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5 IMPORTANT Things to Consider Before You Move to Panama

Do you dream of living in a mountain town in Panama where you don’t need an air conditioner or a heater, or perhaps sipping on an umbrella drink while walking on a sandy beach next to Panama’s Pacific Ocean or the Caribbean Sea?

It’s all possible in Panama!

Panama’s diverse landscapes, perfect weather, and affordable lifestyle attract foreigners from all over the world!

But before you pack your bags to move to Panama, you need to do your due diligence. You need to verify that you are eligible to live in Panama. During this Livestream, I discuss some things that could disqualify you including

1. Do you qualify for a visa?
2. Do you have a criminal record?
3. Do pre-existing health conditions prevent you from getting insurance?
4. Are your medications available in Panama and can you afford them?
5. Are there dealbreakers?

A tourist can only stay in Panama for a few months. If you want to live in Panama indefinitely, you need to determine if you qualify to live in Panama.

DO YOU QUALIFY FOR A VISA

Before you get too far down the path to deciding that you want to move to Panama, you need to determine if you qualify for a residency visa. Here’s an overview of what you will need to qualify for a visa in Panama:

If you are retired and already collecting a lifetime income like a pension or Social Security of at least $1000 USD for one person plus $250 for a legal spouse, then you can get a Pensionado Visa. In most cases, Panama will not accept an annuity unless it was set up by your employer.

Income from employment, savings, investments, 401k, IRA, *annuities, and real estate cannot be used to qualify for a Pensionado visa. (*An Annuity set up by your employer may qualify but not one that you set up for yourself)

If you are not collecting a pension, another option is to get the Friendly Nations Visa which requires that you either (1) get a formal job offer from a Panama company, (2) deposit $200,000 into a 3-year CD at a Panama bank, or (3) buy real estate worth at least $200,000. This needs to be done before you can even apply for a visa.

Or, (4) you could set up a Panama company that hires you. There are special rules for doing this. We have the step-by-step details in the Complete Panama Relocation Guide and the contact information for the attorney we recommend to use.

The Pensionado Visa and Friendly Nations Visa are the two most popular visas to get. There are a number of other visas available. However, they all require a substantial financial investment.

If you plan to work or start a business in Panama, make sure you get a visa that will allow you to get a work permit. Foreigners cannot work in Panama without a work permit, not even in their own business. If you get a Pensionado Visa, you cannot work in Panama.

Do You Have a Criminal Record?

To get a residency visa in Panama, you will need to present a national criminal report. If you have a felony, even from a long time ago, you may be denied a visa in Panama. If your national criminal report is not completely clean, your immigration attorney will need to file for a Buena Vista (sometimes called a Vista Buena), to get special permission from immigration for you to apply for a visa. Immigration may or may not approve you for a Visa.

If you have dings on your criminal report, before you get too excited about moving to Panama, it’s best to make sure you can get approved for a visa. Get a copy of your national criminal report to see what’s on it. Then, share your report with a Panama immigration attorney to determine if you can get approved for a visa.

Most countries require a criminal report to get a visa.

If it’s not possible to get a visa in Panama, you should check out getting a visa in Mexico where they do not require a criminal background check. See the Mexico Relocation Guide for details about the requirements to get a visa in Mexico.

Do You Have Pre-Existing Health Problems?

If you have pre-existing health conditions you can still get a visa but you may not be able to get health insurance in Panama.  Some insurance companies (see brochure here) may insure pre-existing conditions but only after you have paid into the policy for two years and if you have less than three pre-existing conditions.   

With no insurance, that means you’ll need to pay out-of-pocket for all medical care which could get expensive, especially if you have pre-existing medical conditions.

Routine doctor visits are typically less than $20 in Panama.  Even an emergency room visit is usually less than $500.  But if you need to be hospitalized, have surgery, have a heart attack, cancer, or an automobile accident it could cost a fortune without health insurance.

Currently, Panama insurance companies are not writing new policies for anyone who is 70+ years old.

So, what’s the solution if you cannot get health insurance?

You can use the public healthcare system in Panama even if you have pre-existing health conditions or if you are over 70. There is no monthly fee. You just pay when you go. The public healthcare system is much more affordable then the private hospitals. A doctor visit is usually less than $5.

If you’re a US citizen, you may be able to use a special Medicare plan for emergencies and urgent care in Panama.  But Medicare will not cover non-emergencies in Panama.  You will need to pay for the emergency upfront, then file a claim to be reimbursed.

Are Your Medications Available in Panama?

If you take medications, determine if they are available in Panama and what they cost before you plan your move to Panama.  Get a list of 50 Common Medications and Their Price.

In the Complete Panama Relocation Guide, we have a link to find out the availability and price of ALL medications available in Panama.

Most Panama health insurance policies do not cover medications. If your medications are more expensive in Panama, you may be able to get your prescription filled in your country then get the medications shipped to Panama.

The availability and cost of your medications need to be determined before you move to Panama. I know a lady who moved to Panama but found out the medication she needed is $600 a month in Panama and it could not be shipped into Panama. Unfortunately, she had to leave Panama after spending a lot of money to get a visa because she could not afford the cost of the medications she needed in Panama.

Determine Your Budget

Determine what your budget will be when you move to Panama. How much money will you have to live on? This will help you decide which areas are a good fit for your budget.

Some areas, like Panama City and Coronado, are more expensive. The gated communities in Boquete are more expensive. But there are many places where you can live within your budget in Panama.

In most areas in Panama, you can estimate a minimum of $1500 for a single person and $2000 for a couple. Add at least $1500 more to a budget in the more expensive areas like Panama City and Coronado.

See this sample budget with a $695 rental. If your rent is more, your budget will need to be more. If you buy a lot of imported items at the grocery store, your grocery budget will need to be more.

Rent$695
Groceries & Eating Out$400
Internet & Cable TV$60
Cell Phone$30
Electric & Gas$50
Water & Trash Collection$0 (in rent)
Transportation (gas, insurance, etc)$60
Medical/Insurance$120
Shipping/Amazon$50
Clothes/Travel/Misc$100
TOTAL$1565

Yes, You Really Can Live Better For Less in Panama!

Of course, if your rent is more than $695, your budget needs to be more. If you take medications, your budget may need to be more. If you eat out a lot or if you buy a lot of meats or imported items, your grocery budget will be much more. If you live at the beach, your electric bill will be at least twice as much. If you decide to self-insure (no insurance), your budget could be less.

What Does It Cost to Move to Panama?

In addition to your monthly budget, you need to do some number crunching to determine if you afford to move to Panama. Some things to budget for are airfare to come to check out Panama, hotel expenses, and eating out during your exploratory trip. Plus, budget for airfare for your move to Panama, a deposit and first month’s rent, stocking up on groceries, getting a visa, and pet relocation.

Your expenses to move to Panama could increase substantially if you ship household goods to Panama and if you buy a car in Panama. Read this article to help you evaluate the costs to move to Panama

Very Hard to Get a Job

If you’re not retired, and you don’t have $200,000 to invest in real estate or a 3-year CD, you will need to have a formal job offer from a Panama company to qualify for a residency visa. However, it’s very hard to get a job in Panama working for someone else, especially if you don’t speak fluent Spanish.

In Panama, the rules are that 90% of the workforce at a company must be Panamanian. There is also a long list of protected professions that are exclusively for Panamanians including anything medical, lawyers, engineers, accountants, etc.

So, if you don’t qualify for other residency visas, you need to determine if you can get a job in Panama before you make plans to move to Panama.

Or, you could set up an online business in Panama then hire yourself to work for the company. There are special rules for doing this to qualify for the Friendly Nations Visa. We have the details in the Complete Panama Relocation Guide.

Visit First!

Even though there is an extra expense to visit Panama before you decide to move to Panama, we highly recommend that you visit first to determine if Panama is a good fit. As much as I love living in Panama, I know it’s not right for everyone.

If you’re from Canada or the United States, you can visit Panama for 180 days. But many other countries can only visit Panama for 30 days.

Determine if you’d prefer to live at the beach or the mountains then visit the areas you are most interested in during your exploratory trip. If you’re not sure which you’d prefer, allow adequate time on your exploratory trip to investigate many different areas in Panama.

A Panama Relocation Tour or a Private Tour is an ideal way to explore Panama and learn about the most popular places to live. We also have information about how to do a Self-Guided tour.

Are There Dealbreakers?

A dealbreaker is something you absolutely must-have in your life, but it is not available in Panama. Make a list of things you “must-have” in Panama to make your life comfortable. When you come on your exploratory trip, you can determine if they are available.

When you visit Panama, you’ll learn that things are not like North America or Europe. In many ways, they are much better. But Panama is definitely different.

If the medications you need are not available in Panama and you can’t ship them in, that would be a dealbreaker. If you love to shop at certain stores but they are not available in Panama, that could be a deal-breaker.

If you get easily frustrated because things don’t happen quickly, you may not like living in Panama.

If you love shopping online then getting items delivered to your house the next day, it’s not going to happen in Panama. You can order on Amazon and other online stores, but it could take 7-10 business days to arrive in the town where you live and it will cost about $3 a pound.


Some things cannot be shipped to Panama, for example, it’s impossible to find Half & Half outside of Panama City and you cannot get it shipped to Panama. Is that a dealbreaker for you?

If you’re not comfortable living around mostly Spanish speakers, you’ll want to live in a community with a lot of expats where English is more widely spoken.

You’ll need patience and a sense of adventure to survive in Panama. You do not need to be fluent in Spanish to live in Panama but a little Spanish and a smile go a long way!

Test Drive Before You Commit

Some people come to Panama and know without a doubt that it’s a good fit and that they can’t wait to move to Panama.  Others are more nervous about moving to Panama. After your visit to Panama, if you’re not sure if it’s a good fit, consider giving Panama a 6-month test drive before you sell everything and start the process of getting a visa in Panama.   You’ll know by the end of the six months if Panama is a good fit.  You may need to move to several different locations before you find the perfect spot in Panama.

Plan Your Move

Once you’ve determined that you can get a visa, you know your budget, there are no dealbreakers, and you visit Panama to know where you’d like to live, then it’s time to start planning your moving day to Panama.

We can help!

The Complete Panama Relocation Guide has details about getting a visa, immigration lawyer contacts, contacts to help you find a rental, where to get health insurance, how to get pets into Panama, and more. 

The Complete Panama Relocation Guide also has a detailed checklist of things you need to do 6 months before your move, 5 months before, 4 months before, etc.  Your immigration attorney will give you a list of documents you need to gather to bring to Panama to get a visa. The documents will all need to be authenticated by the Panama Consulate before you come to Panama.  The documents must be less than 6 months old when you apply for a visa.

If you’re bringing pets to Panama, there is a time-sensitive process that starts with finding which airline will transport your pets in cargo or in-cabin. 

The Complete Panama Relocation Guide or an all-inclusive Panama Relocation Tour will help you go from clueless to totally confident in your move to Panama.  Plus, you’ll get our ongoing support before, during, and after your move to Panama. 

Since 2010, Panama Relocation Tours has helped thousands of people move to Panama the hassle-free way.  We’d love to help you too. 

We have the experience you can trust and need when planning a move to beautiful 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.

Reader Interactions

Comments

  1. Sandra Collier says

    What was that FBI background check site/link called that you mentioned in video that you could do before you book a tour? I think you said it cost around $50.00.

  2. Lisa Tackett/Tom Bobbitt says

    Jackie Tom and I have a question. We are not legally married and we saw where it says that for me to be included in his income that I have to be a legal spouse. Is there anyway around that? He is retired military and more than meets the income requirement. I am retired RN and have a 401K. I don’t draw social security for 4 more years. What is your advice?

    • Jackie Lange says

      You must be legally married to apply for a visa as a couple.

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