This post like so many is a reaction to information and miss information being spread about by both the informed and uninformed. I need to add a disclaimer, my law degree from the University of Arizona carries no weight in Panama. Perhaps a little respect from the uniformed, but no more than that. The laws are different here and understanding that is an important first step.
For some reason, probably the clear opportunities and entrepreneurial spirit many new immigrants here in Boquete want to create business or just work. If you are a cedula carrying Panamanian citizen, you can work for anyone, doing anything legal, at any time and collect a paycheck. If however you are a new immigrant stop, read and think.
Whether you can work here depends on how you define work. Work for pleasure, work without compensation is perfectly acceptable, although if you are so inclined and take a job away from a citizen, they might decide to call immigration and cause you some grief. Work for a paycheck is forbidden, unless you get a work permit. Getting a work permit is impossible if you are here as a tourist, or pensionado, which is a perpetual tourist visa. The Pensionado visa is NOT a path toward citizenship and under the terms to which you agreed when you applied for one, you cannot work in Panama. Working and getting caught can cost plenty including deportation.
If you have another type of Visa and a Panamanian company wishes to hire you for your special skills and they do the paper route to get you a work permit you can work legally in Panama. If you are legally in Panama for five years on a work visa or other type, other than Pensionado or tourist, you can then apply for citizenship should you want it. If you for some reason want a fast path to a work visa and change of status, get married and have a child. If you are responsible for the support of a child born in Panama, you will be fast tracked to a visa.
Assuming having child is not in your game plan, there is one other way to earn money legally in Panama; you can start a business. You can employ Panamanian citizens and although you cannot legally work in your own business you can train your staff and profit as the owner of the corporation.
The landmine is that even if you own the business, unless you can somehow get a work permit you cannot work in your own business. If you are caught working, behind the counter, what ever, you can be fined and deported.
Panama has the jubilado, pensionado visa with one goal, getting you to move here, spend money and create employment. They do not expect you to be competing with the local labor force. There are other visas with other options like the business investor visa where after hiring five locals you can work, but that in not with a Pensionado visa.
If you are having trouble digesting any of this please consult with a lawyer licensed in Panama, I am not. Do it before you find yourself facing legal problems. For those who think this is somehow unfair, please check your home country immigration laws, they will be similar, probably without the Pensionado Visa option.