Immigration & Naturalisation in Panama
Relocating to Panama must be done through a Panamanian lawyer or law firm (like most other administrative matters in Panama). If you're not sure which is the most convenient programme for you, then please browse through the various options to see what best suits your future plans upon arriving in Panama City. We have also included a page with some flow-chart questions that you might find helpful in choosing which immigration options best suit your particular needs for your visit, long-term stay or permanent residency in Panama. You may also contact our lawyers or assistants to make an appointment to visit us.
Panama's immigration law is not found in just one section of the law. Unlike the commercial or civil law, there is not an Immigration Code which regulates the entire area. This means that there are many laws having little to do with immigration which contain provisions to attract immigrants who will invest in farming (agriculture), tourism, scientific research and other worthy goals. Some of these laws provide for permanent residency within one year after the visa has been granted following the initial application, while other programmes require various visa renewals before permanency is granted.
The goals in Panama's immigration policies (such as attracting investment) are achieved by granting or denying visas. There are two principal types of visas: permanent resident and long-term visas. Long-term visas are primary issued to tourists and temporary business visitors, although here in Panama they are also issued to certain categories of workers or specialists, as well as to missionaries, students or religious persons. Only a few categories of long-term visas allow their holders work in Panama, and quite often this work permit is limited to a specific workplace. Permanent resident visas permit their holders to stay in Panama permanently (once permanent residency has been granted) and ultimately to apply for naturalisation and citizenship.
Because much of this body of law was passed piecemeal, many of the requirements differ slightly from one type of visa to another. This can sometimes be a nightmare for lawyers in Panama. Generally you will need a certificate of health and a negative HIV test to get any sort of visa (although theoretically the HIV test has now been waived as a requirement and a simple health certificate from a doctor is sufficient).
Decree Law 16 (1960) was replaced in 2008 with Decree Law 3 (2008) - which we shall refer to as The Immigration Act (2008) - and this is now the principal law which regulates immigration and the status of foreigners in Panama.
Under this law, its amendments and
regulations, foreigners who enter Panama can be classified as:
These categories are defined in the subsequent pages, where we attempt to set out a description of each one and the requirements to classify under a specific category and to renew Visas.
For those clients that simply wish to move to Panama or live in Panama as residents with the least amount of hassle and paperwork, we usually recommend the pensioner visa. However, this is not the only alternative for residency in Panama, and is obviously only available to those persons who receive pensions or social security payments.
There are numerous immigration and visa options, with a variety of programs. We suggest you look through the various sections to get an idea of which program will best suit your needs, resources and goals.
If you're a citizen of Spain or one of several Latin American countries, Panama has reciprocal agreements that will make it easier for you to live and work here. The basic policy is that this is a Spanish-speaking country with laws designed to make it easier for Spanish-speaking permanent residents.
We also advise and assist with applications for naturalisation leading to Panamanian citizenship. Panamanian passports may be obtained after naturalisation.
However, in 2008 changes to many of the permanent resident visas were introduced, increasing the amount of investment required by applicants in order to qualify. Further, greater supervision and checking is done by the Immigration Department to ensure that permanent residents are actually complying with the general requirements which have been submitted on paper.
Many people immigrate as spouses of Panamanians, and if that's your way in, you should be prepared to be questioned in depth, to determine whether yours is a sham marriage for the purposes of immigration fraud.
Some of the visas that non-citizens may obtain to live here include:
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