Ruskie
Ruskie

Our personal experience obtaining temporary residence, and later, permanent residence in the Republic of Panama using the “Friendly Nations” visa.

In the last few years, we have been busy looking for the best options to obtain (or even purchase) a second, third, or even a fourth passport.  As discussed in my article “Live Free,” it is my opinion that having multiple citizenships – like speaking multiple languages – is not just a luxury of the modern world, it is a necessity.

We studied all of the information that we could find on the internet and then we personally visited Panama, met with lawyers, bankers and real estate agents and then we drew our conclusions based on our first-hand knowledge.

Panama City. Panama.
Panama City. Panama.

This is our story about how to obtain permanent residence in the Republic of Panama.

Why Panama, you ask? For many reasons:

* Panama has a warm and pleasant climate for most of the year.

* Panama has an advantageous tax system.

* It is the second largest banking center in the world behind Hong Kong.

* Over the past decade, there has been a constant climb in real estate prices.  The real estate conditions in Panama offer not only a good chance for appreciation on owned property but also for the likelihood of a positive cash flow in the form of rents.

* The Panamanian Government is “progressive;” they actively seek educated, trained and “quality” expat workers and residents.

* The Panamanian passport is well considered a “good” passport in that it offers visa free travel to the EU.  On a Panamanian passport, you can travel visa free to 125 countries making it the 32nd most valuable passport in the world.

Let’s start off by saying that Panama does not sell passports.  To obtain a Panamanian passport isn’t something you just “get,” it is obtained through a process that first begins with establishing legal residence there.  This is one reason why the Panamanian passport is well respected throughout the world and affords so much visa free travel: because the Panamanian Government doesn’t “cheapen” their passport by selling it to anyone who has some money in the bank.

What do we know about Panama?

In my opinion, another excellent quality of Panamanian residency (and eventually citizenship) is that Panama is a neutral country.  Panama is often described as the “Switzerland” of the Western Hemisphere.  Offshore bank accounts aside, a Panama passport draws no ire from terrorists or nations embroiled in “cold wars.”  For Americans or Russians, this may provide to be quite useful if another Cold War breaks out between East and West.  As stated by Brandon Rowe, “No one kills the Slovaks.”  Panama is off by itself, causing no problems in the world, it truly is a neutral country.  From my point of view, these are attractive features if you are going to look for a second residency, home, and/or passport.

Also, Panama is an emerging – and rapidly growing economy.  All we have to do is look to the United Arab Emirates to see what can happen when a progressive government teams with a rapidly growing economic and business sector.  The pricing for Panamanian residency was very reasonable and we now have access to a beautiful tropical nation with beautiful ocean views, scenic mountain vistas, and exotic jungle rainforests.  Panama is warm enough that you can swim year round; in fact, the “high season” is during the Christmas and New Year holiday months.

The process

For qualified nationalities, easiest and best way to obtain a Panamanian residency visa is through the Friendly Nations Visa.  As the law is currently written, the Friendly Nations program is first issued as a temporary and then a permanent residency visa.

The following nations are eligible to apply under this new law for a permanent residency in Panama through the Friendly Nations Program:

Great Britain, Germany, Argentina, Australia, Republic of Korea, Austria, Brazil, Belgium, Canada, Spain, USA, Slovakia, France, Finland, Netherlands, Ireland, Japan, Norway, Czech Republic, Switzerland , Singapore, Uruguay, Shile, Sweden, Poland, Hungary, Greece , Portugal, Croatia, Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia, Cyprus, Malta, Serbia, Montenegro, Israel, Denmark, South Africa, New Zealand , Hong Kong, Luxembourg, Liechtenstein, Monaco, Andorra, San Marino, Taiwan, Costa Rica, Mexico, and Paraguay.

The spouses and children (and other dependents) of applicants are also eligible for this visa.

How did we apply for a Panamanian Friendly Nations Visa?

Obtaining a temporary residence card took two weeks; the card had a validity of one year.  It was to be used while the permanent residence application was processed.  Only 4 months later, the permanent residency is approved and after a return to Panama, the new (permanent) residency cards were issued in one week.  In total, obtaining permanent residency in Panama took us only 4 months.

We were very impressed by the speed at which we were able to obtain our temporary residency.  In the span of two weeks we had Panamanian identification cards and the ability to open a bank account, start a company, indeed, to buy a home.  And in equally impressive timing, we returned only 4 months later to pick up our permanent residence cards.

Requirements for the visa:

* It was necessary to open a Panamanian Corporation in order to show “economic ties” to the country.

* Starting capital (to show economic solvency) was $5,000, plus an additional $2,000 for each family member.

* We were required to appear in person with all family members.

Before hiring our law firm, we asked many questions and discussed the process at length.  Before traveling to Panama we scanned and emailed all of our documents for the attorney to review.

When dealing with Panama, you need to remember these inevitable problems:

* Panamanians fully embrace a Mediterranean lifestyle complete with long lunch siestas, they are often late to appointments (if they show up at all) and rarely, if ever, answer their telephones.

* Not all attorneys speak English.

Our startup capital for our company was $9,000 ($5,000 + $2,000 for two dependents).

Documents

The following documents are required:

* Passport

* Criminal history background check + apostille (must be dated less than 90 days of visa application)

* State ID (driver’s license or state ID or other “official” government ID card) – a notarized copy of this card should be apostillized

* Original marriage license + apostille

* Birth certificates of all dependent children + apostille

Upon arrival in Panama:

* You must obtain a medical checkup from a licensed Panamanian doctor.  Our attorney recommended a clinic that didn’t require an appointment.  We were able to obtain our medical certificate in about a half an hour.

* Articles of incorporation of your newly formed Panamanian corporation.  This can take some time – we ordered our corporation before our first visit and the papers were waiting for us upon arrival.

* Confirmation of solvency deposit.  Our lawyer introduced us to a bank who opened our account and gave us a statement of deposit in one visit.

I noticed that it is better to get as many documents translated (or prepared) in Panama as is possible, in this way, no alterations need be made to any documents.

A breakdown of the costs:

* Official fees and taxes (notary)

* Legal (lawyer) fees

* Bank deposit

* Costs associated with opening a Panamanian corporation

Before we came to Panama, we didn’t make any payments with the exception of the formation of the corporation (about $1,400).  We wanted to meet our lawyer and verify all fees and expenses before we invested into this process.

We made all subsequent payments to our lawyer and others (bank) as they came up during our first visit.

Here is a summary of the costs we incurred:

$1,400 Panama incorporation (filing and legal fees)

$2,000 attorney fees for primary applicant

$1,000 attorney fees for secondary (and subsequent) applicant(s)

In the end, we did not file for the visa for our child.  As we will not be living in Panama, we found that a visa for her was unnecessary: all children under the age of 18 are granted citizenship in Panama when their parents are naturalized.  If you are planning to live in Panama, you will need a visa for your child(ren) or other dependents.

$500 bank introduction fee – fee to our attorney for facilitating the opening of a bank account.

$3,300 in official fees and taxes including notary, temporary visas, medical check, translation of all documents and applicable taxes.

In total, for a family of two, $8,200. For this amount:

– Panama corporation in our name (which we already use and we are further studying the benefits of working in the offshore zone).

– Obtained a 1 year temporary residency permit during our first visit

– Received a permanent residence permit for 5 years on our second visit

Additional costs may include:

– Panama bank deposit

– Airline tickets

– The cost of living in Panama City for 2 x 14 days.  About half of this time was spent on a Pacific Ocean beach with warm water so I’ll take it as a vacation ;-)

In general, the whole bureaucratic process in Panama can be described as “organized chaos.”  But in the end, you have your result.

Opening the bank account took only one day using our attorney’s introduction.  The deposit in the account is ours to use later.

The corporation was opened in advance of our arrival.

The medical exam was 30 minutes and included the examination of 3 people.  The doctor listened to our hearts and drew blood samples.

We visited the immigration office twice.  During both visits, the lines of people waiting for immigration services were huge.

panama immigration service
Panama. Immigration service.

At the end of our first visit, we received a registration stamp in our passports.

Panamanian residency stamp
Panamanian residency stamp

During our second visit, we applied for multiple entry visas allowing us to leave the country while our permanent residence applications were processed.  Our multi-entry visa was valid for one year.

And then we received our temporary Panama residency cards.

All of the aforementioned stamps, visas, and immigration cards were issued in our first two week visit to Panama.  The term of consideration of the permanent residence application is 3 to 4 months.  In our case, it took exactly 4 months before our permanent residency cards were approved.  When our lawyer contacted us to tell us that our applications were approved we planned our second visit to Panama.  We came to the immigration department and our cards were issued to us personally.

An important point: once your permanent residency is approved, you have only 90 days to arrive to Panama to pick up your permanent residency cards or else you will lose your application and you will have to start the process over again. 

All negotiations in the government offices and in the banks are transacted in business.  If you are not fluent in Spanish, you will need a translator.  Our lawyer sent us with one of his Spanish-speaking employees (who served as translator) to each of our appointments.

On our second visit we came back to the immigration service where they took out photos again and then issued us our permanent residency cards.

Panama residency card
Panama temporary residency card

We did not receive any more stamps in our passports, we only received the residency cards.  When we departed Panama at the conclusion of this visit, we were asked for our cards.  The border officer examined our cards and then allowed us to pass: our passports were not stamped upon exit.

Panama has a formal dress code in government offices: absolutely no shorts, open shoes, no Hawaii shirts and Women must cover their shoulders.

In order to obtain a passport after 5 years of residency, you will need to show a relationship with Panama.  This can be acquired by using your corporation; it is actually better to think of ways to use your corporation: internet business, trade (Panama Canal), consulting, tourism, real estate agency or apartment rental, etc.  It is also possible to purchase a house in Panama City or on the coast, spend part of the year in Panama and then rent the house out to tourists during the rest of the year.  Due to the strong economy and increasing numbers of retiree arrivals, the price of real estate is constantly growing.  Panama is not limited to the seasons of the year.  It is always warm, and personally, I like the rainy season. And if you are interested in getting a Panamanian driver license, I share my recent experience of receiving one here.

Note: Dear readers! Thank you so much for your interest to my article and all your comments. I am also very pleased that some of you want to repeat my journey and try to establish residency in Panama. Many of you asked me a lot of questions and also require to share the contact information of the lawyer who helped me with their advice and prepared all the documents to reach my goal – to get Panamanian residency.  I tried to answer most of the questions in a separated e-book, where I also share my lawyers contact information. Please download it here and start your own Panamanian journey. Wish you luck! Anna.