The 3 Questions I’m Always Asked About Panama

For the last decade, I’ve spoken at International Living’s conferences in Panama City, to an audience of retirees, real estate investors, and entrepreneurs.

There are many reasons why I live in Panama—and why so many other folks choose to relocate, invest, and set up businesses here. It’s a beautiful country, with a Caribbean and Pacific coast, rainforest, mountains, rivers, and lakes. The climate’s wonderfully tropical in Panama City—you can swim and sunbathe all year. It’s got a hub airport with direct flight connections across North America, Latin America, and Europe. It boasts great infrastructure, top-notch medical care, and a fantastic choice of dining, shopping, and entertainment. The local currency is pegged one-to-one to the dollar. And Panama has some very attractive residence options, including the pensionado residence visa for retirees and the Friendly Nations visa for investors.

Naturally, at these conferences I get asked a lot of questions about living and investing in Panama—a few are pretty random, but some pop up again and again. Here are the most common questions I was asked last week:

Q: What are the best (premium) neighborhoods in Panama City?

A: There are a few. Punta Pacifica is a luxury neighborhood, mostly high-rise, some with great ocean views. Santa Maria Golf & Country, as the name implies, is a master planned private community with a golf course, what will be the best country club amenities in Panama, a 5-star hotel and lots of landscaped green space. Casco Antiguo, the historic district, is low rise, Old World, and full of charm. Ocean Reef, two artificial islands in the Bay of Panama, is super-exclusive, the crème de la crème of premium neighborhoods…with its own marina and helicopter pads for its ultra-rich residents.

Q: What’s it like to live in Panama City’s historic district?

A: It’s certainly fun. Casco Antiguo is tiny but packed with charm—quaint plazas, beautiful buildings, great spots for strolling and people watching in the evenings. It’s low rise and you can walk to everything (banks, supermarket, wine store, yoga studios, beauty salons). There are more than 80 bars and eateries—I can walk a few steps from my front door to an upscale restaurant, a chic brunch spot, a French bistro, and an Italian gelateria. It’s now hip, a place where everyone wants to come to eat, bar hop, and party on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights.

The downsides are the lack of parking, crazy traffic on busy nights and weekends, and the noise from clubs and bars.

Q: Can I rent short term in Panama?

A: In the district of Panama (which covers Panama City) you need to be in a building that’s registered for short-term lets in order to rent for less than 45 days. There’s very few of these buildings, so most of the folks you see advertising their homes for rent by the night are breaking the law. The fines are pretty steep if you’re caught. They start at $5,000 and run up to $50,000 for repeat offences. You’re most likely to be reported by neighbors in condo blocks and private communities who get tired of short-term guests partying and causing noise and nuisance.

Outside the district of Panama, the law restricting short-term rentals doesn’t apply, so you can rent by the night. But if your home is in a condo block or private community, check the internal rules and regulations—they may prohibit short-term lets.

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