Scouting Trip to Panama: What You Need to Know

It’s been your dream to retire in Panama. You’ve done hours of research. You’ve watched all the videos on our Youtube channel, which helped you learn about the different areas. Hopefully, this helped you create a “short list” of places that would be a good fit for you.

You learned about others’ mistakes and some insider tips from the many articles we have published. And now you’re ready to take it to the next level to explore Panama yourself.

No amount of YouTube videos, Facebook Groups, or other online information will truly give you the experience of actually being in Panama until you see it up close and personal.

When you visit Panama, you’ll get to actually walk the streets of the city you’ve been learning about. Finally, you’ll get to taste the foods you’ve heard about. And see a few neighborhoods, hear the noises, and smell the air. But most importantly, you’ll get a chance to explore on your own and decide if Panama is right for YOU.

You need to do a scouting trip before your move. You have three choices of ways to explore Panama:

  1. You can explore Panama on your own with a self-guided tour
  2. You can take a Private Tour of the area(s) you’re most interested in.
  3. You can do an all-inclusive 7-night, 6-day Panama Relocation Tour

These are some things you should try to accomplish during your scouting trip.

bocas del toro panama
Bocas del Toro

Decide What Area(s) You’re Going to Visit

If you’re not going on a Panama Relocation Tour, which will take you to many different areas in Panama, you need to decide which areas you want to visit while you are planning your trip. Panama is a small country with both beach and mountain towns and of course, Panama City. You’ll need to decide how much time you will spend in each area and determine how you will get from point A to point B.

*Do you want to live near the beach, in the mountains, or in the city?
* Would you prefer to live where there are many other expats or few expats?
*What’s your budget? Is it a good match for the area you are interested in?
*Does the area have the social activities you like?
*If you have kids, are there international schools close by?

Come to Panama with a plan. Make a list of wants and needs, and narrow down the cities that match your needs and your budget. For example:

*If you’d like to be close to a hospital, where is the closest hospital?
*Does the local pharmacy have your medications?
*If you have children, is there a school nearby? What do the cost?
*Are rentals available in your budget?
*Does the grocery store have the items you prefer?
*Does the area have high-speed internet?
*Are there enough restaurants with the food you’d enjoy?
*Are the social activities you like available?

With research and a good plan, you can focus on the places in Panama that closely match your desires. And you can eliminate places that are not a good match.

The Complete Panama Relocation Guide has a complete section about all the different areas in Panama to help you do your research. It also has information about how to do a self-guided tour in each of the most popular places to live. And, it has a list of Private Tour Guides in each area.

david panama park
David Panama

How Are You Going To Get Around?

One of the most important things to consider when planning your trip is how you will get around.

Panama has excellent public transportation. When you land in Panama City, taxis are readily available to take you to your hotel or AirBnb. In Panama City, Uber or the Metro system (buses and subway), are the best way to get around.

If you’re planning to visit a few different cities throughout Panama, and don’t feel like driving, then the best option is taking one of Panama’s super comfortable buses. Traveling by coach bus in Panama is inexpensive, safe, and comfortable. Some buses even have a bathroom on the bus for longer treks.

You can take a bus from Panama City to anywhere in Panama. It’s affordable and comfortable, but warning, it’s usually cold on the bus. A bus from Panama City to David, in far western Panama, is less than $20. There is room to store luggage under the bus.

double decker bus panama
Double Decker Bus has a bathroom on each level

But what if you just want to have your own car?

Renting a car gives you the most flexibility to be able to explore! If you see a neighborhood you like, you can easily drive through it at different times of the day.

If you want to check out some places and don’t want to rely on a taxi to wait for you, then driving your own rental car would be the best option. It’s about $35-$50 a day to rent a car in Panama. That price includes insurance and taxes. You may see prices advertised much lower online, but the low price does not include insurance or taxes. Many car rental companies offer a discount for a weekly or monthly rental.

But a word of caution – renting a car in Panama isn’t the same as renting in the U.S. For starters, car insurance in Panama is mandatory and extremely penalized if you are in a car accident and are caught without it. Don’t rent a car in Panama without getting their insurance. Car rentals offer this as part of their contract- and don’t assume your credit card will cover any damages either. Get the car insurance.

Our COMPLETE Panama Relocation Guide has a full directory of vetted contacts we recommend working with, including car rental companies. Check it out here.

san carlos panama
San Carlos Panama

Line Up Some Rentals To See

Part of the scouting trip is getting a feel for the rental market. Especially if you have a specific budget in mind. So, I recommend lining up some rentals to visit while you’re in town. You’ll get a sense of certain neighborhoods, the building style in Panamanian homes, and the average cost of living.

A few options for this are to look on Craigslist Panama or Facebook Marketplace and set up some showings. Remember that some areas may not have any rentals in your budget. Depending on where you’re looking, some landlords will only speak Spanish. I’ll discuss a solution for this further on.

When you meet with agents or landlords, it’s also important for you to know what questions to ask. To help you out, I created a list of 17 important questions to ask before renting in Panama.

panama rental david
David Panama

If You’re Moving With Kids- Visit Some Schools

And if you are planning to relocate to Panama with children, then touring a few schools might be your priority. We have a list of international schools in the Complete Panama Relocation Guide, plus information about the process for enrolling your children in a school in Panama. Panama has both a public and private school system. Public schools will be taught in Spanish Only.

International schools range from $80 to $500 a month, and some have an entrance fee also.

If you prefer to homeschool, are there other homeschool parents in the area you can network with?

Join The Expat Forum

One of the best ways to get a feel for a city or community is to meet with a few local expats. Our Private Facebook Community has expats all over Panama. They will be glad to meet with you to discuss their move to Panama. Keep in mind you’ll need a Facebook account to join. It’s available for anyone who has been on a Panama Relocation Tour or purchased the Complete Panama Relocation Guide.

As you prepare for your scouting trip, reach out to a few expats in this Facebook group. Ask them if you can take them out for coffee, a margarita, or lunch. Get their opinion (pros and cons) about living in the area. But take everything you learn from another person with a grain of salt. At the end of the day, you’re the one who would be relocating here. But this is a great way to make some new acquaintances, get some insider information, and start networking.

las tablas panama
Las Tablas Panama

What Kind of Medical Care is Available?

Knowing what medical care and a hospital are available should be a priority for you. Not because you’re assuming the worst will happen. But because it’s important to know what options you have if you should need emergency care.

When you move to a new area, one of the first things to determine is where is the closest hospital just in case you have an emergency.

Because it’s less than $20 to see a doctor and no appointment is necessary, you may want to visit a doctor to discuss any pre-existing health conditions you have so you can determine if your medical needs can be met in Panama.

You may want to know things like- is there an emergency room nearby? What emergencies can they cover? Is there any English-speaking staff? What’s the number of private ambulances in that medical center? What specialists practice there? And if this hospital isn’t big enough, where is the nearest big hospital? And so on and so forth.

If you take medications, you should also visit a pharmacy to see if the medications you take are available and what they will cost. Keep in mind that pharmacies are privately owned, so the price at one pharmacy could be completely different than another pharmacy across the street.

If you qualify for a Jubilado discount, you’ll get 10% off medications. But, many pharmacies in Panama offer 25% discounts on certain days. Find out which day they offer the discount.

What’s The Vibe Like?

But perhaps the most important thing you’ll realize during your scouting trip will be: “Do I see myself living here?” No amount of YouTube videos, Facebook posts, and other forums will give you the experience of you actually being in a place yourself.

And if you don’t like the vibe, then you won’t like living there.

So truly go on your scouting trip with an open mind. If things are on your “Must Have” list, verify that they are available and satisfactory to you.

Leave all the expectations you might have about living in Panama behind. And experience a place with a fresh mind. And at the end of the day, if you don’t see yourself enjoying a place long-term, scratch it off your list. It’ll save you a lot of headaches and money- trust me.

boquete panama

Do Not Buy Real Estate

And whatever you do, don’t buy a house in Panama before spending at least 6 months to a year here. Don’t buy real estate until you have a permanent residency visa.

You really need to experience the area you like in Panama in both the rainy season and dry season before you make a buying decision. They can be dramatically different.

Selling a house in Panama isn’t as easy as it is north of the border.

Many people think they would love living on the beach because they’ve seen pictures of it online, and it looks paradisiacal. But then, after spending a few weeks in humid and hot weather, they might realize the beach isn’t for them after all.

Or they move to the mountains, only to discover that it’s too cold for them in the rainy season.

Some people move to Panama determined to live in a popular expat community but might find that a neighboring town with less expats is more affordable and feels more authentic.

If you bought a house, and all of a sudden you like another part of Panama, it’s not that easy to sell it and move.

Rent first! Rent is affordable, and it gives you the chance to check out many different areas before you find the place you like best.

guarare panama ocean view

Does It Feel Safe To You At All Times?

One of the things that really make people worry as they start to research is safety in Panama.

And although there is crime in Panama, you can talk to any expat who is living here full time and they’ll tell you they feel perfectly safe! Some areas of Panama have more crime than others. Most areas have very little crime. Just think about all the crime that happens in your country/state/province every day – yet people still live there.

But- how do YOU feel?

When you make your scouting trip to the places in Panama you’re interested in, how do you feel walking around alone? Do you feel unsafe? Are you on guard?

Mingle and talk with Panamanians too! (not just expats) You’ll find Panamanians are the friendliest people you’ll ever meet.

These are important things to make a note of. Because if you don’t feel comfortable walking around alone, you won’t have the best experience living in Panama. I also encourage you to visit various neighborhoods at different times of the day. That way you get an idea of how safe it feels at all times.

The EASY Button – Work With A Relocation Expert

Living in Panama can be a wonderful experience, as long as you do your due diligence and keep these things in mind that we’ve discussed in this article.

Instead of scouting Panama on your own, there’s an easier way to check out Panama and an easier way to make the transition to living in Panama!

Would you rather have someone do most of the legwork for you? Someone who could line up rentals in your budget for you to visit? Someone who knows the local language and can help you translate certain things on your visit? Someone who can help facilitate getting you from point A and point B without you having to worry about renting a car? Or having to get the right type of car insurance? Someone who understands the local culture and can help you avoid mistakes? Someone who is always readily available to answer your questions?

And most importantly, someone who can save you time, money, and headaches by teaching you what not to do too!

We Can Help!

That’s why we offer our all-inclusive 7-night 6-day Panama Relocation Tours!

If you’re not sure where you want to live in Panama and want to see a variety of different areas to determine which area “feels right”, then an all-inclusive 7-night, 6-day Panama Relocation Tour is just what you need.

During a Panama Relocation Tour, we show you the most popular places to live. You’ll see Panama City, beach communities, and mountain towns – in a variety of price ranges. You’ll see rentals in each area.

Every Panama Relocation Tour has at least two expat tour guides and our professional Panamanian driver fluent in English and Spanish too.

You’ll learn the pros and cons of each area we visit, plus learn about residency visa options, finding rentals, getting pets to Panama, buying a car enrolling your children in school, buying health insurance, and so much more. You’ll also get access to our list of recommended and reliable immigration lawyers, real estate agents, insurance brokers, car brokers, car rental companies, international schools, Fixers ( who can help you get a driver’s license, cell phone, etc) and so much more.

You won’t know which area in Panama is right for you until you see it up close and personal.

After you go on an all-inclusive 7-night, 6-day Panama Relocation Tour, you will get access to the Complete Panama Relocation Guide, which we update monthly PLUS, you’ll get access to our Private Facebook Community, where we offer ongoing support before, during, and after your move to Panama.

Is a Private Tour a Better Fit?

If you already have a “short list” of one or two places where you think you’d like to live, then a Private Tour of just those areas would be ideal for you. With a Private Tour, you can skip the areas where you think you don’t want to live and focus your scouting trip only on the areas you are most interested in.

I’ve hand-picked and trained all Private Tour guides that will show you what it’s truly like to live in Panama. And there is no agenda to sell you anything- so you can truly explore a city without the pressure of signing an exclusivity contract with a realtor. We only show rentals during the Tours.

Moving to Panama is a big decision. We can help you have a smooth, hassle-free relocation with the help of our resources. We’ve helped thousands of people move to Panama, and we can help you too. We have the experience you can trust and need.

retire early in panama

Jackie Lange

Jackie Lange is the founder of Panama Relocation Tours and lives in the highlands of Boquete Panama. She has helped thousands of people relocate to Panama.

Reader Interactions


  1. Austin Chamness says

    I’m considering a Panama Relocation Tour in the fall. Is there enough free time during the tour for me see and/or play on golf courses? Easy access to golfing will play into any decision about a possible full-time or part-time move the Panama. Also, just curious if the sleeping accommodations during the tour are in one location or change from night to night?

    • Jackie Lange says

      Hello. Thanks for your interest in Panama Relocation Tours. On Saturday, we arrive at the hotel, which has a nice golf course, about 4 so you should have time to play there. On Wednesday or Thursday afternoon, you’ll have some free time in the afternoon in Boquete so you could play them. We change hotels each night the first three nights. then we stay at the same hotel for the last 3 nights and do day trips to other towns

  2. Audrey Liefer says

    Hi Jackie!

    I will be joining a tour in February of 2023 and would like to arrive one day before the tour starts, and stay 4 or 5 days in Boquete after the tour. Do I discuss this when I make my reservations with your people?

    Been thinking about this way too long, just need to act!

    • Jackie Lange says

      Hello. Once we have your arrival information, we will make a reservation for you at our group hotel in Panama City so you can get our special rate. We will also recommend where to stay after the tour once you’re made a reservation with us. We look forward to showing you how amazing life is in Panama.

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