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Tips for Managing Panama’s Challenging Visa Application Process

Panama visa

M. Drumb

Whether you’re retiring to Panama with a pensioner’s income or moving down as a young professional to work in a specialized field, you can easily find a Panama visa option that’s right for your particular situation.  Now actually obtaining that visa, on the other hand, can be a completely different story.

While Panama is known the world over for its friendliness to foreigners and its inviting list of visa options, its efficiency and straightforward processes are unfortunately not among its strong suits.

Picture the DMV in the U.S.  On a Friday.  The last day of the month.  With the computer system down.  Now double it.

That’s not to say that obtaining your visa in Panama is always difficult.  It isn’t.  But it can easily become that way.  And it’s due largely in part to the Panamanian way of doing things.

Things in Panama move slower, in general.  You can wait days for a repairman to actually show up at your house to fix a leaky faucet.  Panama Immigration Services is no different.

In addition, the rules in Panama are always changing.  The requirements someone laid out for you yesterday might not hold true tomorrow.  Or you might just get a different story from the person you talk to the next time.

Don’t let it frustrate you.

While the process of obtaining your Panamanian visa can be stressful, it’s manageable.  And, most importantly, it’s worth it.  With the right team of professionals and these important tips, you can make things go a little more smoothly.

  1. Be represented.  A qualified attorney can be a huge asset when navigating the immigration process, beginning with choosing the best visa for your needs.  Find someone who has experience with the system and has helped other gringos obtain the same visa you’re after.  You can get recommendations from other trusted professionals you’ve dealt with or from other expats.

  1. Be knowledgeable.  Before applying for your visa, make sure you’ve researched your options and are choosing the right one for you.  Take into consideration whether you’ll be investing in property, whether you have a high enough monthly income, or whether you plan to work once you get here.  These factors determine whether you will qualify for a specific visa at all, so don’t miss this important step.

  1. Be reasonable.  With your expectations, that is.  Obtaining a visa is not like renewing your driver’s license, where you go in, wait in a long line, and leave with what you came for.  Understand the process for what it is and prepare yourself to approach it calmly and with your end goal in mind.  Remember that, despite the fact that the government or even your attorney gives you a projected time frame, it’s never a guarantee.  If you know that going in, it can make the entire process far less stressful.

  1. Be prepared.  Once you know (or at least think you know) what all will be required for your application, get all of your documentation in order.  This will include things like your passport, proof of income, employment verification, and other important papers.  It’s best to have a few copies of each if possible.  Make sure they’re all in Spanish and notarized where necessary.

  1. Be patient.  And not just the waiting-in-a-long-line kind of patient.  Sure, you’ll do some of that too.  You’ll want to bring a book or magazine, or maybe even use the time to brush up on your Spanish.  But, beyond the temporary waiting in line, there can be months of frustration and uncertainty.  Don’t worry.  Don’t stress.  Just trust your team to do everything they can to keep moving the ball forward.  Then wait patiently and trust that you’ve done everything you can for the moment.  When it’s time for the next step, move the ball forward a little more.  Repeat.

  2. Be polite.  It’s true in almost any situation, but when dealing with Panama Immigration Services you can truly catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.  A simple “Buenos dias” and a smile can brighten the day of the person stuck behind the desk you’re standing in front of.  Especially when they’ve just dealt with hundreds of people before you who weren’t nearly as affable.  While there’s probably not a lot of leeway for any kind of special treatment, they’re much more likely to offer it if you’re nice.

  1. Be persistent.  We mentioned that rules and requirements change a lot in Panama, and foreigners are often left in the lurch when that happens.  When you show up with everything you need, only to be told you’ll need something else, simply smile graciously and go back to the drawing board.  When it happens again the next time (and it could), just keep doing everything you can to keep the ball moving forward.

  2. Be ready to do it all again.  With many visas, such as the popular Pensionado Visa, the government requires an annual renewal to ensure that you’re still meeting the requirements that allow you to hold the visa, such as proof of your continued income.  Don’t let these dates sneak up on you.  Remain proactive and line up the required documents well in advance of any deadlines.  Hopefully the renewal process will only get easier with time.

While obtaining a visa in Panama isn’t always a walk in the park, it’s well worth the sacrifice to be able to call this attractive retirement haven your home.  Now that you know how to approach the process, you’re miles ahead of many other would-be expats.  The next step is to narrow down your options.

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One thought on “Tips for Managing Panama’s Challenging Visa Application Process

  1. 1

    Another EXCELLENT article ! And, if I may say so…I believe the way you stressed the whole Attitude-Adjustment-UP-FRONT idea, being one of the most important things a person can do, was spot-on ! And I can certainly appreciate the humor: “Picture the DMV in the U.S. On a Friday. The last day of the month. With the computer system down. Now double it.”

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