Living in Panama can be a truly wonderful experience! You can enjoy amazing weather & spectacular scenery without having to give up all of the the comforts you are used to from home. And the best part: You can do this while substantially reducing your cost of living.
I put together this Ultimate Guide to living in Panama to introduce you to Panama and all of the major topics you'll want to know before considering a move there. Since 2010 we have been operating Panama Relocation Tours and have helped over 1,800 people discover if living in Panama is right for them.
We’ve been asked and have answered every question there is to know about living in Panama and have written over 250 blog posts on the topic. This guide is my attempt at putting all of that information in one place.
Learn more about Panama Relocation Tours.
Is Living in Panama For You?
You may have heard that Panama has become one of the most popular expat destinations in the world. In fact, Panama was recently ranked #1 on International Living's World's Best Places to Retire in 2019 index. It offers nice, warm weather and a comfortable lifestyle at costs much lower than where you may be living now. It also helps that Panama is encouraging foreigners to move there by offering generous tax breaks and other incentives.
Does this mean you should pack your bags and jump on a plane today? Probably not... a hasty decision can lead to wrong choices and disappointments. This Ultimate Guide to Living in Panama was written to help prevent you from making a potentially costly mistake.
Considerations in a new home are going to be quite different for a retired couple than they are for a young family with school aged children. Your personal reasons for making a move overseas will affect your choices as well. Are you looking for adventure and cultural experiences or are you more interested in enjoying most of the comforts you are accustomed to, but at lower costs?
There is a lot more to moving abroad than calling a moving company and hopping on a plane. No one place is a Shangri La. Panama has something for just about everyone though.
Some of the things covered in this guide include banking and healthcare options, employment and taxes, language challenges, how to get around, visa options, buying and renting real estate, things to do in Panama, as well as descriptions of several of the top expat cities and a few of the more "off-the-radar" choices worth looking at.
This guide will provide an overview of the numerous options available for living in Panama, with suggestions that will help guide you to making the right decision for your future as a potential Panama expat.
You can read the guide from top to bottom or use the table of contents to skip to the part about living in Panama you are most interested in.
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Why Live in Panama?
The most common reasons people choose to move to Panama are: cost of living, quality of life, amazing weather & natural beauty, health care quality & cost, established expat communities, and the ease of getting a residency visa.
Ask 10 different expats why they choose to live in Panama and you might get 10 different answers. Everyone has different preferences and priorities. That said, listed below are some of the most common reasons for living in Panama.
Cost of Living
Many people move to Panama because they are getting priced out of their home country. The costs of health care, taxes, and utilities keep increasing while their income stays flat or even goes down. Eventually they realize that if they stay in their home country they will have to work until they die because they’ll never be able to afford to retire.
To be clear - you won’t be able to live like a king in Panama for pennies. But if you are ok with a modest, yet comfortable first-world lifestyle it is possible for a single person to live on $1,000 to $1,200 per month or for a couple to live on $1,500 to $2,000 per month. If you can afford more then of course you’ll be able to live in a nicer house and dine at nicer restaurants - those things are definitely available when living in Panama.
Quality of Life
Just because the cost of living in Panama is lower than in other places, don’t think that you’ll have to accept a lower quality of life. In fact, the Gallup Global Well-Being Index ranked Panama as leading the world in well-being for two consecutive years.
Panama has a stable, democratic political environment and first-world highways, medical care, banking and telecommunications services.
Amazing Weather & Natural Beauty
The weather in Panama is nice & warm year-round. It never snows and the temperature rarely goes above 90°F / 32°C for very long. Extreme weather & natural disasters are also rare. The weather tends to be hotter near the ocean in places like Panama City, Coronado, and Bocas del Toro - and cooler spring-like weather exists in mountain towns such as Boquete, El Valle de Anton, and Volcan.
Panama has truly amazing scenery with lush vegetation, miles of coastline, white sandy beaches, rugged mountains, dense jungles and a seemingly endless variety of plants and animals.
Health Care Quality & Cost
Affordable health insurance and quality health care is another reason that people live in Panama. Exact prices will depend on your age and how healthy you are but here a few examples:
A 64 year old recently purchased international health insurance for $175 per month with no deductible in Panama and a $1,000 deductible for procedures done outside of Panama.
A 35 year old recently purchased international health insurance for $85 per month with no deductible in Panama and a $1,000 deductible for procedures done outside of Panama.
Established Expat Communities
Foreigners from all over the world have discovered the beautiful, vibrant and affordable lifestyle available in Panama. Some areas have a higher concentration of expats than others. Panama City, Boquete and Coronado have thousands of expats each. It makes your transition easier if you live in an area with more expats because there will be more English spoken.
There will also be many activities you can get involved in which will have other expats around. And, areas with more expats tend to have the more services and products you are familiar with. Some other parts of Panama have hundreds of expats living in the towns. When living in Panama, you won't need to go far to find other people from your home country who have also moved to Panama.
Ease of Getting a Residency Visa
Panama wants you to move to Panama! The residency Visa process is a simple 3-step process to getting Visa so you can live in Panama indefinitely. The two most popular Visas are the Pensionado Visa (for retirees) and the Friendly Nations Visa (for those who would like to start a business or get a job while living in Panama).
Regardless of which Visa you apply for you will need to be in Panama about 5 days for the initial Visa application. You will walk away with a temporary Visa card. Then about 3 months later, your permanent Visa will be ready. The next step is to get your national ID card, also called a cedula.
The costs for getting a residency Visa varies depending on which attorney you are using. You should plan on about $1,000 per person to get a Visa. With the Friendly Nations Visa, you will also need to to set up a corporation which will cost an additional $1,000.
The requirements for getting a Pensionado Visa are proof of a lifetime income of at least $1,000 per month for one person plus an additional $250 for each dependent.
The Friendly Nations Visa does not have an income requirement but you will need to deposit $5,000 in a Panama bank account plus an additional $2,000 for each dependent. The day you get your Visa, you can start spending the money.
To apply for any Visa you will need to provide a national criminal report, like an FBI report.
Unlike other countries, Panama does not require you to live in Panama once you get a Visa but you will need to come back for at least a few days every two years to keep your Visa active.
A New Adventure!
Last but not least - another common reason for living in Panama is simply for the adventure. It’s a challenge to move to a new country and will definitely get you out of your comfort zone. But if you make the move you’ll be rewarded with an incredible life-changing experience.
Geography & Landscape
Where is Panama?
The Republic of Panama is the southernmost country in Central America. It is an “Isthmus”, which means a narrow strip of land with sea on either side, forming a link between two larger areas of land.
Panama has an east to west running orientation. It shares a border with Costa Rica to the west and Colombia to the east side. The Pacific Ocean forms the coastline along the southern edge of the country and the Caribbean Sea is to the north.
Panama City, the capital of Panama and the largest city in the country is located in about the center of the country.
The 10 Provinces
A province in Panama is similar to a state in the U.S. or a province in Canada. Each one is unique in some way. The provinces are broken down further into districts, which tend to be centered around the main towns, and then into smaller zones called “corregimientos”, which are usually smaller towns and villages.
Recently, the Republic of Panama added a 10th province called Panama Oeste (West Panama). It actually divides the original province of Panama, which surrounds Panama City, into an east and west side.
Sometimes, if you are driving or on a bus, you may come to border checkpoints when you are crossing into a different Province. Usually, you are asked to show your passport and driver’s license at these stops.
Following is a brief overview of the Provinces. This will help you narrow down where you might want to live in Panama.
This is where the capital, Panama City, is located. The largest population in the country is here, with over 1.5 million people in the metro area. You will also find the largest airport in Central America, Tocumen International Airport and the Panama Canal, as well as the financial and banking centers of the country.
It is a metropolitan city with high rises, plus all kinds of shopping, dining and cultural activities. The old Spanish towns of Casco Viejo and Panama Viejo are also located in this province.
This is the area between the Panama Canal (Bridge of the Americas) and the province of Coclé. There is a lot of new development in this area as it is becoming a large middle-class suburb of Panama City. It includes the beach areas of Chame, Coronado and Gorgona, as well as the mountain town of Altos del Maria.
Sunset over a windmill farm in Penonome, Panama.
One of the drier provinces, Coclé recently announced the opening of the new Rio Hato Airport. As more flights are added, it will help to bring growth to the area. Penonome and El Valle are two of the larger towns in the area. Penonome is where you can buy a “real” Panama hat! It is also where you will see the new windmill farms along the highway as you drive by.
Chitré is the main town in Herrera. It is a fairly modern town with plenty of shopping and other amenities. The small villages and towns in Herrera are predominantly colonial style and are known for their beautiful clay pottery.
It is the smallest of the provinces, about a 4 hour drive from Panama City on the Azuero Peninsula. This is an agricultural area where you will see fields of sugar cane and corn growing.
This province is a cultural hotspot of Panama and the Azuero Peninsula. It includes the town of Las Tablas which is famous for its Carnival and traditional Pollera festivals. The beach town of Pedasi, which is quickly becoming a popular expat community, is also in Los Santos. Surfers have discovered the waves at a beach near the point called Playa Venao and Santa Catalina. There is an island offshore called Isla Iguana that is becoming a tourist destination.
One of the largest Provinces, including the western edge of the Azuero Peninsula and the famous Marine Park Coiba. Santiago is the capital city which is located on the Pan American Highway. This is a fast growing region where a new Mega Mall and construction can be seen everywhere. The little town of Santa Fe is in the mountains above Santiago.
Chiriqui is often referred to as the ‘breadbasket’ of Panama. The majority of the country’s produce is grown here. The Volcan and Cerra Punta towns are mostly agricultural highlands. The famous expat town of Boquete is in this region, where you will find some of the best coffee in the world. The little beach town of Puerto Armuelles and the Baru Free Zone are also in this province that borders Costa Rica on the far western end of Panama.
Bocas del Toro
It feels like a different country in Bocas! Located on the Caribbean side and made up of an archipelago of 9 islands, there is definitely a Caribbean feel that can be seen in the architecture and ambiance of the area. Most people speak English here and there are plenty of tourists. It is somewhat of a backpacker and surfer crowd with lots of hostels and water activities galore.
Home to the second largest free trade zone in the world, the Colon Free Zone, and located on the Caribbean side of the Panama Canal. This is a major commerce center for Panama. It is also a port of call for the cruise ships passing through. There are beautiful islands and beaches to explore. Portobello is located in this province.
This is the largest, but least populated of the provinces. The capital is La Palma. Most of the Darien is jungle and forms a natural border between Panama and Colombia. The Pan American Highway ends about halfway into the Darien Province, which is why you cannot drive to Colombia.
Cost of Living in Panama
The cost of living in Panama can be as low as $1,000 to $1,200 per month for a single person or $1,500 to $2,000 per month for a couple. You exact costs will depend on where in Panama you choose to live as well as your lifestyle and buying decisions.
Compared to most areas of the world, Panama offers a more affordable lifestyle. The natural beauty, fresh food, and diversity of scenery and activities make life more fun. Budgets vary depending on where you live in Panama. Some areas, like Panama City or Coronado, are more expensive. While other areas, like Volcan or Las Tablas are less expensive.
I live in Boquete. I will share our typical monthly budget. But understand that everyone’s lifestyle is different so budgets will vary considerable. The biggest determining factor in your budget will be housing costs. Before I bought my 1000 square foot house, I paid $700 per month rent so I will base the budget on that rent.
$25 (near the beach will be 4x more)
International Health Insurance
Dentist and Doctor Visits
Prescriptions when Needed
Internet & Cable TV
Clothes and Shoes
Entertainment and Eating Out
Gardener and Maid
$100 (large property)
Car Insurance and Maintenance
If you pay more in rent, your cost will go up accordingly. If you live at a lower elevation where air conditioning is needed, your electric bill will likely be four to five times more. But even with these expenses, you can see that a couple can live comfortably for less than $2000 per month if you are in a $700 rental.
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General Information About Panama
The official name of the country is the Republic of Panama.
Population (according to the last UN estimate): 4,194,773. More than 70% of the population lives in the urban cities, mostly Panama City, David, and Colon, which is the highest percentage in all of Central America. About 12% are indigenous people.
Life Expectancy: 77.37 years
Spanish is the official language of Panama. Because English is the international language of business and banking, there are a higher percentage of English speakers in Panama City. There are also areas around the country, like Boquete and Coronado, where large numbers of expats have settled and there is, naturally, a higher English prevalence in these areas.
As you travel into the interior of the country, heading west and away from Panama City, there are less English speakers in most of the rural towns. Bocas del Toro has an interesting mix of English, Spanish, and Caribbean Creole.
As with any country, it is best to at least try to speak some basic phrases in the native tongue if you will be living in Panama. There are some great online courses like Rosetta Stone, that can teach you a new language if you are willing to take the time to learn. Spanish is not considered a difficult language in comparison to English.
If you are an English speaker, you’ve already mastered one of the hardest languages to learn! There are several Spanish schools as well as private tutors available in Panama. Immersion into the culture is reported to be one of the fastest ways to learn a new language!
The time zone in Panama is Eastern Standard Time (GMT-5). This means the time in Panama is -5 hours from the Universal Time Coordinated (UTC), which used to be called Greenwich Mean Time (GMT). Greenwich, England is the ‘ground zero’ of the world time clock.
What is the old saying “Spring ahead, Fall back”? Forget about it ~ there is no Daylight Savings Time to worry about!
So, even though Panama’s time does not change, the time zones in North America do, which causes the time zones to be different between the two countries. In the winter, Panama is the same time zone as EST, or Eastern Standard Time. In the summer, Panama’s time matches up with the CST, or Central Standard Time.
Measurement & Distances
The metric system is used in Panama, like most countries in the world. If you come to Panama from the United States, you will have to learn to do some conversions in your head.
Approximations are simple to learn:
Once you start using the metric system, the conversions will become automatic.
Soon you will be thinking metric all the way!
Cell Phones in Panama will require a local SIM card. If you have a phone from Verizon or another company that does not use a SIM card, you can buy a phone in Panama for as little as $20. US phones with SIM cards will have to be “unlocked” for use in Panama. Once you arrive in Panama, you can purchase a SIM card from one of the mobile carriers for about $5. They will assist you in changing and setting it up, then you can purchase talking minutes as you use them. You can also prepay for a data plan without a contract. Cell phone reception is very good throughout most of the country. I pay $15.50 a month for my cell phone service which includes data.
Internet Service is another widely available product with numerous options in Panama. Cable Onda or Cable and Wireless internet service is about $30 per month. Speeds range from 7 to 100 Mbps. The speed is fast enough to easily stream movies.
Many people get internet service through their cell phone provider and use the phone as a ‘hot spot’. In most cities in Panama, you can also find many cybercafés where you can pay per hour or per minute to use a computer with Internet access. Many hotels, cafes, restaurants, malls, universities and airports will offer free Wifi.
In rural areas your internet service provider choices will be limited and much more expensive. Expect to pay $100 per month for 10 Mpbs of speed.
Another combo internet/phone option is to download Skype and/or WhatsApp. You can use these apps to call anywhere in the world for free as long as the person on the other end downloads the app too.
T.V. and Movies are available in English and Spanish by a few different means in Panama. There are Cable TV services that have access to movie channels around the world. Many expats prefer to watch their favorite programs via internet sites that are viewed on a big screen TV while the shows are streamed from the computer.
And, of course, there is also Amazon, Netflix, and Hulu, though you may need a VPN to access them in Panama. A good way to brush up on your Spanish skills is to practice by watching movies with sub-titles. Where there’s a will, there’s a way and the expats who came before you have definitely figured things out.
Water & Electricity
Panama uses 120 volts AC, 60Hz. Outlets are the same flat two-pin type you find in the United States. Typically electric service is reliable though it could go out during a thunder storm.
Tap water is considered safe to drink throughout the mainland in Panama. However, standards may not be the same as your home country. If you decide to move to the islands, it is best to drink only bottled water.
Panama is located about 8 degrees (600 miles / 900 km) above the equator and is categorized as a Tropical Monsoon Climate. Fortunately, the country is located below the hurricane belt and is not directly affected by them, other than stormy weather.
Elevation and proximity to the oceans are the primary factors affecting local weather. Coastal areas, on the north and south, generally experience higher humidity, while the mountains running down the center of the country, remain dryer and more temperate.
Panama has two main seasons, la seca (“the dry”) from December through April, and la lluviosa (“the wet”) from May through November. On the average, Panama receives about 106 inches (269 cm) of rain each year. During the latter part of the wet season, heavy afternoon downpours and thunderstorms are the norm, and rain falls almost every day.
Daytime temperatures are consistent, remaining in the 85°F (30°C) range regardless of season. The coolest temperatures in Panama are found in the Cordillera Central Mountain range at 6600 feet (2000 meters) above sea level. It has even been known to reach freezing on top of Volcan Baru! The temperature drops about 10 degrees in the evening.
You can literally pick your ideal temperature based on the elevation in Panama. At sea level the average temperatures are 85 – 90 degrees fahrenheit. The temperature drops 4 degrees fahrenheit per 1,000 feet increase in elevation. An example, in David it may be 90 degrees, but drive 30 minutes to Boquete which is at 3,500 feet to experience 76 degree weather. If that’s too cool for you, simply move to a lower elevation. What’s your ideal temperature?
Things to Do
Panama now has a rapidly developing tourism industry. Until fairly recently, just about all of the tourists coming to Panama visited only Panama City. A large number come by cruise ships which go through the canal allowing passengers to disembark in Panama City or Colon. Of course, there are some amazing attractions to see in the capital city. The growing number of more adventurous visitors, will find a variety of unspoiled natural sights and adventures if they venture into the ‘interior’.
The number 1 attraction is the world famous Panama Canal. Considered to be one of the top 10 Man-Made Wonders of the World, it is truly a sight to behold when you watch the gigantic container ships traverse through the locks.
The recently opened Bio Museo is a sight that catches your eye when you first get a glimpse of the colorful architecture. Eight galleries tell us about the origin of the Panamanian isthmus and its gigantic impact on the planet’s biodiversity.
Take a trip down a river in a dugout canoe to visit an indigenous tribe on an Embera’ Village Tour. See what life is like in these remote villages deep in the Darien jungle. Get a temporary tattoo, buy some souvenirs to take home, and enjoy a traditional lunch served in a plantain leaf bowl.
Diving and snorkeling are popular sports, especially in the Marine Parks located at Isla Coiba on the Pacific side and Bastimentos in Bocas del Toro.
Whale and Dolphin Watching Tours are becoming one of the most popular attractions in Panama. One company told me recently that they have had 100% views of whales on their tours for the past 2 years in a row! The best time of year is during the peak season between July and October.
Bird Watching is some of the best in the world in Panama! Did you know that there are over 900 species of birds in this tiny little country? Some very exotic species can be seen if you are observant.
Deep Sea Fishing in Chiriqui Bay has been featured in International Fishing magazines. There is a very deep drop off that is close to shore, so boats don’t have to travel far to catch Marlin, Tuna, and other deep water fish for dinner.
There are hiking trails all over the country, as well as on the numerous islands around Panama. Be prepared to spot monkeys, sloths, and crocodiles as you adventure into the jungle (and watch for snakes!).
There are adventurer seeker Zip-Line rides over the jungle canopy in many parts of Panama. You will find them in Bocas del Toro, Boquete, El Valle, and the Darien.
Fabulous surf can be found along both the Pacific Coasts and the Caribbean side of Panama. There are even international surfing contests conducted annually!
Some communities have golf and tennis. Many communities have live music and dancing at local bars or restaurants on the weekends. You can usually find card games and Mexican Train in expat communities.
Many expats enjoy getting involved in their community volunteering at spay and neuter clinics, making quilts for newborns, teaching English at schools, and finding homes for stray animals.
Health Care & Health Insurance
According to US News & World Report, “Health care in Panama is of an international standard”. Talk to any expat living in Panama about their experiences with healthcare here and you will get overwhelmingly good reviews. Most of the doctors at the hospitals in Panama have been trained in the U.S. and many of them speak English as a result. Punta Pacifica Hospital in Panama City is the only hospital in Latin America affiliated with Johns Hopkins International.
A friend of mine had to get emergency medical surgery in Panama last year. Her sister, a nurse from California, rushed over to be by her side (concerned about the hospital conditions in Latin America) and remarked that the equipment in the Panamanian hospital was more modern than the hospital she worked at back home. And the level of service was extraordinary. It’s not uncommon for a doctor in Panama to give a patient his personal cell phone number!
My own experiences have been similar. Shortly after moving to Panama I had severe ear and sinus pressure. I visited Dr. Chen in Boquete, who did a thorough exam and prescribed antibiotics and ear drops for my infection. He then gave me his cell phone number to call if I experienced any other problems and the bill was only $10!
Another more serious issue sent me rushing to the emergency room at Hosptial Chiriqui in David. I had severe pains on my lower right side and feared that my appendix had ruptured. I was seen immediately upon arrival. Blood and urine tests were taken and an IV was started with pain medication. A surgeon was called in case he might be needed but fortunately he was not. The TOTAL cost for the emergency room visit, standby surgeon, all tests and medication came to a whopping $119.80. I didn’t even use my insurance card!
Because the cost of medical care is so affordable, many expats living in Panama choose to “self-insure”, meaning they simply pay for the services they use and don’t buy health insurance. The cost of health insurance in Panama is also very inexpensive though. There are a wide variety of plans available for expats and I go over these options on my Panama Relocation Tours.
The plan I have personally, costs me $2100 per year with a $1000 deductible outside of Panama. It covers me in any country I travel to, at any hospital, and with any doctor. I know people back in the U.S. who are retired and pay that price for insurance for ONE Month!
As in most countries, there is no shortage of pharmacies in Panama. When you need to get medication in Panama, you may find it is easier than in your home country! There are many drugs which are available over the counter in Panama which would require a prescription in the US or the UK. Because the typical Panamanian cannot afford to pay a lot of money for a prescription, the cost of medications is about a third of what they cost in the US.
If you have a Pensioner Card, you can receive another 10% off the price!
Affordable healthcare and top notch medical services are one of the biggest money savers and benefits to being an expat in Panama!
Best Places to Live in Panama
The best places to live in Panama are Panama City, Coronado, Boquete, El Valle de Antón, Pedasi, Chitré, David, Volcan, Bocas del Toro, Santiago, Santa Fe, Puerto Armuelles, Bugaba, and Boqueron. Each city has pros & cons and the best one will ultimately depend on your needs & preferences.
I’ve given you a basic overview of living in Panama may be like and what is available here. Now, it’s time to start checking off some boxes of what you want in your new home with an overview of some of the most popular, as well as some of the less well-known towns and areas to help narrow down your search a bit more.
The list is divided into two groups:
Popular Expat Areas - These include most of the towns you may have already heard about or read about on the internet. Panama has had a steadily increasing community of expats in pockets around the country for the past 10 years or so. Some of these neighborhoods and towns have a well established networking group, community events and activities, and they tend to have more of the amenities you may be used to from back home.
The larger areas will possibly have an international school nearby. Usually, they are near the larger hospitals, supermarkets, and have a greater variety of restaurants. There will be a larger population of English speaking expats and locals, so if you find learning Spanish difficult, you may be more comfortable where you can communicate easily. These are all comforts that expats are used to and have re-created to some extent, in their new home.
Because of this, the prices for real estate, dining out, and other items will tend to be higher in these areas. When it comes to price, there is a give and take in most areas. You have to decide what you MUST have in your life to be comfortable and happy, whether it is a golf course down the road or your favorite deli items in the supermarket, and check off the places where you don’t think you’ll find your peace and freedom overseas. You’ll start to pinpoint the spot that is waiting for you!
Undiscovered Local Towns – Some of the places on this list may be new to you. They offer a very different kind of freedom. What they lack in amenities, they usually make up for in natural beauty and local culture. There are going to be much fewer expats living in these areas and the predominant language will be Spanish. If you can’t speak the language, be prepared to become immersed! I think it is the fastest way to learn.
There may not be any fancy restaurants nearby or an international school, but Panama is a small country and it is never more than about a 30 minute drive to get something you really need. Life in these towns tends to be pretty basic. The word in Spanish is “Tranquilo”.
If you are looking to stretch your dollars, you will find $2-$3 Panamanian lunches and a simple Panamanian house can cost around $20,000-$30,000. Often only a few blocks from a beautiful and secluded beach! If you can life without daily spa visits and enjoy peace and simplicity, you may find your dream home in one of these spots.
Popular Expat Areas
If you enjoy city life, Panama City is the place for you. It is a noisy, cosmopolitan metro with almost nonstop activity. Panama City is home to the Panama Canal and the largest International Airport in Latin America. More and more names you are probably familiar with can be found here like Hard Rock Hotel, Trump Tower, TGIF, and even Starbucks Coffee. It is not a huge city by North American standards, with a population of around 1.5 million people, but it has pretty much everything you need and more.
There are constant cultural and musical events and festivals to attend. You will never get bored in Panama City! International events in Panama include an annual Jazz Festival and even a Beer Fest! Fine dining and ethnic cuisine is abundant, along with several giant shopping malls, a couple of boat harbors, nearby golf, museums and theatre.
Many expats I know in the city use public transportation to get around. Parking and driving can be a nightmare and it is usually not more than $3 to get from point A to B in the city. There are a number of good international schools in the area and supermarkets with everything from organic to kosher. Minimal culture shock should be experienced moving here.
The real estate will be mostly condos, with a few beautiful single-family homes in neighborhoods like San Francisco. One friend of mine rents an ocean view condo for $1200 per month, furnished. That’s a good deal. You can find condos in town for sale for $200k and up.
A couple of the more popular expat areas are El Congrejo, where prices are slightly less, and Casco Viejo, where prices have sky-rocketed over the past few years. It will cost considerably more to live in this eclectic Historic–Spanish part of town. Many of the crumbling old buildings have been purchased and refurbished, turning the area into an art and cultural center and popular tourist destination.
There has been tremendous growth throughout Panama with new neighborhoods, new roads, new hospitals, airport expansions and much more. This growth is expected to continue in Panama. The new Panama Canal expansion will be a boost to the already robust economy, starting in 2016.
Tourism is a focus of the new administration and this will only help draw more tourists to the country. An indication of what’s to come can be seen in the Tocumen Airport Expansion Project which is expected to increase capacity from 5.8 million to 18 million by the year 2022.
Coronado & Nearby Pacific Beaches
Playa Coronado was one of the first Pacific Coast beaches to develop a large expat community. Only about an hour from Panama City, over the Bridge of the Americas, it is close enough to visit the city to attend an occasional event.
Coronado is a gated community at the beach with an international school and plenty of nearby shopping and dining. Nothing near the scale of Panama City, but enough to keep one satisfied. There is golfing and a nice beach to walk, swim, or go surfing.
Prices in Coronado are not low, unless you compare them to Malibu, California or Hawaii. A nice home can easily be half a million dollars or more. There are condos you can pick up for a decent price, in the $200k range, in a nearby beach area called Gorgona. It's just steps away but not quite as developed yet.
There are several other beach areas expanding out from Coronado. They tend to get a little less costly as you move away from Coronado and the beach. Beachfront will cost you, but a few blocks inland you might find a deal. There are several large condo developments popping up along this Pacific stretch of coastline.
Coronado, and the surrounding beaches, have the second largest expat community in Panama (Boquete is #1), so you won’t have a problem with speaking English here.
El Valle de Antón
Heading north from the beach towards the mountains in Coclé, you have to drive up a winding picturesque road and then down into the caldera of a dormant volcano to find El Valle de Antón.
Because of its higher elevation, El Valle has a pleasant year round climate. It is about a 2 hour drive from Panama City. El Valle is actually a popular second home location for wealthy Panamanians from Panama City, who go here occasionally to escape the heat of the city.
There are beautiful homes in this upscale area, and you will find resorts, spas and fine dining as well. Weekends can be a little busy with visitors.
The natural beauty and abundant birds and other wildlife make this area a nature lover’s paradise. It is one of the few homes of the endangered Golden Frog. There are numerous hiking trails and waterfalls where you can take a dip if you desire. Even replenish your soul in a natural thermal hot spring!
In El Valle, there are a few homes in the $200k+ range, but most are over half a million. It is a luxury lifestyle in a resort-type setting. You’ll need to drive to Coronado or Penonome to get to a hospital, good shopping or private schools.
Pedasi is a beach town with a growing expat population in recent years. Popular activities revolve around the beach – surfing, kite surfing, fishing. Las Tablas and Chitre’ are the closest towns for shopping and other services. 30 minutes to an hour drive away. There are decent restaurants and small hotels in Pedasi, as it is more of a beach retirement and tourist town. Otherwise, there is not a lot in the way of amenities.
They have occasional issues with water, so a catchment and storage tank might be a good idea here. The atmosphere is laid back. Prices are still low for a beach town, which has helped to draw more expats to the region.
There is no nearby private school or hospital. It is more than 5 hours to Panama City and about 2 hours from Pedasi to Chitre where all modern conveniences are available. Nearby Las Tablas is nationally famous for its Carnival and Pollero Festivals. Pedasi has become more expensive in recent years.
Chitre’ is the largest city on the Azuero Peninsula, home to about 100,000 residents, and one of Panama’s oldest settlements. Colonial records indicate that there was a village here as early as 1558. Today, it is one of the most developed cities in Panama.
A combination of rich history and modern amenities make Chitre’ an attractive place to live today. This is one of the driest regions in Panama and the closest beach, Playa Agallito, is about 15 minutes from town. The beaches along this stretch of the peninsula are known for birdwatching and nature preserves.
The city is also the cultural and historic capital of the region. It is a very lively place during the yearly carnivals! Some of the best artisan clay pottery is found in the area and pieces dating back to 5000 BC can be seen in the local Herrera Museum. A focal point of Chitré is the San Juan Bautista cathedral, built in the 18th century.
Even with all of the modern amenities in place, life is relatively inexpensive in and around Chitré. There are quite a few homes for sale in the $75k-$150k range. A decent rental will run you about $500 per month.
There are several private schools in Chitré, including the Colegio Agustiniano, a Roman Catholic private school, and International Saint George school.
Chitre is an up and coming area of Panama and in the past year has seen some major developments in terms of shopping centers, banks, another hospital, malls and other large developments. The pace has really started to pick up!
Welcome to the third largest city in Panama! David is located in the Chiriqui Province and is where all of the outlying town’s people make their occasional trek for supplies. You can find just about anything in this town, including traffic reminiscent of Panama City! There always seem to be a flurry of activity in David.
There are popular fast food restaurants, like Burger King, Pizza Hut, and McDonalds, which feel like a treat if you only go once every few months!
David is home to a small international airport and is a hub for national flights, as well as Costa Rica, which has a border only one hour away. There is also a small marina on the coast. David is one of the hottest cities in the country, but fortunately it is only a 30 minute drive up the road to Boquete if you want to escape the heat!
In David, there is a large expat community spread out throughout the city and suburbs. Some of the best medical facilities in Panama are in David, as well as access to an International School about 15 minutes out of town.
There are hotels, shopping (including a PriceMart; the Costco equivalent in Panama), dining, cultural activities and a large MultiPlex Theatre, where you can see movies in English, dubbed in Spanish, or with sub-titles. English is spoken in many establishments in David today.
Ahhh, Boquete! Home of the largest expat community in all of Panama, and it only takes one visit to understand why. The high altitude and pleasant year round weather are only a small part of the picture.
The expat community is very active in this little mountain town, known as “The Little Town with a Big Heart”. They have an annual charity event that brings in over $100,000 to fund local charities. There is a weekly Market, where everyone has a chance to catch up on current events.
Located just 30 minutes up the mountain from David, you are close to major hospitals, schools, and shopping. Ten years ago, Boquete was a sleepy little town where retirees began to come for the climate and cheap real estate. Today, low prices are a lot harder to find in the area.
Boquete is now considered a top retirement destination and is priced accordingly. Even rentals are difficult to come by these days. There are many social events including the annual Boquete Jazz and Blues Festival.
Volcan is the place to get in on a location that many say reminds them of Boquete 10 years ago. Volcan is at a similar altitude to Boquete with pleasant weather and an abundance of natural beauty.
Volcan is still a more rural mountain town; though it is growing in popularity quickly as many retirees feel they’ve been priced out of Boquete. You’ll find a tranquil lifestyle only about an hour drive from David.
Most of the produce in Panama is grown in the region around Volcan and Cerro Punta. You will never have a shortage of fresh veggies here, and the small expat community has a weekly Farmer’s Market so you can get organic produce, aquaponic products, home-baked goods, and crafts. There are also two new supermarkets that are modern with a great variety of products.
Volcan offers a peaceful, country lifestyle that is only a short drive away from the conveniences of the city, hospitals, and schools. Expats have recently discovered Volcan so it will not be long before there are new restaurants and cultural activities.
Prices are in a wide range here, but you can find very good deals if you take the time to research the area. Rentals start about $500 per month.
Bocas del Toro
Other than Colon, Bocas del Toro is the only major town on the Caribbean side of Panama.
It feels separate from the rest of the country and, truthfully, it’s like you are in another country here. Bocas is unique! Take a plane from Panama City to the main island, or drive 3 hours over the mountain from David to get to Bocas del Toro.
You’ll find that just about everyone speaks English in this area, which is a population mix of Panamanian, Indigenous Indian, Caribbean, and a large community of expats.
Bocas is a water town. Most of the people and activities are located on one of the islands that make up the archipelago with the capital, Bocas Town, being on the island of Colon (not to be confused with the city at the Panama Canal!).
Very few people own cars and transportation between islands is via water taxi, or “pangas”. There is a strong tourism market here that revolves around beach, nature, and boating activities. It is a popular backpacker destination so there are a number of hostels and clubs in the main towns.
There is a Caribbean influence in the architecture and laid back attitude of life in Bocas, where you can shop at an organic market in the morning and take yoga classes in the afternoon. However, one drawback is that it is very isolated from the rest of Panama. There is a small hospital and schools, but prices are a bit higher here since everything has to be shipped in.
Real estate has a big range in price so you have to search for a deal. There is also a lot of R.O.P. property due to being on islands and beachfront, so be cautious of claims that they can easily be titled. Extra due diligence is needed when purchasing property in this area.
Undiscovered Local Towns
Santiago is actually a large city by Panama standards. I mention it under the ‘undiscovered’ heading because it still has relatively few expats living in the area. Most people driving across the country on the Pan American Highway will stop in Santiago, which is right on the main highway halfway between David and Panama City, to get a bite to eat or buy souvenirs at the numerous vendors and local handicraft shops.
Over the past few years, I have been watching the major construction projects and growth happening in this lesser known expat destination. There are a number of good restaurants, hotels, and supermarkets in town. The Santiago Mall, a mega shopping complex, recently opened with dozens of stores and dining choices.
This is a convenient and central location for the country of Panama, and you can find affordable housing in and around the town. I found a 3 bedroom home in a gated community for $81k and numerous lots and small farms in the surrounding areas in the $20k range. It is a short drive up to the cool mountains of Santa Fe or down to the beaches of Santa Catalina and out to the Marine Reserve on Coiba Island for a weekend retreat.
There has been a lot of hype in recent years about this tiny mountain town, a two hour drive along a scenic winding road above Santiago. The Veraguas Province is the only one in Panama that borders both the Pacific and Atlantic oceans and there is talk of plans to build a road across the country here, that would pass right through Santa Fe. This has caused a few speculators to invest in land in the area.
Parcels can still be found at very low prices, but there are also land re-sales that are overpriced. Brush up on your Spanish too, since there are few expats here.
The climate and natural surroundings are idyllic in Santa Fe. There are beautiful mountain vistas, streams and waterfalls to create a backdrop for a lovely home. A small self-sufficient farm would be a good option here. Land can be purchased for around $10k per acre and re-sale homes are not readily available yet. This is a boots-on-the-ground ask the locals kind of town.
If you are looking for a place to “get away from it all” this may be it! Although the very basic necessities, local fonda-type restaurants and small convenience stores are in town, living here will mean an occasional trek down the mountain for supplies. Isolation or peace and serenity ~ it’s all perception!
Bugaba & Boqueron
Bugaba is the hub of the farming and agricultural lowlands in Chiriqui. It’s a mid-sized town with a “Caballero” (cowboy) feel. If you are a fan of horses and rodeos, this could be a perfect location to investigate further. It’s about halfway between the border of Costa Rica and David, 30 minutes either way, and right on the Pan American Highway. This puts good hospitals and additional modern conveniences only a short drive away.
There are not a large number of expats in the area, so prices are still very affordable. You can find decent homes for sale in the $100-150k range. Maybe less, if you take the time to shop around. There are many small farms in the outlying areas that would be perfect for growing produce or setting up a gentleman’s estate. A nice, comfortable lifestyle can be had in Bugaba and it is not a far drive for an occasional visit to Costa Rica, Volcan, David, or the nearby beaches.
A short trek up the hills near Bugaba, the weather is cooler and a few expats have discovered a nice rural community called Boqueron. Country living that is not more than 30 minutes to town make this location a nice option to consider today.
A hidden gem on the farthest west Pacific Coast of Panama! Once a booming banana plantation town, Puerto was devastated by the exit of Chiquita Banana a decade ago. The town fell into disrepair and poverty.
Recently, there has been renewed interest in the area, by the Panamanian government to build a container port and dry canal that is much needed in the western province of Chiriqui. Although some speculators have begun to buy up beachfront lots and jack up prices, there are still plenty of affordable real estate deals to be found in this beach town.
Puerto is about 12 miles from the border of Costa Rica and an hour and a half from David. There is a small hospital, a few larger supermarkets, bakeries, hotels, and decent restaurants. A short walk around town will reveal the potential here. A 3 bedroom 2 bath house on a large lot will cost about $125,000. Rentals can be had for $300-$700 per month.
The miles of beaches in town and the surrounding areas are beautiful and rarely have people present. The surf is consistent, fishing is some of the best in the country, and the natural jungle landscapes are full of monkeys, sloths, and giant iguanas. It is a typical hot and humid coastal town, but the ocean breezes make it more comfortable. If you want beachfront at a truly affordable price, this is one of the last places you’ll find it in Panama.
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Real Estate & Rentals
Anyone can own property in Panama. Foreigners have the same property rights as Panamanians. You do not have to be a resident of Panama; you can even purchase real estate as a tourist not living in Panama. The challenge is finding a property you like and paying a fair price for it.
There is not currently a well-functioning real estate listing service in Panama. That means there is no central location to find real estate or compare sales in a given area to see if a price is in line with the neighborhood. One real estate company is usually only aware of the properties listed with his company and in the general area where they’re located. They may have reliable area information to share with you. However, you may miss out on seeing properties that are not listed with his company or any realtor.
You should not limit yourself to a single realtor or search method for this reason. Make sure you check local online and periodical classified sections in the area you are searching. Walk the neighborhoods you are interested in and talk to people.
A good deal of property in Panama is discovered by word of mouth!
Whether you find a property you like on your own or with the assistance of a realtor, you will need to hire an attorney to do the title search and draw up the paperwork for the sale. There are 2 forms of property ownership in Panama with huge differences between them.
The first, and best option, is to buy “titled” property, which comes with a deed and has a “finca” number assigned to it. This is the most secure form of ownership.
The second ownership method is called Right of Possession, or simply R.O.P. These properties are technically owned by the government and you can essentially purchase a ‘right’ to use the property. R.O.P. real estate can be sub-divided, resold, rented out, farmed and built on.
Often, it is possible to go through a tedious legal process and gain title to one of these pieces of property. There is a mitigated risk in R.O.P. ownership and there have been cases where people have lost a property and the money they invested. Quite a lot of beachfront property is not titled.
Please make sure you talk with an expert in this kind of ownership before moving forward with a purchase!
An additional type of real estate transaction in Panama involves real estate that is held in a Panama Corporation. This is a very popular method of holding property by expats living in Panama because it offers estate planning and asset protection benefits. The property may be titled or R.O.P., so you still need to check the ownership status, even though the owner is a corporation. If you purchase a property that is in a corporation, you usually buy the ‘shares’ of the company and the real estate comes with it.
Property taxes are generally low in Panama and there have been many incentives given for new home construction, including waiving property taxes for up to 20 years. If you buy a house for under $120,000, you will never have property taxes. Sometimes, if you purchase a relatively new home, it may still have years left that are property tax free. Be sure to ask!
Property Assessors are not currently going out and evaluating property values in Panama. Tax rates tend to be based on the most recent ‘sale price’ of the property. This can benefit purchasers of real estate held in a corporation. Because the “property” was not sold, the tax rate is based on the value recorded when it was transferred into the corporation.
Prices of real estate in Panama are almost arbitrary. A few things you can usually count on; prices between Panamanians will generally be much lower than a price from a Panamanian or ‘gringo’ to a ‘gringo’. It’s a local preconception that expats have more money than locals.
Also, the more expats that live in an area, the higher the overall price of property will be in that area. The truly ‘great deals’ are still mostly found in the rural and somewhat undiscovered locales.
Before you make the leap and purchase a home in Panama, I strongly suggest that you try the area out by renting for at least 6 months to see if this is an area you will be happy living in. The rental process is similar to back home, just make sure that everything included in the home is listed on the lease agreement, like stove, refrigerator and other appliances. I do not advise that you buy real estate until you have a permanent residency Visa.
On my Panama Relocation Tour, we drive by and even visit a wide variety of homes in different areas of the country so you can get a feel for what is available and the price ranges.
I don’t sell property or get ‘kick-backs’ for showing you around.
Currency & Banking
The official currency in Panama is the Balboa. The US dollar is accepted legal currency in Panama, making it easy to do business here. The Balboa coins circulates alongside US dollars at an exchange rate of 1:1.
However, because Panama has its own currency, it is not forced to rely on the international valuation of the U.S. Dollar, should a financial crisis occur.
Another positive point to be aware of is that Panama has no central bank, which creates a completely market-driven money supply. The country must buy or obtain their dollars by producing or exporting real goods or services; it cannot create money out of thin air.
Panama is open to attracting foreign investment; in fact, foreign investment accounted for 10% of the GDP in 2017! The country has made it relatively easy for you to open a bank account here as an expat, or even a tourist. There are now over 100 international banks in Panama, making it one of the largest banking sectors in the world.
Considering the proximity to North America, easy accessibility to an account, and the stability of the economy, Panama is one of the safest and best places to open your offshore bank account. If you’re interested, during a Panama Relocation Tour, we will help you open an offshore bank account.
Getting Around in Panama
There is a large International Airport in Panama City that handles flights from all over the world. A smaller international Airport in David and a new one in Rio Hato, have plans to begin adding more international flights. Airplane flights are currently available in country between Panama City, Bocas del Toro, and David.
Taxi Service is available throughout Panama, even in small rural towns. The cabs do not have meters to calculate the fare. There are standard fares between zones in Panama City, generally around $3 to most places within the city. The standard rates are loosely followed and obvious tourists are often quoted a higher fare.
Always negotiate and agree on the fare before you get in the taxi. To hail a taxi, put your arm out, palm down, and wave down toward the curb. Uber is available in Panama City.
Bus service is available to almost anywhere in Panama. Around the city, fares are about 35 cents. The bus terminal at Albrook has buses going to most towns in the country. Prices are relatively inexpensive; $3-$20 to most places outside of Panama City.
There is also a modern Metro Train that runs from one end of Panama City to the other for 35 cents each trip. A second and third phase of the line are going to be added.
In Bocas del Toro, there are water taxi boats (pangas) that can be hailed like a cab to take you to the various islands. They are anywhere from about $2-$20, depending on where you are going. Fees are pretty standard for most places and ask ahead to see what the typical fare is to your desired destination.
There are a large number of local Panamanians that earn as little as $500 per month and most of them do not own a vehicle. The most popular ways that you will see people getting around in town are:
Cars are abundant in the cities and rules of the road are an interesting concept in Panama. Panama City is plagued by unmarked streets, busy intersections with no traffic control, pedestrian traffic and huge traffic jams during rush hours. Horn honking is a method of communication rather than a rude gesture, so get used to it.
Although the basic rules are the same as they are in North America, they are not always adhered to here. All drivers are required to wear seat belts, hold auto insurance and adhere to posted speed limits (remember that they are posted in Kilometers per Hour!). Drivers use the right side of the road, and traffic signals and most of the road signs are standardized.
Foreigners can drive a vehicle for up to 90 days using a valid driver’s license from their home country. Rental cars from major international agencies are available at the airports and in the larger cities.
Panama’s public schools generally lack resources and quality teachers or curriculum. The schools also tend to be over crowded so students are placed in either a morning or afternoon session to make room. For these reasons, many foreigners enroll their children into private international schools in Panama.
There a many good private schools to choose from for expats relocating here. Panama’s private schools are amongst the top in Central America, and are comparable with United States standards.
The majority of private schools in Panama have a one time admission fee ranging from $500 up to $4,000 per student. Large family discounts are usually available.
The private school year either follows the United States schedule of September - June, or the Panamanian schedule of March - December. Every school is closed during Carnival, Easter, and Christmas.
Panama private school students come from all around the world including Asia, Europe, and North & South America. There are even language based schools such as a Japanese school, a French school, several Chinese schools, and English schools. Religious based schools include Jewish, Catholic, Seventh Day Adventist, and Muslim. Most private schools are located in areas with large expat communities like Panama City, Coronado, and Boquete.
Working in Panama
Not everyone that relocates to Panama comes with a pension or a huge “stash of cash” to live off of. If you need to fund your new life in Panama or just want to earn a little extra money to do some traveling or other fun things, there are options available for you.
If you move to Panama on a Retirement Visa, you will not be allowed to get a worker’s permit or be employed here. That includes your own business, unless it is a “hobby business”. Some retirees make crafts and items to sell at their local Farmer’s Market in Panama. This may give you enough “play money” to make living in Panama even more enjoyable.
As long as you are in compliance with the laws, you are fine selling your personal creations on a small scale. Any other visa has an option to get a work permit in Panama, though getting a job can be tricky.
First of all you need to be aware of a few things about employment in Panama. The minimum wage here is very low, around $2.40 per hour unless you work for one of the large multinational companies. That said, skilled labor is difficult to come by and the competition among companies that are hiring leads to much higher salaries. Exploit any skills you may have!
Another important note; without written consent from the government, companies in Panama are only allowed to fill 10% of jobs with foreign employees. Multi-national companies can hire unlimited foreign workers.
Getting a job can be a challenge, but not impossible. It is best to start your search online before you make the move, and attempt to secure a position in advance, if your income in Panama will be dependent on it.
Another consideration is that most jobs will require at least some very basic Spanish skills. There is a recent push by the government to teach English to locals in the schools here, so an English teaching job may be a good option right now.
My personal favorite is to create your own income opportunity! Be aware of your surroundings and the needs of your new community and you will be sure to come up with one, if not several, entrepreneurial ideas that you can implement.
Panama is growing by leaps and bounds and that means people have more money and want more things. Whether it is a product or service, find something you will enjoy and go for it!
Here are a few examples to get the wheels turning in your head.
One expat couple living in Panama started pet-sitting for a few neighbors while they were traveling. Before long, word got around and they had a full- fledged business caring for other people’s pets!
I know of quite a few expats who have blogs and other internet businesses that bring in a little extra, or in some cases, completely fund their lives here. Even a retiree can run an internet business, as long as it is based in their home country and they file the business taxes back home!
Another expat in Bocas del Toro, started a quaint B & B in the spare rooms of her home and it has turned into a steady business that provides a decent income today.
Do you have musical skills? Teach others how to play a musical instrument or give singing lessons. The possibilities are endless!
I’ve noticed many needs in my own little community. There is no re-sale consignment store for furniture, which would be popular with new expats on a limited budget. There are more and more adult Panamanians with a desire to learn English. You could become a private tutor.
A delivery service would probably be successful, since there are a good number of people who don’t own cars. Home delivery of groceries, take-out meals and maybe even bill-paying services would be a huge convenience that many people would gladly pay someone to do for them. And of course, there is always a need for a good restaurant with affordable prices.
Panama really takes care of its elderly population! If you qualify and receive a residency Visa Card, Panama has a slew of perks available for you. Please note that, for those of retirement age (women over 55 and men over 60), you are eligible for most of these benefits with any Visa.
The Pensionado is still the most popular visa for expats living in Panama and this list of benefits and discounts is the reason why:
Residency Visa Options
Panama has made it fairly easy for foreigners to obtain a residency visa to live here.
Although you will need to hire an attorney to get a Visa, the process is really not that difficult if you follow the step-by-step requirements. Each of the Visa Programs has its own set of requirements, so you should make sure you understand them thoroughly or have a Panamanian attorney advise you on the best option for you.
These are a few of the most popular residency visas today:
Pensionado – Retirement Visa
You must be over the age of 18 and able to show a pension or lifetime income of at least $1000 per month, and an additional $250 for your spouse. The source of income can be from a government, military, or a corporation and is usually a pension or Social Security. One stipulation with the Pensionado Visa is that you cannot work in Panama with this visa.
Friendly Nations Visa
This is a ‘fast-track to living in Panama’ residency program available to citizens on the list of 50 countries considered ‘friendly’ by Panama. The countries are: Andorra, Argentina, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hong Kong, Hungary, Ireland, Israel, Japan, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Monaco, Marino, Montenegro, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Serbia, Singapore, Slovakia, Spain, South Africa, South Korea, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, United States of America, Uruguay, and United Kingdom. If your home country is on the list, you must deposit $5000 in a Panamanian bank in order to qualify for this visa.
You’ll also need to do one of three things: (1) have a labor contract, (2) set up a corporation with the “intent” of doing business in Panama, or (3) purchase a property worth at least $100,000.
To qualify for this "green visa" you will have to invest a minimum of $80,000 to purchase at least 5 hectares of titled land in a government certified reforestation project. Teak farms are a popular investment, though they tend to have a long term return on your money.
Business Investor Visa
Invest at least $160,000 in a legitimate Panamanian business and show business activity to qualify for permanent residency. Additional requirements are to obtain a business license, register with social security, and hire 5 Panamanian employees.
Self-Economic Solvency Visa
This option was designed to attract wealthy foreigners to Panama. There are three ways to qualify: 1. Invest a minimum of $400,000 in Panama real estate. 2. Invest a minimum of $400,000 in a three year Panama CD (Certificate of Deposit). 3. Combine the first two options by making an investment in both Panama real property and a Panama bank CD where the equity and cash amount total at least $400,000 USD (or foreign currency equivalent).
Marry a Panamanian Citizen
Don’t try to run a scam on this one! It has to be a legal, valid marriage with a long list of requirements.
Most permanent visas allow you to obtain citizenship after living in Panama for 5 years.
D.I.Y. or Try a Relocation Tour?
If you think Panama may be the perfect location for you to relocate to, because you’ve read everything you could get your hands on, thoroughly researched the place, and feel like you even have a good idea of where in Panama you want to settle - then you have some very important decisions ahead of you.
Go with your ‘gut’, pack your bags and dive right in – that’s one option. Or, carefully collect all of the data you’ve been researching and verify what you’ve discovered so you KNOW you have made the right choice.
I’ve met and talked with hundreds of expats over the years who have done it both ways. Some jumped in feet first and are happy here, while others felt they made a wrong decision and are long gone. Many took their time, got local guidance and maybe rented for a while, before deciding to make Panama their long term home. Now, I’d like to share some of the reasoning and real results behind these two methods.
Pros & Cons
Okay, let’s go over some reasons why someone might prefer to ‘Do-it-Yourself’ and why it may or may not be valid.
It’s cheaper to do it myself because I am on a tight budget.
First of all, it may not be cheaper to go it alone, especially in the long run. By the time you factor in transportation, lodging, and restaurants you already have a good amount invested. You will most likely be paying top dollar for these items, where I am able to get better accommodations and meals at lower group rates, meaning a better quality experience.
Once the tour begins, your trip is all-inclusive (other than alcohol or personal expenditures). You must also consider the time involved on a D.I.Y. vs a guided tour. To see as much as I can show you in 6 days, with everything pre-arranged and knowing the area like the back of my hand, will probably take quite a bit longer for you. This is because you don’t know the area.
You probably can’t get the same access to gated communities and condos to see what’s available, unless you want a realtor with an agenda to show you around.
I have arranged access for you to several communities and condo developments and there is no guilt in looking around or asking questions. It is totally relaxed and there is nobody pressuring you for a sale. In fact, we are often served cocktails and snacks when we show up! This makes for a much more pleasant experience.
I’m also very familiar with the kinds of expats and locals that live in various towns and communities around Panama. I do a short survey with you before you come on my tour and get to know you while you’re in Panama too. I may be able to point you towards some places that are a good fit for you, which you may have never found on your own.
You will see a lot more in a shorter amount of time, thus saving money in the long run.
All of the information is available on the internet.
There is no argument that the internet is crammed full of information. Maybe it’s really too much information? The problem is, some of the material you read online and in books may be very outdated.
Things are changing rapidly in Panama since it is one of the fastest growing economies in Latin America. Prices, deals, what was working a few years ago, may not be true today. Much of what is printed online and in books about Panama has been regurgitated over and over for years and by people who aren't even living in Panama!
Another thing to watch out for is that quite a bit of what you read online is written by people or organizations with a hidden agenda. They have partnerships or affiliations with developers and other companies and will say just about anything to make Panama paradise, if it means they will be receiving a paycheck for your buying in. This may not always be obvious, but the old adage “if it sounds too good, it probably is” should be at the top of your mind.
Why would my tour be a better option? You can relax, because I do not try to sell you anything during the tour and I do not get kickbacks from any 3rd parties.
There is no hidden agenda with a Panama Relocation Tour. When was the last time the author of that article you read online, got in their car and drove around Panama to see firsthand what is going on?
I have been running a tour almost every month since 2011. I personally live in Panama and I travel with my tour from one end of Panama to the other. I see the changes happening around the country...in real time, every month.
You’ll get a fresh and current view of what’s happening in Panama.
Never heard of a "relocation tour". What is it and why should you considering exploring Panama with a relocation tour group?
A Panama Relocation Tour is nothing like a tourist vacation to popular hotspots. My tours are specifically designed to show a potential expat what it would really be like to live in Panama. You visit super markets, see hospitals, and talk with expats who are living in each town we visit on the tour. You will experience lunch in local spots and nice hotels.
Enjoy a meal with expats who have been living in Panama for a while and ask them the questions on your checklist. What are schools like? What do you do for entertainment? Get answers to all your questions about living in Panama.
Whatever you want to know before making a decision to move, you now have personal friends and contacts who you can continue the conversation with after you fly back home. You’ll know over a dozen expats living in Panama after less than a week! These are not the realtors, or authors of internet magazines, writing articles with information designed to get you to buy real estate. These are people just like you and I who made a decision to move to Panama and are happy to talk to you about their experiences in this new home.
We also meet with lawyers, insurance agents, and other professionals and experts who have been personally vetted by me and people I trust, to share information about topics you need to get clear on before you move. Things like Visas and health insurance options, starting a business in Panama, shipping household goods and pets overseas, and other important information necessary for a successful move.
You will have contact information for each of these people so it will not be a “hit & miss” to find a reputable person to work with. You will have a rolodex of contacts from professionals to expats, myself included, to answer any further questions that may come up after you return home.
You don’t just see Panama, you experience it!
Testimonials from Previous Tour Guests
Don’t just take my word for it. Here a just a few testimonials from some guests who were on tours in the past. There are many more on our testimonials page.
My wife and I attended the March 2018 tour and we were blown away with how organized and well planned out it was. From our very first contacts with Jackie and her daughter Melissa, to the moment we were dropped off at the airport at the end of the tour, we felt very well taken care of. There are no hidden messages to question or anything to be worried about. This tour is legit! We were so impressed with the experience that we returned to Panama just last month to begin the process of getting our Friendly Nations visa. Our meeting with the lawyer, Mayra went very smooth and we had the rest of the week to explore parts of the country that the tour didn’t cover and we were taken by the history, food, and culture that Panama has to offer. If you are considering moving to Panama I would strongly recommend this tour. It will not disappoint.
Richard Ruiz March 2018 Tour
The Panama Relocation Tour was much, much more than I expected! Jackie and Melissa are with you every step of the way, before, during, and after the tour. If you are considering a move to Panama, please save yourself from the many hours of research that lead to confusion and outdated information. TAKE THE TOUR! You will gain important information you might not even know you need, and you will have a great time. TAKE THE TOUR!
Krstl C. July 2018 Tour
We took Jackie Lange ‘s tour in October 2017… sold everything and moved here 6 months later. We received our permanent visas four months later, and we are confident we made the best decision ever. Jackie is an incredible resource of information and experiences, and her tour is an excellent way to learn about this amazing country. It truly has something for everyone here, and her tour is a great way to experience all Panama has to offer.
Elizabeth Wiseman Oct. 2017 Tour
I hope to meet you on a future tour & help you with your quest to become an expat in Panama!
About the Author
Hi – I’m Jackie Lange and I love living in Panama! I moved from Texas to Boquete in 2010. My husband and I were searching for a place to retire where we could have spring like weather year round. We wanted to escape the extreme heat of Texas and high air conditioning bills that were necessary to keep life comfortable there.
We also wanted to live in a country that had a more stable economy and government than the United States.
I am no newcomer to international living. I have moved 22 times in my lifetime, lived in four countries and traveled to 26 different countries. I know a lot about relocating, including overseas. I’ve also started multiple companies which continue to help fund my lifestyle today.
After two years of research and visiting many different countries; including Costa Rica, Belize, Mexico, and Chile, we made our way to Panama. We flew in to Panama City and then on to David, on the far western side of Panama, where we rented a car and spent 10 days driving and exploring several different towns along the way back to Panama City.
We fell instantly in love with the small town of Boquete as soon as we saw it. You simply can’t read about how a place “feels”. You have to go there and see for yourself to know that it is a fit. The people were very friendly and the natural beauty was breath-taking.
A picturesque valley surrounded by majestic green mountains and a stream running along one side of town. The air was crisp and the weather is year round spring time!
The original plan was to retire and simply enjoy living in Panama. Of course, being the serial entrepreneur that I am, that didn’t last long! After I moved to Panama, friends and associates from back in the states became curious. Many of them did not feel comfortable traveling around in a foreign country alone and asked if I’d be their guide.
Soon, I had 8 people who said they wanted to come see Panama. I rented a bus and driver and that was my first tour of the country. I continued to get inquiries from people who wanted to know how they could get on "one of my tours" and so, the Panama Relocation Tours Company was born in 2011.
Since then I have lived as an expat in Panama and I have met others who love living here just like I do. However, I have also met folks who believed stories they read online of Panama being a paradise where you can live like royalty on pennies.
No place is paradise to everyone! Some of these people were greatly disappointed when the reality of their new home was not the rose-colored-glasses vision they had expected. Some of these people move back where they came from, with a tremendous financial loss and a lot of undue stress.
One of the main objectives of Panama Relocation Tours is to show you what living in Panama would "really" be like. We visit towns all over the country and meet with expats in every town we visit. You have an opportunity to chat with these expats over lunch or dinner and hear their personal stories. Ask them questions about the things that are important to you and hear first-hand viewpoints of what living in Panama is like. Unlike other relocation companies we aren't trying to sell you real estate, so there is no hidden agenda!
My tours attract people from all over the world and all age groups, not just retirees. Panama is a very diverse country. You can’t know what area is a fit for you by reading online or sitting in a workshop in a fancy hotel. This is a life changing decision you are making!
Life in Panama City is like another world compared to life in Boquete or Bocas del Toro. I truly believe that there is a place in Panama for just about everyone and my goal is to help you find the right place for YOU.
Discover if living in Panama is right for you with our “boots on the ground” 6-day, 6-night ALL INCLUSIVE Relocation & Retirement Tour.
One flat tour fee includes all ground transportation, hotels, 3 meals a day and in-country flight.
VISIT Panama City, Coronado, Gorgona, El Valle, Santa Clara, Chitre, Las Tablas, Santiago, David, Boquete, Volcan, Cerro Punta and... all places expats call “home”.
TALK to scores of expats who will give you first-hand information about living in Panama.
LEARN about affordable health insurance, getting big discounts on what you buy, about shipping, moving and shopping, pet relocation, how to find a car and how to open a bank account and much more.
DISCOVER how to find rentals, real estate people you can trust, best internet service, how to make and receive free phone calls and order from Amazon.
MEET with an attorney to learn about Pensionado and other visa options.
We’re eager to show you our Panama!
For more information go to our tours page.