Where Should I Live In Panama?

This question comes up again and again. “Where should I chose to live in Panama?” Some will say that Panama City is too crowded. Some will say that Panama City is perfect because you can do and find anything you want.

Some will say, “No El Valle is the only place to live.” Other’s may say that Coronado offers me the beach and closeness to Panama City. Some would not live anyplace other that Bocas. Still others will promote Boquete or Volcan. Some will say that David offers a lot and is more tranquil than Panama City.

Still others will say, somewhere between Boquete and David, because David is too hot and Boquete or Volcan are too cold.

Some will say, “It has to be a gated community.” Others may tell you that integrating with the Panamanian community with “real people” is better.

How much do you understand about construction in Panama? Are you construction savvy? Do you speak Spanish? How do you know who is a reputable builder and which one’s aren’t? Can you recognize a good one by talking to him? Can you believe what you are being told?

You can get any answer you want, to support what ever decision you subconsciously may have already made.

I have spent a lot of time in Panama City. I have lived in Boquete and I visited Volcan many times. I currently live in David. I firmly believe that the question, “Where should I live in Panama?” can not be answered by someone other than you.

Many people are going to give you answers and spin, because they have some vested interest in the decision you may make. Many people will steer you toward the decision they made. I think a lot of time that is because they are still trying to convince themselves that they did the right thing.

I think a better way is to make a list of the things you require to be happy.

  • Are you wanting a six month a year diversion and plan to spend the other six months somewhere else?
  • Are you interested in going bowling or to current movies?
  • Do you want a view of the ocean?
  • Which ocean?
  • How close to the ocean?
  • Do you have special health considerations?
  • Why Panama in the first place? Was it some article in International Living that was probably paid for to be written?
  • What is too hot?
  • What is too cold.
  • How much is too much rain.
  • Can you survive a day without electricity?
  • How about a day or two or three without water?
  • Is cost a factor?

Only you can make your list. Allowing someone else’s list to influence your decision is crazy. If you move to any place in Panama, without really thinking it through, it may result in an Aw Shit decision in hindsight.

I know people that are happy living in almost all of the areas in Panama. Likewise, I know some people that have decided they made a mistake. Some even decided to move back to where they moved from in less than two years.

If you are very wealthy and this is just going to be a secondary home, in a foreign country, then you have very little at risk. If you are a person who can’t afford to make a mistake, then don’t rush into moving anyplace without trying it out. A good carpenter will measure twice before making a cut. If you were buying a car, you wouldn’t buy it without driving it. You should be even more careful when it comes to moving into a foreign country with a different culture than you are accustomed to.

I love Panama. It is the best move I ever made. I get up each day thinking this day is going to be better than yesterday. I would just like for all people, that move here, to be able to make the same statements after they have been here for as long as I have.

57 thoughts on “Where Should I Live In Panama?

  1. We, too, love Panama. After three years we wouldn’t think of living anywhere else. It’s home. We take great joy in our surroundings – the people, the culture, the varied climates and scenery. Yes, there are some blemishes, but without them life would probably be nirvana… and extremely boring. You learn as you go, and for us the key to our acclimation is respect. If you give it, you will get it. If you don’t, life can be extremely miserable. Understanding and respecting the individuality and customs of others goes a long way to making any differences resolvable. Don Ray, that respect is very evident in your descriptions and depictions of your life here. Thanks.

  2. I am sure it is a difficult decision especially when it comes to establish yourself in a different country. I am the opposite, grew up in Panama and migrated to USA – Florida back in the 80’s. Miss certain things from Panama but to be honest you get used to this, this is a country that if you do your part it will treat you nice and you can have, sometimes, things that if I would’ve stayed in Panama, not sure I would’ve have. Nevertheless, Panama has alot to offer for the ones who like Don says don’t mind certain attributes that as a third world country you get.

  3. Hi Rolando. Thanks for taking the time to leave a comment. Life is a journey. It is how we make the journey that leaves us with something to remember that is good or unpleasant.

  4. I totally agree with Rolando. I have adopted US as my new country since I have been able to pursue my graduate studies here, things that I would never be able to do in my country; however, I still miss my get togethers with my friends on Friday night or the party were everybody was invited, even the friends of my friends. Anyhow, I will go back home someday. Enjoy it now.
    Juan

  5. Hi Juan. Thanks for dropping in and leaving a comment. No matter when one goes, there is never any place like our original home.

  6. Don Ray:
    Again your words are full of knowledge. Also you are referring to your adoptive Country very respectfully. I appreciate that, as a chiricano living in US. As Rolando and Juan above, I migrated here for professional reasons in early 90’s and I have adapted to my new “home” (California). They are many things from David and Panama I miss, but I made a decision to live in US and I have made the best of that decision.
    Again I thank you for your honesty, for your respect, and for your appreciation for your adoptive Country. And specially thank you for trying to integrate to the culture and the people.
    Jaime (CA)

  7. Hi Timothy. You are correct. That is why I think people should try it out before they spend a fortune moving and then realize that they have made a mistake.

  8. Don..
    Where should one live in Panama?
    Easy: Costa Rica!!!

    LOL! Just kidding. We really like Panama and if I could find a house with 10 or 20 acres somewhere near Cordillera or Cuesta de Piedra.. We just might do it! But now they’re fixing up the Cordillera road (just south of Volcan) and the shockingly high land prices will probably pole vault into the second ring of Saturn. Plus the US Dollar is just getting killed which may appeal to Europeans even more now since their euros can buy more turf adding further upward pressure to land prices!… Ack! No easy way out!

  9. Hi
    I hit your blog by accident and I would like to add some comments based on my 4 years of living in Bocas del TORRO and the construction of my holelito.

    All of what you said is true.

    But you always forget about other options than Panama city and David.

    Before making such a decision someone should visit Panama including Bocas and STAY for at least 3 month in the location they select before making a decision.

    Only then a person will know if happiness is waiting at the next corner

    asta luego

    Richard

  10. Well a different tune. I have lived in Panama in Chiriqui for 3 years and I can’t wait to leave. The only plus for me in Panama are the people they are great. Everything else is downhill and way to much rain is on the top of the list.

    This is why it is so important to visit first before you move.

    However there are a bunch of us leaving and we all have around 3 years in. 3 years seems to be the magic number. With the dollar falling, everything costs more now and the real estate which was a good value 3 years ago all nut disappeared. Now you pay 1st world prices to live in a 3rd world place. I will miss the people though.

  11. I have lived here 5 years, so the 3 year limit didn’t effect me. Sorry it didn’t work out for you. I hope you will find some place on this planet that you like. It is often said there are only two good places to live (the place you left and the place you are moving to). It is a shame when people spend their whole life searching for that special place and only stop in their final resting place.

  12. Lots of key questions raised in your excellent opening article, Don.

    The climate was my primary focus when I started my big search across this beautiful planet, many years ago. But I quickly started to appreciate that there was a lot more to it than finding ideal temps. Little things like earthquakes, hurricanes, monsoons, political stability, to name but a few, quickly came to the fore.

    Now having settled on Panama, the big issue is where to locate to. I was originally drawn by sites like escapeartist and viviun, to those seemingly ideal year round spring-like climates up in the mountains. But the more I spoke with people up there, the more i realised that there are issues up there too.

    I guess what I am trying to say is that the reality has been, for me, based on years of research, that there genuinely is no total paradise on earth. There will always have to be compromises made, to some degree or other.

    I’m choosing to live in the rural mountains, close to the pan american highway, some 30 minutes from the city. There have been many compromises. But I’ve tried to choose a line of best fit.

    Now I’ve gotta find a builder. Yikes.

  13. As you say, Sunshine, there are compromises in all choices. One can only do the best job they can in evaluating the +’s and -‘s to not have too many surprises after the decision is made.

    Even with the best of investigation, things will be missed, but at least the major show stoppers should have been taken care of.

    Good luck on your builder search.

  14. That’s it, Don. One can only do so much research. After that, hopefully most potential surprises will have been taken care of.

    Thanks for the kind words re finding a builder. I’m slightly terrified on this score – what with a strange country, strange language, different culture, different procedures, etc. One hears many tales of woe. It is all too easy to be taken for a ride re money/costs for building.

  15. There are good builders out ther. You just have to check reference and pay for performance. Don’t pay in advance for other than materials and part of the labor. Have a contract drawn up that protects your rights and not the builder’s. Keep track of all changes caused by the builder so that they are his expense and not yours.

  16. Thanks for the tips. I read, a while back, a very good archived (in the files section)article by Susan (I forget her surname) on the yahoo group – panama forum. She listed what one should do when getting building work done…..contract contents, advice, always having the plans kept on-site at all times, etc.

    I stumbled upon a superb gringo site a few weeks ago. They (gringo couple originally from USA) have been more or less keeping an online monthly diary of their house project, since they moved down in 2005. And each month has picture gallery/ies. Superb site and the best I have ever found. It gives a great insight into the pitfalls/issues and the mentality of the workers. The gringo couple would take over a crate of beer each Saturday, for the workers, when work was complete. I have spent hours at a time, reading their monthly pages and pics. They have great skills re photography and writing.

  17. You are refreshing and it has been nice to read your blogs. My husband and I feel just the same as you, happiness is where you stand at the moment. It has to be so, because that is where you are!

    We are planning on a 6 month visit to Central America. Not because we are unhappy where we are, but because my husband loves the Ocean and deep sea fishing. We can’t seem to do that in Idaho, although we do love it here and the lakes and streams and mountains are georgeous. And also, we just sold our house and all of the furniture and accessories, so we are mobile. We also feel that after 60 years of physical investment in the Universe, we owe it to ourselves to see other parts of the world .. and to fish in the Ocean. We are considering the Central America Area of Panama and Costa Rica because of the terrific fishing, but we also know that we will have to find a place to rest our poles when not in the Ocean. I have been having kind of a difficult time finding recent information on places to lease for 3 or 4 months. Do you have any ideas on that. Somewhere near or around Cebaco island, or anywhere that would be accessible to Hannibal Bank. (that seems to be an area of great fishing).

    Thank you in advance! Look forward to “talking” to you.
    hugs!
    karen

  18. Not being a fisherperson, I don’t know. I don’t know of either of the places you mentioned as well. Hopefully, someone else can answer your question.

  19. Hi Don:

    I’m planning to visit Panama early next year, 2009 and want to try to take in quite a bit of the country in the 2 weeks I plan on being there but don’t want to overwhelm myself.

    Do you think it would be a wise idea to rent a vehicle in Panama City and drive to David to explore or just fly from Panama City to David and then rent a vehicle there? I think I’m more interested in the mountain area around Chiriqui (Volcan) but want to do some exploring.

    I’m retired and think I may apply for the pensinado program but I will come visit first, then maybe come down for a few months later on, rent a place, and see how things go.

    I’m thinking Volcan because I’m not a “hot”weather person. I can tolerate it for a while and do so on vacations but DO NOT want to live somewhere that is hot and humid.

    Also, I’m an avid hard core Harley Davidson rider and have been for 40+ years. Don’t plan on giving that up so was wondering if you know anything about Motorcycle riding in Panama. I know there is a Harley dealer in Panama City and plan on stopping there for a visit, BUT, I don’t plan on living in Panama City. Just wondering how “motorcycle friendly” Panama is? I don’t mind riding in the rain (on pavement) and have heard the rains are fairly predictable during most days with mornings being clear and rains developing in the afternoons (most the time)

    I don’t plan on riding a Harley when I visit but that’s one thing I will want to do if I set up a winter residence there.

    Any info you might have or can point me towards will be appreciated and I thank you in advance.

    Thanks . . . Butch

  20. Hi Butch. If it were me, and I was only interested in Chiriqui, then I would fly to David and rent a car. The drive from Panama City is at least 6 hours and you have to want to make the drive to do it. The road is greatly improved from previous years, but if you get in a big rain storm, it can still be a challenge.

    Not being a motorcycle buff, I can’t answer your question. I will say, that I would not want to be riding a motorcycle anywhere in Panama, It is risky enough, just driving with some drivers that are on the road.

    Hope you enjoy your up coming trip.

  21. Hi: I ran a google search on Chiriqui, Panama builder and came to your site.Unfortunately I didn’t find much useful information. Do you know someone around Volcan? Is there a contractor’s association where I can drop off my plans and have several contractors bid on my house (we have that in California)? The builder I have for my shed told me I have cement filled block walls and I just had to drill one hole to realize that was a lie. I told him my sink was not level and he told me I had visual and attitude problems. Should I just hire some guys from the bar and do the house by the hour? If they lie to you why do you need to know the language anyway? Volcan has everything Northern California has except crime, smog, contrails and light pollution, building inspectors driving $75,000 SUV’s, etc., etc. Thanks, Howie

  22. Contractor’s association! You have to be kidding.I don’t know any builders in Volcan. It would be better to ask those living in the area for referrals.

    Sorry you didn’t find what what you were looking for here. Not everyone does.

  23. Hello Don,
    Me and my wife are coming to David Feb 11th to visit the place and evaluate if it is a place suitable for us. We currently live in Sint Maarten but island life is driving us crazy.
    We have a 2 1/2 years old daughter do you think living is practical for young children (outdoor activities, kindergarden)
    My parents would also probably come is there a good enough hospital in David?
    Thanks in advance for your help Don,
    Many regards
    Nicolas

  24. Hi Nicolas. Thanks for taking the time to leave a comment. I can’t speak for the kindergarden age. I know that the American School has opened a new Kinder School. They would be worth talking to. Maybe other readers will see your comment and respond.

    I think the hospitals here are good. If one needed some surgeries such as heart surgery, then you would most likely have to go to Panama City.

  25. Yes, I know some private pre-school institutions. “Mis Pasitos” in El Terronal is a very good one ( well trained personnel, responsibility, security, etc.) From there your daughter could go to San Agustin elementary, junior and senior high school. The school is private and reputable, no student can waste time there.

    Regarding hospitals, don´t think it twice. Once you are well advised, you will find trustful physicians in the area. Right, so far open-heart surgery patients are sent to Panama City, but
    we do have a cardiologist who specialized in arrythmias and pace maker placement. You will find experienced specialists in almost every field of medicine. Of course, you may feel free to ask for second opinions and get involved in your parents treatments, provided you are a well-informed 21st century patient/ relative of a patient who reads extensibly and are able to share risky decisions with your doctors.

  26. So my boyfriend and I are getting tired of the Rat race and the stress of living and scraping to make ends meet here in the US and have been doing some research on Panama. We would sell our 2 modest homes one a small cabin and the other an old house in the city and be out of hear. We would end up leaving the US whith about $200,000 and a small Internet Business. Just helps us with small bills here like the cell bill or a utility bill or 2. That is all. Is that enough. We are 45 and 53 years of age. But I need the Basics like Rent costs (2 bed 1 bath condo,house etc) Not in Panama City but maybe within 1-2 hours away. Cost of furnishings I have read that it is very cheap to buy furniture for a 2 bedroom house/condo around $3,000 for very nice things. Utilities, Cars, Groceries. We love to Cook. We just need the basics, I have heard you can live quite well on about $800-$1,300 a month is this all true?

  27. You really need to pick a few options to live and come down and try it out for a while. Some people just don´t like it after they have tried it.

    You also need to understand that to qualifications that are required to obtain a jubilado visa. Without that, you will be having to leave Panama every 3 months for about three days.

    You should be able to live well for the upper end of your price range. It all depends on where you are. Personally, for me, I want as far away from Panama City as I can get. That is why I am in Chiriqui.

  28. my boyfriend and i are planning to move to panama in sept of 09. he is moving some business down there and we plan on living there for at least two years – although i am a sucker for warm humid weather so we may stay if we love it.

    we have so many questions of course, but most of all we want to know if we should rent or buy. looking at prices we can afford to buy, but we’re not sure where we should be. is it better to rent until we get to know the areas?

    also, he is going to be working in panama city. we have two dogs so we’re not sure if we should live in the city or where we could go and buy/rent a house/condo that wouldnt be too far from the city and still safe, warm and preferably close to the beach.

    any advice is much appreciated!

  29. Hi Melanie. Well, no matter where you are, I would rent until I knew if I was where I wanted to be. All places are a little different in the dry season and the wet season. It would also be wise to try to figure that out without the dogs first.

    Then, if you are going to be here a sufficient amount of time, I would look into bringing the dogs. That is not a simple process and the fact that you say you will move back at some time, makes it more difficult.

  30. difficult bringing the dogs in and out?

    what about the areas near panama city? what are the names of the areas with in a 30 minute drive to the city that are safe…. for that matter what are the names of the areas that we should stay away from?

    thank you so much for taking the time out to respond!

  31. Melanie…if you’ve not lived outside the USA or traveled extensively, you might want to spend about 3 months reading every post in this blog and in some of the yahoo forums about the restrictive requirements for moving to Panama and the everyday routine of living in Panama. I’m moving there at the end of next year and have spent the last 6 months reading “stuff” for 2 to 4 hours a day.

    Here are some yahoo groups to check out:
    http://groups.yahoo.com/group/americans_in_panama/
    http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Panama_laws_for_expats/
    http://groups.yahoo.com/group/panamaforum/

    Also:
    http://www.panama-guide.com
    http://mypanamalawyer.blogspot.com/

    That ought to get you started.

  32. I wish everyone luck in finding the “best” place to live. I’m an expat in Thailand. I’ve been in and out for 20 years and full time for the past 13. After traveling to 74 provinces here, living in 9 different places, I am looking to move again. Maybe expat DNA makes for itchy feet.

    Nice blog.

  33. I’m just starting my research on Panama and came across your site. I’m still working and looking for a place when I turn 55 (about 5 years). I won’t have the opportunity to go ‘try it out’ for a long period because I am working full time – but I will be narrowing the places I want to investigate to a few locations (based on my ‘list’) where I will spend a week or 2 at a time. I am a world traveller both work and pleasure and split time in the UK and Texas. For me its more about natural resources, medical, and value for money (which is absent in the UK). I’m not sure if ‘squatter rights’ is prevelant in Panama like other places. If I get something in the next 1 to 2 years but not move there on a regular basis until 5 more years – is there a risk? Obviously I need to do more research and will use the links you supplied and will continue to read the blogs. thx

  34. Hi Nancy. You can get a fair idea of what life is like in Chiriqui from this blog and other blogs that are written by authors living in Chiriqui. I consider Chiriqui to be the best province in Panama in which to live. In David you can buy almost anything you need without the need of going to Panama City and medical capability in David can only be exceeded in Panama City.

    I have heard that squatters can be a problem, but it all depends on what you are planning on buying.

  35. Wanting to move to Panama for a year. Looking to rent. We are in our early 40 and have sold are business. Our monthly income is around $20,000 a month. My fiance and I were just looking to live abroad and enjoy other cultures. would it be difficult to obtain a visa for a year. We would not be working and I doubt we would be investing. what are your thoughts.

    Thanks.
    LaDonna

  36. As long as you don’t mind leaving Panama every 90 days for 73 hours, a tourist visa would suit you fine. No need to invest or do anything.

  37. Hello!
    I just want to get some suggestions for my next travel to Panamá City. I will go to work only for 30 days with an international organization. It will be my first consultor travel and I don´t have enough money!!
    What could be a good place to live in Panamá City, just for work with the national Goverment?

  38. Hi Don,

    We’re looking at options for living in Central America for the next year or so and my partner and I work through the Internet so we need a decent and reliable connection. We are happy to pay whatever it costs but is this even a possibility in David? I’ve read that Panama tops the Central American region for technological progress and Internet penetration but I assume that data is based mainly on Panama City.

    What are your thoughts on this?

  39. I consider either the C&W or Cable Onda options in David to be reasonably reliable. I have been satisfied with Cable Onda. I have a 2 meg transfer rate and most of the day I get what I pay for.

  40. found this old thread today ,read thru all of them….a couple of my own insights I`d like to share…

    1) its different to move somewhere while you are still working vs retiring.
    2) retiring at “home” is also going to be different from it was all those years you were working

    I came to my adopted home land Texas in 1968…I liked it…after 6 yrs decided I longed for much back “home” so i moved back to Sweden for ‘good’…lasted 18 months…I had changed, had adopted much in Texas I couldnt do in Sweden….

    One of the biggest reasons I am researching a move to Boquete , Panama is that the climate is good. Here in Houston , Texas I think summers are too hot, the short winters are too cold (yes, too cold for a former Swede!)…we have hurricanes , droughts , floodings….and cost of AC is high.

    As a work place Houston has been great! good income , lost of work…..but retiring here I think will be expensive (see AC among other things…and as cost of living here is lots higher than panama, I think I will not afford travelling as much , and the back yard will soon get pretty small.
    My thinking is living in less costly environment (like no heating , cooling) among other things will allow me to afford more travel when I so want…I am used to travel to Europe often, I have kids in Denmark and Sweden , a sister in Sweden, a sister in Tours France, cousins in Provence….retiring in Houston I doubt I can travel to see them much. I also have kids in the US ,daughter in LA , son here in Houston….

    Health care in Panama seems good…

    you travel less distances = use less gas even if same cost/gallon…use less electricity by far ,even if cost is same or more per Kwh…etc.

    I feel I can easily ‘fit in’ to the new environment, as I have once before moved, actually across the Atlantic 3 times.

    Having been in the miltary I think also helps with adjusting…my wife on the other hand may have much more difficulty in moving as she grew up in Houston and never “lived” anywhere else,even if she has travelled.

    I have spent some time in Boquete, I will again in November, and plan to go at least one more time, researching, looking at areas….
    I have not yet brought my wife ,but think I can/will the 3rd or 4th time, when I know a little more of where to go ,to visit etc, not to have her run all over the place.

    retiring , you will have a set income at lesser amount ,for most people, than you do,did while working…..you will have to adjust no matter where you are…I just would prefer to adjusting in a climate I can be outside a lot, and also grow things all year round.

    hopefully a future Chiriqian.

  41. My husband and I will be traveling to Panama in late November. After much research, we will be looking at real estate in Panama City, Altos del Maria, El Valle, and Boquete. I love the charm of the mountains but don’t want to have to travel far for amenities. Ideally, I would love to be able to walk to a small town square. Something colonial. But I really haven’t seen anything “colonial”. Casa Viejo i think is going to be too expensive, too hot, and probably too noisy. Any suggestions on other areas to check out? Definitely looking for the cooler climates

    Thanks

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