How to move to Panama in 2022
While Panama gained its fame as International Living’s top retirement destination, people of all ages are becoming residents of Panama in 2022. Here’s why:
For one, people are taking advantage of the country’s residency options, which are some of the most welcoming in the world.
Before I continue, let me introduce myself, I’m Kara Patrick, owner of playacommunity.com and a relocation specialist in Coronado Panama.
My partner and I relocated from Toronto, Canada on the friendly nations visa just over 10 years ago. We work and live in Coronado with our kids (3 & 6 years old) who attend international school here. While the popularized list of reasons to move to Panama below fueled our relocation, our decision to move to Panama was ultimately based on our decision to prioritize doing the things we love (fishing, surfing, traveling) while providing a slower-paced life for our kids. There is no doubt that Panama has helped us obtain this lifestyle and given us the freedom to live it full time.
My goal in sharing these recourses is to help you navigate the path toward creating a lifestyle that serves you. Reach out to me directly at email@example.com or with the WhatsApp link below if you have any questions about moving to Panama.
WhatsApp So, Why Panama?
While Panama has access to empty beaches, sweeping mountain ranges, and authentic city life, Panama is a solution for many for the following reasons:
- the country’s foreign investor incentives
- it’s a territorial tax system
- Panama is a safe and politically stable country
- it uses the U.S. Dollar
- Panama is easy to access from most parts of the world and is central America’s international travel Hub
- it’s is comparatively and relatively affordable for most
- the country offers high-quality healthcare
- it has modern Infrastructure in most main cities
- and last but certainly not least Panama’s list of legal residency options and long term stay visas
This list is just the tip of the iceberg when discussing reasons why Panama is a solution for so many. This is not to say there is no downside to living in Panama. When relocating to Panama some find getting things done in Panama takes longer, especially the bureaucratic processes. There are also several months where government offices close, mainly Carnival and November and Christmas holidays. However, this depends on where you are coming from, some say these processes take even longer in other popular relocation destinations, for example, Portugal.
If you are thinking about moving to Panama, it’s a great idea to visit first. A longer visit (3 - 6 months) will help you find out if any of the downsides to Panama are deal-breakers and where in the country may best suit your lifestyle.
Canadians and Americans do not need a visa to enter Panama for a stay of 180 days or less. For other nationalities, it is 90 days. You can find out how long you are eligible to stay in Panama on the government website.
Since Panama is a small country, it’s easy to see a lot of what the country has to offer in a short time. There is also a lot of diversity, from climate to landscape.
Beach & mountain towns along the Pacific coast of Panama to visit:
Entry requirements to enter Panama as a tourist
*Canadians & Americans tourist entry (180 days or less)
Check here for other countries and other visa options including the remote worker visa.
- A valid passport with at least three months validity after the date of entry.
- Proof of onward travel, (this can be a bus ticket carrying on from Panama or a plane ticket to another country) does not need to be a ticket back to your country of origin.
- Panama also requires proof of solvency, which is either $500 USD in cash, traveler checks, or a bank statement.
- Immigration will require you to provide an address for where you will be staying in Panama.
Canadians and Americans can stay in Panama as a tourist for up to 180 days, but can only drive on a foreign license for up to 90 days in Panama. So if you plan on living in Panama, becoming a resident is a great idea.You can travel to Panama on a tourist visa and change your status at any time. If you have been in Panama for over 3 months, an immigration lawyer in Panama can help you to file an application to start the process of changing your status.
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Obtaining legal residency in Panama in 2022
Note: Immigration Information is subject to change.
The Retiree Visa
- Thre retirement residency visa requires that applicants show a pension of $1,000 per month (with $250 for each dependant). The requirement says specifically that it must be a pension handled by the government or a private retirement fund and the benefit must be for life.
- To apply you must work with an immigration lawyer in Panama and you must be 18 years old
- Apostilled federal police report showing that you have no criminal record.
- Apostilled letter specifying that you receive a pension of at least US $1,000 monthly and that the benefit is for life. The pension can be from a government or from a private company that handles funds for alimony and retirement pensions.
- Valid Passport with a minimum of six (6) months remaining before expiration, and a copy of the second form of identification, such as a driver´s license. Do not need to be apostilled.
- Six (6) printed passport-size photos.
- A Power of Attorney to prepare forms for your signature for the immigration process as well as the work permit.
The retirement visa is popular for a wide variety of reasons, for one it is obtainable for many North Americans, it also comes with a list of other benefits:
Benefits of the retirement visa in Panama:
- Import tax exemption for household goods
- Import tax exemption on a vehicle
- 25% discount on utility bills
- 25% discount on airline tickets and 30% on other transportation
- 15% discount on loans
- 20% off doctors’ bills
- 15% dental and eye exams
- 10% off medicine
- 50% of hotels Monday - Thursday and 30% on weekends
- 50% discount on movies, cultural and sporting events
The Friendly Nations Visa
While this visa option has been altered since it was first offered in 2012 it’s still a great option for many people. Click here for an updated list of “friendly nations” Through Executive Decree No. 226 of July 20, 2021
The Friendly Nations Visa grants a provisional residency permit for a period of two years for those who request permanent residency for the purpose of work or investment.
Eligibility for the Friendly Nations Visa
- Adult +18 for the main applicate spouses and children under 18 can apply as dependants.
- hold a bank account with a local bank (may be held in a corporation, company, or foundation). The bank account is only needed if there are dependents on the application. If so, the account should be in the name of the main applicant, and a minimum of US$5k for the principal and $2k are required.
To obtain this visa you need to show professional or economic ties with Panama there are three ways to do that.
- A Real Estate investment. This requires a public registry certificate that proves ownership of real estate with a minimum value of $200,000 USD. Note: the real estate investment can be financed by a local bank.
- A Financial investment. A fixed-term deposit requires certification from a bank with a general license to operate in Panama, of an account with a balance of $200,000 USD. The fixed deposit should be for at least 3 years.
- For Employment. This option requires a letter of employment, the signature of the legal representative of the employer, a public registry certificate, and notice of operation from the employing company.
There are more ways to obtain legal residency in Panama for a full list of immigration visa options in Panama email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or by Whatsapp with the link below.
Opening a bank account in Panama
In order to get residency in Panama, you will need to open a bank account. You can do this on your own, however often the process is easy with a lawyer, depending on the bank and country you are coming from. Foreigners are required to provide due diligence documentation which includes a copy of your passport, immigration entry stamp, second ID card, two bank reference letters, proof of income via tax returns, financial statement or letter from employer. You will also need a reference letter from a professional and progress of address such as a utility bill showing a personal residential address. All documents are required to have 3 months validity and must be translated into Spanish.
Note: Americans by law must report their bank accounts worldwide, Panama will report the opening of the account to the US.
Making Panama your tax residency
Depending on your previous legal residency, establishing legal residency in Panama and opening a bank account could be the first steps in making Panama your country for tax residency. Panama offers simple and low taxation so, making Panama your country of tax residency could be very beneficial, but it’s important to be transparent and work with a knowledgable accountant throughout this process.
Income tax rates for permanent residents who earn money in Panama range from 5% to 25%. If you earn under $11,000 annually you are not taxed locally, and 100% of income earned abroad is tax-free.
It is highly recommended that you speak with an international tax attorney about your specific situation when seeking to make Panama your country for tax residency.
Renting a car in Panama
When visiting Panama for the first time, you might want to consider renting a vehicle at your destination, as opposed to renting a car in Panama City. Driving in Panama city can be stressful, especially during peak traffic hours. With options like Uber and public transit, a car in Panama City is not a must. However, there are other beach towns on Panama’s Pacific Coast where it can be handy. It’s especially useful to have a car if you wish to travel around, as public transportation in the interior is not as assessable and consistent as it is in the city.
Renting a car in Coronado Panama is a great option as it skips over traffic city, and gets you transportation where you need it most. Car rentals in Coronado Panama will offer a transportation option like a private driver or shuttle from Tocumen Panama city’s International airport and the Scarlett Martinez airport in Rio Hato.
If you do choose to go with one of the major car rental companies in Panama like Thrifty, Budget, and Dollar it’s important to note that the advertised price typically does not include liability insurance. While paying with your credit card could lower the price of collision coverage, the liability insurance is always out of pocket and often charged on top.
So while the advertised price might look like $25 - $50/ day, generally speaking the minimum you will pay at the airport is about $35/day for a small economy hatch back like a Kia Picanto. This is a pretty standard rate for a small car in Panama depending on your desired rental term.
Rental Car services in Coronado Panama like Active Auto Coronado offer the option for pick up in Panama City from Tocumen Airport or your hotel with a private driver to Coronado, Panama. If you are relocating to Panama this is also a great opportunity to chat with a local for an hour and a half, to get their take on the community.
If you are flying into the Scarlet Martinez airport in Rio Hato Active Auto Coronado offers free transport to Coronado, Panama, or vehicle drop-off if you are heading in the other direction to the resort community of Buenaventura or beyond to the mountains of Boquete or the surf beach Playa Venao.
Long Term Car Rentals in Panama
When moving to Panama, most people eventually end up buying a car. However, for some renting long-term makes sense. One of the biggest reasons people choose to rent a vehicle long-term in Panama is because maintenance is covered. Maintaining your vehicle in Panama is almost never straightforward. Another factor might be the price drop, when renting a vehicle long term, as opposed to month by month, the price reduction is significant.
For example, the rental price for an Economy Hatchback for a year could cost you just $600/month, whereas month to month in high season (Nov-April) it could cost upwards of $900/month.
This Quote was provided by Active Auto Coronado for more info on long & short term car rentals in Coronado Panama
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Buying a car in Panama
If you are planning on being in Panama long-term, buying a vehicle is almost always a better idea than importing one. This is because generally speaking, it’s cheaper and easier to sell your car in your country of origin than to import it, even with the retirement visa, which exempts you from paying the import taxes. If you do choose to import, it is a good idea to see what parts are available for your vehicle in Panama first.
There are several ways to buy a car in Panama:
- Direct from the owner
- Direct from a used car lot or dealership
- Through an intermediary
With no kelly blue book in Panama used car prices in Panama are all over the map, an intermediary who knows the market is a common practice in Panama. Often times an intermediary can be helpful even when buying a new car in Panama, as they can help move along paperwork and even negotiate a better price.
There is also no CarFax or equivalent fact check of the car’s history in Panama, so knowing the car’s past can be tricky unless you are a mechanic. An intermediary will provide you with a mechanic to check the car over. If you are buying a car directly from an owner make sure to ask for maintenance records.
What car to buy in Panama
The three most popular car brands in Panama are Toyota, Hyundai, and Kia, the reason most people stick to these brands is that there is an abundance of parts and mechanics who know how to work on them. Since Toyotas are very popular in Panama, they tend to hold their value. If you’re looking for a Totoya 4x4 in Panama look for models that have been sold in Central America, for example, the Rav4 or Totoya Prado. Ask if the truck was purchased and maintained at Ricardo Perez (Panama’s official Toyota Dealership). This will help ensure the truck has not been imported. If the truck is in miles it has likely been imported and it is a good idea to ask for photos of the truck before it was imported, as many vehicles imported from the USA are insurance wrecks that are fixed upon arrival and resold. Asking for this information will help you understand the extent of the damage if there was any. If the car was purchased in Panama, the dealership can also help you review the car, and if it was maintained by them offer you a full history.
Where to buy a car in Panama?
There are a lot of used car lots in Panama City, but unless you are a mechanic or plan to take one with you, it might not be your best option when buying a used car in Panama. You can also look on encuentra24.com or Facebook marketplace if you are looking to connect with owners directly. Since encuentra24 charges to post a vehicle for sale it is often more reliable for information about the car, the owner, etc. That being said, it’s still a good idea to proceed with caution, never take a large amount of money to see the car or make a deal without making sure the paperwork checks out.
Find for sale by owner options is the playa community classifieds here.
Transferring ownership of a car in Panama
The most common way to pay for a car in Panama is with a certified check from a local bank. However, before you pay for the car it is important to ensure the owner is the person you are paying. If the car has been financed, it must be paid off, and then transferred, in this case, the process can take much longer. While it’s not recommended to pay for the car before it’s in your name, often the owner will require a deposit. An Intermediary can help ensure this all goes smoothly and efficiently, simply by knowing how the process works in Panama.
A common fee for an intermediary is 5% of the cost of the vehicle. This includes the inspection of the vehicle, handling the negotiation, purchase, and delivery of the vehicle. This contact can also help set up insurance and do the transfer in the most efficient risk-free way.
For help finding a vehicle in Panama click here.
Buying property in Panama
When you are buying real estate in Panama it’s a great idea to work with one trusted real estate broker, who knows the market in the specific neighborhood you are looking in. When looking for Real Estate in Panama you will likely see the same property listed by many agents, this can be confusing and frustrating, even more so when the price and property details differ from listing to listing. A way to help mitigate this frustration is to engage a broker to filter through the listings on your behalf.
Once you have found a broker it is best to run all your properties of interest through that main point of contact. If your broker sets up the appointments it gives you their guidance through the process. They might ask questions about the property, specific to Panama for example if it has a tax exemption, or how it has been registered in the public registry.
If you are able to provide your contact with a good idea of your goals for a property in Panama, they will be able to work with partner brokers to find all the options available and present them to you in an organized and informative way. If you don’t feel like your contact has been able to do that, you should keep looking.
Playa Community works directly with The Eisenmann Companies Inc. Lic. # PJ-0518-07 a boutique real estate brokerage in Panama City with 30 years of specializing in Panama Pacific Beach Real Estate.
WhatsApp & make the connection to find the real estate opportunity you are looking for in Panama. Or reach out by email at email@example.com
What to Look for when buying property in Panama
If you are able to narrow down a list of ’non-negotiable,’ for example min. 3 bedrooms, pool, min 2 bathrooms. And then ’nice-to-have’ features like walking distance to the beach, bathtub, etc. it will be easier for your realtor to narrow down your options. This will help you to understand if what you are looking for is available in your budget in the current market.
If you are looking at condos or apartments as options it might be a good idea to think about the maximum monthly maintenance fee you would be willing to pay. Also, if the development has been recently updated as this could end up costing you a lot of unexpected maintenance payments. The monthly maintenance fees vary from project to project and often are dependent on the size of the unit.
When you set up showings, ask how long the property has been on the market. When was the last time the property was renovated? Ask your broker if they can see any issues in the construction, for example, filtration, which is a common problem in Panama due to heavy rains in the rainy season. Another great way to get an inside scoop is to speak to residents in the building. You lose nothing from asking around and finding out what other residents have experienced living in the development or neighborhood.
Property Taxes in Panama
Property tax is another huge savings in Panama, as you don’t pay tax on the first $120,000 of your principal home. Moreover, if you are buying a newly constructed property there is a possibility of a 10-15 year tax exemption on the improvements (construction). If you are buying a previously constructed home above $120,000 taxes increase, but it is a sliding scale, that keeps property taxes comparatively in check no matter what price range you are buying in. For example, a $200,000 home in Coronado would cost about $1000/year in property taxes depending on how it is registered.
Health insurance options in Panama
Note: As of January 2022, Panamanian insurance companies will keep a record of vaccinations or a letter of exoneration in order to be approved for insurance in Panama.
There are a lot of affordable health care and health insurance options in Panama. For many, moving to Panama can mean significant savings on health-related costs, including insurance and medical care. In Panama, health insurance costs are a fraction of what they are in North America, but what is important to note is that the quality of care available in most cases is extremely high.
Panama has a two-tier health system, which includes public and private hospitals in its offering. Insurance, local or international, will cover you in most private hospitals.
Local insurance coverage in PanamaLocal insurance coverage works with a wide national medical network, which includes the vast majority of clinics and hospitals in the country, with the best specialists. Includes preventive medicine, 100% emergencies, hospitalization and consultations, maternity, laboratories, and x-rays. In addition, if there are emergencies abroad, many companies will reimburse you for the money used in that emergency.
International insurance coverage in PanamaInternational insurers have a wide medical network and a fast and efficient international service, which includes the vast majority of clinics and hospitals around the world, with the come of the best specialists. With international coverage, you can receive coverage like preventive medicine, 100% coverage on emergencies, hospitalization and consultations, laboratories, and x-rays. If you are interested in international coverage ask about travel service insurance.
Click here to connect with J2L Insurance to learn about Insurance options in Panama.
Overcoming Culture shock in Panama
So now that we’ve covered some of the logistics of moving to Panama like housing, bank accounts, visas, and transportation, let’s touch on a topic few are prepared for, something universally referred to as Culture Shock. Culture Shock is a cycle of feelings that often occurs during relocation. Experts say there are four distinct stages of Culture Shock, which are the Honeymoon Stage, Negotiation Stage, Adjustment Stage, and Mastery. While there is no sure way to prevent Culture Shock, acknowledging it can help you adjust to your new environment. To learn about culture shock in Panama and overcoming it click here.
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