If you consider retiring in Panama, it is important to do your research and have a solid plan before moving. There are several resources available to help you with your move, including government agencies, social media, and relocation experts.
These sites can be helpful in many cases, like visa requirements, how long you can stay, COVID restrictions, and things to see or do in Panama, but that is about it. The problem with government websites is that they are not continuously updated in a timely manner, and the information can be confusing. Currently, on the US Embassy website, pages left up in the Google search index are a year old, and the information here is wrong.Also, you will find government websites like CDC and State Department issuing excessive travel warnings.
Like the US State Department, some sites list Panama as a Level 4. "Do not travel because it is dangerous in some parts of Mosquito Gulf and Darién jungle", areas no tourist or expat would ever go to. Then you have the CDC issuing level 3 and 4 warnings in most countries because of COVID transmission. Most of these counties, including Panama, have transmission rates much lower than the US itself. From a COVID perspective, coming to Panama is safer than staying at home.
Getting relocation advice from social media is risky. Unless you know who you are talking to, it can be like stopping a stranger on the street, asking them specific advice about a topic. You don't know how knowledgeable they are, and which interests may influence their answers. There are people that fake to be knowledgeable while they aren't. Some post wrong information because they "read it on the internet" or "saw it on youtube" without verifying it. Don't trust information that is given without verifiable sources. There may also be people who had an exceptionably good or bad experience that they may want to generalize. You don't want to follow advice from a single unknown person blindly. But this does not mean that Social Media are useless.
There are groups of like-minded people who post about their experience, and if the group is well-moderated, those who post false or misleading information or spam, are eliminated fast. I any case, take advice from Social Media with a grain of salt and do your research through different channels. You will soon find out whose information is trustworthy and whose may be not. There is no need to say that people who do not claim to know it all and offer you verifiable sources, are the best help for your research.
Advice on immigration, health insurance, and real estate are significant decisions, and getting advice from a stranger who has done this thing once is just a small step in your research. Social media groups, like Facebook groups, are useful to get many opinions in one place, but not all recommendations may have the same value.
Trolls are a significant problem on social media. Panama’s immigration department recently announced a scam with people posing as lawyers on social media, getting referrals, and taking retainers from foreigners and disappearing.
Tens of thousands of dollars have been scammed from foreigners.
If you look for a lawyer or real estate agent, you will get recommendations, but keep in mind that some may come from friends or relatives of these persons, who have an interest to recommend them. In particular, you will probably never read publicly which lawyer is a crook, or which real estate agent has made someone lose money or offered a bad service. This is because of the Panamanian lible laws and the way the Panamanian justice system works. And it is also well known, that not all posters on Facebook or Twitter are who they claim to be. So, choose well where you look for reliable information. Always get a second opinion when a lawyer or agent asks you to advance a significant amount of money or before you sign a contract that may not be written with your best interest in mind.
It is a good sign when a lawyer or real estate agent is repeatedly mentioned in a positive manner by different members of a well-moderated group whose identity you can verify.
As I already mentioned, the Highlands and especially Boquete are the right place for you if you like a climate that is warm enough to feel always well without warm clothings but does not require airconditioning to get comfortly through the days and nights. Our day temperatures vary between 21 and 27ºC (70 ... 80ºF), and the night temperatures go rarely below 18ºC (64ºF). We have basically only two different seasons, the "green season" between May and November, when it rains more often, mostly in the afternoons, and when nature flourishes abundantly, and the dry season (we also call it "summer", but it corresponds at least in part to the winter season in the northern hemisphere) from December to April when it rains very little, and we can in extreme cases even have poblems with the water supply.
Who writes this (Volker) comes from Central Europe, and this is the ideal climate for people like me. No freezing winter, no suffocating heat, almost like eternal spring.
Boquete is an excellent place to retire in Panama because, while not being on all accounts like the developed countries we come from, it offers most of the amenities that we are accustomed to. Boquete is big enough to have many shops, restaurants, pharmacies and medical services, but small enough to be a good place to make friends, to know your way around, and to avoid the stress of a big city. And it is a green and peaceful place with lots of friendly people.
If you want to try it out, we will be happy to have you as our guests, for a week or a couple of months, just as you like. Aparthotel Boquete is different from other hotels in many ways, particularly because we offer a family-like atmosphere in a green and quiet area just 5-6 minutes to walk to the first restaurants and 10 to 15 minutes to walk to the biggest supermarkets, and because we offer big discounts for longer stays, which make your experience affordable without having to forego the comfort that you like. You can take a virtual tour through one of our apartments, and if you like what you see, you can book directly online or with our assistance. There is no need to use online travel agencies like Airbnb which just increase the cost of the rental through their commissions. We are here to help you and offer you a soft landing for your experience and your plan to retire in Panama.
This is a short extract from Melinda Miles-Lindberg Oct.13, 2022 Newsletter "More Miles to Go". You can subscribe to read it all. It's free.
1) Do I have to learn Spanish?
The short answer is no. You don't have to. But you’ll be branded an ugly American. Whether you’re from the States or not. The long answer is why would you want to move here if you don't want to learn Spanish? And you only have to learn it, not master it. So start practicing now.
2) Is Panama safe?
If it is then why do all of the windows have bars? Panama is hands down safer than the United States. In 2019 15.6 people per 100,000 died of a gunshot wound in the United States. In Panama? 6 per 100,000. ....
3) Should I bring my car?
We were told to not bring our cars. I now regret heeding that advice. The reasons to not bring them makes sense. You will have a hard time finding parts for your US market car down here. Your mechanic may not have the needed tools . ....
4) Do I bring my pets?
If you aren't going to bring your family members with you, please don't come. Enough said.
5) Exactly where should I retire to within Panama?
You first must decide if you want to live in an expat enclave or not, and whether you want to live in the mountains or by the beach. The beach is hot. Really hot. To me, the mountains are cold. Really cold. ..... Panama has everything. Check it out.
6) Can I get my favorite brands there?
Sigh. Yes you can. But if you live in North America and want American brands, it might be easier to stay there. That being said, practically anything you want may be purchased in Panama City. David, Colon, and Santiago have almost as much. If you can't find it there you can buy it on Amazon and have it shipped.
7) Which is the best place to live in Panama?
If you like a spring-like climate throughout all the year, lush nature, beautiful waterfalls, a welcoming community and a variety of places to dine out and meet friends, Boquete is without a doubt the best place to live in Panama.
By Retire in Panama|October 22nd, 2019
Moving to Panama is a big decision, and everyone has questions. Below are the ten that we hear the most, although there are many more.
1. What does it cost to live in Panama? Renting, food, utilities, etc.
It all depends on what amenities you like, the restaurants you dine in, whether you need a vehicle, and other factors. In Panama, there is a budget for almost anyone. I know people living on a pension of $1000 a month and those that live on $5000 a month.In the more rural areas of Panama, for a $1200 a month budget (about $1500 for a couple), you can rent a decent Panamanian-style house for as little as $400 a month. This will be a basic house, typically a small kitchen, no granite countertops or dishwasher, cold water at most of the taps, and a hot water shower—probably two bedrooms, with some outside covered patio area. The lowest cost of living in Panama is in the small towns or interior cities like David or Santiago.You will be using public transportation, a $10 phone card per month, basic high-speed internet, shopping at local markets, and eating out in Panama tipica restaurants 2 – 3 times a week. You will use the public hospital system with catastrophe health insurance for anything significant. Life will be quiet and simple if that is your budget and what you are looking for.For a $4000 a month budget, you may be living in a 2,000 sq ft, North American style bungalow or beach condo. Your rent will be around $1500 monthly in one of the larger beach or mountain expat communities. You will have full private hospital medical coverage, shop in the big box grocery stores, own a car, take weekend getaways, eat at excellent fancy international restaurants, enjoying your retirement years as you had hoped you could.Most expats live between these budgets, on about $2500 – $3000 a month for a couple, and live well and comfortably. Read this article about the true cost of living in Panama.
2. What is the healthcare in Panama like ?
Panama has a two-tier health care system. The public hospitals are inexpensive and available to all in a pay-as-you-go system. Doctors visit as low as 50 cents, and specialists visit for $5. Lab tests for $3 – $5, and minor surgeries under $100.I know an expat living in Panama who just had a hernia operation in a public hospital. He felt the care was great, and the total cost was $175. The public Hospitals have their problems: overcrowding, shortage of medicine and doctors, and lack of equipment. It is not the type of health care you are used to if you come from North America, so most expats do not use the public hospital unless they have to.The second system is the private hospital system, which is more like the North American system, pay as you go or covered by private insurance.The private hospital system in Panama is excellent, with great facilities, doctors, and equipment. And, it is still really affordable. Doctor’s visits start at $12, specialists at $$50. A visit to the emergency room for a broken arm will cost you less than $500.Private insurance is quite affordable in Panama, with someone in their 60s able to get full coverage, no deductible or co-pay, with additional international coverage, for as little as $3000 a year. Read more details about the healthcare system in Panama HERE.
3. What is crime like in Panama?Crime is everywhere in the world, don’t let anyone tell you that there is no crime in Panama. It is like any country, there are bad areas, and there are good areas. What most people find surprising is that the crime per capita is much lower than in North America and most places in Europe.Suppose you look at stats like total crimes per 1000 people, based on all countries. In that case, the United States is #22, Germany # 11, Canada #10, and Panama #64. SourceSuppose you look at crime index reports, which are calculated a little differently, and show more of the total safety of the country. In that case, the United States scored 46.73, Canada 39.48, and Panama 45.47, making Panama as safe as North America. SourceBut in any country, especially when you are a foreigner, and the country’s people may be poorer than you, you must remain vigilant. Most homes in Panama have bars on the doors and windows, almost eliminating home invasion-type crimes. The police force is more present, keeping people safe. I have lived here for ten years, in different areas of the country, and have always felt perfectly safe.In Panama City, the downtown area, and most smaller towns in the country, it is perfectly safe to walk the streets at night. Just stay away from the wrong neighborhoods.
4. What residency visas are available, and what is involved in getting one?
Panama offers many permanent residency pats, in fact, over 20 of them. There are, however, two popular ones, and I will discuss those.Pensionado Visa – this is by far the most popular visa for retired people. People with a current pension from a government or company, more than $1000 per month, can qualify for this visa. The pension must be for life. It is probably the most accessible visa anyone can get in any foreign country you may want to move to.To qualify for this visa, you need to retain a Panama lawyer who will assist you in getting the necessary documentation. Once you arrive in Panama, you will meet with your lawyer, go to immigration with them and submit the application. You should have your temporary visa card in a couple of weeks and your permanent residency card within 4 – 6 months. The total cost will be about $2400 single and $3000 for a couple. You are now a permanent resident of Panama.Friendly Nations Visa – This visa is popular for a person that is not receiving a pension and is either seeking employment or has some money to invest. 50 countries qualify for this visa, and there are three methods to get it.
Receive a work contract and job from an existing Panama company.
Purchase real estate in Panama for over $200,000.
Deposit $200,000 for three years in a certified deposit in a Panama bank
The best thing about this visa is that it can lead to a work visa even for the investment choices above. If you are not receiving your pension yet, you may want to keep your options open for employment. Or if you want to run a business where you will be working in it. Read more about the Visa options in Panama.
5. Do I have to pay taxes in Panama?
Panama has what is called a Territorial Tax System, as opposed to the USA’s Taxation by citizenship and most other countries Taxation by residency. If you are a resident of Panama, you only pay income tax on Panama-sourced income.For example, if you come here with a work visa and have a job with a Panama company, you will pay taxes here. If you open a business here, like a bed and breakfast, you will pay taxes on the income you earn here.Let’s say you move here and receive a pension from another county; you do not pay taxes on that income in Panama. Or, if you move here, and you work online, for a company in another country, or sell goods and services in another county, you will not pay taxes here. This does make Panama very attractive to the digital nomad crowd.Suppose you are from a taxation by residency country and become a Panama resident. Your work involved receiving income only from countries outside of Panama. In that case, you could effectively live income tax-free.If you are from the United States, you may be eligible to receive a $110,000 foreign resident tax exemption on earned income. Of course, check with your accountant to ensure you are doing everything legally. Read all about international tax systems and how they relate to Panama.
6. Where are the best places to live in Panama?
This will depend on many things, depending on your personal preferences, so I will discuss the most popular places to live in Panama. Panama City is known as a mini Miami, but a lot cheaper for the city lover. Great restaurants, theater, nightlife, high-rise condos, and ocean views make it a popular expat location.If you are a beach lover, the areas around Coronado are very popular. Pedasí is up and coming, and Las Lajas, Barquete, and Puerto Armuelles are popular in the western region of Panama. On the Caribbean side, of course, Bocas del Toro.For you Mountain lovers, there is Valle de Anton, Santa Fe, Volcan and Boquete. Read where most expats live in Panama.
7. Can I work in Panama, or open a business?
If you are looking for a job in Panama, there are a few things you need to know. Most jobs in Panama would require you to be fluent in Spanish, which is the official language in this country. And you will need a work visa to get a job, which will require 6 – 12 months of being here before you have that work visa.Foreigners getting employment in Panama are usually companies looking for specific trades or qualifications. The job offer and work visa are started even before you get here. Also, panama has protected professions that foreigners can not work here, like doctors, lawyers, medical assistants, accountants, hairdressers, and many others.Opening a business for a foreigner is quite simple in Panama and very popular with expats. If you open a company, you have the right to work in that business in a supervisory role. Still, you need a work permit, apart from ownership duties, if you are doing an actual job in the business. Many expats here have opened businesses like restaurants, hotels, car services, tour companies, etc. But suppose you want to attract the Panamanian customers. In that case, you will have to hire Panamanian employees and probably a Panamanian manager.Remember one thing; if you come to Panama with the popular Pensionado Visa, you cannot work. By getting that visa, you declare to Panama that you are retired. Read about working in Panama or starting a business HERE
8. What is the weather like in Panama?
Panama is a maritime tropical climate, with temperatures along the beaches in low lying interior in the evening at 22° C (75° F) and daytime highs of 33° C (92° F) daily. In the mountain communities, these temperatures are lower by about 10° C (15° F).Panama has a dry season from January through April, with very little rain. April through September will see rain in the late afternoons, 2 – 3 times a week, and October through mid-December, quite wet. Read all about the climate in Panama and particularly the weather in Boquete
9. What is involved in buying a house in Panama, and how much are property taxes?Buying real estate in Panama is not much different than in North America. Still, you do have to be more careful. There are some not to honest real estate agents, and the proper title of the property has to be addressed. You need to be alert and find a good and honest real estate agent. You must have an excellent real estate lawyer if you are looking for a sale by owner property. On our Retire in Panama Tours, we will introduce you to the best in these fields in Panama.Property taxes are very low in Panama and work on a sliding scale. There is no tax on the first $120,000 value of the property. Then on $120,001 – $700,000, the tax is 0.5%. On the value over $700,000, it is 0.7%. Also, depending on the year of construction, there can be an exemption from property taxes for up to 20 years, passed on to the new owner.
10. What is the cost and quality of Internet?Quality, fast internet is offered in most places in Panama. In the populated area, speeds of 100 megs to 1000 megs are available, starting as low as $25 a month. Packages of 200 meg internet with 200 TV channels and a home phone line will cost $50 a month.If you are buying or renting a home and need fast affordable internet, make sure you have it available. Suppose one of the two largest high-speed providers is unavailable in your area. In that case, you may have to resort to expensive, slow wireless options.Maybe you have other questions, that have not been covered here, why not Contact Us, and ask them.
Retire in Panama ToursIt’s more than a tour . . it’s an experience.
By Retire in Panama|October 22nd, 2019|Panama General|
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A fancy word for homesickness.
When one transitions to another type of life, anxiety sets in.
Snarkiness takes root. The disorientation of a new country can lead to the
worst in an ex-pat’s otherwise pleasant personality. Treatments for the condition are time, experiences, and
Let’s look at ex-pats tripping through the stages.
1. The bliss of infatuation
The difference between being a tourist and being a resident is that tourists stay in the first stage of culture shock and never leave it. It’s the bliss of infatuation, the honeymoon stage. Who doesn't love a honeymoon? The dopamine hits when you land in a new country. Everything smells new. Everything exudes adventure. The food, the people, the buildings, the mountains, the sea. Ingrid and I try to hide our smirks as new residents revel in situations that we now barely take note of. Like a short conversation on the beach in Spanish. Or the opening of a new restaurant. When you stay long enough the newness wears off. The resident stays. The tourist plans the next vacay to a different country.
2. Plain old homesickness
If the ex-pat stays long enough, the bliss of infatuation gives way to old-fashioned homesickness. Bouts of depression mark the next stage often referred to as the frustration stage. I started to feel helpless at so many mundane things; Why can’t the waiters come over without being flagged down? Why does the ATM run out of money all the time? Why can’t anyone understand my Spanish? Why won’t they feed their dogs? How can the garbage everywhere not bother them? Something’s gotta give. Luckily, something does. Keep reading.
3. No pasa nada
In the next stage resolution sets in. Compromise in one’s brain. Everything before that led to anxiety and frustration now evokes ¨no pasa nada¨. It’s okay. I can see that I have shifted when I meet other ex-pats that are squarely in the frustration/homesickness phase. I say silently to them “let go”; you will not change the Panamanians, but you yourself will change. Laidbackness marks the Latino culture. Things take a while, and when you lean into it, it can be so relaxing. It is not up to me to fix how they do anything; it is up to me to adjust to their way of doing things. I need to leave if I want it to be a different way. So, instead, I let it go. If the ATM does not work, I will try the next time in town. As no one cares if there’s garbage around, I avert my eyes. And sometimes, the feeling that manana is soon enough can work in our favor. Our garbage bill was nine months in arrears and no one cared. No one quit picking up our garbage every Friday. They did shut off our electricity though. More than once. Now we know that three months in arrears on “luz” is the limit. Navigation becomes easier for everyone as new friends and communities of support is established. Just keep tripping through the stages.
4. Finally, Peace.
A complete understanding of the Latino culture isn’t necessary to function and thrive in Panama. During the last stage, the acceptance stage, ex-pats draw together the resources they need to feel at ease. The ex-pat realizes that the way the locals do it may never make sense. But it is how it is, which, to me, is fine and dandy. So to maintain that peace there are some things Ingrid and I avoid. That’s not necessarily a good thing. Yet we do it. As health nuts, we avoid local restaurants. As fans of minimalism, we don’t drive to Boquete or David for every American item missing from our refrigerator. We relax more. We know in time the new ex-pats will relax more too. And we know that in time they'll learn as we did to eventually re-navigate. Reframe it. Take the good and leave the bad. I no longer feel the need to stress or worry as much. This stage is critical not to drive yourself bonkers when you live abroad, anywhere. It is the stage of true bliss and enjoyment to witness yourself in moments of peace and serenity — the actual acceptance of yourself and the ability to change and adapt to any situation.