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Panama welcomes legal immigration and provides many paths to obtaining residency in Panama. The Pensionado Visa is the most popular Visa for those who want to retire in Panama. The Friendly Nations Visa is ideal for those who are not retired and who would like to work in Panama.
If a foreigner wants to work in Panama, they must first obtain a residency Visa then a work permit. The entire process takes 5-8 months. There are no government programs to help support someone while they are waiting to get a work permit. In Panama, there are no food stamps or welfare available for Panamanians let alone foreigners.
Employers can get a hefty fine if they hire a foreigner who does not have a work permit so it is less likely that an illegal immigrant would be able to find work in Panama.
The Panama government has check points throughout the country to check IDs. If they find that someone is in the country illegally, they will be deported. Panama considers a person an illegal immigrant if they have been in Panama longer than 6 months but do not have a residency Visa.
Tourist are allowed to stay in Panama 6 months. If they want to stay in Panama longer, they have to either (1) get a residency Visa, or (2) leave Panama for at least 30 days before they can come back. Tourists are not allowed to work in Panama.
Panama’s strict immigration laws, combined with no welfare programs, make Panama less attractive to immigrants who do not plan to, or cannot, get a residency Visa.
Panama’s Pensionado, or also called Jubilado, discount are one of the many ways you can live better for less in Panama. These discounts are available to all Panamanians who meet certain age restrictions. If a female, they must be 55 and if a male, they must be 60.
Foreigners can take advantage of the discounts listed below if they have any Visa and meet the same age requirements as Panamanians OR if they get a Pensionado Visa.
Are you thinking about moving to Panama? Check out our guide to living in panama and learn more about our relocation tours.
Panama’s Pensionado Program’s Benefits
The discounts and advantages of the pensioner’s visa are quite numerous. Here they are in a nutshell:
- 50% off on recreation and entertainment such as movies, theaters, sports, etc.
- 50% off hotels Monday through Thursday (30% off on weekends)
- 50% off passports
- 30% off public transportation like buses, trains, and boats
- 25% off airfare
- 20% off restaurants (15% off fast food)
- 25% off electrical, telephone, and water service
- 20% off doctors and specialists
- 20% off prosthetics and other personal assistance devices
- 15% off hospitals and private clinics
- 15% off dental and optometry services
- 10% off prescription medications
- tax-free importation of household goods, up to $10,000
- tax-free importation of a vehicle, or tax-free purchase of a local vehicle
There are many reasons to consider Panama as a place to relocate to. The Pensionado discounts are certainly one of them.
The Qualifications Required for the Pensionado Discounts
To qualify for the Pensionado discounts you can be any age but will need to qualify for the Pensionado visa. To qualify for a Pensionado visa you will need:
$1000 per month in lifetime income ( $1250 for a couple)
you can get one of the other Visas, like the Friendly Nations Visa, but you will need to meet the age requirements to qualify for the Pensionado discounts.
How to Get a Pensionado Visa?
The process of applying for and obtaining a Visa is a fairly easy. You will need to use a Panamanian attorney who will guide you through the whole process. To get your Visa it will take about 3 months, will cost about $1,500 and $2,000 depending on which attorney you use. During the Panama Relocation Tours you will meet a reliable and affordable Panamanian attorney who has helped many of our tour clients get their Visa quickly and easily.
Getting the Pensionado Discounts
If you have grey hair or no hair, you are usually given the Pensionado discount without asking at restaurants and pharmacies.
At other places you may need to ask for the discount or they will ask to see your Visa or Cedula (national ID card) to verify your age and qualification.
To get the 25% discount on utility bills, the utility will need to be in your name and you will need to show your Visa card when you apply for service. Keep in mind that your water bill is only $100 a YEAR which is probably much less than you pay now. I get 25% off my electric bill too. Because I live in an area where I don’t need air conditioning, my electric bill is usually less than $25 per month. If you live near the coast where you need air conditioning, the savings can really add up.
Every year I save about $600 on airfare using my Pensionado discount. You can get a discount on any airfare which originates in Panama but you will need to work with a travel agent.
Within a few years, the Pensionado discounts have basically paid for the cost of getting a Visa!
IT ADDS UP – A LITTLE SAVINGS HERE AND A LITTLE SAVINGS THERE
Occasionally I have had trouble getting a discount at hotels. But being persistent will usually get me the discount.
Be aware that some expat owned restaurants in Boquete play tricks by advertising their regular price, then their special price next to it to try to avoid giving the Pensionado discount. Other restaurants honor the Pensionado discounts. There are many different restaurants to go to so you can decide who you want to give your business to. Restaurants are only required to offer a Pensionado discount on your entree, not on your entire bill.
I never ask for a Pensionado discount when I go to a Mom & Pop type restaurant where the whole meal is only $5.00. The meal is so affordable already. Be selective about asking for the Pensionado discount.
Who Pays for the Discounts?
These discounts come right off the profits for these businesses. They are not reimbursed by the government or anyone else. So, be selective when asking for the Pensionado discounts.
ACODECO is Panama’s Consumer Advocate organization. If any establishment refuses to give a Pensionado discount to someone who is qualified and can prove it, then you can report them to ACODECO who will fine the company.
Tourists from most countries can visit Panama for 90 days without getting a visa. To enter Panama all you need to show is your passport. At the immigration office at the airport or any border, they will put a stamp in your passport which indicates the day you arrived.
Some expats in Panama have made the decision to become perpetual tourists, meaning they never apply for a residency visa.
Instead, every 90 days they go to the nearest border, usually Costa Rica, to spend a few hours, then they get their passport stamped to enter Panama again. Expats in Panama call this the “border run” or “border hop.” Surprisingly, some have been doing this for many years.
Of course, if they applied for a residency visa they could completely eliminate the need to go to Costa Rica every 90 days.
Even though the Costa Rica border is only a 1 1/2 hour drive from my house in Boquete, I would not want to make that trip every 90 days so I gladly got a residency visa which also entitles me to apply for a Panama passport after 5 years.
Perpetual tourists do the border hop for several reasons. Some don’t want to spend the $1000 per person to get a Pensionado visa. Others can’t prove the minimum of $1000 per month in lifetime income to get a Pensionado visa or the $5000 deposit in to a Panamanian bank account to get the Friendly Nations visa which requires no income verification.
Some don’t want to establish legal residency in any country so they have no commitments to any country.
Others cannot produce a clean criminal history so they would not be able to get a residency visa in Panama. If there were minor infractions many years ago, Panama will usually dismiss them so a residency visa is possible even for people with a criminal history. But if you have a serious offense, you would not be able to get a residency visa in Panama or most other countries either.
My attorney in Panama says the new President plans to crack down on the people who do the border hop to encourage anyone who is living in Panama full time to get a residency visa. President Elect Varela does not want people with criminal records living in Panama so there is talk that he will make is necessary to leave the country for six months before you can enter again as a 90-day tourist. This would force the people who do the Border Run to either get a residency visa or move.
We’ll see what happens. ….