Article written by Jisel Perilla
Contributing writer to Latinworld.com
What Kind of Residency Visa do I Qualify for?
This is one of the first things you’ll have to find out if you’re thinking about making a permanent move to Panama. The good news is that it’s pretty easy to obtain permanent residency in Panama, so long as you’re a retiree with a formal monthly pension or you’ve got at least $160,000 to invest. If you’re low on funds or looking for work on your own, you may be out of luck – at least technically. The Panamanian government does everything possible to make sure that jobs in Panama go to Panamanians, so unless you have a very special skill or are sponsored by a large multinational, you may have to go a less official route. Keep in mind that immigration and visa laws have a tendency to change quickly, so it’s best to seek legal counsel as soon as you start thinking about relocating to Panama.
The following are the most common visas sought by foreigners relocating in Panama:
If you’re retired…
The Turista Pensionado Visa is available to those receiving at least a $1,000 (up from $500) monthly pension from a verifiable source. There’s no expiration date on this visa, but you’ll have to check in with the Immigration Department once a year to demonstrate that you’re still receiving a pension. If you received your pension in a lump sum and aren’t receiving monthly payments, you can obtain a Rentista Retirado Visa. You’ll just have to deposit your funds, in a 5-year CD at the Banco Nacional de Panama and be earning returns of at least $2,000 monthly (up from $750) In order to retain residency status, the CD must be renewed every five years.
If you’re an investor…
Panama provides a very friendly environment for those looking to go into business. The provisional two year Inversionista Visa requires an initial investment of at least $160,000 and the hiring of at least five full-time Panamanian employees. The visa must be renewed at least three times every two years before it becomes permanent and provides a path for obtaining Panamanian nationality. The Inversionista de Pequeña Empresa Visa (Small Business Investor Visa) was recently eliminated.
If you’re not retired, not an investor but independently wealthy…
You may qualify for the Solvencia Económica Propia (Person of Means) Visa. You must deposit at least $300,000 to be left in a bank for three years. You can also apply $300,000 toward the purchase of mortgage-free property or do a combination of both. This visa can become permanent after an initial renewal, so long as your economic situation remains unchanged. The Solvenica Económica Propia also provides a path to Panamanian nationality.
If you don’t meet any of the above categories…
Relocating to Panama and obtaining permanent residency will be a bit more difficult if not impossible, unless you marry a Panamanian. As an American, Canadian or European man, you’ll find this is pretty easy to do in Panama!
If marriage doesn’t interest you, however, there is an unofficial way to move to Panama. American, Canadian, and most European citizens are legally entitled to stay in Panama for up to 90 days without a visa, so many expatriates simply cross over into Costa Rica or explore Central America every three months. You’ll have to remain abroad for at least 72 hours before reentering Panama. This is an at-your-risk “permanent tourist” option, but I’ve heard of many people who have lived like for months and even years. As far as I can tell, the government doesn’t seem to mind as long as you’re not trying to take jobs from Panamanians.
Another option is to teach English. Private schools are always looking for ESL teachers, and they seem to prefer American and Canadian candidates. Likely, you’ll be required to provide evidence of a Bachelor’s degree, TEFL certification and teaching experience. If you wish to remain in Panama for more than a year, you may be able to renegotiate your contract with your employer. Keep in mind however, that teachers in Panama usually only make between $600-$1,000 a month, so you won’t be living large by any means.
In order to apply for a visa and residency status you’ll have to talk to a Panamanian lawyer. If a law office’s rates seem too good to be true, they probably are. Ask around for a reputable firm before you get the process started. I haven’t found the Panamanian embassy to be particularly helpful, but they do have a bit of investor and retirement information on line. My Panama Lawyer is an informative, unofficial relocation blog and is a good place to keep up with Panama’s frequently changing visa and residency requirements. You can also find a few other visa/residency options here.