Do you plan to travel to Panama? Keep in mind how much money to take with you to avoid bad surprises
Updated: Dec 4, 2020
When making a trip from your country of origin to Panama, each traveler or family traveling together has a limit of cash that they can take with them which is $9,999.99. If you travel with cash exceeding $10,000, and you do not duly declare it at Customs, the total amount of money can be taken away. This modality is called "Commission of a Customs Fraud Crime" or even smuggling.
The reason is mainly that by not declaring the "extra" amount of money, the customs authorities assume that the intention is to harm the tax interests of the country or even to use that money for illegal purposes. Therefore, the sworn statement that is signed to confirm the amounts is a legal document, and the declaration of "false" facts is a crime. In addition to that, if you cannot prove the origin of the funds to the authorities, for example through an income tax return, bank account, or some other means that prove the origin of the money and the use that will be given to it, the respective authority will automatically think that money is supposed to be used for illegal purposes.
Many times language barriers prevent us from explaining ourselves easily. If the origin of the funds is not confirmed, the customs authorities will confiscate the total amount of the money and in addition to that, they may initiate a criminal investigation. By not declaring the origin of the funds at customs, you may have legal problems and even be prevented by the competent authority from leaving the country, until the investigation is completed.
Do not sign if you do not understand what you are signing
In Panama, the customs declaration is made by using a form under oath of the traveler, at the moment of your entrance to the territory of Panama (the airport). I personally received that form at one time in English, sometimes in Spanish. Please do not sign if you do not understand what you are signing. It is a binding legal document and no matter how simple the form looks, the problems behind not understanding what you are signing are bigger than they seem. If you don't understand the language, please ask the flight attendant to give you one that you can understand, and if you don't speak English either, ask for help at customs when you arrive at the airport.
In our practice we have seen cases where clients traveled with different currencies and had not noticed that the total amount of cash exceeded ten thousand dollars and not understanding what they signed or thinking that the limit applies per person and not per family, the money was confiscated.
Do you want to know what the government of Panama does with the money confiscated in Customs every year?
I don't think you're going to like it, but I'll tell you. The Law in Panama stipulates that all the money collected by travelers who did not declare their money in Customs, a part of it will be distributed among all the Customs officers at the national level, as a bonus for their work – as some kind of war booty (...); the rest of the money will be distributed among other institutions in Panama, as money for their operations budget.
The authority confiscates quickly, but when they have to return the money the process is very slow and nerve-racking. It must be proven to the customs judge that the money is not illegal, and there was never any intention of violating the customs law, but to make investments in the country, that you have a connection with Panama (not as a tourist, but as a resident or potential resident in the country), maybe even a business, and that you pay your taxes in Panama.
Remember, that "ignorance of the law does not exempt from responsibility".
So, keep learning and informing yourself, and in case of any doubt ask your trusted lawyer, who will surely be happy to help you.
Have a nice trip and safe travel!