This post was published before major changes were made to the Friendly Nations Visa (FNV) program. Find out if you are eligible to move to Panama.
Whether you are relocating to Panama or just coming for a visit, here are some things you should do to make your trip a lot smoother.
LEARN SOME SPANISH
Even though a lot of Panamanians speak English in some areas of Panama and will be willing to help you with translations, it is better if you learn a few basic phrases and words before you arrive. A little Spanish and a big smile go a long way in Panama. If you have time before your trip to Panama, take an online course. I recommend the online training at www.WarrenHardy.com because you can learn the basics at your own pace with Warren’s video training. Or, you can get free Spanish language training at www.DuoLingo.com. (there is a free app for your phone for Duolingo too). There are many Spanish language schools throughout Panama and private teachers too.
I have to admit that I am not fluent in Spanish but know enough to get by comfortably.
Some towns in Panama have a high concentration of expats. In those towns, much more English is spoken. But you cannot always count on every Panamanian you come in to contact with knowing Spanish so keep Google Translate on your smartphone handy just in case you need a quick translation.
PANAMA CELL PHONE
If your cell phone is unlocked, you can buy a Panama SIM card at the airport or near most hotels. Then you’ll have a Panama cell phone number. All Panama cell phone numbers are 8 digits. Landlines are 7 digits. I recommend TIGO (previously Movistar) cell phone provider because they seem to work best throughout Panama. You could also buy a cell phone in Panama and it will already be unlocked. It will be much easier for you to get in touch with hotels, car rental places, lawyers, etc, if you have a Panama cell phone number. And it will be easier for them to get in touch with you too if you have a Panama cell phone number. You can get a data plan and talk time added to your Panama phone for 1 day, 1 week, or by the month. I pay $30 a month for my cell phone plan.
MUST HAVE APPS FOR PANAMA
It’s a good idea to bring a smartphone with you to Panama so you can use some free apps to help you get around or buy a Panama cell phone when you arrive. Load these apps on your phone:
WhatsApp is the preferred way to communicate in Panama. Everyone uses WhatsApp in Panama! You can send text, send voice messages, share photos, and even send video messages… all for free.. if you have wifi or a data plan. You can invite people on your contact list to also download WhatsApp to their phone so you can stay in touch while you are in Panama. WhatsApp works all over the world.
Get the Uber App! Taxis are readily available, but the prices are all over the place. If a taxi driver sees that you are a tourist, they will likely charge you the “gringo” price. Instead, it is better to use Uber. With Uber, you will know exactly what the cost will be for your trip. There is no gringo pricing. Uber cars are much nicer and cleaner than most taxis in Panama. You can even request an Uber English-speaking driver though it is not necessary because your drive will already know where you want to go. Uber is safer too because your fare is automatically charged to your credit card so you don’t need to pull out cash and hope the taxi driver will have change. Uber works well in Panama City but it is not available in the rest of Panama.
Waze is like Google Maps but works better in Panama. Waze will guide you to your destination with the most direct route to avoid traffic. Waze will also let you know if there is a traffic jam ahead then reroute you. Other people using Waze can comment on traffic in Panama but it will likely be in Spanish.
Google Translate. Unless you are fluent in Spanish, you definitely need to have the Google Translate App on your phone before you arrive in Panama. Google Translate allows you to type or speak words in your language then it will translate into Spanish. You can see the words in Spanish or you can click on an icon to hear the words in Spanish. Just show the translation to the person you are trying to communicate with. You can also use the camera function in Google Translate to translate menus or other publications into English.
Degusta can be used to find a restaurant and see reviews. The only problem is that it’s in Spanish only but you can still search for Italian, German, Vegetarian, etc restaurants to see what’s available and what the ratings are. You can check out their website at www.degustapanama.com
Unit Conversions. Panama uses the metric system. You can use the Conversion App to convert miles to kilometers, liters to gallons, etc. You need to know that in Panama, the maximum speed limit is 100km which is 60 miles an hour. Don’t speed. There are transit cops throughout Panama.
Skype. If some of your contacts don’t have WhatsApp, you can call them using Skype or they can call you if they have your Skype handle. It is much more affordable than international calls. You can do video calls with Skype and share documents too.
Duolingo is a free app that helps you learn Spanish at your own pace. You can set it to study 10 minutes a day or longer.
Panamanians are the friendliest people you’ll ever meet. But they also sometimes do things in a different way than you are familiar with. Some examples of cultural differences:
When you go to a restaurant, they will not bring your bill until you ask for it. “La Cuenta, Por Favor” By the way, a 10% tip is customary for meals in restaurants in Panama.
At stores, the salespeople will follow you around but they will not ask if you need help until you ask them to come over to help you.
Panamanians love to party – hardy – with loud music and dancing until the wee hours of the morning especially during Panamanian holidays. When you are looking for a place to live, if there are Panamanians living next door, you will likely get invited to all the parties. But if you’re not a party animal, who enjoys loud music, you may need to find a different house to move to.
Panama has two seasons. The dry season in Panama is mid-December to mid-April and the rainy season is mid-April to mid-December. In the dry season, there is less rain and more wind. In the rainy season, there is more rain, but Panama does not get a lot of rain until October and November. It’s a good idea to have an umbrella handy during the rainy season especially. Even though Panama temperatures are consistent, the rains can put a chill in the air so it’s best to wear layers and bring a light jacket. Daytime temperatures at the coast are 90 degrees +/- 5 degrees. For every 1,000 feet increase in elevation, the temperature drops 4 degrees.
WORK WITH A RELOCATION EXPERT
No matter how much research you do about moving to Panama, you don’t know what you don’t know! That’s why it’s important to work with a relocation expert like Panama Relocation Tours. We can help you with your exploratory trip to Panama during our 6-day all-inclusive tour. Our driver will meet you at the airport and take you to our preferred hotel in Panama City where we get 50% discount. Then we’ll spend 6 days showing you popular areas all over Panama, introduce you to expats who have already moved to Panama, explain the various Visa options and introduce you to a trustworthy and affordable immigration attorney, plus you’ll learn:
• How to find a rental.. and things to watch out for
• Health insurance companies – little tricks to save you 30% or more
• How to get BIG discounts on many purchases in Panama
• CPA’s with expat & Panamanian experience
• Meet with Attorney to learn about visa options and business structures
• Shipping and moving companies (Tips for saving money, too)
• What it takes to start a business in Panama.. and which businesses are off-limits.
• Pet relocation (my step-by-step guide for a smooth transition)
• Trustworthy real estate agents and property managers (they are hard to find)
• How to get online orders (Amazon) and other mail delivered to you
• Selling on Amazon – Without touching products
• The best way to take title to a property if you decide to buy
• International Schools – things you need to know
• How to send and receive faxes without using a fax machine
• Typical costs and budgets in various areas (there’s a big difference)
• How to get phone calls to/from your country in Panama… for free
• How to bring a gun into Panama and get a permit (or buy one here)
• Learn How to Fund Your Life Overseas… Little Ways to Make Big Money
• Step-by-step CHECKLIST of things to do BEFORE you move to Panama
• Best place to buy or rent a car
• and MUCH more.
All this and NO SALES PITCHES! We do not sell real estate so you don’t have to worry about high-pressure sales tactics. In fact, we highly recommend that you rent for at least 6-12 months before you even think about buying real estate in Panama.
We don’t sugar-coat living in Panama either. During the tour, you’ll learn the good and the not so good so you can make an intelligent decision about relocating to Panama.
Our #1 objective is to help make your relocation to Panama as stress-free and smooth as possible… with no surprises when you make the move.
NO ONE knows more about Panama than we do!
During our 6-day Panama Relocation Tour, you’ll learn what you need to know to make a smooth transition to relocation to Panama. You’ll learn how to improve your lifestyle with less expense and less stress! And, by the end of the tour, you’ll know if Panama is right for you.. or not.
Not a tour group kind of person? We also offer our Online Panama Relocation Guide which has the same information that you’d get on a tour, but for a fraction of the costs. It even includes our rolodex of reliable contacts for immigration lawyers, honest real estate agents, where to buy health insurance, international movers, and much more.
CLICK HERE TO LEARN MORE ABOUT PANAMA RELOCATION TOURS
Don’t take our word for it, read what previous tour clients have to say:
Thanks Panama Relocation Tours for putting together a stress-free itinerary which totally surpassed our expectations.
For anyone considering an exploratory trip to Panama, Jackie Lange’s Panama Relocation Tour is a must! The 6 day trip took us through so many different living environments from expat communities in Coronado, to homes in Las Tablas and David to our final stopping point in Boquete and Volcan.
On the trip you get a chance to experience what to expect living in different regions of Panama sampling weather, costs and variety of food, typical shopping experiences and housing offerings. The tour is comprehensive encompassing everything from the nuts-and-bolts to moving to Panama, tax considerations, how and why to hire an attorney, insurance considerations, opportunities for expats and so much, much more. Tour recipients leave with plenty of great documentation to refer to after the trip.
This is so much more than a bus trip with stops in different parts Panama. It’s an experience that convinced us that the people and the country of Panama is a place that my wife and I will return to again for a much longer stay (if not permanently)!
I wouldn’t hesitate recommending this trip to anyone who’d like to explore the possibility of relocating to Panama. Panama Relocation Tours has it all and more!
I just returned from Jackie’s September Tour and it far exceeded my expectations! She is so down to earth, informative, and knowledgeable for people wishing to relocate, visit, begin a business, or simply invest in Panama. Jackie speaks from experience. She has done everything she recommends. Her classroom is a tour bus, hotel lobbies, restaurants eating chips and salsa, coffee houses, and chatting with others. I learned so much about life, investing, living, and streamlining my life. I was walking in Boquete (Panama) looking to get my teeth cleaned, she pulled up in her car and said “hop in I’ll take you there!” She didn’t have to do that. It is just the way she is. The tour inspired me to write a book, hire a virtual assistant, expand my businesses, and rent some new places in Panama to get started! Jackie is a resource who will be by your side every step of the way. Her help doesn’t stop when the tour ends, it will last as long as her clients need to get started in Panama. Jackie is a mentor and a role model for me. Thanks, Jackie, for all you do.
Deborah Cocco says
Please send information regarding your relocation tours