Just Exactly What is a CÚdula, Anyway...?

Tuesday, October 19 2004 @ 06:25 PM UTC

Contributed by: Don Winner

Issued by the Electoral Tribunal, the "cÚdula" is basically the national identification card issued to all Panamanians. It's a word you're going to hear often... A cÚdula is an identification card issued by the Civil Registry of Panama. It basically states your name, date of birth, place of birth, sex, and contains a picture of your face, an example of your signature, as well as the date of issue and expiration. New cÚdulas have a magnetic strip on the back that contains all the basic information as well as a digital rendition of your thumb print. Once the immigration department has authorized your permanent residency, they will prepare a letter to the Civil Registry, authorising the issuance of your cÚdula.

"CÚdula" comes from the Latin schedula meaning a small piece of paper. In many parts of Latin America that's exactly how the term is used. It's often heard in banking and legal uses for different types of documents. But in several countries such as Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, and Panama, the word "cÚdula" means one thing -- your government issued national identification card.

Why should you care? Because having a cÚdula basically relates directly to your immigration status. In other words, if you have a cÚdula, you have more standardized rights and access than those with tourist cards or other less permanent immigration status. If you are in the process of applying for immigrant status under any of the various programs, the Immigration office will issue you a card called a "carnet" which describes your status, and whatever stage of the process you are in. Once your immigration status is finalized and you are granted permission to live here permanently, then Immigration transmits a letter to the Electoral Tribunal, authorizing them to issue you a cÚdula.

The basic and primary purpose of the Panamanian cÚdula is for voter identification. Back in the 1980's and before, the Electoral Tribunal issued new cedulas to voters before an election. If you wanted to vote, you had to present a current and valid cedula, and after you voted election officials would literally punch a hole in your cedula to indicate you had already voted, with the intent to reduce or eliminate voter fraud, and to ensure that everyone only voted once.

Recently the cÚdula has assumed the role of being a sort of all-purpose national identification card. You'll see postings in the newspaper for someone who won a raffle or something, with their complete name and cÚdula number listed. Apparently identify theft has not reached Panama yet, and there is not much of an effort to keep one's cÚdula number private (as you would your Social Security Number in the states). In banking and law issues, the first piece of information they will ask for is your cÚdula number, and if you don't have one, whatever you're trying to accomplish will be generally more difficult and complicated. Having a cÚdula just makes life easier.

CÚdula numbers are issued to Panamanians basically at birth, and you can tell where a Panamanian was born by their cÚdula number. I know that any cÚdula starting with an eight is someone from the Panama City area, and I think a "three" is from Colon, and "seven" is from Los Santos (sorry, Dino...)

(Late addition -- thanks to Melodye...) Cedula starting numbers for each province: 1-Bocas del Toro, 2-Cocle 3-Colon, 4-Chiriqui, 5-Darien, 6-Herrera, 7-Los Santos, 8-Panama, 9-Veraguas, 10-Comarca Kuna Yala, 11-Comarca Embara, 12-Comarca Ngobe Bugle, 13-Comarca Kuna de Madu Ngandi, 14-Comarca Wargandi.

CÚdulas issued to foreigners start with the letter "E" (for extranjero, or foreigner in Spanish.) Panamanians born outside of the country are issued a cedula number starting with "PE" for "Panamanian Foreigner" if that makes any sense. Someone told me recently that the government of Panama is currently in the process of doing away with the whole "PE" thing and just issuing Panamanians born outside of the country standard cÚdula numbers. One other category is "N" for naturalized. If you've legally lived in Panama for five years you can apply for naturalized citizenship. Once granted, your status will change from "E" to "N".

Your cÚdula is also your primary proof of your age, especially important if you're entitled to retiree discounts. No matter what your status, if you're planning on living in Panama, sooner or later you'll have to get a cÚdula...

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