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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

"Dont worry be happy. Relax, and enjoy the great climate, and beautiful people. And of course save alot of money with the low cost of living. I rent a two bedroom house for $100.00 per. Mo. (including utilities)," said one expat who moved to Guabito, Panama.

"I would echo what the person who did the review on Boquete. Embrace the local culture and ways of doing things. Don't come here wanting to change the way folks have done things for a long time or try to make it like the US. At the same time you can teach the locals what you know in a nice way as you make friends with them," mentioned another expat when asked about moving to Panama.

"Panama is NOT a good place for people with a "Service Dog" or a "Guide Dog". In general, many people are scared of all dogs because most dogs in Panama are GUARD DOGS for their property. Panama is behind the times in its thinking about "Service Dogs". In Canada (and the USA) all Service and Guide dogs are accepted everywhere. People who have such a "partner" really need that dog in their life. He is their "lifeline". They are highly trained and do not bother other people. Their main interest is the care of their owner! They DO NOT have "accidents" and they do not bother other people. 99% of the time they are very friendly with all people they meet. In Canada & USA the Service Dogs are fully accepted and allowed to go everywhere their owner wants to go. That includes all stores, clinics, businesses and restaurants. This is a fact of the 20th Century. Panama needs to catch up! These dogs are highly trained and get to need their owner as much as the owner needs them," commented one expat who made the move to Panama.

"Do not be surprised by the most modern technological society living in a first class environment," remarked another expat in 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," said another expat in Panama.

Culture Shock in Panama

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

"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," said one expat who moved to Sora, 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," mentioned another expat when asked about moving to 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 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," said one expat who moved to 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," mentioned another expat when asked about moving to 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," commented one expat who made the move to Panama.

"You will need good pots and pans from home, any clothing should be brought with you, fabrics and quality here are not good, and any electronics. Again, an expensive item here," remarked another expat in Boquete, Panama.

"Wish we would have brought an Amazon Firestick for TV, Small kitchen items and any electronics we might have wanted. Things we didn't need to bring, lots of shoes, a dress suit, the one I DID bring won't fit now, and dishes," said another expat in 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.

"The process for obtaining a permanent visa has been streamed lined over the recent years. With a competent lawyer you can get thru the whole thing relatively Quickly. Providing the necessary documentation in advance and being timely for appointments makes the process much easier. Be prepared to visit PTY [Panama City] a few times to sit in the immigration offices while your lawyers submits the numerous copies of documents into your file at the request of someone behind a desk (the Panamanians do not use much in the way of digital, written copies seem endless) Note the dress code for all Panamanian gov offices. Must have a clean conviction record (although it is possible to get waivers) Marriage certs if applicable. Police and FBI report. Recommendations from Banking and business acquaintances. Depending on your status of retiree (pension, friendly nations etc) you must deposit a certain amount of cash into the local bank account (can be drawn out later). Owning property is guaranteed by the Panamanian constitution and can make obtaining the Visa easier," said another expat in 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

XExpat561
Aug 9, 2019 23:30

I spent two weeks driving the country of Panama to figure out what part of the country and climate suited us best. I finally called my husband (who was still home working) and said, "I found it! It took 12 days of exploring, but I found it". IT ended up being in Boquete. It is called the "land of the eternal spring", not spring like water, but springtime weather. Flowers are easy to grow, the vistas and views are beautiful, the people are very kind, the food is very tasty, prices are not bad, and the ex-pat community is very large, What helped us when we first came here was to have read a statement that said, "Don't try to recreate the United States when you get to Panama. Don't try to change their culture, customs or the way they do business. Just understand that this is the way they do things. If you do this you will be one of the happy ones, not one of the frustrated ones."

ReallyaFloridagirl
Aug 17, 2020 13:39

Such valuable information! I just can't get enough. Being very thorough in our decision to move overseas.

First Published: Jan 17, 2018

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