The Panamanian government has issued new visa restrictions across a range of categories for international visitors to the country that will have a direct affect on agents selling Panama to overseas buyers.

Effective at the start of this month, one of the main changes that will impact on Russian and other nationalities that are starting to snap up real estate in growing numbers in the country, is the permanent residency situation. A preferred method of purchase by Russian investors, a buyer will now have to purchase a property in excess of $300,000, up from $200,000 in August.

Previously UK, European and US holidaymaker or investor, could stay in the country for up to 90 days without the need to obtain a visa, with the option for an extension of 90 days if necessary.

Under the new laws, international visitors are restricted to just 30 days, with the option of applying for a further 60 days, if they can produce a document signed by a friend or business associate in the country. Under existing reciprocity agreements, those visitors not initially requiring a visa will still not be required to obtain one before entering the country.

“What happened was that in February, because of some criminal activity from Columbians in the country, the president issued a sweeping examination of the visa laws, as he did not just want to alienate his neighbour and friend in the president of Columbia,” explained Jorge Portugal, attorney at law with Panama Offshore Legal Services. “There was an outcry from Panamanian consulates around the world when they heard this, so the law was changed into its current state. Additionally, for people living here under the Pensionados programme, retirees will now have to verify that they receive a minimum of $1000 per month in the form of a pension, which is up from $500.”

The costs of visas, permits and fees for filing various documents have also been raised and every foreigner in Panama will now be required to register with a central agency, confirming their details and status in the country.

The biggest criticism of the new visa laws surrounds the 30-day rule, which some in the industry believe is not long enough for an international visitor to view and purchase a property.

Kent Davis, sales manager at local agency CPanama Corporation which services European, Russian and US buyers to the country, told OPP that although the changes are significant, disruption to sales should be minimal.

“To be honest we haven’t seen a immediate affect, but with the difference in the currency exchange at present, the $300,000 law is of concern, however for most of these type of investors it shouldn’t be a problem as the majority are purchasing here at the moment for a second home or as a pure investment.

“The visa restrictions have been an issue here for the last five years, and for the retirees the new changes won’t matter much as they are already existing on more than $1,000 a month anyway. The only main problem for us is the residency visa situation as there are a lot of Russian people buying here and a community is growing. There are Russian restaurants, churches and schools springing up and you here Russian being spoken in the supermarket when you visit,” added Davis. Source: OPP

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