Things to know!
A tourist visa is not required for Canadian citizens to enter Panama, but a valid passport is necessary, which lets Canadian tourists stay in Panama for 180 days. During that time, tourists can submit a residency application through a Panamanian lawyer, who can also change the applicant’s legal status from tourist to residency applicant. There are many ways to qualify for residency, with varying lengths of stay associated with different types of residency applications. Temporary residency can be upgraded to permanent residency under certain conditions.
Popular Types of Residency:
- Panama Retired or Pensioned Visa
- Must receive a lifetime pension of at least US$1000 per month (with an extra US$250 per month for each dependant), which grants the applicant permanent residency
- Investing in Panamanian real estate worth US$100,000 lowers the monthly required pension amount to US$750 per month
- This visa grants many discounts and benefits to the pensioner
- Friendly Nations Visa
- Must be from one of 50 ‘friendly nations’ (including Canada) and make a Panamanian real estate investment of at least US$200,000 OR gain employment with a Panamanian company
- Both options grant two-year temporary residency, which can eventually be upgraded to permanent residency
- Digital Nomad Visa
- Allows foreign remote workers temporary residency in Panama for nine months, which can be extended for another nine months
- Must earn at least $36,000 a year from remote work for a company based outside of Panama
- Panama Reforestation Visa
- There are three options to qualify for this visa:
- Make an investment of US$80,000 in a government-certified reforestation program to be granted five-year temporary residency, OR
- Make an investment of US$100,000 in a government-certified reforestation program to be granted two-year temporary residency with the option to apply for permanent residency, OR
- Make an investment of US$350,000 in a government-certified reforestation program to be granted expedited permanent residency
- Qualified Investor Visa
- There are three options to qualify for this visa:
- Make a five-year real estate investment of US$300,000 (until October 2024, when the investment amount increases to $500,000), OR
- Invest US$500,000 in securities on the Panama stock exchange, OR
- Make a five-year fixed term banking deposit of US$750,000 with a Panamanian bank
- Each option grants the applicant permanent residency with the option to apply for citizenship after five years
- Panama Business Investor Visa
- Must invest at least US$160,000 in a new or existing Panamanian business
- Must create at least five full-time jobs for Panamanian employees, who must be paid at least minimum wage and be registered with Social Security
- Grants the applicant two-year temporary residency
- Note that some businesses are reserved for Panamanian citizens
Panama is one of the safest countries in Latin America. It is one of two Latin American countries to have abolished its standing army, the other being Costa Rica. However, certain regions of Panama are safer than others. Colón should be avoided due to high levels of crime. Embassies recommend that travellers avoid Darién province, which is near the Panama-Colombia border, due to the presence of Colombian paramilitary groups and drug trafficking operations.
General safety advice includes:
- Take reasonable precautions to avoid pickpockets
- Both of Panama’s coasts have riptides and strong currents without posted warnings or lifeguards
- Panama experiences earthquakes, so it is important to know what to do in case of such a disaster
Panama does not have universal healthcare. Instead, it has a public healthcare system that is split into two branches, and a private healthcare system. The first branch is the Social Security healthcare system, which is run and funded by the Social Security System (CSS). CSS hospitals and clinics are specifically for working people who are paying into social security through their employers. The second branch is the public healthcare system, run and funded by the Ministry of Health (MINSA), which is available to anyone. Both types of public healthcare facilities are low-cost for their patients, but also tend to have long wait times, a lack of privacy, and fewer staff.
Private healthcare facilities are more expensive than public ones, as they provide shorter wait times, more access to English-speaking doctors, and more treatment choices. However, they are still not as costly as North American healthcare.
- International health insurance is recommended when travelling or living in Panama
- Most expats use the private healthcare system in Panama
- Panama is known for low-cost medical procedures, making it a popular location for medical tourism, especially dental work
- Panama City and David both offer excellent access to healthcare; however, more rural areas tend to have limited resources
Panama has a tropical maritime climate, which means warm weather year-round with dry and rainy seasons. Summer, the dry season, goes from mid-December to mid-April, while winter, the rainy season, runs from mid-April to mid-December. The average daytime temperature is around 30°C at sea level, but cooler at higher elevations.
- The rainy season usually sees an hour or two of thunderstorms in the afternoon, often with sunny weather before and after
- The Pacific (south) coast of Panama follows the rainy season/dry season pattern closely, whereas the Caribbean (north) coast is rainier throughout the year
- Panama is outside of the hurricane belt, but hurricanes can influence its weather
- Panama has many microclimates so daily weather can vary from neighbourhood to neighbourhood
Panama is a country with a long and fascinating history, which also hosts a unique blend of North and South American flora and fauna. The main types of activities available for tourists in Panama are cultural or nature-based.
- Bocas del Toro – surfing, snorkelling, coral reefs, beaches, nightlife
- Panama City – Panama Canal visitor centre, museums, theatres, restaurants
- Boquete – hiking, birdwatching, coffee tours, wildlife spotting
Panama is divided into ten provinces and six semi-autonomous Indigenous regions called comarcas. The provinces are, roughly from west to east: Bocas del Toro, Chiriquí, Veraguas, Herrera, Los Santos, Coclé, Colón, Panama Oeste, Panama, and Darién. The provincial-level comarcas are Naso Tjër Di, Ngäbe-Buglé, Guna Yala, and Embera-Wounaan, with municipal-level comarcas Madugandí and Wargandí. The most developed provinces are Panama and Panama Oeste, which contain Panama’s largest city, Panama City.
Expatriates (expats) live in all sorts of towns across Panama, but there are areas that tend to attract more of them. The most popular places for expats to live in Panama are Boquete, a lush, cool highlands town with plenty to do; Panama City, a cosmopolitan hub of culture and activity; and the Coronado beaches area, a string of welcoming communities along the beautiful Pacific coast. All of these locations have long-established expat communities. Other well-known areas include El Valle de Anton (a lush town near Panama City), Pedasi (a quiet little beach town), Volcan (the smaller, quieter Boquete), and Bocas del Toro (a lively beach province). Each has its own charms and unique surroundings.
Panama has a modern transportation system, especially in its major cities. The main way of getting around in cities and throughout the country is by bus, but Panama also has domestic flights, taxis, Uber, private shuttles, and car rentals.
- The main roads in Panama are paved, but not always well-maintained or well-lit, and rural roads often are not paved
- Traffic in Panama’s major cities is very heavy and drivers are aggressive
- Official licensed taxis are yellow and do not have meters; instead, the passenger and driver agree on a price before the ride
Panama’s food scene is an exciting up-and-coming one in the international arena, especially in the hub of Panama City. The country is home to restaurants of many kinds, from five-star gourmet eateries to cozy local places called fondas that serve quick, traditional Panamanian meals. Panamanian cuisine is influenced by a variety of traditions, from Spanish to African to Central American Indigenous ingredients and methods. But there are also many restaurants to satisfy international tastes, from Italian to Chinese to American fast food restaurants.
Panama offers a wide range of hotels, both in experience and in price. There are all-inclusive beach resorts, ecolodges, Airbnbs, hostels for budget-conscious travellers, chain hotels, B&Bs, boutique hotels, and more. Accommodation tends to fill up quickly in the tourist high season (December to April), and prices also rise to meet with demand. There is a 10% tax on hotels, which may or may not be included with the listed price.
The top five Panamanian residential building companies by sales revenue are Sociedad Urbanizadora del Caribe, Ingenieria R-M, Inmobiliaria Cielo Azul, R. G. Hotels, and Consorcio HPC Contratas P&V.
It is possible to buy beachfront or oceanfront property in Panama. However, this comes with a few caveats. Beaches and water are public property in Panama, with few exceptions. Legally, there must be a way for the public to access the beach and ocean, but this law is variably enforced.
There are three different types of property in Panama: titled, rights of possession (ROP), and concession. Similar to the situation in Canada, titled property has a property identification number that is registered in the Panamanian government’s Public Registry, indicating the legal owner of the property and the property’s location. Only a small amount of oceanfront land is titled.
Most coastal land is ROP property, which is more complicated. Essentially, ownership of this property is based on who is occupying and using it. There are no property identification numbers for ROP property, which can lead to confusion and disputes as to who actually owns the property. The benefit of buying ROP property is that it is much cheaper than titled property and there are no annual property taxes.
Finally, there is concession property. Concessions are essentially leases from the government for renewable periods of time, usually 20 years, meaning that the land will still be owned by the government. Concessions are granted with conditions that must be met, usually a specific development project that must be built, such as a hotel or a marina. This type of land is mostly in coastal areas.
Real Estate Prices
Real estate prices in Panama depend heavily on location, though overall, prices tend to be much lower than equivalent housing in North America. Panama City, Coronado, and El Valle de Anton are more expensive than Boquete, which is more expensive than Volcan, Pedasi, and Bocas del Toro.
A North American-style house will usually start at around US$350,000, while Panamanian-style houses start around US$120,000.
Rental prices usually start around US$700 per month, though they will be about US$200 lower in small towns unpopulated by expats and certain regions like Bocas del Toro. As an example, rent for a two-bedroom condominium will cost around US$1100-1500 per month in the centre of Panama City, US$650-1200 in Boquete, and US$1100-1800 per month in Coronado.
There are always bargains to be found, and prices will go higher depending on the quality of finishings used and where the property is located.
There is so much for expats to explore in Panama!
Swimming, snorkelling, sport fishing, and scuba diving are all available around the coastlines. Panama has plenty of hiking trails that allow anyone to enjoy the gorgeous scenery. There is extraordinary biodiversity, so birdwatching is a delight. And of course, both coasts boast beautiful beaches to relax on.
Panama has over a dozen golf courses scattered throughout the country, a number of which are designed by famous names in the golf world like Jack Nicklaus and Tom Fazio. Most of these are around Panama City and along the Pacific coast. Many of the courses are attached to a hotel or resort, and some are private, requiring membership.
Tennis courts are found predominantly in Panama City, but also in Coronado, Boquete, and Chitre. Pickleball is gaining popularity and can be found in Coronado, the nearby towns of Gorgona and Chame, Boquete, Volcan, and Panama City.
Additionally, for women over 55 and men over 60, there are 50% discounts on recreation and entertainment, like sports events, movies, and plays.
There are many gated communities in Panama and more are being built. Most larger towns and cities, including Panama City, Boquete, the Coronado area, El Valle de Anton, and Volcan, have gated communities. Most small towns do not have gated communities, except in places where expats have settled. The only place popular with expats that has very few gated communities is Bocas del Toro.
Many condominiums function as their own gated communities, with security to prevent intruders. Some gated communities have their own private amenities, such as parks, pools, tennis courts, 24-hour security, and more. If the gated community is attached to a resort, the resort’s amenities are often accessible to the members of the gated community. Being part of a gated community generally means paying monthly homeowner association fees, which can vary in price.
Jobs & Industries
Panama has a stable, growing economy and its currency is tied to the US dollar. The largest industry in Panama is the service industry, which includes operating the Panama Canal, commerce, insurance, and tourism, with many multinational companies managing local branches.
Panama has a number of special economic zones, such as the Colón Free Trade Zone and the City of Knowledge, which are meant to attract businesses and investors with tax incentives.
However, some jobs in Panama are restricted for Panamanians only, such as lawyer, retail worker or retail business owner, and medical professions. Additionally, Panamanian companies’ employees must be 90% Panamanian citizens.
Despite this, there are plenty of opportunities for expats to earn income in Panama.
Popular jobs for expats in Panama include:
- English teacher
- Business owner
- Online freelancer
- Real estate agent/consultant
- Call centre agent
Wages for the average worker in Panama tend to be much lower than North American standards, with minimum wage around US$550 per month and an average professional salary around US$1200-1800 per month. However, working for a multinational company would be more likely to ensure an income closer to North American standards.
Income earned outside of Panama is not taxed by the Panamanian government, so working remotely for a foreign company or freelancing online is a very viable option, especially with the new Digital Nomad Visa.