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Want to retire at Panama might be the place for you

Panama's program for retirees is said to be the best in the world. There is no age limit to qualify for the Tourist Pensionado Visa Program. You need only to be able to prove a monthly pension or retirement income of US$500 from a government or corporation, plus US$100 for each dependent.

Legally, you could be as young as 18 to retire in Panama. You will need documentation proving your pension income, certified and stamped by the Panamanian embassy in your country of origin, plus a valid passport and a clear police record for the past five years. If you don't have a pension, you can still qualify by depositing sufficient funds in the National Bank of Panama to generate $750 a month.

This amount covers any number of dependents. Alternatively, you could start a qualified tourism-related business, or invest in a forestry project. You must use a Panamanian immigration lawyer, pass a medical on arrival in Panama and be tested free of HIV. Your legal representative will shepherd you through the immigration office, once to register various documents and a second time to have your photograph taken and be presented with your identity card (carnet).

Carry this card with you at all times. You can be fined for not doing so. Prior to receiving your carnet, carry your passport or a photocopy of it.

Legal expenses and fees can vary depending on size of family and complexity, but should be around $1,500 for one person, or $2,000 for a couple. The immigration process must be started before you leave your home country. Once you arrive in Panama as a tourist, you will be able to stay for up to 90 days. This can be extended for a further 90 days if needed. Qualifying for permanent residence takes from 30 to 60 days, depending on the time of year and the availability of certain key immigration officials. Given all the public holidays, November and December are good months to avoid.

Although not required, it will be helpful for you to obtain letters of good standing from your bank or banks and any other financial institutions. Do not close your bank accounts. You will need at least one, and preferably two, open bank accounts somewhere in the world before you will be able to open an account here. Also, keep at least some credit cards. Getting credit cards in a new country ranges from difficult to impossible. One bank here, HSBC, offered the writer a card with a $5,000 credit limit provided $10,000 was placed on deposit.

Finally, go to your local automobile association and get an international driver's license. Your own license is good here for 90 days, but there is no limit on an international license. (Expect lots of puzzled looks from local traffic police as they thumb through the multi-page document written in several languages.

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By: Sydney Tremayne

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