A tourist can visit Panama for 180 days if you are from North America. If you’re a tourist from some other countries can only visit Panama for 30-90 days.
To live in Panama full-time, you must get a residency visa. This article shares important things you need to determine before you make plans to apply for a residency visa or to move to Panama.
To qualify for a visa, you need to present a national criminal report. Before you decide to move to Panama, it would be a good idea to get a copy of your criminal report. If it is not completely clean, you must contact an immigration lawyer in Panama to see your chances of getting a visa. See more details below about important things to consider before making plans to move to Panama.
Once you determine that you qualify for a visa, it’s time to start your plans to move to Panama and apply for a visa.
Set a date to move to Panama and a date to meet with your immigration lawyer to get a visa. Depending on which visa you are getting, it will usually take about five days to get a visa.
About four months before your move, contact one of the recommended immigration lawyers in the Complete Panama Relocation Guide. Their prices are much more affordable than other immigration lawyers. A couple can get a Pensionado visa for as little as $1500. Other lawyers charge $2,800 to $5000 for the same visa. There is no reason to pay more for a visa!
Schedule a date to get your Visa with your immigration lawyer. They will give you a list of documents you need to gather in your country. Those documents will need to be authenticated by the Panama Consulate in your country. Before you come to Panama to get a visa, it’s a good idea to scan the documents and email them to your attorney to ensure they have everything they need and that all documents are correct.
Note, that the documents cannot be more than six months old when you apply for a visa. It’s better if the documents are no more than 3-4 months old when you apply.
Once your attorney verifies that your documents are good, then it’s best to mail all the documents via DHL or Federal Express to your attorney in Panama. By mailing the documents in advance, your attorney can have everything ready for you to get a visa shortly after you move to Panama.
You could also bring the original documents when you move to Panama. But that may cause a 1-2 week delay in getting your visa.
HOLD ON – DO THIS FIRST!
We recommend that you NOT consider applying for a residency visa until after you determine that you qualify for a visa and until after you come on a scouting trip. You may want to visit Panama several times before you start making plans to move to Panama and apply for a residency visa.
There is no rush to get your visa on your first or second visit to Panama.
Getting a visa can be expensive and time-consuming to gather all the necessary documents. It’s better to make sure you like Panama before you start going through the process of getting a visa.
These are important things to consider before you plan to get a residency visa in Panama.
DETERMINE IF YOU QUALIFY
Before planning your scouting trip, you need to determine if you qualify for a visa before making plans to move to Panama. To get a visa, you will need to submit a national criminal report. If you have a felony or an assault charge on your criminal report, no matter how long ago it was, you will not be able to get a visa.
If you have any dings on your national criminal report, your attorney will need to get special permission from immigration for you to be able to apply for a visa. This process is called a Bueno Visto and usually costs about $1000. Immigration will usually approve you, but sometimes they deny people from getting a visa. So, if you know you have dings on your national criminal report, it would be a good idea to get a copy of your report now and then send it to a Panama immigration lawyer before you plan a trip to Panama.
If you had a DUI or minor misdemeanor charge a long time ago, you would probably be approved. If you have a lot of DUIs or many misdemeanor charges, you may or may not be approved.
Don’t sell your house and move to Panama until you know you can get a visa.
Don’t buy real estate in Panama until you have a permanent visa so you know you can stay in Panama.
To qualify for a visa, you will also need to meet certain financial requirements. For the Pensionado visa, you will need to prove that you currently receive at least $1000USD per month in lifetime income, like a pension from a job or Social Security. Panama will not accept 401K income, rental income, investment income, or an annuity that you set up yourself. You will need to add $250 for each dependent.
Other residency visa options can require $80,000 to $300,000 in financial investments in Panama.
Before you plan to move to Panama, you need to determine if you meet the financial requirements.
DO YOU LIKE THE WEATHER
Once you know you qualify for a visa and meet the financial requirements, you should plan a scouting trip to Panama. A scouting trip will help you determine if Panama is right for you.
A good way to go on a scouting trip is to join us for an all-inclusive 6-day, 7-night Panama Relocation Tour.
During a Panama Relocation Tour, we’ll take you to all the most popular places to live. The bus is like a seminar on wheels where our professional tour guides provide all the information you need to know to have a smooth, hassle-free move to Panama. Panama Relocation Tours are a lot of fun too! You will meet other like-minded people considering a move to Panama.
You may want to visit Panama during the dry (windy) season and come again for a visit during the rainy season. The seasons can be dramatically different. You may love Panama in January (dry season) but decide that the rain is not bearable in the rainy season. Most people love Panama during all seasons.
One of the great things about Panama is you can pick the ideal temperature by changing your elevation. If it’s too hot at one elevation, just go higher for cooler weather. If it’s too cool at one elevation, just go to a lower elevation for warmer weather.
CAN YOU GET HEALTH INSURANCE?
If you have pre-existing medical conditions, you may not be able to get health insurance in Panama. You’ll need to pay out of pocket for all medical care, including emergencies. You’ll also need to pay for medications which could be more expensive in Panama. Can you afford to do that?
If you are over 74, it is much harder to get health insurance in Panama.
If you are on a tight budget, you should determine if you can get health insurance in Panama before you get a visa. Also, find out what your medications will cost.
Even if you cannot get health insurance in Panama, you can use the public health care system in Panama. The public hospitals are very affordable, but they may be unable to take care of your medical condition. If the care you need is not available at the public hospital, that means you’ll need to pay a lot more for a private hospital or appointments at a private doctor’s office.
Because health care is so affordable in Panama, many expats self-insure, meaning they do not get health insurance. Would you be comfortable doing that if you cannot get health insurance?
Also, know that some medications are unavailable in Panama, or they may cost much more than you pay now.
Availability of health insurance, medical care for your conditions, and medication costs need to be determined before you get a visa.
If you have the right Medicare Advantage plan, it could cover urgent care or medical emergencies in Panama, but you’ll need to pay upfront, then file a claim to be reimbursed. Medicare does not cover routine doctor visits or medications in Panama.
Before gathering the documents to apply for a visa, come on a scouting trip to make sure you want to live in Panama. Living in Panama is nothing like living in North America or Europe. Some say that’s a GOOD THING! Others find it hard to adapt to the culture in Panama. Panama’s not right for everyone.
The grocery stores may not have the items you are familiar with. There is no Amazon delivery to your door. The activities you love the most may or may not be available in the town you are interested in.
Make a list of the “must have” things in your life, then determine if you can find them in Panama in the area(s) you are interested in.
Your scouting trip to Panama should not be a vacation. The scouting trip should not be about laying on the beach sipping a fancy drink or hitting all the tourist attractions.
By the end of an all-inclusive 6-day, 7-night Panama Relocation Tour, you’ll know if Panama is right for you.
The scouting trip should be to determine if Panama is a good fit for your lifestyle and if Panama has the things you need to be happy. See this article about planning a scouting trip.
IMPORTANT DRIVING RULES
You need to know that once you get your visa, even your temporary visa, you cannot drive in Panama with your foreign license. You will need to get a Panama driver’s license before you can drive.
Before you get a visa, you can drive with your foreign license for the first 90 days you are in Panama.
To get a license, you will either need to get your license authenticated by the Embassy for your country in Panama City, or you’ll need to sign up for a driving school and take a written test (in English) and a driving test before you can get a Panama license.
It could take several weeks or even months to get a Panama driver’s license.
Meanwhile, if you’re looking for a rental, you’ll need to rely on public transportation or taxis to get around.
If you want to be able to drive a rental car or a car that you buy while you are looking for a rental, you may want to wait to apply for a visa until after you find a rental.
We’ve found that it helps to have a checklist to plan your move to Panama. This helps you avoid having something fall through the cracks at the last minute.
The Complete Panama Relocation Guide has a Six-Month Planner Checklist to help you remember what needs to be done and when to get certain tasks done before your move to Panama.
You’ll learn what you should do 6 months before your move, 5 months before your move, 4 months before your move, etc, etc, and that critical 10-days before your move.
Trust me, there will be things on this list you did not even think about!
REDUCE COSTS WHEN APPLYING FOR A VISA
To keep costs o a minimum when applying for a visa, you should apply for your visa after you move to Panama and get settled into your rental.
If you wait to apply for a visa until after you move to Panama, you can avoid hotel and eating out expenses while you are applying for a visa.
You can also reduce your costs of applying for a visa by using one of the reliable and affordable immigration lawyers we recommend in the Complete Panama Relocation Guide.