Retiring in Guatemala: Residency and Pensionado Programs

Flickr @ Damian613

I get a few emails every month from people seeking information about retiring in Guatemala. The fact that they’re considering Guatemala tells me they’ve done their homework and haven’t been “steered” towards the usual suspects, such as Costa Rica or Panama. I’m in no way putting down choices other than Guatemala because, as I can only speak of what I know, and that means Antigua Guatemala.

As always, I recommend you travel to the country first and stay for a few months *before* you uproot yourself and loved ones. Best to postpone the often-frustrating task of filling out paperwork and sinking money into lawyer fees until you’re sure you want to put down roots.

Speaking of sinking money into lawyer fees, you ought to check out my friend’s blog,, a Gringo that has recently retired to Guatemala, for an insight into how the process works. Compare his experience to what the requirements on the books are here, as listed below. There can often be quite the disparity between the two.

There are different types of visas available. Each has a set of requirements depending on what your intentions are when arriving in Guatemala. If you’re here for a short-term and don’t plan on working in Guatemala or opening a business, then it’s easier to leave the country every six months and play the tourist visa game.

However, if you are thinking of staying in Guatemala long-term and eventually work or set up a business here, consider becoming a resident.

*** If you want to know what are the actual benefits of the Guatemalan Pensionado Program, see my article about (new window)  Guatemala Pensionado Program Benefits.

Retiring in Guatemala

With a (tourist) visa, you’ll be able to work as a volunteer in many of the Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) that have set up shop in Guatemala. You can also buy property here without the need to become a resident.

However, if you want to work for a Guatemalan company in a paid role or have a business, you’ll need to become a resident. Many foreigners come to Antigua with their tourist visas and try to land jobs as bartenders or at local restaurants – this is illegal. You’ll be deported, fined Q10,000 if found, and likely never allowed to enter the country again.

While many people decide to engage in the activity anyway, do know that Police does conduct immigration raids in Antigua from time to time. Not a good outcome for a job that is likely to pay far less than comparable jobs elsewhere.

There are different types of visas available. Each has a set of requirements depending on what your intentions are when arriving in Guatemala. If you’re here for a short-term and don’t plan on working in Guatemala or opening a business, then it’s easier to leave the country every six months and play the tourist visa game. However, if you are thinking of staying in Guatemala long-term and eventually work or set up a business here, consider becoming a resident.

Temporary Guatemalan Residency

The easiest path is to apply for Temporary Residence. This type of residence will allow you to work and invest in Guatemala. Temporary Residency permits are good for two years, at which time you can renew for another two years. However, know that after two years with a Temporary Residency Permit you’ll be able to apply for a Permanent Residency permit.

Regarding government paperwork, you will be required to follow the often cumbersome Pasos de  Ley (Lawful Steps), which is a fancy way of saying  “get your paperwork stamps” – they love stamps here. Often, your foreign documents won’t be accepted by the Guatemalan government until they have been verified as genuine by a Guatemalan official. This process will vary depending on what you’re trying to do and what international document you’re being required to turn in.

A common way to certify your foreign document is to take your papers to the local Guatemalan embassy in your home country. If there isn’t a Guatemalan embassy in your country, your documents can be certified here, as long as you can provide a copy that has been translated into Spanish by an official translator.

In Guatemala, you’ll need to take your documents to the Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores (Ministry of Foreign Relations) in Guatemala City, where a consular officer will certify them as valid. For this, you’ll need official stamps or timbres. These are not expensive, ranging in price from Q1 to Q5. Stamps are available at any office supplies store and in many cases, right outside the gate of whatever government building, you’re required to take your documents for verification.

Here are the documents you need to get your temporary residency, according to Guatemala’s Immigration Department:

  • A recent photograph.
  • Original passport and photocopies of every page in your passport authenticated (notarized) by a lawyer.
  • A certificate of validation for your passport, issued by the embassy or consulate of your country, accredited to the Government of Guatemala (with “Pasos de Ley”). A certified birth certificate will do for people from countries with which Guatemala has no diplomatic relations.
  • Proof that you have no criminal record in the country where you have lived for the last five years (with “Pasos de Ley”). If that nation does not extend a similar document, you must show certificate stating so. Also, provide an affidavit (notarized letter) of “Carencia de Antecedentes Penales” (Lack of Criminal History), and a Police report from Guatemala.
  • Affidavit by a Guatemalan sponsor, or sponsoring company, guaranteeing financial responsibility for the person applying for residency and proof of their economic solvency.

If your sponsor is an actual person, not a company, they will need to provide the following to prove they’re able to take responsibility for you:

  • Have authenticated photocopies of tax returns (VAT-ISR) for the last tax period.
  • Bring a legalized photocopy card of your Tax Identification Number (NIT).
  • Certified letter showing current job and income using the letterhead of accountant or employer, if applicable.
  • Notarized photocopy of sponsor’s Documento Personal de Identification (DPI) – the national ID card that recently replaced the Guatemalan cédula.
  • Your brief statement describing what sort of economic activity you’ll be conducting in Guatemala.

If your sponsor is a company with legal standing in Guatemala, they will need to provide the following to prove they’re able to take responsibility for you:

  • Financial statements (balance sheet and income statements), or a recent certification stating that corporation belongs to a Guatemalan trade union.
  • A notarized copy of the company’s business license.
  • A notarized copy of the identification document for the legal representative of the company, plus a notarized photocopy showing said representative’s status as a legal representative of the business.
  • Job offer letter or letter of employment and a  current work permit issued by the Ministry of Labor.

Pensionado o Rentista (Pensioner or Investor) Residency

This type of residency is useful for those who have a fixed income from overseas. If you’re retired and drawing a pension, this might be your best option.

The main difference between this type of residence and others is that you’ll be unable to work in a paid position (have a job where someone else in Guatemala pays your wages). This doesn’t mean you’re barred from all economic activity here, as in many cases, you’ll still be able to run your own business.

The primary requirement for achieving residency in Guatemala as a pensioner or investor is that applicants be able to prove they have a permanent lawful income of $1,000USD. This monthly income must be generated outside of Guatemala.

Pensioners are considered to be those who are receiving a foreign government’s pension and, or, retirement income, or a pension provided by an international organization or private company.

Investors are those who enjoy stable, permanent income, generated abroad the following way:

  • From deposits, and, or, investments in banks established elsewhere.
  • From investments in companies established abroad.
  • Remittances are originating from real estate income, religious institutions, or academic scholarships.
  • Investments in securities issued in domestic currency by financial institutions legally authorized to operate in Guatemala, where they were purchased with funds obtained by foreign exchange in any of those same institutions.
  • Investments in securities issued in domestic currency by financial institutions legally authorized to operate in Guatemala, where they were purchased with funds obtained by foreign exchange in any of those same institutions, provided that they were purchased with funds raised by the change foreign currency at any of those institutions.
  • Investments in securities denominated in foreign and, or, national currency with the State or its agencies, provided they are obtained by the foreign exchange in any of the country’s financial institutions legally authorized.

Once you receive this type of residency, you can travel in and out of the country as you wish. You will, however, lose your status as a resident if you are out of the country longer than a year. That is unless you can prove that illness forced you to be absent from Guatemala for longer than a year.

Pensioners and investors are also allowed to file an application on behalf of their spouse, unmarried children under 18, any disabled adult children, and grown children younger than 25 years old provided that attend a university and are financially dependent on the pensioner or investor.

For every family member you add to your original petition, you’ll be required to prove an additional $200USD in income each.

Here are the documents you’ll need:

  • A recent photograph.
  • Original passport and complete photocopy of every page in passport notarized by a lawyer.
  • A certificate of validation for your passports issued by the embassy or consulate of your country accredited to the Government of Guatemala (with “Pasos de Ley”), or certified birth certificate for persons from countries with which Guatemala has no diplomatic relations.
  • Proof that you have no criminal record in the country where you have lived for the last five years (with “Pasos de Ley”). If that nation does not extend a similar document, you must show a certificate stating so and an affidavit of “Carencia de Antecedentes Penales” (Lack of Criminal History), and a Police report from Guatemala.
  • Certified documents (with “Pasos de ley”) stating that you receive a monthly pension income or one thousand U.S. dollars ($1,000USD) or more, or its equivalent in local currency. Remember that each additional dependent will require you show an extra income of U.S. $200USD. This document must have a contact email address of the entity issuing the pension or income statement.
  • If your documents are in a foreign language, they must be translated into Spanish by a sworn translator authorized as such by the Guatemalan government.
  • Evidence of-of deposits made from abroad into Guatemalan banks.

Getting permanent residency is not that different regarding paperwork than what’s required to apply for temporary residence. The main benefit is not having to reapply every two years continually, as you’re required to do with a temporary residence.

And there you have it! Not too bad, is it? Until you have to go through it, that is.


Want more info about retiring in Guatemala?

check out the Living in Antigua Guatemala guide.

Published by Rich Polanco

Fan of dogs + all things tech. Love a great pizza. My goal is not to travel to every country in the world. I only want to get to know my favorite ones REALLY well. Check out the big bio here. Follow @RichPolanco and connect on Facebook. Currently exploring: Guatemala.

16 thoughts on “Retiring in Guatemala: Residency and Pensionado Programs

  1. good article. Thanks.

    One clarification: are pensioner visas jolders required to not leave for more than a year, or only investor visa?

      1. Rick,

        1) Your interesting information would be much more useful if you included the date it’s posted, as well as the dates comments are made. As you know so well, nothing stays the same in Guatemala, especially when a new presidential administration begins, a new director takes charge or someone decides that they don’t like the way things are done. Change is the only constant, as far as government is concerned.

        2. Regarding your statement that “according to the Guatemalan government’s website, both pensioners and investors are required to stay in Guatemala for a year.” That is not correct. The information you’re referencing actually states that a residential visa holder can NOT be absent from Guatemala for more than a year, with illness being an exception. We received our Pensionado (retired) visa on January 24, 2013 and have since made two visits to the U.S., each for one month duration. Man, were we glad to get back to Antigua each time!

        Don Buzzingham
        Antigua, Guatemala resident since 2011

        1. Hi Don! Thanks for the feedback. I’ve added an “Updated Date” tag on the post to reflect the date the information was last checked.

          And you’re correct! Bad translation on my part on the comment. As you’ve stated, it says that residents and pensioners cannot be absent from Guatemala for more than a year, except due to a documented illness. Thanks for catching that and letting me know!


      2. Thanks to reader Don for spotting the error in my comment above. Pensioners and residents are NOT required to be in Guatemala for a year. They can’t, however, be absent from Guatemala for more than a year, unless due to illness. Leaving the country is OK on trips lasting less than a year.


  2. “+If your documents are in a foreign language, they must be translated into Spanish by a sworn translator authorized as such by the Guatemalan government.” Are bank statements acceptable as proof income? Must the translations be done in Guatemala? In other words, must one travel to Guatemala to have the documents authenticated/translated. Or would a Guatemalan Consulate in the US perform these requirements for a fee? Thanks

    1. Hi Alwi!

      Bank statements alone are not a proof of income, as I understand it, unless they show the required amount being deposited every month into that account. You must be deriving the amount from a pension, or investment, such as an annuity or something similar.

      Documents are authenticated abroad, at the Guatemalan embassy or consulate nearest you. Once they’ve been authenticated abroad, they need to be authenticated with the Ministry of Foreign Relations in Guatemala City.

      Once documents have been authenticated abroad and authenticated here, you need to find a Sworn Translator. Here’s a list, as provided by the US Embassy in Guatemala:


      1. The following comments are in regards to the Pensionado Residency program for individuals, couples or families with some type of retirement income, i.e. pension, Social Security or other retirement account.

        The first statement (up to the comma) is accurate. I presented statements showing deposits by Social Security and they were not acceptable. I also had to provide a statement from the Social Security Administration stating my monthly benefit. Furthermore, I presented copies of wire transfers I had made from the U.S. to Guatemala proving that I was receiving (in Guatemala) the required amount.

        Documents (police report, income statement) must be notarized, apostilled (by the Secretary of State of the state that issued them and where they were notarized) and legalized by the consulate assigned to the state doing the apostille. Your passport must be presented, along with a notarized copy and a statement from the U.S. Embassy in Guatemala City that it is a valid passport.

        I prepared the documents I needed in the U.S. prior to arriving in Guatemala and ended up having to do each of them again from here because of delay (they are only valid for six months). Doing them from here isn’t difficult if you use a courier service (we use Caniz in Antigua) to send and receive your documents.

        The process appears quite simple and simply isn’t, as this is Guatemala. Mistakes (on both sides) are made and need to be corrected, documents can be misplaced, repeated trips to Migración are expensive by cab.

        I strongly encourage you to do two things. First, try to find a notary who know you and will notarize documents for you while you are out of the U.S. This is not normal and requires a special relationship. You also need someone in the U.S. (relative or friend) who will forward documents with required fees for you. They must understand that they are not to decide how to do things (like my daughter wanted to do), but follow your explicit instructions. Finally, I strongly encourage you to hire a single professional to handle the process (preparation, submission, resubmission, translations, U.S. embassy letter regarding your passport, etc.) You can piecemeal it, but you will spend more, get more frustrated and perhaps, like someone I know, still not have it after five years.

        I have a friend who was quoted a fee of $1,000 here (Antigua) for managing the process for just herself. Note, this does not remove the need to make at least two or more trips to Migración in Guatemala City. Hiring an attorney, a translator, etc. would probably cost as much if not more. In my case, taking the advice of the local American Legion, I hired a consultant in Guatemala City who had trained most of the staff at Migración. Her fee for my wife and I and the additional documentation and fees required for our DPI (a national ID) was only $836 ($416 each). Hiring my Guatemala City consultant was the best decision I made, as her office was three blocks from the Migración office. Getting errors corrected was included in the fee I paid.

        One final thing. Before going through the residency (pensionado) process, come to Guatemala and practice living here. You can automatically stay for 90 days and easily extend your stay for another 90 days ($50 using the consulatant I hired). 90 days later, if you want to extend again, you’ll need to make a 3 day trip to Mexico or Belize. Some people don’t bother with residency. I have one friend who’s been a tourist here for over 15 years. He has to travel to the U.S. twice a year and only seldom has to make a Mexico visa run.

        Good luck, whatever you decide. Guatemala can be a wonderful place to retire, but it’s not for everyone. This is not the USA and wanting it to be like it was back home won’t make it so. It will only make you bitter and frustrated. Enjoy the slower pace of life and the laid back attitude. Understand that manaña most often doesn’t meet tomorrow, it means not today. There is a significant expat population (U.S., Canadian, UK, etc.) here in Antigua and they tend to support each other. One excellent source of information is a breakfast group sponsored by the American Legion (membership is not required) that meets at about 8:00 a.m. every Thursday morning at Café Condesa (facing Parque Central, on the opposite side from the Cathedral). Breakfast there is good and the information you receive is great. I often joke that the breakfast is free, you just pay for the seminar. Ignorance, on the other hand, can be very expensive.

        1. Thank you so much (and to the rest) for that very detailed response. It contains so much info I wonder if there is any more left to digest. It seems that the bank statement will be the least of my problems. From what I read, having the requisite authenticated documents is far from sufficient to ensure a smooth application process. Regardless I really appreciate the trouble you all took to write such detailed information. Guatemala is one of 2 Central American countries I had in mind for my retirement. As I await the sale of my condo, I will see if a visit to Antigua is warranted. A one month visit will surely spare me some of the horror stories I read.

          1. Going back to the last paragraph of my previous reply, one month is insufficient to know if Guatemala is for you. All you can do in one month is taste life here. To really know if you will want to live here, you need to come here and live for six months to a year. Experience the rainy season that lasts for six months. Experience the busy streets on almost every weekend as folks from the capital come to Antigua. Experience the delights of the mercado and the amazing ideosyncrises of our two grocery stores. Above all, don’t make any major decisions about living here until you have lived here. It truly is a more relaxed way of life. In many ways, it’s like living in the 1950’s again.

          2. Thanks Don for sharing your thoughts. I am originally from East Africa and my brief stay in Nicaragua revealed many similarities with my country of origin. And because I speak Spanish fluently, I merged right into the society there and the markets were pretty much as you describe them. They could have been street markets in any East African city too. Neither is the culture of haggling over prices new to me. Clearly, each country/city has its own idiosyncrasies as you point out. However looking up the cost of living index, Antigua does seem quite a bit more expensive than Granada in terms of rents for house/apartments. However, there are less document requirements than for Nicaragua. Still there are no guarantees as to the bureaucratic delays. Nothing is carved in stone and since Miami (where I live) is a mere 2hour flight (or less) to any of the 2 countries, I may need to make more than a single trip to get a good sense of whether or not I need to retire there. The good news is that my SS and annuity are better than the minimum income allowed. Hopefully, I will be able to make some extra cash from selling my paintings. You never know. Take care and it would be nice to have your contact info in the event I do travel to Antigua. I am eternally grateful for the loads of info and advice. Regards.

          3. Each of us has to find the place where we want to be. For me, the eternal springtime of Antigua is a major feature. Tomorrow we have a forcast high of 76, while Granada, NI is expecting it to reach 93 (source: Yahoo Weather). At 93, I’d need air conditioning and the expense that would create. Here in Antigua, we have neither air conditioning nor heating (except for a small space heater in the bathroom). Free heating and cooling is a wonderful perk of retirement.

            Housing is also interesting here. You can find multi-million dollar homes for sale and small houses for around $60,000. I prefer to rent, if only for the freedom it gives. It also illustrates the silliness of most house prices here. I remember seeing a house for sale for only $250,000, however, you could rent it for $350/month. We pay slightly more rent than that but live in the middle of everything we need: banks, grocery stores, the mercado, the cafe we have lunch at M-F (Q20 – $2.60/person). We don’t have or need a car, but have a chauffeur (Don Pedro, our taxi driver). We have a maid and a gardener for our small garden. We also walk most places, as Antigua is only 12 blocks by 12 blocks.

            Sample all the places you might want to live and decide based on your desires and preferences. Good luck with your adventure.

          4. Don, you could be writing about Granada, except for the weather. The hostel where I was living was close to Parque Central and everything you mention is within walking distance. However, the rent in Antigua would certainly take a sizable chunk of my retirement income compared to Granada (where a 2 B/R house rents for $150 – 200. Regardless, I would still want to visit Antigua and see things for myself, You certainly seem really charmed by the city and from what you describe, that is perfectly understandable. As you imagine, moving to a different country is a major step and one has to proceed with caution and make sure that that is where one wants to spend much of the rest of one’s life. No matter, I appreciate your information that has been extremely helpful. Regards, Alwi

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