I'm putting this blog out there today for a couple of reasons. First, I have several clients making use of this particular visa, so it will be fast and easy to refer to my blog, but secondly, and more importantly is that it just may not be around much longer.
There have been a number of changes since the new president took office here in Panama this summer. He has sharpened up the presence of police in the streets, placed price caps on certain food items, gotten tough on crime gangs, and is getting tougher on immigration. It is rumored (I say rumored because I haven't taken the time to confirm for myself) that the so called "melting pot" visa is to be eliminated. I don't know much about it, but from what I hear, it's like a 3 day immigration marathon, where illegals and people who don't normally qualify under normal parameters can sit in a stadium for 3 days solid and make themselves legal.
With the end to this program, it makes me wonder if it is only the beginning. So, I post this blog to help you along, to qualify for the Friendly Nations Visa while it still exists. It is unique in the fact that it allows you permanent residence AND the ability to get a legal work permit. To live just like a local.
So here is what you need:
1) Criminal report from all the applicants (from FBI for Americans, and RCMP for Canadians),
2) Marriage Certificate if you are married,
3) Eight passport sized photos,
4) A complete copy of your passport, from cover to cover. Every page,
5) A copy of another photo ID, for example, driver's license,
6) A utility bill for your property here in Panama. Not important if you are renting, or if you own. A rental agreement or Hotel reservation will even work for this.
Now, the first two documents need to be legalized in your home country. A public notary can do this for you. In Canada, an attorney can do it as well, but I'm unsure about the USA. Once notarized, they need to go to the Panamanian Embassy, or Consulate for their OK. In Canada, you may need to send these documents to the Department of Foreign Affairs before the consulate as well. It would be wise to confirm that with the Panamanian Embassy. Don't do all of this too early, because many of these documents expire after 3 or 6 months.
In order to qualify for this visa, you will also have to have a Panamanian bank account. Normally, your immigration lawyer can assist you with this. I have attempted to assist a few clients but it can be time consuming, and the lawyers are better suited to it. This account will have to have a minimum of $5000 USD plus $2000 for every dependant that will be applying.
You must prove employment, or the promise of employment. In order to do this, you will have to set up your own corporation, and hire yourself to run it. There, you have a job. (If you really do have a job, then no company required). The lawyer will take care of this step for you as well. The cost is normally in the $1000 dollar range. You will have a further expense of $300 dollars per year to renew your Tasa Unica (keeps your company on the books) and $250 per year for your resident agent, which is usually your lawyer as well. This is the government's contact if they need to speak to the confidential owner of a corporation. That $250 dollar fee may vary with what attorney you choose, but I'm not 100% on that.
The fees involved with the visa itself look like this. There is an $800 dollar "repatriation fee" for each applicant, and $250 for the National Treasurer (just a fee I guess) for each applicant. Legal fees will be additional and could run around from $1200 to $2500 per person.
That leaves you at about $3500 for the lawyer, and another $1000 or so in fees. Probably a pretty average figure of $5000 dollars if you get shopping from firm to firm, but I would definitely advise doing your own price shopping. You need to be sure to get an all in price, because charges and fees, translations of documents, stamps, temporal cards, permanent cards, and multiple entry visas will just keep coming, it is a long process, and there are many steps involved.
Here's a little bit about the process. To start, once you have all your documents, bank accounts, corporation etc., you will have to physically visit the immigration office here in Panama to register. Quite the experience, with hundreds, maybe even thousands of people there at every moment of the business day. You will bring with you, your passport, and 2 passport sized photos. The lawyers will accompany you normally. They translate for you, and assist you to find the right windows etc. An English speaker would be 150% lost in there without a lawyer I think. In fact, when you think about their fee, and the time they spend in that immigration office, at $450 dollars an hour in Canada, the same process would probably cost tens of thousands of dollars, and it does in many countries. Another fact is that the lawyer or an assistant is usually there 3 or 4 hours early just to wait in line to get a low number. Quite the process!
Once you are there and registered, and the Immigration Department has all of your documentation, you will receive a temporary residence card. This will allow you to stay in the country until your permanent residence application is prosessed. You must not leave once this visa is granted until you have asked your attorney for a multiple entry visa, or you will be fined $2000 dollars upon your return. A multiple entry visa can be applied for and granted within 3 days.
The entire process, depending on many factors, can take from 6 months, up to a year. And what a bargain!!
I hope that helps, if anyone has anything to add, feel free in the comments section below. Panama has many laws, but quite often they are more suggestions or guidelines, so some people may have slightly varying experiences.
Cheers!!! See you in Panama!