Q and A on Getting Residency in Panama
“Kathleen, I am interested in obtaining permanent residency in Panama through the specific countries residency program. You discuss the purchase of a teak parcel to fulfill the property ownership requirement. I am not clear if my husband and I each need to purchase a parcel, or is one sufficient?
“Also, once permanent residence is granted, is there a specific amount of time per year that one must spend in Panama to continue to qualify? Also, because a bank account in Panama is another requirement, will it be possible to arrange to open account while attending the upcoming Panama conference?”
–Cathy M., United States
A married couple needs to buy only one piece of property to qualify together for Panama’s Specific Countries residency visa. One spouse can be put on the application as a dependent of the other.
Once you have been approved for permanent residency, you need to be physically present in Panama only once every two years.
“Kathleen, we have invested in mangos and avocados and will be seeing you down in Medellin. My question is this: For residency in Panama and/or Colombia, does it matter if I take title to the mangos and avocados in my Nevis LLC or does it have to be in my name?”
–John P., United States
Yes, it matters. If you’re using the investment to qualify for residency, then, yes, you must hold it in your own name.
–Linda G., United States
Yes, that shouldn’t be a problem…though you might want to keep the fact to yourself. For a pensionado visa, you must prove a certain level of guaranteed income per month. Panama wouldn’t want to know, I wouldn’t think, that you’re guaranteeing income to Colombia. They want to be sure you’re not going to run out of income in their country. And vice versa for Colombia.
Also, doing this, you’d want to understand any tax implications. You wouldn’t want to owe taxes as a resident in more than one country at a time.
One hitch could be the amount of time some countries require residents to be physically present. Panama, for example, makes no such requirement; however, according to relevant Colombian law, you can’t be out of that country for more than six months straight and retain your residency status. Ecuador stipulates (as another example) that you can’t be out of that country for more than a certain number of months in any two-year period (I can’t remember how many right now).
“Kathleen, I am writing you because on May 1, I will be in Panama for a 30-day trip. After reading all about Panama in the materials sent by you, I agree. Panama seems very interesting. I am very motivated by your letters.
“I’m planning to move there for permanent residency, and I would like to know if the same restrictions and conditions apply for Venezuelans and Americans or if we Venezuelans have more?
“I noted you manage your reporting with very high judgment and accuracy, even the Spanish slang.
“Thanks for the information.”
–Alberto N., Venezuela
Yes, Venezuelans have the same opportunities for establishing residency in Panama as Americans, with one important exception. Venezuela is not included among the 48 countries on the “Friendly Nations” list of countries whose citizens are eligible for super-turn-key residency in Panama under that status.
Otherwise, though, you have all the same options.
“Kathleen, my friend and I are coming down for this year’s annual Panama Conference in June and we would like to get the process of getting official residency started while there.
“Would we be able to start the process and get most of it done while we are at the conference? I understand it doesn’t take long. I have most of the forms. Please advise.”
–Janie S., United States
We’ll have two Panama attorneys at the June conference that can help you begin the residency process while you’re here. Depending on the residency program you want to apply for, the attorney can finalize things after you’ve left the country.
“Kathleen, first, for frame of reference, my wife and I already have our Panama Friendly Nations residency cards but not our cedulas (yet) in case that impacts the answers to my question… which is this:
“When entering Panama, do we now take the residents line at immigration or continue through the other lines?”
–Walt R., United States
You can enter Panama in the residents’/citizens’ line. Have your residency card out to present to the officer with your passport.
However, until you have your cedulas, you will continue to be fingerprinted and to have your photo taken when you enter. Once you have your cedulas, no more photos or prints!
“Kathleen, I now have a pensionado visa plus an S.A. corporation in Panama. Can I tell the job website where I posted my CV that I have permission to work? Now with the new residency program that Martinelli has introduced, I think I qualify for a work visa?
“Hats off to Chris Powers for his how-to-get-a-drivers-license article in the recent Panama Letter issue.
“I am down in Panama now every chance I get.”
–David C., United States
Alas, no. You must have residency through the new program. Then you’re eligible for the corresponding work permit. You’d have to switch your residency from pensionado to the new “Specific Countries” visa…then you could apply for a work permit.
“Kathleen, I am interested in moving to Panama, but I need to know how long a visa will last while one is applying for residency. Is it like Costa Rica, where you can stay 90 days then go out and come back?
“Also, what is a reputable bank in Panama?”
–Julie T., United States
Technically, a tourist visa in Panama is good for 90 days. However, immigration has been allowing 180 days for tourists from some countries, including the United States and Canada. However, after you enter the country and apply for legal residency, you’ll receive a temporary residency card. This allows you to remain in the country and to come and go while your full residency card is being processed. The temporary card is good for three months and renewable if your full residency card isn’t ready in time.
Depending on the residency option you choose to pursue, your “full residency card” could be valid for a year or permanently.
Panama has more than 80 banks, more than half of which have local banking licenses (the others have licenses that allow them to take clients from outside Panama). They are all “reputable,” but some of the better-known include Scotiabank, HSBC, Banco General, and Citi.
“Kathleen, I have studied the various residency programs for Panama, and I have a question to which I cannot find the answer anywhere else. I am hoping you can help me.
“I am a 63-year-old woman living in Spain. I would want to take advantage of Panama’s pensionado program, but I may not have enough provable lifetime income, as I live off investment income and have only a UK state pension of about GBP100 a week. If I go for the reforestation visa, would I still be entitled to the pensionado advantages in Panama or not?
“I have learned so much from you over the past years. Many thanks and keep up the good work! I look forward to meeting you soon.”
— Sue C., United States
Yes, I can answer your question. And, yes, as a pensioner residing in Panama, regarding of your residency visa status, you would be eligible for all benefits of the pensionado program.
The pensionado benefits in Panama are available to everyone who is a legal resident in Panama over a certain age (50 for women and 55 for men). They have nothing to do, in fact, with your residency status.
“I have a friend moving to Panama in July, and he has been told that to qualify for the retiree residency visa, he must pass an exam in Spanish. Are you aware of any such test? I appreciate your response.”
— Charlene S., United States
Maybe your friend is confusing residency with citizenship. You must pass an exam (in Spanish) to qualify for citizenship in Panama. However, there’s no exam involved with the residency process in this country.
Remember: Residency and citizenship are two different things. Residency is the right to be physically present (to reside) in a country. Sometimes legal foreign residency can lead to citizenship (whereby you become a national of the country and are issued a passport) but not always. In Panama, most forms of residency can lead to citizenship and a second passport, but the process takes years.
“Kathleen, now when I see your e-mails in my in-box, I grab a cup of coffee or a glass of wine, depending upon the time of day or the mood, and I settle back to absorb all of the fascinating information contained therein. There’s a gem in each article that you write.
“I appreciate seeing the world through your eyes. You make the idea of traveling to these marvelous destinations and potentially retiring an interesting reality. It would be a lot more intimidating without your encouragement and support. I’m certain that I speak for others when I say,’keep up the good work!’
“I’m putting together my bucket list as I read, and I hope to take advantage of your consulting service as I get closer to traveling to Panama, which I expect will be in the next year.
“I’ve especially enjoyed your debunking of the three big reasons people give for not retiring overseas this week.
“Your loyal fan!”
— Joanne V., United States
“We will be visiting Panama Aug. 7 through 30. Our plan during the first week is to gather information on the pensionado visa, opening a bank account, etc.
“We’re wondering if you could give us any idea how to go through the process. We know that we want to look at apartment rentals or subleases long term, before committing to the purchase of real estate. Reason is that we are sitting presently on two waterfront properties in Florida, which we can’t sell under present market conditions.
“If we could afford city life we would rather rent on the outskirts.
“On Aug. 14, we will likely rent a car for two weeks and travel the country.
“I have no idea if US$1,200 Social Security monthly will be sufficient to live on in Panama, but I also know that we won’t survive financially in the U.S. Any thoughts on your part I will greatly appreciate.”
— Michael S., United States
You will want to get in touch with a competent, experienced, and reliable lawyer in Panama and one to help you with your residency work, your visa choice, opening a bank account, purchasing real estate (when you’re ready), and anything else you might want to do Panama-wide.
Your options for obtaining foreign residency in Panama are many. The pensionado visa is probably your best choice, but your lawyer can help you to make that determination.
Right, you want to rent first, to give yourselves a chance to try Panama (and, just as important, a particular region of this country) on for size before committing to a real estate purchase.
Yes, you can live in Panama on US$1,200 a month…though probably not (at least not comfortably) in Panama City. In the interior of the country (our top recommendation right now is the Azuero Peninsula, which offers many options), however, US$1,200 a month could go a long way.
Our editor Rebecca Tyre lives in Las Tablas, on the east coast of Azuero, where she spends US$200 a month to rent a little house on the beach. Other costs in this part of the country are similarly appealing. Our new Editorial Assistant is working now on detailed cost-of-living budgets for both Panama City and Panama’s interior. Details soon.