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Panama Visa and Residency: What Are the Best Options?

Panama Visa and Residency

Knights Bridge

Expat and real estate developer Park Wilson talks about the best Panama visa and residency options and why they’re the main ones he’d recommend to someone wanting to relocate to Panama.

Park:  I’ve been an expat in Panama for about 6 years now, and one of the questions I get asked a lot is which visa is the best for other expats to pursue.  Obviously, this can vary from one individual to the next, based on their specific needs.  But, from my own experience and from talking to tons of other expats who have gone through the process, I could easily narrow it down to two that I think make the most sense and the non-option that has made the most sense for me.

The Pensionado Visa.  And the one for Nationals of Specific Countries (NSC).

They both have their pros and cons, but in my opinion these two have the best benefits and require the least amount of effort.  Here’s a little more information, including the pros and cons of each.

Pensionado Visa

The Pensionado Visa is an option designed for pensioners of all ages and comes complete with a neat little bundle of discounts and advantages for its recipients.  You’ll have to jump through a few extra hoops to qualify, but the end result can really be worth it.  Here’s the skinny on this visa.

Qualifications

  • Monthly income of $1,000 for life from a guaranteed source such as a pension or annuity

  • Or income of $750 per month and a $100,000 minimum investment in Panamanian real estate

  • An additional $250 monthly income for each dependent child

Benefits

  • 50% off on recreation and entertainment such as movies, theaters, sports, etc.

  • 50% off hotels Monday through Thursday (30% off on weekends)

  • 50% off passports

  • 30% off public transportation like buses, trains, and boats

  • 25% off airfare

  • 25% off restaurants (15% off fast food)

  • 25% off electrical, telephone, and water service

  • 20% off doctors and specialists

  • 20% off prosthetics and other personal assistance devices

  • 15% off hospitals and private clinics

  • 15% off dental and optometry services

  • 10% off prescription medications

  • tax-free importation of household goods, up to $10,000

  • tax-free importation of a vehicle, or tax-free purchase of a local vehicle, every 2 years

The Pensionado visa also allows expats to obtain a cedula, Panama’s national identification card.  It also makes them eligible for permanent residency, but not citizenship.

Some Drawbacks

While most would say it’s worth it, the Pensionado visa can be a lot of trouble to obtain.  And not everyone gets it.  The process takes about 6 months and requires a hefty amount of paperwork and may require you to continue to prove solvency.

Another problem is that the Pensionado visa restricts you from having a job.  You can own a business that you operate, but otherwise Panama historically frowns on foreigners coming in and taking jobs away from Panamanians.  So, if you don’t want the hassle or if you plan to seek outside employment, the Pensionado visa may not be the one for you.

No worries.  You’ll get to enjoy most of the same discounts anyway once you reach retirement age.

Nationals of Specific Countries Visa

The other visa that I would highly recommend is one that was recently made possible in order to attract much-needed skilled labor to accommodate Panama’s growing economy.  It’s quick, painless, and fairly easy to qualify.  And it has the added benefit of allowing you to hold a job or start a business.  It’s required in fact.  Here are the qualifications for the visa offered to nationals of specific countries (NSC):

Qualifications

  • $5,000 in a Panamanian bank (plus an additional $2,000 for each dependent)

  • One of the following:

    • evidence of investment in Panamanian real estate

    • proof of ownership in a Panamanian business or corporation

    • or a letter and contract of employment from a Panamanian company

Oh, and one more thing.  You have to be coming from one of these 47 countries “that maintain friendly, professional, economic, and investment relationships with the Republic of Panama”:

Andorra, Argentina, Australia, Austria, Brazil, Belgium, Canada, Chile, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, France, Finland, Germany, Greece, Hong Kong, Hungary, Ireland, Israel, Japan, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Norway, Malta, Monaco, Montenegro, Netherlands, New Zealand, Poland, Portugal, San Marino, Serbia, Singapore, Slovakia, South Africa, South Korea, Spain, Switzerland, Sweden, Taiwan, United Kingdom, United States, or Uruguay.

Also eligible are applicants’ dependent spouses, children under 18 (or between 18 and 25 if they’re students), dependent parents, and family members with disabilities.

Benefits

The NSC visa doesn’t have any discounts or other monetary perks like the Pensionado.  Its main attractive feature is that it gives you the freedom to work, and requires a very minimal investment.

Another perk is that, because the need for workers is great, Panama’s current administration is really cranking these visas out fast.  And, it’s immediate permanent residency.  No renewals.  No waiting.  Recipients can also apply for citizenship after 5 years, something that isn’t possible with a lot of visas.

That’s why a lot of folks are calling this one the “fast track” visa.  It’s great for young entrepreneurs who might not otherwise be able to afford to make such a move.

Some Drawbacks

I really can’t think of a negative thing to say about this visa.  Other than the fact that it isn’t right for someone who doesn’t have the $5,000 investment or doesn’t want to have to work.  Other than that, it’s a great opportunity for ambitious would-be expats.

The Non-Visa Option

Another option, or you could call it a non-option, is not to apply for any visa at all.  This is actually what I’ve been doing, and it has worked out quite well.  You see, U.S. citizens are automatically given a 6-month visa upon entering Panama.  And there’s no limit to the number of times you can be granted this visa.

So, because I live so close to Costa Rica, it’s really no trouble at all for me to hop over the border, stay for a few days, and then head back to Panama where I get another 6-month visa.  This option is fairly common.  I know a lot of people who do it.

Bottom Line

If you have the guaranteed income and are ready to enjoy a retirement lifestyle, go with the Pensionado visa.  The benefits are worth it.  If you have less of an initial investment and want to build a business or career in a place that better rewards your efforts, the specific countries visa is your ticket.

Then again, if you don’t mind some occasional travel, then don’t get a visa at all.  There are plenty of options, or non-options, available.  Find the one that’s right for you.

 

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35 thoughts on “Panama Visa and Residency: What Are the Best Options?

  1. Giovanna Bernal
    1

    Actually there is a chance for “Pensionados” to work they need to be on the Board of Directors of a corporation

  2. 3

    Actually, it doesn’t take 6 months the process is very easy obtaining the pension visa as long as your documentation is in order it takes about 6 weeks.

    The reason the granting of the Cedula was to give individuals the same rights as a permanent resident. A little known fact… having a rights of possession property (ROP) you’ll need a Cedula in order to obtain your title. Also, under no circumstances are you allowed to work.

    It is understood that you are retired on a pension and are here just to live and enjoy your retirement years. For some that’s fine however, for the extra $60.00 I think it is a no-brainer.

    • 4

      Paul, Thanks for commenting!
      We haven’t met many folks who have gotten a pensionado that fast. If you know lots of them, let us know the attorney who is getting them through.

      • Desiree Smith
        5

        My husband and I do have $$7,000 and would like to apply for the NSC with a UK passport what else is needed. We have a home in Panama and monthly income. Advise please.

    • 6

      not so, I have a pensionado visa and bought property and have the title. misinformation is worse than no information at all so make sure you know what you are talking about!! a ID is not necessary to get a title for property.

      • 7

        I believe he (Paul) was talking about title to a ROP property, not about a property which is already titled so yes, you are correct, misinformation is worse than no information at all, so make sure you know what you are talking about. If you don’t know what ROP property is, look it up.

        And by the way, for what it is worth, it took us 14 months to get our cedulas using a lawyer who advertised online to specalize in the process so don’t count on anything being fast. It might be but it might not.

  3. 10

    Canadians have same visa access (six months) as US citizens?

    • 11

      Ion, great question! As of January 1, 2011 Canadian passport holders DO NOT need a visa to enter Panama and Tourist Cards no longer exist. Upon arrival to Panama, you will be allowed to remain in the country for 6 months. Be aware, your passport MUST be valid for at least 3 months when traveling to Panama, but it is better to have at least 6 months remaining, just to avoid potential problems.

  4. 12

    Park, I’m a U.S. citizen married to a Belizean citizen. Would he be able to enter with me on a Tourist Visa, and what is the bi-annual cost of that? If not, then I suppose he could be considered my dependent under the NSC residency? Thank you.

  5. 13

    Need some words of advice. I have been married to a Panamanian national for 26 years and I know by Panama law I have some rights to citizenship simaler to the US has with my wife however, everytime we have tried to research this I get sent from Gov office to Gov office in Panama, and ideas how to go around this? Was actualy looking to move there, and continue to do the warzone contracting.

    • 14

      Tracy, thanks for taking the time to comment. If you are legally married then you can apply for permanent residency based on this marriage. Here is the link to the Migracion de Panama website explaining the details.

    • lloyd sutton
      15

      i am married to a lady from panama, we live in the usa but want to relocate to Panama
      what do i need to get a visa to live there, please advise

      • 16

        Hi Lloyd; Yes, you will need to adjust your visa status to married to a Panamanian. It will require many of the same documents as other visas to reside in Panama. Good luck!

  6. 17

    I take it you could not apply for a Nationals of Specific Countries Visa if you don’t have a job lined up, but are planning on starting a small business, if things work out.

    • 18

      Dennis thank you for taking the time to comment! We appreciate your questions. Let me see if I can clarify the requirements for you:

      The words “professional and economic ties with the Republic of Panama” means that citizens of these 48 countries must establish professional or economic relationship with Panama. This can be accomplished by starting a new business or purchasing an existing business or being hired to work for a Panama company.

      Hope that helps!

  7. Carlos Amaya
    19

    Great article! Can the fast track permanent residency be completed without the aid of a lawyer? If not, can you recommend someone?

  8. 20

    Hi Park – my husband and I just moved to Panama and I heard that if we want to drive in Panama on our US driver’s license, that we need to leave the country every 90 days, instead of the six months you are granted when you enter the country. Do you know if this is accurate? As well, what if I was past my 90 days, could I just stop driving until I leave the country and resume driving when I return? Any insight would be most appreciated. Thanks!

  9. 22

    Hi Guys , very interesting comments.

    I have a lot in Los Santos and I have just engaged a Architect to design a two storey house…I plan to rent out the two rooms on the top storey and plan to commence construction around Xmas time.
    I also own a small house in Chiriqui and have done for 8 years
    Should I put them both in a co-operation and go for a NSC visa or pensionada visa ..
    My Uk Pension which probably will be about $900 a month ain’t enough for the pensionada ..so do I still build and be a perpetual tourist for two years?

    Thanks in Advance

    Donald

  10. 23

    Hi Me and my wife are thinking of moving to Panama. To start a new life and a business is it a difficult process. Are there many opportunities in Panama. We are tired of the weather in the UK and cost of living is getting stupid. Any advise would be greatly appreciated.

  11. 24

    Hi,

    Does anyone have applied or know someone who have applied for reforestation visa which requires investment?

    Thanks

  12. 25

    I have my permanent residency card in Panama but have to go in a few weeks to pick up my cedula. At this point am I a permanent resident now since I have the card or is it only after getting the cedula?

  13. 26

    Hi,
    I was wondering if I need a cedula or permanent residency in order to purchase property in panama? Also do I have to wait until after receiving my pensiando visa in order to ship my things or can it be done after application and how much time do I have to do that? Also I would like some clarification on the whole “you can own a business and operate it on the retirement visa”. Your time in responding is greatly appreciated. Thank you

  14. 27

    How do I form a company in Panama?

  15. 28

    I’m American and want to file for pensionado program. My wife’s family lives in Venezuela. Does anyone know if, after I obtain pensionado status…can I move my wife’s family to live with us, or in our Panamanian home? Ideally with residency or citizenship status.

    Thank you

  16. 29

    Hi, am from nigeria and i love to live in panama pls can i convert tourism visa to resident permit or can i extend tourism visa?

  17. bertram pickney
    30

    Just want to get on list for info my wife and I are wanting to retire in Panama.

  18. 31

    Wondering if dependents who obtain residency in Panama need to visit Panama every two years to maintain residency. Or just the head of household?

  19. 32

    My husband and I are planning to move to Panama because health insurance costs in USA are horrible. We have been self-employed so we don’t have a govt pension to prove income for pensionado program. Would showing an investment account balance suffice? Also, I see the benefits of being on a tourist visa and just going to CR for a few days, but wouldn’t Americans still be obligated to pay Obamacare, if they are technically still residents of USA?

    • 33

      HI Jen: Here is a quick answer to your Obamacare and living overseas. The details are found here. It is possible to live in Panama on a tourist visa, but beware that border crossing requirements change frequently and you might find yourself at the border in need of certain documents. But if you are go-easy person, and able to see the benefit of a tourist visa, it is easy enough to manage.

  20. 34

    Thanks for the article! Very helpful and informative.

    One question: living in Panama on the tourist visa option, are you able to open a local bank account?

    • 35

      Hi Ken, it is becoming more difficult to open bank accounts in Panama on a tourist visa, that is not to say it cannot be done, but be aware of a long process and lots of paperwork requests.

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