Panama Fast Facts

Panama panama

Population: 3,705,246

Capital City: Panama City

Climate: Tropical maritime; hot, humid, cloudy; prolonged rainy season (May to January), short dry season (January to May)

Time Zone: GMT-5

Language: Spanish (official), English 14%; (many Panamanians are bilingual)

Country Code: 507

Coastline: 2,490 km

Right Now Could be the Best Time to Come to Panama...the Hub of the Americas

Why do so many expats choose Panama? Often the intangibles…the feel of a place…play a big role. But there are also a lot of concrete, quantifiable reasons Panama is so appealing, starting with its modern infrastructure.

Panama’s cosmopolitan capital, Panama City, is the only true First World city in Central America. The beautifully maintained Pan-American Highway runs the breadth of the country, making travel easy. High-speed Internet and cell coverage are remarkable…as are the power, air, and water quality.

For expats from the U.S., Panama is also convenient because the currency is the U.S. dollar. No matter where you’re from, you’re likely to appreciate the fact that there are many English speakers in Panama, especially among the well-trained medical community. The hub that is Tocumen International Airport makes it easy to fly from Panama to nearly anywhere in the world…often with no layovers.

Choose From a Varied Landscape

Many of the expats here also cite Panama’s geographical diversity and location, with proximity to North America being a major factor. In a country roughly the size of South Carolina, you’ll find mountains and beaches within an easy striking distance—no matter where in the country you are. Wake up on the Caribbean and have lunch overlooking the Pacific…they’re a couple of hours apart at the isthmus’ “skinniest” sections. Choose your preferred climate, topography, population density and more in Panama’s varied landscape.

And then there are factors the lists and indexes can’t quantify. For instance, the people of Panama are beautiful, inside and out. Get to know them just a little and you’ll see they have big hearts and an even bigger zest for life. They’re welcoming to foreigners, who in turn feel safe here. Increasing numbers of North Americans, Europeans, and others are moving here and contributing to the burgeoning economy.

Panama: A Convenient, International Hub

Some expats come in search of adventure or a quality retirement destination, while others seek to take advantage of all Panama has to offer as a business destination. There are well-established expat populations (and many clubs and organizations) in Panama from all over the world.

Coronado Panama
Coronado, Panama

There’s a palpable excitement as the country is coming into its own. You can see it in the exciting food and culture scenes and the flashy, innovative architecture and the new industries that are adding to local offerings. New laws to encourage filmmaking paved the way for Panama to get its very own International Film Festival. The annual jazz festival is a renowned event. Major international summits are held at Panama’s large, modern convention centers.

You’ll find golf, tennis, sailing, fishing, surfing, birding and every other activity imaginable—with the exception, of course, of snow-skiing. With so much going on, expats here will tell you that it is easy to make friends, regardless of age, gender, or marital status.

Moving to Panama is Easy

For those looking to move to Panama or live here part-time, two new residence options make moving here even easier than it was before. (Quite a feat, as the Pensionado residence program has already helped thousands move here with relative ease.) These days, there’s a visa for everyone.

The international community here has always been strong, but thanks to the new residence programs, it’s growing faster than ever. And new arrivals are introducing locals to new foods, activities, methods and more. It’s been great for Panama.

These days, you can get trendy food items like kale and chia seeds…indulge in clothes from Banana Republic and Gap…and buy specialty items, from kitchen and barbecue gadgets to sports and hobbyist gear.

Then there’s the cost of living. Panama is not the cheapest country in the region, but it is often cited as the best overall value for your money.

If you daydream about sunshine, tropical beaches, and welcoming locals, then Panama may be for you. A couple can live well here for $2,500 a month or less, including rent.

Where is Panama?

By Nanette Witmer

Where is Panama

Panama is the southernmost country in Central America and is bordered by Costa Rica and Colombia. Located only 622 miles from the equator, Panama has almost 12 hours of sunlight and darkness with a slight variation of only half an hour between months throughout the year.

The narrowest of all the Central American countries, Panama is 37 miles wide at its narrowest point and 110 miles at its widest. From the top of Volcán Baru located in the province of Chiriquí, on a clear day you can see both the Pacific and Caribbean oceans standing in the same spot.

What is Panama Known For?

While many people have heard of Panama, they don’t know the significance of its location and its dedication to progress and diversity.

The narrowest section of Panama is what prompted the building of the Panama Canal back in 1881. The canal itself is 48 miles long from the Pacific Ocean to the Caribbean, saving ships days of having to go down and around the tip of South America.

The longest highway in the world, the Pan-American Highway is 19,000 miles stretching from Alaska to Panama. The highway is interrupted in Panama in the province of the Darien Gap by 100 miles of swampland and thick forested jungles which is home to indigenous tribes. The highway continues on the Colombia side for another 11,000 miles ending in Ushuaia, Argentina.

Although Panama is south of Costa Rica, Panama itself runs east and west, the opposite of other Central American countries. Confusing at times, the Pacific Ocean in Panama is to the south of the country and the Caribbean ocean is north.

Panama is an important country for many reasons. Considered an isthmus (a narrow strip of land with sea on either side, forming a link between two larger areas of land), it became a land bridge approximately 2.8 million years ago connecting both the North America and South America continents. Over time this formation affected the biodiversity of the world enabling animals to migrate from north to south, changing the weather patterns across the world, even in Europe. The development of the isthmus created the Gulf Stream which gives definition to rainfall amounts, temperatures, tides, and climates for the region.

What’s the Climate Like in Panama?

Panama has the perfect climate because it stretches from east to west getting the benefits of the trade winds coming onshore. Outside the hurricane belt further north, Panama enjoys stress-free living. Rainy season and dry season come and go without incidence. In terms of weather, predictability is Panama’s middle name.

What’s Panama’s History?

In 1501 Rodrigo de Bastidas of Spain landed on the Caribbean side, discovering the Americas. Just a short 18 years later, 1500 Spanish settlers had established the oldest European settlement on the Pacific Coast of the Americas in what was called Panama Viejo, near the current Panama City. Finding that the two oceans were not far apart, conquistadors began transporting goods from the Caribbean side to the Pacific side in what became known as the El Camino Real or Royal Trail. This enabled two-way traffic of carts carrying treasures to go from sea to sea. In 1671 the famous pirate Henry Morgan burned down the original Panama City.

For over 300 years, the Spanish ruled Panama. Struggles to gain control of many of the Central American countries continued for decades. In 1821, Panama gained independence from Spain only to join what was then Colombia later that same year. In 1846, a treaty between Colombia and the United States was signed, permitting the U.S. to construct a railway across the country.

By 1900 Panama wanted to declare itself independent from Colombia and in 1903, Panama declared independence and the U.S. recognized the sovereignty of the new country. Colombia finally relinquished in 1921 and declared Panama a separate nation. As U.S. presence increased with the building of the canal, taken on from the French, but the U.S. influence and intervention was not welcomed in all circles of Panama.

As Panama came into its own, full control of the Panama Canal was given to Panama on the last day of the year in 1999. This was followed by a complete withdrawal of U.S. troops from Panama.

Getting to Panama

Flights from around the world now fly into Panama. Tocumen International Airport now has arrivals from Toronto, Frankfurt, Paris, China, South America, Cuba, Mexico City, and many U.S. destinations.

Panama is a four-hour flight from Houston, eleven-and-a-half-hour flight from Paris, and a five-hour flight from Toronto making Panama easily accessible. Copa, Panama’s own airline flies to many of Caribbean destinations as well as flights to the United States. As Panama becomes more and more popular with travelers, Tocumen is adding new terminals and gates to allow airlines to establish new routes into the country.

What is Panama’s Economy Like?

Panama’s economy continues to grow, outdoing its neighboring countries. Between 2004 and 2013 the average GDP was 8.4%. The forecast is a promising one for Panama in 2018, with a prediction of the economy growing 5.5% and the GDP expects to expand 5.4% in 2019. The yearly income revenue from the Panama Canal just topped $1,650 million in 2017. With money in the government coffers, infrastructure projects sponsored by the government continue to be implemented, making Panama one of the leading countries in Central America in terms of infrastructure with good roads, bridges, parks, and sporting venues.

The stability of the government, location for shipping, world banking, and a prosperous outlook makes Panama one of the best places to live and do business. Not surprisingly, interest from foreign investments continues to grow every year and the population reflects this diversity.

Find Out More From Our Panama Editor

From the Archives of Panama

The Top 4 Countries in the World For Retiree Benefits

The Top 4 Countries in the World For Retiree Benefits

International Living’s just released Annual Global Retirement Index 2015 highlights the best places in the world to retire. This Index ranks the top 25 countries in the world for retirement in eight important categories. There are many perks available to retirees when you move overseas and one of the eight categories weights Special Benefits for Retirees. These special retiree benefits will help you save big. See below for the benefits you’ll receive in Panama, Ecuador, Belize and France—all four countries topped the Index in this category.

The Secrets to Exploring Panama’s Fishing Paradise

The Secrets to Exploring Panama’s Fishing Paradise

The best ways of life have been preserved in the heartland of Panama. You'll still see ladies sitting on patios grinding fresh corn for fritters or embroidering traditional dresses known as polleras. And, instead of spending their days in front of the family TV, kids play outdoors in the fresh air. This rural region is like something out of a picture book. The small towns in the area usually boast a neatly whitewashed church, small bakeries selling pastries for 30 cents, and colorful little boats lining uncrowded beaches. One of the best of those towns, Pedasí, is also one of the world's greatest fishing destinations. In that town, a small expat community is thriving alongside locals who value the simple pleasures of life: Sundays spent wading out into the clear waters of the Pacific...so warm here in the tropics.

Explore the Panama Canal by Boat

Explore the Panama Canal by Boat

Daily Postcard
By |
December 24, 2014

This year marks the centennial of the opening of the Panama Canal, and celebrations are taking place throughout the year. The first boat to make the ocean-to-ocean transit of the canal was the SS Ancon on Aug. 15, 1914. Most visitors who come to Panama make a point of seeing the canal, usually at the Miraflores Locks just outside of Panama City, or the Gatun Locks, just west of Colon city. Personally, I can think of no better way to honor and enjoy this wonder of the modern world than to see it at eye level and take a boat trip on the Panama Canal. The complete transit takes about nine hours, passing through three sets of locks. There are a number of ways to do this, and no matter which one you choose it will be a memorable experience.

Where’s the Best Place to Live in Panama’s Highland Province?

Where’s the Best Place to Live in Panama’s Highland Province?

Daily Postcard
By |
November 29, 2014

Recently, I was talking to some IL readers. They’d heard about Panama’s mountainous Chiriquí Province and had a lot of great questions for me. One, in particular, gave me pause. “If you had to pick the one best place to live in all of Chiriquí, where would it be?” asked a retired gentleman from Saskatchewan. “Well,” I mused, “for me it would be about halfway between David and Boquete, because it’s just right.” Take the climate: Boquete, an area that is particularly popular with expats, rests on the slope of the Baru Volcano at about 4,000 feet elevation.

Chiriquí: Low-Cost Living in Panama’s “Land of Plenty”

Chiriquí: Low-Cost Living in Panama’s “Land of Plenty”

Cost of Living
By |
November 21, 2014

A tour of Chiriquí Province will take you from Panama’s highest point, 11,440 feet at the peak of Baru Volcano, to sea level and sandy beaches along the Gulf of Chiriquí. You’ll find 20,000-plus expats living throughout the province. Whether you prefer the beach or the mountains, living in town or out in the country, bright sunshine or cool cloud cover, Chiriquí offers you a choice… For instance,the near-perfect climate is one of the main reasons as many as 12,000 expats now call the town and district of Boquete home. Its elevation of 3,940 feet on the eastern slope of Baru Volcano means normally cool temperatures around 80 F in the daytime and 60 F at night, with frequent misty rain called bajareque.

They Give Retirees More in Panama

They Give Retirees More in Panama

Daily Postcard
By |
October 14, 2014

Ten years ago, I left the U.S. in search of a new adventure with my husband, Al—a decision that led us to the city of David in the province of Chiriquí, Panama. Al and I have spent time in Mexico, Guatemala, Costa Rica, Belize, Nicaragua, El Salvador, and Honduras since leaving the U.S. but, for many reasons, Panama won out as our retirement destination. Chiriquí Province is beautiful. It's the country's farming province, all rolling hills lined with fields where you'll find pineapples, papaya, rice, coffee plantations, and orange groves.

“This Part of Panama City Is Perfect”

“This Part of Panama City Is Perfect”

Daily Postcard
By |
October 13, 2014

“We spent about five years researching good retirement destinations before actually moving to Panama,” says Bill Hamilton who moved with his wife Mieke to the country’s capital city. “I’m the type of person to look up every single thing…crime rates, politics, cost of living, real estate, health care…and Panama City kept popping up in my research as the best option across the board.” Though in their 60s and already retired from previous careers, the Hamiltons made the decision to move in order to take a stab at running the Balboa Inn, a nine-room B&B in Panama City.