Panama Retirement - Part III

Visa & Benefits * Health Care * Culture

Panama retirement facts you should know: visa requirements, residency options, health care, culture and entertainment.

Visa Requirements

If you are from the U.S., Canada, Europe or many other countries you don't need a visa to enter Panama. All you need is a passport that is at least valid for 6 months from the date of entry. 

As a tourist, you can stay up to 90 days in Panama. Until March 2017 it was rather easy to stay longer. You'd simply hop over to Costa Rica and re-enter Panama after a few days to get a new tourist card.

Not any more! Panama is cracking down on these so-called "perpetual tourists," i.e. foreigners who live in Panama without obtaining residency. You cannot renew your Panama Tourist Visa unless you leave Panama for at least 30 days. 30 days is quite a long time when the center of your life is in Panama!

What does that mean for you? If Panama is your top choice for living or retiring, you need to get residency. 

Amador Causeway in Panama CityThe Amador Causeway in Panama City. Great for walking, cycling or having a bite in one of the many restaurants.

Panama Retirement: Residency Options

The two most popular and affordable residency Visas are the Pensionado Visa and the Friendly Nations Visa.

Pensionado Visa

Panama's pensionado program is amongst the best ones in the world. The visa process is fairly simple and inexpensive. Once granted, you have residency for life in Panama. 

How do you qualify? You will need evidence of your pensioner status and a state or private pension of at least $1,000 per month. For your spouse (or a dependent person, i.e. a child), you need to prove an additional $250 per month for each dependent.

If you purchase $100,000 in Panama real estate, the monthly income requirements are reduced to $750.

The Embassy of Panama in the U.S. provides a good overview over the documents you need to apply for the Pensionado Visa.

Benefits that come with the pensioner visa include:

  • One time import tax exemption for used household goods up to $10,000
  • Every two years, import tax exemption for a car
  • Between 10% and 50% discounts on entertainment, travel fares, airline tickets, hotel stays, hospital bills, closing costs for home loans and others.

You also get those discounts without the pensionado visa, if you are a resident of Panama and over the age of 55 (women) or 60 years (men).

The one thing you cannot do with the Pensionado Visa is to work in Panama. So, if you'd like to start a business, or work for a Panamanian company, the next visa may be the better option for you.

Friendly Nations Visa

The Friendly Nations Visa is ideal if you are not retired (yet) and/or you cannot prove a lifetime income, like Social Security or a Pension. 

How do you qualify?

  • Be a citizen of one of the currently 50 countries that Panama defines as maintaining "friendly, professional, economic, and investment relationships with the Republic of Panama.”
  • Have at least US$ 5,000 in a Panamanian bank account. For each dependent, you need US$ 2,000 more.
  • Prove you have "economic ties" with Panama. You can do this by opening a business, getting a job at a Panamanian company or buying titled property.

LivingInPanama.com has written an excellent article about the Friendly Nations Visa, including a list of the 50 "friendly" nations.

Healthcare

Compared to Europe and North America, health care in Panama is less expensive, but has the same high standards. Many of the Panama doctors are trained in the U.S., Canada or Europe and speak excellent English.

There's a public and a private health care system in Panama. If you work in Panama, part of your salary is deducted as contributions to the public health care. In return, you'll receive free health care and medication from the clinics within the Social Security System (very similar to the system we have in Germany).

As a foreigner however, you will most likely opt for private health care. You can either cover your expenses out of your pocket, or get health insurance from one of the local providers.

The younger you are, the less you pay: comprehensive plans for people in their 20s and 30s cost as little as $50 per month. Good plans for people aged 40+ range between $80 and $180 a month.

A visit to a general practitioner will set you back about $20 to $45. Many medications are cheaper than in the U.S. and Europe and can be bought over the counter.

The most popular private hospitals in Panama City are:

  • Hospital Punta Pacifica
  • Clinica Hospital San Fernando
  • Hospital Nacional
  • Centro Medico Paitilla

Culture & Entertainment

Whether you are an outdoor person, a movie addict, a museum lover or a gourmet, Panama has a lot on offer to satisfy your gusto.

Mountain hiking, beach walking, snorkeling and diving or exploring the rain forest, even within Panama City - the Parque Natural Metropolitano boasts 265 ha of rainforest just 10 min from downtown.

After enjoying the physical activities, you might want to give your brain something to do. For example, you could visit the historic Casco Viejo district in Panama City (a World Heritage site) or one of the many museums in the urban centers and the Canal Zone.

Panama City: Publich square in Casco ViejoPublic square in Casco Viejo. Many buildings are restored. Some - as in this picture - still have the old facade.

Speaking of the Canal Zone, a visit to one of the locks is an absolute must. Standing on top of the building at the Miraflores Locks, watching ocean liners, freight ships and tiny looking sailing boats line up and float through the locks is a one-of-a kind experience.

And what about shopping in Panama?  Glad you asked. Panama is home to the second largest duty-free zone in the world. This means that you can buy luxury goods from all over the world at bargain prices.

The capital boasts four large shopping malls,  numerous trendy boutiques and less trendy, but cheap department stores. The "Multicentro Shopping Mall" in Balboa Avenue even claims to be the largest shopping center in all of Central America!

If you are into partying, you won't be disappointed either. Apart from the ubiquitous clubs and casinos in Panama City, there are many festivals and folkloric traditions celebrated in different parts of the country.  

The biggest one being - of course - the Carnaval festivities in the month of February. 

Retire in Panama - Part I

Facts for your Panama retirement:  Cost of Living * Climate * Infrastructure & Internet Access

Retiring to Panama - Part II

Facts for your Panama retirement: Education & Schools * Safety * Real Estate

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