Retiring to Panama Just Got Easier With This New Visa
Panama has long been an attractive destination for expats of all ages, with its favorable residency requirements and unmatched retiree benefits. But if you were thinking you had a few more years to slave away in a cubicle and a few more dollars to save before you could make your move to this Central American haven…
In a recent executive decree, Panama’s President Ricardo Martinelli signed into effect a new visa option for those who want to escape the ever-tightening choke hold of the American government, but aren’t quite yet able to get by on their current retirement savings… Retiring to Panama Just Got Easier!
What’s different about Panama’s new visa?
The new visa, called the Immediate Permanent Residency visa, gives instant residency status to those who wish to engage in professional and economic activities, start a business, or get a job in Panama. This is in contrast to options such as the pensioner’s visa that explicitly prevents retirees from taking jobs away from Panamanians.Also different are the solvency requirements. Instead of an investment of anywhere from $60,000-$300,000, the new visa requires a mere $5,000 in a Panamanian bank account. Another benefit is the option of obtaining citizenship after five years in the country, something that isn’t offered at all by many of the other visas.These are all perks that can benefit retirees as well. It gives them the opportunity to work if they want (or if they can’t afford not to), and it basically serves as a fast pass that sends them directly to the head of what was once a long line of steps toward immigration.
What prompted the President’s decree?
Over the years Panama’s government has implemented a number of incentives that have made the country an extremely attractive place to do business. As a result, its economy has been growing at a tremendous rate, experiencing a whopping 10.6% increase in 2011 alone. This, coupled with an unemployment rate of only 4.5%, has led to a shortage of educated, trained, English-speaking workers.
The government recognizes that the long-term solution is, of course, education. They have already begun to pour millions into the country’s education system. But for the meantime the best way to find qualified labor is to import it. They’re looking specifically for “workers in growth sectors such as logistics, tourism, banking, and those making Panama a regional hub for multinational companies,” explained Minister of the Presidency Demetrio Papadimitriu.
What would it be like to work or own a business in Panama?
Panama’s business community is heavily English-speaking, recognizes the U.S. dollar as its official currency (alongside the balboa), and bears an awful lot of other similarities to the States. Well, on the surface at least. Panama’s laws are much more favorable to investors and businesses. There are fewer restrictions on banks and corporations and much greater financial privacy. The country is home to several large duty-free zones, and personal taxes are reasonable as well, with none levied on income earned outside of the country.
Who qualifies for the new visa?
The new visa is available to those who hold a passport from one of 47 specific countries (currently, as the number has increased several times since the initial decree) “that maintain friendly, professional, economic, and investment relationships with the Republic of Panama,” including the U.S. and Canada. A full list is included below. 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.
In order to qualify, applicants need $5,000 in a Panamanian bank (plus $2,000 for each dependent) and 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 Panamanian company. Throw in a clean police record and a passport, and you’re well on your way to personal and financial freedom.
What are the first steps towards obtaining immediate residency?
Because the employment requirements must be met before the application can be completed, you should probably start there. You’ll need a work permit, which is issued by the Ministry of Labor. The next step is finding a job or setting up a corporation, which is not a very difficult or expensive process in Panama. However, since several government entities are involved and the paperwork is all in Spanish, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to hire a competent attorney to assist you with the whole process.
What are the “specific countries” that are recognized by the decree?
Alphabetically, the 47 countries are 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, and Uruguay.