Why You Should Get a Residency Visa in Panama

If you plan to live in Panama, I really encourage you to get a residency visa.  It will make your life much easier.  Here’s why…

As a tourist, you can stay in Panama 6 months.  After that, you need to leave the country for 30 days before you can re-enter Panama.

If you plan to drive in Panama, as a tourist you can only drive for 90 days then you need to leave the country for at least 30 days before you can return. 

It’s a crazy rule… but it’s the rule!

Granted, some people have lived in Panama for many years and never did get a visa.  Previously,  tourist could stay in Panama 6 months then leave for only 3 days before they could come back. The laws changed in March 2017 to require that tourists be out of Panama at least 30 days before they can come back.

I’m convinced that Panama is eventually going to raise the bar on obtaining residency.  So, you want to make sure you get your residency visa before it becomes harder.  The requirements have already been tightening up over the last couple of years.

When I first moved to Panama you only needed a letter from your local police department stating that you did not have a criminal record.  In 2012, Panama started requiring a national criminal report (FBI report for US citizens) to get a residency visa.  And the report needs to be fairly clean.

If you had a DWI, you can probably still get a residency visa in Panama but if you have there is anything more serious than that your Panama attorney will need to get special permission to apply for your Visa.

There are many different visa programs but the most popular visa is the Pensionado Visa.

The Pensionado visa is for people who are retired and do not plan to work in Panama.  To get this visa, you need a lifetime pension or social security of $1,000US for a single person or $1,250 for a couple.   You’ll also need a national criminal report.  If you are married, you’ll need a copy of your marriage certificate. 

The Pensionado visa is also the most affordable residency visa to get because the government fees are waived.  This will save you about $1050.

It cost about $1200 to get a Pensionado visa or $1600 for a couple.

In addition to an easy residency visa, a Pensionado enjoys the following discounts:

•    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
•    25% 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, every 2 years

These discounts are available for all Panamanians – called jubilado discounts.  Luckily, the discounts are extended to foreigners who get a Pensionado residency visa.

There are many other residency visa options, but unfortunately, the other visa options require that you either get a job in Panama or make a substantial financial investment in real estate or a business.

Getting the Pensionado Visa has 3-steps.

STEP ONE:  First, you should select an attorney to work with.  We have several recommendations which we provide during a Panama Relocation Tour and in our Online Panama Relocation Guide.  The attorney will advise you on what documents are needed depending on which residency visa you plan to apply for.

Once all the documents are given to your attorney and they are translated in to Spanish, you will go with your attorney to immigration to present your application for a residency visa.  You will be issued a temporary visa card which is good for six months.

The temporary visa can be obtained at any immigration office.  You do not need to stay in Panama City.

If you do not plan to stay in Panama, you should also get a multi-entry visa stamp on your passport.  This will cost an additional $50 and take two days.  If you leave the country without a multi-entry visa stamp, it is a $2000 fine.  So, I advise always getting the multi-entry visa stamp in your passport.

STEP TWO: In three to four months, your attorney will notify you that your permanent visa is ready.  You will need to go to Panama City to get your permanent visa.  This visa card is good forever and will not need to be renewed.

STEP THREE: Then about 60 days later your Cedula, or permanent resident ID card, will be ready.  You will need to go to Panama City to get this card.  The Cedula is a national ID card which needs to be renewed every 10 years.

Until you get a visa, you cannot get a Panama driver’s license.

Unlike other countries, the “time in country” requirements in Panama are easy too.  You are not required to live in Panama.  But it is required that you visit at least a few days every two years.

After 5 years, you can apply for Panama citizenship and a Panama passport.  A Panama passport is a valuable passport.  I know several expats who have successfully applied for a Panama passport.

Panama will likely join the list of nationals who do not need a visa to travel to the United States.  Panamanian citizens are already among the only foreign nationals who can apply for the “Global Entry” program in the United States.   Joining the Visa Waiver list is a logical extension. 

This puts Panama among the top residency options in the world that lead to a tier 1, top quality passport.

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. Les Shafer says

    I am currently living in Pattaya, Thailand and have been for the last 15 years
    having never left. This July I am renewing my USA Passport then my one year
    Thai Retirement Visa and then my 5 year driver licenses. I intend to go on one of
    your tours after finished. Do I still need a report from the police of any country
    that I have not been arrested and I am not a criminal? Otherwise I qualify for a
    Pensionado Residency. If I were a criminal Thailand would deport me and the
    US Embassy would have me arrested. If you know someone who would like to
    investigate living in Pattaya I can help. Some decent condos are $175 a month
    about 8 blocks to ocean..
    Thanks for your attention,
    Les Shafer

    • Panama Relocation Tours says

      To visit Panama you do not need an FBI criminal report or a Thailand criminal report. If you decide to get a Pensionado visa, you will only need a criminal ( or lack of criminal) report from Thailand since you have lived there for 15 years. I really look forward to showing you Panama. There are many places in Panama were you can get a nice condo a few blocks from the beach for $175 a month too!

  2. Deborah Phillips says

    Please tell me where we can rent a condo for 175.00 a month. We have been living here in Panama for several months now trying to find an affordable place to live. We prefer a house, furnished, 2 bedrooms, 2 bath with fenced yard for our 2 dogs in a gated community with other expats and prefer the mountain. If a condo is 175.00, we should be able to find a house for 350.00 to 400.00 dollars.


    • Panama Relocation Tours says

      You will not find what you are looking for in a gated community at any price. Anything in a gated community is always much more expensive. You can find houses for $175 – $400 in Volcan and Puerto Armuellas. May not be fully furnished. Puerto will be the most affordable. There are tradeoffs. If you want to live in a gated community with all the bells and whistles, you will have to pay more.

      If you rent from a gringo or a gringo real estate agent, you will always pay more too. Rent from a Panamanian.

  3. Daniel says

    So, do you know of anyone that has had a dui/dwi and still got a visa? I read all kinds of different answers on this matter. I was arrested 10 years ago for a dui, but it got dropped to a wet reckless, which in California is a vehicle infraction, you can not actually be arrested for a wet reckless. I was at the legal limit, the breathalyzer had no calibration records, the arrest was sloppy. Alot of people get pulled over in this state and arrested for a DUI and it gets thrown out because they opt for a blood test which comes back with no evidence. However the arrest still shows up. Am I a criminal? No. I have gone to Canada, so maybe it does not show up. I am going to order my FBI report and see what is on there. I am just wondering if it is a lost cause. Can u give me more info on this matter? Also why do you say that you need a visa for a data plan? My daughter lives in bugaba she says anyone can walk into any phone store and buy a prepaid Sim card and data plan.

    • Panama Relocation Tours says

      I know many people who have been able to get a visa even though they had a DWI. But a Panama attorney would be the best one to answer your specific question. Canada has pretty strict rules about not letting anyone in with a criminal record so your DWI may not show up.

      You cannot get a data plan with automatic monthly billing for data plan unless you have a visa. You can buy a temporary data plan for up to 15 days.

  4. David says

    Does that mean if we go abroad after applying we would have fly to panama a total of three times to become a permanent resident? First when we apply and get the temporary visa, second to get the permanent visa, and third to get the resident id. Either that or stay in panama for a total of 120~150 days? Is this correct? Or is it possible to receive the temporary visa and then fly a second time to panama after 150 when both the permanent visa and resident ids are out instead of going three times.

    • Panama Relocation Tours says

      Ideally, after getting your temporary visa you will be already living in Panama so it is an easy trip to Panama City. but if you are not living in Panama, then, yes it will require 1 trip for your temporary visa, 1 trip for your permanent visa ( you might get your Panama driver’s license on this trip too), then another trip for your cedula. You do not have to get a cedula – it could wait until you live in Panama. In January, Panama passed a new law that you cannot be out of Panama more than 2 years and still keep an active Visa. So, you would need to plan to come back every two years once you get your visa.

  5. Eric says

    I am a tourist is Panama and l want to manage and stay in Panama for a while . So how can l get a permit to stay there ?

    • Panama Relocation Tours says

      You can only stay in Panama 6 months as a tourist. If you are driving, you can only stay for 90 days then you need to leave Panama for at least 3 days. To live in Panama, you need to get a residency visa. Consult with a Panamanian attorney for details about the visa options and requirements.

  6. Dookie says

    Can I get and furnished apt for around 600 in the city

    • Jackie Lange says

      It is not likely that you can get a furnished apartment for $600 a month in Panama City – at least not in an area where you would want to live. For $600 a month, you could share an apartment with other people or perhaps find a small studio apartment. Panama City is expensive. The interior is much more affordable but if you work in Panama City, you’d have a long commute.

      • Dookie says

        Thanks for the info

  7. Dookie says

    If I have a two year residence visa,how long will my kids be able to stay in panama

    • Jackie Lange says

      Your kids would be tourists. They could stay for 6 months maximum.

      • Dookie says

        Thanks, Jackie

  8. Christie says

    I had a criminal conviction 34 years ago would that cause them to deny my residence permit?

    • Jackie Lange says

      You would need to talk to a Panama immigration attorney about your conviction to determine if it would prevent you from getting a Visa. Generally, if it was a long time ago and a non-violent conviction, you will be able to get approved after going through the Buena Vista process.

  9. Tom says

    Hello. My family of 6 (2 adults, 4 children) would like to go through the residency process in Panama. Would my young children need to be present for all of the trips mentioned above for the temporary visa, permanent visa, and Cedula? I am trying to find a way to do this without flying 6 people in multiple times. If anyone has a suggestion I appreciate it. Thank you!!

    • Jackie Lange says

      Everyone must be present for each step of the Visa process.

  10. David Jordan says


    If you become a citizen of Panama after five years, do you loose your U.S. citizenship?

    • Jackie Lange says

      If you want to lose your US citizenship, you would need to renounce your US citizenship. It’s a process that you would do at the US Embassy.

  11. Jonathan says

    Hi Jackie,

    Couple questions:
    As a tourist, it was 180 days max in country. Are US passports only good for max of 3 months now?
    Also, does a 401k or 403b qualify for the Pensianado visa?

    Thanks so much

    • Jackie Lange says

      Tourists from the United States and Canada can stay for 180 days. But you can only drive for 90 days

      401k or 403b do NOT qualify for the Pensionado Visa. However, if they are self-directed, you get send a letter of direction to acquire a 3-year CD in Panama for $200,000 to qualify for the Friendly Nations Visa

  12. Stephanie says

    Hi Jackie,

    For adult children dependents under the Pensionado Visa, how do we determine a “profound disability”?

    • Jackie Lange says

      You would need documentation from the adult child’s doctor that they are disabled and dependent on you.

  13. Kevin Daley says


    I am uncertain if I will relocate to Panama or Columbia–it appears to me that Panama is easier at this point to reolocate to. I believe that I will spend 90 days in Columbia, followed by 90 days in Panama etc through a year–allowing me to actually get a real sense of where I will end up. And in what specific area of Panama or Columbia.

    My question is am I thinking correctly that I am legally able to spend 90 days in CO followed by 90 days in Panama and continue this process until I can finalize my decision and retain an immigration lawyer to start and finalize the Visa process

    • Jackie Lange says

      Kevin, you can certainly stay in Panama for 90 days as a tourist. Sorry, I do not know the rules for Colombia.

  14. Jennifer says

    If I buy a property in Panama but it doesn’t meet the financial requirements for a residency visa (like $200k or $300k) do the current rules still allow for 180 days stay in the country & that I must leave for 30 days before I return? Essentially, a person can be in Panama for 11 months out of 12 months with a 30 day leave in the middle? I understand that you are urging persons to apply for a Visa before the country changes these laws & I do intend to do that just as soon as possible but meanwhile I would need to know what the current law is. Thank you so much in advance.

    • Jackie Lange says

      Jennifer, the rules changed last August to try to prevent perpetual tourists. If you’re from North America, you can stay for up to 180 days (but only drive for the first 90 days). When you come back to Panama, they may only allow you two weeks or they could allow you 180 days or they could not allow reentry at all… it’s totally up to immigration. So, there is no guarantee that you will get 180 days when you come back, especially when they see that you are a perpetual tourists. It’s better to wait to buy real estate AFTER you get a permanent visa. There have been situations where people bought real estate but their visa was denied so they could not live in Panama…. you would not want that to happen to you.

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