Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Clearing into Panama, Balboa style

For our cruiser friends on the way down, here’s what we did to clear into Panama – the Balboa treasure hunt with a picture of success at the end.
1. Anchor in Las Briasas. There is a a free, guarded dingy dock. No water. It’s a muddy bottom, where cruising boats and fish boats have been known, a recently witnessed, dragging anchor. Don’t forget about the 16 foot tides, put out some scope.
2. From the dinghy dock walk out to the buildings near the causeway and then start walking down the causeway – along the strip mall, left – toward Flamenco marina. Near the end of the first set of buildings is an HSBC ATM if you need cash. The walk to Flamenco is 10 minutes or so. The port captain is in the two story building that has large Duty Free signs on it. 
3. The Port Capitan is up the stairs from the marble center lobby. He speaks good English and is very helpful and his office has ac. The fees are clear and the forms make some sense. Cost us $190 to get a one year cruising permit. If you are only staying a short time, then you can get a 72 hour+/- permit to transit the canal and then leave the country. Other than that it is a year permit. It takes about an hour to do the port captain’s papers. Professional and no problems.
4. Then it is off to immigration and customs. Here you may have a choice. The Port Capitan directed us to the Flamenco Migracion office. Some people say you are better off  go to the Balboa Yacht Club immigration office by taxi. The Flamenco office is right when you exit the water side of the Duty Free building. Walk past the waterside restaurant and then the last building is the customs and immigration. The sign is obvious, but the door is not. It is the white unmarked door. Inside the small office are 4 desks. Migracion is the the first on the left. The lady speaks Spanish a mile a minute and has no intention of slowing down. The main goal of this desk is to collect $25. You will get a stamp in your passport which apparently is only good for 72 hours, pretty much in conflict with what the Panamainian websites say. The stamp has no time listed on it. It apparently becomes 72 hours because it is a blue stamp – but who knows. Across from the immigration desk is customs – Aduana.  Because we were anchored in Las Brisas and not in Flamenco Marina they refused to process us. Friends were in the week before and they filled the forms out no problem even though they were in Las Brisas too.
5. Walk back to the buildings above the dingy dock at Las Brisas. There is a small Aduana office there. The guy running it wanted nothing to do with us. Eventually he took one of the carbon copies from the Port Captain’s paper work. I’m sure he just threw it away.
6. We checked in on a Friday. On Monday we took a taxi to the Diablo Migracion office. ‘Diablo’ indicates an area of town. If the taxi doesn’t know where the office is, tell him near the Rey supermarket. Do not go to the downtown main immigration office.
Always get the price of a taxi before you get in. Two taxis next to each other will offer fares to the same place, one at $15 and one at $5. 5 bucks to the migracion for two is fine. If its raining or it is hot and you have packages, the offered taxi fare will go up.
At the traffic light on the main road where you can see the Rey supermarket on the right, you will turn left and up the hill. On the right is a two story shopping/business plaza with a closed Gourmet Market. Upstairs is the migracion office. Ring the door bell to get let in. Bring copies of the cruising permit, passports and crew list. There is  copy place near the Rey. $10 per passport for the magic stamp. This visa is a mariners or tripulante visa. It is good for 3 months and is renewable for another 3 months (or maybe more, maybe not) at the same office.
The fruit of our labors: Mariners visa on the right with magic stamp and the blue short term visa on the left.

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