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.
Until August 2021, the Friendly Nations Visa is perfect for those who do not qualify for a Pensionado Visa or those who would like to work in Panama. Currently, the requirements are that you set up a corporation and open a bank account in Panama with a minimum $5000 deposit. You can start spending the money as soon as you get your visa. You only have until July 19th to apply for the current Friendly Nations Visa.
Unfortunately, in August, the rules are changing for the “new” Friendly Nations Visa. It won’t be 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.
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 or being a tourist. But, it’s become more difficult to “just rent” with the other visa options.
Why the changes to the Friendly Nations Visa?
Developers and real estate agents have a lot of excess inventory that they have had for many years so they pushed for the new rules for the Friendly Nations Visa hoping it will help sell their real estate. Personally, I don’t think it will help because no one wants to be rushed into buying real estate or be forced to buy real estate to get a residency visa.
Luckily, you have other options than getting a job or buying real estate. Some of these options are more affordable than the unFriendly Nations Visa.
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 Friendly 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.
A tourist can live in Panama for 180 days. The rules say you need to leave for 30 days before you can come back to Panama but the reality is that you may be able to take a bus or fly to Costa Rica for a few days, then you can come back to Panama. I think the changes in the Friendly Nations Visa rules will cause more people to skip getting a visa altogether and just be a perpetual tourist.
To be a tourist in Panama, you simply need at least 6-months remaining on your passport. You’ll get an entry stamp on your passport when you enter Panama. There is no “tourist visa” for people from most countries.
You’ll also need to show onward travel by the end of your six months. This could be a flight to Costa Rica or Mexico or another country, it does not need to be a flight back to the country you came from.
Marrakech Treaty Visa for Small Companies
This visa is ideal if you want to start a small business in Panama but have limited funds. With an investment of less than $2000, you can get this visa and a work permit. The “catch” is that you must hire three Panamanian employees and pay them at least $600 per month. You must pay yourself a salary too (well ya). Unfortunately, it’s not a permanent visa but it gets your foot in the door … for the least amount of money… until perhaps you qualify for a different visa like the Pensionado Visa. If you’re interested in getting this visa, contact one of the reliable immigration lawyers we recommend in the Online Panama Relocation Guide.
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 National 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 12 months before you jump into spending money on any of the other visa options we have mentioned above.