I asked a friend who has unfortunately been forced to moved many times to write about the mistakes they made when renting in Panama.
Hopefully, you will heed her advice so you can avoid making the same mistakes when renting in Panama. The names have been changed to protect the innocent.
Rental mistakes could cause you to loose a lot of money not to mention the frustration of having to move several times.
My name is Nita McCabe and I am an expat who has lived in Panama since 2015. I am retired, and live here with my husband and my chihuahua. To date, I have lived in 11 places. If that sounds like it is a lot, trust me, you are not wrong. Why you ask have we moved so much? Well, that is what this article is all about. We have made many mistakes and I am writing this article to mainly show you what NOT TO DO!
Before I begin, I must tell you that we adore living in Panama. Even though we have moved a lot, we have enjoyed different parts of everywhere we have lived. With that being said, I wish I knew then what I know now. You will also see we are still learning.
Many people here have taken Jackie Lange’s Panama Relocation Tour. If we would have taken that tour, we could have alleviated many mistakes we made along the way. But, as they say “It is what it is”, so listed below are the mistakes I made that you need to avoid.
We spent a lot of money we didn’t need to, and both my husband and I don’t want you to make those same mistakes!
First and foremost, and I cannot stress this enough: DO NOT RENT SIGHT UNSEEN OVER THE INTERNET!
My husband and I came to Panama on an exploratory vacation in June of 2015. We stayed in Boquete for 10 days and immediately fell in love with the quaint little mountain town. We knew that we wanted to retire here! Since we were still working full time at our jobs, we also used this time to just relax. We knew we could not look for a rental property then. After all, we still had to go home, work on getting our Visas, quit our jobs and sell our home and all of our belongings. We had no idea the timeline of how long all that would take. We DID however, get a lawyer while we were in Boquete, so that was one thing we did accomplish!
To make a long story short, we ended up completing all of our task to move to Panama permanently in 4 months! As our end date was getting closer, our big decision was where we were going to live once we got to Boquete with our chihuahua and all of our belongings. We started looking at the different sites on the internet. We found a cute little house at a good price. The pictures were gorgeous and the landlord who was from the United States would rent it for 3 months. We figured, “What could go wrong?
We could live anywhere for just 3 months!” So, off we went to start a new chapter in our lives. Little did we know when we got on that airplane, that the house that we had rented was a nightmare. The pictures of the cute little house with the great furniture were taken 10 years prior. All the furniture was completely different, and both the furniture and the house were old and moldy.
When we were still in the States, the landlord had insisted on first month, last month and a security deposit up front to hold the house for us. We blindly wired him all of that money. We later found out that although that practice is common in the States, it is not common in Panama.
Most all rentals in Panama only require the first month’s rent and a security deposit.
Now, back to the house. Although we had water when the landlord gave us the keys, we were out of water by the end of the day. The water in the 600-gallon tank behind the house leaked like a sieve. You couldn’t see it, but it was leaking under the foundation of the house. It was not long before we realized that because mold started to appear every night while we slept. We would wake up to find what looked like white cotton by the back door and into our kitchen, and it grew so quickly that we could actually see it move!
So my 70 year old husband would have to walk to the nearest store and walk back uphill with the largest bottles of water that he could carry so we could have water in the house!
The first day when our landlord gave us the keys, he was leaving and when he got to his car, he turned around and said “Oh, you buy the cable for the TV by the day. The cable company is right up the hill and you buy cards for it that last for 24 hours. So tomorrow, your TV will go off unless you go to the company and buy more time for it.”. WHAT? We didn’t even ask about the TV situation! (another mistake)
There were many other things wrong with what we have since dubbed “The Fuzzy House”. It was very close to the fairgrounds. As we were sitting in our Alabama house fantasying about our future, we pictured how perfect that location would be! After all, whenever they would have a celebration in Boquete, we would be within easy walking distance. No need to buy a car right away, we would walk everywhere!
When we moved to Boquete, we arrived on November 1st. In Panama, the first few weeks of November is when many National Holidays take place. Holidays comes with festivities at the fairgrounds, one of them being music at night. LOUD MUSIC. LASTING UNTIL 5 AM EVERY NIGHT OF THE FAIR.
The straw that broke the camels back was the drunk men that would use our front lawn as a “bano”. When my husband saw a man who had climbed our porch stairs to look into our window, that was it. Keep in mind, we were brand new to a new way of life in a new country. The combination of the house not looking anything like the pictures, no water, mold and now people staring into our front door window as just too much.
We found a property manger who showed us another rental and moved the very next day. So much for our first mistake(s)! To say we moved into our second rental out of knee jerk desperation would be an understatement. We freely gave up our first month, last month and security deposit to get out of that house.
The owner of the first house would not refund any of our money. We later found out that is how that man made money. He would rent to people who were brand new to Panama just like we were. Most people would do as we did, and he would be able to rent the house all over again and keep everyone’s money. We found solace in knowing that at least we were not the only ones who made that mistake!
Don’t Pay Too Much!
Another mistake not to make is to pay too much for a rental that is not within your long-term budget. Do not rent a property with only your heart, you must use your head. Do the math. Know ahead of time what your top line rental price must be for your budget, and be prepared to walk away from the “perfect rental” if the price of that rental will not suit your long-term goal.
Sadly,some real estate agents in Panama play the net listing game. The owner wants to rent their house for $700 a month but the agent tells you $800 a month so they can make an extra profit for themselves. You can avoid this mistake by only working with agents recommended by Panama Relocation Tours.
Avoid Unnecessary Expenses
Also, you do not pay taxes on your rent. Stay away from property managers that will quote you one price, and when it comes time to sign your lease, surprise you with the sentence “plus tax”! We’ve had that game pulled on us too!
In Panama, if you rent you do not have tax added, and if you are renting in a condo, you are not responsible for the HOA or Maintenance fee.
If It Sounds Too Good To Be True, It Probably Is
The next story I will tell you involves many mistakes that we have since learned from. If a rental price sounds too good to be true, trust me, it is.
We found a rental in another part of Panama that was $300.00 less than what the normal rentals were going for in the areas that we were exploring. Our mistake was that we underestimated how much extra we would be paying for the things not included in the rent. With that particular property, it did not include internet, TV, garbage or electricity. It was in one of the hottest parts of Panama so in order for us to be comfortable, we had to have the air conditioner running 24 hours a day.
After a month we realized that we were paying the exact amount as all the other rentals that were available to us! Turns out, it was not as inexpensive as we originally thought! We also learned another lesson on that rental. ASK A TON OF QUESTIONS. In Jackie’s Online Panama Relocation Guide, there is a list of 17 important questions to ask before you sign a lease or turn over any of your hard earned money.
Talk to ALL Owners
In another rental, we rented from a married couple, and it was the wife who showed us the property. We explained that we had a chihuahua, and she assured us that pets were allowed.
The first day when we were moving in our belonging, the husband came over and introduced himself. When he saw our chihuahua he remarked “Better not let your dog outside unless you tell me first. We have our guard dog out all the time, and if he takes one look at your dog, you won’t have a dog anymore.” Yes, the wife had hidden their half Great Dane/half Rottweiler in their house when we first looked at the apartment. This dog who guarded the entire gated property had already killed two dogs who had gotten through the fence onto their property. To add to the shock of what he had told us, turns out the landlords lived right next door to us! The wife had said nothing about the dangers of their own dog!
We Love Living in Panama
A little side note here that I must tell you, my husband and I LOVE to explore different areas! We are gypsies at heart, and renting in Panama is a dream for people like us! Renting allows us to experience the mountains, the jungles, and the beach areas that Panama has to offer! All the mistakes that we have made has not deterred us from renting, we are now just more knowledgeable at doing so!)
Other Mistakes To Avoid
Don’t believe the real estate agent or property manager’s information about what your electric bill will be. Talk to neighbors to find out what their utility bill is. One rental, the agent told us the electric bill had never been over $80. That worked with our budget. The truth is the electric bill was always over $200 and we did not even use air conditioner all the time.
If you are in a hot climate, or at the beach, be aware of where the sun is setting in relation to your living quarters. We moved into a high rise on the ocean and were delighted when the property manager told us that we would be able to sit and enjoy our cocktails out on the balcony as we watched the sunset. What we didn’t realize is that from noon until 6pm, that hot afternoon sun would be streaming in our living room and kitchen area. Without air conditioning, at times the thermometer read 90 degrees in the apartment! After our 6-month lease was up, we moved to an apartment on the other side of the building and enjoyed the cool sunrise in that apartment for a year and a half!
Insist on a written lease with the amount of rent and the term clearly spelled out. We had one situation where the landlord (who we thought was a friend) rented at a reasonable price. We did a handshake deal, no lease. Then a month later she raised the rent $100. Then a month later told us she would need to raise the rent another $100. We moved again instead of playing that game.
You personally need to look closely at a rental that you are considering. Many people for instance, will be in their home country and have a friend look at the property for them. But there are things that may not be important to them as it is for you. Try to observe the property both in the day and at night. Are there barking dogs and crowing roosters next door? At night, is there loud music and young people who light to party across the street from you? How is the traffic, is there loud trucks that go down your street on the way to construction areas up the road? How close are you to town, or a store or restaurants? There are many things to consider when choosing a perfect rental. Check the water pressure. Ask about the reserve water tank(s). In Panama during the end of the dry season, that water tank could crucial to having water in your home. Look inside the shower. Sit on the bed and check out the mattress. Turn on the TV and sit on the couch. Check the internet speed.
And the best advice I can give you is this. DO NOT ASSUME ANYTHING. We once moved near a big town into a beautiful home. Once we were there, we found out that the neighborhood was not set up for internet. We could not get it through cable or even satellite. This home was only 6 km away from a major area that expats live! We ASSUMED we could order TV and internet while we lived in the house. TV we could, internet we could not. We stayed the entire lease but we had to buy our internet using a stick that we plugged into our laptop. That turned out to be a few hundred dollars on top of our rental price that we did not count on. So again, I will stress to ask a ton of questions, and DO NOT ASSUME ANYTHING! Do not be shy. Write down the questions that you want answered before looking at a rental. Once you move in, if something is wrong, contact the property management and have the situation corrected.
Since I have told you many mistakes we made while renting in Panama, I will now conclude my story by telling you some positive things.
As I stated above, WE LOVE PANAMA! We plan on living here for the rest of our lives, and yes, we are going to rent the entire time. We love exploring Panama too much to be stuck in just one area. There has been fun times and good things about every single place that we have lived. Although there have indeed been mistakes made, the good times have far exceeded the bad.
Just getting to know the Panamanian people have been such a blessing for my husband and myself. They are a kind and gentle people, and we are blessed that they have allowed us to be permanent guest in their country.
We have enjoyed hiking in the mountains, swimming in the oceans and exploring the different sights such as the beautiful churches and monuments that Panama has to offer.
We have taken the Double Decker bus tour of Panama City that has taken us to the Panama Canal, and we have walked over the border of Costa Rica to experience yet another joy in our delightful adventure.
We found that retirement in Panama gave us a new lease on life. And hopefully by reading some of the things we did wrong, we can help you when you take your OWN leap of faith, and move to Panama and start enjoying this enchanting country for yourselves!
There are some amazing rentals in Panama and some amazing landlords (both Panamanian and expats).
We highly recommend that when you want to rent in Panama, you need to come to Panama, stay in a hotel or an airbnb for a week or two, then physically go visit each rental you are interested in. Thoroughly inspect the property and ask a lot of questions. Make sure that everything the owner said is included in the rent is listed in the lease agreement. If you’ll do these simple things, you can avoid the mistakes and problems listed in this article.