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5 Tips for Living in Bocas del Toro, Panama

By Betsy Burlingame

Summary: Bocas del Toro, Panama is a popular tourist destination and filled with laid-back expats and locals enjoying the island life. With its low cost of living, thriving nightlife and welcoming expat community, Bocas del Toro is a great place to live.

Expats in Panama - 5 Tips for Living in Bocas del Toro, Panama

Expat Life in Bocas del Toro

"Besides the multicultural Panamanians there are people from all over the world here in Bocas del Toro and seven different Indian tribes. For the most part everyone gets along great. There are occasional clashes in any community and this is a tight knit one where people help their neighbors. Panama welcomes people from many countries with great expat laws and easy residency," explains an expat living in Bocas del Toro. Another expat said, "being a single guy in Bocas would be a dream come true for many people. You lucky person, you. It is the most fun place in Panama, especially on weekends. Many hostels and fun places to live and very cheap." "Besides the bars and restaurants, there are fitness classes, Spanish classes, dive lessons, Catamaran tours, live music venues, the beaches, volunteer opportunities and just meeting people walking down the street," described another expat. "I love Bocas as a holiday place. I have stayed in a number of places there and they are all good. Some nicer than others and more expensive, while some were cute and cheaper. I haven't found a bad place there yet. Bocas reminds me a little of Venice Beach in California. Active and things buzzing around all the time - skaters and bicycle people, dogs and pets of all kinds and everyone living the hippie type of lifestyle. Very free and happy go lucky there in the daytime and some basic petty theft that you would expect. Wear money belts and keep a tight hold on your gear, especially your money and your passports and ID. It's the same at Venice beach or in Miami or any place really, where there are lots of vacation people," explained one expat in Panama.

Traveling to Bocas del Toro

traveling to Bocas del Toro

"There is an airport in Bocas Town. In Panama City, you have to go from Tocuman Airport, about a 30-45 minute taxi drive, to Albrook Airport. Air Panama has about 5-6 flights to Bocas every day. It is less than $100 one way," advised one expat.

If you're driving, it's a bit more complicated, but a beautiful drive and ferry ride. "The road from Boquete to Almirante is great, all blacktop. In Almirante, you get a water taxi to Bocas - Bocas is an island. Yes, there is secure parking in Almirante right near the dock where you get the water taxi. You can make arrangements ahead of time with Leiza at 6533-7684. That's the best parking lot, in my opinion," shared one expat in Panama who travels to Bocas del Toro regularly. Another expat added, "when you come to the turn off into Almirante you will most likely be approached by a young man on a bicycle, offering to guide you to parking and the ferry terminal. Even though I have been there on other occasions and know my way around, I always let him do this. Getting to parking and the terminal is a real challenge for someone new. If you try and navigate on your own, you will likely be harassed by locals. You will follow him, on his bicycle, to a secure parking area, mentioned in a previous post, and a short walk to the terminal. He will walk with you, carry your bag and assist with the chaotic check in process. This is how he makes a living, so I always give $10.00 and for me it's well worth it. Certainly a big assist your first time. The winding road drive across the Great Divide is picturesque. Road is good with usual pot holes. If the weather is overcast you will most likely get to drive into the clouds." One expat cautioned, "the road is great, leave early in the A.M. before the rains start in the mountains. Beautiful trip, take your camera. DO NOT TRAVEL THAT ROAD AT NIGHT FOR ANY REASON. We just had some friends come back at 7:30 at night and someone tried to stop them. They could tell it was a set-up, so they just kept driving. When you get to Almirante to leave your car, you might check out Leiza's. It's right next to the small boat ferry's to Bocas. 24-hour guard and about $4 a day in a locked fence enclosure. We have left our car there many times and never a problem."

Finding a Home in Bocas del Toro

Real Estate in Bocas del Toro

An expat who made the move to Bocas del Toro recommended, "rent first before you buy. Your paradise today may not be what you will think in 6 months. Brings essentials and sell everything else, you can get it cheaper here. We live in a spacious one bedroom apartment across from the ocean for $400 a month. There are people who live in smaller cheaper places more inland and folks who live out on the water in larger homes for more money. Typical is what fits you. We wanted to live in a safe local neighborhood near the ocean. I listened to my friends who were already here and looked in those areas."

"For the most part, it is going to be difficult to find a place long term in Bocas, as most people who have vacation rentals, prefer short term. If you search high and low, you might find something like that in Bocas. Bocas is mainly a small beach town for short term vacations. Most property is ROP as it's a group of Islands out there. Spend some time there and get the feelers out. Not just sending messages to the universe, but getting information to the people. Make business cards with your goal in mind. Get to know people. Let everyone in town know what you are looking for and how to reach you. Most everyone knows everyone who lives there, so soon, you will get some answers. If you want to do it, just do it, but it might not come quick and easy," advised another expat.

Cost of Living in Bocas del Toro

"Our housing costs are about a third of what we spend in the US. You can get a nice simple apartment for 300 and up or a home for 500 and up. We live on an island so you are never far from the ocean," said one expat. Another explained, "I live on Bocas Del Toro, too. I live in a small efficiency apartment one block from the ocean. My rent is $275.00 per mo. I can walk to any point in Bocas Town in 15 Min. or less. The island is great, and trips to the other islands is very cheap. The closest costs only $1.00 each way." One expat who vacations in Bocas del Toro said, "I would want over $1000 a month for just living, and then you might run into a few bumps like doctors and health care and such. $1500 a month would be living easy breezy."

The Pristine Red Frog Beach

Red Frog Beach Bocas del Toro

Located on the beautiful Isla Bastimentos, Red Frog Beach is worth the trip. Isla Bastimentos is about a 10 minute boat ride from Bocas Town. "I thought Red Frog Beach was excellent, the highlight of my visit to Bocas. It was beautiful hiking through the jungle onto the beach and seeing a muddy pond full of caimans (close relative of the alligator). It cost $3 a head to visit the beach (apart from boat fare)," shared one expat. Another expat said, "I also have to say that red frog Beach was the best beach I've ever been to!" Red Frog Beach Island Resort is a beautiful resort with a spa and marina.

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About the Author

Betsy Burlingame Betsy Burlingame is the Founder of Expat Exchange. She launched Expat Exchange in 1997 as her Master's thesis project at NYU. She graduated from Ohio Wesleyan University with a BA in International Business and German.

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Comments about this Article

Oct 14, 2015 09:20

Thanks for the Tips & Insight about Bocas. I'd Love to give it a try IF I can tolerate the Heat.

Oct 19, 2015 14:45

Very informative article ! What about Almirante ? Is Almirante a place to spend a few months ? What about Internet service, reliable with good speed ?

Mar 27, 2016 19:49

I live on Playa ©£>]]<. Will name w/ ^ comfort level. I live be/ The States & Panama. I have Gatos in both locals. Can I fly my Panamanian Katz to/from on either of the 2 carriers? Or preferably Copa, akin 2 the dogs I C flying w/their Humans? Thx 4 your input.

Jul 15, 2016 14:07

I'm really excited to visit Bocas del Toro this Nov. for a 90 day stay, this article make me even more excited. I'm having trouble finding a reasonable rate on an apt. on line. I've read that it isn't unusual to just fly there & see what's available, as many places do not advertise online. I'm looking for something around $500. Can anyone advise me on this subject. Perhaps provide a contact email also ? Thank You so much

First Published: Oct 12, 2015

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