By Lonnie Hanna, agent with United Country Bocas del Toro

Once you have decided that the “Expat Life” is for you, it will be important to determine how you will support your lifestyle abroad. Besides the obvious, this will also help to decide which Visa will be the best for you. If you are planning on living in Panama for a period beyond six months you will be required to have one. There are several paths to acquiring a Panamanian Visa. Two of the most popular ones are the Pensionado Visa and the “Friendly Nations Visa.” The Friendly Nations Visa or the Permanent Resident Program is afforded to anyone from a country that is part of The Hague Convention (there are a total of 50 countries). If you haven’t come into a windfall, won the lottery, or still need to supplement your income before fully retiring this is probably the route to explore. The goal of this Visa is to make easier for those of us who would like to live and work in Panama.

  1. To begin the process of receiving one’s visa under this program, you’ll need to prove your professional or economic ties to Panama. You can do this by starting a new business, purchasing an existing business, or being hired to work for a Panama company. FYI, unless you are married to a Panamanian, foreigners are never permitted, even with this visa, to practice as medical & veterinary doctors, attorneys, architects, and engineers.

    To gain my visa, I went the route of starting my own business and created a Panamanian Corporation. This was made possible and was very easy with the assistance a Panamanian Lawyer. I simple had to appoint 3 officers of the company (myself being one) and 3 possible names for the company. The Lawyer required a questionnaire to be completed letting him know my background, the business in which I wanted to engage in, and copies Drivers Licenses and Passports for the designated officers. After paying my legal fees, expenses, and payment to the Panamanian Government (in total about $1250). My Corporation had been completed and filed with the appropriate government agencies within 10 days. All this was done via email and FedEx.

  2. Now it’s time to prepare yourself to open a Panamanian Bank account and petition the Immigration and Naturalization Service for residency. The next leg of the process is a little more time consuming and tricky. I’ll list the documents needed as I go thru this stage. There are numerous banks that will allow Foreign Nationals to open account in Panama. The exact requirements vary from bank to bank but my lawyer recommend one his clients had utilized previously. He had a contact that was a Branch Manager and he outlined exactly what his bank needed. Depending on the bank you’ve chosen, it may take a couple of weeks to process your application and the initial deposit required could vary. For my wife and I, the amount was $7,000.
    1. Passport
    2. US or country of origin Driver’s License
    3. Reference letter from your Lawyer and your bank made to the attn of the Panamanian Bank
    4. Proof of income in Panama which could be your Corporation Documents
    5. Copy of your lease contract or property purchase contract where you’ll reside in Panama
    6. My lawyer recommended 2yrs Tax Returns just in case addition proof of solvency was requested
  3. Now comes the visit to the Immigration & Naturalization Service. Here is where having a lawyer that is well versed with the Immigration Laws comes in handy. I met my lawyer in Panama City and it was suggested to expect to be there for several days. You’ll more than likely have a couple of visits to the Immigration Office. For your official application, the documentation required listed below is directly from the Government website.

Immigration Requirements:
1. Power and Request (notary) Lawyer handles
2. Three (3) Passport size photographs.
3. Copy duly matched from the passport (Notary or Correspondent) (Lawyer handles
4. Certificate of Criminal Records. (FBI Criminal Background Check)
5. Health Certificate. (Lawyer arranged Panamanian Drs. Appt)
6. Certified Check for B / 250.00 in favor of the National Treasury. *Should be from Panamanian Bank
7. Certified Check for B / 800.00 in favor of the National Migration Service. *Should be from Panamanian Bank
8. Personal Background Affidavit Form. (Lawyer handles)
9. Document showing the purpose to establish residence (activity
Economic or professional). Corporation Documents
10. Copy of the identity document or card of your country. (Driver’s License for country of origin)
11. In the case of dependents:
11.1. Letter of responsibility. (Lawyer handles)
11.2. Constancy of kinship. (Copy of Marriage Certificate)
11.3. Proof of domicile- (Lease or Purchase agreement)
11.4. Child older than 18 years present single certificate and certified studies. (must be registered student)
12. Bank Certification or Statement of Account of the last month that reflects balance not
Less than four average figures or another that shows its income and is
Acceptable to the National Migration Service. (Letter of Application from Panamanian Bank)

****Keep in mind that any document utilized in the Immigration process or used for opening your bank account that comes from outside of Panama requires an Authentication. This Authentication can be from the US State Department or the Panamanian Consulate in your country of origin. Your Marriage license will require Authentication from the state in which you were married. If you send the required documents to the US State Department yourself, you save anywhere from $500 to $800 in third party fees.

Example of documents to send to the US State Department for Authentication:
FBI Back Ground Check
Bank Reference LetterFederal Tax Returns

Example of documents to send to the State if you are married:
Certified copy or Original Marriage License (notarized/ stamped)

Once the application and all required documents are filed, immigration officials will issue temporary residency cards valid for one year to the family or individual. Once the primary applicant is approved, a permanent residency card will be issued. The applicant can apply for the work permit with the Ministry of Labor.

Now it’s either time to get to work or to the beach to enjoy your new-found paradise…

Next up will be about shipping your goods… or not, and your animals