Are you thinking about living in Panama for retirement, relocation, or just a new adventure in life? If so, we’re sure you have lots of questions. Living in Panama can be a pleasurable, educational, and enriching experience for people from all walks of life, at all ages and income levels. Before you move, however, it’s important to get a good lay of the land and its people. We highly recommend you visit Panama for at least a few weeks before fully committing to move there. Before you come, however, it’s still very important to do some research first to prepare. To help you get to know how to get the most out of living in Panama, here are our top 20 tips.
1. Be patient.
Panama is a country that is rich in its tropical roots, Caribbean culture, and low-key lifestyle. This is a big reason people site for their pleasure in living in Panama. It comes, however, with a cost. This cost is best described as a slower, less urgent pattern in many aspects of life. If you have patience, you’ll find that the pace will make you feel better, live healthier, and worry less. Without patience though, you could add unnecessary stress to your routine. Relax, and enjoy the ride!
2. Make backup plans.
There are lots of factors in day-to-day life while living in Panama that could make you pivot on a dime when it comes to planning. Mother nature is a factor, traffic, and the logistics of how many of the country’s services work can cause delays or changes. If you make backup plans for errands, personal activities, or even your routes to get around in the car, you’ll find life goes by much smoother in Panama. Most of the time, you won’t need to deviate from your original plan, but for the times that you do, a backup will help tremendously.
3. Adjust yourself to tropical weather.
Panama is a tropical country with a hot climate that fluctuates between relatively dry, moderately humid, and highly humid. This means no winters, no need to bundle up at any point of the year, and no need for heating. It also means you must acclimate yourself to both heat and humidity. Of course, in Panama’s mountains, it is less hot and humid, but it is still tropical, and preparing yourself for this is still crucial. The warm weather is very enjoyable if you stay hydrated, measure your time in direct sunlight, and get lots of ventilation and air into your home.
4. Prepare your banking and finances.
As a tourist, or perhaps someone who spends only a month or two in Panama, it’s OK to exclusively use your bank account from your home country to make charges and get cash. If you are planning on living in Panama, however, we highly recommend getting a local bank account. If you keep your native country bank account open as well, it’s important to communicate with them about your spending in Panama. Prepare your finances and your financial institutions before moving to Panama, so you don’t run into any unexpected hiccups there once you’ve moved.
5. Make sure your visas are in order.
Don’t try to “wing it” when it comes to Panama visas. Consult a reputable Panama attorney before living in Panama. Get your visa paperwork processing as soon as possible. Meet all local governments and attorney deadlines. Maintain all of the prerequisites for good visa standing while living in Panama, or visiting in Panama. The cost of not doing any of these is tremendous and never worth the risk.
6. Learn Spanish
Though many people in Panama’s business and hospitality community speak English, as do many of its expats and local citizens, it’s important to learn Spanish while there. Spanish is the official language of Panama, and is used everywhere. Learning Spanish will endear you more to the local culture, allow you more access to information, make you more self-sufficient, and help you make friends. Plus, learning a new language can be a fun and rewarding educational experience that will keep your mind active!
7. Be actively social in the community.
Moving to a new country can be intimidating, and for many expats, the cure to this is being socially active. Panama has a great community of other expats, and of course, amazing locals. Go out and make friends with them! There are social groups and events for people of every age and interest, and you’ll find that Panamanians are more than welcoming to newcomers who want to learn about them and their culture. Becoming actively social in your new community will help you build indelible bonds and roots there which will make living in Panama the best decision you have ever made.
8. Incorporate local food and drinks into your diet.
Panama is famous for its wide variety of foods and drinks, and if you plan on living in Panama, you owe it to yourself to try as many as you can. Avoid shopping for the exact same imported goods you had from home and try to expand your tastes. Locally-grown produce and tropical fruits are delicious, cheap, and abundant. Local fish and game are plentiful and creatively cooked. Shopping for and consuming local food and drinks not only helps the economy but can also save you thousands each year. Jump right in and taste for yourself. We promise you won’t regret it.
9. Don’t bring your “baggage” with you.
When some people move to a new country, they do so with a chip on their shoulder. This can be out of frustration with their home country, financial woes, or the emotional stress of such a big change. We’re here to tell you that bringing your stress with you to a new place will only exacerbate the issue. Living in Panama is all about letting go of that bad energy, being happy, and creating a life that is emotionally bountiful. Bring your real baggage, not your emotional baggage, and enjoy the ride.
10. Get a good lawyer.
This should go without saying, but it’s important to re-emphasize. Without a good lawyer, you run the risk of many bureaucratic headaches both before and while you’re living in Panama. When you hire a good Panama lawyer, you will get accountability when it comes to filing with the government. You will have safety, as far as due diligence towards your most valuable files and assets. You will be able to focus on the more enjoyable parts of moving to Panama, with far less stress. Get a good lawyer, and do it before you move to make sure all your ducks are in a row ahead of time.
11. Prepare for long commutes and traffic.
Panama is a country that is mostly developed in clusters. What this means is that cities and rural areas tend to be connected by fewer roads than the demand to use them. This is a sign of growth, which is a good thing. It’s also a sign of traffic. Panama City and it suburbs can have brutal traffic at peak times, and you need to be aware of this while living in Panama. You’ll also need to plan ahead for it if you need to commute or travel regularly by vehicle. Plan your routes well, time as well as you can, and be patient. That’s the best you can do.
12. Visit different parts of the country.
Panama is a small country, but it has a surprisingly large list of fun places to see and stay in. Don’t get stuck in just one town or city while living in Panama, go out and explore. You can see various parts of the country by bus, private care, or even plane. Try to check out the capital city (if you don’t live there), the beaches, the mountains, and some of Panama’s incredible islands. Domestic tourism tends to be low cost, and with so much geographic diversity in such little space, you’ll be shocked at just how much of the country you can see in just a little time.
13. Minimize complaints.
Unlike many other countries, Panama is a place where culturally speaking, complaints aren’t always welcomed. People living in Panama enjoy a happy, chill pace in life that is appealing to them, and to foreigners who move there. Keep that alive by not contributing to negativity and complaints when possible. Of course, there are times where complaints are valid, and any Panamanian will feel the same. However, as a new resident, try to go with the flow as much as possible, and turn complaints into constructive feedback if need be.
14. Stay up to date with local news.
The internet has changed how we all consume information, and for those living abroad, their information sources tend to stick with their old countries. By staying up to date with local news, however, you can get to know Panama better, and learn more about issues facing both you and locals as well. Staying up to date with local events and issues is also a great conversation starter and a way to practice your Spanish if you’re learning and still need more practice.
15. Reduce your carbon footprint.
This should be a tip for living anywhere, but it’s worth mentioning for Panama because of how valuable the ecosystem is there. Panama has one of the most diverse ecosystems on earth, and is a country dominated by oceans, green space, and flora/fauna. If you actively try to reduce your daily carbon footprint while living in Panama, you are doing your world and your community a great favor. Change starts with us, and leading by example is a huge asset for anyone who deliberately lives with ecological responsibility in mind.
16. Don’t rush things that don’t need to be rushed.
As mentioned a few times in this blog post already, Panama moves at a different pace than the United States, Canada, and even parts of Europe. This isn’t a bad or a good thing, but just a way of life while living in Panama. Learn how to not rush things like food, outdoor activities, social events, or even the time it takes to get somewhere. Once you’ve learned this, you’ll learn how to focus on time and what’s important in a way that Panama move easier with. Ultimately, it will make your experience that much better.
17. Explore other nearby countries.
Living in Panama doesn’t mean you can’t explore outside of Panama, does it? Of course not! Panama has an incredible geographic location, and living there will give you the opportunity to reach Central America, South America, North America, and the Caribbean within just a few hours by plane or less. Take the time each year to explore some of Panama’s neighbors as a tourist. It’s a healthy experience that will give you a deeper understanding of the region, and put a lot into perspective as you go about your new journey living in Panama.
18. Carry cash with you.
When living in Panama, it’s always a good idea to carry some cash on you for daily purchases. Of course, there are thousands of merchants who accept credit and debit cards in Panama. There are also a lot who don’t. For purchases of certain market items, particularly in rural areas, cash is your only option. Also, many small vendors may not have an adequate connection or errors with card reading machines. Carrying cash as either a backup or as a primary purchasing method for smaller things is always a good idea, and you’ll never have an issue in payment that way.
19. Give back.
If you survey many of the expats living in Panama about charity, you’ll find that most of them participate in giving back to their new communities in some form. This doesn’t necessarily mean monetary donations, either. Many expats find it rewarding to volunteer time and money to causes that help build and uplift people and projects that help their community. Locals appreciate it, and it’s a great way to participate and engrain yourself as part of the country. Giving back is rewarding, it doesn’t need to cost much (or any) money, and you will be all the better for doing it.
20. Have fun!
Yes, this is a simple tip but one of the most important ones. While living in Panama, always remember to HAVE FUN! Life is precious, and part of the Panamanian experience is to enjoy the little things in life and enjoy them to the fullest. Whether you’re there for retirement, working, investing, or just finding your path, you’ll do better if you have fun in the process. Life in Panama is good, and the more you can enrich your experience with a fun, positive attitude, the more valuable that experience will be.
For more info, or to reach out with any questions, comments, or concerns, contact POLS Attorneys here.