Work Permit: working in Panama legally


Panama has a little over 20 different categories for work permit applications. These range from married to a Panamanian, trusted employees (executives usually), to Treaty provisions (Italy-Panama).  Additionally, there is also the Marrakech option, for companies who have less than 10 employees (with a limitation of 5 years).  Last year (2017), Panama processed over 28 thousand applications, approving about 23 thousand.

Ignoring the humanitarian work permits, the top approvals for a work permit came from the following four categories:

  1. married to a Panamanian
  2. 10% visa
  3. Professional
  4. Specific countries (treaties)

On the other hand, at the immigration department, these were the top five residency applications (that included requests for work permits):

  1. friendly nations
  2. professional
  3. multinational companies
  4. 15% technically qualified employees
  5. Education purposes

In spite of the professional category being listed above, there are many professions that are limited to Panamanians. In these cases, there must be exceptional circumstances for the appointment of a foreign professional (i.e. that this specialization is simply not available in Panama and there was no one qualified for the job):

  • nursing
  • cosmetology & barbers
  • Orthodontic & dental assistant
  • Architecture & Engineering
  • Agricultural science
  • Pharmacy
  • Chiropractors
  • Nutrition
  • Medicine
  • Psychology
  • Medical Assistant
  • Accounting
  • Journalism
  • Laboratory
  • Public Relations
  • Audio & speech therapy and the such
  • Economist
  • Social Worker
  • Veterinarian
  • Physiotherapist
  • Medical Radiology
  • Law
  • Sociology
  • Chemistry

What kind of permit is available?

The work permit applications that we most typically see are:

  1. friendly nations
  2. professional
  3. 15% technically qualified employees
  4. married to a Panamanian

However, this is not the complete list of options that are available.  We used to see a lot of Marrakech applications, until the friendly nations visa option came up in 2012.  The following list is the most common work permit visas offered (in no particular order):

  1. friendly nations
  2. married to a Panamanian
  3. Marrakech visa
  4. 10% of the work force in a company
  5. 15% of the work force, technical
  6. Colon Free Trade Zone
  7. Trusted employee (trabajador de confianza)
  8. Refugee / Humanitarian
  9. Italian treaty
  10. City of Knowledge

As mentioned above, there are more than 20, but some are very industry specific (such as Sailors).

Work permit application

Joan Villanueva can provide you with more information regarding which option would work best to your particular circumstances. One of the difficulties is that some companies in Panama will not hire you if you don’t already have a work permit, but you cannot get a work permit if you don’t already have the job offer.

Typically, the requirements for the immigration application and the work permit are the following:

  • registration at the immigration department
  • immigration forms completed (ask Joan for the forms)
  • address in Panama
  • full copy of the passport (usually made in our office), must have the immigration stamps
  • police record (for immigration)
  • immigration status (once you have filed the immigration application – this is presented to the Ministry of Labour)
  • employment contract (required for both immigration and Ministry of Labour)

We are available to assist you with the immigration application and work permit as needed.