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Retirees, investors, second-home seekers and professionals are the new-style immigrants to Panama

The trend to seek a retirement or alternative home abroad seems to be growing among people from many countries around the globe but especially among North Americans and Europeans. And Panama is becoming popular with these new-style immigrants.

“International Living”, the re-nowned magazine and recognized expert for promoting U.S. expatriate lifestyles publishes a Global Retirement Index where Panama ranked as number one for six consecutive years. In the 2011 Index it ranked as number three.

There are now any number of real estate land developments ideal for retirees, some reasonably close to Panama City, some on the Pacific beaches with access to the city on a fast four-lane highway, some in the interior provinces and the Azuero Peninsula and many in the mountains of Chiriquí province.

A retirement visa for Panama brings with it the privilege of importing personal and house belongings with you tax-free up to US$10,000.

Making the most of their money is, of course, a prime concern for retirees. The U.S. dollar has always been the republic’s currency. Panama is known for its banking center, which hosts branches from nearly all of the international banks. The cost of living is reasonable and is much less than in the States and Europe.

Reasons for coming

Some of the reasons for foreigners to obtain a second home in Panama according to law firm Panama Offshore Legal Services are:

  • To have a “safe haven” to escape to in the event of any type of unrest.
  • To live in Panama permanently, perhaps after retirement.
  • To be in a “tax friendly” country where foreign earned income and interest income is not taxed.
  • Frivolous law suits are not recognized by courts in Panama and assets can be truly protected through a corporate shield without the risks of “piercing the corporate veil”
  • Businesses can be started economically and without heavy restrictions, regulations or punitive taxes.
  • Real estate in Panama is still affordable for purchasing homes in the city or land at the beaches, mountains or lakes.

How to do it

While there are several ways to immigrate to Panama, the most popular methods are the Retiree and Investors type Visas. Panama Offshore Legal Services provides the following information.

Retiree (Pensionado) Visa:

Having a lifetime, minimum monthly $1,000 foreign government or private entity pension (additional $100/month per spouse and dependants) qualifies for a Pensionado visa. There is no minimum or maximum age requirement. Alternatively a person who buys a $100,000 property and can show a pension of $750 will also qualify for this visa. If a couple both receive pensions the sum of which is $1,000 they also qualify.

The benefits include a one-time exemption from duties when importing household goods (up to $10,000) and a tax-exempt car.

In addition, a Pensionado is able to get discounts in restaurants, movie theaters, hotels, and many other products and services in Panama. You will receive permanent residency within three months, but you will not be able to become a Panamanian citizen.

Self-Economic Solvency Visa:

This type of visa allows anyone with a minimum of $300,000 to obtain permanent residency and become a full Panamanian citizen. There are three options available:

(1) Purchase a minimum value of $300,000 real property in your personal name.

(2) Purchase a three year $300,000 CD at a Panamanian bank.

(3) A combination of the above – a Panamanian bank CD plus a real estate purchase with both totaling $300,000.

Business Investor Visa:

The Panama Business Investor Visa requires an investment of $160,000 in a new business, or a new corporation. A commercial business license must be obtained. The business must be registered with Social Security. Five Panamanian employees must be on the payroll and their social security must be paid. Three temporary two-year resident visas will be issued before permanent residency is acquired.

Reforestation Investor Visa:

There are two options available to anyone wishing to invest in a Panamanian government certified reforestation project:

(1) Panama Reforestation Small Investment Visa requires $60,000 minimum investment plus the purchase of at least 3 hectares in a government certified reforestation project.  This is a six year temporary resident visa only, extendable every 2 years and cannot be converted into a permanent residency visa leading to Panama citizenship.

(2) Panama Reforestation Large Investment Visa requires a minimum $80,000 investment plus the purchase of 5 hectares in a Panama government certified reforestation project.  This visa can lead to permanent residency after two years and eventual Panama citizenship.

Agricultural Visa

For this visa a foreigner must invest a minimum of $60,000 in a Panama agribusiness or a Panama aquaculture business. Investors will have temporary resident status for six years, renewable every two years.

Short stay visa

This visa is designed for those who need to stay up to 9 months in order to visit relatives, have medical attention etc. It requires payment of $100 to the National Service of Immigration for migratory services plus a guarantee deposit of $500. Other documentation is required depending on the reason for seeking the visa. It is best to consult a lawyer on this. Conditions for stays of longer than 90 days to complete business transactions are more stringent. Again it is best to consult a lawyer.

Friendly Nations Visa

Panama has designated 47 Friendly Nations who do not need visas to enter the country and who, in addition, can be granted fast resident visas.The formal wording of this permanent residency visa is for “citizens of friendly nations with professional and economic ties with the Republic of Panama”.

The words “professional and economic ties with the Republic of Panama” means that citizens of these 47 countries must establish professional or economic relationship with Panama. This can be accomplished by starting a new business or purchasing an existing business or being hired to work for a Panama company.

These countries are:

Andorra, Argentina, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hong Kong, Hungary, Ireland, Israel, Japan, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Monaco, Marino, Montenegro, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Serbia, Singapore, Slovakia, Spain, South Africa, South Korea, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, United States of America, Uruguay, United Kingdom (Great Britain & Northern Ireland).

Other visas

Other visas include Tax-free Processing Zone Visa, Student Visa, Specialist Worker Visa, Domestic Worker Visa. For more information on what is required for these visas it is best to consult a lawyer.

Expat Associations

An important attraction of Panama is one of the products of the country’s popularity – a growing population of newcomers, blending in but also forming a social pool of potential friends and contacts. This is most important to the North Americans and Europeans for whom the language and culture barrier can be a problem.

The expat social scene is lively. Regular meetings and events are a great way to make friends, share experiences and learn more about living in Panama. In Panama City contact In the west of Panama contact and in Boquete visit or

More information

Retirement-related reading inclu-des: “Panama Now”, a comprehensive and beautifully illustrated yearbook; “The Visitor” and “Focus on Panama”, all published by Focus Publications (Int), S.A. email:

“Panama Now” is available from

Also useful is: “Living in Panama” from the American Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Panama (

Americans may want to contact the American Society of Panama ( There are a number of organizations for foreigners and of interest to foreigners and expatriates. These are listed in the book “Panama Now”.

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