Panama: Regulatory Immigration Framework: Options To Immigrate And Work In Panama

Last Updated: 16 July 2018
Article by Albalira Montufar

Panama has become a popular destination to immigrate in the region, due to its economic growth and socio-political stability, which contrasts with other neighboring countries´ intricate conditions. Within the last decade, multiple infrastructure projects, as well as incentives favorable to establish and operate multinational companies, have resulted in an increase of foreign nationals within the country, creating a multi-ethnic and multi-cultural society.

Nevertheless, Panama's immigration law enacted in 2008 and article 17 of the Panamanian Labor Code dated 1972, both modified throughout the years, constitute a complex scenario to immigrants and employers willing to comply with the laws and changing policies. Separate processes to obtain (i) residency before the National Immigration Service and; (ii) a work permit before the Ministry of Labor, are one of the main aspects to be considered when immigrating and hiring foreign employees.

How to obtain legal residency in Panama?

In Panama, Law Decree No. 3 of 2008, which creates the National Immigration Service, and Executive Decree No. 320, which establishes the requirements and procedures applicable to obtaining temporary and permanent residency, are the core provisions regarding immigration.

As a general rule, foreigners enter as tourists for a period of 3 to 6 months, allowing them to do tourism, business or investment activities within the country. However, nationals from certain countries including China, India, and many other Asian and African countries, must request an entry visa which, when granted, is stamped at a Panamanian Consulate before traveling, and is valid for 1 month as a general rule. This entry visa applies unless the person has a valid multiple entry visa from the U.S., Canada, U.K. or Australia, and has used it at least once to enter the territory that issued said visa, in which case the person can enter Panama without a prior authorization.

During the above periods, the foreign national that wishes to apply for a residence permit must choose from a wide spectrum of options that were created to promote investment and to establish the rules to fill the need of skilled and non-skilled personnel. For purposes of this article, we will refer to the main available modalities.

Options related to the applicant's nationality

Residence Permit for Nationals from Countries with Professional and Economic Ties with the Republic of Panama

Foreign nationals from a list of approximately 50 countries, including the United States of America, France, Canada and Spain, can apply for a permanent residence permit in Panama if they prove to have a professional, economic or investment relationship in the country. This residence permit, also known as a Friendly Nations permit, can be obtained by setting up a Panamanian corporation or by being hired to work as an employee of a company duly established in Panama. The applicant must prove the existence of either an economic or professional activity, as well as economic solvency (the latter by means of filing a bank certificate from a local bank showing a balance of at least 4 average figures).

Once the permanent residency is granted, it is possible to apply for an indefinite term work permit that will allow the person to legally work in Panama. The challenge with this option is that if the foreigner applies for this category for work purposes, he or she must first obtain the permanent residency, and then file the work permit application. Therefore, there is a black out period in which the foreigner is not allowed to work. Anticipated coordination of this category is required to minimize risks.

Residence Permit for Nationals from Italy

The Treaty of Friendship, Commerce and Navigation between the Republic of Panama and the Italian Republic, provides that the citizens of each of the contracting parties enjoy national treatment in the territory of the other, to carry out economic or professional activities. The main requirement is to prove the Italian nationality, as well as economic solvency (as described above).

Once the permanent residency is granted, if the foreigner intends to work, it is possible to apply for an indefinite term work permit that will allow the person to legally work in Panama. Note that Italian nationals will be exposed to the same black out period mentioned above regarding the Friendly Nation's option.

Options based on the Company's Quotas

Ten or Fifteen Percent Quota

The Panamanian Labor Code sets forth the general rules applicable to hiring foreign personnel. The code provides that 90 percent of employees must be Panamanian citizens, or foreign nationals married to a Panamanian, or foreign nationals that have resided in Panama for 10 or more years. The 10% quota is a result of this rule, and applies to both the headcount and salaries of the workforce. Additionally, the Labor Code provides that companies can hire skilled staff, managerial or technical positions not exceeding a 15% limit of the total salaries and headcount.

Consequently, foreigners hired to work for a company registered in Panama, can obtain residence permits within a 10% limit for positions that are not skilled, managerial or technical, and a 15% limited for skilled, managerial or technical positions. These options grant provisional residency for two years and allows to subsequently apply for permanent residency in the country, provided that the foreigner receives a minimum wage of at least US$850.00 monthly.

In this case, once the provisional residency is filed before the National Immigration Service, it is possible to apply for a temporary work permit valid for 1 year, renewable for equal terms which, once approved, allows the person to legally work in Panama.

The challenge with this option is that the high number of foreigners in Panamanian payrolls makes it difficult to comply with the quotas. Additionally, labor policies determining how other immigration categories and work permits count in payroll have had constant changes impacting the filing and approval of these work permits.

Multinational Headquarters

The multinational headquarters special regime established by means of Law 41 of 2007, applies to regional or headquarters offices of companies which carry out operations or services from Panama to their main offices or subsidiaries in other countries. These companies must be granted with a Multinational Headquarters' License or "SEM" License (for its acronym in Spanish). The main advantage of this option, in regard to the hiring of foreign managerial personnel, is that these companies are not subject to the quotas established in the Labor Code, therefore making possible to hire an unlimited number of foreign workforce.

Foreign employees working for a SEM company can apply for a residence permit for Permanent Personnel valid for 5 years, renewable for equal terms. With this residence permit, there is no need to request a work permit before the Ministry of Labor, since Law 41 provides that holders of this residence permit do not require further authorization to legally work in Panama. This category also has the advantage that there is no income tax in the foreign employee's salary in Panama, when receiving the salary from a foreign source.

Options based on the applicants' investment

Panama's immigration law provides the option to obtain permanent residency when investing in the country a minimum of US$300,000.00. There are 3 options to meet this requirement: (i) a deposit in a bank account maintained at least 3 years in a Panamanian bank, on the name of the applicant; (ii) investing in a US$300,000.00 (or more) real estate property located in Panama, free of liens. The real estate property can either be in the personal name of the applicant, in the name of a Panamanian Private Interest Foundation or a corporation (as long as the main applicant is both the Founder and main Beneficiary in the foundation's case and that the shares are on the applicant's name in the corporation's case); and (iii) a combination of real estate property and deposits on a deposit bank account, for an aggregate of US$300,000.00 or more.

In this case, the provisional residency is granted for two years, and allows to later apply for permanent residency in the country.

Recent Modifications

The National Immigration Service and the Ministry of Labor have been tightening their policies due to the considerable influx of foreigners, in order to verify and control that foreigners stay legally in the country and that companies comply with applicable regulations.

The Government of Panama recently announced certain measures to reduce the stay as tourists for nationals of certain Latin American countries, in order to force a prompt legalization of those that decide to have a residency in the country. In this regard, the government established that nationals from Venezuela, Colombia, and Nicaragua, previously granted with a 6-month period stay as tourists, are now allowed a 3-month period only.

Moreover, Law 59 of September 12th, 2017 increases fines and sanctions to companies that hire foreign employees without a valid work authorization issued by said Ministry. Fines, that are were established in US$50.00 to US$500.00, have increased significantly due to this law, which includes (i) a US$500.00 sanction per foreign employee without a valid work permit, the first time is inspected by the authorities; (ii) a US$1,000.00 fine for each foreign employee without a work permit, the second time is inspected; (iii) a US$10,000.00 fine without considering the number of foreign employees plus the suspension of the company's commercial license, the third time is inspected; and (iv) the cancellation of the commercial license for the fourth time.

Furthermore, said law provides that fines to companies having 10 or more foreign employees without a valid work permit, will be doubled. The names of the sanctioned companies will be listed in the Ministry of Labor's website.

Conclusions

Panama's immigration and work permit laws and policies provide a wide range of options to immigrate and work in the country. The large number of foreigners that have arrived within the last years has resulted in stricter policies and regulations. However, certain options still remain flexible. By understanding and keeping up to date with the modifications in regulations and policies, foreigners and companies can duly coordinate an anticipate applicable options and requirements, therefore reducing labor and immigration risks.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on Mondaq.com.

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

Authors
 
Some comments from our readers…
“The articles are extremely timely and highly applicable”
“I often find critical information not available elsewhere”
“As in-house counsel, Mondaq’s service is of great value”

Related Topics
 
Related Articles
 
Up-coming Events Search
Tools
Print
Font Size:
Translation
Channels
Mondaq on Twitter
 
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
 
Email Address
Company Name
Password
Confirm Password
Position
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Accounting
 Anti-trust
 Commercial
 Compliance
 Consumer
 Criminal
 Employment
 Energy
 Environment
 Family
 Finance
 Government
 Healthcare
 Immigration
 Insolvency
 Insurance
 International
 IP
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Litigation
 Media & IT
 Privacy
 Real Estate
 Strategy
 Tax
 Technology
 Transport
 Wealth Mgt
Regions
Africa
Asia
Asia Pacific
Australasia
Canada
Caribbean
Europe
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
U.K.
United States
Worldwide Updates
Registration (you must scroll down to set your data preferences)

Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including your content preferences, for three primary purposes (full details of Mondaq’s use of your personal data can be found in our Privacy and Cookies Notice):

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting to show content ("Content") relevant to your interests.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, news alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our content providers ("Contributors") who contribute Content for free for your use.

Mondaq hopes that our registered users will support us in maintaining our free to view business model by consenting to our use of your personal data as described below.

Mondaq has a "free to view" business model. Our services are paid for by Contributors in exchange for Mondaq providing them with access to information about who accesses their content. Once personal data is transferred to our Contributors they become a data controller of this personal data. They use it to measure the response that their articles are receiving, as a form of market research. They may also use it to provide Mondaq users with information about their products and services.

Details of each Contributor to which your personal data will be transferred is clearly stated within the Content that you access. For full details of how this Contributor will use your personal data, you should review the Contributor’s own Privacy Notice.

Please indicate your preference below:

Yes, I am happy to support Mondaq in maintaining its free to view business model by agreeing to allow Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors whose Content I access
No, I do not want Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors

Also please let us know whether you are happy to receive communications promoting products and services offered by Mondaq:

Yes, I am happy to received promotional communications from Mondaq
No, please do not send me promotional communications from Mondaq
Terms & Conditions

Mondaq.com (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd (Mondaq). Mondaq grants you a non-exclusive, revocable licence to access the Website and associated services, such as the Mondaq News Alerts (Services), subject to and in consideration of your compliance with the following terms and conditions of use (Terms). Your use of the Website and/or Services constitutes your agreement to the Terms. Mondaq may terminate your use of the Website and Services if you are in breach of these Terms or if Mondaq decides to terminate the licence granted hereunder for any reason whatsoever.

Use of www.mondaq.com

To Use Mondaq.com you must be: eighteen (18) years old or over; legally capable of entering into binding contracts; and not in any way prohibited by the applicable law to enter into these Terms in the jurisdiction which you are currently located.

You may use the Website as an unregistered user, however, you are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the Content or to receive the Services.

You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these Terms or with the prior written consent of Mondaq. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information from the Content. Nor shall you extract information about users or Contributors in order to offer them any services or products.

In your use of the Website and/or Services you shall: comply with all applicable laws, regulations, directives and legislations which apply to your Use of the Website and/or Services in whatever country you are physically located including without limitation any and all consumer law, export control laws and regulations; provide to us true, correct and accurate information and promptly inform us in the event that any information that you have provided to us changes or becomes inaccurate; notify Mondaq immediately of any circumstances where you have reason to believe that any Intellectual Property Rights or any other rights of any third party may have been infringed; co-operate with reasonable security or other checks or requests for information made by Mondaq from time to time; and at all times be fully liable for the breach of any of these Terms by a third party using your login details to access the Website and/or Services

however, you shall not: do anything likely to impair, interfere with or damage or cause harm or distress to any persons, or the network; do anything that will infringe any Intellectual Property Rights or other rights of Mondaq or any third party; or use the Website, Services and/or Content otherwise than in accordance with these Terms; use any trade marks or service marks of Mondaq or the Contributors, or do anything which may be seen to take unfair advantage of the reputation and goodwill of Mondaq or the Contributors, or the Website, Services and/or Content.

Mondaq reserves the right, in its sole discretion, to take any action that it deems necessary and appropriate in the event it considers that there is a breach or threatened breach of the Terms.

Mondaq’s Rights and Obligations

Unless otherwise expressly set out to the contrary, nothing in these Terms shall serve to transfer from Mondaq to you, any Intellectual Property Rights owned by and/or licensed to Mondaq and all rights, title and interest in and to such Intellectual Property Rights will remain exclusively with Mondaq and/or its licensors.

Mondaq shall use its reasonable endeavours to make the Website and Services available to you at all times, but we cannot guarantee an uninterrupted and fault free service.

Mondaq reserves the right to make changes to the services and/or the Website or part thereof, from time to time, and we may add, remove, modify and/or vary any elements of features and functionalities of the Website or the services.

Mondaq also reserves the right from time to time to monitor your Use of the Website and/or services.

Disclaimer

The Content is general information only. It is not intended to constitute legal advice or seek to be the complete and comprehensive statement of the law, nor is it intended to address your specific requirements or provide advice on which reliance should be placed. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the Content for any purpose. All Content provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers hereby exclude and disclaim all representations, warranties or guarantees with regard to the Content, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. To the maximum extent permitted by law, Mondaq expressly excludes all representations, warranties, obligations, and liabilities arising out of or in connection with all Content. In no event shall Mondaq and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use of the Content or performance of Mondaq’s Services.

General

Mondaq may alter or amend these Terms by amending them on the Website. By continuing to Use the Services and/or the Website after such amendment, you will be deemed to have accepted any amendment to these Terms.

These Terms shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of England and Wales and you irrevocably submit to the exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales to settle any dispute which may arise out of or in connection with these Terms. If you live outside the United Kingdom, English law shall apply only to the extent that English law shall not deprive you of any legal protection accorded in accordance with the law of the place where you are habitually resident ("Local Law"). In the event English law deprives you of any legal protection which is accorded to you under Local Law, then these terms shall be governed by Local Law and any dispute or claim arising out of or in connection with these Terms shall be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts where you are habitually resident.

You may print and keep a copy of these Terms, which form the entire agreement between you and Mondaq and supersede any other communications or advertising in respect of the Service and/or the Website.

No delay in exercising or non-exercise by you and/or Mondaq of any of its rights under or in connection with these Terms shall operate as a waiver or release of each of your or Mondaq’s right. Rather, any such waiver or release must be specifically granted in writing signed by the party granting it.

If any part of these Terms is held unenforceable, that part shall be enforced to the maximum extent permissible so as to give effect to the intent of the parties, and the Terms shall continue in full force and effect.

Mondaq shall not incur any liability to you on account of any loss or damage resulting from any delay or failure to perform all or any part of these Terms if such delay or failure is caused, in whole or in part, by events, occurrences, or causes beyond the control of Mondaq. Such events, occurrences or causes will include, without limitation, acts of God, strikes, lockouts, server and network failure, riots, acts of war, earthquakes, fire and explosions.

By clicking Register you state you have read and agree to our Terms and Conditions