Panama Visas & Residency Options For Expats

What are your visa options for moving to Panama: how to choose the right visa and go through the application process.

Panama has many permanent residency visas for expats who want to move here and live permanently.

The whole system is a bit confusing as there are over 20 different residency visas, but many are old and not used much anymore as newer visas have replaced them.

In this guide, we will navigate you through the available options, requirements and costs.

Panama visas – general overview

Most visas in Panama lead to permanent residency, and some will even allow you to apply for a work permit. Some visas allow you to apply for citizenship after five years of permanent residency. However, Panama does not recognize dual citizenship unless under specific conditions.

So, as you can see, picking the correct immigration visa in Panama is essential based on your needs and goals here. Changing a visa later is a complicated and expensive process.

The requirements to apply for immigration visas in Panama differ slightly per visa. Still, you will need to use a Panama lawyer.

Legal fees

Most good qualified lawyers charge around $1,500 to $1,800 in fees for the main applicant’s residency visa, plus additional dependants’ fees. Plus, you will have additional government fees, filing fees, translations, stamps, etc.

Required documents

For all visas, you will need a criminal fingerprint background check from your home counties national police force. For example, if you are from the USA, the FBI, and Canada, the RCMP.

You will also need a marriage certificate if married and birth certificates if bringing children.

You will need some proof of income and other various documents. The procedure for notaries, apostille, and Panama consulate stamps, differs per country. Your Panama Lawyer will walk you through all of that. With most of the visas below, you must be in Panama for the application process.

Permanent residency in Panama offers almost everything citizens enjoy, except you cannot vote and you cannot protest.

The most popular Panama residency visas are the Pensionado Visa and the Friendly Nations Visa. We will discuss these first, then discuss some of the other currently used visas.

The Pensionado Visa

This visa is probably one of the easiest and cheapest immigration visas in Panama that expats tend to get. It is also one of the lowest-cost permanent residency visas in the world. Or at least in a modern country with a tropical climate.

This visa is designed for retirees receiving a life-long pension of over USD 1000 for the primary applicant. An additional $250 for each dependent, so for a couple, $1250 per month.

There are many types of pensions: government pensions, military pensions, disability pensions, and private company pensions. All qualify if you can prove they are a “life-long” pension.

What qualifies as a life-long pension?

In the past, Panama accepted some annuities as pensions. But, they currently are not doing it, as it is difficult to prove that they are life-long payments, as most annuities can be cashed out, sold, or transferred.

Suppose you have a pension from a smaller, unknown company. In that case, you will need to get a notarized letter from the company’s pension administrator with the amount of your pension and the statement that the pension is paid for life.

If you have a pension from any level of government or military, or big company, you will not have any problem qualifying for this visa.

Requirements

There is no age requirement for this visa. If you retire early with a pension in your 40s, you qualify for it. If you are in your 30s with a military disability pension, you qualify for it.

The one thing to remember with this visa is that you are declaring to the government of Panama that you are retired, so getting a work visa will be very difficult.

In addition to the low cost and ease of this visa, you can participate in Panama’s Pensionado Discount program once you have it. The program is offered to Panama citizens, women over 55 and men over 60, and all foreign residents of any age with a Pensionado Visa. Some of the significant discounts of this program are listed below:

  • 25% off airfare (flights originating from Panama)
  • 25% off restaurants
  • 15% off fast food
  • 25% off electric bills
  • 50% off entertainment (movies, theater, sporting events, and concerts)
  • 30% off public transit
  • 15% off hospital bills – without insurance
  • 20% off prescription drugs

You apply in person in Panama, with all the paperwork required that your Panama lawyer has helped you get.

Within 1 – 3 weeks, you will have your temporary residency card. Within 4 – 6 months, you will have your permanent residency card. You are good for the rest of your life, just getting a new picture and card every ten years.

The total cost for getting the Pensionado visa will be under $2,500 for a single and under $3,000 for a couple.

As you can see, the Pensionado Visa in Panama is one of the world’s quickest and lowest costs permanent residency visas.

Friendly Nations Visa

There were significant changes to this Visa in August of 2021.

Before August 2021 all you needed to do was to establish some economic ties with Panama, such as starting a corporation and depositing $5000 into a bank account, and you could get permanent residency in as little as six months.

The program only lasted nine years as in August of 2021, it was majorly overhauled. There are now three ways to apply for the Friendly Nations visa.

This visa now takes two years to get with two applications. First, with your Panama lawyer, apply for the temporary visa and work permit if option 1 is used below. After two years, you apply for permanent residency, where it will be confirmed that you are still complying with one of the three options below:

  1. An employment contract and full-time employment with a salary of over USD 1000 per month with an existing Panamanian company.
  2. Purchase real estate in Panama for over $200,000. A Panama bank can finance this if you qualify for a mortgage, but not private financing.
  3. Deposit $200,000 in a CD (Certified Deposit) in a Panama bank account

Permanent residency application

When you apply for the permanent visa in two years, the government will check with your employer that you actually worked and were paid for two years, and all government filings are up to date.

They will check the registry of your property to see that you still own it. And they will check with the bank on your CD, and if everything is in order, they will issue your Permanent Visa. At this time, you can quit the job if you want, sell the property, or cash in the CD.

Your lawyer’s fees and government fees, the complete two application process over two years will cost you close to $10,000, plus $2000 per dependent. This is still a popular visa, yet no longer for the person on a budget, but suitable for people who get a job here.

Short Stay Visa for remote workers or digital nomads

This new temporary visa became available in May of 2021. It is perfect for remote workers or digital nomads.

This visa will let you stay legally in the county for up to nine months, extendable for an additional nine months. This is not, nor will it lead to a permanent visa, as the program is now.

Will they allow another extension? We do not know, as the program is only one year old, and no one going through it has asked or requested that yet. This is an excellent option for those looking to check out the country before deciding to invest in moving to Panama permanently.

You must work for a foreign company or have your own online business that generates income from outside of Panama. You must prove that you make $36,000 yearly from your company payroll stubs or your past tax returns.

Besides all your basic immigration paperwork discussed above, you must sign a declaration that you will not work in Panama for a Panama company. And you must purchase Panama health insurance while you are here. The cost for the application and legal fees is about $1500.

Qualified Investor Visa (Red Carpet Visa or Golden Visa)

This is another new visa that came about in October of 2020. Its aim is to attract investors in real estate, the Panama stock market, and bank investment. This is the quickest way to get a permanent visa in Panama in 30 days and one of the only visas in Panama that you do not need to be present to apply for. There are four ways to qualify:

  1. Real Estate: invest $300,000 (goes up to $500,000 in October 2022) in Panama free of liens.
  2. Real Estate projects in pre-sale: Have a purchase sale agreement in the amount of $500,000 free of liens
  3. Panama Stock Market Investment: Purchase stock through a licensed Panama brokerage firm for $500,000
  4. Bank Fixed Term Deposit: Deposit $750,000 in a Panama bank.

There is lots of paperwork to fill out and get notarized, apostilled, or stamped by authorities. Your Panama Lawyer will assist you with that. The total costs for this visa, legal and government, will be around $15,000 -$18,000.

Other immigration visas in Panama

The Reforestation Visa, Business Investor Visa, and Free Trade Zone Investor Visa all require investments of over $100,000. I will point out that the Reforestation Visa has not been very successful, with many applications losing money, so stay away from that one.

There are also student visas, visas by marriage, visas by birth, and parents with children born here.

Italy and Panama signed a treaty in the 1960s, allowing Italian passport holders to get a permanent visa in Panama by just showing some economic activity, like starting a corporation. This attractive visa is the Italian Passport Visa for holders of Italian Passports. This visa is also very affordable at around $1,500 for legal and government costs.

Panama visas and residency options – summary

With a variety of immigration visas in Panama for expats looking to move here, you do have a lot of options.

The most common visa is the Pensionado Visa, which requires a $ 1,000 a month lifetime pension.

The quickest way to get a permanent visa is through the Qualified Investor Visa, which requires an investment in real estate, the Panama stock market, or a bank CD. Then you have the temporary Digital Nomad Visas.

If you are looking for a good immigration lawyer in Panama, ask us here. Whatever you decide is right for you, I think you will enjoy your new life in Panama.

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Rod Larrivee
Rod Larrivee

Rod, an expat from Vancouver, Canada, living in Panama since 2011, is co-owner of Retire in Panama Tours with his business partner Oscar Peña.
They offer relocation tours of Panama, with groups of 8 - 12 people. Over seven days, their guests will see all the great places in Panama an expat may want to live in and receive all the information and contacts someone needs to move to Panama. In addition, they offer expat services to assist anyone looking to relocate to Panama. If you need Rod's assistance, click on the link below

Retire In Panama Tours

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2 Comments

  1. Hello Rod,

    I’m really appreciative of the article you posted. As a practicing rheumatologist in the US, I wanted to enquire a bit more about how to open a medical practice in Panama. Do you have any resources for that process and how that may help lead to a permanent residency? Thank you again.

    Alain

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