To those looking for a second residency, Panama is kind of like the girl or guy next door – close by, familiar, and easy to like.
Panama Investment Immigration Programs Overview
Panama makes it pretty easy to call it home. Its residency-by-investment program is among the most liberal in the Western Hemisphere, with avenues for everyone from retirees to high-wealth individuals to those from “friendly nations.”
For years, the Central American country has successfully attracted Americans and other Westerners. Its appeal includes its location, its friendly people, its stable government, its generous tax laws, its high standard of living, its reasonable living costs, its strong economy, its widespread use of English and the U.S. dollar.
The country opened its doors even wider in 2012 with an easy-to-obtain residency visa, partly to restore its reputation after scandals related to its offshore banking industry and partly to bulk up its ranks of skilled workers as its economy grows.
Panama is often called one of the best deals for second residency, with a potential path to citizenship after five years. The nation ranked second after Chile in the 2016-17 Global Competitiveness Report by the World Economic Forum.
Those interested can apply with only a short visit to the country, with one of the lowest costs among residency-by-investment programs and with one of the shortest processing times.
For citizens of 48 nations, obtaining residency in Panama is as simple as making a $5,000 deposit in a Panama bank account.
Countries that qualify for the “Friendly Nations” visa include the United States, Canada, Australia, most European countries, Israel, Japan, Hong Kong, South Korea, Singapore, South Africa and several Latin American countries.
The main requirement is to show economic activity. But that needn’t mean a huge investment of time or money. In fact, you don’t even have to live in Panama.
Besides the bank deposit, the visa requires proof the applicant is working for a Panama company in a professional capacity, owns a Panama company (such as by filing incorporation papers), or is a director or major shareholder of one; an authenticated criminal history background; a Panama doctor’s examination report; and nonrefundable fees of $1,050.
Qualified family members include a spouse and children younger than 18, or 25 if they are full-time students, disabled relatives and parents the applicant supports.
If applicants aren’t from a country on the Friendly Nations list, they can apply under one of the following programs:
The Panama Reforestation Visa requires an investment of at least $80,000 in government-certified reforestation projects, which involve planting mahogany and teak trees in the rainforest to replace those harvested for lumber.
The Self Economic Solvency Visa targets high-income individuals, requiring a $300,000 investment in a certificate of deposit, real estate or a mix of the two.
The Business Investor Visa requires a $160,000 minimum investment in a new Panamanian corporation that hires at least five local employees. The foreigner can be a shareholder and/or an officer and will gain permanent residency after two years. Note that certain fields of employment are closed to foreigners, including professional firms – doctors, lawyers and accountants – and retail businesses.
The Panama Pensionado Visa is for foreigners who wish to retire in Panama on a set pension, annuity or retirement fund. You don’t have to be retirement age, though. Just being older than 18 with a lifetime monthly income of at least $1,000 is enough to qualify. Spouses can combine their income to meet the requirement; dependents must each receive $250 monthly. Pensionados enjoy discounts on restaurant meals, cultural events, hotel stays, airfare, medical services, prescription medications and public utilities.
These visas require an additional investment ranging from $500 to $2,000 for family members. Legal costs and government fees tack on an additional $3,500-$5,000, depending on how complex the case is and how much the law firm handling it charges.
How To Apply
All visa applications must be made through a Panamanian lawyer and must be in Spanish.
Immigration officials issue temporary residency cards valid for one year and, when the applicant is approved, issue a permanent residency card. The foreigner can apply for a work permit and, after five years, a naturalized Panama citizenship and passport.
Documents must be authenticated by a notary and either the Panamanian consulate nearest the applicant or by apostille, which is available through the State Department (in the United States) or the Foreign Office (in Britain).
All documents must be from within two months of application, and passports must have at least one year before expiration.
If the application includes a spouse, the applicant should submit a marriage certificate. If the application includes children under 18, submit freshly issued birth certificates.
Applicants also must obtain a health certificate and HIV test in Panama.
The applicant need not live in Panama to qualify as a permanent resident. But a short trip to the country will be necessary to process the temporary and permanent residency permits.
Processing is typically complete 30-45 days after receipt of all documents and fees.
Foreigners are eligible to apply for citizenship in Panama after five years from the date of receiving permanent residency. A Panamanian passport allows visa-free travel to almost all of Europe as well as the Americas south of the United States.
Panama combines the beauty of a tropical paradise with the excitement of a vibrant capital city. It has beaches facing both the Pacific and Caribbean, with wildlife-filled rainforests in between. Its infrastructure, telecommunications and health care systems are updated, but its cost of living remains affordable. Spanish is the official language, but English is spoken by many Panamanians.
It is known for the Panama Canal, making it a logistics center for world cargo, and for its strength as an international banking capital. Partly as a result of its commercial strength, it enjoys economic, political and social stability.
The country has long been popular with expatriates, with quality restaurants and entertainment in its capital and largest city, Panama City, which has about 1.5 million people in its metropolitan area. The airport offers flights globally.
Other benefits of residency include no taxation on foreign-earned income, foreign-earned capital gains and Panama bank interest income.