An expat community is a town that has a high concentration of expatriates or expats.
Relocating to a Panama will be much easier if you move to a community where there are already many expats. With an established expat 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 expat communities in Panama are Panama City, Coronado and Boquete. There are about 3,500 expats in Boquete and most of the expats live there full time. Boquete has a population of 30,000 so expats are about 10% of the population.
I’m not sure how many expats live in Coronado, but I see expats every where I go when I’m in Coronado. I’ve been told that approximately 40% of the expats are Canadian, 30% Americas and the rest are primarily European. Many of the expats in Coronado do not live there full time. My guess would be that there are more total expats in Coronado than Boquete but fewer of them live in Coronado full time.
There are also a lot of expats in Panama City but expats are harder to find because it is such a large city with almost 3 million people.
No one knows for sure how many expats there are in Panama because there is no requirement to register with any Embassy.
Other areas like El Valle, Las Tablas, Sante Fe, David, Pedasi, Volcan and Puerto Armuellas certainly have expats living there but a tiny fraction compared to Coronado or Boquete. English is not widely spoken in any of these 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 expat community. You will have a much better life in Panama if you learn at least some Spanish.
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” goes a long way!
An easy way to learn Spanish is by taking an online Spanish Class. You can learn at your own pace and from the comfort of your home. I really like Gary Scott’s Learn Spanish in 3 Days Online Class. I attended this “live” class in Boquete Panama a few years ago I was amazed that by the end of the first day everyone in the class was speaking, reading and writing in Spanish! 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. This could cause frustration. I highly recommend that you order Gary’s Online Spanish Class and start studying before you move to Panama. 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 expats or only Panamanians who speak English.
Because there are so many expats 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 help line 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 expat community there will be plenty of weekly activities like live music events, theater, poker games, 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 expat communities there seems to always be a reason for a party or a get-together. That’s certainly the case in Boquete.
In non-expat communities you’ll need to create your own expat activities. There may be a few activities but they will not happen often.
Expats who live in expat communities seem to be much more social. They like going to lots of events and hanging out with other expats. 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 expat community.
House prices could be more expensive in an established expat community. But, you’ll find more North American style houses in expat communities.
Finding a house for less than $100,000 in an established expat community in Panama is not easy to do. They are out there but they are hard 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.
Yet in non-expat communities buying a house for less than $100,000 is much easier to find.
Rentals in expat 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 $400…. with an Ocean view! Another couple I know in Puerto Armuelles rents a furnished 2 bedroom, 1 bath house for $450 per month. It’s hot in both of these areas 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 it will be hotter and more humid so you will have additional utility costs.
The quality of homes in expat 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 expat communities you are much more likely to have hot water at every faucet in the house.
If you want to live close to an expat 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 expat bought a 2 bedroom house on a large lot for $35,000 there. You’d never find that price in Boquete.
We strongly recommend that you rent for at least 6 months before you even think about buying a property in Panama. 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 years.
In expat communities you are more likely to have a wide variety of restaurants with very good food. In Boquete, we have may traditional Panamanian food ($5 a meal) restaurants, fish restaurants, Italian, Mexican, Peruvian, Spanish, Pizza, Egyptian, sandwich shops, and more. We even have a micro brewery 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.
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 a McDonalds, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Pizza Hut and Subway. You will not find these “chain” type restaurants in smaller communities.
Even in small expat 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, Pedasi, or Puerto Armuelles 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 expats move in to the area it will be converted in to an expat 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 expat 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 expat community. English will be spoken at 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.
PanamaRelocationTours.com will show you a VARIETY of different areas during our 6-day all-inclusive tour. You’ll get the chance to meet with expats 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.
Join us on a Panama Relocation Tour to find your paradise!