Living In Panama: The Pros and Cons

Panama is without a doubt one of the world’s top expat destinations thanks to its solid infrastructure and first class amenities. From lush mountains, beautiful beaches to a rich biodiversity, Panama is indeed an excellent living or retirement haven when it comes to value and variety. With less money, you can buy a lot of luxury whether you are living on a pension or not. However, like any country, there are some pros and cons to consider before settling down in Panama. If you are contemplating living or retiring in Panama, we have compiled a list of living in Panama pros and cons to help with your decision.

And here is a switch, we are starting with the Cons. Panama has really been pumped up in the media in the last years, with articles in all the major news sources putting Panama as the #1 retirement destination to Panama being listing #1 for happiness in the Gallup 2019 Global Emotions Report, and even on this blog, we tend to pump up the positive, as Oscar and I love it so much here.

If you are making the decision to move to or retire in Panama, it is important that you look at each of these cons, to see if they are something that you can live with.

Living In Panama: The Pros and Cons

1. The Weather is Hot and Humid

For some of you, that is why you are moving here, the sit on a beach 12 months of the year, and you are looking for that heat all year round. For others it may be a bit much, 30° C (86°F) plus every day of the year with humidity lows of 40 – 50% in the dry season to 80 – 90% in the rainy season.

Panama is in the rain forest and receives 60 – 140 inches of rain annual, depending on where you live. That sounds like a lot, but remember, most of the rains come in heavy 1 – 2 hour downpours, late afternoon, only in October and November will you see rain every day.

2. A Weaker Infrastructure then North America and Europe

Many of the sidewalks around panama are in bad shape, big holes, crumbling concrete and very unlevel. This is par for the smaller centers around Panama, but even in the City, there is no “pedestrians have the right of way” rules in Panama, crossing a major street in the city, can be very challenging, even if there is a crosswalk, which is unusual, you do not have the right of way.

Living In Panama: The Pros and Cons

Both the electrical grid and water grid are not in very good shape. Expect power outages, maybe one a week, especially in rural areas. Usually these outage as short lived, but I have been through some 12 – 24 hours one. And the water, the same thing. In the smaller communities, you will see on the sides of the roads, white pvc piping exposed, which are the homes waterlines, and there are a lot of breakages, and leaks which can lead to low water pressure, or complete outages.

You will see many homes with back up water tanks, with pumps to maintain strong water flow, and we highly recommend when renting your first place, look for one with a back up water system, which is very popular in Panama. This will eliminate any water problems for you. For the electrical problems, you can solve this problem with battery backups or a generator.

3. Nothing Move Fast in Panama

There is a real laid back atmosphere in panama, with it’s population and service sector, and especially in government. A great example, is waiting in line at the bank. If you go anywhere near a payday, you will be spending a lot of time there. What I do notice though, is the extreme patience of the Panamanian people, they just wait and do not complain. In government offices, doing things like renewing a drivers license, going through the immigration process, everything takes time, way more time than you think it should, and the procedures, many of them you will find really silly, but that is the way it is done here, and you cannot change it, you will need a lot of patience.

 

Living In Panama: The Pros and Cons
Here is a great example. Last month I needed to go renew my drivers license. I went in the office to the front desk, gave them my license and national ID card, and I was told to sit. In about 15 minutes, I hear my name, was called to a booth, where they did a quick eye test and confirmed my information, then I was told to go sit. About 15 minutes later, I hear my name again and I am brought into a room, for a hearing test. When that was over, I was told to go sit. More time, I am called up to the booth again, and handed some paperwork, and told to go to the front of the office and pay at the “Caja”. So I waited in line there, paid, then I was giving more paperwork, and told to go sit. Well apparently I was sitting in the worn place, and was told to go sit at the back of the building, so I did, and waited. All this time, all I was thinking about were the pros of living in Panama, which we will get to soon. My name is called again, I go to a window, where the lady has my new license, and I am asked to sign something, I do and she looks at it, and my National ID, and says “No”. This is all happening in Spanish, and my level of Spanish in not perfect, but I realize what he is saying that my signature, did no exactly match my National ID Card, so I do it again . . “No” . 3 more times, finally, I am done! So now I am in the back of the building, to leave I go past the hearing room, past the booth, the front desk, then back at the Caja, and there is the front door, out I go, no need to come back for 4 years, so that part was a pro!
4. Name Brand Product Availability
We have no Walmart. Sorry Walmart fans 🙂 Panama’s total population is 4 million people, which in a country that small, you will not have as much diverse products and brands in your stores. It is just not financially possible for the store owners to do that. So if you have a favorite brand, you may have to look at switching. And imported brands are more expensive than local brands of course. You still have the option for ordering from Amazon, and using a freight forwarded to get your order here, but that will cost you $4 – $5 per pound.
Living In Panama: The Pros and Cons
5. Panama is a Spanish Country
In the bigger expat communities, you will get by with out know Spanish, but try to get something done on a government level, like getting you drivers license, visiting city hall, venturing off into the country for a mini vacation, you will need to know some Spanish. Even in the grocery store, it is much better to be able to ask “¿Dónde está la leche?”, and don’t forget to say “gracias” and “por favor”, it will go a long way here. Take some lessons, join a Spanish class here, or just learn basic words so you have some Spanish vocabulary.
OK, those are some negatives, now below are the positive, so you can determine if the positives outweigh the negatives.
Living In Panama: The Pros and Cons
1. Retirement benefits
Panama offers excellent programs for retirees including those from other countries aimed at appreciating their many years of meritorious service. Panama has a combination of extremely effective retirement plans which help lower the cost of living with discounts on man services.. The Panama Pensionado Visa for instance is one of a kind world over. It allows people from other countries receiving a monthly lifetime pension of $1000 or more to receive permanent residency and retire in Panama. For a couple the total for both is $1200 a month in pension income. So not only do you get his permanent residency visa, you now receive pensionado discounts on many of your daily expenses, the list is below.
  • One-time Duty tax exemption for household goods up to a total of $10,000.
  • Duty exemption for importing a new car every two years.
  • 50% off entertainment anywhere in the country (movies, concerts, sports)
  • 30% off bus, boat, and train fares
  • 25% off airline tickets
  • 50% off hotel stays from Monday through Thursday
  • 30% off hotel stays from Friday through Sunday
  • 25% off at restaurants
  • 15% off at fast-food restaurants
  • 15% off hospital bills (if no insurance applies)
  • 10% off prescription medicines
  • 20% off medical consultations
  • 15% off dental and eye exams
  • 20% off professional and technical services
  • 50% reduction in closing costs for home loans
  • 25% discounts on utility bills
  • 15% off loans made in your name
  • 1% less on home mortgages for homes used for personal residence
Living In Panama: The Pros and Cons
2. Affordable Healthcare

Panama provides one of the best healthcare delivery systems so if you intend to move to panama, access to high-quality healthcare will not be a challenge. Panama has both private and public healthcare systems but most expats opt for private facilities where they can get better services. Even in these private facilities, medical costs are still relatively low.

Some expats get private health insurance, some decide to self-insure, some a combination of both, you will have to decide what is best for you. I will give you a personal example. I did a combination of private insurance and self-insurance, let me explain. I am a 54 year old male, and I selected a plan with $1,000,000 full coverage, with a $1,000 deductible in Central America and Colombia, and $10,000 deductible elsewhere in the world. My monthly health insurance costs $108.

Basic medical care in Panama is very inexpensive, like seeing a Doctor, $12, blood tests, $10, x ray, $15, so some people decide to self insure the small stuff and just carry “disaster type” insurance, which will cover accidents, heart attack, major stuff. There are many options in health insurance in Panama, so know the right companies and plans is very important, and on our Retire in Panama Tours, we will introduce you to the right people, so you can make the right decisions.

3. Low cost of living
There is a lot of value and variety in Panama when it comes to the cost of living. I personally know expats that live on monthly budgets from $1,000 to $10,000. It is also relatively cheap to rent a home in Panama especially in the rural areas where you will find very friendly locals who are ready to assist you with everything you may need.
Check out the chart below, for a single person, the cost of living in 3 different types of communities. For a couple, double the last 4 lines.
Living In Panama: The Pros and Cons
4. Political and economic stability
Panama has enjoyed a good level of political and economic stability in the past few years. Regardless of the place you choose to move to, there is an adequate supply of social amenities like potable drinking water, reliable power supply, high-speed internet connection as well as improved healthcare systems and social centers.
Living In Panama: The Pros and Cons
Panama has boasted the strongest economy in Latin America, and one of the strongest in the world, over the last 10 years, with a GDP growth of between 4 and 12 percent.
In Panama you do not see the divisive “right” and “left” in political parties, and the population in general, like you do in North America and Europe. The majority of political parties in Panama are Business centered parties, we just recently had a federal election in panama in May, and what I enjoyed, was the 60 day limit before the election on any campaigning, and the weekend of the election, was like holidays, with family and friends getting together for social gatherings, heading out to vote, and just a party like atmosphere, as they elect their new president to lead the country for the next 5 years.
5. The Weather

I know you saying, I had the weather as a con in Panama, well that depends on the person. Panama’s tropical, rain forest climate, to many is great. Warm temperatures every day of the year, and in the rainy season, an eternal spring like climate that many could ask for nothing more.

And also, in the country you can chose your climate for one extreme to the other. If you like it hot and dryer, you have the area of the Azuero Peninsula with the communities of Chitré, Los Tablas and Pedasí, where you have warm temperatures, ocean front, and the driest area of Panama. Or, you can move up to the mountains in towns like Valle de Anton, Santa Fe or Boquete, and get cool temperatures, and the eternal spring like rains.
Then you have the micro climates, that you find especially up in the mountains,. In my town of Boquete, there are 10 different micro climates, that vary quite a bit, for you to choose from.

So now it is your time to decide, after reading about living in Panama pros and cons, if the pros out weight the cons, and the best way to do this is to come on one of our Retire in Panama Tours, and see for yourself. Most people that I know that have moved here, the cons really disappear in a few short months and they do not really think about them, they adapt. The pros for them are just to strong to even care about the cons.

That being said, this is not true for everyone, I have seen couples sell everything they have back in their home country, move here, buy, and within a year of two, they cannot adapt, the cons are just too much for them, for what ever reason, so they end up moving back, which was a very costly move for them. That shows the importance of taking a relocation tour before making any decision on a move, so you will be able to make an informed decision.

It’s more than a tour . . it’s an experience.