9 Mistakes New Expats Make in Panama

Moving to a foreign country is a whole new experience for many people.  Living in Panama is not like living in the United States, Canada, or Europe.  Some things are similar but many things are done in a very different ways.  For a smooth transition to your new life in Panama, learn the 9 biggest mistakes new ex-pats make when moving to, or planning to move to, Panama.  If you avoid these mistakes, you will have a pleasant experience in Panama.

1. Relying on people in ex-pat forums for advice on moving: TripAdvisor is great for looking for hotels when on vacation, but when moving to a foreign country it can be dangerous to rely on the information on ex-pat forums.  You really don’t know who the person posting really is or if they even live, or have ever lived, in Panama.  Many of the people who post on ex-pat forums are new to Panama too so they are not your best source for information.  Some people who post on ex-pat social media have never lived in Panama or they are newbies too yet try to present themselves as experts.  You’ll get a lot of conflicting information which can cause confusion.  Some people who post on ex-pat forums have a hidden agenda to sell you real estate, illegal financial services, or something else.  You should never, ever discuss your financial situation on forums. Be very careful who you get advice from.

2. Becoming too friendly with the locals too fast: Panamanians are genuinely friendly people.  Expats are friendly too.  It’s great to visit with locals at a restaurant, bar, or charity events, but don’t tell people where you live or invite them to your home until you get to know them well.  Don’t tell anyone how much money you have or what your monthly pension is.  It’s best not to flash fancy jewelry.  Sadly, even at church, you can’t trust everyone because some people go to church just so they can make friends with people they think have money then they turn on their sob stories to extract as much of your money from you as they can.   Avoid people who claim to have a special way you can hide money from your government.  Some people will attempt to become your friend, invite you to a happy hour or a beach/mountain trips because they have a hidden agenda to find out as much about you as they can (mostly how much money you have) so they can either sell you real estate or get a referral fee by telling a real estate agent about you.  No matter how nice some people seem, beware of the potential hidden agendas!

3.  Don’t rush to buy real estate:  I tell everyone on Panama Relocation Tours that they should rent for at least 6-12 months before they even think about buying real estate.  There are several reasons for this.  You need to make sure you like living in Panama and the Panamanian culture before you buy real estate.  Also, Panama has a lot of different micro-climates.  The weather can be completely different just a few kilometers away or 3 months away.  Some areas get more rain or cloud cover than others.  Some areas have more water problems than the rest of Panama.  Some areas cannot get reliable or fast internet service.  Friends who rented a condo by the beach were shocked to find out that many of the units are rented by the night so it felt like living in a hotel with a constant stream of strangers coming and going.  Before you jump into buying in a certain area, you need to make sure you like that area.  Rent for 1-2 months to give each area a test drive before you sign a long-term lease or buy.  Also, keep in mind that rents are super cheap compared to buying so it may make more sense to just rent while you live in Panama.  You can get out of a rental a lot faster than you can sell a property you buy.  If you do decide to buy, always, use your attorney to do a title search and create the purchase contract with your best interest in mind.  Understand that not all properties are titled in Panama. Some properties are ROP (right of possession) which has no title and could be disputed which would result in your losing the money you paid for the property.  Definitely wait until you get your permanent residency Visa before buying.

4.  Don’t move to Panama without visiting first:  This is a biggie!  People who just move to Panama without visiting first, almost always end up leaving within 6 months.  They had no clue what they were getting into.  If you’re married, both of you need to check out various areas of Panama before you make the move.  We designed Panama Relocation Tours to give you a good overview of the kind of lifestyle Panama has to offer in a variety of different places and in different price points.  So, we think Panama Relocation Tours is the ideal way to discover if Panama is right for you.  You’ll also learn about Residency Visa options, bringing your pet into the country, renting a house, buying a car, and much more.  Sure, you could fly to Panama, rent a car, then explore Panama on your own.  Either way, come see many different areas of Panama before you decide to make the move.

5.  Don’t get too involved with too many different things:  When you move to Panama, it is tempting to get involved with every charity, card game, painting class, cooking class, and hiking group you can find.  This is a great way to meet fellow ex-pats and Panamanians too.  But you may find that by the end of the week you are exhausted.  It is better to pace yourself.  Give yourself time to get settled into your new home and town before you get involved in too many activities.  Sometimes it’s nice to just sit on the porch sipping coffee (or wine) and taking in the amazing views.  It’s time to relax.  You don’t need to be busy every minute!

6. Don’t sit at home watching TV:  Politics have made some people so furious that they stayed glued to the TV to see what’s going to happen next.  There’s nothing you can do about it when you live in Panama.  So turn off the tv, especially the news, and get out to meet people in your new town.  Get involved in some of the local activities (not too many).  Take up that hobby you’ve always wanted to do.  You’ll enjoy your life in Panama much more if you get out of the house, meet people, and get involved in some of the local activities like live music at local restaurants or volunteering.

7.  Don’t expect Panamanians to speak English:  Some Panamanians do speak fluent English, but others don’t.  Don’t get frustrated with Panamanians who don’t speak English.  It’s not their fault.  You’re living in “their” country so it is your job to learn at least some of their language.  DuoLingo.com will teach you a few words every day.. for free.  There are also Spanish classes and private tutors.  I have to admit that I am not fluent in Spanish but I know enough to get by just fine.  A little Spanish and a big smile go a long way in Panama.  If necessary, you can hire a translator to go with you to help with some things.

8.  Don’t get the wrong Visa or plan to do border hops:  If you’re going to live in Panama, get a residency Visa.  The Pensionado Visa is ideal if you plan to be retired.  With a Pensionado Visa, you cannot sell a product or any service in Panama, not even part-time.   Panama makes it easy to get a residency Visa so there is no reason to live in Panama without getting a Visa.  Nothing upsets Panamanians more than seeing “gringos” working who are not legally allowed to work or seeing ex-pats living in Panama full time who don’t have a residency Visa.

9. Don’t start a business too soon:  Instead of starting a business right away, it is better to move to Panama than do a lot of market research to determine if the product or service or restaurant you want to open is even needed – and what your pricing structure should be.  The business you have in your country may not work well in Panama.  Some “gringos” open a restaurant a few months after they move to Panama charging twice what other restaurants charge then wonder why they don’t have any business. You need to consult with an attorney to make sure you can legally run the business you have in mind.  Get the appropriate Residency Visa with a Work Permit (you cannot work in Panama without a Work Permit).  You’ll need to set up a corporation, get an RUC number (tax id number), hire an accountant, set up a business bank account, get a merchant account so you can accept credit cards, and perhaps other licenses or certificates depending on your business.  Foreigners are not allowed to operate some businesses.

Panama Relocation Tours is the expert when it comes to helping people relocate to Panama. We’ve helped thousands of people make a smooth and easy transition to life in Panama.  We feel that educating people about the pros and cons of each area in Panama helps them make a decision about which area is best for their personal needs and lifestyle.  During the tours, we reveal exactly what you need to do before you make the move and what you need to do once you arrive in Panama.  This takes the stress away.

Because of this education, 47% of the people who come on a Panama Relocation Tour move to Panama within 6 months.  Another 10% move within a year. And another 10% of tour attendees move to Panama within 2 years.  Yes, 67% of people who come on a Panama Relocation Tour move to Panama!

Let us help you take the guesswork and confusion out of relocating to Panama, join us for a Panama Relocation Tour this year.

Panama Relocation Tours has the experience you can trust and need!

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


  1. Barry Snider says

    Is it possible to obtain a written copy of the Webinar yesterday?

    • Panama Relocation Tours says

      i am posting the audio replay of the conference call today. Not planning to order a transcript

      • Gayle H says

        Could you let me know about how to find the audio replay of the conference call? Thanks.

  2. Ellen says

    About working: I am retired…if I decided to start a ‘blog/website’ would I still need a work permit? Thanks.

    • Jackie Lange says

      Hi Ellen

      You only need a work permit if you are selling a product or service in to panama or out of Panama. If you income is not generated with products made in Panama or selling products in to Panama, you do not need a work permit.


    Good Morning Ms. Jackie, I “Sincerely PRAY” that You, Your Family, & the Staff are Well; and in the BEST of Spirits! Ms. Jackie, I am Flying to Panama during the Week of Jan. 3rd, 2022!! It was My Ultimate Hope & Prayer that I would BE IN PANAMA by NOW; but “Murphy’s Law”, just Sat Down in My Lap!! Everything that Could Go Wrong DID!! I Retired Feb. 29, 2020; and had a Plane Ticket for May, 2020 that I Purchased in Jan. 2020 to Panama; however, this COVID Pandemic RAISED It’s Ugly Head; and caused Devastation & Death for Millions of People, included Me!! I am trying to get to David to LIVE until I Die!! I NEED for You to Send Me the Name of the Staff Member that can HELP Me with the Overwhelming Task of Moving 1 Bed Room Set; Living Room Set; and Kitchen Utensiles!! I Simply CANNOT Remain in the US pass Jan. 31, 2022!! I am DONE with this Country!! Please HELP Me to Accomplish My Goal in Life!!
    My SSN & Government Pension should ALLOW Me to Live Well!! Thank You!!

    • Jackie Lange says

      Before you come to Panama, you need to gather all the documents you need to get a residency visa and consult with an immigration attorney.

      In our Complete Panama Relocation Guide we have immigration lawyer information, info on how to ship your household goods to Panama, and all the other information you need to know to move to Panama


      • Ronald scott says

        Hi I just have two questions. I am retired and I meet the requirements for a visa. If I have a company in the unites states that sells products all over the world but I will not operate out of Panama do I need a working permit? I get money each month from SSI and the military and it would be deposited in a Panama bank. Do I have to pay taxes to the United States on this money ? Thanks

        • Jackie Lange says

          HI Ronald, US citizens have to file an annual tax return and pay taxes on their worldwide income — even though you do not live in the US.

  4. Angela M Owens Crowell says

    I am pretty sure at this point I want to retire there but I also want to be near a beach and in close proximity of mall, grocery stores but not in the city, I have two grandkids so I want to be somewhere family oriented so they have playmates.

    I am eligible to retire in about 2 years and I plan to visit Dec 2023. I am interested in possible buying land and build a container home.

    Again still doing my research and planning a visit before I decide permanently weather Panama is for me. If you have any information or points of contacts regarding Container homes I would apricate it. Any and all information about planning this move, cities close to Panama city with beach nearby and affordable real estate would help as well.

    • Jackie Lange says

      A container home would be EXTREMELY hot at the beach. The metal would radiate the heat. It would be better, and cheaper, to build a regular cement block house in Panama. See our videos to help you pick the right area in Panama. https://www.youtube.com/c/PanamaRelocationTours

  5. David W Brown says

    Like many Americans, I am diabetic. I am trying to find out the availability and cost of Insulin in Panama. The retail cost and the cost through insurance if covered. Is there any reason as a diabetic that I should not travel to or relocate to Panama?

    • Jackie Lange says

      HI David. We have a free report about the 50 most common medications and their costs in Panama. Insulin is in the report. You can get that report at https://panamarelocationtours.com/drugs

      Diabetics cannot get insurance in Panama so you’d have to pay out of pocket for all medications and medical care. Many people do it. You may want to keep Medicare just in case you have a complication that requires a trip back to the US.

  6. Joan Toohey says

    My ex-husband wants to move to Panama with me. He walks with a cane and sometimes uses an upright walker. He is 83. He has the necessary ss and pension income required. Do you see many limited-mobility retirees moving to Panama? Do you have an opinion as to whether this is a good idea or not? He is otherwise very healthy, just his back is the problem. Already had surgery on it and he doesn’t need anymore. Thank you for any advice.

  7. Gary Kimmel says

    What are the requirements for a driver’s license?

  8. Michelle Cobb says

    We will retire in 10 years. When should we come check out Panama to see if it’s a good fit for us? (Do you anticipate a large amount of change in the next 10 years).

    • Jackie Lange says

      Hi Michelle, Most people check out Panama 3-4 years before they plan to retire. That gives them time to start making plans well in advance of retirement in Panama. I don’t know how much Panama will change in the next 10 years. A lot of the change, or lack of it, depends on why the president is in Panama.

  9. Marcia Scott says

    I am returning to Panama with the intent to retire there permanently. I have permanent residency so when I fly back, do I still have to buy roundtrip ticket?

    • Jackie Lange says

      Since you have permanent residency, you can do a one-way ticket to Panama

  10. Gibran Cuevas says

    Hi! I am retired and thinking of moving to Panama with my wife. We travel a lot in our rv and thinking of taking The PanAmerican hwy to Panama, are there any rv parks available to stay while we check it out?

    • Jackie Lange says

      there is one RV park in Boquete.

      • Jackie Lange says

        the tiny rv park is near MALLU restaurant, a few blocks behind the Terpel station after you enter town. It’s very small.

    • Jackie Lange says

      There is one very small RV park in Boquete, next to the MALU restaurant.

  11. Susan Russell says

    Hello Jackie, I am curious about the limitations on working in Panama. My husband and I are zeroing in on possible places to move outside of the US. Panama is at the top of the list. But of course, like anyone, we have a items to check off. He is a chiropractor practicing functional medicine in the states. He does virtual work but will very likely want to, and need to a little, do work wherever we move. (It usually just happens because of who he is…he likes to help.) Is that even a possibility?

    We also don’t have a pension, per se, since we are self employed, but we do have money saved. How does that work?

    Thank you!

    • Jackie Lange says

      HI Susan, Unfortunately, your husband will not be able to practice in Panama. Medical professions are a protected profession for Panamanians only.

  12. Elisa says

    Hi Jackie, my husband and I are considering moving to Panama. E have 3 year old twins so schooling is important to us. Most people want to retire but e want to Work and grow our family there.

  13. Henry Cruz says

    Hi Jackie
    We like the beaches and restaurants and safety.
    What areas do you recommend in Panama.

    • Jackie Lange says

      Hi Henry. Sounds like the Coronado, Gorgona, San Carlos area would be a good fit for what you are looking for.

  14. Vince Kaplan says

    Ok, now, I have two autos I choose to bring with me to Panama if I decide it is the place for me. I choose to keep then because of their low mikes. Good or bad idea?

  15. Vince Kaplan says

    Another, I am a retired Delta Airline employee. Will that aid in my cost for a Panama relocation tour?

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