If you’re looking to make Panama your home, whether for a few years or a lifetime, there are a variety of visa options available to you. Panama is very friendly to foreigners and is continually opening its doors even wider to those who want to move there for practically any reason. We’ve compiled some more information about the various visa options, their requirements, and the process of obtaining them. However, because the country is making such large strides to become even more open to immigrants, the laws are frequently changing.
The good news is that the process is only getting easier. The bad news is that it can take some serious digging to find information that is current. If you’re serious about starting the process now, a reputable Panamanian lawyer with immigration experience can drastically cut down on the time and headaches associated with the process. In the meantime, check back often for updates on recent decrees and resolutions.
The Application Process
The requirements, timelines, and procedures vary greatly from one visa program to the next (yet another good reason to work with someone who’s familiar with them all). However, a few key points are central to the process as a whole. Documentation will be required to show proof of all requirements set forth by the specific visas. For instance, a letter from a bank will be required to verify solvency where needed, and a promise of work contract will be needed to show proof of employment.
These documents should all be clean and current and bear the proper authentication by an attorney or Apostille, which is similar to a notary public. All passports should be current with at least a year (or more) remaining before their expiration date.
For dependents, you will need to obtain current copies of marriage and birth certificates. A current police record from your country of residence is generally required. You will also need to be examined by a Panamanian doctor to receive a certificate stating that you are free of disease and in good mental and physical health.
While some steps in the process require you to be physically present, an attorney can handle many of the tasks with a signed Power of Attorney.
The Visa and Residency Options and Requirements
Tourist Pensioner Visa
One of the most popular and beneficial visas offered by the Panamanian government is the Tourist Pensioner Visa. Available to those who can show a minimum monthly income of $1,000 from a verifiable source, such as a pension, this visa has no expiration date. It is also exempt to any future changes in the law, so current holders are grandfathered in under the program.
Proof of income is required and has to be provided on a yearly basis to show that you are still receiving a pension. While this visa does not offer a path to citizenship, it does provide a number of benefits that are unmatched by any of Panama’s other visas, or those of any other country.
However, don’t worry about missing out if you enter the country by some other means. While these benefits are provided automatically to anyone on the Tourist Pensioner Visa, they are also available to anyone over the age of 60 (55 for women) and to others on a case-by-case basis. Here are some of the highlights:
50% off entertainment (e.g. movies, theaters, sporting events, etc.)
30-50% off hotels
30% off public transportation (e.g. boats, buses, and trains)
25% off airline tickets
25% off utilities
15-25% off restaurants
15% off medical services (exclusive of procedures covered by insurance)
Tax-free importation of household goods (up to $10,000)
Tax-free importation or purchase of a new car every two years
Private Income Retiree Visa
For those who might have received a pension as a lump sum, the Private Income Retiree Visa is an excellent option. To qualify for this visa you’ll need to invest enough money in a 5-year certificate of deposit (CD) in the National Bank of Panama to generate $2,000 per month.
The visa is renewable every five years, provided that the CD is also renewed. Holders of this visa are granted a Panamanian passport, but no direct path to citizenship. Private income retirees can also import their household goods and a vehicle every two years with no taxes, just like tourist pensioners.
Person of Means Visa
The Person of Means Visa requires a 3-year fixed-term deposit of at least $300,000 in a Panamanian bank. A mortgage-free real estate investment of the same amount (or a combination of the two) will also qualify you for this visa. Unlike the previous visas, this option can lead to permanent citizenship after one initial renewal, so long as your financial situation remains secure. It also offers the ability to become a Panamanian citizen if you choose.
Panama is also friendly to those who wish to do business or invest in the country. With a $160,000 initial investment and the hiring of five full-time Panamanian employees, you can qualify for an Investor Visa. This visa is good for a period of two years.
While it can lead to permanent residency, it must first be renewed three times. Once they become permanent residents, holders of the Investor Visa can also apply for Panamanian nationality.
This is an older visa and for most people there are better options.
Permanent Residency for Nationals of Countries Friendly to Panama
One of the most recent additions to Panama’s residency options, and the one with the longest name, is the Permanent Residency for Nationals of Countries Friendly to Panama option.
With requirements that are much more attainable than many of the other visa options, this program offers immediate residency.
In addition to skipping all the steps of obtaining (and renewing) a visa, it offers another benefit that many of the others lack: It gives you the option to work. Born out of an acute need for skilled labor, due to the country’s huge economic boom, this program requires a mere $5,000 deposit in a Panamanian bank (plus $2,000 for each dependent). In addition applicants must show proof of one of the following:
Investment in Panamanian real estate
Ownership in a Panamanian corporation
Employment by a Panamanian business
This program, introduced in the form of Decree 343, is offered to residents of 47 countries that have been identified as being “friendly” to Panama and is available to you, your spouse, children under 18 (or between the ages of 18 and 25 if they’re students), and children of any age with disabilities.
No renewals are needed since this program grants immediate residency, and those who take advantage of this option are also able to apply for citizenship.
Given the simplicity of opening a Panama Corporation or investment in Panama real estate, this visa has become one of the most popular.
Accelerated Permanent Residency for Professionals
Another piece of legislation that’s hot off the presses is Decree 229, which changes the amount of time a person must work in Panama before becoming a permanent resident. Historically, those in Panama on a work permit could apply for permanent residency after a period of seven years.
The recent bill, which applies to those working in a professional capacity, reduces it to two. The decree applies not only to those who will seek employment in Panama in the future, but to those already working there as well.
Forestry Investor Visa
Designed to promote the production and preservation of teak, the Forestry Investor Visa offers both a small and large option. Small forestry investors will need a $60,000 minimum investment.
This visa is only temporary and must be renewed every year for six years. On the seventh renewal, you can apply for permanent residency.
The Large Forestry Investor Visa, which requires an $80,000 investment, is good for two years initially. After that period of time, you can apply for permanent residency. Five years after obtaining residency, you can also apply for citizenship.
Keep in mind that, while these visa and residency options are the most common, this list isn’t exhaustive. There are other solutions available for individuals such as agriculture investors, those doing business in tax-free zones, temporary workers, and more. If you want to call this Central American destination your home, there is almost certainly a way to make that happen.