I finally received my permanent residency card for Panama last week through the “Specific Countries” visa program that President Martinelli authorized with an Executive Order issued in May 2012.
At the time, I was in Panama on a reforestation investment visa that required five renewals before permanent residency. Five years from temporary to permanent residency is bad enough, but the real problem was that each one-year temporary residency approval took up to a year to obtain. While they were reviewing each one-year renewal application, they issued me (and everyone else…it’s not that I was singled out) renewable three-month residency cards.
As a result, after four-and-a-half years living in Panama (all as a legal, but temporary resident), I was coming to the end of but my second one-year approval and still needed three more before I’d become eligible for permanent residency. You can understand why I was excited when the new Specific Countries program was launched and decided to restart my residency application on that track.
The process of switching residency programs took time. Many of the required documents had to be obtained from the old file at Immigration so they could be included in the new file. In hindsight, it would have been faster and probably cheaper to redo the necessary documents for the new application.
Things aren’t as straightforward as you might think they should be when it comes to residency…especially in Panama.
First, permanent residency is required to start the clock ticking toward naturalization.
Years ago, when I first started coming to Panama, I asked various attorneys about the timeline in this country for obtaining citizenship and a passport. Everyone told me five years of residency. Technically, that is correct. However, the five-year time clock doesn’t start until you have permanent residency. Before the Specific Countries program, the only visa that gave you permanent residency immediately, on the first application approval, was the pensionado visa, which doesn’t lead to citizenship (a lobby is under way to change that). And, effectively, on the reforestation investment visa track I was on originally, it would have taken more than 10 years of legal residency before I would have been eligible for citizenship.
The other benefit of permanent residency (currently more interesting to me) is that, as a permanent resident in Panama, you can apply for a gun permit.
I’m asked about this all the time—that is, in what countries can a foreign resident legally own a gun?
Most of Central America allows residents, including foreign residents, to own a gun, including Panama. However, again, Panama distinguishes between legal and permanent residency on this issue. In fact, my attorney thinks I’m going to have to wait until I get my cedula (this will take another couple of months) before I’ll be able to qualify for a gun permit. I’ve taken her counsel under advisement…and am headed down to the gun shop this weekend.
Whenever I write about gun ownership overseas, I get lots of mail. Why would anyone want to own a gun in another country, some readers want to know, and why would I want a gun in Panama in particular? Is it because I don’t feel safe in this country?
I don’t feel safe in Panama City whenever I get behind the wheel of my car. Driving in this city is one of the most frightening things I’ve ever known. But that’s not why I want a gun.
I grew up in Arizona, where guns are a part of life. For me, they’re a hobby. I like to collect them, and I like to shoot them (at targets).
And I’d like to be able to pursue my hobby here in Panama.
To qualify for a gun permit here, I’m going to have to take and pass a psychological test…in Spanish. Both my attorney and my wife are certain that’s going to be the end of this pursuit (and not because of my limited Spanish).
I’ll have to provide fingerprints and DNA for the authorities, as well as a ballistics sample of the gun I’m buying. Fair enough.
It’s also reasonable that you have to have permanent residency to be eligible for a gun permit. Someone with temporary residency could be denied the renewal of his temporary status (this isn’t common but could happen). In that case, what would happen to the gun? I’ll pose that question of the gun shop owner this weekend.
Meantime, the clock has started ticking for the five years toward Panamanian citizenship.
Editor’s Note: This is excerpted from Lief Simon’s Offshore Living Letter. To keep up on banking, taxes, and other news from around the political and economic world, sign up for this free bi-weekly dispatch. Or become a member of our Simon Letter service… A premium monthly publication bringing investment and offshore news from the world’s foremost experts.