Demystifying the Panama Residency Visa Process

Like all countries, Panama has immigration laws that govern how long a tourist can stay in Panama, and the immigration law also defines the rules for foreigners to get a Visa so they can live in Panama. 

If you want to live in Panama or obtain legal residency in Panama, you’ll need to get a permanent residency Visa.  This Visa entitles you to live in Panama indefinitely.  There are many kinds of Visas, and the rules are different for each.

The Visa most foreigners are interested in is the Pensionado Visa because it is the least expensive and the fastest Visa for getting permanent residency status.   Below I will discuss the process for getting the Pensionado Visa and other visas. There are big differences in the qualifications for each visa.

The Pensionado Visa, also known as the retiree Visa, is the easiest and least expensive Visa to get.  To qualify, you must show a lifetime income of $1,000 per month pension plus $250 per month for each dependent.  So, a couple would need to prove $1250 a month in lifetime income from a pension, Social Security, or military retirement.  Some annuities are accepted. Panama does not accept 401K, or rental income for this visa. Panama looks at the gross amount of your pension.

An annuity is only accepted if (1) your previous employer set it up as a lifetime retirement account or (2) it is set up through an insurance company to provide lifetime income.

A Pensionado Visa is the least expensive Visa because the government of Panama waives all fees, which saves you $1050 in expenses. The drawback of this Visa is that you can never work in Panama. You cannot sell any services or products in Panama if you have a Pensionado Visa. The benefits are that you get many discounts, like 25% off all airfare, 25% off utility bills, 50% off movie theaters, 20% off prescriptions, and restaurants.

Unfortunately, getting a residency visa is a multiple-step process that requires several trips to Panama.  If you wait to get your Visa after moving to Panama, you can avoid the expense of airfare and hotels.


1. Select a Panama lawyer to work with. The lawyer will send you a list of documents you must obtain in your country.  You will need a national criminal report, like an FBI report, a marriage certificate if married, and proof of pension.   Most of those documents will need to be apostilled or authenticated. Most documents cannot be more than six months old, but better to apply for a Visa within 1-2 months after you get your documents.

If you are opening a bank account, you’ll need a bank reference letter that is not over 30 days old. It is not required to open a bank account with you get the Pensionado Visa.

During a Panama Relocation Tour, you will meet the lawyer who handles all the Visa applications for our tour clients.

2. Once you have all the documents the lawyer requested, you should scan them, email them to your lawyer so they can ensure everything is correct and get all documents translated into Spanish before you arrive.  You certainly do not want to come to Panama only to discover that one of the documents is incorrect.

3. When you arrive in Panama, on the first day you will meet with your lawyer at their office to sign documents giving them the authority to represent you at immigration.  There is also a questionnaire form that is required for getting a Visa.   Don’t be surprised if you are asked if you have even been a prostitute or a drug dealer.  This will be a 1-2 hour meeting.

(NOTE:  If you get your documents authenticated at the Panama Embassy in your country instead of an apostille, an additional step in Panama must be taken before you can apply for your visa at immigration.  You must get all documents authenticated by the Ministry of Foreign Relations in Panama City. Your attorney will take care of this for you.  This will take two days and they charge $5 per document.  You can avoid this step if you get your documents apostilled.)

4. On the third day, you will meet your lawyer or their representative at immigration to file your visa application. This will take 1-2 hours, depending on the line.

5. On day 4, you will meet your lawyer at immigration again to get your temporary visa, also called a processing visa.  The temporary visa is valid for six months.  This gives immigration time to verify all the documents you have submitted.   Usually, within 3-6 months, your permanent visa will be ready.

6. If you do not plan to stay in Panama for the six months that your Visa is being processed, you will need to get a Multi-entry QR code placed on your visa card.  This allows you to leave Panama while immigration processes your visa.  The QR code is on all temporary visas and costs $50.  

7. About two to five months after you get your temporary Visa, your lawyer will notify you that your permanent Visa is ready. You must travel to Panama City for one day to get your permanent resident Visa. If you cannot travel to Panama right away, your attorney can pick up the “resolution” that your visa is approved so that you can come to Panama later to get new photos and your visa card.

8. Once you get your permanent visa, you can apply for a Cedula (national ID card). But you must apply for the Cedula in Panama City. The Cedula card will be ready in about seven days. You can have your Cedula sent to the town where you live so you don’t need to return to Panama City, or your attorney can pick it up for you in Panama City. The Cedula or national ID card is valid for ten years.

panama national id card
cedula – national ID card

As you can see, getting your Pensionado Visa will take more than one trip to Panama.  There are multiple steps in the Visa process.  It will save you money if you wait to apply for your Visa after you move to Panama

Once you get your visa, you are NOT required to live in Panama, but you must return at least every two years for a visit.

After five years, you can apply for Panama citizenship and a passport IF you have lived in Panama the two previous years before applying.

I know it sounds complicated. And it certainly would be very complicated if you were trying to get a Visa without the help of a competent Panama lawyer.  Your lawyer will make the whole process easy for you.  Picking the right lawyer to work with is essential in the Visa process.


If you plan to work in Panama, you must get a different visa so you can get a work permit. You will need a work permit to work in Panama, even in your own business.  You cannot apply for a work permit until you get your permanent Visa.  To sell products or services to people in Panama, you need a work permit. To run a business in Panama, you’ll need a business license and an RUC number, too. Your attorney can help you with both.  You’ll also want to hire a Panamanian CPA to help you with bookkeeping and file tax returns.

There are several visa options for those wanting to start a business or work in Panama. Discuss with your immigration attorney what you plan to do when you move to Panama; they can advise you on the best visa options.


The right immigration attorney can make the whole process of getting a residency Visa EASY!   

Our Online Panama Relocation Guide recommends several honest and reliable immigration lawyers. Their prices are also much more affordable than other immigration lawyers.

Jackie Lange

Jackie Lange is the founder of Panama Relocation Tours and lives in the highlands of Boquete Panama. She has helped thousands of people relocate to Panama.

Reader Interactions


  1. Alan says

    Jackie. You said: “8. The day you get your permanent Visa, your lawyer will apply for your Cedula (a national ID card) which you can pick up about 1 month later or your lawyer can pick it up for you. The Cedula or national ID card is good for 10 years so you will need to come back to Panama to renew your Cedula if you are not already living in Panama.”

    A lawyer told me that you need to request a letter from Migracion to the Electoral Board, which takes 4-6 weeks, before you can apply for the e-cedula. And that once you get that letter, you must apply in person for the e-cedula. So that two trips are required and that obtaining the permanent residency card, and applying fir the e-cedula cannot be done on the same trip.

    • Jackie Lange says


      You need a BETTER attorney! Sounds like they don’t know what they are doing!

      The Panama Relocation Tours lawyers apply for the Cedula the same day you get your permanent Visa. It does not require an additional trip for that application. You will need to come to Panama to get your Cedula.

  2. Charles Brown says

    So, after 5 years, you said you can apply for the passport only if you have lived in Panama 2 years? Is that a full complete 2 years or just visits?

    • Jackie Lange says

      Currently, the rules are that you need to actually live in Panama the two years prior to applying for citizenship.

  3. Carla El-jabsheh says

    Hi Jackie, I read that if you receive a pensiunado visa you would never be able to apply for citizenship. The article was 4 years old. So I’m hoping that that has changed if true.

    • Jackie Lange says

      HI Carla, after 5 years of having your permanent pensionado visa and cedula, you can apply for citizenship.

  4. MattBaker says

    If I don’t require residency, but only want to check out Panama for a few years, what will be required to be able to stay? I will have 600 personal income from internet work and 600 social security. I’m a 68 yr old single American male in great health.

    • Dustin Lange says

      To be allowed to stay in Panama for more than 6 months you must obtain a residency visa. Based on the source of your income you wouldn’t qualify for the pensionado visa. Your best option is most likely the friendly nations visa.

    • Jackie Lange says

      Matt, if you’re not driving, you can stay in Panama 6 months as a tourist then you’d need to leave for 30 days before you can come back. If you want to stay in Panama for a few years without leaving, you would have to get a residency Visa.

  5. Matt says

    Dustin, thanks. Is there a basic visa requirement to come and go every 3 months or so? Like elsewhere? That way i would check out costa and guatemala in between. Whats required please.

  6. Matt says

    Thanks Jackie, i see it now. I will be working on that for 2020!

  7. William Von Harten says

    In the article here on the Friendly Nations Visa, I read that besides the $5000 required on deposit in a Panamanian Bank, one must set up a corporation that demonstrates to the government of Panama that one has the “intent” of doing business within the country. I may have overlooked it, but have not yet noted an article here on that explains the process and costs of setting up a corporation. Could you provide me with something on that? Also, is there some sort of timeline by which one must actually be doing business in Panama so that one proves they have followed through on their “intent”?

    I am confident that I will qualify for the Pensionado Visa. However, I think I may want to have the option of working at least part-time upon moving to Panama; I have not yet looked deeply into possible ways to earn income online to see if there is something that appeals to me. In any case, my intent would not to be to move there and sit around without being productive.


    • Jackie Lange says

      HI William. It costs $1000 to $1500 to set up a Panama corporation – depending on which attorney you use. Your immigration attorney will handle the entire process. They will ask you for what name you want for your corporation, then they will search to make sure it is available. You’ll need to give then the names of 3 officers (family or friends). When you arrive in Panama to get your Visa you will finalize your corporation documents. There is no time line for when you must start doing business. Be aware that there is a $300 a year renewal fee for a corporation plus your registered agent fee which is usually about $100 a year. Your attorney will help you pay that renewal fee.

  8. William VonHarten says

    Thanks so much for that Jackie! That really helps. I am booked on your tour that begins on February 19, 2021. I am looking forward to the “boots on the ground” part of my retirement destination research!

  9. Helge Krebs says

    Hello Jackie,
    I was originally planning to use that “Self Economic Solvency Visa” but now see that the requirement has been jacked up from $300K to $400K so that appears to be no longer an option. That would suggest I go for the friendly nations visa but I do not need a panamanian company. What am I going to do with it?
    Any suggestions?
    I make my living trading a bit in stocks overseas – surely if I do that by computer from Panama I would not need a work permit for that?
    I am 69 years old and a German national – so no problem with the friendly nations visa. However, my wife has a Malaysian passport and been granted permanent residency in Germany. Will that be enough to get her in on the friendly nations visa (as she is attached to me) or do you anticipate problems?
    She could get a German passport very quickly but has refused that so far on the grounds that if I ever go to heaven she would not be able to return to her native land other than as a tourist with a maximum of 3 months per visit.
    Thanks and regards,

    • Jackie Lange says

      Helge, If you are legally married, your wife can get a Friendly Nations Visa as your dependent.

  10. Anya Spielberg says

    Hi Jackie,
    I am starting pensionado process and got my notarized social security letter and my FBI clearance authenticated by Panama Consulate in USA. Should I have sent them to be apostilled instead? What are advantages/disadvantages? Thanks in advance for your assistance. Anya

    • Jackie Lange says

      HI Anya

      If you get your documents authenticated at the Panama Consulate, an additional step is required in Panama that takes 2-3 days and cost extra money. If you get an apostile, you can avoid those extra steps in Panama.

      Keep in mind that your documents cannot be more than 6 months old when you apply for the Visa.

  11. Richard E Capps says

    Hi Jackie
    can you change your resident status from friendly nations to pensionado after retiring to avoid the annual expense of the renewal fees.

    • Jackie Lange says

      HI Richard. Once you get the Friendly Nations Visa, there is no reason to change to the Pensionado Visa. With the Friendly Nations Visa you still get all the pensionado discounts if you meet the age requirements of 60 for men and 55 for women.

  12. Randy says

    Hi Jackie,
    To speed things up is there anyway I can work with a Panamanian lawyer using a power of attorney for him to represent me to do my friendly nations visa without coming to Panama until I actually am ready to move?

    • Jackie Lange says

      Sorry Randy, you must be IN Panama to apply for a Visa. You cannot give an attorney a power of attorney to apply for you.

  13. Debby says

    What about if I have a Panamenian cedula and my spouse wants to live and work in Panama? Do we need to apply for the friendlys nation visa? or is it better for me to apply for citizenship and then apply permanent or resident visa for him? what would the best route be?

    • Jackie Lange says

      HI Debby. That’s a good question for an immigration attorney. I believe it would be much faster for your spouse to apply for a Visa. If you were born in Panama and have a Cedula aready you can apply for citizenship.

  14. jacquline sullivan says

    Hello Jackie and thank you for the info regarding the Panamanian visa process.
    I will be applying for the Pensionado Visa, also known as the retiree Visa. In doing so, I will not have to establish a corporation. BUT I may want to work should the right opportunity arise. Once I am living in Panama on the Pensionado Visa and I decide to acquire a work visa, Will my current U.S. established corporation (LLC) benefit me when establishing a Panamanian corporation? I understand I will need to get three officers for the Panamanian work visa. Thank you for your help regarding this matter.

  15. james kenneth brandon says

    My name is Ken(middle name) Brandon. I have been retired now for over nine years, have a pension in addition to my SS. I am trying to get to Panama, have reviewed all the stipulations and don’t see anything to prevent me from accomplishing this move. Just don’t know how to get started. Need the name of a good reliable lawyer and how to get in touch with their office? Could you possibly help me with this or point me in the right direction? Basically understand the process, just don’t know how to get started? Please, can you help me?

    • Jackie Lange says

      HI Ken YES! We can help you. We have all the information that you need to know about relocating to Panama in our Online Panama Relocation Guide. It also contains a list of reliable immigration lawyers, honest real estate agents. how to get your pets in to Panama, where to buy health insurance, how to find a rental and much much more.

  16. Tricia says

    Hi Jackie,

    I’m a US resident, I’ve been here almost 2 years in Panama. I heard that after I’ve been in Panama for 2 years I just need a Panama police report not an FBI report from the US. Is this true or will i need to go back home and get my FBI report which will take at least 4 weeks and I’m petrified to get on a plane right now and that the boarders will close again causing me to be away from my husband.

    • Jackie Lange says

      Panama is no longer offering the opportunity to apply for residency with a Panama police report. You will need to get an FBI report. It is possible to get the FBI report without leaving Panama. Contact your immigration attorney, they can tell you how to get your FBI report from Panama. It will take 2-3 months to get it. Meanwhile, because you have been in Panama more than the allotted time for tourists (6 months) you will need to go to immigration to pay a fine of $50 for each month you have been in Panama. Or, your attorney can help you pay the fine at the time you apply for your Visa.

  17. David W Franklin says

    Hello, Jackie. My name is David Franklin. I’m a US citizen currently living and working in Saudi Arabia. I’ve been here for the past 20 years, but will be retiring in July and briefly returning to the US at that time. I can get a Police report from local Arab Gulf authorities, but I believe that they do not have apostille services here in the Gulf. I do have a qualifying Social Security pension, as well as a substantial savings account. I can get a US FBI report with a apostille. Do I need the same for my banking information and from the Social Security Administration for my pension.
    By the way, I watched the video with another David from Boquete who mentioned your name.
    Thank you for your kind attention.
    David Franklin

    • Jackie Lange says

      HI David

      You have a unique situation so I’d recommend that you contact a Panama immigration attorney to get advice on what you will need to get a Visa in Panama.

  18. Marty Potter says

    Hello Jackie and thanks for all your help. Has anyone tried to transfer an existing Panamanian corp to a new visa applicant to fulfill the economic requirement ? What about a current Panamanian Corp offering an applicant a job as a consultant until the visa is secured and then firing them. I’m not interested in opening a corp and wish a simple temporary solution to fulfill the economic requirement. Thanks, Marty

    • Jackie Lange says

      Marty, it is possible to transfer a corporation from one person to another but it costs about $500 to change the names of the owner of the corporation plus there are usually taxes due. A job offer has to be from a Panamanian company that shows you are registered with Social Security in Panama.

  19. Daniel says

    End of 2020 there were some talk and “news” about Panama changing their Friendly Nation Visa.

    If not change, any news that it will change, and if so when and what will change?

    • Jackie Lange says

      Panama is not making any changes to the Friendly Nations Visa. Immigration has said they will give a 6-month notice before any changes will be made. When/IF they make changes, we do not know what they will be.

  20. RYSZARD says

    Jackie, you wrote: “The drawback of this [Pensionado] Visa is that you can never work in Panama. You cannot offer any services or products for sale in Panama if you have a Pensionado Visa.”
    Does it mean I can’t have a Real Estate rental property that I’d collect rental income from?
    Would it be considered ‘offering a service’?

    Thanks and I’m happy you did beat the virus!

    • Jackie Lange says

      if you own the rental property, you can rent it out even if you have a Pensionado Visa. You will need to report income to Panama.

  21. Jan says

    I heard there is a health certificate requirement. Is there any information available what is required to pass?

    • Jackie Lange says

      Your attorney can give you information about the health certificate.

  22. Robert Benge says

    Can I Still Live Outside Panama Once I Have the cedula

    • Jackie Lange says

      Once you get your residency visa in Panama, there is no requirement to live in Panama. But you must come back for a visit every two years to maintain your visa.

      • Sonika says

        Good day,

        I was told that once I have my cedula I do not have to come back every 2 years to keep my residency, but I am not sure of this.
        Can you maybe give me feedback on this matter?

        • Jackie Lange says

          Sonika, that is not correct. A cedula is a national ID card. A visa gives you the right to live in Panama indefinitely. They are two different things. You need to visit Panama for at least 1 day every two years to keep your visa active.

  23. J says

    Hi, I’ve been in Panama for a few months as a tourist. I want to go back to the US for a couple of weeks and then come back. Will I be able to stay for another 180 days when I come back?

    • Jackie Lange says

      You should be able to stay for another 180 days if you are coming back from the USA or Canada. But sometimes immigration only grants 30-90 days.

  24. Rhonda Elkins says

    So with SS of $1318 , after Medicare deducted and $190. Pension is that considered enough income to live in Panama?

  25. Rhonda Elkins says

    If I bring my small dog to live in Panama, what is the process?

  26. Bruce Warwick says

    This statement I’ve read over and over, and I just cannot seem to understand it. Sorry for that. “NOTE: If you get your documents authenticated at the Panama Embassy in your country instead of an apostille, there is an additional step in Panama which must be done before you can apply for your Visa at immigration. You will need to get all documents authenticated by the Ministry of Foreign Relations in Panama City. Your attorney will take care of this for you. This will take 2 days and they charge $5 per document. You can avoid this step if you get your documents apostilled.”
    I want to avoid this additional step above of course, but if I “get my documents apostilled” [authenticated][as it says above] here in Toronto, Canada, at our Panamanian Embassy, then the above reads [to me] that they will not be accepted in Panama without having to go through the Ministry of Foreign Relations in Panama City? What am I not understanding here? Thank you.

    • Jackie Lange says

      It is not possible to get documents apostilled in Canada. Canada did not sign on to the Hague Convention, which allows for an apostille so one country will accept documents from another country without additional authentications. You must get your visa documents authenticated at the Panama Consulate in Canada, then your attorney will take care of getting them authenticated at the Ministry of Foreign Relations.

  27. Ron says

    Now 2023

    I’m 48 working as an telework employee just need internet as I work from home for a financial loans cooperation here in Canada.

    What visa should I apply and any ppl you know went through this way plz what was their story thanks

  28. Sheila says

    Hi Jackie, My husband & I are thinking about taking one of your tours in the future but before we commit to that, I need to know if a birth certificate is required to get a Pensionado residency. My husband is a refugee from Bosnia, and he isn’t able to get his birth certificate. He’s a naturalized U.S. citizen & has a passport. He was able to get his citizenship here in the U.S. without a passport (much of his city was bombed, and this happened before computers were commonplace). Do you know if he could become a resident without a birth certificate? Thank you. Sheila

    • Jackie Lange says

      HI Sheila, You’re in luck! A birth certificate is not needed for your husband. Panama only requires a birth certificate for minors.

      • Sheila says

        Oh wow! That’s awesome! Thank you!! Watching one of your videos now…trying to learn more. Thank you!

  29. Derek says

    HI Jackie,
    I’m really enjoying all of the information on your website. I am a disabled veteran and collect disability from the Veterans Affairs here in the U.S. Would this income qualify me for the Pensionado Visa? Thanks In Advance!

  30. Anthony S. Savage says

    Hi Jackie

    “Most documents cannot be more than SIX MONTHS OLD, but better to apply for a Visa within 1-2 months after you get your documents.”

    Even my birth certificate too?


    • Jackie Lange says

      Anthony, adults do not need a birth certificate to get a visa. Minor children need a “certified copy” of their birth certificate and it cannot be more than 6 months old

      • Tony Savage says

        Thanks, Jackie, appreciate it.

        One more question: Concerning the FBI report, does the following verbiage describe the type of FBI background check report I’m looking for? There are different types.

        “FBI Personal Background Check”
        “Also called an Identity History Summary (IdHS) or an Electronic Departmental Order (eDO)”

        Thank you, again.


        • Jackie Lange says

          HI Tony, You need the Identity History Summary Report.

  31. JS says

    Jackie you are incorrect. You can start a business on this visa. Says it on numerous lawyers websites.

    • Jackie Lange says

      JS, you can own a business with the Pensionado visa but you canNOT work in the business with no work permit. For example, if you started a restaurant, you canNOT take orders, cook, mix drinks, accept payment. The only thing you can do it sit at a table and watch others work in the business you own. If you want to own a business in Panama AND be able to work in it too, then you need to get a Friendly Nations Visa so you can get a work permit. There is an affordable $5000 Friendly Nations Visa option.

  32. Tony Savage says

    Hi Jackie

    Can I get a ball park cost for how much a Panamanian immigration lawyer (on the average) would charge for pensionado visa services? What is the range your trusted network lawyer charges? I need some idea. Thanks.


    • Jackie Lange says

      Tom for one person to get a Pensionado Visa, $1200 for everything.

      • Tony says

        Thank you! See you this March!

  33. Dennis Bush says

    Hello Jackie,

    Thanks for the support you provide.

    What is the proper method to get your social security benefits documented then legalised. Is there a specific form to request from the Socical Security Administration with asignature. What is the correct form # to request?


    • Jackie Lange says

      Dennis, you can call social security to request for 8845 (signed income verification) OR you can print out your income verification for the website then attached a notarized affidavit that the information is correct.

  34. JC says

    Jackie, Thanks for great info!

    Trying to decide on going for US State Dept apostille vs likely quicker panama consulate authentication.

    1) If get documents authenticated at Panama Consulate, is the extra cost charged by the Foreign Ministry to further authenticate $5 or $50 per document? What is sample cost for lawyer to get MinForAffairs to do?

    2) Do you know what is considered a “document”? For example, if have a notarized cover letter with the original pension verification letter, are we only going to be charged one fee, or do those count as two documents?

    3) any updated info on how long it is taking for people to get documents apostilled?

    • Jackie Lange says

      JC, it’s MUCH faster to get documents authenticated at the Panama Consulate. It’s $5 per document at the Ministry of Foreign Relations (your attorney will take care of that for you) example of a document income verification, criminal report, marriage certificate.

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *