Moving to a foreign country is a whole new experience for many people. Living in Panama is not like living in the United States, Canada or Europe. Some things are similar but many things are done in a very different way. For a smooth transition to your new life in Panama, learn the 9 biggest mistakes new expats make when moving to, or planning to move to, Panama. If you avoid these mistakes, you will have a pleasant experience in Panama.
1.Relying on people in expat forums for advice on moving: TripAdvisor is great for looking for hotels when on vacation, but when moving to a foreign country it can be dangerous to rely on information on expat forums. You really don’t know who the person posting really is or if they even live, or have ever lived, in Panama. Many of the people who post on expat forums are new to Panama too so they are not your best source for information. You’ll get a lot of conflicting information which can cause confusion. Some people who post on expat forums have a hidden agenda to sell you real estate, illegal financial services, or something else. You should never, ever discuss your financial situation on forums.
2. Becoming too friendly with the locals too fast: Panamanians are genuinely friendly people. Expats are friendly too. It’s great to visit with locals at a restaurant, bar or charity events, but don’t tell people where you live or invite them to your home until you get to know them well. Don’t tell anyone how much money you have or what your monthly pension is. It’s best not to flash fancy jewelry. Sadly, even at church, you can’t trust everyone because some people go to church just so they can make friends with people they think have money then they turn on their sob stories to extract as much of your money from you as they can. Avoid people who claim to have a special way you can hide money from your government.
3. Don’t rush to buying real estate: I tell everyone on Panama Relocation Tours that they should rent for at least 6-12 months before they even think about buying real estate. There are several reasons for this. You need to make sure you like living in Panama and the Panamanian culture before you buy real estate. Also, Panama has a lot of different micro-climates. The weather can be completely different just a few kilometers away. Some areas get more rain or cloud cover than others. Some areas have more water problems than the rest of Panama. Some areas cannot get reliable or fast internet service. Friends who rented a condo by the beach were shocked to find out that many of the units are rented by the night so it felt like living in a hotel with a constant stream of strangers coming and going. Before you jump in to buying in a certain area, you need to make sure you like that area. Rent for 1-2 months to give each area a test drive before you sign a long term lease or buy. Also, keep in mind that rents are super cheap compared to buying so it may make more sense to just rent while you live in Panama. You can get out of a rental a lot faster than you can sell a property you buy. If you do decide to buy, always, use your attorney to do a title search and create the purchase contract with your best interest in mind. Understand that not all properties are titled in Panama. Some properties are ROP (right of possession) which has no title and could be disputed which would result in your losing the money you paid for the property. Definitely wait until you get your permanent residency Visa before buying.
4. Don’t move to Panama without visiting first: This is a biggie! People who just move to Panama without visiting first, almost always end of leaving within 6 months. They had no clue what they were getting in to. If you’re married, both of you need to check out various areas of Panama before you make the move. We designed Panama Relocation Tours to give you a good overview of the kind of lifestyle Panama has to offer in a variety of different places and in different price points. So, we think the tour is the ideal way to discover if Panama is right for you. You’ll also learn about Residency Visa options, bringing your pet in to the country, renting a house, buying a car, and much more. Sure, you could fly to Panama, rent a car, then explore Panama on your own. Either way, come see many different areas of Panama before you decide to make the move.
5. Don’t get too involved with too many different things: When you move to Panama, it is tempting to get involved with every charity, card game, painting class, cooking class, and hiking group you can find. This is a great way to meet fellow expats and Panamanians too. But you may find that by the end of the week you are exhausted. It is better to pace yourself. Give yourself time to get settled in to your new home and town before you get involved in too many activities. Sometimes it’s nice to just sit on the porch sipping coffee (or wine) and taking in the amazing views. It’s time to relax. You don’t need to be busy every minute!
6. Don’t sit at home watching TV: Politics have made some people so furious that they stayed glued to the TV to see what’s going to happen next. There’s nothing you can do about it when you live in Panama. So turn off the tv, especially the news, and get out to meet people in your new town. Get involved in some of the local activities (not too many). You’ll enjoy your life in Panama much more if you get out of the house, meet people, and get involved in some of the local activities like live music at local restaurants or volunteering.
7. Don’t expect Panamanians to speak English: Some do speak fluent English, but others don’t. Don’t get frustrated with Panamanians who don’t speak English. It’s not their fault. You’re living in “their” country so it is your job to learn at least some of their language. DuoLingo.com will teach you a few words every day.. for free. There are also Spanish classes and private tutors. I have to admit that I don’t speak much Spanish but I know enough to get by just fine. A little Spanish and a big smile go a long way in Panama. If necessary, you can hire a translator to go with you to help with some things.
8. Don’t get the wrong Visa or plan to do border hops: If you’re going to live in Panama, get a residency Visa. The Pensionado Visa is ideal if you plan to be retired. With a Pensionado Visa you cannot sell a product or any service in Panama, not even part time. If you want to work, the Friendly Nations Visa is ideal for you. Panama makes it easy to get a residency Visa so there is no reason to live in Panama without getting a Visa. Nothing upsets Panamanians more than seeing “gringos” working who are not legally allowed to work or seeing expats living in Panama full time who don’t have a residency Visa.
9. Don’t start a business too soon: Instead of starting a business right away, it is better to move to Panama then do a lot of market research to determine if the product or service or restaurant you want to open is even needed – and what your pricing structure should be. The business you have in your country may not work well in Panama. Some “gringos” open a restaurant a few months after they move to Panama charging twice what other restaurants charge then wonder why they don’t have any business. You need to consult with an attorney to make sure you can legally run the business you have in mind. Get the appropriate Residency Visa with a Work Permit (you cannot work in Panama without a Work Permit). You’ll need to set up a corporation, get a RUC number (tax id number), hire an accountant, set up a business bank account, get a merchant account so you can accept credit cards, and perhaps other licenses or certificates depending on your business. Foreigners are not allowed to operate some businesses.
Panama Relocation Tours is the expert when it comes to helping people relocate to Panama. We’ve helped hundreds of people make a smooth and easy transition to life in Panama. We feel that educating people about the pros and cons of each area in Panama helps them make a decision about which area is best for their personal needs and lifestyle. During the tours, we reveal exactly what you need to do before you make the move and once you arrive in Panama. This takes the stress away.
Because of this education, 37% of the people who come on a Panama Relocation Tour move to Panama within 3-6 months. Another 10% move within a year. And another 10% of tour attendees move to Panama within 2 years. Yes, 57% of people who come on a Panama Relocation Tour move to Panama!
Let us help you take the guess work and confusion out of relocating to Panama, join us for a Panama Relocation Tour this year.