Tourists from most countries can visit Panama for 180 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. There is NO tourist visa. You just get a stamp in your passport.
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 days/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.
Why 90 days? Tourists can only drive in Panama for 90 days. So if a perpetual tourist owns a car and wants to continue driving, they will need to do a border hop every 90 days.
Of course, if they applied for a residency visa they could completely eliminate the need to go to Costa Rica every 90 days for a border hop.
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 live in Panama indefinitely.
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.
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. If you have a serious offense, felonies, you may not be able to get a residency visa in Panama.
The changes to the Friendly Nations Visa effective August, 2021, will make it more difficult for non-retirees to get a Visa in Panama unless they make a substantial financial investment in real estate. This could result in more people living in Panama and doing a “border hop” every 90 days.
We’ll see what happens. ….