Skip to content

Why I Recommend The Panama Friendly Nations Visa For Your Residency

A British expat outlines why the Panama Friendly Nations Visa was the best option for him and his family when they were looking for a Latin American country to move to.

Note: This article was written in 2018 and describes the process of getting residency in Panama through the Friendly Nations Visa program. In May 2021, Panama announced upcoming changes to the Friendly Nations Visa Program. Please review these changes in our new article named, appropriately enough, Panama Takes a Wrecking Ball to the Friendly Nations Visa with Major Changes. The process outlined in the article below are in effect until August 5, 2021.

Ever thought it possible to emigrate to a country where you can gain residency, get a work permit, own a registered business, and one day gain citizenship – all for around $10,000? Ever considered Panama?

The Panama Friendly Nations Visa, introduced in 2012, streamlines the process of welcoming migrants into Panama.

It has opened a door for those wishing to create a new life in this Central American country.

Among the methods available to those wanting to live in Panama, the Friendly Nations Visa is the most attractive.

The Panama Friendly Nations Visa makes everything easy for those with a relatively modest amount of savings.

To apply you need to be a resident and a citizen of one of 50 ‘friendly nations’. These include the USA, Canada, most European countries, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Hong Kong, South Korea, and Taiwan.

You need to prove economic ties to Panama as a board member or major shareholder of a local corporation. Registering a business or buying an existing one with proof of taxes is the least expensive way to achieve this. Much less expensive than dropping $300K to buy real estate, anyway!

You also need to prove ownership of a Panamanian bank account holding at least $5,000, plus $2,000 for each dependent. The immigration fees are $1,000 to file.

You then need to be in Panama in person to submit the one easy application. Once submitted, you get a temporary visa. You can stay in Panama on this visa, or leave if you wish. You need to be back in Panama to exchange the temporary visa for the permanent one once approved.

Panama City, Panama / Bernal Saborio (Flickr)
Panama City, Panama / Bernal Saborio (Flickr) / Commercial use allowed

There are many law firms competing for you as a client, experienced in ensuring the smooth process of your application.

Your lawyer will not only make sure your application is complete and viable but can also act as the local board member you will need to register your business.

As the local board member of your business, your lawyer is nothing more than a name on a legal document.

There are no obligations for your business to operate. But there is a jet-setting aspect to owning your own corporation in Panama. And if you are clever, you can make money.

You can even find legal firms with ‘off the shelf’ pre-registered business names ready to go.

Speaking for myself, I wanted to register a business I would like to trade under one day So registering a business teaching English, or in import/export or tourism might work for you.

Once approved – within two months, all going well – you will receive your permanent residency.

You then receive rights to a social security card and work permit. Your spouse and dependents (including children aged 18 – 21 if students or disabled) also get the same.

After five years, you can apply for Panamanian citizenship. Panama recognizes dual nationality.

After looking at Ecuador, Costa Rica, and Nicaragua, the cost of settling in Panama made it far more viable for me.

Costs are rising in all these other countries for immigrants. And many expats have already sewn up the market for the types of businesses you might want to set up.

Unlike these other countries, Panama is making it easier to emigrate to, not harder. Panama City itself is a vibrant business hub with fast internet and inexpensive downtown rentals.

Once the reserve of retirees, many young people are now moving here and taking advantage of the fast-track Panama Friendly Nations Visa.


Lee Elliott spends his time homeschooling his youngest children with his Chinese-American wife in Panama City, Panama while lying around in bed trying to get published to retain his international press card. Follow more of his musings on his blog.

Lee Elliott

Lee Elliott

Lee Elliott was born in Kingston-Upon-Thames, England. He is a father to six children, and a lifelong educator and writer. He holds a Bachelor of Education, full Montessori teaching credentials, and post-graduate studies in journalism and film. He has lived internationally his entire adult life, teaching in France, Sweden, New Zealand, The British Virgin Islands, South Korea, the UK, and the USA. He now spends his time homeschooling his youngest children with his Chinese-American wife in Panama while lying around in bed trying to get published to retain his international press card. Lee’s hobbies include cooking meals so nice that he is getting fat and being grumpy on Monday mornings due to fine wines. He enjoys feedback on his writing and is available for translating, copywriting, and content. He can be contacted at