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How Panama’s Pensionado Visa Can Save You $10,000 Per Year

Panama Pensionado Visa: Savings and Benefits

Panama Pensionado Visa: Savings and Benefits

Panama has a lot of extremely attractive features that beckon expats to its beautiful beaches and lush mountain havens.  It is a nation that is extremely welcoming to foreigners and perhaps never more so than when it offers to retirees a whole host of discounts, on everything from airfare to home phone service.

These benefits are part of Panama’s Pensionado Program, a neat little package of perks tailored to retirees of all ages.  Depending on where you choose to settle, the cost of living in Panama is already extremely affordable.  However, the benefits offered to pensioners can make retiring to this Central American destination all the more lucrative.

Panama’s Pensionado Program’s Benefits

The discounts and advantages of the pensioner’s visa are quite numerous.  Here they are in a nutshell:

  • 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

In addition, retirees are now able to obtain a cedula, the national identification card issued to residents of Panama.  While participants in the retirement program can easily get by with merely their pensionado card and a passport issued from their home country, the cedula allows for greater ease of getting around and transacting in Panama. Locals feel a bit more comfortable when dealing with someone they know is “documented,” so to speak.  While holding a cedula doesn’t grant you any additional benefits, it’s just one more step towards diving headfirst into your new culture.

The Qualifications Required for the Pensionado Visa

While it sounds like, and is often referred to as, a “retirement” program, the pensionado visa is actually available to expats of any age who meet the specified criteria.  Even better, recipients are grandfathered in under the law and can never lose their benefits, as long as they continue to meet the requirements.  To qualify you must have the following:

  • 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

The $1,000 per month is a total amount for a married couple.  In other words, it isn’t necessary for both spouses to meet the income requirement.  Dependent children cannot be over the age of 18, unless they are attending college.  Exceptions can also be made for adult children with disabilities.  The $250 can also be obtained in the form of interest earned on deposits in a Panamanian bank.

How to Get a Pensionado Visa?

The process of applying for and obtaining your pensionado visa is a fairly straightforward one.  The whole shebang takes about six months and costs between $1,500 and $2,000 per person, including attorney fees.  If you’re applying for yourself, your spouse, and your dependents all at the same time, you can sometimes save a few pennies on the legal fees. A good bit of paperwork will be required, and it will all need to be properly authenticated.  A reputable attorney with experience in immigration issues will be an invaluable tool as you navigate this process.  In general, you’ll need to be prepared to provide the following:

  • Certified letter from the appropriate organization or entity guaranteeing your monthly pension for life

  • Government certification that the source of your income is in good standing, if your pension comes from a private company

  • Proof of prior pension payments (e.g. check stubs, bank statements, etc.)

  • Certificate of public registration of Panamanian real estate in your name, if applicable

  • Police record from the country where you resided the past 5 years

  • Marriage and/or birth certificates, if applicable

The Fine Print

While the program no doubt has some great benefits available to expats, there are some who question whether or not it’s all it’s cracked up to be.  Take, for example, the discounts on utilities.  Water in some areas may be as low as $7.  So 25% off of that isn’t a whole heck of a lot.  Then again, it all adds up. Another criticism of the program is the fact that exclusions often apply.  So, pensioners shopping for airline tickets may end up finding another flight that is actually less than the discounted rate they could get on what was already a higher priced ticket.  And, understandably, the entertainment discounts aren’t available on events such as charity functions. Would-be expats who know little Spanish will want to quickly learn this phrase: Por favor, deme mi descuento de pensionado.  Which means “Please give me my pensioner’s discount.”  Benefits aren’t automatic.  You have to ask for them, and some small businesses may even be reluctant to grant them. It’s also important to note that, for those of retirement age (women over 55 and men over 60), you are eligible for most of these benefits anyway.  It’s up to you whether you want to jump through the additional hoops to obtain the pensioner’s visa, or just opt for another type of visa.

The Breakdown

So, we said it all adds up.  But just how much could you really save in a year with the benefits offered by the pensioner’s visa?  Here’s a theoretical breakdown that shows how a hypothetical couple could easily save as much as $10,000:

Movie tickets

$2.75/person x 2 per month

50%

$66

Dinner theater

$20/person x 2 per month

50%

$480

Three-night hotel stay

$375 total x 6 per year

30-50%

$1,125

Bus ride

$6/person round trip x 15 per year

30%

$54

In-country flight

$175/person round trip x 4 per year

25%

$350

Flight to US

$450/person round trip x 3 per year

25%

$675

Dinner for two

$30 total x 2 per week

25%

$780

Mid-range meal

$12/person x 4 per week

25%

$1,248

Fast food

$7/person x 2 per week

15%

$218.40

Home phone bundle

$70/month

25%

$210

Water

$7/month

25%

$21

Electric service

$80/month

25%

$240

Doctor visit

$40/person x 3 per year

20%

$48

Dentist visit

$40/person x 2 per year

15%

$24

Specialist visit

$45/person x 1 per year

20%

$18

Medications

$7/ea x 2 per month

10%

$33.60

Vehicle import

18% of value (e.g. $25,000)

100%

$4,500

Total

$10,091

*Amounts given are examples based on our experience and are for two people.

Whether it’s the Pensionado Visa, or one of Panama’s many others, you’re certain to find the visa that’s right for you.  Start your search today!

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9 thoughts on “How Panama’s Pensionado Visa Can Save You $10,000 Per Year

  1. 1

    I have been in David, Panama, for 5 months. I am starting the Pensionado process. The lawyer recommended to me wants $1,500 (could be more) AND says I need to post an $800 bond to the government, as I understand it against the possibility they might someday need to deport me! I already have an FBI background check and $2,200+ in monthly SS and pensions. Is she making this bond thing up? Thanks for any factual knowledge here.

    • 2

      John, thanks for taking the time to leave a comment. I think in your case it might be best to get a second opion from a another lawyer, this is the first we’ve heard of needing to “pay a bond.” Much in Panama, like most places, is buyer beware, and it might be adventagous (if not for your pocket book) to seek out additional advice from a second lawyer. However, check out the documents needed from the Panama Migracion website, as it reads, it does not list the needing of paying a bond. Also take the position of asking for recommendations and see if one or two lawyers seem to top the list. Make an appointment and check them out with these tips in mind. Good luck, and please check back with us later and leave a comment on what you found out.

    • 3

      If you’re in David, there is a large expat community there, and also in Boquette. Contact them and see what lawyers they used because they’ve all already gone through this.

  2. 4

    Not a comment , but a question. It is my desire to retire in Panama and my concern is the averge rent for a one or two bedroom apartment. Is it possible that you can share any information you may have regarding this issue

  3. jerry reidelbach
    5

    My wife and I will be retiring this year and are considering Costa Rica or Panama, we are both in our late 60’s and will be on a fixed income of 48,000yr. Where in Panama could we live fairly comfortable on that amount of income, and what would be the average cost of renting a furnished apt. or small house near a town center, we don’t plan on buying a car at first until we decide if the country is a good fit. Can a couple of our age find a nice place to live and still live well on that amount of income? Thanks Jerry

  4. 6

    My husband and I are planning to retire in Panama. Please advise a good and reliable lawyer in panama city that can help me to get the pensionato visa.

    thank you

    • 7

      I used Morgan&Morgan. They are in Panama and David. Did a fairly good job. Not cheap, but worry-free. Donot forget to ask them to arrange your drivers license at the same time as that is often forgotten.

      • 8

        Would you email Morgan and Morgan contact information, will visit Panama City April 18, 2016. Thks

  5. 9

    Some websites listed below to help you search for renting or buying in panama. I am in Playa Coronado now looking for a potential retirement home and/or investment property. I have explored Boquete in the mountains, Playa Barqueta beach south of Davis, and now closer to Panama City at Playa Coronado. I will email anyone with answers given the information I know. I am not soliciting for any payment, and will rely questions to local expats. These are some of the websites I have read to find information. I am visiting the Playa Coronado area for up to 3 more months, exploring opportunities. Email msdeesutton at yahoo.com drop the blank spaces in between, add the @ symbol of course.

    Playacommunity.com
    http://www.encuentra24.com/
    http://panamalivinginvestment.com
    http://davdirect.org/getting-here/
    http://panama.en.craigslist.org
    http://www.boquetelandandrealty.com
    Vrbo.com
    Homeaway.com
    http://www.chiriquichatter.net/blog/about-chiriqui-chatter/
    http://www.trypanama.com
    http://us5.campaign-archive2.com/?u=329a337a08c3aec90f7cd7e48&id=212b084a7a
    Airpanama.com

    Rio Hato has an airport, flights directly from Canada, and plan is to expand further. It is located close to the Playa resort communities, driving from Tocumen Intl Airport can take 2 hours, traffic is bad in the city. The GPS satellite connection in the city is not covered, therefore it will not help to much. I ended up pulling out a map to navigate towards the canal. If renting a vehicle buy a decent map, and get explicit instructions from the rental agent. Use Waze, on your smart phone, it actually provides the street names when driving here. Waze reports accidents, where police are located, in real time, it is a free app for the next year, then Facebook with start charging .99 cents per year to use it. Street names are not posted everywhere. Bus terminal is in the area of Albrook, main terminal to get anywhere in the country, fares are cheap. Warning, highway from Santiago to David is under construction, and I do not advice driving unless you are patient and do not mind a rough road, with stops due to one way traffic. Fly from Albrook to David Airports if you want to avoid land transport. Davis is south of Boquete the expat destination in the mountain region.

    Dee

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