The Republic of Panama is a Central American country neighboring Cost Rica and Colombia to the west and southeast respectively. Panama is internationally popular for being a financial safe haven for high-net-worth individuals, industrialists, and offshore companies. Another thing the country is famous for is the Panama Canal; connecting the Atlantic and the Pacific Oceans. Like the Suez Canal, Panama Canal too is vital to global trade and business.
The population of Panama is over 4 million people, comprised of several ethnicities such as Mestizo, Afro-Panamanians, Indigenous people, and expatriates. Spanish is the official language of Panama while English is widely spoken and understood as well. Panama was part of Columbia till 1903, the year it gained its independence. Every year on the 3rd of November, the Independence Day is officially celebrated.
The biodiversity, beautiful landscapes, tropical beaches, and historical monuments attract thousands of tourists to Panama each year; tourism is Panama’s third most thriving factor of the economy. Panama City is the namesake of the country, which is a bustling economic hub hosting a modern skyline and the historic district of Casco Viejo.
Types of immigration options for US Citizens
Panama offers a number of immigration options to US citizens. The requirements are not complex either.
Here are the ways a US citizen may travel or relocate to Panama.
Traveling to Panama
According to Executive Decree #521 of the Panama Immigration Law, several nationalities are declared visa-exempt; the USA is one of those countries. Even the person having a valid US visa (regardless of his/her nationality) can enter Panama on the same visa) provided it is a ‘multiple-entry’ visa. Or the applicant who has a temporary or permanent residence permit in the USA can also enter Panama.
Other conditions laid out in the Decree are the following:
- The visa must have been used to enter the country of issue previously
- Must have at least 6 months validity remaining at the time of entering Panama
- The passport must be at least valid for another 3 months from the time of entering Panama
- Applicant must prove to be financially able to support his/her stay and must have in his/her custody US$ 500 at the time of entry.
- Applicant must have return tickets
- The maximum duration of stay is 30 days, counted from the day of entry
Note that entering Panama on visa exemption does not permit the holder to engage in employment or other gainful prospects. However, the visa-free stay can be extended up to 3 months (if other requirements such as finance, accommodation, etc., are met).
Retire in Panama
Panama hosts numerous beautiful and pristine beaches along its vast coastline. Most of the beaches stay calm with little to mild waves, whereas some beaches experience tidal waves that are a surfer’s dream. Warm weather, sunny beaches, shady skyline of palm trees, and intoxicating tropical drinks may sound like a scene from a James Bond movie, but this can be realized in Panama.
To attract wealthy and middle-class US retirees, Panama offers an easy relocation process that requires very little documentation and a swift process. The process can be initiated while on a leisure trip to Panama on traveler status and later on applying for retiree status.
A US citizen needs to fulfill the below conditions to qualify:
- Valid passport (3 months validity from the time of entry)
- Round trip ticket
- No visa required
- The application must be submitted through a Panamanian Lawyer who has a legal practice in Panama
- All documents must be authenticated by the Consulate of Panama before submission
It is essential that all requirements advised by Panamanian Immigration are followed completely to increase the chances of success. The documentation requirement may vary depending on the case, some essential requirements are listed below:
- Birth Certificate: Most updated copy issued by the relevant authority of the state (United States of America)
- Income: The applicant must prove that he/she receives a steady pension, or, retirement benefits, not less than US$1,000 per month. Additionally, proving that the applicant can bear US$ 250 for each month stayed in Panama for his/her dependents. The proof is permissible only if it is properly notarized.
- Marriage Certificate: if applicable
- Police Record: FBI-issued Police Record Check (in original, signed, and stamped)
- Authentication: the documents can be authenticated by the consulate office in Washington and may charge a fee of $30/per document
- Age: Candidate must be 18 years or more
- Registration form: Relevant form must be collected in person from the Immigration office in Panama
- Letters: Letter from a company or state stating that the applicant has a stable pension of not less than $1,000 per month. Proof that the applicant has sufficient funds to support dependents ($250/month)
- Authentication: The letter and proof stated in #8, must be authenticated by apostille seal/Panama Consulate
- Health Certificate: Has to be issued by a Panamanian doctor
- Police Record: Local Police certificate verifying that the applicant bears a good moral character, has a clean criminal record, and that he/she is not wanted for any ongoing or future criminal inquiries
- Marital Status: If the applicant is married, a document to prove marriage and of his/her spouse are required. If the applicant is single, a bachelorhood certificate is to be obtained.
- Photographs: Passport-sized photographs with blue background not older than 2 months with authentication and notarization from the Panamanian Consulate
- Valid Passport: The passport must be the most recent and have at least 3 months of validity remaining at the time of application
Friendly Nations Visa
A number of countries are categorized as ‘Friendly Nations’ according to Panamanian Immigration Law. US of A is one such country. A Friendly Nations Visa is granted to those individuals who can establish economic or professional ties with Panama.
The requirements pertaining to Friendly Nations Visa are as under:
- Nationality: The applicant must be a citizen of the US
- Economic & Professional ties: The applicant can establish his/her economic and professional relations with Panama in the following ways:
- Register a company in Panama, obtain majority shares in a Panamanian company, or invest a certain sum in Panama
- Applicant obtains employment in Panama
- The applicant has a doctorate in a specialty field required by Panama
- Financial Requirements: Although there is no minimum amount advised for the “friendly nations’ however, it is recommended that sufficient funds be available to support a decent livelihood
- Documents: All necessary documents (as detailed above) must be available
- Fees: Pay the applicable fee (varies from case to case)
As the name suggests, a Spousal Visa is granted to a person who is married to a Panamanian citizen, and the same is supported by documentary evidence.
Other requirements to apply for a Spousal Visa include, but are not limited to, as follows:
- Marriage Certificate: A valid and authenticated marriage certificate recognized by the state of Panama
- Passports: Copies of the passports of both partners, same shall be notarized and attested by relevant authorities
- Proof of relationship: Documents that support the marriage such as joint bank account details, pictures of a wedding ceremony or a trip together, shared bills (hotel reservations, etc.), etc.
- Monetary requirements: Documentary evidence such as pay slips, bank statements, etc., to prove that the applicant is capable of supporting the family to the extent of a decent subsistence
- Application: Relevant application to be duly filled and signed
- Fees: Applicable fees to be paid before submission; receipt of payment shall be attached to the documents
Business Investors Visa
Well-to-do Americans who have the qualifying capital can obtain a Business Investor Visa in Panama very easily. The applicant has to demonstrate his/her willingness to a) invest in a new company, b) invest significant capital in an existing Panamanian company, or c) purchase an existing Panamanian company.
The requirements to qualify for the Business Investors Visa are the following:
- Investment: Qualifying investment may vary depending on the type of business and the sector it belongs to
- Business Plan: A comprehensive business plan mentioning the amount allocated for investment, type, and nature of business, chosen industry, projected gains, advantages to society and the state, etc.
- Documents: Corporate documents pertaining to company formation such as articles of association, agreements, registered addresses, details of shareholders, etc. must be available
- Financials: Statements proving that the investor has the prescribed qualifying wealth and more to support investment, these could be bank statements, investments or returns from another business under the same name, etc.
- Background Check: A thorough background check by FBI and an authenticated report of the same
- Visa Application: A duly filled prescribed visa application form
Things to consider while relocating to Panama
Relocating to a new place is a lengthy process that takes lots of thinking, research, and planning. From moving household items and pets to vehicles and managing finances. Each step requires attention and proper information. While there is always the possibility of fumbling through the process, however, many unwanted surprises can be avoided if all the right areas are thought out thoroughly.
Some of the things that cannot be overlooked are discussed here.
Real estate & living arrangements
Real estate market in Panama has experienced tremendous growth in the broader sense, however, during the year 2023 thus far, the market has been dipping. There are many factors that influence real estate market including the public and investors’ sentiment about the economy of the country.
The below table presents the rental and ownership prices of apartments in various localities in Panama:
|Estimates based on ONE BEDROOM apartment|
|S#||City||Key neighborhoods||Rental||Ownership Price||Remarks|
|1.||Panama City||Punta Pacifica, Costa del Este, Casco Viejo, Obarrio, San Francisco, El Cangrejo||$900 – $1,900||$150k – $350k||Offers modern amenities, vibrant nightlife, and cosmopolitan lifestyle.|
|2.||Boquete||El Centro (downtown), Los Molinos, Jaramillo, Volcancito||$900 – $1,700||$90k – $200k||Outdoorsy lifestyle, mild climate, and beautiful sceneries.|
|3.||Coronado||Coronado Golf, Playa Coronado, Gorgona, Punta Barco||$800 – $1,500||$100k – $200k||Lots of beach resorts, wonderful clean beaches.|
|4.||Pedasi||Pedsai Town, Playa Arenal, Los Destiladeros, Playa Venao||$800 – $1,700||$100k – $250k||Relaxed lifestyle suited to retirees. Friendly folk, quiet atmosphere.|
|5.||Bocas del Toro||Bocas Town, Bastimentos Island, Carenero Island, Isla Solarte||$900 – $1,500||$150k – $350k||Breathtaking beaches, ideal climate, lots of expatriates.|
Places to avoid in Panama
Panama is generally a very safe and peaceful country with very few crimes here and there. Incidents of mugging, petty theft, etc., happen in remote areas away from the city.
Here are a few tips that can help the readers in choosing a place to live:
- Neighborhoods in Panama City: A few neighborhoods including El Chorrillo, Santa Ana, Curundu, etc., are prone to robberies and mugging occasionally involving violence. It is advised that these and other such areas be avoided
- Border Areas: As a general rule, borders areas are often exposed to crimes, as it is easy to get away with it. Panama shares border with Columbia, and often times criminal elements may trespass and commit a crime in Panama and escape before the authorities or local police is able to respond. The same may happen from Panama towards Columbia
- Remote & isolated areas: Areas that are away from city center, or are very meagerly populated shall be avoided. Not just for safety purposes but also to save cost of transportation; as amenities may be out of easy reach in suburban areas
Cultural aspects of Panamanian Society
Panamanian culture is a mixture of historical and indigenous traditions, rites, and beliefs. Society is diversified in its practices, and often time it is hard to suggest where a specific tradition or ritual is derived from. From ancient artifacts of the Guna people to modern art forms and paintings from the Spanish era, Panama is a hodgepodge of cultures.
Here are a few aspects of Panamanian society that are interesting and intriguing at the same time.
- Festivals: Panamanians celebrate everything; be it a child’s birth or a sad demise, they have customs and rites for both. People observe their cultural rites with utmost attention to detail including clothes, props, meals, etc. A very colorful festival that takes place in February every year is called the Carnival. Parades with colorful floats, vibrant dresses, loud music, and dancing carry on throughout the festival.
- Folklore: Rich and diverse folklore is at the heart of Panamanian society. Many of these folklores have passed down through generations; with each generation adding up their own mix of spices.
- Food: As with the culture and traditions, the cuisine too is a sophisticated mix of Spanish, Caribbean, and African influences. Dishes such as sancocho, arroz con pollo, hojadres, etc. are typical Panamanian staple foods. Seafood is also liked and eaten by people in Panama.
- Religion: Panamanians are mostly Roman Catholics and observe the teachings very closely. Though the young generation behaves differently towards religion, the older or mature generations follow strict rules according to their beliefs. The Holy Week, Christmas, Patron Saint festivals, etc. are observed across the country.
Education System in Panama
As in the United States of America and elsewhere in the developed world, Panama’s education system is divided into various levels of education. Starting with preschool education is parted to children between ages 3 to 5. Though not mandatory, but provides a strong foundation to children, especially to expat children who plan to permanently live in Panama.
The next level of education is primary education for children between 6 to 12 years of age. Attaining this level of education is mandatory for citizens and residents alike. Various subjects such as languages, mathematics, science, civics, etc. provide a basic level of understanding of these subjects.
Secondary education is further divided into general education and pre-mediated education. Basic secondary is mandatory for ages 12 to 15 and offers general education for up to 3 years. Whereas pre-mediated education is offered to children aged 15 to 18, the students can select subjects according to their aptitude and interest.
Higher education includes specialized education through colleges, universities, and specialized institutions. The Ministerio de Educacion of Panama emphasizes education goals through workshops, training, and simulations for teachers to equip them with better and most advanced learning techniques in the field.
Some of the best schools from an expat’s viewpoint are listed below:
- Balboa Academy
- The International School of Panama
- King’s College Panama
- Knight’s Bridge Schools International Panama
- Metropolitan School of Panama
Similarly, some of the best universities in Panama are:
- University of Panama
- Technological University of Panama
- Santa Maria La Antigua Catholic University
- Latin University of Panama
- Columbus University
Healthcare System in Panama
The Ministerio de Salud (Ministry of Health) oversees the healthcare system in Panama. The system is composed of public and private healthcare facilities. A state-imposed social security fund called Caja is levied on all citizens and residents that funds the public sector healthcare system. Primary & secondary hospitals and tertiary clinics are part of the Panamanian public healthcare system.
Additionally, the pharmaceutical sector in Panama is very well developed and highly regularized ensuring availability of inexpensive medicine to the public. A robust healthcare system easily accessible cheap medicines have made Panama an attractive destination for health & medical tourism.
Private healthcare system also offers modern facilities and specialized services, mostly accessed by patients covered by health insurance.
Some of the well-known health insurance providers in Panama are:
- Pan-American Life Insurance Company
- Assa Compania de Seguros
- Interncional de Seguros
- Aseguradora Ancon
- Mapfre Seguros
The transportation system in Panama
Panama has a superior transportation system and an advanced road infrastructure. Highways connect major cities of the country while metaled and paved roads crisscross through suburbs and rural areas of the country. The Pan-American Highway is one of the major roads in the country and serves as a crucial transportation route.
A large population of the country prefers buses over private cars for two basic reasons; a) save fuel costs & b) buses reach every part of towns and cities, making cars less efficient. Moreover, the Panama Metro system offers convenient and cheap transport options between cities.