Ask 100 expats what their life is like in Panama, you will get 100 different answers. Their perspective depends on where they live, how patient they are, and how much they have attempted to accept Panama for what it is… a developing country.
When you read offshore publications about Panama you’d think the whole country is a “Paradise.” The distant photos of down town Panama City look like any first world metropolis. But walk the streets or drive around the country and you will quickly notice that it is not as developed as the USA, Canada or Europe.
With its beautiful skyscrapers and new subway system Panama City is certainly impressive. Some areas are very modern with underground utilities. But that is not the way it is in most of Panama City – or Panama in general.
Many people say Panama is like the USA was in the 1960s but with cell phones, internet and flat screen TVs. I grew up in the 60s and have fond memories of what life was like then. Panama does offer a simple life where young children can walk all over town safely and family values still exist.
But it is not all paradise. Here are 13 things you won’t read about in the sugar-coated publications about moving to Panama:
(1) Don’t assume you will have hot water at every house or at every faucet in the house. Some houses only have warm water at the shower. Be careful to check out the hot water situation before you decide to rent or buy. You should not rent a house without seeing it first.
(2) Internet speed is not the same throughout the country or even on the same street. If you are lucky enough to live in an area serviced by Cable Onda fiber optics, you can get up to 100 mbps for about $40 a month. If you can’t get Cable Onda, you will be forced to use satellite internet like Planet Telecom where 3 mbps will cost you $99 per month and you will pay a whopping $250 for 10 mbps.
(3) The sidewalks are not level if they exist at all. The sidewalks could have holes big enough your whole foot can fit through, or metal pipes protruding in bad places or the sidewalk may have stretches which are completely missing. You need to wear sturdy shoes and watch where you are walking at all times in Panama.
(4) If Code Enforcement from the USA came to Panama, they would probably shut down most of the country. There is crazy wiring inside and outside. There are steps and other unlevel surfaces with no handrails or safety devices. There usually will not be a GFI outlet within 6 feet of all water sources. The only exception is new construction in the higher price ranges… maybe.
(5) Most places will have a sign in the bathroom asking you to NOT flush the toilet paper but instead to put it in a waste basket which is next to the toilet. Oh, and don’t assume that all public bathrooms will have toilet paper… bring your own. The reason you should not flush toilet paper because most businesses and homes have a septic system. The more toilet paper that is flushed, the more often they have to get their septic tanks cleaned out and it is just as expensive to do that in Panama as it is in the USA. We recently paid $175.
(6) You can pick your temperature by your elevation. If you are at a lower elevation, it will be hot and humid. If you are at 3500 feet it will be 75-80 just about every day and less humid. Get above 5000 feet and you can enjoy weather in the high 60s to mid-70s every day. Lower elevations (less than 3500 feet) will have more snakes, spiders, and bugs. There are trade-offs.
(7) There will be power outages. They usually only last a few minutes but they could last for several hours or even days. Power outages seem to happen more often in the dry, windy season OR the power will go out the last 10 minutes of a movie I’m watching on Netflix. Luckily most stoves are powered by gas so you can still cook. It’s a good idea to always have a lantern, flashlight and candles readily available.
(8) Name brand, imported items will usually cost more, but similar Panama brands will usually cost much less. You may or may not be able to find all the name brand items you use now but there is usually a good substitute. Fruits and veggies are more expensive at a grocery store than they are at a local fruit veggie market.
(9) It rains a lot in Panama. We average 100 – 120 inches of rain a year. It does not rain every day or all day… usually. In the dry season, January – April, it may not rain for a month. In October and November it will pour down rain like the Heavens opened up and dumped the Pacific Ocean on Panama….but this usually happens in the late afternoon so you can plan accordingly. The rains keep everything looking lush and green and provide plenty of water for ships to go through the Panama Canal.
(10) Speaking of water… yes, there is plenty of water but the water distribution systems are not what you are familiar with. Some rural areas have water delivered in a small PVC pipe that gets busted occasionally. That means low water pressure at your house or no water. In the dry season, there may not be enough water pressure so it is important that you rent or buy a house that has a large reserve water tank so you have consistent water pressure. Other areas have more modern water delivery systems. In some areas, the water is treated in other areas it is not. So you really need to have a good water filter system at your house. Take all this in to consideration when you select a place to live.
(11) Panama is a Spanish speaking country. In Panama City, Coronado and Boquete English are widely spoken. But in other areas it is not. Even in the areas where English is widely spoken, not everyone will speak English. If you want to live in a Spanish speaking country, you need to learn some Spanish.
(12) Getting things done like opening a bank account, getting a driver’s license, auto registration or even getting mail will be more complicated. It will get done, but your patience will be tested.
(13) Panama has small earthquakes. In the last 12 months I have felt 3 small tremors. They usually last 1-2 seconds. If you are sitting still, you will feel them. If you are driving or moving around you probably won’t feel them at all.
(14) I will throw in one more… There is poverty in Panama but it is not as bad as other South American or Central American countries I have visited. The indian tribes are most affected by poverty because many of them have no skills and only make $20 – $25 a day. But Panamanians are proud people so you rarely see anyone begging for money.
Some relocate to Panama for purely economic reasons, others move to Panama for political reasons, and some are just ready for a new adventure. Regardless of the reason, these are the things you can enjoy when living in Panama:
- Low utility costs (if you live in an area where you don’t need air conditioning) + 25% discount if you have a Visa
- Affordable health care – $2 to 20 to see a doctor (not a co pay)
- Affordable health insurance – in 2019, at age 65, I pay $2560 for worldwide health insurance with $500 deductible
(if I did Panama only health insurance, I could cut that cost in half)
- No wars, no military
- Very strong economy
- Very low crime in most areas
- Fresh air
- Fresh fish from both coasts
- Great produce and fruit supply – some organic
- Great soil to grow your own food
- Government leaves you alone and has less rules and regulations
- Low or no taxes in Panama
- If US citizen, you can take advantage of the $105,300 Foreign Earned Income Exemption
- No hurricanes, No snow, No tornadoes
- Consistent weather year round – no extremes
- Visible improvements happening all over the country .. for the better
- Not a country divided with conflict from strong left or strong right political parties
- Incredibly beautiful scenery
- A lot of opportunity
- Small country so you can go to two Oceans or the mountains in a day…. Driving
- Friendly and supportive expats… almost always
- Friendly and supportive Panamanians… almost always
- Panamanians do not have an entitlement mentality
- I could go on and on…
Come check out Panama during a Panama Relocation Tour to decide if living in a developing country is worth the trade-offs. Panama is just right for some. But Panama is too big of an adjustment for others who want everything to be like it is back home… wherever that might be.
Panama Relocation Tours will NOT sugar-coat what life is like in Panama. You will learn about the good things and the bad things about life in Panama. I will share my current personal experiences about living in Panama and so will all the other expats you meet with during the tour. The country is changing so quickly, you need to know what it is like being in expat in Panama this month.
For me personally, I can tell you that my only regret is that I did not come to Panama to check it out 10 or 20 years ago then move here sooner.
Soup Campbell came on a Panama Relocation Tour then moved to Volcan/Cerra Punta in 2013. He says Panama is like the USA was in the 1960s. Since he knows what the changes were like in the USA between 1960 and 2014 – it is easy to know what the changes will be like in Panama except they will happen faster because the technology has already been invented… but it’s just not all in Panama yet. It will be a fun ride!
Here’s what Ann and Ken Bruce who attended the May 2014 tour have to say about the tour
What a way to experience Panama! You can sit in a hotel conference room and be bombarded with disjoined information until you are numb on both ends or you can travel through, see, and participate in THE REAL PANAMA with knowledgeable people, Jackie and Richard, and with a great group of observers, like yourself.
From the cities to the beaches to the mountains, Panama has it all. We live in Florida, so the mountains, especially beautiful Boguete, really appealed to us. The visits to the expat’s homes were really neat!
Jackie and Richard tell it how it is! And we certainly saw a broad spectrum of Panamanian life. Throughout the tour we were well taken care of. Thank you again for such a great tour. We’ll be back!
For all you folks out there looking for a really great place to retire, you need to look real hard at Panama. And the way to do that is to take Jackie’s overview tour and check out some really good retirement areas. If you are like many, you will be very tired of the hassles of living in big cities, like Panama City, and want to check out some quieter surroundings like the beach or the mountains, then this tour is for you.
Jackie has conducted this tour for small groups for MANY years and has located a most outstanding Panamanian guide who is exceedingly well informed about all things Panama and he drives the group to selected locations with very different geographies.
Now this is not a house buying tour where real estate agents try to sell you their houses, but an opportunity to see a whole lot of Panama and decide if Panama is the right destination for you.
Or read what Marilyn Leff from the April 2014 tour experienced:
If you are considering or only curious about having a presence in Panama, you can do no better than to take this tour. Jackie Lange and her daughter Melissa have arranged a near seamless experience packed full of important information presented in a vacation-like, relaxed program. We traveled to a number of places on the pacific side of the country exposing us to a variety of towns, living choices and lifestyles. We met people who can assist with a move, people who have moved who shared their experiences and saw many options.
Though Chiriqui province was very charming, I am going to return to Panama to look at another area that has piqued my interest and may be the place for me. This tour has made me very positive about Panama, its “way of doing things” and its people. Even after the 6 books I read before arriving, Jackie gave us so much more important information and so many contacts, it was priceless.
Our accommodations were varied through the tour, a taste of the choices one has in Panama. The same spectrum was shown in housing options. There is apparently a wide choice of lifestyles available in Panama and places to enjoy them, two coasts, mountains, small towns, big cities. They have it all.
Ric Winstead made the move to Panama after attending the Panama Relocation Tour. Here’s what he had to say:
Thank you again for a uniquely wonderful and informative trip. It was exactly what I was looking for. As a person seriously interested in relocating to Panama, the trip fit the bill perfectly. I truly appreciated the breadth of detail of necessary information about the relocation process, the introductions to helpful local resources, contacts, and a variety of people who had relocated. It was especially helpful to have the time to ask questions and explore their experiences. The written manual and map will be a great reference as I take my next steps.
The trip itself provided real and helpful experience of the variety of climates, locations, and communities where people are relocating- from the Pacific beaches to mountain towns. Everything remained lazer-focused on relocation. The pros and cons were explored without sugar-coating or sales. We experienced Panama as it is from the perspective of relocation. It is not a tour in the usual sense. It is way more.
Jackie takes the time to understand each person’s interest and readiness to relocate and makes sure she answers your questions, or puts you in contact with someone who can. Her focus is to provide the information you need to make a decision and to successfully relocate. It is unique and remarkable and she continuously adapts the trip to refine and improve the experience.
The entire trip was expertly managed, from initial contact and booking, through each day’s agenda. It is clear that everyone makes the extra effort. Jackie and her team made sure everything worked- the bus and driver were exceptional, the itinerary and timing worked for stops, meals, breaks to see the different locations, and the hotels along the way all flowed smoothly. Thanks to the evident knowledge of the country, careful planning, flexibility, and hard work of the team everything flowed smoothly with no gaps or gaffs.. All was focused on making this an exceptional experience. And they delivered!
I recommend without qualification taking a trip with Jackie’s Panama Relocation Tours for all who are contemplating relocation. At least once.
The information provided during the tour helps people make an informed decision to relocate to Panama (or not) and how to make the transition as easy as possible. Lorilei Gilmore lives in a great apartment in the premier gated community, Valle Escondido. Here’s what she says about the Panama Relocation Tours:
Thank you, Jackie, for having the foresight to provide this tour for those of us interested in relocating to Panama. I so enjoyed the February 2012 Panama Relocation Tour. It was a wonderful experience and I have just recently moved to Boquete, Panama. It was definitely worth the money spent as I could never duplicate what we did on this tour, the experiences we all had, and the stress-free atmosphere that prevailed throughout the tour. Truthfully, had I not booked this tour I probably would not be living here today.