wasn’t something we really needed to worry about.
Well, that’s all changed now and the day it was announced, I didn’t get a very good night’s sleep. We had literally just finished finalizing the remainder of our travel details the week before. And if you’re a loyal reader, you likely know that our travel plans are to head back to the U.S. in mid-November and then come back to Boquete in mid-December.
So, we should be fine on this trip we’re on right now. Although it hasn’t been clarified, it looks like the clock starts ticking on October 1. So that means we should be good for our November flight out. The worst case is that it’ll be counted as 91 or 92 days from the time we got here in August… we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.
Our bigger problem though is with our last stretch in Panama before heading to Mexico and moving back to the U.S. We’re scheduled to return to Panama in mid-December and make our final move out of Panama in mid-April… that’s 4 months if you’re counting.
So we tossed around different options with everything from:
- A couple of days of a Costa Rica border run sometime in betwen our last stay here to “reset the clock.” No guarantees that would work and would be somewhat of a hassle and expense anyway. Additionally, leaving now specifically means 30 days and not just a couple of days.
- Leaving to go back to the U.S. in mid-March and then booking flights from Ohio to Mexico instead. It would suck to leave Panama early though and more costly for that flight. Plus, we’d lose out on a month we’d still have to pay for at our new place here in Boquete.
- Getting the new Short Stay Visa for Remote Workers aka the Digital Nomad Visa. This just came out in May of this year and allows stays of up to 18 months broken up as 9 months but extendable for another 9 months. But the cost and hassle might not be worth it and we’re not sure if we’d meet all the requirements anyway.
- Pay the fine for overstaying our visit.
Now that last option seems to be the one that makes the most sense for us. The fine is currently $50 per month you’ve overstayed. I’m not usually a rule-breaker but assuming that’s per person and just for this last time here, that’s $150 total for the three of us. You pay sometime before departure and you’re done… no muss, no fuss.
A couple of issues though that we’ll have to be aware of for this. First, it’s very possible that the amount of the fine changes once this goes into effect. Guess we’ll have to wait and see and take our chances. The other issue is figuring out what to do since we’ve never done this before.
My understanding is that we can pay it up to 14 days prior to departure, which would be great. Hopefully, we can do that in David, but if not, we’ll have to do it while in Panama City before we fly out.
The final problem is that you need to present proof of onward travel to be allowed in the country. So when we get back here in December, we’ll have to have something in place showing we’ll be leaving the country sometime before mid-March whether that be an airline reservation, bus ticket out, etc.
I’ve heard of folks booking a one-way flight reservation on the day they’re flying into Panama. The reservation is to exit Panama and is booked to be a date within the required guidelines. Then once they’re in Panama and past immigration, they cancel the reservation since the U.S. Department of Transportation states you legally have 24 hours to do so without penalty.
That’s a little shady so I’ll have to ponder how we’ll handle things. Oh, decisions, decisions!
UPDATE 09/22/21: Earlier this week, we found out that Panama has stepped back on this 90-day limit, but only for the U.S. and Canada. My guess is that the amount of money coming in from snowbirds from these two countries came into play with this decision. So we’ll be able to stay here for our four months in the spring without an issue. Unfortunately, other countries are still limited to 90 days, for the time being at least.
And that’s it my friends… how about that for some big changes for tourists visiting Panama? All sorts of fun, right?
Such is life. Things change and you adapt as needed. We’ve enjoyed our time here immensely and look forward to the next several months as well. It’s a beautiful place with wonderful people!
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Thanks for reading!!