Expats have mixed opinions about healthcare in Panama. Some have had great experiences with public hospitals in Panama, while others would only go to private hospitals. "Private medical is cheaper than in other countries, and it is not bad. Do not use public social security. You will wait indefinitely to book an appointment, even for surgery," said one expat. "Panama is a small, developing country. Not all medical resources are available here, particularly highly specialized ones," wrote another expat.
Public vs. Private Healthcare Systems in Panama
Panama has a public healthcare system and two private healthcare systems. One public healthcare system is operated by the Caja de Seguro Social (CSS), The Social Security System, and one is operated by the Ministerio de Salud (MINSA), The Ministry of Health. Working Panamanians and residents fall under the Caja de Seguro Social, which has about 80 facilities throughout Panama. Unemployed Panamanians fall under the Ministerio de Salud, which operates over 800 facilities throughout the country. MINSA is the main operator of healthcare facilities in remote and indigenous areas.
In a discussion about moving to Panama, one expat advised a newcomer, "Medical-IMO, the doctors here are good, the support staff and administration are so/so. If I needed attention, I would go to Paitilla Hospital (private). Prices are not high, and not low. There is a Social Security system, but it is definitely hit or miss."
"Also you need to consider, if you have surgery done in one of the Private Hospitals, like Paitilla or Punta Pacific, the price although cheaper than US have gone up considerably in the past 6 years. If you go to the public hospital here (first hand experience in both Las Tablas and Chitre) it is pretty much self serve. The nurses will provide the medicines and the procedures the doctors order and little else. It is expected that family members will come to the hospital regularly to help you with bathing, feeding and other personal care items. Also, you need to supply everything. Your hospital stay in the includes the bed, mattress and mattress cover. Unless you bring your own bed sheets, pillow, toilet paper etc. You won't have any. If you can get into the CSS hospital system after you gain residency your level of care goes up considerably, but very difficult to get enrolled, unless you are working here, then your employer has to register you by law," commented one expat in Panama.
"We are near the San Fernando Clinic. I have not had to go so I cannot tell you how they are. If I needed to be hospitalized I would go to Punta Pacifica hospital where they take my insurance BCBS and stay there, I have heard very positive things," commented one expat in Coronado. Another expat in Coronado said, "Private hospital is one hour away and forget any ambulance services. We had an emergency (needed surgery) and we almost lost the life of my husband."
"There are good facilities and doctors here as well. The public hospital in Chitre is getting run down and is usually short of equipment and medicine. The new public hospital in La Villa, about 6km west of Chitre, is a better choice. My preference is the CSS hospital in Chitre but unless you are a resident and in the CSS system you can't get access there. But, if you are having a real emergency, like any hospital in the world if you show up at emergency they will give whatever treatment is required to stabilize you before shipping you out (after you pay the bill). My last trip there, I only had to wait 15 minutes to get seen by a doctor. I spent over 14 hours getting IV antibiotics and other treatments, had blood work and xrays done and was evaluated first by a surgeon who determined that I didn't need to be cut open that night, then by the internal medicine doctor that said I will probably need surgery just not right now. After all the above my bill came to a nice round total of $20. Bargain of the century, both the new hospital and the CSS hospital are well equipped and stocked with the latest medicines and knowledgeable staff. Also, at the CSS hospital all the doctors but one were bilingual so you won't have any language issues," commented an expat living in Panama.
Hospitals in Panama
The hospitals are on a list provided by the US Embassy of Panama. They are not endorsed by the embassy.
SANTO TOMAS HOSPITAL
(Panama City's Public Hospital)
Calle 34 East and Balboa Avenue
Panama City, Panama
HOSPITAL PUNTA PACIFICA
Boulevard Pacifica and Via Punta Darien
Panama City, Panama
HOSPITAL PEDIATRICO (San Fernando)
Calle 66 Oeste y Av. Central Espana
Panama City, Panama
Avenida Cuba, between 38th & 39th Street
Panama City, Panama
Doctors' Offices: 227-5444
International Office/Insurance Liaison: 207-8354
PANAMA MEDICAL ASSOCIATION
Avenida Manuel Espinosa Batista
Bella Vista, Panama City
CLINICA HOSPITAL SAN FERNANDO
Via España, Las Sabanas
Panama City, Panama
305-6300 (Dial #2 for English)
International Relations/Insurance Liaison: 305-6408; Fax: 305-6420
CENTRO MEDICO PAITILLA
Avenida Balboa and 53rd Street, Marbella
Panama City, Panama
Doctors' Offices: 269-5222
Expat Health Insurance in Panama
Expats interested in expat health insurance should take a minute to get a quote from our trusted expat health insurance partner, CIGNA.
MiniMed Clinics in Panama
A few years ago, a new group of clinics, called MiniMed Clinics were established in Panama.
Cost of Healthcare in Panama
In a debate about the cost of care at private hospitals in Panama City, one expat said, "My wife has had to attend the emergency room a couple of times in the two highest rated Panama City private hospitals. And the lauded inexpensive healthcare costs I would say are in comparison primarily to US healthcare which is extremely costly. I was actually surprised by how expensive things were coming from Europe and spending time in Asia after reading a ton of positive reviews. Cheap it is not and my experience in Colombia which is next door was that its much cheaper there. In Panama an Emergency room visit in the night, early emergency morning surgery and a couple of hours recovery was $9.5k. Surgeon and the staff in the room were fantastic but rest of the process and admin staff were horrible with a bunch of serious issues. And yes it required a guarantee on a credit card before they would do anything without telling me any idea of expected costs (asked numerous times). Was more painful because we had insurance in Panama but our broker royally screwed us by telling us out coverage kicked in for everything immediately when it didn't. Our fault for not being fluent in Spanish Fortunately it's only money and my wife is fine but was a super scary experience. So advice to all is to research research research to ensure comparisons are relative to where you hail from and you understand how the process works."
Health Insurance for Expats 65+
For expats over 65, finding the best health insurance and access to the highest quality care is important.
In discussion about health insurance for expats over 65, one expat said, "Doctor visit in general are not that expensive in the city. For example If you go to Punta Pacifica a dermatologist will charge around $65 and that is more or less the cost of all others. Dentist are not expensive either for a regular cleaning. Lab tests are very cheap and some offer excellent prices if you go Sundays. What is expensive is a hospital stay if you have an emergency. You will not be able to leave the hospital unless you cancel the total bill. I think if you have a residency you might be able to get a health insurance for over 65 but with exceptions. For example they will not cover you for pre existing conditions. You will have to search high and low for a good insurance and remember there is 'juega vivo' in this country not everyone will tell you the truth and they will laugh all the way to the bank with your money. Due diligence and baby steps are necessary."
For this reason, many expats explore private expat health insurance.
"Panama does require Yellow Fever vaccination IF you're coming from a country where the disease is endemic, such as Brazil. Otherwise, no requirements. Unfortunately there is no vaccine against mosquito-borne diseases such as malaria or Dengue. If you're not going to Darien province with thick tropical jungle, then no need to worry about malaria. Elsewhere in Panama just take normal precautions against mosquitoes, such as covering up and using repellent. Dengue is no joke. If you're travelling under fairly sanitary conditions, then IMO typhoid is not needed. Hepatitis A & B depends on your risk factors and behaviours - your choice on advice from your doctor, but start now if you choose to be vaccinated. Panama is in the midst of a flu epidemic right now, so a flu shot would be a good idea," wrote one expat.
With regard to the Yellow Fever vaccine, the CDC travel Panama page said, "Required if traveling from a country with risk of YF virus transmission and ?1 year of age, including transit >12 hours in an airport located in a country with risk of YF virus transmission.1 Recommended for all travelers ?9 months of age traveling to all mainland areas east of the area surrounding the canal (the entire provinces of Darién, Emberá, and Kuna Yala [also spelled Guna Yala] and areas of the provinces of Colón and Panamá that are east of the canal) (see Map 2-21). Not recommended for travelers whose itineraries are limited to areas west of the canal, the city of Panama, the canal area itself, and the Balboa Islands (Pearl Islands) and San Blas Islands."
Availability and Cost of Prescription Medicines in Panama
"In general in Panama you don't need a prescription for anything other than antibiotics and narcotic pain medications. Just go into a pharmacy and ask. Whether you'll find exactly what you're looking for in the dosage and format you require depends on supply. Best to come with the brand and generic names of your medications. It is easy to access Panamanian doctors, but they will do the testing and examinations they think appropriate rather than following a foreign doctor's diagnosis and treatment plan. Who knows, the Panamanian doctor may be more up-tp-date then your home doctor, and offer better treatments. Have an open mind, and bring a few month's worth of your prescriptions to tide you over until you get settled here," explained one expat.
When a newcomer asked if they would be allowed to bring prescription medications into Panama, one member replied, "There shouldn't be a problem bringing in a supply of meds for your personal use. It would be a good idea if your name is on the containers, and if they are controlled substances, such as narcotic pain medication, to carry a prescription in your name." Another member added, "There is no limit on prescriptions you can bring in as long as they are prescribed for the bearer."
If you take certain prescription medications regularly, consider this when you head to Panama for a pre-move visit: "We just went on vacation and we took a list of our meds with us. We stopped in the pharmacy and asked and they were able to find generic versions of all we needed. So when the time comes to actually move, we should be all set," said one expat.