The most popular permanent residency Visa in Panama is the Pensionado Visa. It is ideal for retirees because you only need to prove $1000US per month in lifetime income plus an additional $250 for each dependent. Lifetime income must be a government-issued pension, like Social Security or military retirement or it can be a pension from a job. Unfortunately, rental income, business income, annuities, 401k, or IRA do not qualify for a Pensionado Visa. A Pensionado Visa is also the most affordable visa because Panama waives their fees ($1050) for getting a visa.
In August 2021, the rules are changing for the “new” Friendly Nations Visa.
It isn’t so friendly anymore. Under the new rules, you either need to get a job in Panama, or you need to buy real estate worth at least $200,000, or you can deposit $200,000 into a 3-year CD earning 3.5% at Banco Nacional.
See this article about getting a job in Panama. I do know some tour clients who have been able to get six-figure jobs working for multinational companies in Panama. If you’re a US citizen, you could be exempt from paying US taxes on the first $108,000 in income under the Foreign Earned Income Exclusion.
We at Panama Relocation Tours have always recommended that you live in Panama for at least 6-12 months before you even think about buying real estate. Twelve months gives you time to know that you like living in Panama and that you like the area you have selected. You get to experience both the rainy season and the dry season – which can be dramatically different. Twelve months also gives you time to better understand the real estate market so you don’t pay too much when/if you buy.
For many people, it makes more sense to “just rent” the whole time you live in Panama because it’s fast and easy to buy but it could take many years to sell real estate in Panama. Renting gives you the flexibility to move anytime or even leave Panama anytime you want to. If you own real estate in Panama, you may need to wait for it to sell before you can move on with your life.
Just renting, is possible with the Pensionado Visa. But, it’s become more difficult to “just rent” with the other visa options.
What are some other options for living in Panama?
For those who do not qualify for Pensionado Visa and don’t want to get the unFriendly Nations Visa, there are other options available for you. Keep in mind that we are not attorneys, and this information is subject to change. We do our best to keep up to date with the latest requirements and laws.
Remote Worker/Digital Nomad Visa (9 months with one renewal)
Executive Decree No. 198 of May 7th, 2021 (hereinafter, the “Decree”), published in the electronic Official Gazette on May 20th, 2021, creates the Short Stay Visa as a Remote Worker.
For its renewal, the foreigner must meet the same requirements submitted with the first application.
Short Stay/Remote Worker/Digital Nomad Visa
This visa will be granted to those foreigners who intend to work remotely within the Republic of Panama for a period of nine (9) months, renewable once for the same period. The foreigner who applies for this Visa must meet, in addition to other applicable specific requirements, Health Certificate, Criminal Record, etc. with the following prerequisites:
To have a work contract with a foreign transnational company, or be a self-employed worker, in the remote working model. Perform duties that have effects abroad. Receive income from a foreign source and with an annual amount not less than USD 36,000.00 or equivalent in foreign currency. Have a valid medical insurance policy, with coverage in Panama.
The requirements to apply for the visa include:
*Completed application form, which includes the commitment of the applicant to assume the costs to return to their home country or destination, *Three passport photos, *Certified passport copies, *Criminal record certification, *Good health certificate, *Health insurance policy which must include coverage for the period of stay in Panama, *Affidavit of personal background, *Affidavit of non-acceptance of any work or service offer to carry out business in Panama, *Certification of proof of registration of the foreign company where the applicant is employed, *Letter of employment stating the position and functions exercised, monthly income, work modality, and commitment to assume the costs of return to their country of origin.
Self-employed applicants must prove ownership of a company registered outside of Panama and a sworn statement describing the business activity, services, clients, and revenue. All documents issued abroad must be apostiled or legalized.
The website for registering for this visa online has not yet been established so you’ll need to use an attorney to apply. A $250 fee is paid to immigration plus whatever your attorney charges.
Citizenship for Zonians
Panama provides citizenship to those born in the former Panama Canal Zone between 1904 and 1979. This group of people, also known as Zonians, need to provide proof that they were born in Panama.
Married to a Panamanian
Just because you are married to a Panamanian, it does not grant you residency in Panama. You can apply for temporary residency. Immigration will visit your home, unannounced, several times to verify that you are really married. Two years after you apply for temporary residency, you can apply for permanent residency
Self Economic Solvency Visa
Another residency visa option for those who do not qualify for either a Pensionado Visa or a Friendly Nations Visa, is a self economic solvency Visa. In order to qualify you will need a minimum $300,000 investment in one of 3 investment options:
-$300,000 in a 3 Year CD in a Panama bank. Plus $2,000 per additional dependent.
-$300,000 in titled real estate in Panama. Plus $2,000 per additional dependent. *The titled property CANNOT be in the name of a corporation. The titled property must be in name of the applicant.
-Combination of a 3 Yr CD and Real Estate amounting to $300,000. For each additional dependent there is a $2,000 investment.
Once you are approved, the Panama government will issue a 2-year temporary residency visa. After two years, you can apply for permanent residency.
You can also apply for a work permit (so you can be employed under a labor contract) under the Self-Economic Solvency visa.
Business Investor Visa
If you are planning on starting a business in Panama in order to obtain permanent residency, there is a $160,000 minimum investment per applicant in any legitimate new business, or a new setup corporation.
As the applicant, you will have to prove that this is your own capital and that you are going to start an actual business. In order to process this type of business visa, you will have to also get a business license, register with the Panama social security (Caja de Seguro Social or CSS). Hire at least 5 Panamanian employees paying their social security benefits, and at least pay the minimum wage.
Keep in mind that there are “protected” professions exclusive to Panamanians only such as: Lawyers, Doctors, Accountants, and Retail Sales among others. The best way to learn the specifics on this and any other type of residency visa, you should contact an immigration attorney.
The reforestation visa was put in place as an incentive to allow foreigners to be granted residency by allowing them to restore much of the land that has been destroyed by man.
In order to qualify, you must invest at least $100,000 in land and purchase at least 5 hectares. The National Environmental Authority (ANAM) states that the land shall be used in activities of reforestation or authorized forest plantation, or any other activity authorized by the National Environmental Authority.
There is an additional $2,000 investment per dependent. Once the visa has been approved, there is a 2-year temporary visa issued before you can apply for permanent residency.
There is also a provision that if you spend $350,000 on a reforestation program you get instant permanent residency.
You need to be careful with the Reforestation Visa. There are a lot of scam operations claiming to be the reforestation visa for about $25,000 but they are illegal. Your immigration attorney can verify if a Reforestation Visa program is legit.
Panama Qualified Investor Visa (also called Golden Visa or the Red Carpet Visa)
The Executive Decree 722 of October 15, 2020, created a new category of permanent residency for economic reasons. Through this program, the applicant can become a permanent resident by making a qualified investment in Panama, including the following options:
Buy real estate worth $300,000 (until October 2022 or $500,000 after that date)
Investment in the Panamanian Stock Market: Purchase securities through a qualified and licenses brokerage firm for $500,000 or more.
Fixed-term deposit in Banco Nacional for $750,000 – must be free of liens.
You can apply for this visa without coming to Panama (not advised) and you get instant (less than 30 days) permanent residency.
Note that the government fees are about $10,000 for this visa and lawyers are charging about $10,000 for this visa so it makes it one of the least attractive visas to apply for.
Panama Free Zone Investor Visa
In order to qualify for a free zone investor visa, you have to show that you are investing in a business in one of the designated free trade zones for the purpose of operating a business from Panama that exports its products or service. Your immigration attorney may have information about investments in the free trade zone.
In order to qualify, you have to prove that you have an agreement to rent a plot or land in the free trade zone with a contract for a minimum of 10 years. The visa encourages foreigners who can generate revenue from Panama to the rest of the world.
The designated tax free zones in Panama have distinct tax advantages for operating businesses such as assembly lines, software creation facilities, call centers, and other such businesses that export their products or services. These businesses also get tax breaks on a certain percentage of their products or services sold locally.
The visa for Italian citizens was created in Law 15 of 1966 – called Friendship, Business, and Navigation treaty between the Republics of Panama and Italy – with the objective to encourage Italians to establish economic and professional activities in Panama.
With this visa, you will still need to show proof of economic ties with Panama, in the form of a corporation, ownership of titled property, or a job offer. This visa does NOT require you to purchase real estate in Panama, you can simply set up a corporation to show economic ties. It costs about $1200 to set up a corporation.
This is a great visa option because the applicant’s spouse and dependents do NOT have to be Italian citizens to be included in the application.
Agriculture Investor Visa
In order to give foreigners an opportunity to become a permanent residency through their land, Panama also has an agriculture investor visa program. In order to qualify the applicant must invest a minimum of $60,000 in an agricultural business in areas that are approved by the government.
Once approved, the visa is valid for 6 years and can be renewed every 2 years. It is important to note that an investor on this visa program does NOT qualify to become a permanent resident but it could be an option if you were planning to get involved in agriculture anyway.
WHAT’S THE NEXT STEP?
We love living in Panama but we realize it’s not right for everyone. So, we highly recommend that you come for a visit to see if Panama “feels” right before you make a decision to move to Panama or get a visa.
A good way to check out Panama is a Private Tour of the area(s) you are most interested in. Our Private Tour guides know the area well and will give you the inside-scoop about living in that area. Our Private Tours start at as little as $200 a day for a couple. See details about Private Tours here
Once you move to Panama, unless you qualify for the Pensionado Visa, you may want to just be a tourist for 6-12 months before you jump into spending money on any of the other visa options we have mentioned above.