TOWN HALL MEETING – AMBASSADOR’S RESIDENCE
WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 17, 2014
The following questions were addressed during the Town Hall Meeting held at the Ambassador’s Residence on Wednesday, September 17, 2014. In addition to these general Q&A, a few audience members raised personal topics of concern that the Embassy will address privately.
Question 1) What is the likelihood that Medicare will be available to U.S. citizens residing in Panama, due to the large population of U.S. citizens here?
Answer: Medicare is only available to individuals who are residing in the United States. This is a world-wide policy; therefore it is unlikely that there will be any change to this policy.
Question 2) I have heard that I will need to take a written test (in Spanish) to transfer my United States pilot’s license to a Panamanian pilot’s license. Do we have a treaty with Panama that allows us to obtain a Panamanian pilot’s license just by presenting the U.S. license?
Answer: An audience member responded that holders of U.S. pilot’s licenses should be able to bring their license to the 2nd floor of the Aeronautica Civil Office and get the Panamanian license without having to take the exam in Spanish.
Question 3) I am a dual-national and I require a certification to keep my U.S. pilot’s license valid. I need a Certified Flight Instructor to process my pilot’s license.
Answer: An audience member indicated that he is a CFI (Certified Flight Instructor) and would be willing to assist the individual. He also indicated that there is only one U.S. AI (Authorized Inspector) for aircraft in Albrook.
Question 4) What is the status of FATCA (Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act) implementation in Panama? What impact is it having on U.S. citizens?
Answer: The United States and Panama reached an agreement on FATCA, but it has not yet been signed. However, Panama is currently operating as if the document were in effect and already signed. Anecdotally, we have heard of several cases from U.S. citizens where they indicated that opening a bank account or running a business overseas has become more difficult due to FATCA, and Panama is no exception.
Question 5) How do I get information on how to comply with FATCA?
Answer: You can visit the following IRS website to learn more about FATCA: http://www.irs.gov/Businesses/Corporations/Summary-of-FATCA-Reporting-for-U.S.-Taxpayers. If you have additional questions, you can also send an e-mail to the American Citizen Services unit at the U.S. Embassy in Panama at: Panama-ACS@state.gov and we will do our best to provide the requested information or direct you to the appropriate office. From time to time, local non-profit groups may offer information sessions and we will also direct these to the attention of U.S. citizens.
Question 6) I have had my credit/debit cards cloned in Panama on two separate occasions. Has this happened to anyone else? Is this common in Panama?
Answer: If this happens to you, we understand that the normal procedure is to go to your bank first and file a complaint. If you do not receive a reply in 30 days or if you are not satisfied with this initial response, you can go to the Customer Service office of the Superintendencia de Bancos located on the first floor of the old HSBC Bank in Obarrio across from Mercurio Jewelry. Please be suspicious of any online requests for money from individuals unknown to you.
Question 7) When you are admitted to Panama as a tourist, you are generally given permission to remain for 6-months. The length of time that tourists are allowed to drive in Panama on their foreign driver’s license is 3-months. Can you please bring awareness of the discrepancy to the Panamanian Authorities to have the driver’s license validity for tourists who hold foreign licenses extended to 6-months?
Answer: We can raise this issue with the relevant Panamanian authorities, but there is no guarantee that it will have an impact on their current policy. Each country and even each state in the U.S. makes their own rules relative to obtaining a driver’s license.
Question 8) I was told that if I don’t travel to the United States at least once a year to have a medical check-up, I will lose my Medicare benefits. I was told this by Blue Cross/ Blue Shield.
Answer: Medicare benefits should be valid in the United States unless the individual writes directly to Social Security indicating that they no longer wish to receive Medicare benefits. The length of time spent outside of the United States or the frequency of medical exams in the United States should have no impact on Medicare in the United States. However, an audience member answered that, if you have Blue Cross or another secondary insurance provider, they are free to institute their own standards and often do require that you be seen yearly by an approved Physician in their network.
Question 9) I noticed that you have a list of Panamanian physicians on your website. Do you have a list of Panamanian attorneys and accountants as well?
Answer: Yes—we have a list of Panamanian attorneys on our website at the following link:
Some of the attorneys listed specialize in tax law—please review the information below their names. In addition, we understand that Accountants are listed in the Panamanian yellow pages under “Consultores de Impuestos or Contadores”. Note: if any of the Physicians or lawyers on the list does not provide adequate service, please alert the U.S. Embassy so we can remove them.
Question 10) I was told by a friend that the DHL office in David, Panama requested a U.S. citizen pay double the required fee to send a pre-paid envelope to the Embassy.
Answer: We will contact the DHL office in David to ensure that U.S. citizens are charged the correct fee for this service. In general, passport applicants are required to mail a pre-paid envelope to the Embassy and include the following items in that envelope: their old passport (so we can cancel it), the cashier’s receipt from the Embassy showing their passport payment, and only one DHL way-bill so we can return the items to DHL in David. We do not require individuals to mail us the payment receipt that they receive from DHL.
In cases where there is no old passport to mail to us (replacement of a lost/stolen passport, adding pages, etc.), the applicant can contact DHL to arrange the payment and e-mail us the DHL account number to Panama-ACS@state.gov with a note indicating that we should return their passport to the DHL office in David in that pre-paid envelope.
Question 11) Why do checks from U.S. banks take so long to process in Panama?
Answer: An audience member mentioned that Panama’s Superintendencia de Bancos has recently passed a regulation minimizing the credit of money for personal checks from Panamanian Banks to T+1 (day of deposit plus one day) so, service should speed up. In addition, banks will standardize check sizes and will also include routing as well as account numbers in a standard format as in the U.S. Both of these processes should be implemented by March 31, 2015. U.S. checks deposited in local banks are not affected by this new procedure since they have to be processed through clearing houses in the U.S.