Panama Visa Delays If You Have Dings On Your Criminal Report

To get a residency visa in Panama, you need to provide a criminal background report from your country of origin.    For US citizens, that means an FBI report.  Several years ago, you only needed a local police report, but the laws changed in 2012 to require a nationwide criminal report.  It’s a good thing because someone could commit murder in one state but have no police record in another state so that they could get a Visa in Panama.  The national criminal report allows Panama to see if you have a criminal record anywhere in the country you are from.

If there are no dings on your criminal background report, you should have no problems getting a visa quickly. 

For a Pensionado Visa, it takes about 5-7 business days to get a temporary visa, which is good for six months.  Then about 2-3 months later, you get your permanent residency visa.  This applies to a Pensionado Visa only. Most other visas may require you to have a temporary visa for two years before you can apply for a permanent visa.

However, if you have any dings on your criminal background report, you can expect delays in getting a visa. 

If you have had any arrests or DWI (driving while intoxicated) or other misdemeanor offenses, then your visa has to go to either the Supervisor of Immigration or the Director of Immigration for approval. This process is called a “Buena Vista.”

There is an extra fee for this process – usually about $1000.

It could take several months to get approval from the Director of Immigration. Depending on your criminal record, they may also do an Interpol investigation. Be sure to tell your attorney if you have had any arrests anywhere in the world because immigration will find out.

Until your attorney has the Buena Vista approved, they cannot apply for your residency Visa.

The Supervisor would have the power to OK your visa even if you had infractions on your criminal report.  They usually only approve your visa if the offense did not involve using a gun in a crime, a felony, or an assault charge.

So, what happens if your criminal report reveals offenses that Immigration will not approve?

If you had a felony, even many years ago, you will not be able to get a residency visa in Panama. If you have assault charges, you will not be able to get a visa.

If your national criminal report reveals offenses that the Immigration Director will not approve, then you will not be able to get a Visa to live in Panama.

Before you gather all the documents necessary to get a Visa, it is best to discuss your situation with a Panama attorney, especially if you have offenses on your criminal report.  The attorney can advise you on the best way to proceed. 

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. henry lesnick says

    most helpful.

  2. Howard Green says

    what is confusing me is the comment about thirty days out of Panama total, which implies over the course of two years your total time out of Panama was less than 30 days, whereas several attorneys I asked, said that you could not be out of Panama for more than 30 consecutive days during the two years. Can you clarify this, please.
    thanks so much.

    • Panama Relocation Tours says

      If you can qualify for a residency visa with your FBI or other national criminal report, then you are only required to be in Panama every 2 years. My attorney recommends a week at least. Panama is so great you’ll want to spend MORE time in country.

      If you have dings on your national criminal report, after two years of living in Panama full time, you can qualify with a Panama police report. However, you can not be outside of Panama more than 30 days TOTAL during that two year period. The less time away from Panama is better.

      • Larry Martin says

        When you say a ding is that a conviction or just an arrest? My wife and I want to take your tour and look at retiring in Panama, but I was arrested twice when I was 16. The charges were dropped and I would like to know if that would prevent me from getting a visa before I consider the tour. Thanks

        • Jackie Lange says

          this will not prevent you from getting a visa. If you have proof that the charges were dropped it will help and since you were a minor when you were arrested.

  3. Phil says

    Hi. This is still very unclear. According to what I read on their immigration, you need to be in Panama for 2 years consecutively WITHOUT leaving the country, and if you are there on a passport (because you can’t get the visa yet with a criminal record) then you MUST leave the country every 6 months (USA citizen) since the passport stay can only last that long. A person would need to leave Panama and then re-enter, and he would need to do that at least twice to get the time up to 2 years. At that point, would they still be able to apply for the visa and satisfy the time requirements? They are not technically “living” in Panama, but visiting on a passport. Can you clarify?

    • Jackie Lange says

      Some immigration lawyers can get you a Visa within 6 months going through something called the Buena Vista program. It all depends on what is on your criminal report and how long ago it was. If they cannot get you approved through the Buena Vista program, then you can apply after being in Panama 2 years. During that two years, you are allowed to leave Panama for not more than 30 days (currently). However, before you even attempt to get a Visa by waiting two years or through the Buena Vista program, you REALLY need to talk to an immigration lawyer to discuss your personal situation and see if they think you would ever qualify. We have several reliable lawyer recommendations in our new Complete Panama Relocation Guide — These lawyers are PROS at getting people approved through the Buena Vista program so you don’t have to wait two years!

      • Earl Titus says

        Can you provide info on how to consult Panamanian attorney (English speaking) guide for shortening Buena Vista program rules through your relocation guide?
        If so, cost of guide & how to obtain?

        • Jackie Lange says

          We have recommendations for immigration lawyers that can help with a Bueno Visto. The Complete Panama Relocation Guide is $595 for life-time access and that includes access to a private community forum where you’ll get on going support. See details at

      • Don Boyer says

        Hi jacki,my name is wife and I are going thinking about moving to Panama to retire.but I have a misdemeanor on my record from a car accident. No DUI but reckless endangerment charge 2007. Could you give me contact info for a good lawyer to help get retirement Visa.Thank you in advance.sincerly Don.

        • Jackie Lange says

          HI Don, if you don’t have a felony you should be able to get a visa. But with a misdemeanor charge, there will be extra steps before you can apply for a visa. We have a list of reliable and super-affordable immigration lawyers in the Online Complete Panama Relocation Guide at

  4. Linda Copeland says

    Hello Jackie, I am researching Panama now for sometime and know that I am very interested in the Boquete area. I have been binge watching your YouTube videos and am concerned that only one person discusses the bugs especially scorpions. I am highly allergic to anything that stings. I do have an epi pen always on hand and a medical bracelet. Can you please discuss this for me. I plan on coming in July or August for a private tour and the leave the u.s. when I return from my private tour. I plan on purchasing your online guide but really need to know about the scorpions. I have heard they like to be in your bed! Freaking me out other than that I’m ready to go! Thx

    • Jackie Lange says

      Unless you get your house exterminated every month, you will have bugs in your house. Even if you get your house exterminated every month, you may see bugs and scorpions.

      Scorpions are usually only in the dry season (December to April). You rarely see them during the day. But at night you might see them walking across the room. They don’t get in your bed unless your bedspread touches the floor — then it provides a ladder for them to crawl up. If you leave things laying on the floor, scorpions like to hide under them.

  5. Linda Copeland says

    Hello Jackie
    I want to participate in your online q&a this Saturday but everyone I know does not know how to get hooked up for this. I am subscribed to your channel thx

  6. Steve Myers says

    Hola Jackie, muchas gracias for all of the information you provide.

    I am still unclear about the Buena Vista process.

    If I send a one of your recommended Panama Immigration Attorneys a copy of my FBI Report and they approve Buena Vista for a DUI from 40+ years ago, how long does that approval last?

    Can the Buena Vista approval be rescinded in the year or so time it takes for us to sell out house and move to Panama… before we can get our pensionado visas?

    Also, is it possible to get a name of a Panama Immigration Attorney to do this checking before we spend the $6K+ to come one one of your relocation tours? (Airfare + Tour costs for 2)

    It would be a complete waste of money if the Buena Vista application ends up on the desk of someone having a bad day and they just said NO! without really trying.

    • Jackie Lange says

      The Bueno Visto is NOT approved by the lawyer. The lawyer must submit documents to the head of immigration to request their approval for you to apply for a visa. The process can take 1-3-4 months. Once you get your authenticated FBI report, it is only valid for 6 months. So, once your Bueno Visto is approved, ideally you should apply for the visa right away before the authenticated FBI report expires. We have a list of recommended (and very affordable) immigration lawyers in the Complete Panama Relocation Guide

      • Steve Myers says

        Sorry, I wasn’t clear that the lawyer would take care of submitting the FBI Documents to the Panama immigration office to get them approved then let me know.

        Suppose I send my FBI Report to a Panamanian lawyer today and it gets “Buena Vista” approved by immigration in 4 months from now.

        I then put Panama on my “Places to Consider for Retirement” list and open up my checkbook.

        I spend the $10K or so over the next 6-8 months staying a month or so at a time in different parts of Panama finding where I’d like to purchase a House and retire.

        We find a place we like, and start off-loading property we no longer need in the USA (keeping a place to live as a safety net for a few years)

        Now it’s 12-14 months since I was approved for the Buena Vista, we are ready to actually move to Panama and file for a pensionado visas.

        Would I have to start all over again with the “Buena Vista”, risking the chance that they could say NO! and have wasted the $10K, or would the one from 12-14 months ago still be valid?

        Hearing you say in the video that even an 45+ year old ticket could keep someone from getting a Visa in Panama put the breaks on hard for us and we have cancelled all plans to visit Panama unless we know we can actually retire there.

        45+ years ago when I was still in College, I thought (wrong!) that it wasn’t worth the 5 to $10K to get the ticket invalidated.

        • Steve Myers says

          I clearly understand that I would have to get a new FBI Background Report if/when we find a place we like. That’s a given since it only lasts 6 Months.

          It’s the Buena Vista I’m concerned about.

          • Jackie Lange says

            Once your Bueno Visto is approved, you should immediately apply for the residency visa. Don’t wait.

  7. Antonia Garcia says

    My husband has a criminal record felony, it happened 30 years ago, he is 69 retired, im his wife,im retired too, im panameñian living in usa, can he get a pensionado residence?

    • Jackie Lange says

      he cannot get a pensionado visa with a felony on his record.

      • Susan Ward says

        Is there anyway that a person who has an felony from 1991 be able to visit Panama.

      • Mary Butler says

        Is there anyway that a person who has an felony from 1991 be able to visit Panama.

        • Jackie Lange says

          Hello Mary. If you have a felony, no matter how long ago it was, you will never be able to live in Panama or get a residency visa.

  8. Suzy Horvath says

    Hi Jackie: In 1992 and in 1994 I was arrested for an Assault IV charge because an ex-boyfriend beat me up and lied to the police to get me arrested. On both occasions the charges were dropped. Would this affect my chances of getting a Pensionado Visa? Should I try to get them expunged?

    • Jackie Lange says

      The assault charge could affect your ability to get a visa. The best thing to do is get a copy of your FBI report now, the contact one of the immigration lawyers we recommend in the Complete Panama Relocation Guide. They can tell you what you may be able to do to get a visa. If you have documents showing that the charges were dropped, that will help. See the recommended lawyers in the Online Guide


    My Jackie.
    It’s a pleasure reading your article of relocation in Panama and all your information provided for Pension Visa.

    Since i’m already living and retired in Panama for six months now. Due to this, a ding on my FBI criminal background check was delayed and finally, I am scheduled to pick up my temporary Pension Visa, so my question is, does the a temporary pension visa considered to be approved by the buenas vista?

    • Jackie Lange says

      HI Richard

      Congratulations on getting your temporary visa. That means you were approved for the Bueno Vista. But it does not necessarily mean that you will be approved for a permanent visa. Most people do get a permanent visa, but not everyone is approved for a permanent visa after they get a temporary one.

  10. Mark Nazer says

    Hello Jackie. How many years back does Panama check criminal records when applying for the Pensionado retirement visa. Thank you.

    • Jackie Lange says

      Panama looks at your lifetime criminal record. Even when you were a minor.

  11. S. says

    Hi there, my husband got a DWI 10 years ago but has since “removed” it from his record…though I’m not sure if it is ever removed from his official FBI report. Do you know if a “removed” for good behavior DWI case has every been approved by the Panamanian visa authorities? Thanks!

    • Jackie Lange says

      If a DWI is the only thing on his record, he will not have a problem getting a visa. If it still shows up on the FBI report, your immigration attorney will need to do an extra step before you can apply for a visa.

      • S says

        Wonderful. Thank you SO much for your help 🙏🏼🙏🏼🙏🏼🙏🏼🙏🏼!!

  12. Cass says

    Hi Jackie
    If you have two DWI convictions would you still qualify? One from over 20 years ago and the other from a couple of years ago.

    • Jackie Lange says

      Cass, yes, you can still get a visa if you have two DWI’s but your attorney will need to file for special permission for you to apply.

      • Cass says

        Thank you! Really appreciated Jackie!

  13. Mrs Ward says

    My husband and I would like to move to Panama, after I retire this year I have a felony on my record but adjudication was withheld, no conviction. Can I get a pensionado visa?

    • Jackie Lange says

      Mrs Ward, I suggest you get a copy of his FBI report to see what actually shows up. Then send it to an immigration attorney in Panama to see if he can get a visa.

  14. Richard says

    Hello, my husband has two DUI’s. We plan on going for vacation. His nationality does not require a tourist visa. Will he have any issues to enter the country?

    • Jackie Lange says

      Richard, your husband will have no issues entering Panama even though he has two DUIs

  15. Cris Roberts says

    Hi Jackie, In my state assault does not mean physical contact, battery does. Does that matter?

    • Jackie Lange says

      Cris, If there is anything on your national criminal report, it matters and could prevent you from getting a visa. You would need to get a copy of your report then send it to a Panama immigration lawyer to see what your chances are for getting a visa.

      • cris says

        Thank you for your reply. I really hope to meet you in the future.

  16. Anna Wrixon says

    Hi Jackie,
    My husband and I live in BC, Canada and are interested in moving to Panama. However he has a criminal record which includes a drug trafficking charge over 5 years ago. Should we just forget about even trying to get a visa in Panama?

    • Jackie Lange says

      HI Anna, Unfortunately, your husband would not be able to get a visa in Panama. Mexico does not require a background check — see info about moving to Mexico at

      • Allen says

        Hi Jackie, what if the felony charge is for possession of marijuana which is somewhat legal in panama?

        • Jackie Lange says

          Allen, I’m sorry but it would not be possible to get a visa in Panama if you have a felony. Marijuana is not legal in Panama. Mexico does not require a criminal report. See www.

  17. Brent says

    Hi Jackie, I was planning on retiring to Panama in a couple of years. I just ran my own fbi check and 41 years ago when I was just out of high school I had a DUI that was dismissed. it’s the only thing on my report and states that it was dismissed.

    Would this cause any complications for my visa?

    Thank you!

    • Jackie Lange says

      HI Brent, You will have no problems getting a visa is that is all that’s on your FBI report

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