An ex-pat community is a town that has a high concentration of expatriates or ex-pats.
Relocating to Panama will be much easier if you move to a community where there are already many ex-pats. With an established ex-pat community English will be widely spoken at the banks, doctor offices, restaurants, and other services like cell phone or internet providers. It will be easier to get things done.
The three main ex-pat communities in Panama are Panama City, Coronado, and Boquete. There are about 3,500 ex-pats in Boquete and most of the ex-pats live there full time. Boquete has a population of 30,000 so ex-pats are about 10% of the population.
I’m not sure how many ex-pats live in Coronado, but I see ex-pats everywhere I go when I’m in Coronado. I’ve been told that approximately 40% of the ex-pats are Canadian, 30% Americas and the rest are primarily European. Many of the ex-pats in Coronado do not live there full time. My guess would be that there are more total ex-pats in Coronado than Boquete but fewer of them live in Coronado full time.
There are also a lot of ex-pats in Panama City but ex-pats are harder to find because it is such a large city with almost 3 million people.
No one knows for sure how many ex-pats there are in Panama because there is no requirement to register with any Embassy.
Other areas like Volcan, El Valle, Las Tablas, Sante Fe, David, Chitre, and Pedasi certainly have ex-pats living there but a tiny fraction compared to Coronado or Boquete. English is not widely spoken in any of these other areas.
The good thing about living in Boquete is that English is widely spoken. The bad thing about living in Boquete is that English is so widely spoken that you don’t need to learn Spanish. It’s much harder to learn Spanish if you live in an ex-pat community. You will have a much better life in Panama if you learn at least some Spanish. You can start learning Spanish with a free app called DuoLingo.
In non-expat communities, few locals will speak English. So you will need to learn at least some Spanish before you make the move. A smile and “Buenos” go a long way! Google translate can help you communicate when necessary.
An easy way to learn Spanish is by taking an online Spanish class like DuoLingo. You can learn at your own pace and from the comfort of your home. With this online Spanish class, your confidence to communicate in Spanish will go through the roof!
In non-expat communities, because English is not widely spoken, it will be harder to get anything done if you don’t speak some Spanish or take a translator with you. This could cause frustration. Most towns will have translators you can hire too.
Panama is a Spanish-speaking country so it is good to learn at least some Spanish. The more you learn, the easier your life will be in Panama. Plus you will not be limited to speaking only with other ex-pats or only Panamanians who speak English.
Because there are so many ex-pats living in Panama, some service providers now have English-speaking support. If I have problems with my internet service, I can select #2 for English when I call support. If I need to call my 24/7 helpline at my banks in Panama I can press #2 for English support. English is spoken at some local businesses. You can always use Google Translate to communicate if necessary.
When you live in an ex-pat community there will be plenty of weekly activities like live music events, theater, poker games, pickleball, yoga classes, art shows, Zumba, chili cook-offs, and plenty of charities to get involved in. Some restaurants also have trivia or bingo nights.
In ex-pat communities, there seems to always be a reason for a party or a get-together.
In non-expat communities, you’ll need to create your own ex-pat activities. There may be a few activities but they will not happen often.
Expats who live in ex-pat communities seem to be much more social. They like going to lots of social events. Of course, you don’t have to participate but the events will be readily available.
If you need social events, you’ll enjoy your life in Panama more if you live in an established ex-pat community.
House prices could be more expensive in an established ex-pat community. But, you’ll find more North American-style houses in ex-pat communities.
Finding a house for less than $80,000 in an established ex-pat community in Panama is not easy. Affordable houses are out there but they are harder to find. It is rare that you will find houses in that price range listed on a real estate agent’s website. You are more likely to find affordable houses by talking to Panamanians or reading Spanish ads online.
Rentals in ex-pat communities could cost a little more than a non-expat community. An example is the furnished house like I rented when I moved to Boquete is $695 per month for a 2 bedroom, 2 bath house. In Volcan, the same house would rent for $500. In Coronado, the same house would rent for about $1,000 per month.. or even more if it were close to the beach.
Keep in mind that these are no-frills-type houses. I’m talking about a basic 1200 SF house without granite countertops or any high-end finishes. It does include a laundry room too. My house has vaulted ceilings and large windows to let in the natural light. And the views… OH MY... you should see the spectacular views.
For a bigger house, you’ll pay more.
In Chitre, during a Panama Relocation Tour, we meet with a couple who rents a nice furnished two-bedroom house for $350…. with an Ocean view! Another couple I know in Volcan rents a furnished 2 bedroom, 2 bath house for $500 per month. In warmer areas, electricity may not be included in your rent so you’ll have additional expenses for air conditioning.
If you live in an area like Boquete or Volcan, or anywhere above 3000 feet, the weather will be Spring-like year-round so you will have no need for an air conditioner. This saves a lot of money on utility bills.
If you live at a lower elevation like Coronado, David or Pedasi it will be hotter and more humid so you will have additional utility costs but the benefit of being close to the beach.
There are always tradeoffs!
The quality of homes in ex-pat communities will usually be much better than the quality of homes in non-expat communities. Hot water at every faucet is NOT a given in Panama. But in ex-pat communities, you are much more likely to have hot water at every faucet in the house.
If you want to live close to an ex-pat community but you’re on a limited budget, you can usually reduce your costs if you move 15 or 20 minutes away. You’re still close enough to participate in all the activities. Caldera is about 20 minutes away from downtown Boquete. Last year an ex-pat bought a 2 bedroom house on a large lot for $35,000 there. Another couple purchased a furnished two-bedroom house on two acres for $120,000 in Dolega which is halfway between David and Boquete. You’d never find that kind of price in Boquete.
If you’d love to live in Coronado but you’re on a limited budget, check out the Rio Hato area about 20 minutes west of Coronado. Rents are 50% less than Coronado but you’re still close the all the conveniences and social activities of Coronado.
I helped a friend find a nice, furnished one-bedroom house in Alto Boquete for $200 a month and it includes all utilities, internet, and electricity. Did you see the video of the beautiful two-bedroom house with Ocean views that Carol is renting for $600 a month about 10-minutes from Chitre? The deals ARE out there!
We strongly recommend that you rent for at least 6 months before you even think about buying a property in Panama. Renting for a year would be better so you can experience both seasons. In some cases, it makes more sense to just be a renter and not buy. Rents are affordable. Renting gives you the flexibility to try out a variety of different areas in Panama. Buying is easy but selling could take many many years.
In ex-pat communities, you are more likely to have a wide variety of restaurants with very good food. In Boquete, we have many traditional Panamanian food ($5 a meal) restaurants, fish restaurants, Italian, Mexican, Peruvian, Spanish, Pizza, Egyptian, sandwich shops, and more. We even have a microbrewery in Boquete!
In non-expat communities, your choices for eating out will be extremely limited and there will be limited choices at the grocery stores too.
If you live in a larger town like David or Chitre, you’ll find a plethora of restaurants and many excellent grocery stores, hardware stores, and malls. These towns will even have McDonald’s, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Pizza Hut, and Subway. You will not find these “chain” type restaurants in smaller communities.
Even in small ex-pat communities like Boquete and Coronado, you’ll have a better chance of finding a good grocery or pharmacy.
In small non-expat communities like Sante Fe and Pedasi, there will be less of a selection so you’ll need to make occasional trips to a larger town to get the things you need.
There are always trade-offs in Panama.
Moving to a non-expat community will be more affordable and have a bigger upside potential if you buy. As more ex-pats move into the area it will be converted into an ex-pat community with more services, more restaurants, and more amenities. Home prices will go up as there is more demand. But you need to learn Spanish.
Moving to an already established ex-pat community will make your transition much easier.. you’ll have more social activities, and you’ll have more conveniences ..but all that comes at a price. You’ll pay more to live in an ex-pat community. English will be spoken in most places.
Where you decide to move to in Panama will depend on your personal preferences and your budget.
No matter what you’ve read about each area in Panama or seen on videos, you can’t really get a “feel” for what it will be like until you go visit the town.
Join us for a Panama Relocation Tour to see a VARIETY of different areas during our 6-day all-inclusive tour. You’ll get the chance to meet with ex-pats every day during the tour. Panama has something for every budget and every preference. Come see how you can live better for less in Panama. A Panama Relocation Tour will help you find your paradise in Panama!
The Online Panama Relocation Guide will teach you all the things you need to know to relocate to Panama and give you detailed information about a variety of different places to relocate to. You could do a DIY self-guided tour of the areas you are most interested in or do a Private Tour to get a better understanding of the area before you make a decision to relocate there.