Panama's Pensionado Program

Panama has put together the most appealing program of special benefits for retirees you’ll find anywhere in the world today…and it’s open to foreigners. The program outlines a series of senior discounts for retiree-age members. It also includes a permanent residence component for foreigners with pensions.

In Panama, resident pensionados or retirees are entitled to:

  • 50% off entertainment anywhere in the country (movies, theaters, concerts, sporting events)
  • 30% off bus, boat, and train fares
  • 25% off airline tickets
  • 25% off monthly energy bills
  • 30% to 50% off hotel stays
  • 20% off prescription medication
  • 15% off hospital bills
  • And more!

If you obtain residence in Panama via the Pensionado program, you’ll also be entitled to a one-time exemption of duties on the importation of already-owned household goods (up to $10,000).

And Panama’s track record speaks for itself. In some other countries, new laws have affected the status of long-time retirees, sometimes stripping away their residency. Panama’s government, however, has kept its pledge to grandfather in pensionado residents. That means that even if changes are made to the program in the future, you won’t need to worry about losing your benefits.

So how do you become a member of the oh-so-fortunate pensionado elite? It’s easier than you think. The main requirement is simple and straightforward: you must draw a pension of at least $1,000 per month to qualify.

By the way, there’s a way you can enjoy Panama’s great pensionado discounts even if you do not have a pension. Let’s say you become a legal resident of Panama through one of the below programs instead of the pensionado. You will be eligible for discounts on travel, medication, and more once you reach legal retirement age—just like Panamanians. (Retirement age for the purposes of the pensionado discounts is 60 for men and 55 for women.)

*If you’ve begun receiving your pension early (because of disability or any other valid reason) you are welcome to apply for the Pensionado Visa—and the discounts—no matter what age you are.

Panama’s “Friendly” Visa

Panama’s Friendly Nations Visa opens the door for professionals and entrepreneurs from  countries that “maintain friendly, professional, economic, and investment relationships” with Panama. Dozens of countries are on the list, including the U.S., Canada, and much of Europe.

The visa requires you to open a local bank account with a minimum balance of $5,000, as well as doing one of the following:

Applicants can do any one of the following to qualify:

  • Invest $200,000 in real estate. This can be a home you plan to live in or an investment or business property.
  • Deposit $200,000 in a Panama-based fixed-term account. You’ll earn interest and there’s no requirement to spend your funds on real estate or anything else.
  • Show evidence that you require permanent residency for work purposes. You can potentially earn a salary and become a permanent legal resident at the same time.

Tourist and Six-Month Snowbird Visa

Ready to check out Panama? Chances are you do not need any visa at all!

If you are from the U.S. or Canada:

You do not need a visa to enter Panama as a tourist. And even though Panamanian law originally stipulated a maximum stay of 90 days, the immigration authority prefers to offer reciprocity stays of up to six months.

Want to stay even longer?

If you decide to apply for residence while you are here, your Panama attorney can help you change your status from tourist to residence applicant—that way, you can stay here while your application is being processed.

Panama’s Easy Residence Options

by Jessica Ramesch

In my early years as a writer for International Living, I researched most of the countries drawing expats today. . There were (and still are) a wide range of options. One country welcomed retirees with a special visa. But the fine print? “Foreigners can own construction, but not the land it is built on. Another offered 10-year temporary visas, but not permanent residence. Yet another had a worrisome track record: it changed its retiree residence program and failed to grandfather in existing members. Meaning a large group of expats living there were suddenly stripped of their legal status.

Of course, no program is perfect. Virtually any residence application is going to take some time and patience…there will be paperwork to file and fees to pay. But few (if any) can even come close to outshining Panama for ease and cost of applying—not to mention a history of welcoming foreigners and allowing them to remain here.

Expats of all ages are being welcomed these days, so no worries if you’re not quite ready to retire. Panama’s newest residence options include a program remote workers wanting to sample life in Panama. The Temporary Telework Visa provides for temporary residence of nine months, extendable for another nine months, for a total of 18 months. The main requirements include proof of medical insurance and proof of income from a foreign source—at minimum $3,000 a month (or $4,000 a month for families).

There are other programs, too. A good Panamanian attorney—well versed in immigration law—can help you choose the best option for you. In some cases you can have your legal residence in as little as six months from time of application.

Of course, ease of obtaining residence won’t have any bearing on whether or not you’ll actually be happy in your adopted country.

If you daydream about sunshine, tropical beaches, and welcoming locals, then possibly Panama is for you. If you know yourself well…and you know you don’t do well without modern amenities, then Panama is probably for you. And if you consider a solid, growing economy and stable, business-friendly government to be essential to a free and happy life, then Panama may be a perfect fit.

The country has beaten out neighbors time and time again, topping indexes for everything from excellent Internet and cellular coverage to its international airport and award-winning, home-grown airline, Copa. If all that sounds good to you, maybe add “visit Panama” to your New Year’s resolutions. (And picture yourself on the beach this time next year.)