Summary (I’ll try to summarize!) of our experience getting our residency visa….
I received a request from one of my readers to post a summary of our experience getting our Pensionado Visa. Obviously this process varies “a lot” for every person. There are, of course, endless different accounts of how this process goes, some good and some not so good, some easy and smooth (although not many!) and some complicated and frustrating as hell (Some serious Tranquilo killers!) . In the end, so much seems to depend upon the attorney you use because they set the pace, and will guide you, or let you flounder, during the entire process. I’ve heard nightmare stories of attorneys giving bad advice or just not doing their jobs. Some who have been through the process read my account and wonder why it was a bit more complicated than it was for them. One things for sure, anything I tell you about my experience will not be the same for you. It’s important to keep in mind that you can’t count on any other persons tale to be what you will experience. Unlike some places in the world where there are clear and concise processes in place and you have access to all the answers to all your questions, here, one seems to just muddle through as best you can and just try to hold onto some semblance of ’Tranquilo’…Good luck with that! Hah!
One thing I will recommend anyone considering applying for any type of residency visa is, try to begin your document collecting before your move. I realize this isn’t always an option, as it wasn’t for us, but if it is, you’ll be glad you did. You only need to keep in mind that any notarized or apostiled documents have to be no older than three months (as with everything, these rules and guidelines can change at any time!) . We were not informed of this rule , (and of course…remember…. ‘rules’ change all the time!), until many of our earliest collected documents were about six months old, which ended up requiring us to start the entire gosh darn process all over again from the very start! Uggggg! It would have been so nice had our attorney given us a detailed list of what to do, time restrictions, how to do it and what to expect. But , alas, that would be wayyyy too much to expect. Pfffffffft! So after having re-collected all the documents that immigration required us to submit for our application, we mailed it all to our attorney in Panama City. We chose to use an attorney who specialized in immigration law and has her office in Panama City since that is where everything has to be done. I know some who have opted to use local attorneys ,(in David or Boquete), which may or may not have worked out for them, but in some cases they have had to pay for the attorneys travel fees to and from the city, which could add up.
After our attorney received our documents and deemed them satisfactory to begin the application process she then had to have them all translated to spanish. This meant every single page of documentation was translated, every page of the three months of bank statements, FBI report, and on and on. There is also a requirement of a letter from a doctor stating that you are of good health, cuz who wants any sick expats? Hah! Soooo… the attorney somehow added that official document to our paperwork without us ever having met with a doctor, voilà! After she had the translation done she emailed us and told us to come to the city, meet her assistant (in our case her assistant is her husband, who, I may add, is a saint!!!) at the immigration office at 7:30a.m. She told us to be sure to bring at least 3 extra copies of passport photots, our passports and copies of them, and cash. At this point in the process, after you’ve been through the submission of all your documents at the immigration office, and your officially, ‘in process’, you may not leave the country without a ‘multi-entry visa’. This little detail was one that we had not known about and were surprised by because we had planned a trip to Ca on the following day, Sat. Nope! (a side note…yes, we had asked our att Our attorneys assistant said, “you can’t do that”. Gulp! Okayyyyy! It takes two business days to get the multi-entry visa. And you must surrender your passport for those two days, so you aint’ goin’ nowhere! Haha!
After receiving that multi-entry visa we were able to fly back to the U.S. to facilitate the packing and shipping of our container of household goods. We had been living here in Panama for a little over a year, slowly getting all our ducks in a row and patiently collecting all the different parts of our documentation for the Pensionado visa. For those of you who may not have read past posts describing why our process was a touch more complicated than most, and why we decided on this specific visa….There are several different types of visas one can apply for to become a legal resident here in Panama, you can easily look those up online and research what would be best for your specific needs. We chose to apply for the Pansionado visa which is a visa primarily for people who are of retirement age. It affords retiree’s several ‘perks’ for retiring here in Panama. You see, Panama see’s the value of having expats retire in their country, bringing their money with them along with a little boost to their economy. So, some of the ‘perks’ that the Pensionado visa affords you include, discounts on travel within the country, Bus travel, plane and train travel, hotel and restaurant discounts and for us, the big one is no import taxes on one container of household goods from your country of origin(I’m sure I’m not listing all the benefits,again look it all up online and read in more detail about it) . This is a big one, considering how steep those import taxes can be.
Now, most people find it curious that we decided to go for a visa for retirement age people when we aren’t retirement age (we get strange looks when asked what visa we have). After doing our research we discovered that there is not an ‘age’ restriction for applying for the Pensionado visa. The main requirement that makes it most viable for retiree’s is the necessity to prove that you will be receiving a “lifetime income, of a minimum of $1,250.00 “ per month per couple. A lifetime income from something like a pension or Social Security is what most people who apply for this visa use to satisfy this requirement. We opted to purchase an annuity that pays us a lifetime payment that is equal to the amount required to qualify for the Pensionado visa. And this is what made our application process take a bit more time than most. You see, they required all sorts of documentation proving the viability of the company who holds the annuity as well as three months of bank statements showing deposits from the annuity. Requesting this type of validity and stability documentation from New York Life was not a common thing for them to provide , so it took some time to get what we needed. And the fact that we had to first sell our home in Ca, before we could afford to purchase the annuity, made receiving three months bank statements showing the deposits take time as well. By this time, we had already made our move and decided there was not much reason to rush into getting things like the FBI report until after we received the notarized and apostiled documentation from NYL. Now….had we known what a pain in the butt is would be to get our fingerprints done here in Panama, and then send them off to the FBI, Sheesh! We would have done all that nonsense in the states! A real, “live and learn” experience!
So, we spent one whole day at immigration then had to go to our attorneys office to sign more paperwork, she needed power of attorney to act on our behalf for much of the things that she needed to do for us. Then she told us she would contact us when the application process was complete so that we could then return to Panama City to receive the visa. That took about 6 weeks. After she notified us that our visas were ready we went back to the city and again met her assistant at the immigration office. We had to pay $100.00 each and get our photo taken (plus stand and wait in several lines, of course!) then they gave us our official, permanent Pensionao Residency Visa. Mind you, I’m summarizing, this was a three hour process.
In the end, the most complicated part of this entire undertaking was collecting all the proper documents that were required. That and just getting information from our attorney. It’s really hard to get all the right information when many times you don’t even know the right questions to ask until you suddenly find you’ve made a mistake, like the 3 month expiration on the notaries and the time it takes to receive your multi-entry visa. So, now that you’ve read all about our process and the experiences we’ve had , you can probably just forget it all because your experience will be completely different! Hahaha! Yep! It’s a crapshoot! I can’t wait to hear alllll about your adventure getting your residency visa…good luck! And remember to breath and to hold tight to that wonderful Tranquilo….