There are a lot of foreigners living and working in Panama, but most of them are employed by international companies with an established presence in the country.
Why is it so difficult to find work? Basically, the government doesn't like anyone taking jobs away from Panamanians. As a result, the labor laws are very restrictive towards foreigners. Unless you are planning on opening your own business, or if you work for companies that have special agreements with the Panamanian government, it won’t be easy. For example, the number of foreigners in a Panamanian company can’t exceed 10% of total employees (15% in the case of skilled foreign experts and technicians). Employers intending to hire a foreigner must first obtain an authorization from the Ministry of Labor and Social Welfare. It's also important to know that the accompanying spouse of a work permit holder does not receive a work permit by default and must make an independent application (for both a work permit and residency).
A work permit is delivered by the Ministry of Labor and Social Welfare and must be renewed each year. You may apply for a work permit for foreign workers if you fall under one of the following categories: You...
- are married to someone of Panamanian nationality.
- have 10 or more years of residency in Panama.
- are within the 10% of the ordinary personnel.
- are an expert or technical worker within the 15% of the specialized personnel.
- work as an executive in a company of the Colon Free Zone (a large free trade area at the Atlantic entrance to the Panama canal).
- work in a company that has less than 10 workers, as per the Marrakech Agreement.
- are an executive of a company that produces its merchandise abroad.
- are a refugee.
A work permit is bound to one contract, so each time you change work you have to start the application procedure all over again.
You will have to submit the following documents; the application form, a power of attorney from the applicant’s legal representative in Panama, a copy of your passport and entry visa, your employment contract, the employer’s business/operation license, a Certificate of Good Standing as issued to the company by the Public Registry, and four passport-sized photographs.
All foreign documents submitted to the authorities must have been authenticated in the country of origin (you will find more information in the subsection on apostilles).
For more information on the requirements to apply for any working permit: www.mitradel.gob.pa (only in Spanish)