Living In Panama As An Expat – The Essential Guide

A detailed guide to living in Panama for expats that can help you understand whether moving to Panama is the right thing for you.

Panama is a melting pot of cultures, and expats from all over the world have made their home here. Whether you are looking for a place to retire, work, start a business, or invest, living in Panama has something to offer everyone.

This guide covers everything from why Panama is a great place to live, to the cost of living and what to expect when you move here.

Is Panama a good place to live?

Panama is an amazing place to live for many reasons.

The weather is incredible, with the average daytime high at the beaches at 32 °C/90°F, and in the upper mountain elevations, at 25°C/78°F.

Living in Panama beaches
A beautiful beach in Bocas del Toro

There are beautiful beaches, rainforests, and mountains to explore.

Panama also has a very low cost of living, which makes it a great place to live on a budget.

Living in Panama allows you to lead a healthy lifestyle with fresh fruits and vegetables readily available, and plenty of opportunities to get outside and be active every day, with a year-round nice climate. Living in Panama is good for your mind, body, and soul.

One of the best things about living in Panama is the people. The Panamanian people are some of the friendliest and most welcoming people you will ever meet. They are always happy to help, and they love to have fun!

How much money do you need to live comfortably in Panama?

The cost of living in Panama is very affordable compared to North America, the UK, and Europe.

You can live comfortably starting on a budget of around USD 2000 per month for a couple. This includes rent, food, transportation, utilities, and entertainment. Of course, if you want to live more luxuriously, you can do that too!

Your cost of living in Panama will depend on where you want to live: city, beaches, or mountains.

The most expensive place to live would be Panama City. This is a major city, which some compare to a mini Miami. The skyline with its 70-story towers, offices, and residences is breathtaking.

Living in Panama - Panama City
Panama City at night

If you want to live close to the action and all the amenities a big city has to offer, great restaurants, cultural events, and sporting events, then Panama City is for you.

However, living in Panama City will cost you more than living in other parts of the country, with a couple needing a monthly budget of about $3,000 a month, if renting a basic 2-bedroom condo in the city.

The second most expensive place to live in Panama would be on the beaches. Beachfront property is always in demand and costs more.

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But living on the beach doesn’t have to be expensive. You can find decent apartments near the beach starting at around $800 a month, depending on the location and amenities. Actual beach properties with stunning ocean views start at $1,200 a month.

Food is also very affordable, with seafood being caught fresh daily, and produce from local farms being sold in open-air markets.

The least expensive place to live in Panama would be in the rural towns.

There are many small Panamanian towns located throughout the country, usually within an hour of the beach or a major city.

You can find a basic house for as little as $500 a month, and food is also very affordable. You can have a great lunch in a Panama typical restaurant for as little as $5.

The biggest difference in your cost of living will be your housing. Panamanian homes can be found for rent throughout the country, outside of the city, for as little as $500 a month, whereas a North American-style home will be closer to $1,000 or more a month.

Real estate is the same, with Panama style housing starting at $100,000 and north American builds starting closer to $250,000

Retiring to Panama

One of the main reasons people move to Panama is to retire. And it’s no wonder, with the great weather, affordable living, and friendly people, Panama is one of the top destinations for international retirees.

Panama Pensionado Visa

If you are thinking about retiring to Panama, you will be happy to know that there is a Visa program, designed specifically for retirees: the Pensionado Visa.

Living in Panama - beaches again
Chiriqui Province, a tropical beach in Puerto Armuelles.

This Visa is offered to those who are receiving a lifetime pension over $1,000 per month ($1,250 for a couple) and is a permanent residency visa for life.

The total cost for getting this Visa is under $3,000 in legal and government fees for a couple, making it the lowest cost permanent residency program in the world.

This pension can come from a government, or a private company, but must be for your life, and does not include savings or investments.

There are other Visas available if you do not have a pension. There is no age requirement for the Pensionado Visa, so it’s great for early retirees.

Also wrapped up in the Pensionado Visa is a government-initiated discount program. For those with a Pensionado Visa (any age), in addition to all citizens and residents when women are over 55, and men over 60, there are many discounts offered. Here are some of the discounts:

  • 50% off entertainment (movies, concerts, sporting events, etc.)
  • 30% off public transit
  • 25% off airfares
  • 25% off restaurants
  • 15% OFF fast food restaurants
  • 25% off utility bills
  • 15% discounts on medical procedures, and prescriptions
  • 50% off hotels during the week

Pensionado Visa applicants even get $10,000 duty-free good the ship here and no duty on an imported car.

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Can foreign citizens live in Panama?

Yes! Panama is very welcoming to foreigners and there are many ways to live in Panama as a foreigner.

Living in Panama - Panama Old City
Avenida Central in Casco Viejo (Old Quarter) of Panama City.

Many foreigners can visit Panama as a tourist, visa-free for 90 – 180 days. Check with the Panama Embassy website if you are unsure of your country’s requirements.

A short stay is great to check out the country to see if it is a good fit for you, before deciding to move here.

There are a few ways to become a legal resident. The most common way is through retirement, as mentioned above, employment, investment, or marriage.

If you are employed by a Panamanian company or the government, you can apply for a work visa which will then allow you to apply for residency.

If you want to invest $200,000 in a bank-certified deposit in Panama or real estate in Panama, you can apply for a Friendly Nations Visa, if you are from one of Panama’s 50 friendly nations countries. The process from a temporary visa to a permanent visa takes about 2 years.

Investors’ Visas start at $300,000 with real estate or $500,00 with bank deposits, and they can be obtained without even being in Panama. You can obtain a permanent visa in as little as 30 days with this program.

Panama is also offering a Digital Nomad Visa designed for remote workers allowing a temporary visa for an extended stay of up to 18 months. This visa is not a work permit, and the company you work for, or the income you are making, must be coming from outside of Panama.

Is it safe to live in Panama?

Yes! Panama is a very safe country to live in. The crime rate is low, especially compared to its neighbors in Central America.

Of course, as with any country, some areas are safer than others, and you should always use common sense.

There is some gang and drug violence in the big cities, like most big cities, but if you look at reputable crime stat sources, you will see that Panama has a lower crime index rate than the United States, and a similar one to Canada, or the UK.

I have personally lived in Panama, in the cities and up in the mountains, for the last ten years, and I have always felt safer than back in my home of Vancouver, Canada.

It is still smart to be vigilant. For example, do not leave your valuables in your car, or walk around at night by yourself in a bad neighborhood. Driving your Lexus with fancy gold jewellery is just going to attract attention and get you in trouble.

My local friends always joke about how paranoid Gringos can be, but I think it is just because they haven’t been living outside of their countries for very long.

It can be daunting at first, to live in a new country with unfamiliar surroundings and language barriers. In time, as you get used to things in your new home country, you will begin to feel safer in your surroundings, especially after you get to know your friendly Panamanian neighbors.

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Is Panama safer than Costa Rica and Mexico?

In comparison, Panama is much safer than Mexico or Costa Rica.

From the experience of living here and speaking with people that have lived in both countries, the petty crime rate in Costa Rica has grown dramatically in the last 10 years, and the drug cartel crimes in Mexico, keep growing.

Most expats in Mexico live in gated-controlled communities, while in Panama, most live in Panama ungated neighborhoods.

So overall, yes, Panama is safe to live in! Just use your head and don’t do anything stupid and you will be fine.

Where should I move to in Panama?

This is a big question, and I will say that it depends on three things: lifestyle, budget, and desired climate. You also have to decide if you are looking for an expat community where there are other foreigners living, or if you are looking for a more Panamanian feel.

Lifestyle

As far as lifestyle, are you looking for city life, beach life, or a more quiet mountain lifestyle? Living in Panama can offer all of these things.

living in Panama - lifestyle
The waterside promenade in Panama City connects downtown with the old city of Panama.

For city life, consider living in Panama City. This modern metropolis can offer you whatever large North American and European cities can offer.

The other smaller cities in Panama, like David and Santiago, have more of a smaller Latin feel and do not have the big city life that Panama City offers.

There are many beaches in Panama to choose from.

About an hour away from Panama City, you have the Coronado area, which stretches almost 50 kilometers, with a lot of beach communities to choose from.

Then you have the Azuero Peninsula, with places like Las Tablas, Pedasi, and Playa Venao. Heading west are the Chiriqui beaches from Las Lajas to Boca Chica to Puerto Armuelles.

Then the mountain areas, starting near Panama City you have Valle de Anton. In Central Panama there is Santa Fe, then in Chiriqui province, you have the highest mountains and the coolest climates in Boquete and Volcan.

Housing costs

Your budget can vary a lot in Panama, with Panama City being the most expensive place to live.

Rents in the interior of Panama can go from $500 a month to $5,000. Properties can sell from $100,000 to millions.

Climate

The climate in Panama varies a lot.

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Panama City and the close beaches tend to be very hot, wet, and humid in the rainy season. In the Azuero Peninsula, it is also hot, but a bit dryer.

In the mountains, especially Boquete and Volcan, it is much cooler and even wetter. This area can be described as eternal spring.

The dry season in Panama is from January to March with not much rain at all. The locals call this their Summer season, even Panama schools have summer holidays during this time.

The rainy season, starts in April, with one or two afternoon showers weekly, and progresses to October and November with afternoon rains most days.

My favorite time of year is April to October, with just enough afternoon rains to keep everything green and lush, and typically sunshine every day at least till mid-afternoon.

You can find more information on where to live in Panama in our guide Best Places To Live In Panama For Expats.

The pros and cons of living in Panama

I think the pros of living in Panama far outweigh the cons, but I will give you both, and weighing both sides is important if you are looking for Panama as a place to live.

The pros of living in Panama

1. Retirement benefits

The extreme ease in attaining a permanent visa for retirees from around the world, and the discount programs offered to those retirees are certainly big pros for retirees moving to Panama

2. Lower cost of living

In general, the cost of living in Panama will be lower than that of countries like the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, and Europe.

3. Good affordable healthcare

The healthcare in Panama is good and affordable.

There are both public and private hospitals and clinics, with the private ones being of better quality. Local and international health insurance can be purchased to make use of the private health care system.

Most doctors in Panama speak English are many are trained overseas.

4. Beautiful country

Panama is a very beautiful country, with beaches, mountains, rainforests, and city life. It really has something for everyone.

Living in Panama - natural beauty
Los Cangilones de Gualaca, a popular bathing place in the province of Chiriquí.

5. The political and economic stability

Panama has had a stable government for many years now and is one of the more stable countries in Central America. Panama has boasted one of the highest GDP’s in the Americas between the years 2004 to 2018, with average GDP growth of 6%.

6. The good bits about the weather in Panama

Here we list the pros of the weather:

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  • Beach-like hot temperatures, which many people enjoy and want if you live by the beach.
  • Option to live in the mountains, and enjoy a much cooler climate.
  • A rainy season, that keeps the entire country and its tropical rainforests green.

The cons of living in Panama

1. Poorer infrastructure compared to North America and Europe

You will notice this more in Panama with sidewalks and accessibility.

The highway system is good, with good public transit, but the cities and towns are not very walkable with poor or non-existent sidewalks.

The lack of green space, bike paths, and accessibility for the handicapped are definitely noticeable.

There will be frequent power and water outages no matter where you live in the country, with more of that in rural Panama, and less living in the City.

2. The slow pace of life

Some may say that the slow pace of life is good. Yes, it’s good if you are retiring, but the Panamanian people take this directly to their work, businesses, and the public sector.

livig in Panama - more beaches
Playa Venao

It can take an endless amount of time to get anything done. Whether you are filing government paperwork, getting your lawn cut, ordering drive-thru at Mcdonald’s, expect to wait, and wait, and then wait some more.

3. The bad bits about the weather in Panama

Yes, I know, the weather was in the Pros section also, but for some, the weather in Panama could be unfavorable.  And here is why:

  • All the beach areas and Panama City have daily highs in the 90s, every day of the year, and that is just too hot for some. 
  • For others, it is too rainy in Panama.  Panama is located in the rainforest, so it does rain a lot here, from April to November.

4. Product availability

This is something a lot of people do not think about – the availability of their favorite name brand products. Panama is a small county, of four million people, and many of the name-brand products North Americans are used to are just not sold in Panama.

Healthcare in Panama

The health care system in Panama is 2-tiered, public and private. Both are paid systems, but the public is designed to be affordable to all.

Living in Panama - expat communities
The expat community project near Las Tablas in Panama.

In the public system, a doctor’s visit cost 50 cents, and a specialist $3. X-rays and tests can be as little as a few dollars. Two nights in the hospital can cost as little as $75. So it is affordable but has a lot of problems. Shortage of equipment and medicines are a couple of those problems.

Those employed in Panama, paying into the Social Security system, and those drawing on their Social Security pensions can use the public system for free, as they pay, or have paid, monthly into this system.

For the private hospital system, you can purchase insurance – either local hospital insurance or international insurance.

The system is very good, with top hospitals like Hospital Punta Pacifica and a John Hopkins affiliate hospital in Panama City.

There are many good private hospitals across the country, and if you have insurance you can be assured of excellent healthcare in Panama.

Bank accounts

Opening a bank account if you live in Panama, is fairly straightforward.

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Panama does not open bank accounts for tourists, you must be a resident or at least in the process of residency.

Below is the list of requirements to open a bank account at most banks in Panama. The requirements do differ slightly from bank to bank, so contact the bank first to make sure.

  • Passport and Residency Card (Letter from your immigration lawyer if you are in the process of residency)
  • 2nd piece of photo ID (Drivers License)
  • A bank reference letter from your current bank from home
  • Residential rental lease agreement, or home purchase contract in Panama.
  • Proof of income (this can be your retirement benefits letter or the last 2 years of your tax returns)
  • A cash deposit of between $500 – $1,500 depending on the bank)
  • US citizens will have to sign a W9 form.

After visiting the bank with all your paperwork, your account will be opened in a few days to two weeks, depending on the bank.

Final thoughts on living in Panama

Living in Panama can be a great experience, but it is not for everyone.

If you are looking for a place to live just like you have at home, then Panama is probably not for you. One thing I can guarantee you is that the culture, the people, the language, the landscape, and the traditions are not like you have at home.

If you are not ready to adapt, change, and accept this, you will never be happy living in Panama.

Before making the move, make sure you are aware of what to expect and that you are ready to embrace the culture and lifestyle here. If you can do that, living in Panama will be a rewarding experience for you.

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Rod Larrivee

Rod, an expat from Vancouver, Canada, living in Panama since 2011, is co-owner of Retire in Panama Tours with his business partner Oscar Peña.
They offer relocation tours of Panama, with groups of 8 - 12 people. Over seven days, their guests will see all the great places in Panama an expat may want to live in and receive all the information and contacts someone needs to move to Panama. In addition, they offer a host of expat services to assist anyone looking to relocate to Panama. If you need Rod's assistance, click on the link below

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2 Comments

  1. Hello Rod
    I live in Vancouver & I am retired & I am looking for a place to retire, where I can afford to live off of my 3 small pensions without taking money from my savings, but with your list of pro’s & con’s, & wanting a place to live just like I have now, I don’t think Panama wouldn’t be a fit for me.
    I have also checked out Mexico information & not sure if that would work for me either.
    I wondered if you have lived in other place or researched other places where its cheaper to live than in Canada, yet is more like Canada?
    Or, am I just out to lunch on my desires?
    Thank you.

  2. Hello Gladys, thank you for your comment, I am not sure you know this, but I am also from Vancouver, I moved to Panama 10 years ago. Yes, you can live in Panama for a lot cheaper than Canada. A good example is utilities. In Canada my electrical, gas, water, cell, cable, internet was over $800 a month, in Panama its under $150. My rent in Canada was $1500 a month, in Panama, $700. Groceries are also much cheaper.

    That being said, I love Panama, but it is nothing like Vancouver, The culture is different, the people are different, the weather is different, (no cold), most locals do not speak English, but there are a lot of expats here also.

    No foreign country will be like Canada, but if you learn to embrace the differences, you will grow to love it, and live much more affordable.

    If you have any more questions, feel free to email me directly at rod@retireinpanamatours.com.

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