If you’re thinking about moving to Panama, you probably have a lot of questions about how to emigrate to a foreign country. You’ll want to know the basics: what type of visa you need, if your health insurance will cover you abroad, and more. And while it’s easy to do research on the internet, nothing beats first-hand advice. Use this guide to get started, and we’ll address the visa process, great cities & neighborhoods for immigrants, cost of living, getting around, learning Spanish, healthcare & insurance, and finding home to rent or buy.
Why Move to Panama
If you haven’t taken it yet, the Expatsi Test is a great, free way to see if Panama is a good fit for your needs. Also, the questions on the test, about weather, legalities, human rights, cost of living, and more, are a good framework for the things you’ll want to consider about your new home. Panama often gets top marks from investors and retirees because friendly laws and policies make it easy for Americans to settle there.
12 Great Reasons to Move to Panama
Where to Live
Like in the U.S., there’s a range of choices for where to live in Panama, from the heart of bustling Panama City to the most remote beach towns or mountain villages. Your location will affect how you shop, travel, and get healthcare, and the weather can vary dramatically by region, even in this small, tropical country.
The Best Cities in Panama for Expats
Panama City is a great choice. With about 1.5M residents in the metro area and excellent healthcare and infrastructure, you’re likely to have an easy transition from your American city. It can be expensive, but you can choose a neighborhood to fit your budget and needs.
Best Panama City, Panama Neighborhoods for Expats
How to Get a Panama Residency Visa
Panama has a staggering array of choices for establishing residency as an immigrant, from visas for students, remote workers, and retirees to a variety of visas for workers and investors. The pensionado visa for retirees is especially popular because it comes with a ton of nationwide discounts on everyday purchases like movies and medicine. Getting a Panama visa isn’t a DIY affair — you’ll need to work with an immigration attorney in-country to get approved. We partner with the website WhereCanI.Live and a team of Panama immigration attorneys to provide consultations. Book one here.
2024 Guide to Panama Residency Visas
How to Learn Spanish
Either I haven’t done enough sudoku puzzles or I haven’t taken enough ginkgo biloba, but learning a new language at my age is hard. Half the time, the French word I learned in high school comes to mind before the Spanish term. We’ve discovered that my husband and I learn differently — he does well with immersion, whereas I need one-on-one tutoring and structured homework. The most important thing is to be patient with yourself, I think, and keep trying.
The nice thing is having so many backup tools available these days, like Google Translate and DeepL. You can even use Google Translate on your phone to translate a menu or sign! In Panama’s expat enclaves and many medical facilities, you can get by with English, but you’ll want to learn Spanish to enhance your experience and make local friends.
How to Learn Spanish Before You Move to LATAM
What to Know About Panama Culture
Panama culture is a blend of indigenous, African, and European influences overlaid on the tropical climate and deeply affected by the prosperity and politics of the Panama Canal.
- Polite & conflict-averse: Panama is collectivist and agreeable. People may say yes to your request, even if it’s unreasonable or they can’t actually accommodate it. Your own self-awareness is important.
- 10% of people speak an indigenous language: There are seven major indigenous tribes in Panama. The largest groups are the Guna, who inhabit and protect the San Blas Islands, the Emberá, who are master craftspeople and fiber artists, and the Ngäbe, who live near Costa Rica. Their lands are protected and autonomous.
- Panama uses the $: Panama uses the U.S. dollar, although it’s called the Panamanian Balboa. It makes transferring money much easier, because you don’t have to monitor exchange rates or pay exchange fees
- Baseball > soccer: Owing to U.S. influence, baseball is Panama’s official national sport.
- Festivals abound: Music, dance, food, clothing, and art are celebrated at dozens of festivals. The mother of all is Los Carnavales de Panamá.
- People are young: Like the rest of Central America, the largest generation in Panama is Gen Z. The median age of people in Panama is 29.7 years old, compared to 38.5 years in the U.S.
- Puente del mundo, corazón del universo: While not as catchy as Costa Rica’s “Pura Vida,” this Panamanian slogan means “bridge of the world, heart of the universe” and represents national pride.
- Family ties: Like in other LATAM countries, family bonds are strong, and several generations may live or travel together. That said, gathering around the dinner for strict meal times is not the custom, and family members may eat on their own when the mood strikes.
- Use titles: Until someone asks you to call them by their first name, address men as Don plus their surname and women as Dona plus their surname.
How to Travel Within Panama
Getting around Panama City is extremely easy, with taxis, buses, Ubers, and rapid transit taking you anywhere your feet can’t. You can drive the Pan-American Highway to many popular destinations across the country and fly or take a bus to others. Taxis are ubiquitous even in smaller towns. And of course there are lots of places you can reach by boat!
Guide to Getting Around Panama by Car, Plane, Train, Bus, or Rideshare
How to Get Medical Care in Panama
Panama has excellent options for healthcare and even has a booming medical tourism industry. From top-notch big city medical centers to rural clinics and even affordable house calls, there are many ways to get your healthcare needs met. Transparent, up-front pricing is one of the most notable benefits, and if you have a Pensionado visa or are retirement age, you’ll get discounts on prescriptions and doctor visits. Our expat healthcare planner can provide useful insight when deciding how to move to Panama.
Healthcare & Insurance in Panama
How to Buy or Rent a Home in Panama
Home ownership (and honestly home rentership!) has become out of reach for too many Americans. Panama real estate isn’t cheap, but there are many options at every level of luxury. Whether you’re looking to rent, buy, or build, I recommend starting by building relationships in an expat forum or expat Facebook group for the area you’re moving to. Be aware of scams, and ask around before you give anyone money.
Guide to Renting, Buying, or Building a Home in Panama
Living in Panama can be a life-changing experience to a salsa (or tipico, or cumbia, or reggae) beat — beautiful beaches and scenery, a mixing pot of cultures, and incredible people. With great healthcare options, endless outdoor activities, accessible visas, and plenty of modern conveniences, you may find that Panama is a great place to settle down.