We Received Our Cedulas
While most people who live here as expats only get their permanent visas or Carnet’s we elected to go the one step further and have our wonderful attorney apply for us to receive a Cedula. In the past this opportunity did not exist for permanent visa holders, but now the government has opened this up and we wanted to take advantage of it before it went away. It is an upgrade to the Permanent Residency Visa or Carnet.
The process while simple took about 6 months. Our attorney took copies of our permanent visas, passports and took them to the Tribunal Electoral in Panama City where he proceeded to apply for us to receive our Cedulas. A Cedula is much different than a permanent visa. It is the document that is given to you at birth in Panama with a unique number like our social security number in the states. It is your Panama id. The number never changes. And the Cedula is its own document not connected with any other document that you have, like your passport.
US passports change numbers when you renew every 10 years. The problem arises with holding a permanent visa in that, it is completely tied to your passport number. When your passport number changes ( and it will) your permanent visa is invalid because it does not have the current passport number on it. So you must go and renew your permanent visa once again to reflect your new passport number.
In addition, all documents you have in Panama, such as car registration, bank accounts, home ownership are all connected to your passport, so all of these must also be updated each time your passport changes.
When You Have a Cedula
You only have to change everything over to that number once. The Cedula is not anyway connected to your passport. And by having one you are more thought of as being a Panama citizen, (even though you are not) you can more easily open bank accounts, get loans and all the other things more easily accessed as a citizen.
The pictures are updated every 10 years and you can do that locally at the nearest Tribunal Electorial. You do not need to go to Panama City to renew.
With only a resident permanent visa you are still advised to carry copies of your passport for further identification. With a Cedula, you never have to show your US passport or carry copies. Your Cedula becomes the only ID you need.
For us the extra $100 for us both to get this was worth the cost and time. If we so choose to get citizenship in Panama we would be one step further along in the process by having a Cedula. You can apply for citizenship 5 years after first receiving your Cedula if you choose to do that.