The Ins and Outs of Getting a Work Visa with Employment in Panama
Panama has become popular with foreigners looking for new opportunities in a country with a lower cost of living, a warm climate, two oceans with lots of islands and beaches, and plenty of room to build a dream home.
Up until just a few years ago, most foreigners relocating to Panama were mainly pensioners and retired people seeking a less expensive means to live out their final years. With new immigration visas and a booming economy, however, Panama is reaching out to young professionals seeking to relocate with their families. And relocation for non-retired people usually requires finding employment or running one’s own business in Panama.
Fortunately, there are numerous ways for foreigners to obtain work permits in Panama. Here are some of the options.
The Friendly Nations Visa
In May of 2012 President Ricardo Martinelli issued a Presidential Decree allowing citizens of twenty-two countries considered friendly with Panama to quickly become permanent residents and to obtain work permits. Since then, further Presidential Decrees increased these friendly nations to forty-eight. Here is a list of the current forty-eight Friendly Nations:
Andorra, Argentina, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Costa Rica, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hong Kong, Hungary, Ireland, Israel, Japan, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Monaco, Marino, Montenegro, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Serbia, Singapore, Slovakia, Spain, South Africa, South Korea, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, United States of America, Uruguay, and the United Kingdom (Great Britain & Northern Ireland).
Panama has seen tremendous economic growth over the past few years, but has been unable to produce sufficient professional-level graduates to meet the associated labor demands. This visa is an attempt to resolve that issue.
In order to qualify for this visa, citizens of the forty-eight friendly countries must create “economic and professional ties” with Panama. This means buying an existing Panama business, starting a new business, or obtaining employment with a Panama company. “Professional ties” means working as a “professional”. Only Panamanian citizens are allowed licenses to work as architects, attorneys, engineers and medical and veterinary doctors, but all other professional fields are open to foreign nationals.
Another condition for this visa is a demonstration of economic solvency. This requirement is fulfilled by depositing $5,000 USD in a Panama bank with an additional $2,000 USD for each dependent (including the spouse and children up to 25 years of age if full time students).
Permanent residency is fast tracked through Panama immigration using this visa and once approved, the applicant can apply for a Panama Work Permit.
For those foreigners who do not qualify under the Friendly Nations Visa, here are additional options for residency and work permits in Panama:
The Marrakech Treaty – This is the international treaty behind the creation of the World Trade Organization. It allows temporary workers to live in Panama for up to five years. Only companies employing between 3 to10 workers being paid at least the minimum wage can qualify for this treaty. Only one foreigner can be hired and must be paid a minimum of $1,000 USD a month.
City of Knowledge Work Visa Program – Situated in the former Fort Clayton U.S. Army Base, City of Knowledge companies can apply for up to five special work permits for foreign workers. This work permit is valid for up to six years for foreign professors, businessmen, students, researchers, and technicians.
Ministry of Labor Resolution – Under current Panamanian law, only 10% of a company’s workforce may be comprised of foreign nationals. Through this resolution a company may apply for a special exemption above the 10% quota. The foreign worker must be paid at least $850 USD a month and the term of employment is limited to six years.
Marriage – Marriage to a Panamanian citizen allows for immediate application for a work permit.
Specialist Workers Visa – This is an immigration visa with a work permit for a maximum of 9 months. Panama’s National Service of Immigration has a registration of businesses dedicated to specialist’s activities. The immigration department issues rules and regulations defining what type of job titles or functions qualify as being “special”.
Foreign Domestic Workers Visa – This visa allows a Panama citizen or a permanent or temporary resident to employ foreigners to work as domestics for a term of 1 year and can be renewed up to four times. The visa covers cooks, maids, chauffeurs, nannies, gardeners, and butlers.
Cultural, Sports, or Educational Visa – With this visa, companies can hire foreigners to work for a single occasion on an artistic, cultural, musical, sports, technical, professional, educational or scientific event for a maximum of three months.
Short Stay Visas – These visas allow for up to 9 months stay in Panama for the following endeavors: setting up business subsidiaries; investigators and scientists conducting research for embassies or governments or foreign businesses; investors analyzing investment possibilities or to perform transactions in the Food Processors Zone for Export, Call Center, or special areas in order to develop the Audiovisual and Film Industry.
Temporary Residency Work Permits – These permits allow foreigners to live and work in Panama for up to six years in positions for the government, while executing small business contracts with the government, and while working with semi-autonomous companies, as executives or management for a Colon Free Zone company, as news media correspondents, or as non-diplomats working for a foreign government or international agency.
Special Temporary Resident For Special Reasons – This provides temporary residency for up to six years for all employees in the audiovisual or film industry (including actors, directors, producers, and technical support workers); Panama-Pacifico Special Economic Area employees; Panama Canal workers; foreigners employed by Call Centers for commercial purposes; foreigners hired by businesses inside the Food Processors for Export Zone; and foreigners hired as executives for an international company with a Panama subsidiary.
Resident visa applications are processed by the Panama Immigration Office. Requests for work permits are handled by the Ministry of Labor. A Panamanian attorney is required to complete both requests. Here is the documentation required for a Panama Work Permit Application:
- A letter of responsibility from the future Panamanian employer
- Two copies of the original full-time employment contract
- A Certificate of Professional Experience and the future employee’s school records, authenticated either by a Panamanian Consulate or by the internationally- recognized Apostille (an international certification comparable to a notarization in domestic law, which usually supplements a local notarization of the document).
- Eight passport-size photos
In conclusion, there are numerous ways to obtain work permits in Panama. You must hire a reliable immigration and labor law lawyer when applying for a Panama work permit after obtaining an immigration visa.
Prosperity awaits you in Panama!
About the Author: Panama Offshore Legal Services
Panama Offshore Legal Services is a law firm specializing in formation and management of Panama Corporations, Panama Foundations, Offshore Banking, Panama Immigration law, and Panama Real Estate law.
For assistance with Panama Work Permits and Panama Immigration Visas, visit Panama Offshore Legal Services