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Living in Panama
20 MINUTE READ
April 5, 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, 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 Aventura Business Center 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.

What to do if appointment slots are unavailable:  Although the Consulate has resumed routine American Citizen Services, appointments for notary services are limited.  If slots are unavailable in the upcoming months, please consider testing for your Panamanian driver’s license.  Kindly follow Sertracen’s guidance by clicking on the link:  https://www.sertracen.com.pa/licencia-primera-vez/  Alternatively, you may continue to check our website for potential cancellations.

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 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.