In the past seven years, Panama's government has become increasingly welcoming towards foreigners, particularly those who have something to contribute to the country's economy in the form of investments or employment opportunities.
One can now honestly say that becoming a legal resident of Panama has never been easier. Whether you're coming with the hopes of opening a boutique hotel or surfing school, or whether you're just planning on working remotely and treating your family to a gap year spent experiencing life in another setting, Panama offers dozens of visa options tailored to suit a variety of situations.
The three options below offer the best benefits to applicants and are among the easiest to obtain.
Nationals of Specific Countries Visa
The Nationals of Specific Countries (NSC) visa was recently introduced in order to attract much-needed skilled labor to accommodate Panama’s growing economy. Because this visa is designed to help bolster Panama's workforce, its applicants are required to show one of the following:
- Evidence of investment in Panamanian real estate
- Proof of ownership in a Panamanian business or corporation
- Letter and contract of employment from a Panamanian company
The NSC visa also requires a minimum deposit of $5,000 in a Panamanian bank (plus an additional $2,000 for each dependent). Also, as its name implies, applicants must hail from one of the following 47 countries “that maintain friendly, professional, economic, and investment relationships with the Republic of Panama”. This includes: Andorra, Argentina, Australia, Austria, Brazil, Belgium, Canada, Chile, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, France, Finland, Germany, Greece, Hong Kong, Hungary, Ireland, Israel, Japan, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Norway, Malta, Monaco, Montenegro, Netherlands, New Zealand, Poland, Portugal, San Marino, Serbia, Singapore, Slovakia, South Africa, South Korea, Spain, Switzerland, Sweden, Taiwan, United Kingdom, United States, or Uruguay.
Also eligible are applicants’ dependent spouses, children under 18 (or between 18 and 25 if they’re students), dependent parents, and family members with disabilities.
One of the biggest perks of this visa is that, because the need for workers is great, Panama’s current administration is really cranking these visas out fast. And, what it offers is immediate permanent residency. No renewals. No waiting. Holders of this visa can also apply for citizenship after 5 years, something that isn’t possible with a lot of visas.
That’s why a lot of folks are calling this one the “fast track” visa. It’s great for young entrepreneurs who might not otherwise be able to afford to make such a move.
Don't be fooled by its name. Panama's Pensionado Visa is an option designed for expats of all ages, not just retirees. This visa comes complete with a neat little bundle of discounts on everything from hotels to health care.
However, because the government wants to be sure holders of this visa won't be taking jobs away from Panamanian citizens; it requires a steeper income requirement. Applicants must show proof of a monthly income of at least $1,000 (per couple) that's guaranteed for life from a source such as a pension or annuity.
That burden is reduced to $750 per month if it accompanies a $100,000 minimum investment in Panamanian real estate. In addition, any dependent children require an additional $250 per month.
The benefits offered to those who hold a Pensionado visa include:
- 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
Holding this visa also allows expats to obtain a cedula, Panama’s national identification card. They can also apply for permanent residency, but not citizenship.
Not only are the requirements a little steeper with this visa, but it can also take a little longer to obtain (at least 6 months or more). It also demands a hefty amount of paperwork and may require you to continue to prove solvency at periodic intervals.
The Non-Visa Option
Another route many expats take is not to apply for any permanent visa at all. This is actually what many expats have been doing for years now, and it has worked out quite well. You see, U.S. citizens are automatically given a 6-month tourist visa upon entering Panama. And there’s no limit to the number of times you can be granted this visa.
While it probably isn't necessarily how the government intended this tourist visa to be used, there's absolutely nothing illegal about it. There's also a staggering number of expats who utilize this option. It's a great excuse to get out of the country for a few days and see some of the other fantastic sights Central America has to offer.
Which Visa Option Is Best for You?
If you have the guaranteed income and are ready to enjoy a retirement lifestyle, go with the Pensionado visa. The benefits are worth it. If you have less of an initial investment and want to build a business or career in a place that better rewards your efforts, the Specific Countries visa is your ticket.
Then again, if you don’t mind some occasional travel, don’t get a visa at all. There are plenty of options, or non-options, available. Find the one that’s right for you.