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Pensioners can apply for Panama Citizenship. Foreigners with a Pensioner (Pensionado) residency can now apply for Panama citizenship once they have been permanent residents for five years.
This recent development is not a result of a new law or Presidential decree. It is a new interpretation by the current administration of existing laws concerning Pensionado visas.
Originally, the Pensionado program gave the applicant a simple indefinite visa as a Pensioner Tourist (Turista Pensionado) allowing the foreigner to live in Panama as a tourist indefinitely. Since the foreigner was a tourist and not a resident the foreigner was not allowed to get a National Identity Card (Cédula) as a permanent resident.
There is a difference according to Panamanian law between a Visa and Residency. A visa is only for tourists who are not considered formal residents even though they have properties, corporations, bank accounts, etc. Residents on the other hand are the ones that have gone through an immigration process and have been given a resolution of residency that can be temporary or permanent
In 2008, the law changed allowing for permanent residency for all Pensioner Tourists calling the visa “Jubilado/Pensionado” (Retiree/Pensioner). However, past administrations did not allow this permanent residency to lead to citizenship although other permanent residents could apply after five years. Instead, they received a “Turista Pensionado” Carnet (Temporary Resident Card).
The past administration gave Pensionados the option to apply for a “Cédula E” (“E” for “Extranjero” or Foreigner) Identity Card as a permanent resident. According to the Panama Constitution and current laws, foreigners holding “Cedulas” are eligible to apply for Panamanian citizenship after five years. However this is subject to interpretation as are all laws.
Recent meetings between private lawyers and the immigration department resulted in a new interpretation allowing Cédula E cardholders to apply for citizenship after five years. Now every Cédula E cardholder can apply for citizenship after five years.
Panama law requires hiring a local attorney to apply for citizenship.