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Filtering by Tag: perpetual tourism costa rica

The Hassle-free Panama Visa

We get a lot of email at This Week in Costa Rica about renewing a tourist visa via Panama.  Here’s a great article from our friends at Viva Tropical on making the “border run”!  

Photo: Dennis Kruyt

Photo: Dennis Kruyt

Source: Viva TropicalThe tourist visa is by far the easiest Panama visa to obtain.  Why?  Because it’s free, and for citizens of most countries (including the U.S. and Canada), it’s automatically granted when you enter the country.

The tourist visa is good for 180 days, but many expats in Panama are finding that it’s all they ever really need.  With virtually no requirements, other than the renewal, it’s entirely possible to live in Panama for a long time as a permanent tourist!

Not only is the tourist visa easy to obtain, it’s fairly simple to renew as well.  Since it’s automatically granted to those who enter Panama from approved countries, essentially the only thing you have to do to renew it is…you guessed it:

Leave and come back!

Every six months or so, expats in Panama load up their families and take the Pan American highway west to the border the country shares with Costa Rica.  (Driving east is not an option, since the road literally ends at the Darien Gap, leaving no viable way to reach Colombia.)  Once there, they stand in a total of four lines to 1.) exit Panama, 2.) enter Costa Rica, 3.) exit Costa Rica, and 4.) re-enter Panama.

And it’s all perfectly legal!

Want to be truly free?

Want to be truly free?

While many simply choose to leave and return and be done within a few short hours, others opt to spend a few hours shopping in the tax free zones on both sides of the border.  If you have even more time, you can even use your “visa run” as an opportunity to take a little vacation.  Rather than driving to the nearest border, you can take a short flight to another nearby Central or South American country, or even return to your native country for a visit.

Even though the process of obtaining and renewing a tourist visa is definitely among the easiest immigration procedures in Panama, keep in mind that you’re still dealing with the governmental operations of a developing country.  That being said, here are a few important things to remember about renewing your Panama visa as a tourist:

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1.)  There’s “what the law says,” and then there’s “what’s commonly practiced.” It’s a common occurrence in Panama for immigration officials, or any governmental entity for that matter, to just sort of make things up as they go.  The law may say one thing, but if they’re operating under a completely different standard…just go with it.  For example, the law says that when you renew your tourist visa, you have to show proof of solvency so they know you won’t be working while you’re in the country. Sometimes they ask for it, sometimes they don’t. (Editor’s Note: It’s best to be prepared, check for changes in Panama’s migration laws prior to making your trip.)

On the flip side, nowhere in the law does it say how long you have to be out of the country before you can re-enter.  However, some officers will tell you to wait 72 hours.  If you run into this, don’t try to refute it.  Just smile and nod and maybe try again when another employee steps up to the window. I will note that we have been specifically told, in 2013, that 72 hours is no longer a requirement.

2.)  Officials can switch at any time, without warning, from abiding by the law or by common practice.  Just because you’ve renewed your visa 5 times without ever being asked for anything other than your passport, that may not always be the case.  Our best advice is to be prepared every time with all the documents you could possibly be asked to show.

For instance, the law states that you are to show proof of a planned departure date within 180 days from your entry into Panama (i.e. a bus or plane ticket). They may or may not ask to see one.  A good solution is to buy a bus ticket that’s good for 6 months.  Even if you don’t end up using it, at least it isn’t a huge investment, especially on Air Panama who currently charges $11 to refund a ticket.

3.)  Exit and re-entry is a bit tougher if you bring a car.  Those leaving and returning with a vehicle must stand in a separate line and provide a bit more paperwork than those doing so on foot.  So, if you drive yourself to the border, you can park your car and walk the short distance between immigration stations.  If you plan to do some traveling in Costa Rica, there are buses and taxis available just inside the border.

4.)  Even though the immigration department will let you stay in the country for 180 days, they only trust you to drive for the first 90.  That’s right.  True to typical bureaucratic asininity, tourists are only allowed to drive for 3 months after entering the country.  So although the length of stay has been extended to 6 months, permission to drive did not follow suit.

One option for overcoming this is to renew every 3 months instead of 6.  You can also, like many expats, just keep on driving and be prepared to pay the fine, which can be as much as $500 if you’re caught.  You should also know that you can forfeit your auto insurance if you are involved in an accident while driving without a license.

As always, when dealing with the renewal of any Panama visa, our best advice is to be prepared and remain patient.  Have everything you think you might need and then some, and don’t get frustrated if the rules have changed since the last time you renewed…or since last week.  In the end it’s all worth it.

If the tourist visa sounds like too much of a hassle or uncertainty for you, find out if another might be more appropriate for your situation.

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To visa or not to visa? That is the 90 day question.

In the US Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson stated that we (the people) have certain unalienable rights, such as Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness. I do not want to elaborate into what were considered people at that time, but just to make my point, those rights are very simple and straight forward.

On the other side of the pond, a few decades earlier Jean Jacques Rousseau aimed to determine whether there can be a legitimate political authority. He figured that man must enter into a Social Contract with others, whereby we, as a society, delegate to government the authority to enact the rules that will allow us to (in Jefferson’s terms) afford Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.

Government is formed with the purpose to protect and further the interest of the citizenry. In Costa Rica, we always thought that we were as enlightened as Jefferson, Rousseau, Montesquieu, Locke, etc. Which is why, the Constitutional Congress in 1949 added in section 50 of the Constitution a clause stating that the “Estate will procure the wellbeing of all inhabitants in the country through organizing and stimulating production and the most adequate distribution of wealth”.

The organization and stimulation of production sounds like economics to me. Economics is the allocation of resources in order to incentivize different sectors of the economy. This is not done just because, the purpose of this is to further people’s rights to Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.

So let’s talk about immigration now. First of all, I can guarantee you that nobody from the Immigration Department in Costa Rica has a degree in economics, nor does anybody from the Department of the Economy and Industry has a background in migration and human studies.

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Having said that, let’s look at an immigration phenomenon that has been going on in Costa Rica for a while, the perpetual tourist. People who go back and forth across borders in order to have a valid 90 visa in their passports. (Just as a note, I am not going to elaborate on the four categories for entry visas to Costa Rica, I am just using the visa exempt countries in the first group).

The Costa Rican government has been making it exponentially difficult for foreign nationals to function while in Costa Rica. Although, the current immigration law provides a significant number of options to stay in Costa Rica, it still needs to improve a lot. But, there are still a lot of foreigners who do not qualify for status. Current regulations make it extremely difficult for some people to be here. Therefore, they resolve by leaving the country every 90 days.

There have been people in Costa Rica who have been doing the 90 visa for ten years. That is just absurd. Let’s see the economics of it. Depending on where you are, on average, it will cost you $300USD to do a border crossing. Some people return on the same day which minimizes the cost of the trip, but plenty of people decide to stay for two or three days in Panama or Nicaragua, which increases the cost of the trip. But, for the sake of the argument, we will say that in average it costs $300 USD, and you need to do this four times a year. Therefore, it will cost you $1,200 USD a year to maintain the perpetual tourist status.

Unfortunately, it is not possible to determine exactly how many 90 day runners are out there. But just to give you some figures, at the border crossing in Paso Canoas 40,910 nationals from the US and Canada crossed the border to Panama, while 41,679 entered to Costa Rica. Please bear in mind that this is not exact science, there are hundreds of possible variables here. These figures do not include the others ports of entry to Panama and Nicaragua and others. But if we argue that most of these people are 90 day runners, we are talking about $40 million USD that are being invested on a yearly basis on the endeavor of crossing the border into Panama.

We know that all those perpetual tourist invest their money in the local economies where they reside. The beach towns of Tamarindo, Samara, Playas del Coco, Jacó, Sant Teresa, Dominical, Golfito, Puerto Viejo, and everything in between. They invest their money in paying rent, buying groceries, using cell phones, buying gas. There may be some people living out of a backpack, but there are plenty of others who own a home or a business and pay taxes and employ people, pay into the CAJA and do all other things that “legals” do. Money, does not discriminate between nationals and expats, legal or not legal. All those 40 million spent in crossing into Panama, could be spent in local  businesses.

Call me wacko, but it is in the best interest of the country and in furtherance of the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness to keep those 90 day runners in the country. On the other hand, what about their right to life, liberty and their pursuit of happiness. Going back to the Costa Rican Constitution, Section 19 states that foreigners have the same rights as Costa Ricans. In conjunction with section 50, it seems to me that the Costa Rican government should enact policies that will promote the wellbeing of all inhabitants including foreigners. It is in the well being of foreigners not having to make a trip to Nicaragua or Panama every 90 days in order to be legal in Costa Rica, specially as there are plenty of elder foreigners to whom making a trip to the border represents a hardship. Please note that section 50 of the Constitution states inhabitants, not Costa Ricans, not citizens, not residents. Inhabitants refers to whoever is in the country.

In my opinion, it makes sense to further the wellbeing of all inhabitants (Costa Ricans or not) by allowing foreign nationals to stay in the country without having to leave the country every 90 days. It is good for the country, it is good for the expats.

If you are foreign national who has to leave the country every 90 days, please let me know. I may need your help to change policy. I need as many signatures as I can get in order to build a case in the Supreme Court. Send me an email to 90dayvisa@outlierlegal.com

 

Check out our interview with Dawn Drummer, Client Services Manager for Outlier Legal Services takes Corey’s call to give an overview of the very popular topic of immigration options for foreigners looking to live and work in Costa Rica. Dawn covers some of the residencies available and some not-so-well-known processes to apply for a variety of legal residency statuses.

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CR English Teachers’ Visa Runs to Panama

The Costa Rican Times - Costa Rica English Teaching News - Visa runs are a necessary part of life as an English teacher in Costa Rica. In part I of this series I discussed some of the options available in Costa Rica’s northern neighbor, Nicaragua. In part II, I discuss the other common destination for English teachers to take their mandatory vacation every 90 days: Panama.

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Part of the fun of a trip to Panama is the actual trip itself. Unlike Nicaragua, where Costa Rican bus company Tica Bus provides both comfort and ease in terms of getting to and across the border, no such service is available for the journey south. The only exception would be if you’ve decided to venture all the way down to Panama City – but more on that later.

There are a couple border crossings to choose from but the two most popular are the crossings near Golfito on Costa Rica’s Pacific side and at Sixaola, on its Caribbean coast. Sixaola, based on its proximity to tourist haven Bocas del Toro, is by far the most visited.

Calling Sixaola a town is an extremely generous exaggeration. The pueblo – quite literally – has a convenience store, a liquor store and an information booth that they call immigration. The local bus will take you right to where the border crossing is located. Once off the bus, walk up the hill immediately in front of you and get in line to get your passport stamped out of Costa Rica. After this you will – and get ready – walk across a bridge, which looks like it can’t hold an ant, over to Panama. Do watch your step as to not mistakenly plant down on a loose board.

When you arrive on the other side of the bridge, get in line once again to get stamped into Panama. At this point you can either continue on your journey by local bus or take up the services of one of the local taxis that will be waiting for you. If you have a group of people, or made friends during your bridge crossing, the taxis are actually quite inexpensive.

The most common and popular destination in Panama to fulfill your visa run obligation is Bocas del Toro. If you’re not familiar with this group of islands on Panama’s Caribbean coast, I highly recommend researching them as they truly are one of the great natural wonders in Central America. If you’re coming from San Jose, as most English teachers do, the trip to Bocas has two options. You can either head there from San Jose in one day, which would take about eight or nine hours depending on border traffic. The other option is to break up the trip by spending a night in Puerto Viejo, a popular and beautiful beach town on Costa Rica’s Caribbean coast situated about an hour by bus from the Panama border.

Whichever option you choose, once in Bocas you will marvel at its beauty. Bocas is a mix of a myriad of tropical islands, of which two realistically provide viable stay options. The main island, Colon, has numerous hotels and hostels at the disposal of its visitors. Colon is also home to most of the restaurants and nightlife spots in Bocas. If you like to party, you might consider this as your main hub.

If you seek a more tranquil experience, Isla Bastimentos is for you. The biggest island in Bocas, it is almost all jungle covered. The few hostels that do exist offer a very quiet and distanced experience. The island is great for hiking, exploring and is home to one of the more popular beaches in all of Bocas, Red Frog Beach, where, just as its name suggests, you can see rare red frogs.

Tours of all variations are plentiful in Bocas and for reasonable prices. One of the more expensive – maybe $20 per person – but also most worthwhile is the boat tour to Isla Zapatillas. Home to nothing but nature, you will be alone on a pristine island for the day with soft white sand, beautiful views and nothing but what you bring with you. This trip is a must.

While Bocas del Toro is by far the most common visa run destination in Panama, there are other options. Panama City is beautiful and gives a ‘big city’ feel not often found in Central America. If you can stomach the 16 hour bus ride – one way – from San Jose (or the alternative roughly $300 round-trip flight) it is definitely worth checking out. Panama City is also great for those who like shopping, as Panama is much cheaper than Costa Rica in general and Panama City has some great stores and even cheaper rates than other places in the country.

David is another great option for a quick visa run. Located on the western half of Panama, a crossing from Golfito is more recommended for this trip. The third largest city in Panama, it is only 30 kilometers from the border with Costa Rica enhancing convenience. While a nice place to visit to get a feel for ‘real Panama’ – as David is not as touristy as other places – there is not a lot to do. Nearby locations such as Boquete – including its famous hot springs Los Pozos de Caldera – and Playa Barqueta offer great attractions on your trip.

While just a sampling of things to do in both Nicaragua and Panama on your visa runs, the idea is that you are not limited to what you can do. The often maligned part of teaching English in Costa Rica can also be the most exciting. Both countries offer extensive possibilities and part of the adventure is finding them on your own.

If you want more information about teaching English in Costa Rica or getting your TEFL or TESOL certificate in Costa Rica feel free to contact Andrew at the Global TESOL College or email andrew@globaltesolcostarica.com

Originally from Toronto, Canada, Woodbury is the academic director of Global TESOL College Costa Rica , a contributor to radio program This Week in Costa Rica (http://thisweekincostarica.com/), and an independent writer based in Costa Rica.

 

CR English Teachers’ Visa Runs to Nicaragua

The Costa Rican Times - Costa Rica English Teaching News - For most English teachers in Costa Rica working under the table is an unsettling reality. The thought of moving abroad to work in a country where you will not be a recognized worker is not something that would land near the top of many to do lists.

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While it can be a point of anxiety and stress for those that haven’t done it before, once in Costa Rica it is easy to see that everyone does it and it’s not really a big deal. From a legal perspective, ESL teachers are often given a free pass as they are providing a service to the nation’s population that the native population cannot provide to the same level.

Packing, traveling, where to go, safety, and passport stamps are all points that may leave a teacher sleepless a few nights before their trip. However, the silver lining of the unsettling nature of illegality for the English teacher in Costa Rica is it provides that same teacher the opportunity to do what many arrived to do in the first place: travel.

Any tourist is allowed to be in Costa Rica for up to 90 days of their original arrival. After this point they are considered to have overstayed their visit and can be subject to a variety of penalties based on different factors. As a result, English teachers embark on what is deemed ‘the visa run’- also called a mandatory vacation – every three months in order to renew their tourist visa and then return to their teaching position in Costa Rica.

The time you need across the border varies depending on who you talk to. When I arrived in Costa Rica over three years ago the company line was 72 hours. Nowadays some will tell you that length is still standard while others will claim you only need a few hours. Regardless of duration, the visa run is necessary and, if you’re going to go all the way outside of Costa Rica, you might as well enjoy yourself.

Where should you go?

Most choose options of convenience. This means going to border towns in either of Costa Rica’s neighbors of Panama or Nicaragua. Both offer diverse and interesting locations with a range of places to see and things to do. This column will focus on Costa Rica’s northern neighbor, Nicaragua.

Nicaragua is a large and beautiful country filled with incredibly nice people. It is also the second poorest nation in the western hemisphere, next to Haiti, and thus incredibly cheap for foreigners. The three most popular visa run locations in Nicaragua are: San Juan Del Sur, Grenada and Ometepe.

San Juan Del Sur is your typical beach town. Located on the pacific coast and not more than thirty minutes from the border it is easily accessible and a great place to hang out for a few days of R&R and away from your teaching job. Surfing isn’t the best right in town, but there are a number of high class beaches nearby with waves to challenge even the advanced surfer. It is very touristy so a lot of the locals speak English. On this trend, it is very easy to meet other travelers as it is a very well known attraction and collects travelers from all over the globe.

Grenada is about two hours by bus north of the border and is a beautiful Central American colonial town. Filled with art and history from the colonial era of Central America, it’s a great place to spend a day or two – but not three. Grenada is many things – deathly hot being one of them – and this includes boring after more than 48 hours. There is beautiful architecture, church towers to climb and even a fairly diverse nightlife. Two days though is all you will need here.

Ometepe is also a great option for your visa run. An island located in beautiful Lake Nicaragua, it is perfect for the nature lover. There is not much, if any, civilization. If you love hiking, climbing volcanoes and becoming one with your surroundings, Ometepe is for you. Given what it is, most combine Grenada and Ometepe into one visa run. This is in part due to their close proximity and also due to spending more than two days in either place is usually sufficient.

Be sure to check out my next column, where I’ll discuss some popular destinations in Costa Rica’s southern neighbor, Panama.

If you want more information about teaching English in Costa Rica or getting your TEFL or TESOL certificate in Costa Rica feel free to contact Andrew at the Global TESOL College or email andrew@globaltesolcostarica.com

Originally from Toronto, Canada, Woodbury is the academic director of Global TESOL College Costa Rica , a contributor to radio program This Week in Costa Rica (http://thisweekincostarica.com/), and an independent writer based in Costa Rica.

This Week in Costa Rica is provided “as is” without any representations or warranties, expressed or implied.  This Week in Costa Rica is produced by Podfly Productions, LLC and broadcast with permission by the Overseas Radio Network.