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Living in Panama - The Complete Guide to Panama
Panama's #1 Seller!

Buyer’s Guide to Panama

by Sandra Snyder

Everyone who knows me knows that I always start out by saying Panama is a perfectly delightful place in which to live. It is also the most social place you will ever live. In fact, Panama has so much to offer, whether you are looking for a place with wonderful beaches, beautiful mountains, challenging rivers, an incredible collection of flora and fauna to enjoy, or social activities, Panama has it all. Finding out how that works for you is the challenge. So if Panama sounds like just the place you want to live, I offer the following advise before you pack up and move.

Come and visit. Come often and travel around the country. Some people think they want to live in the mountains only to find it is too isolated, too underdeveloped, or just not what they imagined. However, they may find that the city suits them perfectly or the coastal areas are inviting. Every area of Panama is different – the climate, the services available, and the local culture. You cannot know if you will be comfortable in any one area until you spend sometime in that area. Once you think you have found the place for you and your family, rent. Find an apartment or house and rent for a month, a season, or a year before you make a commitment to buy. I have friends that have lived here a lifetime and are still renting. There are advantages.

Rent before you commit to buy. Think of buying real estate in Panama the same way you would when purchasing jewelry or art. Years ago a jeweler gave me a very good piece of advise. While many jewelers will tell you that you are making an investment when you buy gemstones or expensive jewelry, the fact is, that if you decide to sell that investment at some future date, there may not be a market. He said buy jewelry because you love it, because it is worth the price to you that you have agreed to pay and because you are going to enjoy the purchase. Do not buy it with the idea of making a killing on the sale at some future date. I give you the same advise on Panama real estate. Traditionally, Panama real estate has no resale value. Ask any local. They own the first piece of property they ever purchased and not always because they want to, but because they cannot sell it. The same laws that look so friendly going into a purchase, work to your disadvantage when you go to sell. The major one of these disadvantages is the 20-year tax exemption and another is the preferential mortgage rate for new construction. Both these laws make selling older properties difficult. I will not say impossible but definitely difficult. Further, look around you, especially in the city, new buildings are going up daily and every one of them is competing for the same purchaser.

Bank at home. One of the suggestions I make to newcomers is to open a local bank account. After all, Panama is a major banking center. It is well worth the effort expended to get through the paperwork required in order to have the convenience of a local checking account. You can then pay your rent, telephone bill, buy groceries, and pay your club dues or any one of a dozen other things that will come up during the month. Transfer on a regular basis a convenient amount of money in order to meet these expenses but keep your money in your home country or wherever you have had it during your adult life. While the major Panama Banks are perfectly safe, they do not pay much in interest on deposits (2%). In fact, contrary to most savings account plans which encourage saving, the Panama system requires activity on a regular basis or the bank will access charges that will deplete your balance. In other words, if you deposit $1,000 in a savings account and expect it to stay in the bank and grow with interest and do not either make more deposits or withdrawals, the bank will charge a monthly fee and over time your $1,000 will disappear. Further, a variety of other investment options back home such as certificates of deposit or treasury bills will pay significantly more interest with less hassle.

Adequate financial resources. While the residency requirement for monthly income is $500 or $750 per month depending on the type of Visa you obtain, this is not adequate for any more than a very basic lifestyle. Panama is a bargain when it comes to many things – health care, food, and entertainment. However, electricity is expensive and housing prices vary based on what you are willing to spend. Keep in mind that a middle class Panamanian earns between $16,000 and $35,000 per year. For this he lives a nice lifestyle and so can you.

Health Care. Panama has excellent doctors, dentists and hospitals. You as an extranjero or foreigner are expected to pay for your care. The Panama health care system (CSS) is designed for employees who pay into the system through their jobs. Even Panamanians who can afford to do so use the private health care system and either have local insurance to cover expenses or pay out of pocket. Either way, health care here is incredibly inexpensive compared with other developed countries, especially the United States. Therefore, plan to pay through your own resources. Do not expect to find a government system here to cover you. In fact, do not even ask. The health care system here is so good and so inexpensive we do not want the insurance fiasco that exists in other parts of the world.

Retirement. If you are thinking of coming to Panama to retire, that is wonderful. Panama is a place that makes retirement fun. There are so many clubs, groups, activities, and other things to do that life will not be dull no matter what your interests. If you are thinking of doing a little work on the side do not. Retirement, jubilado, pensionado status means just that. You have adequate resources and you are not working to support yourself and taking a job from a local. If you want to come to Panama to open a business, work for a company or earn income from your labors, you need to apply for a different kind of Visa and meet those specific requirements.

Lastly, I suggest to you when coming to Panama leave at home your preconceived ideas and home cultural expectations. Come here with your eyes and ears open and experience what Panama has to offer. Do not expect everything to work like it did in your home country. Do not expect to change Panama to be like your home country. After all you came here looking for something different and Panama certainly is that. It is also a wonderful place to live as long as your understand what to expect.

© Sandra T. Snyder, August 2003
Relocation Specialist and Author of Living in Panama and other books.

First published Bajareque Times, December 2005


The International Book Fair 2009
Sandra will be available to autograph books and answer questions
August 19
through August 23, 9:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. Info

Gran Morrison will inaugurate Book Week with Panama Authors: Sandra Snyder, Rose Marie Tapia, Rafael Candanedo and Rosita Cordoba.
September 19, 2008, 4:00 p.m. at Gran Morrison El Dorado, El Dorado Mall.

Tuesday Morning Meeting
Sandra will share some of her experiences and provide some helpful hints for better living in Panama. Info
March 11, 2008

P.B.C. Person2Person
Sandra & David on the radio. Podcast
January, 2008



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