Panama has long been popular with Americans seeking to retire somewhere warm on the water. Because the U.S. owned and operated the Panama Canal for decades, many Americans have ties to the region. High-quality schools, healthcare, and infrastructures, especially in Panama City, are big draws, as well as the peaceful life you can find in more tranquil spots like Boquete or Coronado. Nationwide, Panama offers everything from the most humble country homes to the most luxurious high-rise apartments, and the prices and amenities reflect those options.
Whether you’re renting, buying, or building a home in Panama, I recommend starting by building relationships in an expat forum or expat Facebook group for the area you’re moving to. There’s no substitute for finding recommendations from real people for realtors, builders, and lawyers you can trust, especially when you’re moving to a foreign country where you may not be familiar with your rights and responsibilities or know the local risks. And because there’s no MLS system, listings aren’t centrally located. We’ll talk about how to rent, buy, and build in Panama and list some scams to watch out for.
There are many sites where you can browse local properties to rent or buy, but one of the most popular is the ubiquitous Facebook Marketplace. It’s a great place to check pricing and inventory, but be careful reaching out to listings without someone you can trust to help you, and never wire money to anyone without seeing the property.
If you’re in the market to rent, Panama has a wide range of renting options. You can find everything from furnished apartments and condos to unfurnished homes and villas. Some rentals will include water and gas, but are not likely to include electricity or cable. Even if you plan to buy, it’s always a good idea to rent first. As they say, it’s easy to buy, but hard to sell. If you decide to buy partially through your lease, you can often break the lease if you give a month’s notice.
Scams to watch out for include fake listings and landlords, who may ask for a deposit and then disappear. Be sure to verify that the person you’re dealing with is the legitimate owner of the property before signing any documents or making payments. Rent is often negotiable, and if you have a good agent, they can help you make an offer. They can also help translate the contract if you don’t speak Spanish.
If you’re interested in buying property in Panama, there are a few things to keep in mind. First of all, foreigners are allowed to buy property here and there are no restrictions on the amount of land a foreign buyer can own. However, foreigners cannot buy land within 10 kilometers (6 miles) of the border with Colombia or Costa Rica (although the scuttlebutt is that sometimes they do). There are other stipulations on coastal property and untitled land. Be sure to find an experienced realtor or lawyer and have them double check all documents before making any purchases. You may also need to hire a surveyor or inspector or research the title.
Scams to watch out for include shady tactics like pushing you to buy before you’re ready by claiming they have low availability or other offers, or hiding kay details about the home or land it’s on. One family bought a property and was about to finish paying it off when they discovered they’d been paying the wrong owner!
Finally, if you’re interested in building your own home in Panama, you will need to work with a local builder. Panama has many quality builders, but again, it’s important to find one you can trust. Ask for references from past clients and try to visit completed projects before signing any contracts. Get all promises in writing and keep detailed records of everything related to the project, including payments made and deadlines agreed upon. Be prepared for construction to take much longer than promised. Just like in the U.S., you can find neighborhoods under construction where you can build, saving some of the cost of a built property and some of the work of leading the project yourself. Companies like Panama Equity list pre-construction projects for sale. In some countries, buying unbuilt properties is very risky, but Panama has more protections than most.
Panama is an incredibly popular destination for people looking to move overseas, and there are plenty of options available when it comes to renting, buying, or building here. However, it’s important to do your research and work with trusted professionals in order to avoid any potential scams or problems down the line. The cardinal rules are TAKE YOUR TIME, do your research, and find trusted partners.
Here are some excellent guides from expats about buying and building in Panama: