Kurt and I have applied for residency in Costa Rica. Until we are approved though, which generally takes about a year (give or take), we have to leave the country every 90 days. Our last two trips have been to Nicaragua. This time we decided to go to Panama. I think I have avoided Panama in the past because a lot of people on the expat message boards I am on talk about having more problems at this border, i.e. not being give 90 more days, etc. Also, Panama requires proof of more things at the border sometimes, like having a certain amount of cash per person and proof of travel back to your "home" country, which or us would be a plane ticket back to the USA. It just is a lot of paperwork to get ready. However, Kurt really wanted to check out this area, as there is a duty free shopping area between the borders, which is local outdoor shopping and two malls, so we decided to bite the bullet and go! SOOO glad we did.
To prepare for this trip, we did the following. Converted colones to $500.00 dollars and printed out a bank statement showing over $500.00. This would prove we each had $500.00 to Panama. We also went to our travel agent in Jaco, and obtained proof of travel back to the States from Panama, as well as proof of a bus ticket from Costa Rica to Managua for the Costa Rican aduana. I also made copies of our passport because they sometimes ask for that as well.
We got up early for us and left the house at 655 AM. Got to Paso Canoas at 1035 AM. Parked across the street from Costa Rica Aduana at a lot that watched your car for 800 colones per hour. It was located next to a car wash. We were given a ticket to show upon leaving to pay. Crossed the street and went to Aduana (customs). We were given a form to fill out & told to pay a fee at the bank to exit (the bank was in the same area at Aduana). Went and paid the $7 per person fee and were given a receipt. Filled out the form and hopped in line between two other people. We were stamped out quickly and left. Went to the Panama side, which was a short 5 minute walk. And Wow, Panama seems a lot warmer than Costa Rica, weirdly. For Panama, waited in short line and we were directed to two separate windows. Kurt was asked for passport, proof of funds (he showed his $500 cash) and proof of onward travel (he showed the plane ticket). I was asked for the same, except NOT asked for proof of onward travel. We were stamped in.
Proceeded to walk around the shopping area for 2 hours 45 minutes. Lots of good deals here. Great deals on electronics like TVs and good deals on some food as well. Kurt bought 4 baseball caps and I bought some beauty supplies. We ate lunch at Subway, and were both tired, so we headed back to check out of Panama and back into Costa Rica.
Checking out of Panama was simple, short line. At the Costa Rica side, we were only asked for passports. No proof of anything else. Were given the max, 90 days.
Drove home. Drive home took a tad longer since there was some more traffic, but the drive was still far superior to the Nicaragua drive.
Overall, super long day, but if we have to do another border run and are not approved for residency before April, we will be doing Panama again. I had heard so many horror stories, but we did not run into any issues at all. I highly suggest going on Wednesday if you ever have to go.