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Panama Visa Delays If You Have Dings On Your Criminal Report

Getting a Visa in Panama

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, then 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 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”.

It could take several months to get approval from the Director of Immigration. Depending on what is 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 will usually only approve your visa if the offense did not involve using a gun in a crime or any felony drug charges.

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

Criminal Background Check

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 personal 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.

  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!

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