Getting a work visa
Getting a work visa in Panama requires, among other things, a criminal background check from your local police office (wherever you live now), a “good health” certificate, which you can get here fairly quickly and easily, and a job offer with contract. Generally, you would contact local companies, get a job offer, and pay a local attorney to help you with the visa (unless the company does all the paperwork).
Outside of special investment zones, Panamanian companies are generally allowed to hire foreigners up to 10% of their work force. If you have a special skill set, it might be easier for you to work here legally as the government or corporations often make special allowances. You can contact local headhunting agencies and networking agencies to start.
Alternatively, you may want to consider freelancing, consulting, or starting your own business. See below for some options.
Setting up your own business
The government of Panama has set up a number of attractive programs and special zones in order to attract foreign investors to its shores. If you think you would like to run your own tourism business (like a B&B, a dive shop, or nightspot along the beaches of the Pacific coast), then Panama is the place for you.
In 1994, Panama passed Law No. 8—the most modern and comprehensive law for the promotion of tourism investment in Latin America and the Caribbean. In return for setting up a business in Panama you’ll receive some very attractive tax breaks.
The Colon Free Zone
For those who have ever considered starting up an export business, Panama has what may be the best place to operate from—the Colon Free Zone. In this special zone, you can reap tax and financial benefits that are unrivaled anywhere else on the planet. Plus, you can gain easy, cost-effective access to a market of more than 500 million consumers in Latin America and the Caribbean.
The Colon Free Zone, located in the City of Colon, near the Atlantic entrance to the Panama Canal, is the second-largest duty-free zone in the world—second only to Hong Kong.
Since its inception in 1948, it has grown from a mere 120 acres to over 1,000 acres, is home to more than 1,600 companies from across the globe, and employs over 14,000 people. In the past five years, the zone has averaged annual sales of $12 billion.