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16 Expats Talk About Moving to Panama

Betsy Burlingame

Summary: Expats living in Panama talk about making the big move to Panama, what they wish they had brought (and left behind), visas, culture shock, cost of living and more. It's a must read for anyone thinking about moving to Panama.


If you're moving to Panama, read these tips from expats living Panama. From what to bring (and leave behind) to culture shock, visas and more, their insight is invaluable.

Advice for Newcomers to Panama

"Do not be surprised by the most modern technological society living in a first class environment," said one expat who moved to Panama City, Panama.

"Come and visit! I guarantee it is nothing like where you live. The culture is very different than the US 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," mentioned another expat when asked about moving to Panama.

Culture Shock in Panama

We asked expats about the culture shock they experienced when they moved to Panama. They replied:

"If you arrive here with the attitude that you are willing to make adjustments to your expectations and keep in mind that things will be different than you expect, you'll thrive here! Please don't expect the local population to adjust to your expectations - arrive with an open mind, be willing to embrace the differences, and be adventurous," said one expat who moved to Boquete, Panama.

"I am here 4 years and I think that the older you are the more difficult it is to shed your old skin and comfortably wear your new one," mentioned another expat when asked about moving to Panama.

"The people, not much. I had visited for many years prior to our move. I soon found why people weren't on time to appointments. My Shock came with the driving, the lack of road courtesy seen in the states. Many do not obey traffic laws so extra care for unexpected accidents became my priority...and my first auto accident in over 50 years of driving," commented one expat who made the move to Panama.

"There are a lot of expats from the US and Canada in the area where I live. The culture shock was not significant. I can get everything I need and most of what I want nearby. There is great shopping nearby and there are a lot of activities that I can be involved in," remarked another expat in Nueva Gorgona, Panama.

What to Bring When Moving to Panama (and what to leave behind)

When we asked expats living in Panama what they wish they had brought when moving to Panama and what they wish they had left at home, they replied:

"I would have left everything that wasn't a necessity or too expensive to replace at home. You can find EVERYTHING in any brand in Panama and at prices comparable to the US. If shipping weight is an issue, just leave it and replace it. Perhaps the only exception is personal care items which by definition are very personal and it's hard to switch brands if by some reason, it can't be found at reasonable prices," said one expat who moved to Panama City, Panama.

"I shipped via UPS all "necessary" items to decorate as well as daily living items...towels...sheets and all kitchen cooking supplies including china and silverware from Virginia to Panama City. Additional charge from Panama City to Boquete. No furniture or appliances as they were included in the contract. This was a 3500 K expense but we wanted to move right into the house to start enjoying life and not have to shop when there. This did not happen . "OUR" house was illegally occupied and we were unable to have him evicted and after several months returned to the US. Let me make it clear that it was not a Panamanian but a "Gringo" that we bought from. We remain in litigation...one year. Bottom line..After renting there for months and having time to "find" ourselves I WOULD NOT SHIP ANYTHING. IN PANAMA THERE ARE SO MANY LOCAL AND INTERESTING THINGS FOR A HOUSE and fun to look. Not too far from Boquete near the border of Costa Rica is a great place to start! I gave all away to needy Panamanians and a local church," mentioned another expat when asked about moving to Panama.

"I brought everything via 40 ft sea container. things in Panama are not as good a quality as I had in the states. Cost of container was 14,000 dollars. clothing is not as good unless you are accustomed to shopping at Kmart. Furniture not as well made. All items purchased there has to be in David (nearby city) You will be charged more because you are a foreigner. Even if the store has a free delivery, you will pay $45.00 extra for delivery to Boquete because only foreigners live there," commented one expat who made the move to Panama.

"I brought everything I wanted. Especially specialty items that are harder to get here since I am a cook. My husband brought his tools. I brought too many clothes. I am glad I did not bring my furniture. We live in shorts and flip flops and little dresses. We shipped everything down in a shared container for a very reasonable price," remarked another expat in Bocas del Toro, Panama.

"Things I wished or do not regret bringing: Towels in colors I like, Bed linens and Shoes. Things I wish I left at home: nothing," said another expat in Panama.

"Full size vacuum cleaner. I brought all of my slacks. In Panama we are going through a phase of slacks and jeans with 3" zippers. If your are not wearing a thong, you better have a very long shirt. I don't have any idea when this style will change. There are no Talbot's type shops here. Shoes are reasonably priced. We wish we had brought power tools. They are more expensive here than at Home Depot. If you have a computer, bring a modem. Bring your car. Roads vary from super highways to dirt roads. New cars are expensive in Panama," remarked another expat who made the move to Panama.

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Visa & Immigration

In a discussion on the Panama forum about the Retirement Visa, one expat explained, "Pensionado (retired person's) visa. You must prove a pension of $1000/month FOR LIFE. This is taken by the authorities here to be a government pension such as U.S. Social Security. So, if you want to live here before you are eligible for SS, you'll have to choose another visa type. And yes, it is best to hire a lawyer remotely, then begin gathering your documentation BEFORE you come to Panama."

"Pensionado which relatively easy to obtain. costs about 1700 dollars for a couple," said one expat who moved to Panama City, Panama.

"When we did it the process was relatively easy. Now we understand that a police report will no longer suffice. They require an FBI report now. You have to show verifiable income to support yourself and spouse. Again, do your homework before choosing an attorney," mentioned another expat when asked about moving to Panama.

"We are in the process of obtaining our 'pensionado visa' from Panama, a visa that allows us permanent residency here, plus several beneficial discounts etc," commented one expat who made the move to Panama.

"We needed a number of documents, all apostilled, which I had never even heard of apostilled before. All that means is notarized and presented to the correct authority to certify the notary is valid and current. We needed an FBI report which was the most difficult to obtain. I highly recommend using an expediter. Well worth the extra $$ to get it back in a couple of weeks instead of months. The rest was easy. Copies of bank statements, marriage certificate, letter proving monthly income for life (social security or pension as we got residency through the pensionado program). Everything notarized and apostilled," remarked another expat in Nueva Gorgona, Panama.

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Cost of Living in Panama

"Cost of groceries is good, especially when buying local produce. Some meats, sugars, and grains are price controlled and can be very inexpensive. Compared to my home area of rural Ohio, food expense is about the same. Cost of electricity at our house is less than $25.00 per month, and we use the air conditioner some mid-days. Usually ceiling fans provide more than enough comfort. Gas tanks are used for cooking, and the one tank we purchased for $25.00 has yet to run out after 7 months of use. ," said one expat who moved to Pedasi, Panama.

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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. 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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Comments about this Article

CANDYMAN
Jun 12, 2018 11:48

Hi we live in Club Ecuestre in Coronado beach Been living here full time 3 years .My wife is from Spain and has lived in and raised 3 very successful children in Panama -we met here.I was born and raised in Argentina lived 58 years in the states served in US Navy have 2 sons Marines 1 grand son -Ok Spent 47 years travelling the world (92 countries).So having said that Panama is a super place to live it is not the US people get over it!! I haer commenta about the quality of this and the quality of that there is a lot of excellent quality items here -I have aJP jubilado visa -hired a good lawyer cost me about $1,800 4 years ago and done with it -Big problem is that a lot of ex-pats keep comparing here to there it is different -For instance we have 2 dogs many neighbors have dogs I dont know of ANY with trained guard dogs !!! Coronado has all we need we are happily retired here !!Quit comparing!!!!

CANDYMAN
Jun 12, 2018 11:51

Groceries are NOT cheaper here since most items are imported-- Elect we run the a/c bdrm at night we have pool filter going we live in a 3 bdrm house with our Jubilado discount $175--$200/month about the same we paid inCoral Springs Fl with central a/c running 24/7 elct is not cheap neither is food

First Published: Jan 17, 2018

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