The Complete Overview to Social Security in Panama for Foreigners (2024)

The Complete Overview to Social Security in Panama for Foreigners (2024)

Social Security is known as seguro social in Panama. The program is run by the Caja de Seguro Social, the government institution in charge of planning and administering Social Security benefits.

Around 80% of the Panamanian population is enrolled in Social Security. This includes both citizens and foreign residents. Benefits include public health insurance, pensions, and disability, sickness, and maternity coverage.

As long as you work for a company in Panama and your employer enrolls you in the program, you will be eligible to receive Social Security benefits in Panama.

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Key Takeaways

  • If you work for a company in Panama, the company will automatically enroll you in Panama’s Social Security System.
  • If you are self-employed, it’s up to you whether you want to be in Panama’s Social Security program.
  • Once you are in the Social Security program, it’s possible to add your family there.
  • Panama’s Social Security gives you access to all Social Security hospitals and clinics, and you don’t need to pay anything.
  • If you contribute to Social Security for more than 240 months, you can receive a pension.
  • Panama’s Social Security rate is 22%. If you are working for a company, you pay only 9.75%.

Panama’s Social Security Program Overview

Social Security is a tax-funded program. People who work for Panamanian companies or international companies based in Panama are required to pay Social Security tax (impuesto de seguro social). 

Both employers and employees contribute a percentage of their monthly income to the Social Security Fund, which fund the benefits provided by the system.

Employers withhold a percentage of their employees’ paychecks each month and are required to match those contributions with their own payments. 

Social Security tax rates depend on salary and type of employment.

Anyone who pays Social Security tax benefits from the program immediately.

For example, as soon as you’re registered in the system you receive health care coverage. Workers, their families, retirees, mothers, and individuals with sicknesses or disabilities all benefit from the Social Security system.

Benefits And Coverage

Panama’s Social Security benefits cover a range of essential services, including health insurance, maternity coverage, disability and sickness support, pensions, and survivor benefits. 

In the following sections, I’ve provided detailed information on each benefit, including coverage levels and key details.

Health Insurance

Social Security health insurance provides 100% coverage for consultations, medications, emergencies, hospitalization, preventative medicine, exams, surgeries, dentistry, and any other service offered by each clinic. 

There are no co-pays or deductibles to worry about. 

CSS hospitals and clinics also have their own pharmacies where you can pick up prescription medications at no additional cost – they’re covered by the program.

It means that when you use your Social Security at any Social Security hospitals and clinics, you won’t have to pay any fees or co-pays if you contribute to the system. 

Social Security Clinics And Hospitals

To use health coverage provided by the Social Security system, you can visit any hospitals or clinics run by the Caja de Seguro Social.

There are 77 CSS health facilities in Panama, and they are found across all the provinces. 

Here is a complete list of Social Security clinics and hospitals, plus their phone numbers. Click on the name of the province you live in to see all the CSS facilities in your area.

A few of the major CSS hospitals and clinics are the following:

  • Complejo Hospitalario Dr. Arnulfo Arias Madrid and Hospital Susana Jones Cano (Panama City)
  • Hospital Dr. Gustavo Nelson Collado (Chitré)
  • Hospital Regional Dr. Rafael Estévez (Aguadulce)
  • Hospital Dr. Dionisio Arrocha (Puerto Armuelles)
  • Hospital Regional Dr. Rafael Hernández L. (David)

Types of Social Security facilities include health centers, polyclinics (clinics that offer a wide variety of medical services including general doctors, specialists, diagnostic tests, and minor surgical procedures), hospitals, and large regional hospitals which are the largest CSS facilities.

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You are not required to visit a polyclinic before going to a hospital. 

You can go straight to the hospital if you wish. Most people go to the facility that’s closest to their home, regardless of whether it’s a clinic or hospital.

Treatment Quality

When it comes to treatment quality, national law requires doctors to work in both the private and CSS systems, so you will receive treatment from the same medical professionals at a Social Security clinic as you would at a private facility.

However, CSS facilities are known for their long lines and wait times. Medicine shortages also occasionally occur. 

The system is overwhelmed with more patients than it can handle, but it’s often a convenient choice for addressing minor health concerns.

How to Schedule a Medical Appointment Online through the CSS

The Caja de Seguro Social has recently implemented an online appointment scheduling system for CSS medical facilities. 

Appointments can only be made during business hours – Monday through Friday, from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. 

The registration page will prompt you for the following information: whether you are the main policyholder or a beneficiary (if you are the policyholder scheduling an appointment for your dependent, select “beneficiary”), passport number or Social Security number, date of birth, and contact information.

Afterward, choose the polyclinic nearest to your location and select the type of specialist you wish to see. Keep in mind, you’ll need a referral from a general medical doctor at a CSS facility to qualify for web appointment scheduling.

A registration number will be provided, so make sure to save it for when the clinic reaches out, typically within 48 to 72 hours.

Remember, it’s essential to wear a proper face mask when attending your appointment or visiting any CSS clinic.

My Experience With Panamanian Social Security

I have worked for companies in Panama since 2021 and was automatically enrolled in the program when I got my first job in the country. 

I’ve had the opportunity to receive medical care at a Social Security clinic. It was an easy and straightforward process. 

When I arrived, I checked in at the reception window and showed my Social Security I.D. The receptionist asked me to sign a document and then I waited to be attended by a general medicine doctor.

Panama Bus
CSS clinic is normally conveniently located near a Metro bus stop, which makes getting to and from appointments easy even if you don’t have a car.

The facility was clean and in good condition, and the doctors and nurses were friendly and knowledgeable. When my appointment ended, I went to the clinic pharmacy to pick up the medications that the doctor prescribed me. I didn’t have to pay anything.

The process took about five hours in total because the clinic was very crowded with a long line. I waited about four hours to be seen by the doctor. However, I arrived in the late morning, around 10 a.m. If I had gotten to the clinic when it opened at 7 a.m., my wait probably would have been significantly shorter.

I’ve noticed that every CSS clinic is conveniently located near a Metro bus stop, which makes getting to and from appointments easy even if you don’t have a car.

Maternity

Women employees who are pregnant are entitled to 14 weeks of paid pregnancy leave (6 weeks before childbirth and 8 weeks afterward). To qualify, you must have paid Social Security tax at least 9 months out of the last 12 months before her 7th month of pregnancy.

Pregnant women who receive Social Security benefits are guaranteed medical care throughout their pregnancy. Prenatal check-ups, ultrasounds, tests, consultations with doctors, delivery, and hospitalization related to childbirth are covered by the CSS.

Expectant mothers can also request a monetary stipend from the CSS to help cover expenses related to pregnancy, childbirth, prenatal and newborn care, and other related expenses.

The maternity stipend in Panama is calculated by multiplying 100% of the average salary of the last six months by 75% and dividing that number by 30 days. 

This formula will tell you how much financial assistance you’d receive per day. 

For example, if the employee was making US$1,200 a month, she’d be given US$30 per day.

Disability And Sickness

To receive disability or sickness benefits, you must have paid Social Security tax for at least three years to be eligible, and be examined and declared unfit for work by the Caja de Seguro Social.

If found to be unfit for work, you will be issued an I.D. that allows youto receive benefits from the CSS during the time they’re unable to work.

For temporary disability or sickness, the CSS will pay the worker’s complete or partial monthly salary for up to 12 months, which can be extended for an additional 6 months if extra time is needed for recovery.

In the case of a permanent disability or sickness, you will be granted a lifetime pension of US$175 to US$1,500 per month, depending on the number of contributions you made to the Social Security fund.

Survivor Benefits

If a worker or pensioner dies, their beneficiaries will be paid a monthly pension. 

The CSS recognizes spouses and children under 18 years of age (or disabled adult children) as beneficiaries.

In case there is no surviving spouse or children, the pension will be given to the mother or father of the deceased or a sibling under 14 years of age who lived with the deceased person. 

In this scenario, the pension would be issued to a single person.

The pension amount is 50% of the deceased person’s monthly salary.

Pensions

To be eligible to receive a standard retirement pension in Panama, you must meet both age and quota requirements, including: 

  • Age requirements: Men must be at least 62 years old. For women, it’s 57 years old. 
  • Quota requirements: You must have made at least 240 tax payments to Social Security. That means you need to work 20 years in Panama to retire and receive a monthly pension.

Calculating Pension Amount

The CSS looks at your 10 best years of contributions to determine the monthly pension amount, which is set at 60% of the monthly base salary for the 240 months (20 years) that you worked and contributed to Social Security. 

retiree in Panama reading a book.
If you have been contributing Social Security in Panama for more than 240 months, you can receive pension here.

If you paid Social Security tax for more than 240 months, the CSS will add 1.25% of your monthly base salary to your monthly pension amount for every additional 12 months worked.

If your base salary was US$1,000 per month, you’d receive 60% (US$600) per month as a pension for the rest of your life. 

For every additional year worked beyond 20 years, you’d be paid an extra 1.25% per month (US$12.50). Your total monthly pension would be US$612.50.

How To Request A Pension

You must submit a pension request at least three months prior to reaching the retirement age listed above. 

You can obtain the form through the CSS website or by visiting an administrative office. 

If you’re outside of Panama at the time of request, you can send the form by email to the CSS Department of Pensions and Subsidies.

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View the full list of requirements for requesting pension benefits here.

Personal Loans For Retirees And Pensioners

Pensioners and retirees can qualify for a loan amount of up to US$67,000 with a 4.95% fixed annual interest rate. 

The following documents are required to apply: 

  • Passport or Panamanian I.D.
  • Social Security I.D. number
  • A utility bill such as water or electricity
  • Three personal references
  • A verification from the Panamanian Credit Association (APC)
  • Most recent Social Security “Ficha”
  • A debt consolidation letter from the APC

How To Claim Benefits

There are two ways to apply for Social Security benefits like maternity coverage, disability, or a pension. 

The most convenient method is to apply on your computer or phone by visiting the Caja de Seguro Social Tramites website

You can also go to your nearest Social Security office to request benefits in person.

Either way, check out the site first so you have the proper documentation ready when you apply.

How To Claim Benefits When Leaving Panama

Unless you have made at least 240 contributions to the Panamanian Social Security program and requested retirement, your benefits will expire when you stop working for a company in Panama.

If you have a pension through the CSS, you will continue to receive your monthly payments even if you move outside the country. However, you would need to maintain an account with a bank in Panama because the CSS only deposits to local accounts.

If you meet the requirements for a pension but are living outside Panama when you reach retirement age, you can file for a pension by completing the documents found on the CSS website and emailing them to the Caja de Seguro Social Department of Pensions and Subsidies.

Health care, temporary sick and disability leave, maternity, and other Social Security benefits will cease when you leave Panama.

How To Enroll In Social Security

If you want to qualify to receive Social Security benefits in Panama, the first step is to:

  1. Find employment with a company in Panama, or
  2. Work independently (as a freelancer or entrepreneur) in the country.

After you enroll in the Panamanian Social Security system, it’s also possible to register your family in the program.

Once you have been enrolled in the program, the CSS will issue you an I.D. (Carnet de Seguro Social) that allows you to receive medical care at any facility in the system. 

You can request the I.D. at the Social Security administrative office that’s closest to where you live. The process costs US$5.

Let’s take a look at how to do it for each option.

Employment

If you’re an employee, the company will register you with the CSS automatically – you won’t need to do anything. 

Employers are legally required to enroll their employees within the first six business days of employment. An amount will be deducted from your paychecks for the Social Security tax.

Once enrolled in the system you’ll be issued a social security number (NSS), which can be used to check your tax contributions and benefits.

Self-Employment 

If you’re self-employed, you’ll be responsible for registering yourself with the Caja de Seguro Social (CSS) and for making your own contributions. 

As an independent worker, you are not required to register with the CSS or pay Social Security tax. It is entirely your choice. 

Some self-employed foreigners choose to enroll in the system to receive its benefits, such as health insurance and pensions.

San Francisco Bay apartments in Panama City
If you are self-employed, you have an option to enroll in Panama’s Social Security program.

You can request affiliation online here. Or, to register in person, you can go to an administrative office of the CSS and ask for the voluntary insurance department. 

In either case, you’ll need to present the following documents:

  • your original passport and a copy
  • a document that certifies the work you perform
  • a notarized Panamanian tax declaration form from the previous year
  • a medical examination

Dependents

To register your dependents, you’ll need to go to one of the administrative offices of the CSS. You can find an office near you here. 

The required documents are the following:

  • a birth certificate for children under 18 years old
  • a university certificate for children 18 – 25 years old (adult children only qualify if they’re students)
  • a marriage certificate for a spouse.
  • your original birth certificate if you want to enroll your parents. 

Your father is eligible for inclusion if he’s 60 or older, and your mother can be registered with the CSS as your dependent if she’s 50 or older. 

Conjugal partners (of the opposite sex) can be registered with the CSS as legal dependents if you present three witness declarations certifying your relationship.

Social Security Tax Rate

Employees usually pay 9.75% of each paycheck to the Social Security fund. In Panama, workers are paid twice a month.

If each of your paychecks is US$1,000, you’d pay about US$97.50 of each paycheck to Social Security.

Employers pay 12.25% of your salary amount from their own pocket every time you get paid.

Independent workers who enroll in Social Security pay 22% of their monthly salary. 

The tax can be paid in person at one of the administrative offices of the CSS or online through the CSS website.

Cancellation

If you leave your job or are fired, your employer will notify the Caja de Seguro Social. 

During the period of time that you are unemployed, your Social Security benefits will be cancelled. Panama does not offer unemployment support.

Your benefits will resume when you find a new job and start contributing to Social Security again.

Is Social Security Enough?

Probably not, which is why you should have a backup plan even if you decide to use Panamanian Social Security benefits. 

Most expats do not use the Social Security system and instead opt for private health insurance and private retirement savings plans.

Hospital National - the National Hospital in Panama City
Long waiting times are the main problem with Panama’s Social Security system. If you want to visit a private hospital, like Hospital Nacional, you need to pay out of pocket or use private insurance instead.

A note to expats from the U.S. – you will continue to receive your U.S. Social Security checks when you become a resident of Panama. You can even arrange to have them deposited in your Panamanian bank account.

The benefits provided by the Panamanian Social Security system on their own are too limited to provide you with a comfortable lifestyle. 

If you’re interested in taking advantage of Social Security services in Panama, you should pair them with the benefits of a private health insurance and retirement plan.

Ficha de Seguro Social

The “Ficha de Seguro Social” is a document containing personal and employment details of each employee enrolled in the program. Issued by the Caja de Seguro Social every three months, it outlines the person’s work history, monthly salary, Social Security number, amount of Social Security tax contributions, and earned benefits such as sick and maternity leave.

It serves to track the employee’s work history and Social Security contributions, including employment periods, and calculates benefits like pensions, disability, and survivor benefits. 

Additionally, the information on the “Ficha” is used to access medical attention, prescriptions, and other health services.

When Do You Need Ficha?

You normally need “Ficha” when applying for the following services: 

  • Bank credits
  • Personal and business loans
  • Mortgages
  • Credit cards

To qualify, you must present your last three “Fichas” to demonstrate your current salary and employment status, determining eligibility. 

Three “Fichas” represent nine months of Social Security contributions.

If you lack three “Fichas” and require a loan or credit, the only alternative is to provide a tax declaration from the last fiscal year. 

Without three “Fichas” or a recent tax declaration, obtaining a loan or credit in Panama is impossible.

How to Request Ficha de Seguro Social

Once enrolled in Social Security and after your first month of contributions, you can request your “Ficha” to be emailed to you every three months by the Caja de Seguro Social. 

You can then download them in PDF format for future reference. Register to receive your “Ficha” digitally here.  (If you encounter difficulties during registration, your employer can assist with the process.)

Now, On To You

If you decide to work for a company in Panama, you will have to pay Social Security tax whether you use the benefits or not. However, whether or not you take advantage of the system’s coverage and benefits is entirely up to you.

Getting your Social Security health insurance I.D. (called carnet de Seguro social in Panama) is a good idea. If you have a minor health concern, visiting a Social Security clinic can save you a lot of money. For more severe health problems, however, most expats use private insurance to visit a private hospital or clinic.

It’s best to learn conversational level Spanish if you plan to use the Social Security system. It could be difficult to find English-speaking workers at Caja de Seguro Social facilities, plus the website and all paperwork are in Spanish. You will need to know how to speak and write in Spanish in order to properly navigate the Social Security system.

To learn more about Panama’s Social Security program, visit the Caja de Seguro Social website.

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Gabrielle moved to Panama in 2021 after graduating from university in the United States. Shortly after settling in Panama City, she began a career in writing and has since written dozens of articles to help expats fulfill their dream of living abroad. Passionate about travel, Gabrielle enjoys sharing the places she’s visited with others through her writing.

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