Panama is cracking down on residents without visas

Many of us are living in Panama without a proper residency visa. I did it for 3 years, leaving every few months to Colombia or Costa Rica and returning after a weekend break. There are thousands of gringos running businesses and living in Panama without a residency visa… and the government of Panama has had enough.

Per the U.S. Embassy in Panama: “The US Embassy in Panama would like to inform all US Citizens in Panama that on March 6th 2017, the Panamanian Immigration Authority (Servicio Nacional de Migracion-SNM) announced new guidance for Panamanian immigration officials on the enforcement of pre-existing regulations. According to the SNM, immigration officials have been instructed to be stricter about the enforcement of the regulation that foreigners entering Panama with tourist status prove that they are in fact entering Panama as tourists and not residing in Panama.” See the full text of the warning below.

Bottom line, Panama is cracking down on residents without Panama residency visas. You can no longer leave for a few days and return unnoticed. You must get a residency visa or risk being denied entry.

This means you must apply for residency immediately.  If you delay, and overstay your tourist stamp, you won’t be eligible for residency. If you leave and try to re-enter, you run the risk of being denied. It will then take months before you can get residency, if it’s ever approved. You will be barred from the country for a very long time, leaving your apartment, business, and stuff untended.

There are two ways for you to get residency in Panama. You can buy a property for around $350,000 and get a residency visa. If you’re 100% locked in to Panama, and have the cash, this is the way to go.

If you don’t want to buy real estate, and you’re from a “friendly nation,” then you can get residency with an investment of $20,000 in teak. For more information, see: Best Panama Residency by Investment Program.

  • Anyone who’s living in Panama without a visa must be from a friendly nation (US, UK, EU, etc). I can’t think of any exceptions.

If you’re operating a business in Panama, DO NOT use this corporation to get your residency visa in Panama. That would be a dire mistake!

When you apply for residency using your active business corporation, you must begin to report your revenue and expenses to the government. You must also begin filing a tax return and open yourself up to audit. Using your corporation risks all kinds of headaches and issues, especially as a gringo in Panama who the revenue agent would love to “get” for a nice fat tax bill or bribe.

I can tell you from experience, if you have an active business with foreign source income in Panama, such as an internet marketing firm or online business, you don’t want to use it to apply for residency. Of course, if you’re operating a bar or restaurant with local source income, it doesn’t matter. You’re already filing and paying taxes on the business in Panama.

This is all to say:

  • If you’re living in Panama without a residency visa, you must get one ASAP.
  • If you want to buy a home in Panama, you can get residency that way.
  • Everyone else, including retirees and business owners, is better going through the $20,000 reforestation visa / teak program.

I hope you’ve found this article on Panama cracking down on residents without Panama residency visas to be helpful. For more information, please contact me at info@premieroffshore.com or call us at (619) 550-2743.

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From Panama News. You can read the Act in Spanish on the top of their page.

US Embassy message for US Citizens in Panama

March 15, 2017

The US Embassy in Panama would like to inform all US Citizens in Panama that on March 6th 2017, the Panamanian Immigration Authority (Servicio Nacional de Migracion-SNM) announced new guidance for Panamanian immigration officials on the enforcement of pre-existing regulations. According to the SNM, immigration officials have been instructed to be stricter about the enforcement of the regulation that foreigners entering Panama with tourist status prove that they are in fact entering Panama as tourists and not residing in Panama. Since the announcement, the Consular Section has received many questions from US citizens about this new guidance. Below are the most frequently asked questions along with the responses the Consular Section received from the SNM. Should you have further questions, please reach out to the SNM directly via phone at 507-1800 or visit their website at: http://www.migracion.gob.pa

In order to re-enter Panama on tourist status, does a US Citizen need to return to their country of origin (the country from which they came into Panama) or can they return from a third-country (example: Costa Rica)?

Answer: In the new guidance SNM does not specify if the tourist needs to return his/her country of origin. What is being implemented is that, in most cases, the person needs to leave Panama for a minimum of 30 days before reentering as a tourist.

In order for a person to re-enter Panama on tourist status, what is the minimum amount of time the person needs to spend outside of Panama?

Answer: The new requirement that is being implemented by SNM in reference to time spent out of Panama is a minimum of 30 days before applying for admission, in most cases.

In order for a person to re-enter Panama on mariner visa status, what is the minimum amount of time the person needs to spend outside of Panama.

Answer: According to SNM, mariner visas are valid for 90 days and must be renewed on the 90th day, or the day before, from the date of the previous mariner visa stamp. Mariner visas can only be renewed once before the visa- holder needs to exit Panama. The amount of time the person with the mariner visa needs to stay outside of Panama is not specified by SNM.

If entering Panama on tourist status, does the method of entry need to match the method of exit (i.e. can a US Citizen enter Panama on a plane and use as proof of exit evidence that they own a boat in Panama and plan to exit via boat)?

Answer: The method of entry and exit into and out of Panama does not have to be the same so long as the entries and departures are met legally by using established Ports of Entry – land, maritime or air and admitted by a Panamanian immigration officer.

Do US Citizens with legal Panamanian residency status also require a roundtrip ticket when entering Panama?

Answer: No. A foreigner with legal residence in Panama does not need to show proof of exit from Panama.

Is a person applying for Panamanian residency required to stay in Panama for the entire duration of time required to complete the residency process? If so, what happens if the process takes more than the allotted six months for tourist status.

Answer: If the person has an ID that shows that his/her residency is in process, the person is fine to leave and return to Panama. If there is no ID, then the person should exit as a tourist (i.e., before the sixth month approaches).

How long does the FBI Identification Record process, required for purposes of obtaining residency in Panama, take? Can this process be expedited?

Answer: For information on the FBI identification record process, individuals may visit https://www.fbi.gov/services/cjis/identity-history-summary-checks. According to the FBI website, the current turnaround estimate for these records is 12 to 14 weeks plus the amount of time the results may take to arrive in the mail. Currently there is no option to receive the response electronically. For questions on this topic, individuals may call (304) 625-5590 or write an email to identity@ic.fbi.gov

Tourists are only allowed to drive in Panama for 90 days. Is there an exception for this given that tourists are allowed to stay in Panama for 180 days?

Answer: According to the Transit authority foreigners that enter Panama as tourists are not permitted to obtain Panamanian drivers’ licenses and are only allowed to drive with a foreign license for 90 days. There are no exceptions to this rule.

Can SNM waive the FBI Identification Record process if a person does not exit Panama for two years? If so, would there be an exception to the 180 day stay limit for tourists for a person trying to obtain this waiver?

Answer: If a person stays in Panama for more than two years then the FBI requirement does not apply. The waiver of the FBI requirement applies to those people that stay in Panama two years, without exiting. In these cases, a fine is paid by the person for overstaying their tourist visa and the person is only required to present a PNM police record rather than the FBI check.

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