Expats in Panama: Pros and Cons of Living in Panama
By Joshua Wood, LPC
Summary: Expats in Panama talks about the pros and cons of living in Panama. Topics include the lower cost of living, bureaucracy, friendly people. Expats in Panama seem to agree that you'll have to come down and explore the country to find out if it's the right place for you!
If you are contemplating moving to Panama, we've compiled a list of pros and cons of living in Panama to help with your decision. Everything on the list comes from expats who are living in Panama and some who've lived there in the past.
Bureaucracy In Panama
Clearly, expats in Panama have varying experiences getting their visas and otherwise navigating the process of entering Panama.
Pro: Residency visas are well-priced and easy to obtain
An expat noted the relative affordability of getting a visa and her lack of problems in obtaining it, while also adding that, "Panama is welcoming to legal immigrants."
Con: Bureaucracy is a Big Part of Life in Panama
One expat who lives in Panama wrote that "Dealing with government offices... whoa...seems not everyone is on the same page. You get one answer from one person, go the next day and get another answer." Expats all over the world will read this and say... "YES!" This is not unique to Panama!
Another expat advised, "As has been posted here many times, it would complicate things to mention your plans for the Friendly Nations visa to the immigration officials upon entering the country. Panama is also getting 'fierce' about immigration."
Deciding Where to Live in Panama
Pro: Panama Has Great Options For Expats
Boquete, Panama: One expat wrote that in Boquete, it is, "very easy to meet others if you are at all outgoing. There is also a newcomers group that meets a couple of times a month. There is always something happening, somewhere to go, something to do. There are many non-profits looking for volunteers, so just find one that speaks to you."
Bocas Del Toro: An expat in Bocas Del Toro advised others that, "Besides the multicultural Panamanians there are people from all over the world here and seven different Indian tribes. For the most part everyone gets along great. There are occasional clashes as 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."
If you are looking for expat life in Panama where you can walk to restaurants and shops, an expat advised that, "Coronado [has a] beach view and is within walking distance to shops and restaurants."
The same expat added, "Boquete has a large number of Canadians because the weather is so perfect. Average 70 degrees with highs into the 80's only, so not super hot for swimming pools, and lows around 60 overnight so perfect sleeping weather."
Another expat wrote, "If you want hustle and bustle, go to Panama City. If you want just bustle, go to David. If you want tranquila, come to Puerto Armuelles. It's a nice size town with infrastructure and the international company of Del Monte. We get things accomplished around here, but we do it with tranquila. I am a psychologist and was a university professor, and I love it here!"
Another expat shared that Pedasi is a clean, charming town with all the requisites for either adventure or rest and relaxation. Just a few minutes to the beach and the gateway to the southern portion of the Azuero, Pedasi and its surroundings offer a great location as a retirement community or traveling destination. Pedasi, along with the eastern portion of the Azuero (Herrera and Los Santos provinces), enjoy less rain and a longer dry season than their neighbors to the west in Veraguas province. This coupled with constant ocean breezes translates into an enjoyable climate even in the wettest months of the rainy season and the hottest months of the dry season.
If you're thinking about moving to Panama and haven't narrowed down where you would like to live, consider taking a tour with our partner, Panama Relocation Tours.
Con: It Might Take Time to Adjust in Panama
The expat in Boquete, Panama added that "the culture is very different than the U.S. and the systems and structures can sometimes make no sense at all. If you can't roll with things when they go wrong or get frustrating, it may not be for you."
So make sure you are careful and visit for a period of time to make sure you are getting an accurate sense of what each area is actually like.
The Panamanian People
Pro: Locals in Other Areas are Very Friendly
One expat wrote that the people in Panama are "Good humoured, friendly, contented, [and] open-minded people" and a "family-oriented society."
Con: Women are Often Perceived as a Commodity in Panama
One expat warned a single woman that "Panama is a Latino macho male dominated society"
where "As a single woman you could be sexually harassed and perhaps even assaulted by local men who see you as a new toy to use and then toss away after they got what they wanted. The vast majority of people in the country are decent human being[s] but there [is] also a layer of individuals who will victimize you, especially if you have little to no understanding of this dynamics of this environment."
Pro: Experiences in Panama as an African American
An African-American expat inquired about Panama: "I am interested in learning more about the ethnic minority experience in Panama, African-American in particular. Any input will be greatly appreciated."
Can't say much about the ethnic minority experience, as I am white, but at least here in Bocas we have a real diverse population. Black, white red, and yellow. And to my knowledge no one gives color much thought. We're all just living the dream here in paradise.
Cost of Living in Panama
Pro: Relatively Cheaper Living Expenses
An expat from Canada wrote that, "Overall cost of living is lower than in Canada (biggest savings are in services), despite the poor exchange rate for the Canadian Dollar."
Pro: There are Some Affordable Places to Live
An expat in Panama wrote that, "People can live here, and do live here on a salary of $450 a month. The lifestyle is so basic, I would not want to do that. If you cannot have $2000 a month to live on, I would not even consider it. Make it $25,000 a year for a nice round number and you will not be living in a high rise condo in Panama City. Best to come for a holiday and bring your calculator to find out prices. It is cheaper in the west, the food basket of Panama, than in the east, Panama City."
However, as noted above, that is RELATIVE! Cheap to one person is expensive to another. There are also tradeoffs for cheaper living, and that means you need to visit!
According to Numbeo, the cost of living in Panama is lower than in the United States. View Cost of living information about Boquete, Coronado, David, and Panama City.
Health Insurance and Medical Care in Panama
Expats in Panama Are Eager to Share Healthcare Information
In our article about healthcare tips for Panama,
an expat highlights healthcare cost information: "You did not say if you had any pre-existing medical issues. If not, your age will determine your medical premiums. My husband was 64 when we received our medical at Chiriqui Hospital and we pay $138 a month for the two of us. Now that is just for the hospital's medical which is one of the best in Chiriqui Provence. The average cost to go to a doctor outside of the Hospital is around $40. per visit. Unless you go to a local clinic and it could cost you $15 (approx.). The hospital has most of the really good doctors. As far as your military medical benefits go, I cannot commit on that. Maybe someone with a military medical plan can give you some advice."
Expats living in Panama interested in expat health insurance should take a minute to get a quote from our trusted expat health insurance partner, CIGNA.
Driving and Transportation in Panama
Driving in Many Areas Not Necessary
A car is not necessary in our area, but convenient. Buses, taxis, and Uber are plentiful.
We have all the needs and wants within 10-15 minutes of our home. Only go to Panama City for social reasons or some off the wall situation.
Driving in Panama Can Be an Adventure
Drivers are very aggressive and think they are the only car on the road. Especially taxis.
You have to drive defensively and anticipate what every driver is going to do. Need eyes in the back of your head!
Getting behind a trolling taxi driver looking for a fare and you can't pass. Then he stops in the road without pulling over to pick up or drop off a fare.
Taxis will jam as many passengers into the vehicle as possible.
Don't do a share ride.
AND when you tell them where you want to go...sometimes it's inconvenient for them and they will refuse to take you even though it is against the law. Always get a fare quote before getting into the taxi...don't like the quote...move on to another taxi.
Some don't know how to use a turn signal.
Seat belts are only required to be used in the front seat.
More Pros and Cons of Living in Panama
The Weather in Panama is Varied
In her article An Honest Panama Weather Report, Casey Halloran writes that "weather in Panama is as varied as the terrain. You can find cooler climates in the mountains of Sora (near Panama City) and already famous Boquete (near David) and the Anton Valley. If you like hot and dry, the Azuero Peninsula's east coast tends to be dry as well as parts of the Central Pacific like Playa Santa Clara. That's supposedly why the Decameron resort chose that area for their mega resort. The weather is not perfect. San Jose, Costa Rica has near-perfect weather (again, my opinion) but the city is unfortunately not so pretty. Life is filled with these cruel tradeoffs. For example, chocolate is tasty, but makes you fat. If you traverse enough of Panama you'll probably find a climate you like, unless you're really into skiing!
If you ask a Panamanian for directions and they will give you some - even if they don't know where to direct you.
Panama Grocery Store "Traffic" Same as on the Road
An expat from Canada noted that, "Locals in the store think they are the only patrons, park carts in middle of aisles and crowd the aisles having conversations with friends.
Annoying Things Happen in Panama Neighborhoods
Stray dogs, barking dogs, loud music, and garbage seem to be just part of the landscape to Panamanians.
Time and Punctuality Not Important in Panama
"The difference in attitude regarding such things as appointment times - even if you agree to meet at a specific day and time, if a Panamanian has a family event, another appointment or just decides not to come, they may show up an hour or two late or the next day. You need to be prepared to schedule and re-schedule without getting too frustrated!"
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About the Author
Joshua Wood, LPC joined Expat Exchange in 2000. Joshua has a BA from Syracuse and a Master's in Clinical and Counseling Psychology from Fairleigh Dickinson University. Some of Joshua's more popular articles include Pros and Cons of Living in Portugal, 10 Best Places to Live in Ireland and 5 Best Places to Live in Spain. Connect with Joshua on LinkedIn.
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First Published: Sep 26, 2017