Moving to a different country is a big decision. Unfortunately, it’s not as simple as packing your bag and moving somewhere else. There are many things to consider to determine which place is a good fit and if you can get a visa.
With some advance preparation, you can ensure that you will pick the right place to live and have a smooth, hassle-free transition to living in Panama.
Watch the replay of the Livestream about how to Leave the USA (or any country) in 7 steps. See the notes for the Livestream below.
Here is an overview of the seven steps necessary to move to Panama or any foreign country. We have a LOT more details in the Online Complete Panama Relocation Guide.
STEP 1. WHY? It’s time to do some soul-searching to consider why you want to move abroad. Do you need to reduce your costs of living? are you looking for more freedom? Is it time for a new adventure? Are you running away from something or someone? Will you be able to leave your friends and family behind?
Next, make a list of things that you MUST HAVE in your new location. If Panama, or the city you want to move to, does not have these things would it be a DEAL BREAKER? Here are common things that people have on their MUST HAVE list.
* A full-service hospital within 30 minutes
* Fits your budget rentals you like (see this to help determine budget in Panama)
* Social activities (the definition varies)
* Grocery store nearby that has food you prefer
* Live music if that’s your interest
* Outdoor activities
* Restaurants with the food you like (vegan or gluten-free is hard to find)
* Malls and shopping nearby
* English-speaking locals
* Weather/Temperatures you like
* People with a common interest ( your tribe)
* No politics
* Church Family
* Affordable health insurance (usually not available if you have pre-existing conditions)
* Your personal list may vary.
If married or moving with a partner, you each need to make your MUST-HAVE list individually. Then, see how they compare.
Make a list of what you want your ideal town in Panama to have. Making this list will help you eliminate towns that are not a good fit or to determine if Panama is even a good fit. Then, it’s time to research to find out which towns have the things you need.
Make a list of what you want your ideal town in Panama to have. Making this list will help you eliminate towns that are not a good fit or to determine if Panama is even a good fit.
Next, it’s time to research which towns have what you need.
STEP 2. ELIGIBILITY: (This could be a Step 1 also. If you don’t qualify for a visa, nothing else matters) To live in Panama, you must get a residency visa. Are you eligible to get a visa? Research visa options and qualifications for getting a visa.
The most important qualifier is a national criminal report. If you have felony or assault charges, you cannot get a visa in Panama. If you have multiple other charges, you may not be able to get a visa.
If you’re getting a Pensionado visa, you must prove that you currently receive at least $1000 USD in lifetime income (add $250 for a spouse). The income must come from a government pension, Social Security, military retirement, or a private company (not yours) pension. Panama will not accept an annuity unless your previous employer (not you) set it up as a retirement fund. Not accepted are rental income, savings accounts, 401k, IRA, or other sources of income.
If you don’t qualify for a Pensionado Visa, you can get a Friendly Nations Visa or a different visa. You need to determine which visa, if any, you qualify for before making plans to move to Panama.
Part of eligibility is determining if you can afford to relocate to Panama. No matter where you move to, there will be upfront moving expenses, costs to get a rental, the costs to get a visa, travel expenses, and more. Read this article to help you determine your upfront costs to move to Panama and things you can do to reduce the costs.
Once you know you’re eligible and Panama has towns with the things you need, it’s time to start learning a little Spanish. Duolingo is a free. Check it out. There are several areas in Panama where you can get by with no Spanish. But a little Spanish and a smile goes a long way in Panama.
STEP 3. VISIT PANAMA: Once you know some towns in Panama that have the things on your MUST-HAVE list and know you are eligible to move to Panama, the next step is to visit Panama to make sure you like Panama.
The easiest way to check out Panama is to do an all-inclusive 6-day, 7-night Panama Relocation Tour. You’ll see the most popular places to live, meet experts and expats, see rentals, and learn everything you need to know to have a hassle-free move.
Many people think they want to live in one area, but while on a Panama Relocation Tour, they see a different area they prefer much more.
If you can’t go on a Panama Relocation Tour, visit the towns on your shortlist with the things on your MUST-HAVE list. You can tour on your own or arrange for a Private Tour to get the maximum insights about living in that area.
While you are touring Panama, check out these things:
* Grocery stores
* See a Panamanian doctor if you have pre-existing medical conditions
* Visit hospital
* Pharmacy to verify that they have your medications and what they cost
* Check out social activities
* Is your Tribe there? (BEWARE of cliques)
* Talk or visit with an immigrant attorney
* Talk or visit with a health insurance broker
* Visit with expats who live there
* Add your list of things to check out while in Panama
If you will be moving with a spouse or a partner, it’s important that you BOTH come to visit Panama. One person may love Panama (or a certain area), but the other may not. It’s better to find this out before moving to Panama.
STEP 4. SET DATE & PREPARE FOR YOUR MOVE: Some people are ready to move to Panama right away, but others need to wait a year or two before they can retire and move to Panama. Either way, set a date and start preparing for your move.
Once you know your move date, everything else can be planned!
Start downsizing. Determine which things you want to bring to Panama and what you can give away or sell at an estate sale. Some people move to Panama with two suitcases (I did), but some want to ship a 40′ container with all their things or ship 10-20 plastic totes with some things they cannot live without. Determine what you will bring and set it aside in a room at your house. You will likely add things or take things away. Keep in mind that you can buy anything you need in Panama.
If you plan to ship your household goods, contact an international mover for a quote. Be prepared for sticker shock because it will cost $15,000 to $20,000 to ship a 40′ container to Panama. Read this article about shipping household goods to Panama.
We have international mover recommendations in the Online Complete Panama Relocation Guide.
Will you sell your house or rent it out? You may want to put your house on the market now. If it sells quickly, you can move into an AirBnb or apartment until your move date.
If you are renting, notify your landlord about your move date.
If you are moving with pets, know there is a time-sensitive process to get your pets to Panama. Read this article about the process to get your pets to Panama. Determine which airline you can use to get your pets to Panama. Some airlines do not allow pets in cargo, and those that do have restrictions on the size of the pet carrier and breeds of dogs. Or will you use a pet relocation company or charter a flight?
We recommend pet relocation companies and charter flights in the Online Complete Panama Relocation Guide.
STEP 5. HIRE ATTORNEY & GATHER DOCUMENTS: Hire an immigration lawyer close to the town you want to relocate to. Note that there is not an immigration office in every town. It’s better to hire an attorney who is in a town with an immigration office.
We have a list of affordable and reliable immigration lawyers in the Online Complete Panama Relocation Guide.
When you apply for a residency visa, you must provide certain documents you can only get in your home country. Your attorney will give you a list of documents. You will need:
* National criminal report
* Income verification (for Pensionado Visa)
* Certified copy of Marriage Certificate
* Birth Certificate for Minors only
Documents must be authenticated by the Panama Consulate or apostilled in your country (not in Panama). See details about how to do this in the Online Complete Panama Relocation Guide.
The documents cannot be more than six months old when you apply for a visa (ideally, the documents are not more than four months old). So don’t get the documents too soon.
Also, gather medical records, life insurance policies, social security or other ID cards, and other important records to bring.
You can drive with your foreign license for the first 90 days in Panama. But once you apply for a visa, you must get a Panama driver’s license. Read this to learn how to get a Panama driver’s license. Your immigration attorney may help you get a driver’s license.
If you plan to open a bank account in Panama, you will need the last two years of tax returns and a bank reference letter not over 30 days old. Some banks ask for a local personal reference letter, too. Your attorney can provide a reference letter if needed.
STEP 6. TRANSITION: Things are starting to get real! If you have not already done so, book your flight to Panama. You may want to treat yourself to business class because you can take two 70lb suitcases plus a carry-on with no additional charge.
You must decide if you will continue to pay the monthly fee to keep your phone service and number. You could port your number to Google Voice or a similar service so you can keep your number without the monthly expense.
For many banking transactions, you will need to be able to receive a two-factor authentication code. Will you keep your phone number, or do you need to put a family member’s phone number on your bank account so they can receive the two-factor code?
Visit with your bank to determine what you will need to do to wire money to a Panama bank account. You’ll need this to pay rent or open a Panama bank account. Some banks, especially credit unions, do not do international wires. If you have a US checking account, you can deposit a US check into your Panama bank to transfer money. Also, check out WISE to determine if that’s a solution for wiring money to Panama.
You may need to open a different bank account if your bank does not do international wires. Consider a Charles Schwab or Fidelity account because they do international wires and provide a debit with no foreign transaction fees.
Convert as much mail as possible to digital delivery. Contact a Panama mail forwarding company near the town you plan to move to in Panama to get a Florida mail forwarding address. You will need this for Amazon orders too. Start changing addresses. We have a list of Panama mail forwarding companies in each town in the Online Complete Panama Relocation Guide.
Download WhatsApp to your phone if you don’t already have it. You can also get the Whatsapp web version. Learn how to use it by watching YouTube videos.
This is a good time to get the Google Translate app and get familiar it, too. There is also a Google Translate web version. YouTube has tutorial videos.
Contact the agents recommended in the Online Panama Relocation Guid so they can have rentals lined up for you to see shortly after you arrive.
Determine when to sell your car and who to. Some places like CarMax make an offer and buy your car the same day.
Invite friends and family to a farewell party.
STEP 7. MOVE TO PANAMA The day has finally arrived! When you move to Panama, you may want to stay in an AirBnb for the first 2-4 weeks. This will give you time to go see rentals to move to. We highly recommend that you rent for the first year in Panama and not rush into buying anything.
If you’re moving with pets, there is a 40-day quarantine.
Once you get settled, it’s time to apply for a residency Visa.
It’s time to RELAX and start exploring your new town, checking out restaurants, participating in social activities, and making new friends.
It sounds like a lot, but trust me, it’s easier than you think. Know that tens of thousands went through the same process to move to beautiful Panama.
You can do this! It’s so worth it!
We have many more details in the Online Complete Panama Relocation Guide. The Online Guide also contains a 6-month checklist of everything you must do before relocating to Panama. Learn what to do 6 months before, 5 months before, 4 months before, etc. etc in our 6-month Move Abroad Checklist.