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Boquete, Panama

Panama's Friendly Nations Visa

By Betsy Burlingame

Kovalenko & Vera Attorneys at Law in Panama
Kovalenko & Vera Attorneys at Law in Panama

Summary: Panama's Friendly Nations Visa was introduced in 2012 and enables immigrants from 50 nationalities to easily obtain residency and a work permit.

Panama's Friendly Nations Visa

Panama introduced The Friendly Nations Visa (aka FNV) in 2012 to welcome foreigners from 50 nationalities who have a professional or investment relationship with Panama. At a minimum, applicants must have $5,000 in a bank account ($7,000 for a couple) and setup a Panamanian corporation. Friendly Nations Visaholders are able to apply for a work permit (Pensionado Visaholders are not allowed to work). The original 2012 decree contains a paragraph with the list of nationalities that qualify for the Friendly Nations Visa.

Benefits of the Friendly Nations Visa

  • Enables you to apply for a work permit
  • Does not require proof on income
  • Easy Process
  • Enables you to apply for a Cedula (national ID)

Applying for the Friendly Nations Visa

One expat in Panama wrote an incredibly helpful account of the steps involved in applying for the Friendly Nations Visa. That expat listed the basic steps as:

  1. Retain an attorney in Panama
  2. Form a corporation
  3. Establish a local Bank account
  4. Temporary Residency Appointment at the Immigration Bureau (Servicio Nacional de Migracion)
  5. Permanent Residency Appointment & Approval
  6. Apply for & Receive Cedula (National ID Card)

Documents Needed for the Friendly Nations Visa

The same expat also provided a list of the key documents to bring from your home country that are needed when applying for the Friendly Nations Visa:

  • Apostilled police record from federal police
  • Bank reference letter(s)
  • Bank statement
  • Utility bill
  • Valid passport with a least one year remaining
  • Second ID like drivers license

For US Citizens applying to the Friendly Nations Visa, the US Embassy in Panama provides information about: Getting Documents Apostilled by US Embassy and Federal Criminal Record Checks.

IMPORTANT: You will need some more documents like a health certificate or certified translations of some of the documents but those you must get in Panama.

Do I need a lawyer to obtain a Friendly Nations visa?

"If you are considering moving to Panama, you should contact an attorney to help you manage the transition. The U.S. Embassy cannot provide advice on legal or residency requirements," wrote the US Embassy in Panama. Most expats also agree that you should hire a lawyer to apply for a residency visa. Some expats debate whether Panama's Office of Migration Service actually requires you to hire a lawyer or if it's highly recommended. "Obtaining the Panamanian Friendly Nations Visa was simple for me and many people I know. My attorney handled all of the necessary requirements up front. I visited the immigration offices with my attorney one morning and by the afternoon of the following day I was issued my temporary visa id card. My permanent id card was ready three months later. In fact, when this visa [Friendly Nations] was introduced in 2012 it utilized a new team using a fast tracked process compared with the pensionado visa... And for the record, I've met several people who chose inadequate attorneys who waited as long as two years to obtain their visas (Friendly Nations and pensionado) and some who had to hire yet a second attorney to complete the application. Remember, there's no regulatory body policing attorneys here in Panama as in the first world such as the Bar association in the states," wrote one expat.

Is a Panamanian Bank Account Required or Advised?

"Executive Decree 343 mentioned that the foreigner of a friendly country visa, which proves economical, professional, or investment relationship with Panama, could obtain a permanent residence. Thus, if you have a job contract in Panama, a business in Panama, a property that can prove your relationship with Panama, you can apply to this visa. The decree does not specify either that you need to have a Panamanian bank account but to proof your economic solvency to Panama, which can be done through a bank account. If you call the Legal Department of Immigration, they will tell you that even a foreign bank account will work and satisfy this requirement. However, some lawyers advice to have a Panamanian Bank account, perhaps as proof of another economic tie with Panama. You can read the Decree in the following link," explained one expat.

How Do I Open a Bank Account in Panama?

Our articles, How to Open a Bank Account in Panama and Best Banks in Panama for Expats and Global Nomads offer detailed advice on the subject.

How Much Do I Need to Deposit in the Required Bank Account?

"You need a bank account in Panama with a certain minimum amount ($5,000 + $2,000 per dependent if applicable). My attorney advised me to deposit more than the minimum amount, because the immigration officer who approves your application exercises a certain amount of judgment about your solvency. The 'standard' amount for opening a Panamanian corp. (per my attorney) is $10,000. This is double the required minimum and leaves no question as far as your finances are concerned. (Also...welcome to the FBAR)," advised one expat.

How Do I Setup a Corporation in Panama?

"Your attorney in Panama prepares this, and you sign the papers. In my experience, this was not an immediate process. The papers need to be notarized (and this step alone takes awhile). Total setup time took a few weeks in my situation for the corp. to be formed," described one expat.

NOTE: When referencing Panama corporations, you may run across the term S.A., which means "Sociedad Anonima" and is similar to Corp. or Inc.

What Can I Expect at the Appointments at Immigration?

"I flew back to Panama. My passport was sent to the Immigration authorities to be "registered." This took 1-2 days. I laid low because I had no passport at this point. They stamped a 2" rectangle with a serial number and the word REGISTRADO inside of it a (you do not need to be present in the Immigration office for this). Next, the Panama bank issues a letter about you and gives it to your attorney. Also, you need a simple physical exam from a Panama doctor. All of this gets presented to the Immigration authorities who meet with you (after waiting in line all day at the immigration office). In my case, I remember getting assigned a number: "F-73" or something like that. You stare at the overhead flat screen monitors for hours... A 1-10, gets called first, then B 1-10, then C 1-10, then D 1-10, then E 1-10, etc, etc Then A 20-30, B 20-30, C 20-30... This took all day and the Immigration bureau was not that comfortable. I remember it as very overcrowded, with hard plastic seats (when you could even get a seat). There are people there of every description, some appeared to be very upscale with expensive jewelry and held passports from places like Spain, Portugal, Argentina. After waiting for hours, my number came up and I went to the window with my paralegal (who represented a number of applicants of which I was one). We spent a few minutes at the window, I signed a few forms, and the lady at the window 'flirted' with the paralegal the whole time (in Spanish). The officer asked me only one question (the paralegal told me to respond 'Yes")...I'm not even sure what the question was. At that point, they took my photo and printed off my Temporary Residency Immigration ID Card (called a "Carnet"). The Carnet is probably equivalent to a U.S. "Green Card" however, the Panama Carnet is mostly yellow and blue and has a gold seal in one of the corners. My head looks like it was squashed from the sides in the photo on the card (happens to everyone). The temporary carnet has an expiration date, listed on it and this card serves as your national ID in Panama until you can get more important credentials," described one expat.

Keep Your Old Passport

"For anyone in the FNV process who obtains a new passport from their home country: Your updated passport must be registered with the immigration bureau like your old one was. If you remember, your old passport has a REGISTRADO stamp on one of the pages, and a number written within the boundaries of the stamp. Make sure you take your new passport to your attorney's office so it can be registered also. You will receive a similar REGISTRADO stamp with the same hand-written number as was in the old stamp. They may also write "Traspaso" above the stamp which means "transfer." What the attorney may forget to tell you is that you also need to provide your *old* cancelled passport, as well as your original cedula for inspection by the immigration authorities," explained one member.

How Long Does It Take To Get a Foreign Nations Visa?

"Easy process, takes about 2 weeks if you have a good lawyer. Than they issue you a temporary residency and you can stay. Idk yet how long they will need for the final document to procude. My lawyer told me max 6 months. You will need some more documents like a health certificate or certified translations of some of the documents but those you must get in Panama," wrote one expat.

Do I need a Cedula in addition to the Friendly Nations Visa?

The Cedula is Panama's national ID card and it's needed for many daily activities in Panama. Once you have obtained your residency visa, you should apply for the Cedula. "I use my cedula at least 3X/week. It is the national identity card, is more widely accepted than a passport, and is more secure than carrying around a passport. It makes me feel like I belong. It was $65 well spent," wrote one expat.

"I have found that Panamanian people I deal with, particularly government officials and professionals, take us more seriously when we present a satchel up when we are asked for identification. It seems to be a sign that we respect our country and the people. Most people respect that," added another.

"I would agree with Jazzman. Especially when stopped by police patrols. I was just walking down the road in Panama City and a National Police cruiser rolls up. They seem to assume that all the gringos are here on tourist visas cause they never ask to see ID they always ask for a passport. I tell them my passport is at home and say but I have my cedula, which I show them. Completely, changes the tone of the conversation, they just say, OK have a good day then. It is valid for ten years but when it expires it is renewed free of charge. Only if you lose it do you have to pay a replacement fee. Therefore the $65 is a one time fee unless you are careless with it," explained another.

Can I Still Live and Work Outside Panama Once I Have the Friendly Nations Visa?

"Yes, you can obtain a Friendly Nations permanent residency visa yet live and work outside of Panama. The only restriction is that you can't reside out of Panama for more than a two year period. I have a friend possessing a Friendly Nations visa that lives and works in the US and returns just shy of every two years," replied one expat.

How Long is the Friendly Nations Visa Valid?

"The Friendly Nations permanent residency visa is indefinite, there is no expiration date," answered an expat.

Do I Have to Keep the Required Corporation Open Indefinitely?

"Good question. Rumor amongst several attorneys has it that you can shut down your corporation and close the required bank account after obtaining the Friendly Nations permanent residency visa. However, I would advise against it since they were requirements for your permanent residency visa. This is Panama (TIP) so they say, the rules and laws though undocumented can and do at times change on a whim. I reside permanently in Panama so maintaining a bank account is beneficial. I do maintain my required corporation for the Friendly Nations permanent residency visa by paying the annual $300 corporation fee. To me it's a no brainer to not have to worry. Your mileage may vary," advised one expat.

Are there Ongoing Fees for the Friendly Nations Visa?

"Regarding ongoing annual maintenance fees: The bank will probably charge an annual fee, and your attorney's office will charge annual fees for maintaining the board of directors for you and they will also charge you for the $300 corporation tax that is paid to the Panamanian govt. My attorney prepared papers indicating that I personally owned 100% of the shares of the company. There is also a treasurer and a secretary on the board of directors of the S.A., but they have no control over the S.A.'s assets In my case, I'm paying around $900/year in maintenance fees. And if I go the route of opening a company for obtaining the FNV, do I need to keep this company open indefinitely or how does that work?," explained an expat in Panama.

Other Resources

About the Author

Betsy Burlingame Betsy Burlingame is the Founder and President of Expat Exchange and is one of the Founders of Digital Nomad Exchange. She launched Expat Exchange in 1997 as her Master's thesis project at NYU. Prior to Expat Exchange, Betsy worked at AT&T in International and Mass Market Marketing. She graduated from Ohio Wesleyan University with a BA in International Business and German.

Some of Betsy's articles include 12 Best Places to Live in Portugal, 7 Best Places to Live in Panama and 12 Things to Know Before Moving to the Dominican Republic. Betsy loves to travel and spend time with her family. Connect with Betsy on LinkedIn.

Kovalenko & Vera Attorneys at Law in Panama
Kovalenko & Vera Attorneys at Law in Panama

Kovalenko & Vera Attorneys at Law in Panama
Kovalenko & Vera Attorneys at Law in Panama

Boquete, Panama


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