There are many different Panama Residency Programs available to the foreigner in search of permanently living and or working in country.
All resident visa programs available in Panama require United States Citizens to submit a FBI Criminal History Summary along with their paperwork. To obtain the Criminal History Summary a complete set of fingerprints from the applicant is needed. The FD-258 Applicant Fingerprint Card is the approved Federal Bureau of Investigation fingerprint card. The card can be downloaded online, printed preferably on thick card stock paper, and brought to the D.I.J. (Dirección de Investigación Judicial) here in Panama City. The DIJ fingerprint technicians in their forensic department will take your prints at no charge. The DIJ is located in front of the Mercado de Abasto beside the Museo de Omar Torrijos Herrera in beautiful Ancón. The DIJ phone number is 512-2222. Upon arrival visitors have to trade a form of ID for a visitor badge at the information booth at the entrance of the building. I recommend giving them a drivers license and hanging on to your passport, you will need your passport in the forensics department. Also, remember to wear long pants. The building is like a maze, just ask and folks will point you in the right direction to find the forensics department tucked away in a back hall.
DIJ takes prints on the FBI FD-258 fingerprint card and also takes a set for their own records. The applicant does not immediately receive the fingerprints, DIJ keeps them for a couple of days. When the complete set of fingerprints are picked-up they need to be authenticated with apostille by the Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores. The prints will not be accepted by the FBI with out the apostille authentication from Panamas Exterior Relations Ministry. The apostle is usually ready the next day.
Once the completed fingerprint card is officially authenticated here in Panama they are ready to be sent off with the filled out applicant form and payment form to the FBI. Like any other documents from the United States submitted with any Panama Visa Residency Applications the FBI Criminal History Summary must go through the same apostille process in the United States to be accepted by Immigration here in Panama,
When I went through this process I hired a driver/interpreter/tour guide to drive me around between the different government offices. My spanish is good enough to maneuver through the government bureaucracy, but driving in the city searching for government offices on roads with few street signs in crazy horn honking city traffic can be quite stressful. I was under the impression that the entire process mentioned above could be done in one day. I should have known better. Once I found out the fingerprints were going to take a few days to be returned to me from DIJ I was left with three options:
1 – Stay in the city for a few days to finish the process.
2 – Return home and drive back to Panama City later to finish the process.
3 – Authorize my driver Gilberto to handle it.
After a quick mental calculation of hotel, fuel and time costs compared to paying Gilberto a small fee for the day we spent together plus him running around hectic Panama City in the coming days while I return home to the comfort of Pedasi, the answer was clear…pay Gilberto! I have mentioned before the value of knowing responsible “expediters” in Panama. This was one of those instances where I saved a lot of money, time and headache by knowing the right guy.
Almost all government offices in Panama will allow others to pick up important documents as long as the person making the pick-up has a copy of identification and a written note from the document signee.
Though this entire process to obtain the FBI fingerprints here in Panama may take a few days in busy Panama City, it saves a trip back to the United States. I love to return home every once in a while but at times it’s not an option. It’s great that the DIJ and FBI work together to allow this option for those of us looking to gain Permanent Residency in Panama.