Panama, like most countries, requires visas and permits for those working abroad; this applies whether starting an online business or moving physically. Relocating to Panama may be simpler if your company already has an international presence and access to suitable lawyers; though getting started can be daunting for non-Panamanian employees/employers but is certainly achievable.
First step toward living and working in Panama is obtaining a residency visa – typically this will take several months for those from countries on the “friendly nations” list and much longer otherwise. Once your residency visa has been issued, work permit applications can begin being considered by Panamanian authorities.
Your first step should be identifying a local company willing to sponsor you and demonstrate they cannot find an adequate Panamanian citizen to fill the role; further, they must meet strict guidelines, such as not hiring more than 10% foreign employees.
Once you have a sponsor, the next step should be registering online with the Ministry of Labor without attending in person. This process may take up to 6 weeks but must be done prior to applying for a work permit. You’ll also require medical certificates, clean criminal records and proof of income; consult an experienced Panama immigration attorney for further assistance.
10 Different Ways to Get a Work Permit in Panama
Any foreign national working in Panama requires a work permit. There are various types of work permits available.
Panamanian companies outside special investment zones may only hire up to 10% foreign workers. This restriction can pose challenges to multinationals looking for talented talent.
There are ways around these restrictions.
1. Applying for a Work Permit on Your Own
Panama has stringent requirements when it comes to work permits. You typically require both a visa and residency ID card before being eligible to apply for one.
Some occupations enjoy express exemption from work permit requirements; workers in the film and audiovisual industries, for instance, receive a visa that allows them to stay up to six years. Furthermore, foreign investors who own companies within Panama’s City of Knowledge may apply for five special work permits that last up to six years for each employee they employ.
2. Applying for a Work Permit Through a Company
An individual working in Panama needs a work permit known as a “Permiso de Trabajo“. Without one, they could face deportation or fines by the National Immigration Service if working without one.
Notably, no more than 10% of a company’s workforce should consist of foreign nationals; employers must demonstrate there are no suitable local candidates available to take on their roles. To avoid any complications when applying for work visas in Panama City, companies are advised to hire the services of an immigration attorney as this can save both time and money in the long run.
3. Applying for a Work Permit Through a Headhunter
There are various private recruitment agencies that can assist foreigners in Panama in finding employment in areas like language schools, hotels and tour companies that require English-speaking employees.
Note that foreigners need both a residency visa and work permit in order to legally work in Panama. Furthermore, certain professions are reserved exclusively for Panamanian nationals such as engineering, law and accounting. It’s best to work with a global payroll provider that understands local regulations to avoid having employees manage this process on their own.
4. Applying for a Work Permit Through a Networking Agency
Panama provides an attractive business climate, drawing many foreigners to work abroad. To legally work in Panama, foreigners must acquire both a work visa and permit.
This process can take an extended period of time and be quite confusing when trying to determine what type of visa or permit your employee needs. Furthermore, Panama distinguishes between “friendly” and “unfriendly” countries which adds another layer of complexity when applying for work visas or permits in Panama. Thankfully there are ways of streamlining this process!
5. Applying for a Work Permit Through a Consulate
Panama is very stringent when it comes to the number of foreign employees it permits into its borders, and requires that at least 70% of your positions should be filled by Panamanian workers.
Your employee must first obtain a visa and establish residency before being eligible to obtain a work permit from you. This process should be handled by either the National Immigration Service or Ministry of Labor and may include temporary specialist positions where this process applies for up to 9 months at a time.
6. Applying for a Work Permit Through a Multinational Company
Law only permits companies to hire 10% of their workforce as foreigners; however, an exception can be sought to allow more foreign workers to be hired if desired. All foreign employees must receive at least an $850 monthly minimum salary while remaining in Panama for up to six years.
Panama’s favorable location, developing industries, and business-friendly laws make it an attractive market for companies seeking to expand into new markets. But in order to legally work there legally, both a visa and work permit must be secured – but there are ways of speeding up this process.
7. Applying for a Work Permit Through a Special Investment Zone
Panama offers great potential for international expansion of your company; however, you should keep in mind that employees must meet strict guidelines in order to legally work there.
Your employee must first complete the process for establishing residency in Panama, with applications submitted through National Immigration Service for residency approvals and Ministry of Labor handling work permit applications respectively.
The government of Panama has issued a list of professions which must be filled by nationals of Panama, such as engineering, law, accounting and psychology. Furthermore, certain industries receive exemption from work permit requirements.
8. Applying for a Work Permit Through a Government Agency
Companies expanding to Panama often need to relocate highly skilled teams. This usually necessitates applying for and receiving a work visa/permit in Panama.
Outside of special investment zones, companies may employ up to 10% of their total workforce as foreign workers – including specialists who may be hard to come by in Panama.
Friendly nations visa holders previously enjoyed a faster route to obtaining work permits; however, this changed in early 2017. Now these workers must register online in order to gain temporary residency and two-year work permits.
9. Applying for a Work Permit Through a Private Organization
Panama’s work permit process is distinct from obtaining residency, and requires submission of various documentation to the Ministry of Labor (Ministerio de Trabajo del MITRADEL). This department processes work permits.
Acquisition of a permit can take anywhere from six months to one year, so it’s wise to consult an immigration attorney who can assess which visa(s) are necessary and guide the application process. Some individuals starting online businesses outside Panama may avoid needing one; this list however, may be limited.
10. Applying for a Work Permit Through a Government Agency
Panamanian laws and regulations encourage foreign investment, with several ways companies can hire foreign workers. There are quotas which limit the proportion of foreign employees at one company, while certain professions are reserved solely for Panamanian workers.
Foreign nationals interested in working in Panama must first obtain a visa and residence permit, which can be an involved process requiring various documents like an employment letter, Power of Attorney agreement and proof of address proofs. A lawyer specializing in immigration can assist in this preparation process.
How to Apply for a Work Permit in Panama
Panama is an ideal choice for companies seeking international expansion. Its strategic location, vibrant industries and business-friendly legislation attract entrepreneurs looking to invest in and expand their companies abroad.
Hiring foreign employees without proper visa or work permits can be costly for your company and could incur fines from the government for violations.
1. Consult an Attorney
Acquiring a Panama work permit can be both time-consuming and complex, which is why most people should seek legal guidance. When seeking to secure one in Panama it’s often best to hire an immigration law specialist as this will ensure all the documents needed for submission are submitted on time, thus minimizing delays or missteps which could potentially prevent approval of their work permit application.
To be granted a work permit in Panama, businesses must abide by certain restrictions when applying for one. Companies cannot employ more than 10% foreign employees; and can demonstrate that no local candidates qualify to perform the task.
An employee seeking employment in Panama must possess both a valid visa and letter of responsibility from their employer, along with proof of income and two recent photos.
Consult a Panama work permit attorney when applying, to ensure all the required documents have been filed and to assist with any additional paperwork that may be requested by the Ministry of Labor.
Not to be overlooked is that certain professions in Panama are exclusive to Panamanians; such as doctors, lawyers and counselors. As a result, finding employment may prove challenging in such fields.
2. Apply Online
Most foreign workers must obtain a work permit before legally working in Panama, which can be an involved and complex process with strict guidelines to abide by. Any misstep can result in legal status being denied to your company and costly fines being levied; so to ensure all forms and documents are correctly filled out it’s wise to consult an experienced attorney and ensure everything runs smoothly.
Panama only permits companies to hire foreign employees up to 10% of the time; to do otherwise, companies must demonstrate they have a distinct need that cannot be filled by locals; there must also be no other Panamanian candidates available for the role and it should only last up to six years in total.
As part of their application, companies will need to submit the following: a letter of responsibility, payroll information and social security registration documentation from both themselves and applicants; in addition to having a clean criminal record and medical clearance in order to work. Since this process can be lengthy for foreign workers who do not belong to Friendly Nations Pact countries, it’s best to get started early – once approved, work permits will be sent directly to employers for them to present at immigration inspections when asked for.
3. Submit Documents
Employers looking to expand into Panama will want to recruit an effective team. But this process may be complex and involves meeting stringent guidelines regarding foreign workers.
A work permit in Panama is typically issued by the Ministry of Labor, though this process can vary in duration depending on your country of origin. Countries on Panama-friendly nations lists usually experience faster turnaround.
To obtain a Panama work permit, the following documents will need to be presented. These may include copies of employee passports; proof of tertiary education credentials; evidence of no criminal convictions and medical clearance letters.
Note that Panama offers special exemptions from obtaining work permits in certain circumstances. These exceptions can apply to religious workers (ministers, priests, pastors, rabbis and similar church positions); investors who have made significant investments in Panamanian investments; as well as certain professionals working on projects that contribute significantly to its economy. It would be prudent to consult an attorney and see if you qualify for one of these exemptions as it will allow your employee to acquire his/her work permit more quickly.
4. Wait for Results
Panama can provide migrants seeking work and residence an avenue of opportunity, but due to a crowded job market, lengthy work permit processes, and ongoing xenophobia they face, many migrants who find jobs are still unable to legally make a living wage.
Unauthorized employment may lead to fines of $500-$1000 for both employers and workers; migrants caught working without proper permits could even face being deported from the country.
Panama Ministry of Labor recently implemented an online registration system on their website which enables foreign nationals applying for work permits to register and submit documents without needing to visit them in person. For best results, however, we strongly suggest consulting an attorney familiar with both immigration law and labor law to guide this process.
Giovanna and Wi Men have extensive experience obtaining work permits for foreign nationals residing in Panama, such as people seeking to establish business subsidiaries here, investors with specific skills needed by companies, researchers conducting research for embassies or governments as well as teachers, students and technical workers. Furthermore, we can help secure Panama’s premier visa – the Permanent Resident Visa which grants residency immediately for you and your family while permitting access to local amenities while offering citizenship after five years of residence.