Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Day 4 Trip to Immigration

The alarm woke us at 6am so we could be at the Attorney's office at 8:00 sharp - as instructed yesterday - and leave immediately for Immigration to avoid a long wait. Although there are thousands of taxis in the city, it often takes a while to get one so we arrived 12 minutes late. No problem --- as it was, we didn't leave the Attorney's office until 9:00am, stopped for gas and got to Immigration around 9:30am. The plan today was this: we would go to Immigration and register, at which point our passports would be stamped and we would go on our way. The Attorney would keep our passports and, once we were in the system (2 days), papers would be filed and we would return to Immigration to get our photo taken and be issued a "carnet". This is a temporary ID (valid for 90 days) while our Pensionado Visa is being processed.

Our Attorney representative, Felix, checked in at the front desk at Immigration while we found a couple of seats in a large room divided in to several different areas with different counters - obviously for different functions - but no signs that we could see indicating what they were for. Behind the counters were several desks and in one area people lined up to take a number. We had
NO idea what was going on but very soon our man, Felix, came in, walked up to a counter and then beckoned to us. A very attractive young lady behind the counter asked each of us a few questions, filled out a couple of forms, stapled photos on to each and gave them to us to sign and "thumb print". Our passports were stamped and we returned to our seats. Cost - $10.

At this point we should have "left the building", however, we learned from Felix that rather than wait for 2 days to get our carnet, we could get it today. This was great news and quite unexpected, however, certain documents needed to be notarized so Felix took off to take care of this. We passed the time reading our books, people watching and Bill made several excursions around the building before he found a men's "banos" on another floor! 2 hours later, Felix reappears and, again, maneouvers his way to a spot where he can talk with a very official looking person. He came back and asked if we had another photo and grinned and wiped his brow when we produced them! Obviously, had we not had one, this would have caused a delay. By the way, Felix did not speak much English but it was obvious that this was not the first time he had done this and he knew his way around!

While Felix was smoothing the way for us, Bill struck up a conversation with a couple sitting in front of us -- surprise, surprise! The man was wearing a FloridaAtlantic University T-shirt and it turned out that his son attended the college. We learned that Irwin and his Panamanian wife, Peggy, live in Plantation, FL and also in Panama City. We were deep in conversation with them when we learned there was just one more hiccup --- the "Sworn Statement of Personal Background" that we had filled out previously needed to be done in Spanish - not English. Peggy acted as translator for us and even sat down and amended the form for us! Where would we have been without her?! We are looking forward to keeping in touch with them.

The final step was to have our photos taken for our "carnet" which took only a few minutes and cost $60! By now it was 1:30 and we were beginning to get hungry. But there was one more stop to make! We drove half way across town to another Immigration office where Felix took our passports and handled the transaction for us while we stayed in the car. Phew!!! Bill had received a recommendation from Panama Yahoo Groups for a restaurant not too far from our condo. Felix dropped us off at La Perla del Oriente where we had 2 huge lunches and cokes for $6.40. We walked back to the condo via a phone store where Bill bought a simcard and prepaid phone minutes for his US Blackberry. Tomorrow we'll get a map data chip for the GPS and head out of town. Another full and successful day!

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