Living in Panama – An Easy Guide for Expats

In recent years many people have chosen living in Panama over other countries, as a result the country has a rapidly growing expat community. There are a number of reasons people decide living in Panama is a better fit compared to their home country or country of residence. A visit to Panama will prove that this country is one of the most relaxed places to live. Whether you choose to live inland or on white-sand shores living in Panama will offer a pleasant weather experience all year coupled with amazing scenery.

You can live in Panama and still enjoy the amenities you are used to along with several other spectacular benefits such as significantly reducing your cost of living. We compiled this piece to give you a clearer picture of everything you need to know about living in Panama as an expat.

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Living in Panama Ranks High for Expats 

Panama has emerged as one of the hightest ranking expat destinations in the world on a yearly basis. Living in Panama is also a popular choice among retirees and was ranked number 2 in the world on The World’s Best Places to Retire in 2020 list by International Living. This amazing Central American country will greet you with its pleasant people, warm weather and all the comforts you desire at an absolutely lower cost than you might be used to. Living in Panama is even more attractive when you consider the various immigration visas, tax breaks and additional benefits of living to Panama.

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Panama Is More Than A Third World Country

Panama is very modern and is not given enough credit keeping up with the times. Availability of housing, infrastructure, healthcare and investment opportunities are comparable to first world countries. The culture, green landscape, sunshine and tropical weather conditions makes Panama an ideal choice for those hoping to escape cold weather in other parts of the world. Even though Panama is very tropical, there are no hurricanes threatening to unleash disaster.

Living in Panama also offers an ideal location for those who prefer to be close to the United States without being in the U.S. An added benefit of living in Panama is there is a large expat community of mostly English speakers. The local population also speaks a decent amount of English. Currency conversion isn’t an issue here because Panama uses the U.S. dollar as a legal tender and trades 1:1. The country’s economy is relatively stable thanks to assets such as the Panama Canal and its tax burden is low. 

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Where To Live In Panama

The decision on where to live in Panama is dependent on personal preferences. Panama City is the only first world city in Central America and is the place for tantalizing food, cocktails, live music, cinemas, golf, luxury hotels and a more fast paced lifestyle while living in Panama. In the lush, green mountains of Panama you will find expat favorites such as El Valle de Anton and Boquete. As for beaches and living in Panama by the sea Coronado is a popular beach hub as well as the magical islands of the Bocas del Toro province. All these locations are much loved by expats living in Panama. 

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Is Living In Panama Right For You?

Panama is sounding really good right now but does that mean living in Panama is right for you? Perhaps not. Before moving to any country it is a good idea to take trip there and try to get a feel of the place and decide it is right for you. An impulsive move could lead to bad experiences and a waste of your resources. Rest assured, this everything you need to know guide will provide detailed insights on many popular Panama for expats questions.

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Your current home or family situation will be one of the most important things to try to smoothly transition to a new country. Are you single, married with or without kids, have pets or are you retired? Decisions about a new home or community will be different for most people based on where they are in life. Your personal reasons for relocating abroad will also affect your decisions. If you’re seeking new cultural experiences and adventure, Panama could be the ideal place for you. You can also find a balance of the comforts you’re used to along with the differences the country brings at a much lower cost.

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Panama is child friendly and many larger cities like Panama City and David have at least one international or American school. Panama can be considered pet-friendly because you are allowed to bring your pets. However the process for taking your pets into the country can be frustrating or overwhelming. You should being the process for your pet’s immigration in advance so you can get the vaccinations and documentations completed. Additionally, it makes sense to get support or advice about bring your pets from local agencies or other expats in Panama.

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Picking up your life and moving it elsewhere can be quite a challenge because the decision to relocate permanently isn’t like packing a suitcase and going on vacation. The adjustment process will be easier for you if every step is carefully thought out, research and planned. Keep in mind there is no such thing as a perfect country, be flexible enough to enjoy the culture of a different country and you will realize that living in Panama has something to offer every taste and budget.

10 Reasons For Living In Panama

  1. Top expat retirement destination – Panama is one of the best expat locations in the world and ranks high on various global retirement indexes. Additionally, the country offers excellent retirement benefits in the form of huge discounts on entertainment, land/air transportation, prescription and healthcare. 
  2. Low cost of living – you can live well as an expat in Panama while spending less. Healthcare, entertainment, utilities, shopping and housekeeping costs are all more affordable compared to more developed countries.
  3. Lots of permanent residency options – possibilities for residency ranges from retiree visas, investment visas, employment visas and marriage visas. Many immigration visas are also surprisingly inexpensive compared to other countries
  4. Tropical climate – The weather in Panama is great all year, even during the rainy season you will still get some sun. Temperatures range from around 70 degrees Fahrenheit to almost 90 degrees Fahrenheit at sea level and hurricanes don’t exist here.
  5. Location – Panama is Latin America’s travel hub with Copa Airlines headquartered at Tocumen Airport where there are endless flights to Europe, USA, Latin America and even Asia.
  6. First world healthcare – healthcare services for living in Panama is way less than in the US for example and you still have access to great doctors. Panama City’s Punta Pacifica Hospital is one of the best in the region and is also affiliated with Johns Hopkins International.
  7. Territorial taxes – Citizens and residents are taxed on net income earned from Panamanian sources. Income derived from foreign sources outside the territory of Panama is 100% excluded from local taxes. 
  8. Asset protection – Panamanian law offers one of the best asset protection and privacy legislation in the world. Many overseas lawsuits have no jurisdiction in Panama courts
  9. Real estate ownership – owning property for living in Panama or as an investment is an option for expats and bargains can be found in the city, countryside or by the sea.
  10. Large expat community – Panama has a large and well established community of expats from the United States and Europe. English is also widely spoken as a common language among Panama expats. Areas like Panama City, Coronado, Bocas del Toro and Boquete are popular expat spots. These communities are generally very friendly and will gladly give guidance to newcomers who are living in Panama.

Pros and Cons of Living in Panama

Panama’s popularity is due in large part to its modern infrastructure, its proximity to the United States, the beauty of its landscapes and its tropical climate. If you add to this the many immigration visa options offered by the country, living in Panama as a retirement or immigration destination is an ideal choice. The country’s most popular visas are the “Friendly Nations” visa and the “Pensionado Visa”. The Friendly Nations Visa offers permanent residence to expats from 50 countries considered ‘friends of Panama’ and is one of Panama’s most inexpensive visas for non-retirees. The Pensionado Visa is offered to retired expats from North America, Europe and other countries and ensures special benefits for retirees.

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Panama is simply amazing as a country however, in order to be fair, we must give you the whole picture. It is always better to have an overview of the pros and cons when making a life altering decision. Bear in mind no place is perfect although living in Panama come pretty close, especially for a ‘third world’ country. Here is a short list of pros and cons of living in Panama.

Pros of Moving to Panama

Low Crime Rate

Panamanians prefer to avoid confrontations especially with Panama expats. Like most places in the world, crime does exist in Panama and such crime is usually limited to petty theft. Since no country is perfect it is always a good idea to exercise due diligence, caution and common sense wherever you go. This the best way to stay safe.

Tropical Weather 

Panama has summer all year round and has two prevailing seasons: rainy season and dry season. Panama experiences Tropical Monsoon Climate and finds itself outside of the hurricane belt which means hurricanes pose no threat to the country. An average temperature of around 30° C (86° F) degrees is noted throughout the year and is not affected by the wet or dry season.

One of the best things about Panama is the climate is quite diverse and you can find cooler temperature in places like El Valle de Anton and Boquete if the average temperatures are too hot for you. 

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Low Cost Of Living

The cost of living in Panama very low compared to most developed countries and a few developing countries too. You can spend less and still live comfortably with access to all the amenities you need.

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If you’re looking for variety and value you will find that in Panama. Someone that lives alone can budget US$1,000 per month for living expenses such as rent, groceries, transportation and access to basic healthcare services. It goes without saying that most of your budget might be allocated to rent. There are lots of relatively low cost rentals in Panama whether it be apartments or houses. Rent sometimes includes utilities such as water, electricity and internet.

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Renting a place in Panama City is more expense than rural areas. In many rural areas you can find comfortable rentals for as little as US$350 per month while in Panama City rentals can go for as much as US$1,500 or more. You will also spend less on food when you buy local, if you prefer to stock up on imported products expect to pay more for groceries. Mobile phones costs as little as US$5.00 per month based on your usage. Car and health insurance are also way more affordable compared to developed countries. Life in Panama can be a breeze of comfort and relaxation, how much to spend is completely up to you.

High Quality Healthcare

Healthcare providers in Panama are rated as some of the best in Latin America. It’s quite a steal when you have access to excellent healthcare at costs that are way lower than North America and Europe. In Panama City you can find top of the line medical facilities, equipment and highly experienced doctors in all specialty areas.

Remote areas such as Bocas del Toro have local hospitals and clinics where you can find general physicians, dentists and optometrists. The larger the city or town the more likely you are to find large hospitals and specialists. As for the language barrier, you will often find a doctor that speaks English if you need one.

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Modern Infrastructure

Panama has made many upgrades to its infrastructure over the years to encourage industry, commerce and tourism. New roads and bridges are approved every year and maintenance is always ongoing. There are several high speed internet and mobile phone providers in the country which makes for healthy competition and connections are usually stable. In more remote areas, you’ll find DSL, cable or satellite internet because it can be more difficult to maintain internet stability in these areas.

Tap water is of drinking quality in many places throughout Panama. That said, you must take care to drink filtered or bottled water when in places such as Bocas del Toro where water comes directly from the rain and is stored in tanks. You can expect temporary power outages though infrequent and some power companies will advise the public beforehand of a scheduled power outage.

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Cons of Moving to Panama

Employment Issues

For those who retire in Panama, the work is over. However, many Panama expats who are not of retirement age will need to earn a living. It is important to remember that lower costs of living also equals lower salaries. Many jobs in Panama will pay less than US$1,000 per month and you may need a work permit to work legally. Work permits cost companies time and money and if you are not offering a skill that is hard to find it is way easier for companies to hire a Panamanian. Those who who move to Panama on a contract job could find their contract time reduced or suspended.

It is also very important to keep in mind some Panama jobs are reserved for Panamanians. There are laws in place that only allow the hiring of a certain percentage of foreigners when companies are unable to locate skilled workers and professionals to fill their hiring needs. It is important to note certain business enterprises like retail businesses are off limits to residents (non-citizens). Additionally, residents are prohibited from practicing in certain professional areas such as, medical or veterinary doctor, attorney-at-law, architect, and engineer.

On the bight side, many expats who move to Panama work remotely and are able to secure first world salaries while enjoying lower living expenses.

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Language Barrier

One of the biggest challenges you may face in Panama is the language barrier if you do not speak Spanish. The official language of Panama is Spanish and you may need to consider learning some Spanish to get by when no English speakers are around. Locals sometimes speak rapidly and may use dialects. It may take years of practice to speak fluent Spanish in order to blend in with the locals. However, majority of the Panamanian expat community speaks English and many locals understand the language at varying levels.

Panamanians will take the time to try to assist you if you don’t speak Spanish. There are also many language school in Panama where you can learn Spanish and there are many similarities between English and Spanish so it is something to consider. When in doubt, use a translator for example Google Translate on your phone.

Workforce Procrastination

The mañana effect is in overdrive in Panama. For those of us who know some Spanish, ‘mañana’ means tomorrow. It is difficult to set a schedule or appointment with Panamanian workers. They typically don’t jump to get things done right away and when they say tomorrow that could turn out to be days later or never.

For Panama expats that are used to everything running on time, you either learn to adapt to a slower pace or you will be frustrated all the time. Business practices are sometimes poor and customer service can often be better. If you happen to find good workers treat them well and try to hold on to them. There is less sense of urgency in this part of the world, things may take time but they will get done eventually.

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Problematic Government Offices

If you require paperwork or such from a government official try to get things started in advance. Most times you will need a good amount of patience and time to achieve your desired goal. You might be used to things being more organized and timely in your home country and complaining does not help. Things are done more slowly in Panama, it’s something you’ll be living with if you choose to move to Panama.


Ultimately, Panama’s inconveniences are only inconveniences until you realize that you must adapt and learn more about the culture. Why make the investment to move to a beautiful country only to be miserable and frustrated all the time? If living each day in blissful tranquility is your goal, Panama is the perfect place to slow down and enjoy life. If you’d rather not go slow, you can still achieve all your personal goals in a strategic way.

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The culture of Panama and other Latin American countries is quite different from what you might be used to, though not bad. Panamanians love to play music, laugh and have a good time. It’s all about celebrating and enjoying life. If you understand this and are looking for more enjoyment you will fit right in. If not, Panama may not be right for you. For those who open their eyes and hearts to the bounty of endless possibilities that can be found in Panama, the cons simply vanish and what is left is your own piece of paradise.

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