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Arriving in Panama: Don't wait to check-in

By SY Bella Ciao — last modified Jan 07, 2016 03:01 PM

Published: 2015-04-09 23:00:00
Countries: Panama

 

Caught in Panama

This is the story about Frits du Bois and Reinhilde van der Kroef, a Dutch couple travelling through 
the Caribbean on the sailing catamaran Bella Ciao, about how we were treated by the immigration 
authorities in Panama.

The event happened between March 17 and 24 2015.

We were on our way to Panama to pick up a friend there mid March.
We sailed to the Carti islands in the San Blas Archipelago, where the only road through the rainforest 
to the rest of the world starts. We found a very nice anchorage to leave the boat for a day or two.  We 
leave by taxi at Tuesday morning.

After picking up our friend on the airport and a visit to the famous Canal next morning, we leave with 
the same taxi from Panama City back to the boat. We pick up another passenger and pass just as 
yesterday a police roadblock in the Panamericana, near the small village of Chepo.  However, this 
time our passports are being checked and it appears that we do not have the required stamp for the 
entry of Panama in it. That is correct, for as yet we have not checked in.

We checked out in Colombia for a port further to the west (Portobello). We intended, as we did 
before in other countries, to check in there officially at a later point of time. We hadn’t done this yet, 
because the last weeks the weather in this region was rather bad (more wind than usual and big 
waves) and we did not want to sail this rough track at that moment, as we also had to return 
immediately to San Blas to be in time to pick up our (disabled, moving in a wheelchair) friend  Janny 
at the airport.

This we tried to explain to the immigration officer, who has by the police officer been called to our 
taxi. He didn’t want to listen to our explanation – he stayed inexorable: we should come out of the 
taxi and are not allowed to travel further. There was talk of huge fines we should pay, up to US $ 1000 
or more!!! We are told that next afternoon we will be brought back to Panama City, where we are 
supposed to pay the fine and that after that we will be set free…..Meanwhile our friend is brought on 
board by very kind and helpful the taxi driver.

We stayed a night at the police station, then we were brought to Panama City to a male and female 
‘Albergue’ respectively, which resembled more a prison, with grated doors, no daylight, hardly 
sanitary accommodation etcetera. We were held  here (separatedly) in custody from Thursday 
afternoon till Monday evening. They took in our cellphones, iPad and several other devices, so that 
we were unable to communicate with each other or the outside world, unless we used their public 
phone, for which you needed coins we didn’t possess. Though we explained time and again that we 
wanted to pay the fine, and we were able to do so, the officials over here were trying to take as much 
time as possible to keep us in detention.

Finally we paid US $ 1000 each to buy our freedom back. In the end we got back the passports with the receipt of the fine we paid, but without a stamp and were released, Monday evening at 19.00 pm.

After returning to the boat we checked in officially in Porvenir, we were lucky that the immigration 
officer was too lax to check with head office, so we got at last the official stamps in our passports (and 
paid another US $ 100 pp) and since then we are legal in this country.

In the Albergue we met with many other foreigners who reported the most incredible stories about 
the way they were caught and ended up in this detention centre. One example was a crewmember of 
a cruise ship, caught in a bar, without passport.  As all crewmembers and passengers of cruise ships 
they do not get a stamp in their passport. So when his passport was brought he was taken in custody 
to the Male Albergue and spent there several days, before being expelled from the country.

Conclusion in short: this country is not very cooperative in handling foreigners. We advise travelers  to 
Panama to immediately check in, to avoid problems like we encountered. It is said that policemen 
that turn in foreigners whose papers are not 100% ok, ‘earn’ US $ 300 and 4 days off duty.

TIP: For those who look for a very committed and trustworthy taxi driver in Carti : Ruben Cardenas
Cellphone nrs: 507 67838328/507 60583301/507 64236718

April 5 2015
Frits du Bois/Reinhilde van der Kroef
SY Bella Ciao

 

Share |
Franklin Gray
Franklin Gray says:
Jan 05, 2016 05:20 PM

Your schedule and who is flying in where and when is irrelivant to a countries laws. If you must seek shelter from bad weather in a port that is not a port of entry, then you do not get off the boat. You stay on that boat until you feel it is safe to leave for a port of entry. Expecting a land based cop to understand your story and treat you differently from other illegals is totally insane. So many cruisers make plans with visitors before they even get to the country and end up paying the price for their bad decisions. Wait until you get there before making final plans.

YachtSuleika
YachtSuleika says:
May 14, 2015 08:47 AM

This is a bizarre post, as checking in immediately is rule number one in any country I have been to. Had you been in Tonga, Fiji, NZ, Australia, or God forbid, Indonesia and done the same thing I can assure you there would have been serious problems and possible deportation on top of the fines, etc. No country that I know of would take illegal entry lightly: Fiji, NZ, and Aussie are all now requiring pre-arrival notices and have extremely strict protocols for entering.

amy2013
amy2013 says:
Apr 11, 2015 12:00 AM

Also, jetzt muss ich doch mal was sagen, Ihr kommt an, checkt nicht ein, das geht ja in Porvenir, und dann wundert ihr euch, dass man euch festhält? Die Art , wie es passier ist, war bestimmt nicht fair, aber ihr habt die Regeln hier auch nicht eingehalten.! Selber schuld, haltet euch an die Regeln von Panama, dann werdet ihr auch fair behandelt.

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