An official website of the United States government

Living in Panama
July 5, 2023

Residence Requirements

If you are considering moving to Panama, you should contact an attorney (PDF – 292 KB) to help you with 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.


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.  For information on how to obtain this affidavit, please visit the Notarial Services section of our webpage.


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 strongly encourages that U.S. citizens exercise due diligence in purchasing Panamanian real estate.  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 Panamanian Driver’s License

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

Two options exist for foreigners seeking to obtain a Panamanian driver’s license.


A resident may “validate” their U.S. driver’s license, a process containing several steps. This includes scheduling a notary service with the U.S. Embassy, visiting the U.S. Embassy in person for your notary appointment, and then completing the additional local requirements, as defined by SERTRACEN.


A resident may opt to take the Panamanian driver’s license test. The test is offered in Spanish or English. Under this option, there is no need to schedule notarial services at the U.S. Embassy. Please note that U.S. citizens resident in Panama have reported to ACS the ease and convenience in taking the English version of the Panamanian test.

Kindly follow Sertracen’s guidance  on how to obtain a driver’s license in Panama for the first time via this test.


  1. Schedule a notary appointment online with the U.S. Embassy. Walk-ins or appointment requests by phone or email are not accepted. Individual appointments should be scheduled for each person seeking a notary service.
  2. On the date of your appointment, bring your valid U.S. driver’s license, and a one-sided photocopy that contains both the front and back of your U.S. driver’s license. Expired driver’s licenses 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 follow the guidance of the consular greeters who will direct you to a consular employee that will provide you with the necessary affidavit form and pay slip. Take this play slip to the consular cashier and pay the necessary fee. Next, take a seat and carefully fill out the affidavit form, taking caution to avoid any typos. Once this is complete, you will sign and date the affidavit form in the presence of a consular officer.
  4. Continue the process with SERTRACEN. Visit the SERTRACEN ’s webpage to review the additional requirements to complete the license “conversion” process.

The fee for this notarial service is $100.00 ($50 for each signature of the Consular Officer). USD cash, Visa, and Mastercard are accepted.

Requesting a Disable Parking Permit in Panama

Disabled parking permits in Panama are issued by the Secretaria Nacional de Discapacidad (SENADIS).  For information and requirements to obtain a disable parkin permit please visit the SENADIS webpage.

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) 

If you require an Apostille, you must submit the authenticated document to the U.S. Department 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.