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.