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Panama Immigration Documentation 101 For Americans

Posted on September 30, 2014 by rechiriqui in For Americans, Panama Immigration Documentation

Panama Immigration Documentation 101 For Americans

If you’re like me, you’ve already taken the plunge.  You’ve jumped off the plane at Tocumen.  You’ve navigated customs.  You’ve grabbed the keys to your rental vehicle, and played bumper cars through the city on your way west.  You’ve engaged in Panama’s favorite past time (dodging potholes – no joke) as you’ve trekked south to Pedasi and west past David to Concepcion.  You’ve toured the communities in Boquete and met farmers in El Valle and Cerro Punta.  You’ve seen the whales in Las Lajas, evaded the iguanas (and crabs) at Isla Iguana, crashed the waves at Las Olas, and breathed in the breezy island life of Bocas del Toro.  So… you loved it… you’re all in… you’re ready to set sail… permanently.  What’s next?  Panama Immigration Documentation 101!

You have two options.  The first option is to play the border game, visit a different country every few months, and re-enter Panama with a fresh stamp.  That’s great if you visit family regularly outside of Panama, or if you have business interests that take you away from Panama every few months.  Who wants to do that?  Border jump?  Getting harassed all of the time at checkpoints?  Ugh!

The second option that’s available to you is to seek visa status in any number of ways.  This article won’t explain the different ways to gain entry permanently into Panama.  This is is simply Panama Immigration Documentation 101 for Americans.  The purpose of this article is to take you step-by-step through gathering and organizing your information as an American citizen so that you’re ready to proceed with your visa application once in Panama.  If your move is within a 90 day to six month time window, follow these instructions.  You’ll be ready to proceed with your immigration request once you get here.

Savanna Style Map of Chiriqui
Savanna Style Map of Chiriqui


1.    Three-ring binder

2.    Dividers

3.    Stapler

4.    Three-ring hole punch

5.    Digital camera

6.    Pen

7.    Computer

8.    Internet Connection

9.    Printer/Copier/Scanner

10.  Stack of letter-sized, flat rate envelopes from the United States Postal Service

11.  Scotch Tape

12.  Driver’s License

13.  Passport

14.  Official Birth certificates

15.  Official Marriage certificate

16.  Last Three Statements major asset accounts

17.  Last Three Personal Tax Returns

18.  Tax Extension filing, if applicable


I’m not going to lie to you – this is a dull, mind-numbing process.  You will be easily distracted.  Almost everything that you do is more exciting than preparing this binder.  I loathe dealing with government agencies.  I consider most government forms ridiculous.  I’m sure you do too.  My dad told me that if I’m going to do a job, do it well.  So that’s what we’re going to do.

The good news is that this information is about you – you’re the one in position to gather it efficiently and effectively.  The bad news is that government agencies love to nickel and dime you, and, make no mistake, you will be nickeled and dimed.  There’s nothing we can do about that, so we’re going to get it over with so that this little fact of life is behind us!  Think of it as the last tip you’ll be leaving these jokers as you migrate yourself away from the depth of their bureaucracy.

Alright then, are you ready?  Crack your neck, do a few windmill arm swings, breathe deep, and let’s get going!


Getting your completed FBI Criminal History takes the most time.  Therefore, we’re going to tackle this before everything else.  To request your criminal background check, you need to get fingerprinted.  Go to your local Sheriff’s office and request to be fingerprinted.  This is usually free.

1.  Visit your local Sheriff’s office.

2.  Request to be fingerprinted.

3.  Request the officer to sign and date the completed fingerprint card.

4.  Personally sign and date the completed fingerprint card.

5.  Get a Money Order payable to the U.S. Treasury in the amount of $18.00.

That was easy, wasn’t it!

6.  Visit the following link:  https://forms.fbi.gov/criminal-history-summary-checks-review/.  Click the request tab.  Download the I-783 form (Rev. 5-15-2013).  Complete the form in its entirety.  Remember to fill in your address twice.  Select your payment method (money order is the cheapest).  Select the Reason for Request (Live, work, or travel in a foreign country is the most likely answer for you).

7.  Print the completed I-783, and sign/date.

8.  Mail the completed I-783, Fingerprint Card, Money Order, and a Self Addressed, Stamped           Envelope to the following address:

FBI CJIS – Summary Request

1000 Custer Hollow Road

Clarksburg, WV 26306

See, that wasn’t so bad!  As I mentioned, this is the process that takes the longest time.  Expect this process to take five to six weeks from the date you mail the request.  There’s plenty to do while you’re waiting, so let’s keep going!


You need to have your birth certificates and marriage certificate Apostilled.  An Apostille is a declaration from the State that controls the issuing of a certificate that the signor of your certificate is duly qualified to sign your certificate.  Your birth certificate and your marriage certificate are State documents, so you have to apply for Apostille through the Secretary of State in the state which each certificate was issued.  The fees will vary state to state.

1.  Contact your State’s Secretary of State and ask for their Apostille department.

2.  Ask them if there where to download your state’s Apostille Request Form and follow the instructions.

4.  Ask them the return mailing address, the Apostille fee, and who to pay the money order to.

5.  Complete your State’s Apostille request form for each Apostille you are requesting.  Make sure you identify the country of use as “Panama”.

6.  Get a Money Order for each document you are requesting in the proper amount.

7.  Enclose a Self Addressed, Stamped Envelope for each Apostille you are requesting.

8.  Mail each request separately in flat rate envelopes.  Each envelope should contain the certified certificate you wish Apostilled, the Apostille Request Form for your State, money order, and a Self Addressed, Stamped Envelope.

9.  Once you receive the Apostilled documents back in the mail, three hole punch them.

10.  Create a tab for Birth/Marriage Certificates.

11.  Put the tab and the Apostilled documents in your three-ring binder.


Check your passport and driver’s license expiration date.  Make sure your expiration dates are beyond the time in which you plan to visit the United States again.  If not, renew them.  Got your newly renewed license and passport safely in hand?  Great, now you’re going to want to scan and print them!  So here goes:

1.  Scan your passport.  Save as a PDF file in your “My Documents” folder.

2.  Color-print your passport three times.

3.  Scan your driver’s license.  Save as a PDF file in your “My Documents” folder.

4.  Color-print your driver’s license three times.

5.  Three-hole punch your passport and license prints.

6.  Create a tab for Passport Copies.

7.  Create a tab for Driver’s License Copies.

8.  Put the copies in the three-ring binder along with the respective copies.


Now it’s time to take your glamour shots!  Your attorney in Panama will need them.  Don’t think, just do it!

1.  Drape a light colored towel over a door.

2.  Have someone take a picture of your head and neck, down to just below your shoulders.

3.  Take several pictures to select the nicest shot possible.  If you’re a model, great.  If you’re not, work what you got!

4.  Upload your new glamour shots to your computer in the “My Pictures” folder.

5.  Visit the following link:  http://travel.state.gov/_res/flash/cropper/FIG_cropper.html#.  This is a passport acceptable, photo cropper tool.  It will size your photo perfectly for Panama use.

6.  Click the “Choose Photo” button at the bottom of the page.

7.  Browse your “My Pictures” folder and click on your best glamour shot.

8.  See the slide bar underneath your picture?  That’s the re-size tool.  Just click and drag the slider in a manner that the top of your hair is just underneath the frame, while your chin is right at the lower green line, and the top of your shoulders hit the green line as well.

9.  You can also click the picture and move it around to align the photo within the tool.

10.  Click the button “Crop Photo”.  If you’ve done it correctly, your picture will process and grow large.  If not, repeat steps 9 and 10 until your picture processes and grows large.  This may take several attempts.  Don’t get frustrated!

11.  Click the “x” at the top right hand corner of the big picture.

12.  Click the “Save Photo” button, save the photo in your “My Pictures” folder under a name you’ll remember.

13.  Once saved, exit the website.

14.  Go to your “My Pictures” folder and select your newly created, cropped photo.

15.  Open a new document in Microsoft Word.

16.  Right-click on your picture, and select “copy”.

17.  Within your new Word document, right-click and select “paste”.

18.  Affix six photos on your Word document repeating 17 and 19.

19.  Select File/Save As, and save your document in “My Documents”.

20.  Print your document to a color printer.

21.  Three Hole Punch the document.

22.  Create a tab labeled “Photos”.

23.  Put the tab and the document into your three-ring binder.

That’s the free way to get your identity photographs.  This process can be frustrating for some people.  If you’re one of those people that just doesn’t want to bother with this, no problem!  Schedule an appointment at the nearest US Post Office that processes Passports, and they’ll take your picture and give you the 2 X 2 identity photos that are Panama compliant.  Be prepared to hand over a few more dollars to the government to do this!


No matter which way you’re qualifying to get your visa, they’re going to want to see evidence of some cash.  So you’re going to give it to them.  Here’s how:

1.  Request the last three statements for all asset accounts from your bank/ investment broker.  Just show enough cash with a reasonable cushion to qualify for the status that you seek.

2.  Punch the statements with a three hole punch.

3.  Create a tab for bank statements/investment statements.

4.  Put the tab and the statements in the three-ring binder.

5.  As more statements arrive before you leave, add them too.

6.  There’s no problem showing multiple accounts in order to qualify for the status you’re seeking.  Simply repeat the steps here, keep them in order, and add them under this tab.


Request a Verification of Deposit from each institution in which you just showed statements.  The Verification of Deposit should be completed fully, including their printed name, bank title, and date that they signed it.  These are given upon request, and your institutions may or may not charge you for the information.  All institutions can provide this to you no matter the asset type.

1.  Verify that your Verification of Deposit is completed correctly.

2.  Punch the Verification of Deposit with a three hole punch.

3.  File the Verification of Deposit in your three-ring binder under the appropriate label.

4.  Repeat this process for each of the accounts in which you have provided statements.


Depending on the visa status you are applying for, you may need to verify continual income.  Think about Annual Benefit Statements, pay check stubs, annuity disbursements, quarterly statements for investment account distributions, pension statements, etc.  You want anything that shows a paper trail of income over three consecutive issuings (for example three consecutive quarters), but not shorter than three months in length.  You may also request written verification from your employer’s human resources department.  Be sure to ask them to sign and date the verification, along with their printed name, title, and contact information for verification purposes.

1.  Punch all of your verification with a three hole punch.

2.  Create a tab that is for Verification of Income.

3.  Put the tab and verifications in the three-ring binder.


You’ve been waiting anxiously for weeks for the FBI to send you mail.  When’s the last time that happened?  Well, today’s the day!  You want to see a one-sentence, certified disclosure from them that your name isn’t on file.  That’s a good, clean FBI report, and the nicest wording that you’re ever going to get from them.  Good job!

The FBI Criminal History also needs to be Apostilled.  As the FBI is a federal government agency, you will need a federal Apostille, and these are received through the U.S. Department of State.

1.  Visit the following link:  http://eforms.state.gov/editdocument.aspx?documentid=1.  This link takes you to the DS-4194 form that is required to be submitted.

2.  Complete Section 1.  It is wise to complete the following boxes:  Last, First, Middle Name.  E-mail address.  Cell phone.  Case Type: Select Individual.  Country:  Select Panama.  Formal Mailing Address:  Enter Name, Address, and then City/ST/ZIP on the three or four separate lines provided as necessary.  This completes Section 1.

3.  Complete Section 2.  Click on the selection box and choose “No”.  This completes Section 2.

4.  Complete Section 3.  Choose the delivery method of choice.  This is the method of delivery that your Apostilled document will return to you.  Make sure the delivery method you choose has a tracking number.  We’ll add that later.  Click the country that the return information will be shipped to.  If you’re in the US, select United States.  Third, complete your return address fields the same as you did before.  This completes Section 3 for now.

5.  Complete Section 4.  Under the Country tab, select “United States”.  Under the Number of Documents tab, type “1”.  Under the Document Type, select “FBI Criminal Background Record”.  This completes Section 4.

6.  Just above the top of the online document, please note the toolbar.  Select “Print”.

7.  Select the print option that sends the printout to an Adobe PDF File.  Make sure that the Form and Data mode is selected.  Make sure that “ALL” pages are selected.  Select the “Print” button.

8.  After the print progress bar is completed 100%, select the “Download Printout” button.

9.  Select your newly created DS-4194 Form at the lower left of your screen.

10.  Select File/Save As and save the DS-4194 in your “My Documents” folder.

11.  Select the Print button.  Print the document.

12.  Obtain a Money Order in the amount of $8.00 payable to the US Treasury.

13.  Put the document to be Apostilled and the Money Order in a flat rate envelope.  Do not seal.

14.  Go to the post office.

15.  Purchase postage to your return address noted on line 4, including an option for Tracking.  Affix the postage on your return envelope.

16.  Add your newly acquired Tracking Number to “Tracking Number” line under Section 3 of your DS-4194.

17.  Put your DS-4194 in the outgoing flat rate envelope.

18.  Mail your packet to the following address:

U.S. Department of State

Office of Authentications

518 23rd Street, NW – SA-1

Columbia Plaza

Washington, D.C. 20520 

19.  Wait a week.

20.  Check your mailbox.

21.  Open your newly Apostilled document that you just received from the FBI.

22.  Punch your newly Apostilled document with a three hole punch.

23.  Create a tab labeled Background Check.

24.  Add your tab and your Apostilled Background Check to the three-ring binder.

Congratulations!  You’re now eight to ten weeks down the road, and at worst you should still have at least two weeks before you fly out.  It’s your attorney’s turn now.  Take the binder and put it in the briefcase or suitcase that’s going with you.  You’ve done your part.  You’re miles ahead of the rest.  All that’s left now is to write checks and sign a few documents and letters that your attorney will prepare.  I hope your attorney accomplishes their task in the same efficient manner as you have.

This dull, mindless exercise is now complete, and you’ve done a great job getting a head start on your new life.  Panama Immigration Documentation 101 for Americans is now in your rear view mirror!  The best news is that you’re now in position to run full steam ahead in Panama doing the things that matter to you.  Let your attorney deal with the rest, you’re done!  Feeling that sense of accomplishment yet?

© 2013 John Kevin Gilbert.  All Rights Reserved.


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