How to Move to Panama - Guide for Expats Moving to Panama

Moving to Panama
Coronado, Panama|Conor O' Brien

Contemplating a move overseas? If you’re looking for a warm, welcoming, and convenient country, then consider Panama. It is—without question—one of the world’s best expat destinations.

This tiny isthmus between the Pacific and Caribbean is packed with potential, and it’s got an impressive track record to boot. The country has been politically stable for decades, and it boasts a robust banking sector and economy. Panama is Central America’s little powerhouse, and progressive in more ways than one…

Why Do Americans Move to Panama?

If you’re a citizen of the U.S. or Canada, you’ll find that Panama checks more than a few boxes. It’s in the same hemisphere, so you won’t have to worry about being five or more hours ahead of friends and/or business contacts back home. And, if you’re from the U.S., you don’t have to worry about exchange rates, either. Panama has used the U.S. dollar since the early 1900s.

There’s also a comforting sense of familiarity when landing in Panama as a North American. The capital's stunning skyline, reminiscent of Miami or New York, has surprised and delighted many a newcomer. And Panama’s amenities and affordability make it much more appealing than either of the aforementioned cities.

Where else can you afford to live on the water…in a safe, warm, hurricane-free environment…with First World internet, cell phone coverage, and more? Truly, few places in the world offer all this in such close proximity to the U.S.

Whether you’re visiting the country as a tourist or ready to become a resident, you’ll find that Panama is eager to welcome you. If you want to travel to Panama on a scouting trip and you have a valid U.S. or Canadian passport, you don’t need to apply for a visa or pay any visa waiver fees. And if you’re interested in becoming a resident, you have several excellent options to choose from.

How to Move to Panama

So, you’ve done your research—our website can help you with that—and you’ve chosen a city or town in Panama. What next?

First, contact a local attorney. Panama has several great visa options for long-term living. If you haven’t hit retirement age and want to stay for longer than six months, there’s a new telework visa that allows for 18-month stays. If you have a pension, however, it may well be worth applying for Panama’s Pensionado visa right off the bat.

Which one should you choose? To ensure you make the most of your time in Panama—and save as much money as possible—contact a reputable and duly licensed Panamanian attorney. Make sure you do so as far in advance of travel as possible, so the attorney can guide you through getting the paperwork you’ll need.

Your attorney’s advice will be crucial, as certain documents have to be obtained prior to travel and within a very specific timeframe (depending on your intended application date).

Playa del Toro, Pedasi, Panama
Playa del Toro, Pedasi, Panama|Hugo Ghiara

Finding A Home in Panama

Once you’ve chosen a city or town in Panama, you’ll need to spend some time scouting out different neighborhoods to find the right fit for you. Renting is a great way to test-drive destinations without making a big commitment. There are plenty of apartments you can rent month-to-month or for short-term stays (less than a year). And even if you do sign a year-long lease, Panama’s renter-friendly laws make it easy to move on if the need arises.

If and when you’re ready to buy, Panama offers excellent value and variety. Whether you’re looking for an easy “lock-and-leave” condo, a single-family home, or perhaps something in-between…there’s plenty to choose from. The process for purchasing property is, in most cases, straightforward—but there are a few key differences you’ll want to be aware of.

Generally speaking, Panama allows foreigners to own property outright—no need for special visas, trusts, or partnerships. That said, there are just a few important exceptions and caveats. For example, Panamanian law prohibits foreigners from buying within 10 kilometers (about 6.2 miles) of an international border.

The international border law is rarely an issue, as Panama only borders two countries. The Panama-Colombia border is short, especially compared to Panama’s long and sinuous Pacific and Caribbean coasts. It’s a notorious jungle region no North American expat would want to live in. The Costa Rica border, however, is another story.

Panama and Costa Rica have friendly relations and the border between the two countries is very busy—buses, cargo trucks, and cars cross it every day. The historic beach and banana company settlement of Puerto Armuelles abuts this border. It’s fairly popular with expats, regardless—but you would need to have a Panamanian lawyer verify property limits before buying property in this region.

Moving Your Pets to Panama

Pet lovers love Panama because the country is becoming more and more pet-friendly. An increasing number of hotels and restaurants welcome owners with dogs. It’s generally easy for travelers to enter Panama with cats or dogs. Just make sure you talk to your vet and start to plan well in advance of travel.

You can handle all the paperwork yourself or hire a Panamanian attorney to take care of everything for you. Among other things, you will need to ensure that your pet is healthy, free of parasites, and up-to-date with vaccinations and immunizations. Whether you are in the U.S. or Canada, your pet’s completed international health certificate must be sent or taken to a Panamanian embassy, consulate, or Apostille

If you fly into Panama during office hours (and your paperwork is in order), the veterinarian on duty at customs will generally allow your pet to leave the airport with you. They will ask you to keep your dog or cat with you on “in-house” quarantine for 40 days. It’s an honor system, so do your best to keep your pet away from other animals during that time period.

Before flying contact your airline and get as much information as possible. If your pet is small enough for a pet carrier that fits under your seat, it may be allowed to travel in the cabin with you. Larger pets typically have to travel in the cargo hold. Airlines may have pet travel embargos at certain times of the year due to extreme weather. Make sure you have a pet carrier that adheres to the airline’s standards.

Make sure your pet has a lightweight container filled with enough ice to keep it hydrated (water can spill and evaporate faster than ice). Most veterinarians do not recommend giving your pet drugs before flying (unless the pet has a condition that requires medication). Talk to your vet about any, and all concerns and, if you are coming a long way, consider breaking your trip into segments so your pet can rest in-between flights.


Do I Need Vaccinations Before Moving to Panama?

Many expats travel to Panama without any specific vaccinations, certificates, or treatments. The capital and other developed areas of the country are typically classified as low-risk for tropical ailments like malaria and yellow fever (Panama hasn’t had a yellow fever case since the 1970s). Medical professionals usually recommend that you wear mosquito repellent in any country where mosquitoes are prevalent, to ward against maladies like dengue.

To read up on vaccinations and health advisories, check online sources for recommendations specific to the areas of Panama you’ll be visiting. Resources include:

Remember, if you do plan to take an anti-malarial vaccine, or seek any type of vaccination or pre-trip treatment, you should see your healthcare provider at least four to six weeks before you travel. For covid-related travel requirements see

Banking and Finance in Panama

Some expats manage in Panama with home-country credit and debit cards. But for most, opening a bank account is the best solution. This is easy to do but it does take some time (and patience). You may be surprised to learn that banks in Panama have many “suitors,” so rather than courting your business, they vet you to ensure you’re a valid customer. You’ll need to present documents and references showing that you and your interest in Panama are legitimate.

Bear in mind that it’s generally a good idea to keep your home accounts open. Even if you have a Panama account, it’s likely you’ll want to use your U.S., Canadian, or other accounts to do business or maintain residence at home.

Before leaving home, tell your bank representative that you’re planning on spending time in Panama and discuss your banking fees. You may find that opening an account in a different bank can save you money when you get to Panama. Some banks have special offers for things like foreign ATM fee reimbursement, or better bill paying options. Others may offer credit cards with no foreign currency fees. You’ll find it well worth your while to research these options ahead of time.

Long-term, most expats end up wiring funds from home to a Panamanian bank account. They then conduct day-to-day transactions with a local ATM card, credit card, or checkbook. You’ll find Panamanian bank accounts are easy to use, as many offer modern online banking access and free bill paying. In fact, you’ll find that banks here generally charge much less in fees than U.S. banks.

Panama is home to many reliable banks with excellent track records. In fact, this country has built the most modern and successful International Banking Center (IBC) in Latin America. Thanks to low interest rates, high credit balances, and high liquidity, Panama is known as one of the world’s most stable banking environments. (Panama was one of the only countries to avoid a banking meltdown during the global financial crisis of 2008.)

Panama’s banking privacy principles and solid trusts have traditionally made banking here very attractive. Panama’s financial center also includes the country’s insurance companies and stock exchange (Bolsa de Valores de Panamá, or BVP). Since its creation in 1990, the BVP has been an important aspect of Panama’s role as a regional financial center.

Year after year, for over a decade, Panama’s economy consistently outperformed others in the region. Despite the many travails of the pandemic and post-pandemic era, this tiny powerhouse continues to chug along, with impressive results.

Why I Moved to Panama

By Jessica Ramesch

Video Transcript

Hey there. I'm Jessica Ramesch, International Living's Panama editor. In today's video, I'm talking about why I moved to Panama.

I live in Panama City. I moved here in 2005 and I had lived in a lot of places before then, including Panama.

I really dreamed of just having that sort of cosmopolitan lifestyle where you can have great restaurants and great nightlife. So it's really hard to find a place that's very cosmopolitan and that isn't very expensive. I had a long list of criteria and people used to laugh at me and be like, well, you're not going to get everything on your list. And of course, one doesn't get everything on their list. But I just felt like I if I looked hard enough and I chose wisely, I could have the most important things on my list. And I knew that I wanted to live somewhere surrounded by water. And I knew that I wanted that cosmopolitan lifestyle, but I didn't want to work any more 70+ hour weeks. I had been there, done that. I worked on the cruise ship industry shipboard for over four years. Our work weeks were minimum 70 hours. And I just said to myself, there's got to be a better way to live. I don't want to spend my entire life working. I want to find work that I enjoy. I don't want to work too hard. And I want to be able to enjoy my life. And so I knew that I needed to find a place that was also reasonably affordable.

So I decided to come to Panama. And there were a few other reasons as well. I don't think I would have chosen it if the healthcare hadn't also been really good. I remember, those first jobs, not having a lot of money, not being able to afford dental care. And knowing how expensive dental care could get in the U.S. Just always kind of being always kind of living in fear. Like, what if I need something and it's painful and I don't have the money and I'll have to borrow or get into debt? So it wasn't at the top of my list, but I knew that it needed to be there. I knew that I was choosing a place for the lifestyle, but the healthcare had to be there as well.

When I mention a cosmopolitan lifestyle, let me tell you what I was looking for more or less and why I chose Panama City. I really like places that have a good fitness culture as I get really bored with doing the same thing over and over again. And so I knew that I wanted to live somewhere that was kind of forward thinking where there was a lot of people into fitness, lots of different things that I could do. Lots of outdoor activities were also really important to me and sunshine. I knew that I couldn't be happy somewhere where I didn't see the sun a lot. And in Panama City, I see the sun at least 300 days a year. So and, you know, today is actually a pretty rainy, cloudy day. But I'm able to enjoy those days because I know that I see the sun. I'm going to see it soon. I'm seeing it often. So those cool, rainy days are actually pretty nice here and pretty enjoyable. Now, a word about the climate here. I knew that I wanted to live on the water, but I did not want to live anywhere that had potential hurricanes.

Panama, much like Costa Rica, is completely outside the hurricane belt, even though we are in the tropics. But there are definitely some tradeoffs when you choose the tropics. First of all, is this extremely high humidity. Eighty percent today. That's generally what you get here in Panama. Even higher humidity on the Caribbean coast. I am on the Pacific coast and I actually really like a humid environment. Maybe that's because of where I grew up in the Willamette Valley. It was a lush, moist environment. I've never really lived anywhere too dry. I visited desert areas and they're beautiful. But the dry air really bothers me. I'm not used to it and I haven't been able to get used to it during my short visits. I think the driest place I've ever lived was in New Delhi towards 88 F, 89 F.

April is one of our muggyist months. I'm going to be honest with you. There are days that I suffer, everything sticks to me. But 90% of the time, I'm really, really happy with the temperature here. And those muggy days are tradeoffs. And, you know, outside of quarantine, I can always go work at an air-conditioned cafe. I actually don't usually work in air conditioning. I like having my windows open. So I have, as you can see, ceiling fans. And that's pretty much how I work every day. I just have a fan going on me and I'm usually very comfortable. But on the days that I need air conditioning, I would go to a cafe. But as I say, it's few days out of the year.

Another one of the tradeoffs is also, when you live in the tropics, there are lots of critters, lots of creepy crawlies. We have spiders and we have scorpions. And of course, we do have mosquitoes as well. I live in Panama City. So, again, I chose to live somewhere because it's so much more developed. There are buildings everywhere. There's a lot more concrete that does add a little bit to the heat island effect, but also the bug populations are kept down. So I do have screens on my windows in my apartment here in Panama City. A lot of people do not. I'm only on the second level, so I'm not so high up that you don't get any bugs and it doesn't bother me.

I am constantly considering a move to one of the mountain areas of Panama. They really attract me. I spent a lot of time in Boquete and Volcan as well. I lived for a month in the little mountain town of El Valle, which is a two-hour drive from Panama City. And I really love that it's a little bit cooler, very, very lush and humid. Mold grows on everything. It's something that you have to learn to deal with in your homes. But one of the big reasons that I chose not to move and I chose to stay here in Panama City was because the bug factor was so much higher. It's really inexpensive to hire somebody to help you, a housekeeper to clean. But for that month that I was living in that mountain town of El Valle, I did not have a housekeeper or anybody to help me clean.

So every morning I would come out on the porch and certain times of year you have different phenomenon. Like the month of May, you'll typically get—and this is only for a few weeks at a time and then you're good till the next year—but you'll have these winged termites that fly and they lose all of their wings. They're going through whatever their process is. And every morning I would come out and have to sweep them off of the terrace. After a month of it, I was like, you know, I'd really like my cosmopolitan Panama City. So I'm going to stay in the city and I can visit those other areas as often as I like. So, again, there are tradeoffs.

But I did get a lot of the things on my list. I got the nightlife. I got the hurricane-free zone. I like the humidity for the most part. And the older I get, the more important that seems to be, because the dry weather will do a number on your skin. I like our growing foodie culture and art scene here in Panama. I've been here since 2005. That's 15 years. I've really been privileged to watch this country grow. Already a very modern place when I moved here, it's really coming into its own as a destination for the arts, for film, for amazing chefs and restaurants. So having chosen Panama, why did I stay? Well, things just kept getting better and better. And the few things that seemed like challenges at the beginning just got easier and easier and were addressed by the government.

For me, my life here started out with more challenges and actually has just gotten better and easier over the years. So I have to really commend Panama for being so progressive. I live a very good lifestyle here, on about $2,600 a month. So I had mentioned earlier that I didn't want to live somewhere where I had to work too hard to afford that cosmopolitan lifestyle. In Panama, I find I don't have to work too many hours. I can work sort of, you know, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Take, you know, up to four weeks off every year as a freelancer, as an independent worker. And I can afford a really great lifestyle here. And again, outside of quarantine, that includes lots of little weekend trips, lots of outings, going to restaurants, casual ones and fine dining restaurants. I get a good mix and I also get to do all of that nightlife stuff that I mentioned earlier, going to the theater, art exhibits, sporting events, whatever you're interested in, whether it's jazz or golf, you can find that here. And that's another reason, one of the big reasons, that I stay not just in Panama, but also in Panama City. So I really hope that that gave you a little bit of a better idea of why I chose to live here in Panama. Why a lot of people choose to live here. And specifically, why I chose Panama City. And I have access to lots of great destinations within an hour or two of Panama City. So I can be on an island, in the mountains, on a beach within an hour or two from Panama City. I have multiple destinations. So I feel like I have the best of all worlds here.