An increasing number of people are choosing to spend their retirement years in Panama. Perhaps the main reason why Panama is such an attractive retiree destination is the government’s pensionado visa program, introduced in 1987. Over the years, this program has gained a reputation as one of the best retiree residence schemes in the world. The pensionado program offers unique benefits that are hard to find anywhere else and will help make it easier to enjoy your retirement.
Best of all, the pensionado program is available to foreigners. By meeting a few simple requirements you may be eligible to apply for a pensionado visa and retire in Panama at a fraction of the cost of what it would cost to retire in many other countries.
Why Panama is a Great Place to Retire
Panama checks nearly all of the boxes on a list of what to look for in a great place to retire. And don’t just take my word for it. Every year thousands of people from around the world choose to move to Panama after retirement. While many retirees come from North America, the destination is also becoming increasingly popular with European and Asian expats as well.
Easily the best part about retiring in Panama is the country’s ability to offer the conveniences of a developed country with low costs and natural landscapes of a less developed destination. Panama City offers nearly all of the amenities that expats could long for. Often considered an “Americanized” city thanks to the long-term involvement of the United States with the Panama Canal, Panama’s capital is as much a modern metropolis as any.
Shopping and dining options abound at prices that are much lower than what you will find in big cities in the United States. A three-course meal at a nice restaurant can be had for as little as $30-$50. And don’t think you’ll be limited to Panamanian fare. Panama City’s long history as a destination for expats means that high-quality Spanish, French, Italian, American, Japanese, and Middle Eastern restaurants are easy to come by.
Panama City also boasts modern hospitals and top of the line medical facilities with great options for affordable health care. English speaking doctors are very common, and in general Panama City has a low language barrier. Many Panamanians speak English, making the transition to living immersed in a new language much less stressful.
While Panama City offers all the amenities of a modern capital, there are plenty of other regions of Panama for those who wish to escape city life. Whether beaches, mountains or quaint country towns call your name, Panama has plenty of all three. With a perfect climate all year round, it’s easy to see why so many people choose to spend the golden years of their lives in Panama.
A final reason why retiring in Panama is so popular? The government offers special benefits for retirees. And through a pensionado visa, one doesn’t even need to be from Panama to take advantage of these great perks.
What is a Pensionado Visa?
A pensionado visa is a visa available to anyone looking to move to Panama who has a lifetime pension income of at least US$1,000 per month. While there are technically no age limitations for receiving a pensionado visa, retirees are typically those using the visa as they are more likely to have a monthly pension income.
There are a few loopholes to getting the visa for individuals who don’t have a lifetime pension of at least $1,000. For one, married couples can combine their monthly pension incomes to meet this requirement. Additionally, if you have a monthly pension of at least $750, but short of $1,000, you can buy real estate in Panama worth at least $100,000 and the monthly minimum drops to $750.
Benefits of a Pensionado Visa
The benefits of a Pensionado Visa are extensive and shed some light on why so many expats choose to retire in Panama. To start with, retirees who’ve recently moved to Panama have a one-time tax exemption for up to $10,000 in household goods that they’d like to import. Additionally, there is a duty tax exemption for importing a new car every two years.
The following are some of the benefits that Pensionado Visa holders can expect to enjoy for the duration of their retirement in Panama:
- 50% off entertainment anywhere in the country (movies, concerts, sports)
- 30% off domestic transportation fares (trains, buses, public transportation, boats)
- 25% off domestic and international flights
- 50% off midweek hotel stays
- 30% off weekend hotel stays
- 25% off at sit-down restaurants
- 15% off at fast-food restaurants
- 15% off hospital bills (if no insurance applies)
- 10% off prescription medicines
- 20% off doctors visits
- 15% off dental and eye exams
- 20% off professional and technical services
- 50% reduction in closing costs for home loans
- 25% discounts on utility bills
- 15% off loans made in your name
- 1% off home mortgages for homes used for personal residence
As you can see, the savings available are extensive. When you add this to the already low cost of living and high quality of life available in Panama, it makes it clear why the pensionado visa is so popular. For retired individuals, this is a great deal to enjoy the rest of their lives to the fullest at a fraction of the cost. And unlike some countries that can rescind a pension-based visa if their laws or requirements change, Panama will never arbitrarily rescind your pensionado visa, even if future requirements for the visa change.
Applying for a Pensionado Visa
Like most legal processes, obtaining a pensionado visa requires a bit of paperwork. Getting all of your documents in order before you start the process can save you quite the headache down the road. You’ll also want to hire a lawyer to help with the completion and filing of your application. If you know other expats living in Panama with pensionado visas, find out what lawyer they used. If can’t get a personal recommendation, you can find a good lawyer online. Make sure to read reviews or get references when you’re making your choice. Having an organized and experienced lawyer you can trust will mean far fewer headaches during the process.
The first and most important document that you’ll need is a certification letter stating the amount of your monthly pension and guaranteeing that the pension is for life. This letter can come from a foreign government or a private company depending on the entity that pays your pension. If the pension is from a private company, you’ll also need to show documentation from a government authority that the company administering and disbursing the pension is registered and in good standing, as well as proof of monthly payments or an account statement from the bank.
If you’ve purchased real estate in Panama to meet the pension requirement, you will also need to provide certification of Public Registration of the property with the title in your name. Next, you’ll need a police record from your last 5 years of residency, and pass a medical examination upon arriving in Panama.
Your lawyer will be able to walk you through the specifications of each requirement, but expect that all documents need to be originals, notarized, and either authenticated by your nearest Panamanian Consulate or duly apostilled. Marriage certificates are also required to be originals. Be prepared that apostilling documents will take time and involve some fees. It’s best not to wait until the last minute for this process as delays are common.
Once your application is submitted, it will take about 6 months for the immigration office to process and approve it. When your application has been approved, you’ll need to go to the immigration office in Panama City to obtain your permanent residence card.
There are some upfront costs for obtaining your pensionado visa, but the long-term savings are well worth it. The Panamanian government charges between $300 and $400 per applicant to cover administration and processing. This also includes the cost of your temporary and permanent residence cards and your passport registration. If possible, come prepared to pay this fee in cash as it will speed up the payment process.
Additionally, you’ll need to pay the legal fees that your lawyer charges. Depending on the lawyer you chose, whether or not you’ll require translation services, and whether or not you are applying with a spouse, you can expect to pay anywhere from $2,500 to $4,000 in legal fees to obtain your visa.
So, there you have it. A beautiful country and friendly culture, with a low cost of living and high quality of life, plus the opportunity to save money while living your best life? Why would anyone not want to retire in Panama?
If you are interested in relocating to Panama and searching for real estate, we are here to help!