By Marcos Kraemer
There are numerous reasons individuals consider residency abroad or obtain a second passport from a foreign country. Many people who are looking to expand their global footprint seek out the right visa program from the right country. Programs are evaluated and ultimately pursued in accordance to the individual’s needs. Regardless of citizenship, these individuals can invest their money wisely, receive tax advantages and experience business freedom. This is where investing in Panama comes in.
According to Trading Economics, Panama’s U.S. dollar-based economy has been one of the fastest growing in the Americas, with a projected growth of over 5 percent in 2018. 1Panama City’s skyline is a mass of skyscrapers, some of them among the tallest buildings in Latin America. Cranes dot the horizon and public works projects continue to develop throughout the city. Fendi, the renowned Italian designer, partnered up with a local architecture firm to develop the La Maison apartment building that, according to Punta Pacifica Realty, “brings new levels of style and design to Santa Maria, the newest high-end neighborhood.” 2
The park Cinta Costera received international acclaim for its innovation and design. 3The park is filled with residents walking, exercising and playing sports along the Panama Bay. Public projects include expansions of sidewalk and bike lanes in El Cangrejo and other central avenues in Panama City. The second phase of the metro line has recently started operations and the third line is in progress.4 The government’s continual investment throughout Panama is evident.
Panama was recently recognized for surpassing world and regional averages for market freedom, according to the Heritage Foundation's 2018 Index of Economic Freedom. Panama received praise for its open markets, monetary stability and business freedom.5 Panama recently celebrated its two-year anniversary of the Panama Canal expansion. According to Sea Trade Maritime News, the expansion has resulted in several milestones, including setting a new monthly tonnage record of 38.1 million tons and transiting over 3,745 neopanamax vessels.6 The forecast for 2019 is positive, with Panama’s annual growth is expected to continue to rise by 5.6 percent.7 This consistent economic growth and bustling city life make Panama a desirable location for investment and living. Panama’s continual prosperity seems inevitable.
Panama as an international hub
The country is a cross-cultural melting pot. When walking through the business and banking district, Obarrio, or strolling down Cinta Costera, it is common to overhear conversations in various languages, including English and German. This multinational fusion has long been part of Panama.
Since its founding, Panama has always been a diverse nation. The Spanish, French, Chinese and the U.S have continued to show interest and invest in Panama. International influence and local culture are a vibrant mix. Casco Viejo is a small neighborhood in Panama City that evokes a European coastal vibe. Historic apartment buildings line the brick streets and the tree-lined squares provide a tranquil setting for reading or relaxing. Chinatown in Panama City is one of the oldest Chinese communities in Latin America and, according to CGTN America, the agreements between the Panamanian and Chinese governments suggest that the relationship will continue to grow.8
Panama provides easy access to a variety of international destinations. The Tocumen International Airport currently connects to 84 destinations and, according to the airport’s report for 2017, it has the most extensive global network in Latin America.9 In addition, those who obtain a Panamanian passport can travel to more than 125 countries visa-free. For many business people and international families, this a major advantage.
Panama has always been an international center for business and living, and the many visa options make the process cost-effective and attainable. Individuals can find a visa program in Panama that will suit their own needs. The following three visas are among the most beneficial programs for investors: the special passport visa, the reforestation visa and self-solvency visa.
The special passport visa, also known as the private retiree visa, has recently been the center of attention for its exclusive passport option. Holders of this visa receive a special Panamanian passport upon visa approval. The passport is similar to a diplomatic passport, which is valid solely for traveling purposes and does not grant citizenship. For many individuals, the ability to travel visa-free to many destinations is invaluable.
For the reforestation visa, with a minimum investment of $80,000 cover at least 5 hectors of land in an approved forestry project, investors can receive permanent residency. Immediate family members can qualify within the same application with an additional investment of $2,000 per dependent.
The self-solvency visa is an excellent option for investors looking to diversify their funds. This visa allows investors to divide their investments among real estate and fixed-term deposits. The allocations of funds can vary in proportion, if the minimum required investment of $300,000 is met. Like the reforestation and special passport visa, immediate family members can apply within the same application for the self-solvency visa.
Requirements and Timelines
In conjunction with the minimum investments, applicants are required to provide additional documentation. This includes passports, second IDs and apostilled national police background certificates from the applicant’s home country or country of residency. If dependents are included within the same application, apostilled birth and marriage certificates are required as well.
The residency visa can take up to three years to complete. Upon arrival in Panama, the applicant will submit the application and receive temporary residency valid for six months. The application will be approved within the six-month period. Upon approval, the applicant will then receive their provisional residency that’s valid for two years. After two years, another six-month temporary ID will be issued to the applicant. Within this six-month period, the final permanent residency card will be issued. Each step requires an in person visit, however, applicants do not have to remain in Panama through the process.
Citizenship in Panama
Permanent residency is easily maintained with minimal time on the ground. Under Panamanian law, a quick trip to Panama every two years will be sufficient to ensure permanent residency is maintained. If a resident does not visit once every two years, residency can be suspended. After five years of permanent residency, residents are eligible to apply for citizenship. Residents are required to undergo a proficiency test in Panama’s history, geography and politics, conducted in Spanish. An in-person interview is also required. Once the resolution has been approved, it will be forwarded to the president’s office to be signed. The process can take one to five years to complete.
In conclusion, individuals looking to obtain residency abroad or a second passport have many choices. However, Panama’s compelling mix of advantages make it a preferred option for potential investors. The prospect of a business-friendly atmosphere, positive returns on investments, tax benefits and open-borders approach invites citizens from all over the world to join and partake in Panama’s prosperity.
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