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Work Permits

Panama - Work Permits

It is essential if you wish to work in Panama that you apply for and obtain a work permit from the Ministry of Labour, and this will only be granted if your potential employer can prove that the work cannot be done by a qualified Panamanian. The exact requirements for applying for a work permit may change frequently so it is best to seek the advice of a Panamanian lawyer in order to ensure that you have all the correct documentation and then allow them to make the application for you as most documentation will only be accepted by the authorities if it has been sent in by a lawyer.

In order to make the application you must have a letter from the company which is offering you a job. The letter must state the exact nature of the work that you will be doing and why you are the best person for the job. The application can be made by your lawyer once you have gathered all the other documentation that you need. A work visa is only temporary and will be issued for a period of one year in the first instance.

Work permits are issued for a maximum of six years on a temporary resident’s visa. Those who want to live in the country on a permanent basis cannot do so on the basis of work. A company can hire a foreign worker if they employ between three and ten employees. The full-time employees must earn at least minimum wage. A company of this size cannot employ more than one foreign worker on this temporary visitor visa and the company is considered to be responsible for the worker while they are on the payroll. Companies must meet minimum wage guidelines and any benefits in addition to salary must be clearly outlined in the employee’s contract.

Copies of the contract of employment will also be required, as will details of the applicant’s employment and educational history. A valid passport with a minimum of six months left to run will be required, along with a number of passport sized photos. Additional documentation may be required for any dependents that will be living with you but the type of documentation required will depend on their age and status.

Once a work permit has been issued then the applicant can also apply for the visitor’s visa for residency rights. Renewal of both the work permit and residency visa is required on an annual basis and is dependent upon meeting the necessary requirements. All documents must be presented each time and the Panamanian social security department will be required to issue a certificate that shows a minimum of nine months consecutive contributions. If the employment should come to an end then so will your right to be in the country and you may find yourself in danger of being deported.

The law in Panama restricts larger companies to a maximum of 5% foreign workers. However, foreign companies with a base in Panama are allowed to employ up to 12% expatriate workers. A company’s records will be checked before a work permit is issued to ensure that they are not exceeding these regulations.

Those applicants who acquire permanent residency status will have a work permit attached to their visa. After ten years of permanent residency the work permit will also be permanent. Those who marry a Panamanian citizen and become permanent residents will be automatically entitled to a work permit but this will be issued only when the authorities are satisfied that the marriage is genuine. In this instance expats should be prepared to undergo in-depth questioning and background checks before the permit is issued.

Some work permits can take a month or two to process but others can be issued sooner. For example, those who want to teach in Panama can be issued with a visa fairly quickly, mainly due to the shortage of qualified teachers. It has been known for other applications for work permits to take up to a year but such a delay would be unusual.

Useful Resources

Ministerio de Trabajo (Ministry of Labour)

Read more about this country

Expat Health Insurance Partners

Bupa Global

At Bupa we have been helping individuals and families live longer, healthier, happier lives for over 60 years. We are trusted by expats in 190 different countries and have links with healthcare organisations throughout the world. So whether you're moving abroad for a change of career or a change of scene, with our international private health insurance you will always be in safe hands.


Cigna has worked in international health insurance for more than 30 years. Today, Cigna has over 71 million customer relationships around the world. Looking after them is an international workforce of 31,000 people, plus a network of over 1 million hospitals, physicians, clinics and health and wellness specialists worldwide, meaning you have easy access to treatment.