Tourists from most countries can visit Panama for 90 days without getting a visa. To enter Panama all you need to show is your passport. At the immigration office at the airport or any border, they will put a stamp in your passport which indicates the day you arrived.
Some expats in Panama have made the decision to become perpetual tourists, meaning they never apply for a residency visa.
Instead, every 90 days they go to the nearest border, usually Costa Rica, to spend a few hours, then they get their passport stamped to enter Panama again. Expats in Panama call this the “border run” or “border hop.” Surprisingly, some have been doing this for many years.
Of course, if they applied for a residency visa they could completely eliminate the need to go to Costa Rica every 90 days.
Even though the Costa Rica border is only a 1 1/2 hour drive from my house in Boquete, I would not want to make that trip every 90 days so I gladly got a residency visa which also entitles me to apply for a Panama passport after 5 years.
Perpetual tourists do the border hop for several reasons. Some don’t want to spend the $1000 per person to get a Pensionado visa. Others can’t prove the minimum of $1000 per month in lifetime income to get a Pensionado visa or the $5000 deposit in to a Panamanian bank account to get the Friendly Nations visa which requires no income verification.
Some don’t want to establish legal residency in any country so they have no commitments to any country.
Others cannot produce a clean criminal history so they would not be able to get a residency visa in Panama. If there were minor infractions many years ago, Panama will usually dismiss them so a residency visa is possible even for people with a criminal history. But if you have a serious offense, you would not be able to get a residency visa in Panama or most other countries either.
My attorney in Panama says the new President plans to crack down on the people who do the border hop to encourage anyone who is living in Panama full time to get a residency visa. President Elect Varela does not want people with criminal records living in Panama so there is talk that he will make is necessary to leave the country for six months before you can enter again as a 90-day tourist. This would force the people who do the Border Run to either get a residency visa or move.
We’ll see what happens. ….