Wow, Big Changes for Tourists Visiting Panama!

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Wow, Big Changes for Tourists Visiting Panama!

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
  • India
  • South Africa
  • Colombia
  • Brazil
  • Venezuela
  • Argentina
  • Paraguay
  • Ecuadar
  • Guyana
  • Surinam

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!

If Panama’s on your radar as a possible place to retire to, check out Retire in Panama Tours. It’s a first-rate way to see different parts of the country, learn about the pros and the cons of living here, meet other ex-pats living here, and gain a lot of the right resources to make the transition easier (immigration attorneys, for example).

Oscar, Rod, and Megan are great people, too. They have the knowledge to guide you through Panama, answer your questions, and ensure that Panama’s the right place for you. Check out Retire in Panama Tours for more info!

Plan well, take action, and live your best life!

Thanks for reading!!

— Jim

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19 thoughts on “Wow, Big Changes for Tourists Visiting Panama!”

  1. Unfortunately, governments are in full panic mode, recognizing nothing they have done has worked (or will.) We were considering part time living in Costa Rica, but will wait until all the chaos is over. The goalposts keep changing. My mother’s insight from a three decade career in drug and vaccine research leads us to stay unvaccinated, so time will tell where my family will be permitted to go in the future. But you live in a beautiful location and have this great opportunity! It’s unfortunate governments make it so difficult for early retirees.

    As far as flights, many airlines are now allowing free changes. So you could always book a flight and change it as needed. Obviously check with the airline first. I’ve never been asked for proof of this in all the traveling I’ve done, but times are changing.

    Good luck to you and your family! I enjoy the blog.

    1. Yeah, it definitely seems like the rules to travel to and from other countries keep changing a lot. Smart move waiting until all this “fun” is over. I’ve read that Costa Rica got really crushed because of all this – Visual Capitalist put out an interesting post on when countries are expected to recover economically and Costa Rica is listed pretty far out (Q2 2023). Hopefully, there’ll be an unexpected bounceback in tourism as this slows down.

      That’s a good thought regarding booking our flight and then changing it as needed… that’s something worthwhile to consider. Thanks! 🙂

  2. It’s quite the moving target you guys have to deal with living in Panama. Must be stressful, I’m sure.

    Honestly though, just paying the fine doesn’t sound all that bad. It’s probably cheaper and less stressful than the other options!

    Whatever you guys choose, good luck!

    1. Thanks, Mr. Tako! We’re usually pretty good about being on top of this stuff, but yeah, it can be nerve-wracking sometimes. The fine option isn’t bad but we’ll have to have a plan B in place in case they decide to change those rules as well. If the fine suddenly becomes $1k each or something ridiculous, we’ll have to have another direction we can go.

  3. All I could think about when reading about all the changes was……..better you than me!
    That sounds pretty bad – but – as we all know, those changes all add up to annoyance & you know how good I am at dealing with annoying things 😀 !
    You’re much better at dealing with annoying things than I am. I’d probably turn it into an international incident…

  4. Whoa, I had no idea that you don’t need to be tested if you’re vaccinated to go to Panama. That’s a pretty big perk as not every country adopts that policy.

    It’s so difficult to keep up with all of the rule changes across the globe. Good on you for staying on top of it because well, it directly affects you!

  5. Great post! Wish you the best as you navigate this complexity.

    Regarding the removal of the testing requirement based on vaccination: I think certain countries feel comfortable doing this because if vaccinated that person is likely much less of a burden on their healthcare system. So it’s more about finding a balance and less of a risk. My take at least.

    1. Thanks, James – that’s a great point about the burden of the healthcare system. They obviously want to get the tourist business back but still need to be somewhat careful. And here, they don’t have the bed capacity in the hospitals like they do in a lot of first-world countries so that would actually make quite a bit of sense.

      Very perceptive!

  6. Great news, thanks for sharing! Being Panameño myself showing the country to my family is one of the things I still want to do, this is a game changer as we currently can’t travel to Taiwan or Singapore at all. Would you maybe be able to change how long you can stay in the country with a pensionado visa? Oh well, thanks for the update, that made for some good news for me today! Appreciate it and hasta la proxima!

    1. Hi Matt – I’d say bring the family here – Panama could use more tourism right now. Yes, you’re absolutely right about being able to stay for as long as you want with residency here. We don’t qualify for the pensionado visa because you need to be able to show guaranteed income from something like social security or a pension to qualify. There’s also the Friendly Nations Visa but they’ve recently tightened the qualifications for this one as well. It should be interesting to see how this plays out.

      Gracias, Matt – que tengas una buena semana!

  7. Do you know if having a visa violation like this impacts would impact a future trip to Panama? Obviously in your case, you’ll be exiting for a move back to the US, but I have to wonder if it puts you on some kinda ding list that could mess up future travel plans.

    1. Great question, Sara! I can’t find an official stance on if you get put on some naughty list for this. However, I have seen several comments from folks in the Facebook ex-pat groups here saying that they paid the fine and didn’t have any problems on their return back to Panama. Regardless, all of that could change on a dime once the new law takes effect. Unfortunately, as with a lot of things here, we’ll just have to wait and see. And, of course, we could get 10 different answers depending on who you talk to! 🙂

  8. International travel certainly is challenging now; I am probably staying in the US until at least early 2022, because I just don’t want to deal with all the uncertainty.
    An easy solution for the onward ticket requirement, if you have frequent flyer miles in a program that allows redeposit without a fee (e.g., most of the major US airlines), is to buy award tickets for a trip to leave Panama, and later cancel for miles redeposit/fee refunds. I have also heard people talk about websites where people buy inexpensive onward tickets to satisfy immigration requirements to enter various countries. I don’t recall the specific website but it should be pretty easy to search for it. Good luck with everything!

  9. I think I read in one of the FB groups someone paid $12 for an onward ticket so that could help you alot. Also, I think I read you no longer need a Covid test to fly from David to Panama City & vice versa, regardless of your vax status. You’re a detailed oriented guy, so I’m sure you’ll get this all figured out in no time!

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