Immigration to Panama
Living and working in Panama
The narrow bridge of land that connects North and South America, on the island of Panama is a beautiful country popularly known as Panama. It is also known as the transit country because of the 82 km water canal that connects the Atlantic Ocean with the Pacific Ocean and divides North and south America. Other natural beautiful attractions of Panama are the Mountains, Coastal lowlands and the Archipelagos. The physical regions have attracted visitors for birding, whitewater rafting and snorkeling. Around 1002 bird species are identified in Panama, which includes 8 endemic species and 122 migratory species. Panama has a population of 4.38 million as of 2021. Panama city is the capital of Panama and is the political and administrative center of the country and also a hub for banking and commerce. Panama is one of the largest country in the world with a total surface area of 29,157 square miles (75,517 square kilometers).
The tropical warm and relaxed climate attracts foreigners. Since Panama has residency programs which has made relocating easier and more affordable. Expatriates from US, Canada, Latin America, Europe, Asia, Middle East and the Americas are choosing to live, work and invest in Panama more than before. The cost of living caters all lifestyles offering highly sophisticated and reliable banking, Wealth Management, legal, accounting, taxation, social security, communication and other services offered by a cosmopolitan country but at a reasonable cost.
Entry to Panama is open for all travelers (above 5 years of age) vaccinated with 2 doses or complete vaccination scheme endorsed by WHO, EMA and FDA, equal to or greater than 14 days after the last dose. Travelers who are not vaccinated are required to present a negative Covid-19 PCR or Antigen test report of not more than 72 hours prior to arrival in Panama. If a passenger is traveling in emergency and test is not done in the stipulated time than rapid covid-19 test is done at the airport at a cost of $50 (USD). Travelers found positive on arrival are quarantined in a hotel for 5-day at the cost of the traveler. This is a mandate and no exception is given.
An affidavit of health is to be filled and submit to the Airlines, by all passenger travelling into Panama by Air, land or sea to the Airliner or carrier. It can be done digitally or in physical form. To register and fill the Health Affidavit, please visit: viajes.panamadigital.gob.pa
Panama is well reached by Air by regular international flights from all major airports. The largest Tocumen International Airport is located just 35 km from Panama City. The Flight time from New York to Panama is 5 hours and 10 minutes & from London is 14 hours 30 minutes including stopover.
Copa Airlines is the flag carrier of Panama. Panama has many domestic and international Airports, however some have just a small airstrip, hence international airline carriers are limited to only a few airports. You can get information of the 17 biggest airports in Panama on www.worlddata.info
Panama can be reached by Road from Costa Rica and by water from Colombia. There are no international rail links from Panama. The most popular and straightforward way to travel by road is the busy Paso Canoas, accessed via the Pan-American Highway. The other option is Guabito-Sixaola on the Caribbean coast towards Bocas del toro- the number one beach destination in Panama.
The port of Balboa is the main port for passenger and freight vessels located at the Panama Canal. The Panama Canal is the major route from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean. All cruises that go anywhere near this region go to or through the Panama Canal. There are boat services from Cartagena in Columbia to Panama
How to immigrate to Panama –
Foreigners and most international visitors can visit & stay in Panama for 90 -180 days without a visa, depending on certain specific visits and country of origin. In case where no visa is required the following documentation is a must:
- Hold a passport valid at least six months on entry with one blank visa page
- Hold proof of onward/return flights
- Hold all documents required for the next destination
- Hold proof of sufficient funds of at least $500
- Confirm with your airline that boarding will be permitted without a visa.
There are a number of options in visa types to immigrate to Panama. The most common types of visa options are as follows:
- Panama Retirement/Pensioner Visa (Visa Pensionado)
- Friendly Nations Visa
- Self-Economic Solvency Visa
- Professional Employment Visa
- Panama’s Business Investor Visa
- Married to a Panama Citizen Visa
The people of Panama are called the Panamanians. They are warm and formal in dealings with strangers. They tend to be stiff and not courtly in public and display minimum of greetings. Only when a person becomes close and accepted in a family then they dealings with them becomes more casual and friendly. The Panamanians are a mixture of the following ethnic groups:
- The Mestizos – Mixed Amerindian and European/white)
- Native Panamanians – The Ngabe, The Kuna, The Embera, The Bugle, The Guna, The Bri Bri, The Naso Tjërdi
- Mulattos – Black or African descent
In general, there is no dress code in Panama, however local men are seen wearing casuals in most of the cities here especially in Bocas del Toro. In Panama City its more stylish business casuals, like suits and high heels. Long pants, polo shirts or button-down shirts are considered respectful business casuals. The traditional and national dress of Panama is the “Gala Pollera (for women) and the Montuno (for men). The Gala Pollera is a colored hand-made shirt and shirt worn with handmade jewelry including the combs, necklaces and tembleques. Men wear a hand-made hat known as “Sombrero Pintado” with the Montuno. Men & Women wear these traditional dresses while performing the traditional folk dance “The Tamborito”.
The Panamanian Food is a mixture of African, Spanish and Native American cuisines. The corn is the main ingredient in most of the dishes. Rice and beans are often served together.
Detailed information on how people dress in Panama is available on livinginpanama.com
Job offers in Panama
Panama opens jobs opportunities for foreigners who are skilled in the following sectors:
- English Tutor
- Spanish Translator
- Embassies & other government agencies
- Non-profit organizations
- Hospitality Industry
Panama has restrictions on appointing number of employees by an Panamanian company and competitions are very high, therefore it is necessary to first find an employer who is willing to sponsor you and also arrange for the work visa. By law 10% of foreign worker are allowed to work in a Panamanian company with exceptions in some technical jobs. There are certain positions and jobs that expats will not be able to do in Panama. For e.g Unless you have passed the Spanish Real Estate broker’s exam and had stayed in Panama as legal resident for 5 years, you will not be able to become a licensed real estate agent. Some Industries, retail, law and medicine are few sectors where expats are not permissible to work. Panama however has lots of business opportunities for expats and it also values entrepreneurship and welcomes future business developments. Areas where one can invest in Panama are tourism, organic agriculture, reforestation, exportation and Real Estate. An average middle class salary in Panama is USD$ 1,200 in big cities and is roughly $550 in smaller cities.
For an expat guide to find jobs and connect with people who can guide you find jobs in Panama, please visit: www.internations.org
The unemployment rate of Panama in the year 2021 was 14.50% which is a decline from the year 2020. It was 18.50 in the year 2020 as per Trading Economics. Economic growth rate needed to keep up the labor force employed has been low following the recession in 1987-89, even though the GDP improved after the crises. In addition to this the government of Panama has tended to view employment as a residual of economic policy-making. In urban areas there is a lack of adequate job creations and jobs with low income and productivity resulting in high unemployment rate.
To get the latest figure on Panama’s unemployment rate, please visit: www.economy.com
Panama has a dollar-based economy, low inflation and zero foreign exchange risk. Panama’s GDP as of 2021 is US$14,516 (per capita). It is a 16.4% growth over the previous year. Seventy-five percent (75%) of the GDP comes from the service sector. The Panama Canal and the use of US$ have promoted the strengthening of a globally-oriented service economy. The global trade which is possible because of the Panama Canal contributes 10% of the country’s GDP.
Two other components that contribute to the service economy is the second largest free port in the world located in Panama – the Colon Free Trade Zone (CFZ) and the second is the Trans-Panama Pipeline connecting Pacific and the Atlantic coast used in the transport of crude oil between the coasts. Other sectors that boost’s Panama’s growing and stable economy are large logistics and storage services, modern banking, insurance industry, exports mainly Ores, slag, ash, ships & boats, pharmaceuticals etc.
To know the Economic and Political overview of Panama, please visit: lloydsbanktrade.com
Renting and buying of real estate’s for foreigners
Foreigners can legally invest in property for personal and business purpose. In some partnership business such as a restaurant it is convenient to buy the property in the name of a Panamanian. There are certain laws which protects the rights of foreign investments. Steps to buy a property in Panama is nicely stated in livinginpanama.com
There are great options and lots of property available for renting in Panama. You need to give some time and widen your search and you will find the perfect apartment to suit your lifestyle. It is always better to find a good property broker. Finding a good broker is the first important thing, who will assist in dealing with a smooth rental process without hassles, so putting for the effort and time to find a good broker is worth. Once a good, reputed and genuine Broker is found, be specific to him/her regarding your choices and budget. Here you will get short and long-term rentals as well, some with flexible leases and some fixed which depends on the length of your stay and whether the house is furnished or not. It’s good to have a broker is you do not know Spanish as the Landlord is not obligated to provide the rental agreement in English. Most of time the rent can be negotiated. Water is charged as a part of the building to the owner, so make sure it is included in the rent and also mentioned in the rental agreement. Electric charges are separated from the rent, on an average it is $30 – $50 per month. Due date of rent is normally fixed as agreed upon, however in some cases late fees or penalty is charged if not paid on the due date. So, it important to confirm this at the beginning if your landlord will penalize you or not if rent is not paid on time at a particular month.
Find the apartment to rent, please visit: www.panamaequity.com
Being close to the Equator, Panama experiences tropical climate throughout the year. Panama does not have four seasons.
The rainy season is long between May to December with 250-700 mm of rainfall throughout the country which is 1900 mm average total rainfall annually. The dry season is from January to May with 27 deg. Celsius average annual temperature. This varies by region and altitude. The climate in panama is moved mainly by the El Niño southern oscillation, sea surface temperatures and tropical cyclones.
Throughout the wet season, mornings are sunny with an hour or two of rain in the afternoon (2 pm to 5 pm). The wettest months are from August to November. Panama experiences snowfall only on the tallest mountains.
For a detailed climate in different regions of Panama, please visit: www.climatestotravel.com
The official language of Panama is Spanish. The type of Spanish spoken here is known as the Castilian Spanish. The Castilian Spanish is the best form of Spanish, because it is originated in the Castile province in Central Spain. The Castilian Spanish spoken in Panama is different to the Castilian Spanish spoken in Costa Rica and Columbia. The Panama Spanish is sometimes difficult to understand as they tend to cut the “s” sound from words and drops off at the ending.
Even though English is taught in grade schools, private and bilingual schools, approximately only 14% Panamanians speak good English. Expats from different ethnic backgrounds have adopted Spanish as their second language. Apart from Spanish and English there are 14 different languages spoken by the immigrant’s communities and the indigenous groups. The seven indigenous groups have their own dialects. The Kuna and the Ngobe-Bugle is the most common. There are regions where Arabic, Japanese, Hebrew, Yiddish, Chinese and Korean languages speaking people are found.
Around 90% of the Panamanians speak Spanish, so if you are planning to work and stay in Panama it is advisable to learn Spanish. It is also the second most popular language in the world.
The transportation system in Panama is generally safe. Road signs and signals are placed in the appropriate places. In some places the traffic lights are seen not functioning. During the rush hour the traffic is high which causes stress and traffic jams. The speed limit is 50 kmh (30 mph) in the city and outside the city the speed limit is 80 kmh (50 mph). It is a must to carry a Driver’s license while driving. Currently Panamanian law permits US citizen who are tourists in Panama without Visa for 180 days, to drive here using their foreign driver’s license. Drinking and driving is prohibited and so is talking on mobiles. Violation to these laws will incur penalty, vehicle impounding, cancellation of driver’s license.
Riding a bicycle is not advisable as the traffic in the main streets is heavy and undisciplined driving habits. Some residents have said that Panama City is a traffic nightmare most of the time. Taking a taxi is better than your own car is cheaper. Taxies are available almost everywhere. The rush hour is 7-9 am and 4.6 pm which must be avoided.
To find out the Road Sign in Panama & what to the Road signs mean please visit: www.rhinocarhire.com/
Currency & Payment Transaction
The national currency of the Republic of Panama is “The Panamanian Balboa (PAB). The Balboa is subdivided into 100 centésimos. The PAB is circulated alongside the USD (US Dollar) at a fixed exchange rate. Therefore 1 Balboa is always equal to 1 USD ($).
The currency is available only in coins in the following denominations:
1 and 5 centésimos, 1⁄10, 1⁄4, 1⁄2, and 1 balboa.
The currency is written in sign is B/. (before the amount) and also in USD dollar sign ($). The foreign currency can be exchanged at the Banco National counter at the Tocumen International Airport and in the Exchange Houses (casa de cambio) in Panama City and few in the rest of the country.
In the hotels, restaurants and travel Agencies in the major cities use of Credit Cards is increasing. Cash transactions are difficult and is limited. Traveller’s check those in currencies other than US dollars are rarely preferred. American Express Traveller’s Check are preferred. Credit cards are the most accepted in department stores, boutiques and travel agencies. ATM machines allows withdrawal of USD 1,000.00 / day, but can vary depending on the Bank.
Cost of Living in Panama
The overall cost of living in Panama is low, especially for a mid-range lifestyle. The city that you choose to live in makes a lot of difference. One can live in some city in Panama for as low as $1,000/month. The Pensionado program for retirees provides discounts from 10-50% on major expenses like food, hotel, entertainment and also air tickets. Cities like Boquete, Coronado and El Valle De Anton where the cost of living is little higher than other cities is a popular expats destination with nice roads, shopping malls, McDonald’s, mix of restaurants and good lifestyle. Cities like Bocas del Toro, Las Tablas, Aguadulce, Penonomé and Cerro Azul have a lower cost of living and give expats a chance to experience local cultures.
Here are some products mentioned below, so that you will get a clear idea of the cost of living:
Amount in PAB (The Panamanian Balboa)
12 (a dozen)
1 Kg (2 lb.)
60 Mbps unlimited data
Bottle of wine
1 way ticket
Utilities (heating, electricity cooling, water,garbage)
For 85m2 apartment
Cinema International Release
Part-Time household help
Full-time Live-in Maid
To get the updated cost of other important items and services, Please visit: www.numbeo.com
The rental lease is typically for a year and are generally furnished. The rents are very affordable but can also be high in the central region and the oceanfront suburbs. The best and reasonable rentals can be found through personal contacts and through the expats already living in Panama. Just to keep in mind if you hire a real estate agent, that some of them do net listings. Net listing means they advertise the monthly rental charges by increasing the amount by adding their profit. So each month the agent will earn a profit from the rent. Secondly be aware some forums that visited by people who are fraud/scam artists who may try to convince you to make a deposit via PayPal to reserve an apartment, which in reality do not exist. Finally make sure that if a foreigner is renting a property to you which they do not own they need to have a work permit to legally work in Panama. A property owner does not need a work permit. This is a must to avoid any issue you may have if problem arises.
The range of rent in Panama City for a typical apartment is from $1,200 to $4,000. A one-bedroom apartment in a city center is approximately $781.43 and outside the city center it is $520.31. A three-bedroom apartment in a city center will cost over $1415 and in the suburban it will be around $947.14. Real estate websites such as Encuentra24, Craigslist Panama, Panama Realtor are a good source to find rental properties.
In the Caribbean, Panama is one of the most well-established Tax Haven. It offers individuals and businesses little or highly tax liability. A foreigner is only liable to pay Panama Income Tax if income is earned on Panamanian territory and not on foreign-earned income. On income earned in Panama which includes local wages/salaries, business profits, pensions/bonus, royalties and profit from stock sales, the personal income Tax is applicable as below:
- Annual income upto $11,000 = 0% Tax
- Over $11,000 to $50,000 = 15% on the amount over $11,000
- Over $50,000 = 15% tax on the first $50,000 and 25% on the reminder
The following benefits/exemptions are also provided by the government:
- Deductions on medical expenses, local donations, education expenses & some other office expenses and home improvement loans.
- Tax is exempt on interest earned on savings, time deposits from licensed Panama Banks.
- One-time exemption of duties on the importation of household goods upto $10,000 under the Panama’s Pensionado Program.
- Property tax exemption for 3 years or more on purchase of building a new house.
- Tax exemptions and discounts on qualifying business which comes under Panama’s special tax incentive zones.
Other taxes included Sales Tax(ITBMS) is 7% on goods & services. Taxes on food and medicines are exempted from sales tax. Luxury items like hotels, alcohol and tobacco is taxed at 15%. Capital gain tax is 10% of gross sale profit. Other taxes are property and property transfer tax.
Why Panama is a Tax Have, please visit to know more: www.investopedia.com
Panama has a good healthcare system consisting of both public and state-of-the-art private medical centers. The clinics are equipped with qualified medical staff and specialists. Ministry of Health and the Social Security System funds the public hospitals in Panama and services provided by these public hospitals are free for children up to 5 years of age, however mainly basic coverage in provided. It is good to know that the Santo Tomes Hospital (for adults) and the Hospital Del Niño (for adults & children) in Panama City treat provide treatment for emergency cases. One of the best and most technologically advanced hospital in Latin America which is affiliated with John Hopkins is the Pacífica Salud Hospital Punta Pacífica, situated in Punta Pacifica, Panama City.
The Panamanian constitution states that any person regardless of their legal status can access public and private medical services in Panama. The refugees and asylum seekers pay the same cost of medical services as the Panamanians. Even private hospitals without the medical insurance is at a low price for some treatment. Retirees are entitled for a discount of 20-25% on healthcare services.
In public hospitals the waiting period is top long and services are limited therefore, expats prefer to opt for private Health care. It is best to insure in private Healthcare Insurance prior to coming in to Panama. The insurance must include the emergency evacuation coverage. The most popular and recognized international insurance plans are offered by Cigna Global and Allianz International.
Find the best health insurance designed for Expats, please visit: bestexpatscover.com
Tocumen Panama International Airport
Av. Domingo Díaz, Panamá, Panama
Phone: +507 238 2700
Metro de Panamá S.A. (Panama Metro)
XFG3+HR9, Av. Ascanio Villalaz, Panamá,
Phone: +507 504-7200
Torre Humboldt, 4to Piso Calle 53,
Phone: +507 297-6550
Embassy of the United States
edificio 783, Avenida Demetrio Basilio Lakas,
Phone: +507 317-5000
Embassy of Colombia
XFFM+HH4, Posada del Rey Condominium,
Ground Floor Via Italia Paitilla, Panamá, Panama
Phone: +507 392-5586
Embassy of India
XFJC+3X5, Panamá, Panama
Phone: +507 264-3043
Consulate General of Nicaragua
2F28+C6Q, residencial cerca de,
Panama City, Panama
Phone: +507 264-4322
Consulado Rep Dominicana
XFGH+F6G, C. Aquilino de la Guardia,
Phone: +507 264-8630
Embassy of Mexico
XFPJ+QJ3, Calle 58 Este, Panamá, Panama
Phone: +507 263-4900
Consulado General del Perú en Panamá
(Consulate General of Peru in Panama)
XFMR+286, Panama City, Panama
Phone: +507 215-3016
Panama a beautiful country has lots to see and offer mainly “The Panama Canal” – the 8th wonder of the world and tropical Rain forests – a haven of biodiversity spreading over 40% of the country. Caribbean and pacific coastlines, jade-coloured cloud forest, 13 national and marine parks and one international park filled with natural beauty, its biodiversity, unmatched landscape makes Panama incomparable. Panama is relatively safe with petty crimes & theft, muggings and credit card frauds in cities like Panama City. Economically and politically stable, Panama is also a country that has a legal immigration pathway for everyone – from students to retirees. Indeed, a good choice to immigrate.
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Translation of the documents
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