I recently read a very interesting article on the Panamanian Tourism Institute website. There was a letter written by a US citizen who was considering a permanent move to Panama. The woman was expressing her concerns over Panama’s immigration officials asking for passports in various locations. I have previously written about such incidents on this website.
This woman had some legitimate concerns about the issue. She received all of her information secondhand as it can be assumed by her letter that she hasn’t yet had the chance to visit Panama. As I stated in my previous post about this issue, if you are new to the country it may be seem disconcerting to have immigration stop you to check your papers. She mentions it is the police that are asking for passports. I have had my passport requested more times than I can count, but only by police if I’m speeding-oops! During every other occasion I have been asked by immigration officials stationed in various places. The writer says that by immigration taking these actions it alludes that Panama is not a safe country.
Tourism Minister Ruben Blades has posted his response to this letter. Mr. Blades makes some very good points about the topic, and most importantly stated that he was on his way to Chiriqui to get to the bottom of what may have taken place in Boquete where police may have entered restaurants looking for foreigners. Though I think Mr. Blades may have read a little bit too much in to the “safety” issue mentioned in the article (the letter writer was just saying these actions make it SEEM like Panama is unsafe), I wholeheartedly agree with him that Panama is safe.
I have been in Panama for 3 years and I feel much safer here than in the medium sized Canadian city I am from. I can walk alone at night in Panama without looking over my shoulder. I am not afraid to do anything alone here. Of course there are cases where crimes have been committed against foreigners, but I still think those are relatively isolated incidents. I’ve had my car broken in to in Canada more times than I can count. Debit card PIN stolen – check. Robbed – check.
The woman who wrote the letter said if immigration is going to ask her for her passport whenever they want, she wont move here. I think that’s a terrible reason to strike a country off your list of possible retirement/vacation destinations. I would much prefer an officer asking me for my passport than being the victim of a “real crime”.
Granted, it does seem a little like racial profiling when it’s only the obvious “gringos” getting asked for their passports. In Canada and the US it is against our charter/constitution to be asked for documents just because we look like foreigners. But Panama is not the US or Canada. I have traveled to dozens of countries, and yes, Panama is the only country I have been stopped in because I am an obvious foreigner. When my Panamanian boyfriend came to Canada with me he was never stopped, nor given a second glance. Ditto for the numerous times he’s traveled to the US.
I can’t speak for Mexico, but the other two North American countries have other ways to make life hard for tourists. Have you ever asked a Panamanian how hard it is to get a visa to the US or Canada? My boyfriend is a Panamanian dentist and his first Canadian visa application was rejected because they didn’t believe he would return to Panama. At least US and Canadian citizens can enter Panama without any hassle.
If you had to apply for a Panamanian visa before leaving your homeland, would that discourage you from visiting or would you rather do that and then be left alone once you are here? I guess it may be a toss up, but as far as safety, during my boyfriend’s first night in Canada he got to witness a street fight that lead to police and paramedics being called (very typical in our hockey loving country). I have yet to see that in Panama.
|Written by Rebecca Tyre|
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Filed under: News on July 3rd, 2008