Tourists are allowed to stay in Panama for 180 days. But if you want to live in Panama, you are required to get a residency Visa. The two most popular visas are the Pensionado Visa and the Friendly Nations Visa.
To qualify for the Pensionado Visa, you need to prove a lifetime income (from Social Security, military retirement, or pension from a job) of $1000 for one person plus $250 for each dependent. For the Pensionado Visa, Panama does not accept 401k, IRA, annuities, or rental income. To qualify, the income must be a lifetime income. The Pensionado Visa is the most affordable visa because the government fees are waived for retirees.
To qualify for the Friendly Nations Visa, you don’t need to prove monthly income but you do need to show ties to Panama with either a job offer, buying real estate or by setting up a corporation. You also need to open a Panama bank account and deposit $5,000 for one person applying plus $2000 for each dependent. You can start spending the $5000 as soon as you get your visa.
There are many other visas but they are all much more expensive than the Friendly Nations Visa or the Pensionado Visa.
The most important requirement for any visa application is your national criminal report, like an FBI report if you’re a US citizen or an RCMP report if you’re Canadian. Even if you have some dings on your criminal report, you can usually get a visa UNLESS there is a felony drug charge, domestic violence, rape or abuse charge, murder, arms trafficking, assault with a weapon, or convicted as a pedophile. If you have any of these charges on your criminal report, you will not be able to get a residency visa in Panama. Even if these charges were 20, 30, or 40+ years ago, Panama will not allow you to get a visa.
If you have multiple DUI’s or misdemeanor drug charges, immigration may require you to provide a blood test to determine if there are drugs or alcohol in your system. If the test is clean, you can get a visa.
If your national criminal report is not completely clean, your attorney will need to request permission from the Director of Immigration for you to even apply for a Visa. This process is called a Buena Vista and can take 2-4 months for approval. There is an additional charge for a Buena Vista. Once the Director of Immigration gives the green light, your attorney can help you apply for a residency Visa. Just because you apply for a Buena Vista, there is no guarantee that it will be approved.
If you suspect that you will have dings on your national criminal report, we recommend that you get your national criminal report now then consult with a Panama immigration attorney about getting a visa before you make plans to move to Panama. Search for companies in your area that do electronic fingerprints so you can get the results in about 30 minutes.
What’s the Plan B?
If you cannot get a residency visa because of dings on your criminal record, you could live in Panama for two years, but you’d need to fly out of Panama for 3-4 days every 90 days if you want to drive or every six months if you’re not driving. After two years, you can apply for a visa with a Panama police report instead. The Panama police report needs to be completely CLEAN! (No speeding tickets, No DUIs, or any other charges). You cannot be out of Panama for more than 30 days total within the two-year period.
Keep in mind, that without a visa, you will not be able to take advantage of any of the Pensionado discounts.