Panama is the latest expat destination to tighten immigration rules

Apr 26, 2017 | 8 comments

Panamanian immigration authorities are tightening some rules and instituting new ones to control access to the country by foreigners.

The measures are intended to control what the Servicio Nacional de Migracion (SNM) says are abuses by foreigners who do not have legal residency in the country. “The most important change of rules is intended to combat the practice of some foreigners leaving the country for a few days and then returning for the sole purpose of renewing their tourist status,” a SNM statement read last week. “There has been abuse of the country’s hospitality and we will not continue to allow this. We welcome tourists but those who wish to reside in the country must follow the rules.”

Panama is the latest Latin American country to revise immigration rules in recent months and others are in the process. Ecuador, Chile, and Peru have recently updated their immigration laws while Mexico and Colombia are conducting reviews.

“The changes are part of greater vigilance world-wide of the foreigners crossing borders,” says British immigration researcher Carl Emmers. “Much of this is based on concerns about terrorism but in Latin America it also concerns expats who have not gone through the process of becoming legal residents. In Panama and Colombia, the government is concerned about people who take advantage of services provided by the government without paying for them.”

According the U.S. Embassy in Panama, Panamanian immigration officers have been ordered to carefully examine passports to determine if there is a pattern of re-entries into the country indicating that foreign trips are intended to renew tourist status. Also part of stricter enforcement, it says, will be occasional investigations to determine that those entering Panama as tourists do not have residences in the country.

The Panama immigration authority says it is also reviewing rules governing legal residency and said changes may be forthcoming. It says that many of the foreigners targeted by the new rules are citizens of the U.S., Canada, and several European countries.

According to Emmers, many Laitn American countries have tolerated high levels of “informality” over the years with foreigners. “The practice of leaving a country and returning within a day or two to get a new passport tourist stamp has been widespread for years but it is ending,” he said. “Besides concerns about terrorism and abuse of services, countries are also trying to control the entry of people with legal problems in other countries. This has been a growing problem recently.”

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