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Panama’s Visa Shake-Up – an Updated Guide to Visas and Residency

Panama Friendly Nations Visa: Updated Guide to Visas and Residency

Panama announced changes to visas and temporary residency permits such as the Panama Friendly Nations Visa. None, however, have a big impact on how residency is granted. The government of Panama continues to court foreigners, professionals and investors to consider a move here.
 
The three changes to residency and visas were as follows:
  • The one-year temporary permit issued to foreigners while they complete the process for residency was cut to six months. Effective January 10. This shouldn’t be a big negative as immigration issues are usually resolved within six months for all types of applicants.
  • A previous measure, which allowed visitors with a multiple-entry EU visa or EU residency to also use it to enter Panama was scrapped. The measures will not affect European citizens, who are able to enter Panama without visas for short stays. It also doesn’t affect visitors from the US, Canada or the UK at all.
  • In March 2017 the government announced stricter enforcement of entry under tourist visas. Visitors entering Panama on tourist visas will need to leave the country for at least 30 days before re-entering again.
As of today, there are nine ways to settle in Panama.

1. Panama’s Retiree Pensionado Program

The most popular type of visa since I’ve been here is the pensionado visa, and with good reason. Panama has a great benefits program for retirees and, it’s open to foreigners. The visa provides discounts for entertainment, domestic travel, hospital, energy bills and more.
 
To qualify, you must draw a pension of at least US$1,000 per month, and an extra US$250 for each dependent. You can receive it via a private company, military, government agencies, corporations, a bank, an insurance company, or a Trust. Buying real estate in Panama is not a requirement. Also, foreigners who get residency via the pensionado program are protected from any future changes in the law.
 
Note that you can apply for the pensionado visa even if you have yet to reach 55 or 60. The government reviews applications on a case-by-case basis. So if you’ve begun receiving your pension early (because of disability or any other valid reason) you are welcome to apply.

2. Panama Friendly Nations Visa

The Panamanian government opened the floodgates for citizens of “friendly nations” back in 2012. They granted the fastest path to permanent residency via the Panama Friendly Nations Visa.
 
This visa welcomes professionals and entrepreneurs from 48 countries with Panama. To qualify, you have to open a local bank account with a minimum balance of US $5,000. You can also open a new company/buy an existing business in Panama. Or alternatively, find professional employment in Panama. (You will need proof of employment for the latter).
 
We advise that you talk to an attorney about the specifics of starting a company. And ask for the requirements of working for a Panamanian company.
 
Note: The Pensionado and Panama Friendly Nation visas are the only ones granting immediate permanent residence. The visas below require a two-year provisional temporary residence before qualifying for permanent residence.

3. Professional Employment Visa

Visas for those working in a professional capacity are a popular path to residency. Note, they are not in protected professions reserved for Panamanian nationals. For example, medicine, accounting, real estate, and law). Applicants must have a university education and proof of any professional license needed from their home country.
After two years as a temporary resident, permanent residence is usually granted. Yet, unlike other visas, you must make two applications two years apart to qualify. When filing the final application, applicants have to show employment in Panama for the last nine months and proof of paying local social security.

4. Economic Self Solvency Visa

In a bid to attract wealthy foreigners, Panama offers three options to those who can put down US $300,000 in cash. You need to invest that money in either real estate or have a certificate of deposit held with a local bank for three years. Or you can have a combination of the two that results in a total US$300,000 investment.  

5. Business Investor Visa

A US$160,000 minimum investment in the capital stock of a Panamanian corporation can buy you a Business Investor Visa. Provided that the business employs at least 5 local employees. The foreigner can be a shareholder and/or an officer.  

For the three visas above, an additional US$2,000 is required for each dependent.

6. Reforestation Investor Visa

Panama continues to offer reforestation as a path to permanent residency. An investment of US $80,000 in a government certified project over a five-hectare teak or mahogany plantation will get you a visa.
 
Typically these are handled by reforestation companies who offer a turn-key package. These can include the land purchase contract, management contract, and legal fees required to process the visa. The major differences between reforestation visa companies are the number of hectares of timber that you actually receive and the ongoing cost of managing your reforestation project.  Applicants can apply under their individual names or under a corporation. For a comprehensive look at the economics of this type of investment, visit Panamaforestry.com.

7. Tourist Visa

Tourist visas tightened at the end of 2016 for visitors from the EU. And again in March 2017 for citizens from all countries. The first move scrapped a previous measure which allowed those with a multiple-entry EU visa or EU residency to also use it to enter Panama.

 
The new decree states that tourists requiring a visa to Panama must have a Panamanian visa, or residency or a multiple-entry visa valid for more than a year from Australia, Britain, Canada or the United States.
 
That said, the measures shouldn’t affect most European citizens, who are able to enter Panama without visas for short stays. Similar measures were introduced in Costa Rica last month in the name of enhancing security. Second, in March 2017, the government announced that, while no additional new regulations would go into effect, enforcement of the tourist visa would be tightened.
 
Therefore, visitors traveling on tourist visas will now need to leave Panama for a minimum of 30 days before re-entering again on a tourist visa. This is important for those applying for residency. You have to have an ID showing that your residency is in the process to leave and return to Panama.  If you don’t have this ID, then you should exit as a tourist. (Before the end of the sixth-month tourist status approaches).

8. Parents of Children Born in Panama Visa

The parents of a child born in Panama who is over five years old are eligible to apply.

9. Marry a Panamanian

The route I went, with no regrets. Hopefully, she feels the same way.

We’d encourage you to talk to an attorney, particularly if it concerns Panamanian businesses or investment requirements. We hope this is a helpful guide as you chart your own path to Panamanian residency. As always, we’d love to hear from you about your thoughts and experiences.

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