As a US citizen, I’m allowed to stay in Panama for six months without filling out any paperwork at all.
Lots of Americans live here full time without becoming legal residents. They simply make a “visa run.” This means a quick trip to a neighboring country, or back to the US, every six months. When they return to Panama the new passport stamp gives them another six months.
Other countries may not have this option. In the EU, for example, you can only stay for three months out of a calendar year.
If Europe is where you want to live, you’ll need to be a legal resident.
As a resident, you have rights — but not all the same rights a citizen would have.
I can purchase property in Panama, but as a non-resident I can’t get a job. Also, in a bit of a disconnect, I can legally drive on my US driver’s license, but only for three months. So if I want to drive without worrying about random traffic stops, I have to make visa runs twice as often, every three months.
Or I can regularize my status by becoming a legal resident. Depending on the type of residency I qualify for, I may or may not be allowed to work.
A few months ago, recognizing that Panama needs more skilled workers than they have, President Martinelli issued an executive order creating a new residency law to make it easier for people to come here and start businesses or take skilled jobs.
Most countries will have several routes to residency. All of them will want to know that you have no criminal background and you won’t become a financial burden to them.
Most countries have some form of residency for:
- workers in a profession or industry that’s in demand
Naturally, every country wants different documentation, different levels of investment, different skills, etc. There’s no one-size-fits-all when it comes to residency.
If you’re considering a specific country, it’s a good idea to visit their consulate’s website to see whether you qualify to become a permanent resident. Make sure your research is up to date, as residency rules and requirements change often.
New EU Residencies for Investors
If Europe‘s on your radar, last month, Portugal changed its residency laws to attract wealthy individuals from friendly, non-EU countries.
Under the new law you can gain Portuguese residency in one of three ways:
- Invest at least 1 million euro in the country
- Start a business employing at least 30 people
- Purchase property for 500,000 euro or more
Obviously, this residency isn’t for everyone. But if you want to run a business with employees and/or have significant financial resources, this could provide a quick and easy way to enjoy the European lifestyle.
In a similar move, Hungary is considering giving residency if you purchase special government bonds worth at least 250,000 euros. If it becomes law, this would provide not only residency but a Hungarian passport. (Once you have a passport for any EU country, you can pretty much go anywhere within the entire European Union.)
If you plan to apply for residency in your new country, make sure you understand the process before you leave.
Some countries insist you start the residency application from your home country and won’t let you change from a tourist visa to a resident after you arrive.
Even if you’re going to a country that will let you switch, make sure you get all the required documentation from your home country while you’re still there. Otherwise it can get very complicated.
It’s also a good idea to find a reputable lawyer who can guide you through the process.