The Pensionado (Pensioner, Jubilado) Visa is arguably one of the most popular residence paths in Panama, and in the world. Although there are few public statistics about yearly applicants, international media has kept the program in the spotlight during the last decade.
There are some good reasons for this. Panama makes residency very accessible to foreign retirees and pensioners. They also enjoy the same discounted benefits that local retirees are granted by law. And you can top that off with the beautiful weather and the warmth of its people.
In this article, PanamaKeys will review the key points about how to obtain a Pensionado Visa and share lessons learned from two testimonials. We will develop this subject as follows:
The Panamanian Government summarizes the Pensionado Visa requirements as follows:
- The applicant must have sufficient means to cover his/her cost of living, with a minimum monthly pension or annuity of $1,000 USD or its equivalent in another currency.
- If the applicant owns Panamanian property valued at more than $100,000 USD, the accepted monthly pension drops to $750 USD.
- The applicant must receive this monthly pension from a foreign government, international organization, or private corporation.
- The application must be accompanied by a full copy of the applicant’s passport, authenticated by a Panamanian notary.
- Foreign documents must be apostilled by the applicable government entity or authenticated with the corresponding Panamanian Consulate and then translated to Spanish by an authorized Panamanian translator.
- A Power of Attorney (POA) must be given to a local lawyer to represent the applicant and file the application.
You will notice it’s NOT mandatory to be retired to apply for the visa. The applicant only needs to provide a letter from an authorized organization confirming the availability of a pension for life.
A POA is mandatory because there are requirements that the applicant must meet regarding other immigration laws.
For example, Kraemer & Kraemer’s website points out that you also need to provide a criminal record (e.g. FBI background check with finger prints for US citizens) and a good-health certificate issued in Panama. An additional $250 of income is required for each family member in your application (e.g. spouse or children). Couples must also include their marriage certificate.
Every case is unique. For that reason, the first step is getting an experienced lawyer with a stellar reputation by your side. PanamaKeys will be glad to provide you with quality references.
The process to obtain the Pensionado Visa is relatively simple. Once you choose a lawyer, you will be provided with a list of documents you need to gather from your country of residence.
As mentioned above, foreign documents must be authenticated or apostilled, and translated to Spanish. Some documents cannot be older than 6 months (while some attorneys will argue 5 months) at the time your application is submitted to the immigration office.
You will need to visit Panama when your application packet is ready for submission. At that time, the government will issue a temporary residence card. You will be required to have a photo taken at a Panamanian immigration office. Offices are located in Panama City, David or Santiago.
You can legally reside in Panama with the temporary residence card, but many expats choose to also obtain a multiple-entry visa and a Panamanian driver’s license.
This visit to get your temporary residence card, multiple-entry visa, and Panamanian driver’s license can usually be completed in less than 10 business days.
Why would you need a multiple-entry visa? Panamanian law states that if you exit Panama while holding a temporary residence card, and you don’t have a multiple-entry visa, you can be fined up to $2,000 upon your return.
The multiple-entry visa means 2 visits to the immigration office. You can apply for the multiple-entry visa the same day your application for residence is filed. However, the immigration office will likely keep your passport and return it in 1 to 3 business days with the stamped multiple-entry visa.
The immigration office normally takes less than 6 months to approve your Pensionado Visa application. At that time, you must visit the immigration office in Panama City to have your photo taken and to obtain your permanent residence card.
Your lawyer may recommend that you apply for a cedula afterwards. This is the national ID. It is the most accepted document for transactions in Panama. It allows you to cash checks or purchase a car with less required identification. It is also a requirement to apply for Panamanian citizenship.
While the immigration office issues the permanent residence card, the civil registry issues the cedula; an advantage for those who want to do business in Panama. The cedula adds about 2 more months to your process.
The cost for the Pensionado Visa includes government fees, legal fees, and your personal expenses to gather documentation in your home country.
Government fees range from $300 to $400 for one applicant, including the cost of the temporary and permanent residence cards, passport registration, multiple-entry visa, and the cedula application.
Legal fees depend on many variables. For example, these expenses will be different if there are one, two, or more applicants. Lawyers can also quote fees excluding the cedula process. They may also include other costs such as translation and authentication of documents.
Often, expats are willing to pay a premium for legal fees when they are escorted to the multiple locations required as part of this process. This is especially true when the applicant has limited comprehension of Spanish, when the applicant has limited knowledge of locations in Panama, or when the applicant visits Panama to take care of the temporary residence card, multiple-entry visa, and the driver’s license in one shot.
To offer a ballpark number, couples applying for the Pensionado Visa can expect total expenses between $3,000 to $4,000 USD.
Advantages for Retirees and Pensioner Foreigners
The benefits for women 55+ years old and men 60+ years old set Panama apart from any other retirement destination. These benefits apply to retired foreigners who live in Panama as well. Pensioners younger than these age limits can also enjoy the benefits.
The list of benefits includes discounts such as:
- 50% on entertainment venues, such as theaters, concerts, or movie theaters
- Hotels: 50% (Mon-Thurs) or 30% (Fri – Sun). If the hotel is all-inclusive, the discount is 20% and 15% respectively
- 30% on inter-provincial transportation
- 25% on restaurants and 15% on franchises
- 15% on services at private hospitals and clinics
- 20% on prescription drugs purchased
- 25% on residential phone and public water services
- 25% on the first 600 KW of electricity
In order to apply for the discount, the person must provide proof of age such as local ID or retiree/pensioner ID (jubilado / carnet de retirado).
PanamaKeys had the pleasure of meeting with two expat couples, now living in Panama. They shared with us their experiences going through the Pensionado Visa process.
Below, they touch on some of the highlights of this journey and some surprises they encountered. They offer some recommendations for you if you plan to take the same journey and make Panama your home.
Marcus & Lyndia
Marcus and Lyndia, a retired couple in their early 60s, are from Marietta, GA. After a life-long career in healthcare, they moved to Panama in August 2015. Their application for the Pensionado Visa was also filed that August when they obtained the temporary residence card.
After doing some online research, they first visited Panama in December 2014 for 10 days. They discovered the coastal area was too hot for them, but they fell in love with Boquete up in the highlands. Their look-see trip helped them make up their mind about moving to Panama so they decided to hire a lawyer they had met at a conference with International Living.
“We knew the cost of this attorney was higher than some of the others, but we assumed a more expensive lawyer meant a more experienced lawyer, and we found this to be true,” remembers Marcus. He and Lyndia were pleased with the process for obtaining their pensionado visas. Altogether, they spent roughly $4,000.
Their lawyer provided them with a list of documents to gather in the USA. Lyndia recalls, “You should expect at least 4 months to collect all the
required paperwork and possibly another 4 weeks to get the documents authenticated with the Panamanian consulate.” Their timeline was tight, considering their lawyer requested documents not older than 5 months to accompany their application.
Marcus and Lyndia were surprised to encounter more problems with the document-gathering process in the USA than with the pensionado application process in Panama. Lyndia remarked that she had to visit the Social Security office twice because the first income letter they were given was not signed.She says, “You must be patient when visiting the Social Security office. When they tell you that the wait time is 2 hours they really mean it.”
Lyndia also had to correct a misspelled name on her birth certificate because it did not match the name on the marriage certificate. This correction took 8 to 10 weeks.
They advise, “You want to keep your lawyer involved all the time. Take a picture of every new document you receive, email the picture to your lawyer, and have the lawyer validate its content.”
Marcus and Lyndia visited a local police station to do fingerprints and request their FBI reports. This cost $150 and took about 4 weeks to receive their criminal background checks in the mail.
Once they gathered all required documents – FBI background checks, birth and marriage certificates, source of income letter from the Social Security Administration, and copies of their passports – they sent the documents to the Panamanian Consulate in Washington DC for authentication.
The authentication cost about $125. You must provide a prepaid return address envelope (FedEx, DHL or other shipping service) so that the document
s are sent back to you or directly to your lawyer in Panama.
According to Marcus and Lyndia, “people at the Panamanian consulate are friendly. You can always call to ask for the status of your package. It takes 4 weeks to authenticate and return the documents. You have an option to pay extra for expedited service, but you don’t really need to pay extra if you plan ahead.”
Marcus and Lyndia started gathering the documentation in February, and their lawyer received the documents from the Panamanian Consulate in Washington D.C. in June.
When the couple moved to Panama in early August, their application was ready for submission. Their lawyer had an office assistant drive them around to all the required locations. It took 3 weeks to get their temporary residence card, multiple-entry visa, and Panamanian driver’s license.
Marcus says, “Having someone go with you every step of the process is a must-have especially when you’re not familiar with the area and you don’t speak Spanish. You need someone to help you!”
The couple moved to Boquete after obtaining the temporary residence card. They obtained the permanent residence card 3 months later. They then
obtained their cedula 5 months after the PR card was issued. This process was all covered in the lawyer’s quote.
Now in 2017, the couple is living happily in Boquete. They advise new expats considering Panama to experience the country for themselves first. Make sure you’re comfortable with the cost of living in Panama and with your range of available healthcare options.
Dale & Linda
Dale and Linda are from Knoxville, TN. Dale is retired from the military and Linda retired as a bookkeeper. They have been in love with Panama since their first visit in 2011. In fact, they purchased a property in Coronado back in 2012 and attempted to get the Pensionado Visa in 2013.
At that time, they agreed to work with a Panamanian lawyer, who provided them with a list of documents to collect. They quickly jumped to it but hit a roadblock with the fingerprint requirement for background checks.
Linda recalls, “I suffer from dry skin. Capturing my fingerprints with traditional means is very complicated.” She attempted, unsuccessfully, to complete a background check 3 times. So, the couple put their retirement plans in Panama on hold.
Dale and Linda continued visiting Panama frequently. Fast forwarding to 2016, they found a company in Atlanta who would capture the required fingerprints using digital technology. They decided to give the Pensionado Visa another shot.
The couple strongly recommends that you ask other expats who have the Pensionado Visa if they would recommend their lawyer. Linda recalls, “A lawyer we had known for a while quoted $4,000 USD for the Pensionado Visa. We felt it was too high. Some friends from a church in Boquete recommended another lawyer who quoted $2,500 USD, including multiple-entry visas and driver’s licenses.” The couple decided to work with the latter, a decision they do not regret.
Linda remembers that the process to collect the documentation in the USA was simple and took only 3 months – this included marriage certificate, background checks, and social security letters.
However, they decided to use the Apostille process (rather than the Panamanian Consulate) to authenticate their documents. The complete Apostille cost was only $28 and took two weeks.
The couple had all their documents mailed back to them. Once in their possession, they scanned the documents and emailed them to their lawyer who prepared their visa applications. The couple brought all the originals with them when they flew to Panama City in November 2016.
“Once the applications were ready, we went to Panama City for 1 week to obtain our temporary residence cards, multiple-entry visas, and Panamanian driver’s licenses. Our lawyer’s assistant drove us around and it was very easy to complete all steps,” Linda recalls.
Linda also adds, “One week of hotel in Panama can be expensive, especially for a couple who already has moving expenses. Search online for hotel discounts in Panama. You’re likely to find good deals.”
Four months later, in March 2017, the couple’s lawyer informed them that their Pensionado visas were approved. The couple plans to visit Panama City in April to obtain their permanent residency cards.
Dale and Linda have managed to keep the cost of the Pensionado Visa under $3,000 USD, including government fees, legal fees, and all paperwork collected in the US.
As of 2017 Panama remains a top choice for expats. The Pensionado Visa Program is a big reason for that. Just as in past years, there’s simply nowhere else that combines incredible history, proximity to North America, a major metropolis, below average cost of living, first world shopping and quality entertainment.
Combined with rapid infrastructure improvements throughout the country and the incredible incentives offered through the Pensionado Visa residency program, why not Panama?
When you’re ready to make the move abroad, Panama simply has to be part of your choices. Do you want to have a conversation about all of the reasons that we like Panama? Let us know!
Did you find this article useful? Please share it with your family and friends!