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Living in Panama
28 MINUTE READ
May 1, 2019

Residence Requirements

If you are considering moving to Panama, you should contact an attorney (PDF – 69 KB) to help you manage the transition.  The U.S. Embassy cannot provide advice on legal or residency requirements.

For information on how to apply for a “Retiree or Pensioner” Visa, please click here.

For information on other types of visas and residency, visit the National Migration ServicePanama Tramita or Panama’s Embassy in Washington.

RETIREMENT BENEFITS CERTIFICATION
INFORMATION SHEET

Dear Federal Retirees:

Panamanian authorities frequently ask for Embassy certifications in lieu of certifications from the Panamanian Consulate in the United States.  However, U.S. Consular regulations do not provide for Embassy certifications of retirement benefits.  They do permit formal affidavits sworn before Consular Officers.  As an accommodation to federal retirees, the Consular Section has prepared a standard affidavit form in Spanish and English because Panamanian authorities are more likely to accept documents if they are in a uniform format.  Consular regulations require a $50.00 non-refundable fee for affidavits.  The Consular Section cannot guarantee that the Panamanian authorities will accept any affidavit.

How to Complete a Standard Sworn Affidavit
To better serve our American citizen community in Panama, the U.S. Embassy’s American Citizen Services Unit uses an appointment system for notary services.  All individuals requiring notary services will need to make an appointment online. Be advised that an individual appointment should be made for each individual seeking a notary service.

On the day of your appointment, you must:

  • Obtain an Affidavit Form: You need to obtain the affidavit form at the Cashier’s Window of the American Citizen Services Unit at the U.S. Consulate in Clayton, Building #783.  Only those with an appointment will be able to obtain an affidavit form.
  • Prepare Original Supporting Documents and a Photocopy of Each Document: Gather original copies of your supporting documents (passport or two forms of photo identification, your bank statement, and any other documentation showing monthly retirement income and its source (i.e. social security statement).  Make a photocopy of each document.  The Consular Section will not accept the affidavit until the documents are attached.  If you do not bring your photocopies and do not wish to attach your originals, Consular regulations require us to charge $1.00 each for photocopies we have to make in connection with affidavits.  When filling out the affidavit, write “N.A.” if the item does not apply to you.  DO NOT SIGN THE DOCUMENT. You must wait to sign before the Consular Officer.  If any item is blank, Consular Officers will need to note this in the notary certificate, which could cause Panamanian authorities to reject the document.  Type or print the forms.  Panamanian authorities prefer typed forms over hand-written ones.  If hand-written, please print neatly.
  • Take completed forms to the Cashier’s Window, and make payment: Bring your completed affidavit; copies of supporting documents stapled to your affidavit; and your original supporting documents (including passport or two forms of photo ID).  The cost of each affidavit is $50.00 (non-refundable).

Purchasing Property

Buying Property in Panama? Here are a few precautions to consider:

Hire a reputable lawyer and perform due diligence before you buy. While most American citizens buy and sell property in Panama without incident, the Embassy frequently hears claims of fraud and corruption in connection with property purchased by U.S. citizens. Complaints include broken contracts, demand for extra payments, fraud, corruption and occasional threats. Americans should exercise greater due diligence in purchasing Panamanian real estate than they would in purchasing real estate in the United States. Engaging a reputable attorney and licensed real estate broker, both with credible references, is strongly recommended, as is including the option for mediation in any contract.

U.S. Citizens considering purchasing property in Panama may wish to contact the Real Estate Committee of the American Chamber of Commerce in Panama City at realestate@panamcham.com or visit the website at http://panamcham.com/es/committees/real-estate for further guidance.

Is the land titled or untitled?
Approximately 90 percent of the land outside Panama City is untitled, as is nearly all property in coastal areas and on islands. Rights of possession and concessions on untitled land increase the risk of ownership disputes even after the property is purchased.   Because different laws apply to different types of properties, it is recommended that buyers understand the type of property they are buying. Additional information on land titles is available through Panama’s Registro Publico (Public Registry).

Know the Panamanian System
The laws and procedures in Panama governing the purchase of property and acquiring a mortgage are different from the United States.  It is recommended that prospective buyers understand how the process works before purchasing property.

Judicial Recourse
The judicial system’s capacity to resolve contractual and property disputes is weak and open to corruption.  The World Economic Forum ranks Panama’s level of judicial independence to be 133 out of 142 countries in the world. The World Bank’s Doing Business in 2012 notes Panama is 120 out of 183 on the Registering Property measure, and 119 on the Enforcing Contracts measure.

For more information, please read the Department of State’s Investment Climate Statement.

Disclaimer: The U.S. Embassy does not provide legal advice. Consulting a reputable attorney and a licensed real estate broker prior to purchasing property is strongly recommended.

Obtaining a Panama Driver’s License

To better serve our American citizen community in Panama, the U.S. Embassy’s American Citizen Services Unit uses an appointment system for notary services.  All individuals requiring notary services will need to make an appointment online. Be advised that an individual appointment should be made for each individual seeking a notary service.

Tourists visiting Panama may drive with a valid driver’s license from their home country for a period of 90 days.  Residents must apply for a Panamanian driver’s license.  SERTRACEN is the entity contracted by the Government of Panama for the issuance of driver’s licenses.

To obtain your Panama driver’s license:

  1. Make an appointment online, bring your valid U.S. driver’s license and a copy of both sides to the American Citizen Services (ACS) section and request an affidavit.  A standard form is available at the ACS Unit. Licenses that are expired will not be accepted by the Panamanian Authorities. The fee for this notarial service is $50 for each signature of the Consular Officer. The current service requires taking an oath on an affidavit and certifying a true copy of the driver’s license. The service is $50 per signature, which means that the total service costs $100.  Consular regulations require us to charge $1.00 each for photocopies we have to make in connection with affidavits.
  2. Take your valid U.S. license and notarized documents to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for certification.  The MFA is located at: Plaza Sun Tower on Avenida Ricardo J. Alfaro (Tumba Muerto) by the National Bank of Panama.  Telephone number:  511-4045 or 511-4046.
  3. Obtain proof of your blood type, if your driver’s license does not include that information.  You must visit a lab certified by ATTT .
  4. Bring your residency documents, passport, valid license, notarized documents and proof of blood type to a SERTRACEN service center.

For up-to-date information on traffic conditions in Panama, we recommend two twitter links:

Requesting a Disable Parking Permit in Panama

Disabled parking permits in Panama are issued by the Secretaria Nacional de Discapacidad (SENADI).

SENADI’s office is located in La Boca, near the Freeway store, and its phone number is 377-0928.  SENADI is open from 9 am to 4 pm, Monday through Friday.

When applying for a disabled parking permit at SENADI, you must present:

  • Two passport-sized photos,
  • A copy of a Panamanian ID or a U.S. passport, and
  • A doctor’s letter, signed and stamped by the physician and addressed “To Whom It May Concern,” describing:
    • Your diagnosis,
    • Your symptoms, and
    • Any medical aid devices that you must use (such as a wheelchair or walker).

You will also have to complete a form with information about your car, such as the plate number, VIN number, make and model.

Criminal Record Checks for U.S. Citizens

Identification Record Request / Criminal Background Check

Panama is now requiring a Federal FBI Identity History Summary Check, often referred to as a criminal history record, for purposes of obtaining Residency in Panama. This criminal background check/criminal history record/rap sheet can no longer be just from the state in which you last resided.

This Record is a listing of specific information taken from fingerprint submissions retained by the FBI in connection with arrests and, in some instances, federal employment, naturalization, or military service. If you have been arrested in other countries, those arrests may also show up if your fingerprints were taken.

To Request a Copy of Your FBI Record.

To use the FBI Record in Panama, you must specifically request it be FBI-Certified it at the time of the request for the Record.  The FBI will return the document directly to you when completed, but it will not yet be Apostilled, or notarized for use as a legal document overseas.  The following note will accompany the record:

The FBI’s CJIS Division has authenticated the enclosed U.S.Dept of Justice Order 556-73 finger print search results…. If you require an Apostille, you must submit this authenticated document to the U.S. Dept of State (DOS) for further action.

You may contact the U.S. DOS at:
U.S. Department of State    518 23rd Street NW SA-1    Washington, D.C. 20520          Phone: (800) 333-4636

You will now need to forward the Record to the U.S. Department of State Authentications Office which will place a formal Apostille on the document for use in Panama and return it to you.  This cannot be done at the US Embassy in Panama because they do not have access to the data files that would allow signature comparisons for this purpose.

If the FBI finds no record, you will receive a “no record” response. If you do have a criminal history record on file, you will receive your Identification Record or “rap sheet.”

Submitting an Identification Record Request to the FBI

Step 1: Complete the Applicant Information Form

  • If the request is for a couple, family, etc., all persons must sign the form. 
  • Include your complete mailing address. Please provide your telephone number and/or e-mail address, if available.
  • Make sure to check the Live, work, or travel in a foreign country box

Step 2: Obtain a set of your fingerprints.

  • If you already have a fingerprint card, it must not be older than 18 months to be accepted by the FBI
  • For new cards, provide the original fingerprint card. Previously processed cards or copies will not be accepted.
  • Your name and date of birth must be provided on the fingerprint card. Fingerprints should be placed on a standard fingerprint form (FD-258) commonly used for applicant or law enforcement purposes.
  • Include rolled impressions of all 10 fingerprints and impressions of all 10 fingerprints taken simultaneously (these are sometimes referred to as plain or flat impressions that include both thumbs).

If possible, have your fingerprints taken by a fingerprinting technician. This service may be available at a law enforcement agency.  Taking of fingerprints in Panama is provided by the DIJ (Dirección de Investigación Judicial), located in Ancon, in front of the “Mercado de Abastos”, telephone: 512-2222.

You will then have to take the fingerprint card to the Panamanian Ministry of Foreign Relations to authenticate or Apostille the document before sending it to FBI Headquarters so that they will accept it as your fingerprints.

The Ministry authenticates the signatures of all the ministries and official offices in Panama except the Ministry of Government and Justice (Including the Public Ministry – Attorney General, Fiscales, etc.) and the signatures of official public translators. They may be reached at 511-4045 or 511-4046 or at fax 511-4061.  The fee for the authentication is $2.00, and the hours of operation are 8:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.  They are located in the Sun Tower Plaza, Ave. Ricardo J. Alfaro, on the First Floor

Step 3: Submit payment.

Obtain a money order or cashier’s check for $18 U.S. dollars made payable to the Treasury of the United States. You may get these from your bank or ask your lawyer to obtain one for you as part of the application process for residency.  Please be sure to sign the cashier’s check or money order where it is required.

In Panama, money orders will likely only be available at a bank where you have an account. We have heard that some banks are more receptive to opening accounts or providing services if you inform them that you are in the process of obtaining your residency.

You may also use the form I-786 Credit Card Payment Form downloadable from the FBI website to submit the payment.

Important note: Cash, personal checks, business checks, or credit cards WILL NOT be accepted for payment of the fees from outside the U.S.  Payment must be for the exact amount.

  • If the request is for a couple, family, etc., include $18 for each person.
  • If the request is for multiple copies per person, include $18 for each copy requested.

Step 4: Mail the required items listed above—signed applicant information form, fingerprint card, and payment of $18 U.S. dollars for each person or copy requested—to the following address:

FBI CJIS Division – Record Request
1000 Custer Hollow Road
Clarksburg, WV 26306

Note: Although the FBI employs the most efficient methods for processing these requests, processing times may take approximately five to six weeks depending on the volume of requests received.

Getting Your Documents Apostilled (Certified for International Use) 03/12/2013

Since October 15, 1981, the United States has been part of the 1961 Hague Convention abolishing the Requirement of Legalization for Foreign Public Documents. The Convention provides for the simplified certification of public (including notarized) documents to be used in countries that have joined the convention. Panama has also been a member since 1991.

With a certification by Apostille, the document is entitled to legal recognition in the country of intended use, and no further certification by the U.S. Department of State Authentications Office or legalization by the embassy or consulate is required.  

Most documents can be obtained on-line from the agency or organization that provides them.   This is usually the Vital Records section in a State or County agency.  

Documents requiring certifications with an Apostille by the U.S. Department of State are those that have been signed by a US federal official with the official Seal of that agency, The U.S. Department of State will not issue an Apostille for State Department – issued documents.

General Documents – For general documents such as Diplomas, Powers-of-Attorney, Agreements, Bylaws, Transcripts, Deeds of Assignment, Income Verification, and other business or legal documents, you must complete the following steps before submitting your request to the State Department.

  1. Have it acknowledged before a notary public;
  2. Have it certified by the clerk of court of the county in which the notary is commissioned
  3. Have it certified by the individual state Secretary of State or equivalent in which the document is executed.

Documents originating in the District of Columbia must be certified by the District’s Office of Notary Commissions and Authentications.

Note:  All seals and signatures must be originals and all dates must follow in chronological order. 

         Item 2 may be omitted if the authority in item 3 will certify directly to the notary.

All documents in a foreign language must be accompanied with a certified (notarized) English translation. If a copy of a document is used, it must include the statement that is a true and accurate copy.

State and Local Government Documents – For these documents and Court Records such as Birth, Marriage and Death Certificates, Divorce Decrees, Probate Wills, and Judgments, submit an original document that is:

  1. Certified by the custodian of those records (county clerks or state records offices)
  2. Certified by the Secretary of State of the State in which the documents are recorded. The Secretary of State should be requested to certify to the officials signing the document under the impressed Seal of the State.

Federal Agency and FBI Documents – For those documents executed by U.S. federal agencies and courts or District of Columbia courts, your document must have an original official signature and be Certified under the official seal of the agency or the Court. (Original Official Signature required)

Requesting Authentication Services (Apostilles) from the State Department

  1. Confirm that your document needs an authentication certificate or Apostille from the State Department.
  2. Ensure that you have all the required certifications for your document(s).
  3. Prepare a self-addressed stamped envelope or other pre-addressed, pre-paid return mailer for your request.

The Authentications Office will mail documents directly to a foreign embassy or consulate if you provide a cover letter, the correct fee, and a pre-paid (or stamped), pre-addressed envelope. Please enclose an additional self-addressed stamped envelope for the embassy or consulate to return the document.  If you do not include a self-address stamped envelope we will return your authenticated documents back to you.”

PS Form 2976, Customs Declaration CN22 – Sender’s Declaration, (PDF 160KB) must be used on all First-Class Mail International® package-size items (small packets), the Priority Mail International® Small Flat Rate Box, M-bags, and certain Express Mail International® items. Also use this form on a First-Class Mail International mail piece or the Priority Mail International Flat Rate Envelope.  Refer to the USPS International Mail Manual for more information.  You may also use Fedex or DHL to provide the mailing and return service.

  1. Complete form DS-4194 “Request for Authentications Service ”Your input to the form creates a unique bar code containing the information needed to prepare individuals certificates and mailing labels.  

5.  Send a personal/company check or obtain a Bank money order or Cashier’s check for $8 U.S. dollars made payable to the U.S. Department of State for each document to be authenticated. Cash or credit cards WILL NOT be accepted for payment of the fees from outside the U.S.  Payment must be for the exact amount.

You may get them from your bank or ask your lawyer to obtain one for you as part of the application process for residency. Please be sure to sign the cashier’s check or money order where it is required.

In Panama, money orders will likely only be available at a bank where you have an account. We have heard that some banks are more receptive to opening accounts or providing services if you inform them that you are in the process of obtaining your residency.

6. Submit request package to the Office of Authentications at the U.S. Department of State. Requests are accepted by mail, courier, or in person. The address is:

U.S. Department of State – Authentications Office  202-485-8000
600 19th Street, NW    Washington, DC  20006

The average processing time for mail-in requests is 10 business days from the date of receipt from the Department mailroom (different from the date of delivery for most tracked packages) to the date of return to the Department mailroom. Use of tracked mail delivery will expedite handling of your request by mailroom and may prevent damage to documents caused by irradiation of USPS regular mail.