Panama’s Visa Options and Residency Programs
Panama offers a range of permanent residency visas for expatriates seeking to relocate and live in the country. Although the system can be confusing due to the existence of over 20 different residency visas, many of the older visas are no longer commonly used, having been replaced by newer options. In this comprehensive guide, we will navigate through the available choices, outlining their requirements and costs.
- General Overview of Panama Visas
- The Pensionado Visa
- Friendly Nations Visa
- Short Stay Visa for Remote Workers or Digital Nomads
- Qualified Investor Visa (Red Carpet Visa or Golden Visa)
- Other Immigration Visas in Panama
General Overview of Panama Visas
Most visas in Panama lead to permanent residency, and some even allow for work permit applications. Certain visas enable applicants to apply for citizenship after five years of obtaining permanent residency. However, it is important to note that Panama does not recognize dual citizenship unless specific conditions are met. Choosing the right immigration visa in Panama is crucial based on your individual needs and goals, as changing visas later can be a complex and costly process. The specific requirements for each visa may vary slightly, necessitating the assistance of a Panama lawyer.
Reputable lawyers in Panama typically charge around $1,800 to $2,500 in fees for the main applicant’s residency visa, in addition to fees for dependents. Additional expenses include government fees, filing fees, translation costs, and stamps.
For all visas, a criminal background check from the national police force of your home country is necessary. For example, if you are from the USA, you will need a check from the FBI, and for Canada, from the RCMP. If you are married, a marriage certificate is required, and if you have children, you will need their birth certificates. Additionally, you will need to provide proof of income and various other supporting documents. The procedures for notaries, apostilles, and Panama consulate stamps may differ depending on your country of origin. We will guide you through these processes. For most visas, you must be present in Panama during the application process.
Obtaining permanent residency in Panama grants you almost all the benefits enjoyed by citizens, except for the right to vote and the ability to participate in protests.
The most popular Panama residency visas are the Pensionado Visa and the Friendly Nations Visa. Let’s explore these options first, followed by an overview of other currently used visas.
The Pensionado Visa
The Pensionado Visa is one of the easiest and most affordable immigration visas in Panama, frequently sought after by expatriates. It is also one of the least expensive permanent residency visas available worldwide, especially in a modern country with a tropical climate. This visa is specifically designed for retirees who receive a lifelong pension of over $1,000 per month for the primary applicant, with an additional $250 for each dependent (e.g., $1,250 per month for a couple). Various types of pensions, such as government pensions, military pensions, disability pensions, and private company pensions, are eligible as long as they can be proven to be lifelong.
Qualification Criteria for a Lifelong Pension
While Panama previously accepted some annuities as pensions, they no longer do so due to difficulties in verifying their lifelong nature, as most annuities can be cashed out, sold, or transferred. If you have a pension from a smaller or lesser-known company, you will need to provide a notarized letter from the company’s pension administrator confirming the pension amount and stating that it is paid for life. Pensions from government entities, the military, or large corporations do not encounter any qualification issues.
The Pensionado Visa does not have an age requirement. Even if you retire early in your 40s with a pension, or if you have a military disability pension in your 30s, you are eligible for this visa. It is important to note that by applying for this visa, you are declaring to the Panamanian government that you are retired, making it very challenging to obtain a work visa. In addition to its low cost and simplicity, the Pensionado Visa allows you to participate in Panama’s Pensionado Discount program once you obtain it. The program extends benefits to Panama citizens, women over 55, men over 60, and all foreign residents of any age with a Pensionado Visa. Notable discounts include 25% off airfare for 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, and 20% off prescription drugs.
To apply for the Pensionado Visa, you need to submit the required documents, as assisted by your Panama lawyer, in person in Panama. Within 1 to 3 weeks, you will receive your temporary residency card, and within 4 to 6 months, you will obtain your permanent residency card. Once issued, your residency is valid for your lifetime, with the only necessary updates being a new picture and card every ten years. The total cost for obtaining the Pensionado visa is less than $2,500 for a single applicant and under $3,000 for a couple. As demonstrated, the Pensionado Visa in Panama is one of the world’s fastest and most cost-effective permanent residency visas.
Friendly Nations Visa
Significant changes were made to the Friendly Nations Visa in August 2021. Previously, applicants only needed to establish economic ties with Panama, such as starting a corporation and depositing $5,000 into a bank account, to obtain permanent residency within six months. However, the program underwent a major overhaul in August 2021, resulting in three new ways to apply for the Friendly Nations Visa. The process now takes two years and involves two applications. Initially, with the assistance of a Panama lawyer, you apply for the temporary visa and work permit (if option 1 is chosen). After two years, you can apply for permanent residency, provided you are still complying with one of the following three options:
- Employment Contract: Full-time employment with a salary exceeding $1,000 per month from an existing Panamanian company.
- Real Estate Purchase: Investment in Panama real estate worth over $200,000. Financing from a Panama bank is permissible, but not private financing.
- Certified Deposit (CD): Deposit of $200,000 in a Panama bank CD.
Permanent Residency Application
When applying for permanent residency two years later, the government will verify your employment for the past two years, ensuring that you worked and received payment during that period and that all government filings are up to date. They will also check the property registry to confirm your ownership and contact the bank regarding your CD. If everything is in order, they will issue your Permanent Visa. At this point, you can choose to quit your job, sell the property, or cash in the CD if desired. The total cost, including your lawyer’s fees and government fees, for the two-application process over two years, will amount to approximately $10,000, with an additional $2,000 per dependent. While the Friendly Nations Visa remains popular, it is no longer an ideal choice for individuals on a tight budget and is better suited for those who intend to work in Panama.
Short Stay Visa for Remote Workers or Digital Nomads
Introduced in May 2021, the Short Stay Visa is a temporary visa designed specifically for remote workers or digital nomads. It allows individuals to legally stay in Panama for up to nine months, with the option to extend for an additional nine months. However, it is important to note that this visa does not lead to permanent residency, as the program currently stands. It serves as an excellent option for those who wish to explore the country before making a permanent move to Panama. To be eligible, you must either work for a foreign company or have your own online business generating income from outside Panama. You will need to provide proof of earning at least $36,000 annually through company payroll stubs or past tax returns. Alongside the standard immigration paperwork mentioned earlier, you must sign a declaration stating that you will not work for a Panamanian company and obtain Panama health insurance during your stay.
Qualified Investor Visa (Red Carpet Visa or Golden Visa)
The Qualified Investor Visa, also known as the Red Carpet Visa or Golden Visa, was introduced in October 2020. Its primary purpose is to attract investors in real estate, the Panama stock market, and bank investments. This visa offers the quickest route to permanent residency in Panama, with the process taking only 30 days. One of its unique advantages is that you do not need to be physically present to apply for it. To qualify, there are four options:
- Real Estate: Invest $300,000 (increasing to $500,000 in October 2022) in Panama real estate, free of liens.
- Pre-sale Real Estate Projects: Enter into a purchase sale agreement for real estate valued at $500,000, free of liens.
- Panama Stock Market Investment: Purchase stock through a licensed Panama brokerage firm for $500,000.
- Bank Fixed Term Deposit: Deposit $750,000 in a Panama bank.
The application process involves extensive paperwork that needs to be notarized, apostilled, or stamped by relevant authorities. Your Panama lawyer will guide you through this process. The total cost, including legal and government fees, for this visa typically ranges from $15,000 to $20,000.
Other Immigration Visas in Panama
Additional visas in Panama include the Reforestation Visa, Business Investor Visa, and Free Trade Zone Investor Visa, all of which require investments exceeding $100,000. Notably, the Reforestation Visa has not been successful for many applicants, leading to financial losses. Therefore, it is advisable to avoid pursuing this option. Other visas available include student visas, visas obtained through marriage, visas obtained through birth, and visas for parents with children born in Panama. In the 1960s, Panama and Italy signed a treaty allowing holders of Italian passports to obtain a permanent visa in Panama by demonstrating economic activity, such as starting a corporation. This visa, known as the Italian Passport Visa, remains attractive and affordable, with total costs for legal and government fees amounting to approximately $1,500 to $2,500.
Summary of Panama Visas and Residency Options
Panama offers a range of immigration visas for expats considering a move to the country, providing numerous options to choose from.
The most common visa is the Pensionado Visa, requiring a minimum monthly pension of $1,000 for life.
For those seeking a fast track to permanent residency, the Qualified Investor Visa offers the quickest route, with investments in real estate, the Panama stock market, or a bank CD.
Additionally, temporary visas like the Short Stay Visa cater to remote workers and digital nomads who wish to stay in Panama for a limited period. It is important to consult with a reliable Panama lawyer to navigate the visa application process successfully and determine the best option for your individual circumstances and goals.