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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

"Be prepared to change your life. Leave behind all your pre concieved notions of how it should be, what you need, want, and must have to get by. EVERYTHING is different, embrace it, learn from it, apply what you can to your life but don't come here with demands, strict ideals, uptight lifestyle, and the idea that you are going to save a third world culture from itself. I find the opposite is what happens, it saves you from yourself and what ever madness you left behind," said one expat who moved to Boquete, 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)," mentioned another expat when asked about moving to 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," commented one expat who made the move 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," remarked another expat in Coronado, Panama.

"Do not be surprised by the most modern technological society living in a first class environment," said another expat in 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," remarked another expat who made the move 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:

"Brought: books, DVDs, no printers or fax machines. Wish I had left at home: a HOME. Not having one Stateside means mail forwarding only, not having a state to claim residence in for Medicare, voting, getting mail delivered, and perhaps a relative sift through the mail and scan me only important papers. Don't bring wood furniture - the tropics call for their own woods. NO metal anything - file cabinets, etc. And don't store in highrise depositos - they're greasey and dirty. Tape any boxes on all seams so the contents stay clean," said one expat who moved to Panama City, Panama.

"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," mentioned another expat when asked about moving to 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," commented one expat who made the move 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," remarked another expat in Boquete, Panama.

"I arrived 4 days ago, and so far, I don't wish for anything more, nor anything less. I've brought clothing and essentials and that's all," said another expat in 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 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."

"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," said one expat who moved to 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," mentioned another expat when asked about moving to Panama.

"Well, actually I never got around to any of that stuff. I'm a complete illegal alien. Nobody seems to care, so I don't either. The problem I see is that the attorneys you'd need help from are going to pay attention to your money. I talked to a local attorney who helps with immigration but he wanted a lot of money, so I just kind of ignored him and plopped myself down here. I don't generally recommend this method; but it works for me. I'm not the type of worry about the fine print," commented one expat who made the move to Panama.

Expat Health Insurance 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.

William Russell Health Insurance
William Russell Health Insurance

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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!!!!

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

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."

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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