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Panama: New Visa Fees for Yacht Crew Only - ABOLISHED?

By Sue Richards last modified May 24, 2012 01:50 PM

Published: 2012-05-24 13:50:13
Countries: Panama

Cruising Boat Report 24 May 2012

Yacht PHOCEA with 10 crew on board, has just transited the Panama Canal and departed Balboa yesterday. On arrival in Cristobal/Colon the skipper was not charged any visa fees/immigration when clearing in. PHOCEA transited the Canal on 17 May and once in Balboa made several crew changes, with crew flying out and in. This involved lots of signing of crew on and off the crew list with the Balboa Yacht Club Immigration Officer, but on departure no visa fees/exit fees were charged.

Our thanks to Karsten Staffeldt for reporting Phocea's experience to noonsite.

Update 18 May 2012

In typical "Panama-style", a number of immigration offices claim to have not heard about the inflated fees for cruising boats being abolished! Whilst Colon (who were the first to start charging the fees when they were introduced in March 2012) are currently not charging any immigration fee, cruisers report that Porvenir (who previously had their own "nominal" charge for the entire crew) are now charging $105 per head.

Cruisers who tried first the Immigration office in El Diablo just a few days ago, made a quick exit when they discovered they wanted to charge $110/person. They refused and instead went to the Immigration office at the Balboa Yacht Club. Here they were checked in for one year at no charge.

It is very important that cruisers acquire and retain their receipt for any monies paid on clearing into the country, as it may be valuable down the road.

Please do contact us with fees paid if you have recently cleared into Panama.

MAY 7TH 2012: REPORTS RECEIVED FROM SHELTER BAY MARINA AND BOCAS YACHT CLUB & MARINA ARE THAT THESE FEES ARE NO LONGER BEING CHARGED. THE NEW IMMIGRATION FEES ARE TO BE CONFIRMED.

Noonsite initially reported on these "new visa fees for yacht crew" at the beginning of March (see the original report below the updates from cruisers). Since then we have received a number of e-mails from cruisers who have cleared in elsewhere in Panama (i.e. other than Colon) and what is clear is that nobody appears to know what is going on, as each area is interpreting the rules differently.

It appears that in Balboa, yacht crew are still being charged for just a tourist card (US$15). In Porvenir simply a flat fee of US$30 for immigration. Colon however is charging the new inflated visa fee per crew member.

Karsten Staffeldt, a Panamanian resident, long term cruiser and regular contributer to noonsite, sent us the following on 28 April.
Immigration Panama - just to maintain confusion, yachts clearing in Balboa not asked to pay or obtain new visa. Payment to clear in is $ 15.00 per crew, equal to the tourist card arriving passengers from abroad must purchase at the airport or border.(Report obtained from yacht which arrived Balboa April 15th).

SV Denali Rose arrived in Panama in March and reported the following on the Cruisers Network (Yahoo Group) on 23 April.
Try to do as much as you can of checking in BEFORE you get to Colon! Shelter Bay Marina does not have any customs or immigrations anymore so it is a real pain to do it all by bus from the Marina to Colon! Also, when I left, Colon had an amazing immigration tax visa (like $100 each person) that was required but it was not being done in other locations. One way to do this is to try to get it all done before you get there; or, just get the visa after you get to Balboa where they seemed more lenient. Get your cruising permit before you get to Colon, they don't like to do it but they can in Portobello and I think you can also get it in Porvenier. It is an amazing pain in Colon!! And, the immigration office and then the visa office are worse!! Maybe you can take the bus in from Portobello to Balboa (Panama City) and do it all that way. Bit more of a pain than bus to Colon but the customs/immigrations issues are much easier. Keep up to speed on this issue as it changes daily!

Michael, SY Panda - San Blas Islands - reports April 15th
"Porvenir is not telling people they need to get a visa in 72 hours, per recent reports. I was told you needed to get a visa within 3 months by a person in Panama City. He said that the Marino Visa was good for a year, so all is speculation. I checked into Porvenier, San Blas on our sail boat from Cartagena, December 15th 2011. I left last week, via the Carti Road, and had no problems at the airport with immigration officals in Panama City what so ever. No questions were asked of me on the Carti road but I was leaving not entering."

Charlie Freeman reported on March 22nd
"Cleared in at Porvenir yesterday. Paid $30 to Immigration for 5 people. Told that the passport stamps are entry visa good for 6 months. It seems to be a flat $30 fee not dependent on number of passports. About six boats on the local radio net have cleared in since me and all have encountered the identical fees regardless of number of crew. As for what is in the passport, it is your typical immigration stamp, says "Entry", signed and dated by the official, no expiry date anywhere. I specifically asked him if I needed to do anything further and he explained it was good for six months from date of entry. One crew flew out today, no problems at airport."

OFFICIALLY the 2 Immigration Offices at Porvenir and Portobelo are only Branch Offices under the Immigration Office in Colon. This means they are unable to issue visas, and can only issue "entry to the country" stamps.

The $30 charged in Porvenir is for the Immigration service provided by the San Blas officer who reports to their Island Chief. San Blas is an Indian reserve area. The stamp they put in your passport is not a visa and cruisers are subject to getting stopped and penalized if they are found in other areas of the country having stayed longer than 72 hours without a visa.

Erick of Centenario & Co. Agents told noonsite, "I recently had a cruiser who got stopped in a Panama port on the mainland without a stamp/visa and was going to be transferred to immigration/jail for investigation. Luckily we managed to get a citation and yesterday they were cleared through the main office in Colon. Cruisers need to understand the Immigration process in Panama."

The "entry" stamp given in Porvenir permits you 72 hrs to obtain a visa (as per the government regulations) at your next port of call (Cristobal/Bocas del Toro/Panama City)). In reality many yachts cruise the San Blas and get their visas once they reach the mainland, which seems to be tolerated. Be warned though, yachts are subject to being stopped and immigration papers checked. Therefore if you have been in the country for more than 72 hours and don't have a visa, you risk being penalized.

We will post further reports and/or information as and when we receive it.

Original Report Posted 8 March 2012:
Panama Immigration are tightening up on the rules for visiting yachts.

On 6 March 2012, Ronaldo Menoza Tapia – Regional Manager of Immigration service in Colon - sent a circular requesting a tightening up of the visa process, whereby when boats arrive in Panama they are stamped into the country, and then have 3 days (72 hrs) to obtain a visa in one of the main ports.

In order to obtain a visa in one of the mainland clearance ports, skippers must provide:

  1. Responsibility letter from the yacht owner/skiper (or the agent) stating that he/she will be responsible for the boat whilst in Panama.
  2. Crew list stamped by the immigration officer at the port of entry.
  3. Boat registration document and copy.
  4. Copies of all crew passports and the page showing the entry Immigration stamp.
  5. Copy of the Panama cruising permit.
  6. Copy of the Panama Autoridad Maritima port captain check-in form
  7. 2 passport photos for each crew member

Incredibly, visas will now cost yacht crew $105.00 each, $100 for the visa and $5 for the stamp!

The same fee applies if you arrive by plane but leave on board a boat. If you arrive by boat and leave the country by plane there's nothing to pay, however you must get the entry stamp from immigration first. Once you have the stamp you are permitted a 3 day stay before getting a visa. If you stay longer than 3 days in Panama before flying out and don't get a visa you will likely be stopped by Immigration at the airport and lose your flight.

Immigration claim that this charge has been has been on the books since 2008 when it was made Law, however the rules have been disregarded up until now. Oddly crew on commercial ships do not require a visa, and individuals arriving by plane still only have to pay the $15 tourist card charge.

It should be noted that in Panama, each Immigration office handles matters their own way and whilst Panama Immigration seem to be trying to make the rules more consistent, the Colon office in particular is well known for being somewhat more "difficult" than other places.

Noonsite has heard from a number of yachts who have contacted agents in advance of transit and have been quoted these new immigration fees. However, it seems not all yachts have actually been required to pay the mentioned high visa fee.

We would be very interested to hear from cruisers who have cleared into Panama on the mainland with details of the clearance port they used and the visa fees charged. Contact noonsite@noonsite.com.

Our thanks to Erick of Centenario & Co. and Karsten Staffeldt for bringing this news to noonsite’s attention and assisting with further details.

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