Panama’s Friendly Nations Visa is a special visa program introduced by the Panamanian government to encourage immigration from certain countries with which Panama has diplomatic ties. The permanent residency visa program aims to attract foreign investors, professionals, and workers from these designated “friendly nations” to contribute to the country’s economy and development.
Under this program, citizens of eligible countries can apply for a Friendly Nations Visa, which allows them to live and work in Panama. Some of the requirements for obtaining this visa include proving economic solvency, providing a police clearance certificate, and presenting a professional or economic activity to be developed in Panama.
The government of Panama passed a law (Executive Decree 197 of the 7th of May 2021) that changes the requirements for the Friendly Nations residency program. Beginning on the 5th of August 2021, Panama’s Friendly Nations residency program will grant a 2 year temporary residency permit, and then the applicant may apply for permanent residency.
Table of Contents
- What are the specific requirements to apply for the Friendly Nations Visa?
- What documents are needed to support the visa application?
- How long does it take to process the visa application?
- Is there a minimum investment or economic activity requirement?
- Can family members be included in the visa application?
- Is there a minimum stay requirement in Panama?
- What are the benefits and privileges of holding a Friendly Nations Visa?
- What countries are eligible to apply for the friendly nations visa?
- Residency requirements clarification
- Required immigration documents
- Visa application stages and procedures
What are the specific requirements to apply for the Friendly Nations Visa?
The specific requirements for the Friendly Nations Visa program include:
- A valid passport with a minimum of six months’ validity.
- Proof of economic or professional ties to Panama, such as a job offer, starting a business, or making an investment.
- Demonstrating financial solvency and providing evidence of economic means.
- Providing a clean criminal record or police clearance certificate from your home country or places of residence during the past five years.
- Submitting a health certificate issued by a Panamanian hospital or recognized health center.
- Paying the necessary application fees.
What documents are needed to support the visa application?
The specific documents required may vary, but typically, you may need to provide:
- Valid passport with a minimum of six months’ validity.
- Application form.
- Proof of economic or professional ties to Panama, such as employment contract, business plan, or investment documentation.
- Bank statements or financial documents demonstrating economic solvency.
- Police clearance certificate from your home country or places of residence.
- Health certificate issued by a Panamanian hospital or recognized health center.
- Passport-sized photographs.
- Application fees.
How long does it take to process the visa application?
The processing time for the Friendly Nations Visa application can vary. Generally, it may take several weeks, but can take a few months to complete the entire process, including document verification and approval.
Is there a minimum investment or economic activity requirement?
The economic activity requirement is limited to two options:
- Be employed in Panama by a legal Panama Corporation with a formal labor contract, and a work permit.
- Purchase a real estate property with a minimum value of US$200,000 (bank financing is permitted).
Can family members be included in the visa application?
Yes, family members such as a spouse and dependent children can be included in the visa application. They can apply for dependent visas and join the primary visa holder in Panama.
Is there a minimum stay requirement in Panama?
There is no minimum stay requirement once you have obtained the Friendly Nations Visa. However, it is essential to comply with the immigration laws and regulations of Panama once you obtain the visa.
What are the benefits and privileges of holding a Friendly Nations Visa?
Holding a Friendly Nations Visa can provide several benefits and privileges, which include:
- The right to live and work in Panama.
- Access to education and healthcare services in Panama.
- The ability to open a bank account and conduct financial transactions
List of Friendly Nations for Panama Visa
The Friendly Nations Visa program is available to citizens of specific countries that have diplomatic ties with Panama. The eligible countries include:
- Costa Rica
- Czech Republic
- Great Britain
- Hong Kong
- New Zealand
- Republic of Korea
- San Marino
- South Africa
- United Kingdom
Clarifying the Residency Requirements
The words “professional and economic ties with the Republic of Panama” means that citizens of these 50 countries must establish professional or economic relationship with Panama. This can be accomplished by either of the following two options:
Set up a new Panama corporation (or purchase an existing Panama corporation).
This option proves an “Economic Activity”, which means the applicant owns a Panama corporation (either a newly set-up corporation, or purchase an existing corporation) which does business in Panama. Please note that Foreigners (non-Panamanian citizens) are prohibited from owning a Panama “Retail” business.
Be hired to work as an employee for an existing Panama corporation.
This alternative option proves “Professional Activity”, meaning the applicant must be employed by a professional Panama corporation, must obtain a Panama work permit, and must be registered with Panama’s Social Security system. In this case, proof of income such as the employment wages must be provided by the employer. Documents proving these activities must be submitted. Please note that Foreigners (non-Panamanian citizens) are prohibited from practicing certain professions such as: medical & veterinary doctors, attorneys, architects, and engineers.
In either of the above Options, Proof of Economic Solvency is a requirement. This requirement can be met by opening a Panama bank account, and depositing at least $5,000 USD (plus $2,000 for each dependant). Whether an applicant is solvent enough is not clearly defined, leaving the matter up to the discretion of the immigration officials.
Dependants include the spouse and children up to the age of 25 if they are full time university students. The applicant must provide a written letter of responsibility regarding the dependants. Every son or daughter dependant over the age of 18 must prove they are not married by providing an authenticated certificate of “single” status (not married) from their respective country.
After the application is filed along with all required documents the immigration office will issue a one year temporary residency card (carnet) which will be replaced by a permanent residency card once the application is approved.
Once the application has been approved, the Client / Applicant can apply for a Work Permit. Panama’s President recently issued a Presidential Decree ordering Panama’s Ministry of Labor to fast track acceptance of work permits for the 50 friendly nation’s citizens.
Important Documents & Procedures:
- Scheduling: Client / Applicant(s) must contact our law offices with at least 30 days prior notice to schedule appointments & coordinate documentation that is required for immigration processing. Please note that the immigration application process takes a total of approximately 7 to 9 business days, so plan on being in Panama City for at least that time frame.
- Document Validity: All required documents must be recently issued within 90 days (3 months) prior to the presentation of the Panama immigration residency application.
- Document Authentication: All required documents for immigration processing must be apostilled or authenticated by the Panamanian Consulate in the country of issue.
- Document Review: All required documents for immigration processing should be sent via scanned email or fax to our law offices for review and approval, at least 30 days prior to client / applicant(s) arrival in Panama.
- Document Preparation: For highest level of efficiency and time savings during applicants’ trip to Panama, we recommend applicants’ to send to our law offices (by courier) all required and duly authenticated or apostilled documents, at least 2 weeks prior to applicants’ arrival in Panama. This will allow our attorneys enough time to process the necessary authentications of the documents at the Ministry of Foreign Relations.
- Clients With Dual Nationalities: If the Client / Applicant has two (2) different Nationalities (Passports), then at the moment of “entry” into the Country of Panama (at the airport or border), the client / applicant should enter Panama using the same Passport that will be used for the Panama Immigration residency application, and said passport should be stamped when entering Panama. The required documents for immigration processing that the applicant must provide (police/criminal history report, etc.) must be issued in the same country of the applicants’ passport, because if not then the applicant would need to provide proof that they are residents in the country where the documents are issued from.
- Dress Code:
- For Men: Male Clients / Applicants must wear long pants, collared shirt, and shoes with socks. Do not wear shorts, cut-off shirts or t-shirts, or any footwear that shows toes.
- For Women: Female Clients / Applicants must wear a dress or long pants, collared shirt or top that covers shoulders, and formal footwear (shoes). No mini-skirts, shorts, cut-off shirts or tops showing shoulders or t-shirts, and no sandals or footwear that shows toes.
Friendly Nations Visa Required Immigration Documents:
Law 3 of 2008 under Article 28 requires the following documents from an applicant:
1. Eight (8) Passport Size Photos Per Applicant;
2. Criminal history background check from the applicant’s country of origin or the country where he/she has lived for the two past years. The Panama immigration department requires the applicant to provide an authenticated criminal history report issued by a “federal”, “central”, or “national” police force or criminal investigation authority. This document must be authenticated by the Embassy or Consulate of Panama, or Apostilled. If the applicant provides a criminal background check from another country they must also provide an identification from said country which can be a drivers license or any other government issued ID.
(a) If the applicant is providing a criminal background report from a country where he/she is not a citizen, but a resident, the applicant must provide the legal residency identification, of said country, which must be authenticated by the Embassy or Consulate of Panama, or Apostilled.
(b) If the applicant has been residing in Panama for the past two consecutive years (without leaving the country) the criminal background check must be prepared by the national police (DIJ) in Panama.
Panama immigration will require the national criminal history report to be authenticated by a Panamanian Embassy or Consulate, from the country that issued the document or by Apostille, which is an internationally recognized government agency authentication of its issued documents by attaching certain seals to the document. Contact Us for a list of Panama Consulates Worldwide or learn more about an apostille.
Note 1: The criminal history background check has a validity term of 3 to 6 months from its issuance date, depending on the specific nationality of the client / applicant, according to the Immigration Department of Panama.
Note 2: Between the issuance date of your criminal history background check, and your Provisional Residency application, there can be only “one (1) entry stamp” in your passport in the Republic of Panama. This means that after the date of your last trip to the Republic of Panama (Stage 1), and prior to your following trip for your provisional residency application (Stage 2), you must process your Criminal history background check (Police Report) as explained previously in the required documents.
Note 3: If your background check is not 100% “clean” (meaning you have a criminal history record on your background check), then you must notify us in advance, and explain what is on your criminal history record, so we can process what is called a “Visto Bueno” which is a pre-screening approval from the Ministry of Security of Panama. This pre-screening process can take 1-3 months, and it is required to be approved BEFORE we submit your residency application at the Immigration Department. There may be additional legal fees applied if a pre-screening must be processed.
3. A written Statement describing the economic or professional activities to be conducted by the applicant in Panama. These can be explained in the following manner:
Option (a) Economic Activity: Provide documentation that the applicant is a member of the Board of Directors or majority shareholder (50%) of a Panama Corporation or is the owner of a Panama company. If the Panama Corporation or Panama Company is new, provide proof of its franchise tax being paid. If the corporation or company is over one year old, provide proof of its tax return, and good standing certificate. In other words, the applicant must set up a Panama Corporation and be appointed in the Board of Directors. This Corporation must be existent until the Residency process is approved. Under the current law, the corporation does not need to be active in business, it simply needs to be formed (inscribed in the Public Registry of Panama).
Note: The economic activity of the company cannot be one reserved for Panamanian nationals such as a retail business.
Option (b) Professional Activity: A professional activity is a job or work contract with a Panamanian company. The applicant must provide proof of an employment contract, the company must be registered with Panama Social Security, and the applicant must get a social security card and work permit. There are several ways to obtain a Panama work permit including the allowable 10% foreign employees or the Marrakech Treaty (which allows Panamanian companies to hire a certain percentage of foreigners). The professional activity cannot be one reserved only for Panama nationals such as an attorney, architect, engineer, medical doctor or veterinarian doctor.
4. Copy of Applicant’s second I.D. (other than Passport): Issued from applicant’s country of origin, such as a driver’s license or government issued photo I.D. This requirement is in addition to the passport to prove residency and citizenship. This document must be Apostilled or authenticated by a Panamanian Consulate where the document is issued. If you do not possess a second ID from your country of origin you can provide a birth certificate that is apostilled or authenticated by the Panamanian consulate in the country of issuance.
5. Proof of Solvency: In addition to the documents that demonstrate the applicant’s economic or professional activity the applicant must also provide the following:
(a) Proof from a Panama bank that the applicant has at least $5,000 USD deposited, plus $2,000 USD for each dependent – this is done by requesting a bank letter of reference; or
(b) Proof of income such as employment salary with a letter from the employer which includes applicant’s social security number and work permit. Note: Part (b) is vague which can be interpreted by Panama immigration at its discretion to verify the applicant’s solvency.
6. Dependants require a letter of responsibility from the primary applicant (we will draft this letter of responsibility).
(a) Client must provide proof that the dependants are related either with a “birth certificate”, if children, or if it’s a spouse, a “marriage certificate”. This document must be Apostilled or authenticated by a Panamanian Consulate where the document is issued. This document must be issued within six (6) months before the residency application date (this means that at the time of application, this document should not be over 6 months old).
(b) Dependants other than a spouse can apply up until the age of 25 if enrolled as full time university students or are disabled, and must provide an authenticated certificate of single status (not married).
(c) Dependants over the age of 18 must submit an affidavit that they are single (not married) which must be Apostilled or authenticated by a Panamanian consulate.
7. Personal Sworn Affidavit explaining the purpose for seeking Panama Permanent Residency and ability to support family and dependents. (This form will be supplied by International Relocation Firm’s immigration attorney.)
In “summary”, client must provide the following documents:
1. Eight (8) passport size photos.
2. Criminal history background check, duly authenticated by the Embassy or Consulate of Panama, or Apostilled.
3. Copy of Applicant’s second I.D. (different than Passport) from applicant’s country of origin such as driver’s license or government issued photo I.D., duly authenticated by the Embassy or Consulate of Panama, or Apostilled.
4. Birth certificate, if dependants are children, or if dependant is a spouse, a Marriage certificate, duly authenticated by the Embassy or Consulate of Panama, or Apostilled.
5. A bank reference letter, from a licensed bank in Panama, addressed to: “Servicio Nacional de Migracion”, that certifies that the applicant has at least US$5,000 USD deposited in a “personal bank account” (in clients personal name) plus the amount of US$2,000 USD must be deposited for each dependant.
6. Certification from the Public Registry of Panama, certifying that the applicant appears on the board of directors of the Panama Corporation.
Required Documents that our Law Firm will process:
1. Application for Permanent Residency with a Special Power of Attorney authorizing our Law Firm (International Relocation Firm) to act on behalf of the applicant, duly authenticated by a Panamanian Public Notary with the proper government stamps.
2. Copy of the entire passport notarized by a Panama Public Notary.
3. Original medical examination report from a certified Panama medical doctor. Our paralegal will personally accompany Client to the clinic for the medical examination.
4. Two Certified Checks:
(a) $250 USD in favor of “Tesoro Nacional” (National Treasury) for immigration fees; and
(b) $800 USD in favor of “Servicio Nacional de Migracion” (National Immigration Service) for repatriation purposes (deportation fund).
IMPORTANT: Once immigration has issued a resolution of an approval (or denial) of the application of residency, the above mentioned checks are then non-refundable.
5. Official translations, signed by a licensed official public translator from the Republic of Panama, of all documents from the English to the Spanish language. If documents are in a different language than English and Spanish, then the Client must pay the fees of the respective licensed official public translator in Panama to translate the documents from whatever language they are in to Spanish.
Visa Application Procedure & Stages:
The following are the steps involved in applying for the residency program:
Stage 1 (Trip No.1 to Panama): Open a Personal Bank Account in Panama:
The first step is to open a personal bank account in a licensed Bank in Panama. To begin the account opening process, you only need to be in Panama for 1 business day, to interview with the banker, sign the bank forms, and submit the required documentation to the bank.
The time frame for actually opening a personal bank account in Panama varies depending on what bank you open the account with. The bank account opening process can take 1 day or it could take as much as 1 month, depending on the bank you choose to open the account with, and depending on the supporting documents you provide to the bank, since all banks require doing a due diligence investigation on the client prior to the account approval. If you open the account through the banks that we recommend, and you provide all the required documentation, the account can be opened very quickly, in as little as 1 day in most cases. Once your personal bank account is approved by the bank, you need to fund it and make a minimum deposit of US$5,000.00 for qualifying for the residency process, plus you need to add US$2,000.00 per dependent you want to include.
Please contact us prior to your visit, if you want us to help you with setting up an interview with a bank officer to attend you. We will assist you through the account opening process and help you to come prepared so you don’t waste time.
The basic requirements by the bank for your personal bank account are:
- Passport copy.
- Second I.D. copy (for example: drivers license, state or country I.D.).
- Original bank reference letter, addressed to the bank in Panama where you are applying to open the account. This letter should be issued within 3 months from the account application date and must contain an email or phone number from the issuing bank so that the bank in Panama can confirm the letter.
- Annual tax declaration, employment letter, or retirement income document (document that proves your source of income). This requirement is very important since the bank needs to know how you make money or the source of your funds to be deposited to the account.
- Personal resume / curriculum vitae, describing your education and work history.
- Letter addressed to the bank, explaining the purpose of establishing the bank account, what banking services will be required such as checking/savings account, debit card, credit card, online banking, etc, the estimated monthly deposits / withdrawals, and estimated average balance of the account.
- Any other documentation that the bank may require from the client / applicant.
- Personal interview required at the bank.
We recommend that when you come to Panama, be prepared to interview with 2 different banks just in case, in order to assure that you will get an account opened, because some banks may deny the account, depending on the due diligence documentation provided.
Stage 2 (Trip No.2 to Panama): Passport Registration and Provisional Residency Application:
In this Stage we would require your stay for minimum of 7 to 9 business days as follows:
BUSINESS DAY 1 (PASSPORT REGISTRATION):
- Client / Applicant(s) presence IS required. NOTE: No shorts, t-shirts or sandals are permitted in government offices.
- At 8:00 a.m. Client / Applicant(s) should meet at our law office with two (2) Passport size photographs, US$5.00 in cash, and the actual original physical passport in hand.
- At around 8:30 a.m., our Immigration Attorney and/or Paralegal will guide the Client(s) to the government Immigration office of Panama City. The passport registration process is generally done in the same day, however, the time it takes will depend on the volume of applicants ahead of you in line, so the earlier you get there the better.
- The Panama immigration office will place a “stamp” in the applicants Passport that will show a Registration number, which is used throughout the immigration process, which is why it is also advisable that the passport used should have at least 1 to 2 years time remaining before the passport expiration date. Once the passport is registered at the Panama Immigration office, the applicant will receive their passport back. Client should keep a photocopy of their passport and entry stamp page with them at all times in Panama.
BUSINESS DAY 2 & 3 (DOCUMENT PREPARATION):
- Client / Applicant(s) presence is NOT required.
- A complete photocopy of the applicants’ passport (including a copy of the Panama Immigration Registration stamp page) must be made and it must be authenticated by a Public Notary in Panama, which requires that we have the passport accessible. If time permits, this step could be completed on Day 1.
- Other documents such as the Health Certificate (this can only be done in Panama, through a Licensed Medical Doctor in Panama), authentication of all documents, and translation to the Spanish language of all documents that are issued outside of Panama, etc. There is a possibility that we could expedite the authentications and translations of documents, if the client / applicant(s) delivers all documents to our law office by courier prior to their arrival in Panama. By all means (as mentioned above), client should always scan and email or fax these documents to our law offices prior to their arrival in Panama, for verification purposes to ensure that the documents are prepared correctly.
BUSINESS DAY 4 (RESIDENCY APPLICATION PRESENTATION):
- Client / Applicant(s) presence is NOT required, however, we will need to keep applicant(s) original passport for the immigration application presentation. The passport will be returned the same day or the following business day.
- If all documents are ready, authenticated, translated to Spanish, and the completed package with a full set of copies for the Immigration office is ready, then our Attorney/Paralegal will file the application by going to the Immigration office early in the morning.
BUSINESS DAY 5 (TEMPORARY RESIDENT CARD ISSUANCE):
- Client / Applicant(s) presence IS required.
- At 8:00 a.m., the client / applicant(s) should meet at our law office.
- At around 8:30 a.m. our Immigration Attorney / Paralegal will guide the Client / Applicant(s) to the government Immigration office for the Temporary Residency Card issuance. A photograph of the client / applicant(s) will be taken at the Immigration office, and the Client / Applicant will receive a “Temporary Resident Card” (I.D. Card). This card will have a validity of one (1) year, which means that within that one (1) year the Immigration office should approve the client / applicants’ residency resolution. From our experience, the Immigration office generally approves this residency program in 3 to 6 months time frame.
- Our attorney / paralegal will need to keep applicant(s) original Passport for the Multiple Entry-Exit Visa application & processing.
- Applicant(s) will keep their Temporary Residency Card and a photocopy of their Passport with a photocopy of the most recent entry to Panama stamped page.
BUSINESS DAY 6, 7 & 8 (MULTIPLE ENTRY-EXIT VISA APPLICATION AND PROCESSING):
- Once the “Temporary Residency Card” is obtained, Client(s) / Applicant(s) require a Multiple Exit and Entry Visa, in order to exit and enter the country.
- Client / Applicant(s) presence is NOT required, however, our attorney / paralegal will need to have applicant(s) original passport for the presentation of the Multiple Entry-Exit Visa, which approval will take approximately 3 business days. Applicant(s) will receive their original passport back once the Multiple Entry-Exit Visa is completed (3 business days).
- Our Attorney/Paralegal will file the application for the applicant(s) Multiple Entry-Exit Visa, which is required for applicant(s) to travel out of and into the Republic of Panama.
- IMPORTANT NOTE: If you leave Panama without the Multiple Entry-Exit Visa, a fine of US$2,000.00 will be applied by the Immigration officials.
BUSINESS DAY 9 (RETURN OF PASSPORT & MULTIPLE ENTRY-EXIT VISA):
- Client / Applicant(s) presence is NOT required.
- Our Attorney / Paralegal will go to the Immigration office to collect applicant(s) original Passport with the stamp of the Multiple Entry-Exit Visa, and applicant(s) may pick up their passport(s) at our law office that afternoon.
Once the residency application has been submitted, the Immigration office will take several months to process the resolution of approval. Our immigration attorney and paralegals will perform a weekly follow-up at the Immigration office and all the different departments where the paperwork is processed, and will inform you by email or phone, once the resolution of approval is issued, at which point you will need to return to Panama to continue the immigration process. Generally you will have a term of 3 months to come to Panama, once the resolution of approval is issued, so you will be informed in advance.
Stage 3 (Trip No.3 to Panama): Permanent Residency Approval (at the Immigration):
Once the permanent residency resolution is issued with the approval, you will have a term of 3 months to come to Panama to get your picture I.D. card at the Immigration office. One (1) business day is required for this process.
Stage 4 (Trip No.4 to Panama): Permanent Residency Card (at the Civil Registry):
Once your permanent residency card is issued by the National Immigration Service, you could request the permanent residency card issued by the Civil Registry (“cedula”), which is optional.
This process, from Stage 3 till Stage 4, could take around 2 to 3 months, for the Immigration File to reach the Civil Registry. Then, the Client will be required to just come to Panama and stay 2 or 3 business days for this 4th stage.
Once our Immigration Attorney or Paralegal informs you that the permanent residency card is ready at the Civil Registry of Panama, you would need to make a trip for one (1) business day to sign the card and to take your picture at the Civil Registry.
Contact Us for all of your Panama Immigration Services.