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Definitive guide for expats in Panama 2024 by JSF & Asociados

Updated: Apr 2

If you want to move to Panama, our parent company JSF & Asociados prepared a complete guide to summarize everything you need to know in one place.

Panama is located in Central America and stands out for its rich culture and biodiversity. It is known, among other things, for the Panama Canal, one of the largest engineering works in the world. It also has beautiful beaches, rainforests and a wide variety of tourist activities. The warm climate and the kindness of its people are other attractive aspects of this country.

It is a country with a great diversity of landscapes and cultures. On the one hand, it has a transition zone towards South America, considered a region very far from the rest of the world. On the other hand, its industrial area around the Panama Canal is full of activity and movement. Additionally, you can find beautiful Caribbean beaches in Bocas del Toro and small mountain towns like Santa Fe and Boquete that are very popular with the foreign community that lives there.

The geographical position of Panama is in Central America, specifically on the isthmus that bears its name, between the Gulf of Darién, which belongs to the Caribbean Sea, and the Gulf of Panama, on the Pacific Ocean side. To the north, it borders Costa Rica and shares a border with Colombia to the south.

Panama is a country with an area of 29,081 square miles (75,320 km2) and its capital is Panama City. Some of its main cities include San Miguelito, Juan Diaz, David, and Chiriquí, and its population is approximately 4 million people. There are around 4.39% foreigners in the country and the official language is Spanish. The majority of the Panamanian population is made up of 70% mestizos, 20% indigenous, and 10% white. Indigenous peoples have their own traditional languages such as Ngabe, Kuna, or Embera. However, in some areas, a hybrid between Ngabe, Spanish, and English called Panamanian-English Creole is also spoken. In addition to Spanish, many Panamanians also speak English and other languages such as Chinese, Arabic, and French-Creole, demonstrating their cultural diversity and interest in learning new languages.

It is estimated that in Panama there is a population of between 20,000 and 30,000 American citizens and approximately 8,000 Canadians. Many of them move to the country for different reasons, such as conducting research, working remotely, making investments, or enjoying a comfortable retirement with a low cost of living. This guide will provide you with the necessary steps to move to Panama and will also give you an idea of what life is like for expats in this Central American country.

The presence of the Panama Canal makes this country play a key role in trade and maritime transit. Furthermore, its location in a region with great biodiversity makes it an attractive place for scientific research, as well as tourist activities such as bird watching, snorkeling and diving.

Is it possible for an individual of American or Canadian nationality to move to Panama?

Those who have nationality of the United States or Canada can travel to the Central American country as long as they meet the immigration requirements and complete the procedures required to obtain a visa.

What is needed to move to Panama?

Individuals of US and Canadian nationality do not need to obtain a visa to enter the country as tourists.

What is needed to qualify to enter Panama?

To be able to travel to Panama you will need a valid passport from your country of origin with at least three months of validity. You must also verify that you have at least $500 USD available for your expenses in the country, which can be demonstrated through bank statements, credit cards, tax returns or certified checks. As a tourist, you can stay in Panama for 30 days and there is the possibility of requesting an extension for up to 90 additional days. However, according to Panamanian law, you must leave the country after your stay and stay outside for 72 hours before returning as a tourist for another 30 or 90 days. On the other hand, if you obtain a work permit in Panama, it usually has an initial duration of 12 months and can be renewed as long as you remain employed.

Most foreigners who move to Panama choose to enter the country as tourists because it is a simple process. However, they cannot work for Panamanian employers in this condition. If you need to work in Panama, it will be necessary to seek employment in a company that has permission to hire immigrants and apply for a work permit with the help of a Panamanian immigration lawyer. You can contact our law firm specializing in immigration processes in Panama, JSF & Asociados, for personalized consultations.

What are the steps to obtain a visa and be able to move to Panama?

If you are interested in obtaining a work permit or a permanent visa to live in Panama, it is necessary that you approach an immigration lawyer authorized by the laws of the country. We can guide you so that you receive the service of one of our lawyers specialized in this type of procedure.

Is it possible to obtain a digital nomad visa in Panama?

The digital nomad visa is an option that allows people from other countries to enter a nation and continue working for their employers from anywhere. In Panama, such a visa is offered for those who wish to stay for a short time.

The original visa lasts for 9 months and can be extended once, allowing the person to stay in the country for a total of 18 months. To obtain it, it is necessary to contact a lawyer specializing in immigration issues in Panama. You can schedule a consultation with one of our specialist lawyers HERE

Is it possible to establish permanent residence in Panama?

If a citizen of the United States or Canada wishes to obtain a permanent residence visa in Panama, it must belong to one of the following categories:

Pensioner: Retirees earning at least $500 per month may qualify for permanent residency status. If you move in with your spouse, you must earn at least $600 per month between you. You will be asked to provide bank statements and proof of continued payments from the government agency or company paying your pension, such as a notarized letter.

Reforestation Investors – Individuals who invest at least USD$100,000.00 in an approved Panamanian reforestation program can obtain permanent residence status for themselves, their spouses, and their children. Under this program, they receive a visa for five years and can become citizens at the end of that period. Those who invest at least $USD80,000.00 can qualify for citizenship in one year.

Retired Annuitants: Retirees who obtain a certificate of fixed-term deposit (CDT) from a Panamanian bank (Caja de Ahorros or Banco Nacional de Panamá) with a deposit large enough to generate at least USD$850.00 in interest may qualify for a five-year renewable residence visa. Normally, the nominal value of the CDT must be an average of at least USD$2000,000.00, depending on the interest rate at the time of placement for sufficient interest to accumulate.

Business owners: carries a minimum of USD$160,000. Those who opt for this category must demonstrate the Trends of funds in Panamanian banking and make an investment in company assets, they will obtain a 2-year visa and then permanent residence.

The Panamanian government is actively promoting the move of retired foreigners to the country, especially those from Europe and North America. If you are interested in knowing the requirements to obtain the "pensioner visa", you can contact us HERE.

By obtaining a visa for the Panama Pensionado program, you will have access to one of the best programs of its kind in Latin America. This offers a wide variety of benefits, such as discounts on public services, medical care, air travel, and cultural events.

Retirees with this visa are also exempt from paying taxes when importing products into the country, which is convenient for those who want to bring a new car.

This program has allowed the arrival of numerous retirees from the United States, Canada, Spain, Portugal and other countries to Panama in recent years.

How much would be the approximate budget required to make a move to Panama?

To travel to Panama, the price you will have to pay to fly or drive will depend on where you start your trip from. If you decide to travel by plane, it is advisable to avoid the high tourist season between January and March to get better prices on tickets. If you choose to drive, you must consider the costs of gasoline, food, and lodging for each night of the trip. It is also important to take into account the fees that must be paid at different borders.

International moving companies usually charge for shipping the container, which includes the costs corresponding to inspection and customs procedures. Because of this, the total cost can be very high, reaching several thousand dollars.

When arriving in the country, it is important to take into account the expense of staying in a hotel or hostel while you look for a place to live. You should also consider other upfront costs such as upgrading your cell phone plan and getting a high-speed internet connection if you plan to work remotely.

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