New Panama Residency Visa Shows Promise
A promising new permanent residency visa for foreigners has come into effect in Panama, which may ease restrictions for the many expats who live in Panama on a full or part-time basis.
Previously, foreigners staying in Panama could qualify for residency under the pensionado (retiree) program, or through various investment programs – all of which required substantial (and often long-term) financial investment.
If a foreigner did not qualify (or wish to apply) for those visas, the alternative was to enter the country on a tourist visa, valid for up to 90 days and renewable in-country for another 30 days. For those who purchased or rented second homes in Panama and wished to spend more than four months of the year there, this meant leaving the country before the tourist visa lapsed, which was then renewed for another 90 days upon re-entry.
However Executive Order 343, signed into effect in May, offers citizens of countries with “friendly, professional, economic and investment ties” to Panama a simpler means of establishing a legal, long-term presence in Panama – though the full implications of the order are as yet far from clear.
The move for the new visa category seems to stem from Panama’s desperate need for professional labor, which has had trouble keeping pace with the country’s vigorous economic growth. Minister of the Presidency Demetrio Papadimitriu has been quoted as saying that the shfit in immigration policies is meant to attract both “foreign direct investment and skilled international professionals.”
“We are looking for workers in growth sectors such as logistics, tourism, banking and those making Panama a regional hub for multinational companies,” said Mr Papadimitriu.
The decree is aimed at citizens of eligible countries (see below) who intend to pursue “economic or professional activities of any kind”; however, those activities are not explicitly defined, nor is it assured the residency visa will entitle the bearer to work in Panama. Additional work permits may yet be required, and further legislative clarification is to be expected in the future.
What does seem clear is that applicants must demonstrate both solvency and existing economic ties within Panama, including:
- a bank letter or statements showing a balance of at least $5000 for the previous month; and
- documentation indicating the reason for seeking permanent residency, according to the “economic activity or profession to be undertaken”. This could mean ownership of a business, corporation or real estate in Panama, or proof of employment (existing or future).
The residency visa can also include the applicant’s dependents, including adult children up to 25 years of age still in full-time studies.
The process is currently expected to take at least one year, and confusion over the exact requirements and rights conferred will likely persist for some time, but the new category of permanent residency is nevertheless a very promising step toward opening Panama’s economy to further foreign investment.
Citizens of the following 22 countries are eligible under the new residency program:
- United States
- Czech Republic