Most countries have rules about who can visit and who can live within their borders full time.
As a US citizen, I’m allowed to stay in Panama for six months without filling out any paperwork at all.
Lots of Americans live here full time without becoming legal residents. They simply make a “visa run.” This means a quick trip to a neighboring country, or back to the US, every six months. When they return to Panama the new passport stamp gives them another six months.
Other countries may not have this option. In the EU, for example, you can only stay for three months out of a calendar year.
If Europe is where you want to live, you’ll need to be a legal resident.
As a resident, you have rights — but not all the same rights a citizen would have.
I can purchase property in Panama, but as a non-resident I can’t get a job. Also, in a bit of a disconnect, I can legally drive on my US driver’s license, but only for three months. So if I want to drive without worrying about random traffic stops, I have to make visa runs twice as often, every three months.
Or I can regularize my status by becoming a legal resident. Depending on the type of residency I qualify for, I may or may not be allowed to work.
A few months ago, recognizing that Panama needs more skilled workers than they have, President Martinelli issued an executive order creating a new residency law to make it easier for people to come here and start businesses or take skilled jobs.
Most countries will have several routes to residency. All of them will want to know that you have no criminal background and you won’t become a financial burden to them.
Most countries have some form of residency for:
- workers in a profession or industry that’s in demand
Naturally, every country wants different documentation, different levels of investment, different skills, etc. There’s no one-size-fits-all when it comes to residency.
If you’re considering a specific country, it’s a good idea to visit their consulate’s website to see whether you qualify to become a permanent resident. Make sure your research is up to date, as residency rules and requirements change often.
New EU Residencies for Investors
If Europe‘s on your radar, last month, Portugal changed its residency laws to attract wealthy individuals from friendly, non-EU countries.
Under the new law you can gain Portuguese residency in one of three ways:
- Invest at least 1 million euro in the country
- Start a business employing at least 30 people
- Purchase property for 500,000 euro or more
Obviously, this residency isn’t for everyone. But if you want to run a business with employees and/or have significant financial resources, this could provide a quick and easy way to enjoy the European lifestyle.
In a similar move, Hungary is considering giving residency if you purchase special government bonds worth at least 250,000 euros. If it becomes law, this would provide not only residency but a Hungarian passport. (Once you have a passport for any EU country, you can pretty much go anywhere within the entire European Union.)
If you plan to apply for residency in your new country, make sure you understand the process before you leave.
Some countries insist you start the residency application from your home country and won’t let you change from a tourist visa to a resident after you arrive.
Even if you’re going to a country that will let you switch, make sure you get all the required documentation from your home country while you’re still there. Otherwise it can get very complicated.
It’s also a good idea to find a reputable lawyer who can guide you through the process.
Great info, Susanna. Isn’t it fascinating, and frustrating too, how different each country can be? I am thrilled to see more sites like yours, and like ours (http://UruguayExpat.Info) providing solid, first-hand, on-the-ground experiences and info.
There is so much mythology, old info, bad info, and sales-pitches out there. Sure, you have and we will have some info and ebooks for sale to help people out, but we’re also providing a lot of free real-world observations and tips. As are people like Tim Anderson at Marginal Boundaries, Sabine Panneau at Anywhere In The World, and other solid non-1%center-wanting-tax-haven types of expats.
I will suggest that in addition to your advice to “visit the consular website” about the country of interest, readers also visit a number of expat sites/forums (with a healthy dose of skepticism and ability to self-edit/integrate seemingly conflicting info), and try to find and read the actual Immigration department website of the country of interest. Uruguay, for one, was notorious for its USA Consulates websites having absolutely incorrect or outdated info, such as the non-existing $1500/month USD requirement and the need to start the process outside the country. Dead wrong – it was only $500USD/month, is now rather interpreted as “enough to support your mode of life”, and it is started inside Uruguay while here on a tourist permit.
The $1500 was a special retirement-only, fast-track-to-passport-in-1-year, program that also allowed import of an automobile (waste of money in most cases) and required tying up US $100,000 for five or six years either in a non-withdrawable bank deposit or a residential property that could not be sold for that duration. I don’t know if that law is even still in effect, but it was never the “regular immigration program.” Yet every US consulate of Uruguay used to show that as the only way to do it. They are slowly correcting the sites but not all of them are correct. Whereas the actual Migraciones site has and has had the correct info all along.
Thanks for commenting on our post about this over on our site!
Thanks, Mark. Makes sense to check the immigration website for the country.
All the best,