11 Things to Do After You Move to Panama

Deciding to move to Panama is a huge step in the next chapter of your life–actually making the move is another one! But, once you get to Panama, you might be overwhelmed with what to do first.

Should you buy a home or rent first? What immigration lawyer should you see? How do you buy a car? What about getting a functioning phone?

In this article, I’ve outlined 11 things you should do upon arriving in Panama (within the first few months). This list will help you get settled in your new home and allow you to prioritize some of those “red tape” items on your to-do list. As you read through the list, remember that Panama Relocation Tours has experts to help you through every step.

We do not “upsell” you for help buying a car, transporting pets, etc. Instead, we teach you how to do these things to avoid additional fees. We also provide a list of recommended companies and people to work with so you can avoid costly mistakes.

But, if you need help, we have trusted experts nationwide who are ready to help you with any of these steps. They are all listed in the Online Panama Relocation Guide, updated monthly. We get no kickbacks or commissions from the experts we refer you to.

After you come on an all-inclusive Panama Relocation Tour, you’ll get free access to the Online Panama Relocation Guide.

The 11 things to do after moving to Panama can be rearranged in the order of utmost importance for you.

Find a Home

Where you live will have a huge impact on your lifestyle in Panama. Therefore, it’s important to take your time when deciding where you want to live–both the town and the actual home. Don’t rush into a long-term rental. We strongly recommend not buying real estate until you’ve been in Panama at least a year… and maybe never buy real estate in Panama.

We recommend staying in an Airbnb or hotel for a few weeks while searching for a long-term rental. It’s much better to see rentals in person rather than trying to find something online before arriving. You’ll want to see the rental in person before signing a long-term lease or sending any money for a deposit. Never rent anything without seeing it first.

The lease will probably be in Spanish. Suppose your Spanish isn’t quite up to par yet (like most foreigners when they first move to Panama). In that case, you’ll want to get a lawyer to review the lease to ensure you fully understand it and that it does not include anything not customary in Panama. Don’t sign a lease without having a lawyer look it over first!

Luckily, Panama Relocation Tours has trustworthy people all over Panama who can help you find a long-term rental and review the lease.

Many rentals include utilities, but if they do not, we have “fixers” (people who help you!) all over Panama who can help you set up your utilities in your name. They can also help you find a gardener or maid if it’s not included in your rent. .

Rental in Penonome, Panama

Get a Phone

A functioning phone is at the top of most people’s priority lists. An international plan with your existing phone carrier works well for short-term vacations; however, as a long-term plan, it’s costly, and it’s much better to get a Panamanian number as soon as possible. Panama cell phone plans start at about $25 a month.

You can purchase a completely new phone in Panama. However, if you’re set on using a phone you already have, you’ll need to ensure it is “unlocked” before leaving your home country. This will allow you to switch out the SIM card or eSIM in Panama simply. You can also purchase unlocked phones online.

Not speaking the language may make you weary about heading to a phone store in Panama. However, rest assured that there are people who can help English speakers. Many stores have English-speaking representatives. Online Panama Relocation Guide also has “fixers” who can help. These trusted people will go with you to the store and help with the language and the process. 

Once you have your phone, be sure to install WhatsApp. Whatsapp is a free app that allows you to make and receive calls, do video calls, share photos or videos, share your location, and more. This messaging app is the #1 means of communication in Panama. The app is self-explanatory, but plenty of YouTube videos can guide you through using it for the first time. Invite all your contacts to get Whatsapp so you can stay in touch.

Buy a Car

Getting around your new town will allow you to explore and feel more at home. Not everyone buys a car when they move to Panama. Many people we’ve worked with happily live in Panama using public transit and taxis to get around. However, if it’s within your budget and you’re accustomed to driving as your main form of transit, then it’s a good thing to do shortly after the move.

We have car brokers all over Panama who can assist you in finding a car at the right price. They charge less than $500 to find the car, inspect it, and transfer the title into your name. If you don’t plan on buying a car, we’d also recommend getting familiar with Uber and InDrive apps in addition to public transportation.

Get TV Access

While this may not be at the top of your priority list, you’ll want to feel comfortable in your new rental home. After a long day of exploring or running errands, you probably just want to return home and watch some of your favorite programs.

Cable TV is available in Panama but it’s mostly in Spanish only.

Amazon FireStick is an excellent option to help you get started streaming. It’s a device that plugs into your TV and allows you access to various streaming platforms (Netflix, Hulu, HBO Max, Amazon Prime Video, Disney+, etc.). You can also get news channels and sports. You can bring your own Amazon FireStick or buy one in Panama. We know people who sell and will help you set them up so you can start enjoying your programs in English.

watch english tv shows in panama

Scope Out Grocery Stores

Food is a part of some of our most important moments—and it’s a huge part of our everyday lives. We urge you to try the local Panamanian dishes. These meals may even become among your favorites, and eating local is usually the most affordable option. A meal at a Panamanian “fonda” is usually $5 a person and includes a beverage.

However, we understand that you’ll probably want some of your creature comforts from home. You’re in luck because, in Panama, you’ll find grocery stores with items similar to those in North America. Check out all the grocery stores in your new town to see which stores you prefer! You may need to go to several stores to get everything on your list.

Additionally, take advantage of the fruit and vegetable stands in your area. They will have the most affordable and freshest produce.

If you have pets, check out the pet stores in your area. Pet stores and Melo have a good selection of pet foods.

PanamaRelocationTours.com
Romero Grocery Store Panama

Locate a Hospital & Buy Health Insurance

This is important! Find out where the nearest hospital is just in case you have a medical emergency. Public hospitals are much more affordable than private hospitals. Do a Google search for “hospital near me”

Seeing a doctor is affordable, usually less than $20. However, some other procedures could cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. So, it’s still a good idea to get health insurance if you qualify. Learn about health insurance options.

If you had a medical emergency, hospitalization could be expensive, especially at a private hospital. Health insurance will allow you to avoid large debts from high emergency medical bills. If you have a medical emergency and don’t have insurance, go to a public hospital to keep the costs low.

The Online Panama Relocation Guide lists honest insurance brokers who can help you find the best option for your health insurance needs. Some other brokers will try to charge a “gringo tax”; however, ours will give you a fair price! (I found this out the hard way with a broker in Boquete)

We also have Fixers to help you get a Panama City hospital insurance plan.

If you decide not to buy health insurance, get familiar with the nearest public hospital and register there.

Regional Hospital Dr. Rafael Hernandez in David, Panama

Find a Doctor

Especially if you have pre-existing conditions, it’s a good idea to find a physician in your area who you like and who can give you the proper care. You’ll want to bring your medical records, including a list of medications. Many doctors in Panama speak English. We have a list of many doctors in the Online Panama Relocation Guide. It also includes a Panamanian doctor who can do a telemedicine consultation before or after you move to Panama.

Additionally, you’ll need to check which pharmacies have your meds. Check various pharmacies to compare prices. Some prescription medicines in Panama are more affordable, but some are quite costly, so research for your best price. A hospital pharmacy often has the largest selection and the best prices compared to a private pharmacy.

The link to two private pharmacies in this article allows you to check medication availability and costs. The Online Guide lists a company that will research Panama’s most affordable place to buy your medications.

Finding a vet for your pet is also important. The Online Panama Relocation Guide has a list of veterinaries. Many of the vets make house calls at very affordable prices. My vet charges $25 for a house visit.

doctor

Meet Other Expats

Once you get settled in your new home, you’ll want to start meeting people in your community. Luckily, many towns have a buzzing expat community where you can get involved. While you should also look to connect with the local Panamanians, as this will give you the best insight into the local culture, expats are also great friends as they know exactly what you’re going through. After all, they’ve done it, too!

Consider your interests and look for groups where you can enjoy those interests with others. For example, head to live music or art events. You might also consider volunteering with an organization. You could also join a hiking, game, or craft group. Many communities need volunteers for monthly spay and neuter clinics. Whatever interests you, you’ll likely find a group that shares your interest.

If you’re a churchgoer, check out several different church services to find a local church that suits your needs and get involved there.

Once you join the Panama Relocation Tours family by going on a tour or buying the Online Panama Relocation Guide, you’ll be invited to our monthly PRT meet-and-greets. These happen simultaneously at eight locations throughout Panama. It’s the perfect opportunity to meet others who have moved to Panama.

PRT Monthly Get Together.

Apply for a Residency Visa

You can start the visa process before moving to Panama when you first arrive or after you get settled.

Before you move to Panama, you’ll need to verify that you have all the documents you need to get a residency visa. Most documents can only be obtained in your home country, and they must be either authenticated by the Panama Consulate in your home country or apostilled.

Don’t move to Panama until you are absolutely sure you have all the documents you need to get a visa! You must get a residency visa to live in Panama.

Luckily, gaining a residency visa in Panama is fairly simple, which is why many foreigners move to Panama. The Pensionado Visa is especially popular for retirees.

While you don’t have to stress too much about starting the visa process right after you move to Panama, don’t wait too long! Your documents can’t be older than 6 months when you apply for a visa.

The Online Panama Relocation Guide has a list of affordable immigration lawyers who can streamline the process, and they offer special discounts for Panama Relocation Tour clients. Our Online Panama Relocation Guide also includes a comprehensive list of the documents needed to complete the process.

Get a Panama Driver’s License

Once you have your residency visa, you can no longer drive with your foreign driver’s license. You’ll need to get a Panamanian driver’s license. There are two ways to get a Panama driver’s license.

One option is to get your foreign license authenticated in your embassy in Panama City. Then, you’ll get a test confirming your blood type, and finally, you’ll need to get a vision and hearing test. After you’ve completed these steps, you pay $40 ($36 with the Pensionado discount), and you’ll leave with your new, local license.

The other option is to pay a driving school and get a study guide! You must pass a written test (in English) and a driving test. Again, you’ll have to get a vision and hearing test. Once these steps are completed, you can walk away with your license.

Get a Panama Bank Account

Some people live in Panama without getting a Panama bank account. They rely on getting cash from an ATM and use the credit card for most purchases.

Using a foreign debit card in an ATM in Panama will cost $6.80 to get $250 US. So, ensure you have a debit card to reimburse you for foreign transaction fees.

If you want to open a Panama bank account, we recommend going to a bank that offers online banking and an app in English and Spanish. The Online Panama Relocation Guide has a list of recommended banks.

Most banks require you to bring a bank reference letter no more than 30 days old when you open your account. You will usually need your last two years of income tax returns. You must open the account with cash ($50 – $1500, depending on which bank). Once the account is open, you can wire additional funds and even deposit a check from a US bank into your Panama account.

Many banks have an English rep who can help you open an account. But we do have helpers readily available to accompany you to the bank to open an account. They are listed in the Onlne Panama Relocation Guide.

If you have a Panama bank account, your life will be much easier. You can move money from your account to your landlord’s account to pay rent, set up automatic bill pay for utilities and cell phone service, and get a Panama debit card to avoid ATM fees when using a foreign debit card.

Note that if you are a US citizen and your Panama bank account exceeds $10,000, even for one day, there are extra reporting requirements for your US tax return.

Home Sweet Home

These 11 steps are some of the first things you must do to make Panama your new home. Prioritizing these 11 steps will allow you to complete the necessities and live comfortably!

You don’t have to do it alone!

While it may seem like a lot to do, especially in a foreign country, the information in the Online Panama Relocation Guide has the resources to guide you through every step of the process.

We have experts readily available to help you. We offer ongoing support before, during, and after your move to Panama.

Once you complete these 11 steps, you can breathe a sigh of relief and enjoy your new home in Panama.

Additional recommended reading to help you in those first few months in Panama.

9 Mistakes New Expats Make READ THIS

Pros and Cons of an Expat CommunityREAD THIS

Come See How You Can
LIVE BETTER for LESS in Panama!

Jackie Lange

Jackie Lange is the founder of Panama Relocation Tours and lives in the highlands of Boquete Panama. She has helped thousands of people relocate to Panama.

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Comments

  1. DG Plön says

    I’m wondering about getting a firestick vs getting VPN. From what I understand, if you have VPN you are viewed virtually as having never left the USA. As a result, all your USA accounts will work as before. Is there an advantage to getting a firestick over a VPN and vice versa?

    • Jackie Lange says

      DG, you need BOTH a VPN and a firestick.

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