by Jen Barnett
Healthcare in Panama is considered to be some of the best in Latin America, which is especially impressive given its small population of 4.5 million. Johns Hopkins Medicine, which is considered the gold standard of care in the U.S, even operates in Panama City. Many providers speak English, which can offer comfort as you work on your Spanish.
When it comes to healthcare in Panama, there are several options available. The government provides public and subsidized healthcare to some residents, while private insurance companies offer a variety of plans. For those who don’t have access to either of these options, the country also has an extensive network of medical clinics and hospitals that provide health services at reasonable out-of-pocket rates. If you have a pensionado visa or you’re of retirement age (55 for women and 60 for men), you can get discounts on those rates, too.
As part of their commitment to providing universal access to healthcare, the Panamanian government funds public medical centers throughout the country. These facilities offer free or low-cost medical services for both locals and visitors alike. The types of services they provide vary depending on location but typically include primary care, vaccinations, urgent care, and reproductive health services. In addition, public health centers often partner with private providers to offer more specialized care, such as surgeries and lab tests. These facilities typically accept cash payments and credit cards, so it’s important to bring enough money when visiting one. They’re known as MINSA clinics, and are bare bones, but may get the job done depending on what you need.
If you are working in Panama, your employer will pay into a medical insurance fund for you through the Caja de Seguro Social Panameña (CSS). If you aren’t going to be working, it’s best to purchase international insurance before you move.
Private insurers in Panama offer a wide range of comprehensive plans that provide coverage for everything from hospital stays and surgeries to dental treatments and vision care services. While premiums can be expensive, some companies offer discounts for low-income individuals or those who are part of employers’ group plans. To find out more about a specific plan, it’s best to contact an insurance agent in your area. (For expat insurance, we partner with Cigna Global, who can give you a quote).
Should I Move to Panama for Healthcare?
The quality of Panama’s healthcare is ranked in the top 50% of countries, but would likely be higher if not for the vast discrepancy between the quality of services in Panama City and those in rural areas. For expats in popular Boquete, they can travel to David, a hub for medicine in the region. Urgent care and primary care clinics, some of which offer house calls, are also growing in availability.
As a couple of example of how care varies from the U.S., visit the Hospital Nacional or Hospital Punta Pacífica websites. You’ll see transparent rate charts for gallbladder surgery, hip replacement, and maternity care. You can even make your appointments in WhatsApp.
One strategy for American immigrants is to take on private health insurance, but set a high deductible to pay lower premiums. Use this insurance for major illnesses, chronic conditions, and emergencies. For smaller issues, like allergies, toothaches, or pickleball elbow, you can pay out of pocket at your local clinic and use your retiree discount if you qualify.
The quality and ease of Panamanian healthcare is one of its top selling points, especially for retirees and young families. It also ranks tops for end-of-life care. If you have the good fortune to move to Panama, you may find you even prefer it to the U.S. healthcare system.