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Living in Panama
18 MINUTE READ
July 15, 2022

Residence Requirements

  • If you are considering moving to Panama, you should contact an attorney (PDF – 292 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 of for information on other types of visas and residency, please visit the National Migration Service or Panama Tramita.

RETIREMENT BENEFITS CERTIFICATION

Panamanian authorities frequently ask for certification or verification of their income.  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.

Since this a notarial service, an appointment should be scheduled for this service using our online appointment system.   Be advised that an individual appointment should be made for each individual seeking a notary service.

On the day of your appointment, you must:

  • Go to the Cashier Window to pay the fee and obtain the Affidavit Form.
  • Provide 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 (e. social security statement).  If you do not bring your photocopies, Consular regulations require us to charge $1.00 each for photocopies we must 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.  Please print neatly.
    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 person seeking a notary service.  If appointment slots are unavailable in the upcoming months, please consider testing for your Panamanian driver’s license. Kindly follow Sertracen’s guidance on how to obtain a driver’s license in Panama for the first time. Alternatively, you may continue to check our website for potential cancellations.

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. Please note that the test can be done in English or Spanish upon your request to SERTRACEN.

If you choose to homologate your U.S. driver’s license to obtain a Panamanian driver’s license you should follow these steps:

  1. Schedule appointment online.
  2. On the date of the appointment, you should bring your valid U.S. driver’s license and a copy of both sides. Expired driver’s license will not be accepted by the Panamanian authorities. Consular regulations require us to charge $1.00 each for photocopies we must make in connection with affidavits.
  3. Upon arrival to the Embassy, please go to the Cashier window, to request an affidavit form, which you should fully complete. Please DO NOT sign the form. We have a standard affidavit form available for this purpose.
  4. The fee for this notarial service is $100.00 ($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.
  5. Visit the SERTRACEN’s webpage to review the additional requirements to complete the license homologation process.

Requesting a Disable Parking Permit in Panama

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

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

When applying for a disabled parking permit at SENADIS, 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 requires an FBI’s Identity History Summary Check, often referred to as a criminal history record or a “rap sheet” listing certain information taken from fingerprint submissions kept by the FBI in connection with arrests and, in some instances, federal employment, naturalization, or military service.

The U.S. Department of Justice Order 556-73, also known as Departmental Order, establishes rules and regulations for you to obtain a copy of your Identity History Summary for review or proof that one does not exist.

For complete information on how to submit a request of your FBI record please visit the FBI’s webpage.

Please contact the FBI for information on your fingerprint options, as the Consular Section does not provide fingerprint services for any U.S. government agency.

Getting Your Documents Apostilled (Certified for International Use) 04/05/2022

If you require an Apostille, you must submit the authenticated document to the U.S. Depatment of State, Office of Authentications. This service cannot be provided at the U.S. Embassy in Panama because we do not have access to the data files that would allow signature comparisons for this purpose.

Complete information on how to obtain an apostille stamp can be found at the Department of State, Office of Authentications webpage.