A Detailed Comparison of the Two Most Popular Visa Options in Panama

Panama, a country that keeps hitting the top retirement destination lists of many media outlets, is one of the most popular places in the world to retire in, or move to, to conduct business, mostly because of its ease of permanent residency programs. Of course, its climate helps, and it’s currency being pegged to the US dollar helps, and the welcoming smiles of it’s local people who have been accepting foreigners into this country for many years, adds to the reasons why people are moving here..

If you are considering moving to another county for retirement, starting a new business, or just adventure, one thing to consider is it’s residency programs, if you want to stay there. Most countries, rightfully so, have rules and enforcement on foreigners coming to their country, and wanting to say. You need to consider, does this country offer permanent residency, or is it temporary, and you have to renew it every year or so. Many other countries only want you if you bring in a lot of money, basically buying your residency with 100’s of thousands of dollars.

Now Panama, not only offers permanent residency for an affordable price, the government here treats its seniors, with discounts on many items, and extends those discounts to permanent residents. Panama has many ways to permanent residency, but the two most popular are the Pensionado Visa and the Friendly Nations Visa. There are also agricultural visas, employment visas, student visas, but for the purpose of this article, we will stick with the two most popular.

Before we get into detail with each visa, I would like to put a stop to a myth you hear often. I get told often, that the applicants only choice in a visa, is the Pensionado Visa as they want the discounts it offers. Well the fact is no matter what Residency Visa you hold, when a woman is 55 or older, and a man 60 or older, they qualify for the Pensionado Discounts. We will discuss these discounts later.

Now lest get started discussing each visa and who they are for.

A Detailed Comparison of the Two Most Popular Visa Options in PanamaPensionado Visa:

This Visa if for those people who are currently receiving a retirement pension, or will be by the time you apply, from a government, like Social Security, or a public/private source. This can be public pensions like teachers pensions, VA benefits, a public company like IBM, General Motors, the only requirement is that the pension is over $1000 per month, plus $250 per dependent, and that the pension is for life. There is no age restriction on this Visa, so if you retired early in your 40’s and receive a life long pension, you can qualify. You will even qualify for the Panama Pensionado Discounts early with this Visa. The only restriction with this Visa is that it will never lead to a work permit. You must be retired and intend to remain retired in Panama.

Below is a list of the Pensionado Discounts we have discussed, the only two that are exclusive to this Visa, is the one time tax exemption on the importation of $10,000 of goods, and the tax exemption of importing a car. Now, if you move here on the Pensionado Visa, and you have not met the age requirements, 55 for a woman, and 60 for a man, you will still receive the discounts by showing your Pensionado Card. So this is a big advantage for those people who retired at an early age.

A Detailed Comparison of the Two Most Popular Visa Options in Panama

We will discus the pros and cons of moving all your belonging here and importing your car after we discuss the visa options.

The total cost of receiving a Pensionado Visa, including legal fees, government fees, etc will be around $2400 for a single, and $2900 for a couple. This is an estimate, and could actually be a little less.

To get permanent residency in a country for less than $3000, and a country that will give you discounts for being a retired person, is almost unheard on in the world, and this is why Panama is the top choice for retirees. But remember, this visa is only for those of you that are retired and are planning to stay retired. You cannot work in Panama with this Visa, ever. So if you are only semi retired, and still looking at Panama and want to generate some additional income, you may want to look at the next visa option.

Panama’s Friendly Nations VisaA Detailed Comparison of the Two Most Popular Visa Options in Panama

This Visa, which is also very popular, is usually used by people who are not yet receiving a pension, or by people who are receiving a pension, but still intend to work in Panama, as the Visa can have a work permit with it, unlike the Pensionado Visa..

Work, with this visa does not always mean getting a job with a Panama company, it can mean opening a company in Panama and working for it. Whether or not you need a work visa in Panama depends on the type of work you are doing. In you work from home on your computer, and your income comes from sources outside of panama, you really do not need a work visa. But, if you are doing a job, that a Panamanian could be doing, then you do need a work visa.

For example, let say you open a restaurant, to manage that restaurant, doing ownership stuff like, paperwork, scheduling, hiring staff, etc, you do not need a work visa for that. But, if you wait tables, work the register, cook, kitchen work, you do need a work visa.

The Friendly Nations Visa is available to a list of 50 countries (see below) and is designed for people who intend to show some kind of economic activity in Panama. That activity can be opening a Panama Corporation (you do not actually have to start a business). Another option is owning real estate with a property value in excess of $100,000, titled, and lien free. The Final option, is to be hired to work for an existing Panama Company.

With the Corporation and Employment options above you must prove economic solvency by depositing $5000.00, plus $2,000.00 per dependent, into that Panama bank account. (You can take this money out later).

The process for the Friend Nations Visa is a bit more complicated than the Pensionado Visa, as there is more paperwork involved, and more government fees, so of course the cost is a bit higher. To the younger retirees, I do tell them to take a hard look at this Visa, as changing visas down the rod, because you decided you want to work, or do protected work in your business, is very time consuming and costly. The cost for this visa will be around $5,000.00 for a single, (if you are going the corporation route) and $5800 for a couple. Remember the deposit you make into a Panama bank account, only has to be in the account for a few days, so that money is not tied up.

Also remember, when getting the Friendly Nations Visa, you do not qualify for the $10,000 duty free tax exemption on personal goods, or the duty free tax exemption on a car, but you will quality for all the general discounts listed above for women over 55, and men over 60.

Now let’s talk about importing you goods and cars, and why that may not be a good idea. First of all, if you want to take advantage of the $10,000 tax exemption on personal goods, you will have to wait till after you receive your permanent Pensionado Visa, which will be in 4 – 5 months after you start the process. And the start of the process has to start in Panama, so that can be complicated on what to do with your stuff if you are planning on moving here when you start the process. Otherwise you are coming here to start the process, then going back home to wait till the Visa is ready, all to save a $1,000 or so.

So, who should ship all the stuff in a container? Well, Maybe you just bought all new stuff, or you have really nice stuff. Remember though, if you are bringing all your furnishings, you will have to look for a place to live in Panama, that fits your furniture and appliance, which can be a bit difficult.

Importing a car, sounds like a good idea, saving $1000 – $3000 in import duties, but you have to remember, it is a foreign car here, and mechanics do not always like that. Is your car popular here in Panama, many models are not? You car will have emission controls that do not exist in Panama. Your cars re-sale value will be greatly effected, as when you go to resell it, the buyer will have to pay the import duties that you did not pay, so consider bringing a car carefully.

Let’s recap which visa is best for you.


Pensionado Visa

Friendly Nations Visa

Retire Person who will never work again


Semi Retired, Looking to Add Income


Retired Panama Property Owner



Younger Professional Job Seeker


Younger Entrepreneur


List of 50 countries that qualify for the Friendly Nations Visa







Czech Republic












New Zealand

South Africa

















Great Britain




Costa Rica



Republic of Korea



Hong Kong


San Marino


* You may notice Italy is not on this list. Panama and Italy have a unique treaty called The Mutual Friendship, Commerce and Navigation Treaty, that allows Panama permanent residency for Italian Citizens.


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