Bordered by Costa Rica to the west and Colombia to the southeast, vibrant Panama serves as the meeting point between two oceans, as well as two continents. With a population of just over 4 million, Panama is a small country, but the last few years have brought a massive influx of investors, businesspeople and fortune-seekers riding the country's development wave.
Panama has shaken off its third-world image to become a haven for expats. Foreigners are drawn to the country for its modern infrastructure teamed with a warm climate, peaceful lifestyle and beautiful tropical surroundings. Large expat communities can be found here, particularly in Panama City, and there is also a growing number of foreigners setting up holiday homes on Panama’s offshore islands.
Living in Panama as an expat
In years past, many expats living in Panama were of retirement age and were enticed by government incentives such as discounts on goods and low-cost medical treatment. In recent years, the Panamanian government has been pushing foreign investment and, as a result, there is now a vibrant, dynamic and driven community of people looking to grow their businesses in Panama.
Locals are known for being friendly, hospitable and welcoming towards new arrivals. While the official language of Panama is Spanish, English proficiency is extremely common, especially in the cities and when conducting business.
There are a few cultural and lifestyle adjustments new arrivals should consider when pondering a move to Panama. Those from Western countries may struggle with the lack of certain conveniences and the much slower pace of life. Getting used to shops closing for lunch and even government services being shut at inconvenient times is something newcomers will have to accommodate.
The standard of healthcare in Panama is fairly good, particularly in private hospitals in major cities. Expats should ensure they have a good health insurance policy to gain access to the best care and facilities. Compared to other South and Central American countries, Panama is relatively safe, but burglaries are still common and theft from vehicles is widespread. Police have a strong presence on Panama’s city streets and carry out regular checks on cars at roadsides to keep track of criminal movements. Expats should always exercise caution when using ATMs and be vigilant when walking alone at night.
Cost of living in Panama
Expats moving to Panama will be pleased to discover that the country's cost of living is quite low. Mercer's 2023 Cost of Living Survey ranked Panama City as 148th most expensive out of 227 expat destinations worldwide. This fairly low position places Panama as far cheaper than major North American and European cities.
The price of property has increased with the country's growing popularity, but this is dependent on the city and location. The cost of transportation is quite cheap, and shopping in Panama is mostly duty-free.
Expat families and children in Panama
While public schools in Panama tend to lack funding and resources, there is a host of private and international schools in the country whose standards are comparable to those in North America. While fees at these institutions can be high, expat children are guaranteed an excellent education and facilities. International schools also teach in English or the language of the school's country of origin, making them more accessible to foreigners.
As a tropical country, Panama offers expat families plenty of opportunities to enjoy the outdoors. With beaches galore, Panama is ideal for families who enjoy water sports and activities such as whale watching and snorkelling. The country is also packed full of hiking trails and an abundance of gorgeous spots where families can relax and enjoy the natural environment. Those in search of some indoor activities will also discover fun and interactive museums to entertain children of all ages.
Climate in Panama
Panama has a tropical climate, characterised by hot weather throughout the year. The rainy season lasts from May to December, with the dry season making up the remaining months of the year. Panama experiences little temperature variation, but October and November tend to be slightly cooler, although incredibly humid, and March and April are generally the hottest months of the year. Expats can expect temperatures of between 74°F (23°C) and 85°F (30°C) all year round.
A fascinating and incredibly picturesque country, Panama is sure to have expats staying far longer than originally anticipated.
Population: About 4.4 million
Capital city: Panama City
Neighbouring countries: Panama is bordered by Costa Rica in the north and Colombia in the south.
Geography: Panama forms the isthmus that connects Central America to South America. The country has white, sandy beaches with turquoise waters and dense jungles that lead up into the volcanic mountain ranges that run its entire length.
Political system: Unitary presidential constitutional republic
Major religion: Roman Catholic
Main language: Spanish
Money: Panama's official currency is the Panamanian Balboa (PAB), which can be divided into 100 cents. The currency used for day-to-day interactions is the United States Dollar (USD). Expats will find that ATMs and card facilities are widely available in Panama.
Tipping: A tip of 10 percent is generally expected for most services where gratuity has not already been included in the bill.
Electricity: 110V, 60Hz. Plugs with two flat blades are used throughout the country.
Internet domain: .pa
International dialling code: +507
Emergency numbers: 104 (police), 103 (fire), 911 (ambulance)
Transport: Panamanians drive on the right-hand side of the road. Panama City has a reliable and extensive public transport network. For travel around the country, expats should consider air travel or taking their own car as intercity bus networks are known to be unsafe.
►For a list of important numbers check out our Embassy Contacts for Panama page
"No two days are the same! I live near one of the surfing beaches, which is ideal for a morning walk and swim. There are a lot of nature walks around, as well as small local shops, bakeries and local fruit and fish markets, which one does not envisage away from city living. In contrast, I can head to the huge shopping malls in Coronado or Panama City where I can find anything and everything, all priced in US dollars which is equivalent to the Panamanian Balboa." Learn more about what Jasmina, a British expat, loves about life in Panama in her interview.
Are you an expat living in Panama?
Expat Arrivals is looking for locals to contribute to this guide, and answer forum questions from others planning their move to Panama. Please contact us if you'd like to contribute.
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