10 Tips for Living in Panama

By Betsy Burlingame

William Russell Expat Health Insurance

Summary: Expats, global nomads and retirees are drawn to Panama's ease of residency, low taxes (Panama does not tax on worldwide income), friendly Panamanians who always put family first, inexpensive healthcare and laid back lifestyle. Like any country, life in Panama does come with a few challenges. This articles covers all of these topics and more.

Why do expats love living in Panama?

"The locals work hard and have lots of festivals. They honor the old folks, their heritage, and way of life. They take time for coffee, for conversation. They are more then willing to show you and teach you and help you to find your place in their society. If you even try to speak spanish they admire you for that and even try their hand at English or apologize for their lack of. Everyone says hello, waves, nods, gives recognition, an old fashioned thing that I missed in the U.S," said one expat in Boquete, Panama.

"I very much appreciate the lack of consciousness for politically correct speech. I appreciate that calling me a gringa is not derogatory but descriptive and even endearing and that because people do not take offense with such nicknames, there is very little if any racial tension. I appreciate that if I am late for an appointment due to traffic, for example, I don't have to stress because no one expects anyone to be on time. I appreciate that privacy from the government is still valued. That people still dress up a little when they leave the house to run an errand, that traditional music, dance and dress are kept alive and taught in the schools," wrote one expat.

Panama has a lot to offer expats:

Does Panama have good healthcare?

Expats, global nomads and retirees have mixed reviews of healthcare in Panama, which is influenced by where they live and whether they use public or private healthcare facilities. "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," cautioned one expat. "Panama is a small, developing country. Not all medical resources are available here, particularly highly specialized ones," wrote another expat.

Our Expat Guide to Healthcare in Panama and article, 8 Important Tips about Healthcare and Health Insurance in Panama offer tremendous insight into public vs. private hospitals, expat health insurance, cost of healthcare, emergency medical care and more.

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Panama's Family-Oriented Culture

When we asked expats and retirees what they appreciate about living in Panama and the Panamanian culture, the family-oriented culture was mentioned the most. "I appreciate the dedication to family - it's refreshing to see entire extended families spending time together and enjoying life," commented one expat who made the move to Panama. Another said, "Their love of family, easy smiles and nods as you pass in the markets and streets. And no matter their situations in life they seem to be happy," said another expat in Panama.

When we asked what people in Panama prioritize in life, an expat replied, "[Panamanians'] Priorities start with family, extended family, family friends, other friends, socializing, sports, all other non-work related activities, and finally: work."

Is it difficult to obtain residency in Panama?

There are two residency visas that are most popular for expats in Panama because they are easy to obtain and affordable:

Panama requires that you use a lawyer to apply for residency although some expats say they know a few people who filed independently. "Obtaining the Panamanian Friendly Nations Visa was simple for me and many people I know. My attorney handled all of the necessary requirements up front. I visited the immigration offices with my attorney one morning and by the afternoon of the following day I was issued my temporary visa id card. My permanent id card was ready three months later," explained one expat.

For more information about residency, read our article, Panama Visas & Residency.

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How much does it cost to live in Panama?

The fact that Panama doesn't tax on foreign earned income makes it an appealing destination for many global nomads, expats and retirees. The cost of living in Panama is generally considered lower than the United States and Canada, but expats caution newcomers not to expect to be able to live lavishly for $1,000 a month in one of the cities or towns where expats typically prefer living. "One issue to keep in mind when considering cost of living. There are a lot of things that are not particularly cheap. The cost for those items is comparable to (or more than) than you would pay in the US. Some examples include (1) electronics, (2) clothes and (3) restaurants. Health care is cheaper but not incredibly so for someone who is Medicare eligible. My bottom line is this. It's not that much cheaper in Panama (if at all) than many places in the U.S. If you are moving for economic reasons, you probably are going to be disappointed. I would recommend coming to Panama and see if you fall in love with it or not," explained one expat.

Panama's Pensionado Discounts

Whether you choose the Pensionado Visa route or Friendly Nations Visa, if you're a woman over 55 or a man over 60 with legal residency in Panama, you'll be eligible for a generous set of discounts on hotels, restaurants, airlines, pharmacies, mortgages, doctor and hospital bills and much more. For example, you'll receive 25% off of airline tickets and 50% off at hotels on weekdays. Our article, Panama's Pensionado Discounts, covers the discounts in detail with advice from expats about how to book the airline tickets to get the 25% discount.

Where are the best places to live in Panama?

We compiled a list of the places that expats, global nomads and retirees recommend to newcomers in our article, 7 Best Places to Live in Panama. The article includes a variety of popular expat destinations in Panama such as Bocas del Toro for those who like the island lifestyle, Boquete for expats interested in cooler climates and Panama City for expats who prefer the amenities and job opportunities that city living offer.

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Search for Homes

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International Schools in Panama

If you're moving to Panama with school-aged children, living near your children's school will make life easier. There are schools in Panama City, Clayton, Boquete, Gorgona and elsewhere. Our article, International Schools in Panama City, covers the most popular schools in the Panama City area. Boquete does not have any international schools where English is the primary language of instruction. Academia Internacional Boquete (AIB) is the most well-known bi-lingual school in Boquete. In Gorgona, there is the International Coastal School in Gorgona.

Is it easy to get a job in Panama?

One expat, who owns the relocation company, Panama Relocation Tours, offered great advice about working in Panama. She said, "There are a couple of things you need to understand about working in Panama. 1. You will need to get a Residency Visa and a work permit before you can work in Panama. The Friendly Nations Visa is the best and most affordable Visa which leads to a work permit. 2. The process for getting a Visa and a Work Permit can easily take 6-7 months, maybe longer, so you'll need to have enough savings to support yourself while you are waiting to be able to legally work in Panama. A 12 month reserve would be best. 3. Wages are not very high in Panama. Your income in Panama will not be what you are making now. You need to factor that in to the budget. 4. For any jobs handling food, you will also need a health certificate which is easy to get at the local public hospital ( about $15)."

Other people living in Panama start businesses. "I came here 6 years ago to build a business that I had little experience with, had little Spanish, and I had little experience with the Latin American culture. It was a huge challenge but the business is thriving now. If I can do it you can too. But you have to do lots of things right," wrote one expat.

What are the most rewarding aspects of living in Panama?

We asked people living in Panama this question and they wrote:

"Our stress levels have gone down a lot. We are very relaxed. We also eat better. So much fresh fruit and veggies available and everything tastes so good here. By far, our favorite thing here is living on the beach and going to sleep and waking up to the sound of the waves. It's so tranquil," said one retired expat in Nueva Gorgona, Panama.

"New friends from around the globe. A much easier lifestyle, slower, less government intrusion into our lives. The beauty of the jungle, beaches, greenery. The peace and quiet we enjoy in the islands. Beautiful sunrises from our 10 mile view deck," mentioned another wrote another retiree in Bocas del Toro.

"I love walking on the beach, collecting shells and sea glass and photographing the patterns the waves make in the salt and pepper sand on our beach. I love hearing the waves crash on the shore first thing when I wake up in the morning and last thing before I fall asleep at night. I love watching the Pelicans fly by and dive for food in the ocean. I love that there is a lot happening where I live and there is an active expat community and I can be involved in as much or as little as I want to. I love retirement and have days that I do absolutely nothing and enjoy the peace. I love all the fresh fruit at my disposal locally. My eating is more healthy than it has ever been. Life is good," remarked another expat who made the move to Panama.

What are the most challenging aspects of the living in Panama?

We asked people living in Panama this question and they replied:

"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," commented one expat who made the move to Panama. "Fast service with a smile almost doesn't exist. Most stores have no idea what they have in inventory and the process of giving them money for goods is cumbersome and painful," noted another expat.

"For me it has been difficult to learn the language at my age. I try, I make my mistakes, but I am determined and so amazed at what is possible when you want something bad enough. To not learn the language is to miss out on so much," remarked another expat in Panama City.

"Another challenge is the general physical size of the locals...as it relates to finding clothing that fits. If you are female and larger than a size 8, good luck finding undergarments. For my husband and his size 12 narrow foot, murder finding shoes," wrote one expat in Altos del Maria, Panama.

"Life in these islands is quite "slow". Gaining the understanding that our new home was on "island time" was an initial challenge. With only one airline servicing BDT, traveling in and out of Bocas (not PTY) can sometimes be a hassle, advanced preparation is advised," admitted one expat in Bocas del Toro.

For more on the rewards and challenges of living in Panama, read Pros and Cons of Living in Panama

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. Some of Betsy's more popular articles include 6 Best Places to Live in Costa Rica, 12 Things to Know Before Moving to The Dominican Republic and 7 Tips for Obtaining Residence in Italy. Betsy loves to travel and spend time with her family. Connect with Betsy on LinkedIn.


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Get a quote for expat health insurance in Panama from our partner, GeoBlue.
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Get a quote for expat health insurance in Panama from our partner, GeoBlue.
Get a Quote Call  

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GeoBlue International Health InsuranceExpatriate Health Insurance

Get a quote for expat health insurance in Panama from our partner, GeoBlue.
Get a Quote

Get a quote for expat health insurance in Panama from our partner, GeoBlue.
Get a Quote Call  

Panama Forum Panama Forum
Join our Panama forum to meet other expats and talk about living in Panama.

Living in Panama GuideLiving in Panama Guide

Our Guide to Living in Panama is a perfect primer for readers interested in Panama. Covers healthcare, cost of living, best places to live, residency, visas, real estate, moving tips and the pros and cons of living in Panama.

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Help other expats and newcomers by answering questions about the challenges and adventures of living in Panama.

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