Observations – Regarding Moving To Panama

I know I haven’t posted much lately, but I have several items consuming my time. However, I have had some time to observe several Yahoo groups and the Internet conversations about the frustration of the new immigration laws that Panama is enforcing.

For those considering retiring in Panama, this should have no major ill effect. I still maintain you should live here, as you would if you were a permanent resident, for a minimum of 6 months, prior to deciding to move here.

You should use that time for a test run to allow experiencing both the rainy and the dry seasons. That is not hard to do, but it does require effort. You should keep in mind that some locations have extra risks during the rainy season , such as bridge outages or land slides.

During that time you need to do a real due diligence to see if Panama is right for you.

I suggest several items for your due diligence.

  1. Observe the climate. Probably the most enticing reason to move to Panama is the weather. I consider it the only reason that would motivate me to move here after 14 years of experience.
  2. Visit the appropriate medical facilities. Check out doctors you might use. Visit the Regional Hospital emergency and watch the traffic. Determine how you would cover a serious illness or accident. Understand how you will pay for an unplanned medical event. If you have moderate to serious medical conditions, think hard before making a move here.
  3. Watch the local Panama TV news. Even if you don’t understand Spanish, you will learn a lot. This should be a daily event while you are here.
  4. Plan on learning Spanish, if you don’t speak it. It will be needed, if you are rushed to the Regional Hospital for an unplanned medical emergency.
  5. Determine how you will manage your finances. Many Panama banks no longer allow US citizens to open an account. To withdraw $500 from an ATM will typically cost you over $5+, if the account is not from a bank in Panama.
  6. Determine the cost and availability of reliable Internet. TV and Internet can be costly, if you don’t live in a good area. Most programing will be in Spanish. Service, both technical and account, can be a challenge, if you don’t speak Spanish.
  7. Verify the cost of living in Panama. It is not cheap. Granted, it is cheap compared to Costa Rica and safer than most of the other Latin American countries, but cheap, it is not.
  8. Verify your tolerance to rapid changes. What was the rule last week may not be the rule next week. Don’t like protests blocking you ability to get to medical services, well expect it in Panama and plan for it.
  9. While government officials will tell you that crime is on the down tick, locals will tell you it is higher than in the past. I have seen it change a lot in the last 14 years I have been here. Watching the local news will educate you.

Continue this list with other items that are important to you.

My feeling is that individuals, that can qualify for a Pensionado Visa, will (7 out of 10 times) decide not to apply for the visa, if they do a strong due diligence.

Realize that the US Embassy will tell you that over 80% of their problem requests come from property purchases. People buy a piece of land, pay their money, go to register it and find it is owned by someone else. They pay a builder to build a house and pay 1/2 down and find that the builder has disappeared.

Realize that the US Embassy is not here to hold your hand. Sign up for STEP to stay informed with US Embassy advisory notices.

Almost all of the problems they run into can be avoided, but most new comers don’t take the time to check out their lawyer. And don’t ask me about trying to get your money back from a Panama court. Your odds are not good.

If you are in a traffic accident that results an a Panamanian’s death, You may find yourself in jail until the cause of the accident is determined, It is amazing how a gringo is normally at fault. Another reason to have previously determined what lawyer is going to represent you.

I have enjoyed and continue to enjoy my life in Panama. I think the weather is as good as it can possibly be. I have lived in Panama longer than I have lived in any of my previous homes.

I have lived here long enough to know what is safe to do and where I think it is best to live. It took me the first two years to understand many of the pluses and minuses. Over the next 12 years, I have changed some of my thinking and reenforced other parts.

So here is my current recommendation to those thinking about moving to Panama for retirement.

The list above remains. I would still plan on discovering and evaluating Panama over a six month period. I am still talking about a intense due diligence, not just having fun. This investigation will require real work to be beneficial.

After the 6 months you can now return to your country of origin and reflect on what you have learned. If you decide that Panama is for you, then start preparing during the imposed waiting period. There will be plenty for you to do.

The FBI fingerprints and report will be easier there than in Panama. I have seen people that were in Panama take up to two years to get the documents done.

You should also take the time to get a complete physical examination. You should not come to Panama with any known medical concern. I did this before I moved here and found a hernia and was told to lose 50 pounds. I had the hernia taken care of in the US.

Spend time placing your household belongings in good homes. I do not recommend moving containers to Panama. I have seen too many people move 40 foot containers here and decide to move back to the US within10 months to 2 years and leaving everything here. It is easier to get stuff here than to take it out.

Visit all those you love and make sure you have prepared for an Internet capability of staying in touch. SKYPE and video helps more than email. Add WhatsApp to your Smart Phone (get a Smart Phone if you don’t have one).

If you have pets that will come with you, get acquainted with your state’s requirements for taking pets to a foreign country. Texas had a narrow window to get all documentation done and leave. I remember it being 10 days. You also need to verify the flights you are coming on do not have per embargoes for the time you are traveling. During some embargoed pets are not allowed. Make sure you have prepared for the Panama regulations. Standard is a one month quarantine, but you have to have the proper work to get them released from the Panama airport.

I assume you will have decided on a lawyer to handle your Pensionado Visa during your initial 6 month trial run. Collect all documentation that was required when you exited Panama. Check to see if anything has changed. Six months is a long time in panama for things to stay the same.

I laugh when I see all the comments from people thinking they will change to a different Latin American country for retirement because of the new immigration enforcement.

Costa Rica will be much more expensive. Crime is much higher there. It has a different money standard, but most things are priced in US dollars, so you get screwed with the money exchange. Panama uses the US dollar as its basis.

If you still want to move to an other Latin American country, the due diligence above should still be used. I have been in Mexico, Costa Rica, Colombia, Panama, and Peru. You can fall in love with any of them and all of them can be your hell on earth.

Moving to an new cultural country is an adventure and not for this faint of heart. Whatever you do, always look forward and never backward.

Over and out for the time being.

29 thoughts on “Observations – Regarding Moving To Panama

  1. We too have seen many people move to Pedasi, where we live. Buy a home, ship a container, then turn around 6-18 months later and leave. Listen to Don, Rent, Live 6 months wet and dry, be prepared for change, Panama is not the country you come from. No, they are NOT going to change just because you think they should.

  2. Very good advise Don. Thanks for all the help you have given us and all the many others over the years.

  3. Always good advice, Don. I agree that things have changed in the 14 years that we have been here. I specially notice increases in the price of food and in the crime rate. If a person really wants a true analysis of crime in Chiriquí, ask a taxi driver. Crimes against taxi drivers have skyrocketed compared to even 5 years ago. And home invasions are getting more violent. That said, we still love living in Panama.

  4. Don, I agree with you 110% but there is a fly in the ointment. Living here for a minimum of 6 months before you decide is the hurdle. I agree you really need to see and experience Panama over time before you decide. I personally lived here for more than a year before deciding. It can not be emphasized enough that you need to try out Panama for 6 months to a year before you make your decision to live here.

    At some point you will need to leave the country, wait a minimum of 30 days and before you can re-enter. You are going to be a border hopper regardless of how well you plan it because it is currently not possible to live here for 6 months or more to just to give it a try (per the new decree).

    I do not disagree with the immigration policy but it needs to be emphasized that you can not just come and live here without realizing you will need to leave the country for at least 30 days during this process. There will be those new expats that get caught up in this 30 day waiting period to re-enter the country, even tho they are legit and trying to go thru the process as you recommend.

    I would urge them to heed your advice but also be aware of the ever changing nature of the rules and laws within Panama.

  5. Having lived in Costa Rica for the past 12+ years, I am seriously considering moving to Panama. I throughly enjoyed your insightful article with some great advice. Due dilligence is a requirement reguardless of where one moves to.

  6. I researched Panama as much as possible, ignoring advice from International Living. All their advice is through rose colored glasses. I then came sight unseen, having previously been diagnosed with cancer, Multiple Myeloma in February, 2010. I left to Panama in July, 2011. I found an excellent doctor in Panama City. I went to a doctor in David, only to find he wanted me to take chemo and steroids. I was told that he was ‘top dog’ in Cancer and Hemotology. I sad,” Thanks, but no thanks”. In spite of the American Cancer Society’s prediction that one should not expect to live five years with this cancer, it was seven years in February, thanks to Dr, Enrique Chial and the ‘real’ medicine’ I have been getting. I was in severe pain and was taking narcotic pain meds when I came. Dr. Chial added DMSO to my IV meds and I have no pain since then. Needless to say, this is not FDA approved, even though this is safer than aspirin. In the US. doctors apparently prefer that one becomes an addict. I feel sorry for all the people whose meds cannot control their pain. It was not difficult to find a qualified nurse to administer my IV meds. I have made several Panamanian friends and my taxi driver is ‘one of a kind.’ He helps me with home repairs, takes me wherever I want to go, calls or comes by to make sure I’m well and if there’s anything I might need. There are four ladies who have become good friends, as well as my church congregation. I live in San Vicente in a Panamanian neighborhood. All my neighbors are friendly and kind. While I miss my family, I am seldom lonely. As for crime, I seldom think about it. I was robbed at knife point in broad daylight in the US, but have never encountered a problem since coming to Panama. The only disappointing things are lack of water in the house, and no street names and house numbers. Oh, and poor internet, Claro being the only provider. I applied for the Pensionado on arrival and later got the E-Cedula. Having the Cedula makes travel back to Panama much easier. All in all, there is nothing I would not do again. Different strokes for different folks! I’m grateful for the differing opinions on these posts. Making this kind of decision needs lots of input.

  7. TwinWolf – I agree the 6 months is an absolute minimum to have an ides about living in Panama. A year is better. Perhaps during the next 6 months after beginning the Pensionado process can be use. Don’t buy any property before you have your permanent visa.

    If you use the 30 day period for leaving, my understanding is you need to leave after 5 months. So living here without a permanent residency vis means you will be here 10 months out of the year.

    Snowbirds should be happy with 6 months here and six somewhere else.

  8. Great stuff, Don Ray.

    Arrived CR in 1991,moved the family in 95.

    Loved it, but you are spot on….life is getting very complicated as they approach default….most recent laws are aimed at the expat community…corporate tax, luxury home tax, forced participation in their medical plan at a cost of up to 400$/month, when most of us have our own private coverage, and are certainly not going to participate in a plan where several of the doctors have been convicted of organ harvesting…it is a neat back door tax for them though.

    Viva Panama, and all the freedoms I enjoy here.

  9. Don, Can you post any information concerning a Veteran’s Clinic or hospital being built in Panama City. I have lived here since 2006 the same rumors are flying around again.
    Thank you!

  10. Great advise Don. We have been in Panamá 10 years and so many things have changed and continue to change. We realize there are two types of people….those that CAN conform to the lifestyle here and those that CAN NOT!! We gave ourselves 9 months and then bought a home. We have been in our home now for almost 9 years. We have seen friends that come and go and the average stay is 5-7 years. Yes…we ALL have family elsewhere but this is OUR home now. Don’t feel guilty because you are here and they are there….life goes on no matter what! I go once a year for 3 weeks to see my family. PLENTY of time to get my NY fix. Then it’s back to my beautiful life here. You either like it or you don’t here.I have used the medical facilities here extensively (we are by no means rich). Major medical issues that would cost me so much in the states. I am more than happy with my specialist. But, I am me and you are you. It’s all up to the individual and how they cope with lifestyle changes. Panamá is NOT for everyone…so remember that. Like Don says…give yourself AT LEAST 6 months to a year. Make sure you rent first and leave everything back home with family. No need to bring it here. We came with 14 suitcases only and built our lives from the ground up…we have NEVER regretted it one time.

  11. Don, great article. While I generally agree, my wife and I made the decision to pursue our resident visas and e-cedulas and move here after just three one week visits. We had done extensive research, and didn’t want to risk issues with border hops and possible changes in visa requirements. Jackie Lange’s Panama Relocation tour helped us immensely as she helped us set up a bank account before it became so difficult, introduced us to a great lawyer in PC, and to expats who shared their experiences with us. Visits to PC, Bocas del Toro, Coronado, Las Tablas, El Valle, and Puerto Armuelles helped us focus on Boquete as our preferred location. As she suggested, we rented at first, and shipped very little here, selling most of our possessions. Now that we have been in Boquete for just over a year we know we made the right choice. We found a great rental with reliable water, fast and (mostly) reliable internet, took Spanish classes, and made sure to meet people and make friends. We kill the occasional scorpion and ignore the infrequent ants – they leave when they are ready to, with or without our input. Now our rental is available to purchase and we are working toward that, confident that we know exactly what we are getting. We had no interest in trying to build. If you need shopping malls, two-day shipping from Amazon, sushi, an insect free existence, and you can’t stand driving less than 20 miles an hour much of the time, or fifty on the highway, this is not the place for you!

  12. Great article. THANKS so much all of you for this great info. So distressing to learn my dog & cat will need to be quarantined for one month! My kitty is 15 yrs old and will probably freak out … and I will miss them so much.
    Any way around this???

  13. It all stands to reason in this article. I always recommend to learn proper Spanish, as it makes
    life far more easier. If you have not lived in another country in your life it can be somewhat more difficult to adapt and accept how things are in Panamá. I lived in worked for various companies and my own account in Africa, Spain, and The Caribbean and decided to retire finally in Panamá. My wife and I plus our 4 dogs like it here. Price wise and socially. Accept Panamá how it is . Do not compare to much with the USA. Things can be somewhat slow here. They love paperwork but sometimes they do not know how to handle it, like in Spain.

  14. The quarantine in in your residence if you have take care of all the paperwork prior to arriving. The quarentine is not a problem as long as you have planned ahead.

  15. This is an excellent article; the only correction I could make is in bringing your pets (dogs and cats). It is very easy, and not terribly expensive. “At home” quarantine is offered and preferred. Everyone is very helpful and the documents can be emailed ahead.
    To simplify the process, you must obtain a health certificate from your veterinarian complete with verification of shots and rabies vaccination. Your veterinarian can download the proper form from the USDA website. Then this documentation must be validated by your nearest USDA office, then sent to a Panamanian consulate for further validation. All of this must then be emailed to the Veterinary Office at the Tocumen airport along with the form to request “at-home quarantine”. When you arrive with your pet(s) as soon as you proceed through customs go left into their office instead of exiting the airport. Within minutes most days you will leave with your pets. Plan your arrival M-F during working hours and bring the originals of your documents along with enough cash to pay the fees. (Less than $150).
    You can hire a service to import your pets, but be aware it is can be expensive and is not necessary. When you do the process yourself Your veterinarian may charge you around $100, and the USDA will charge you $50 per pet (unless your pet is a Service Animal). The Panamanian consulate will also charge you $50 per animal to validate and stamp your paperwork. The total is usually $300+ per pet for everything. All of the officials are very nice and helpful.
    The most difficult part of the process is that all of the paperwork and validations must be completed within 10 days of travel! In my state of Florida this was easy as I could drive to the USDA office in Gainesville, then to the Panamanian consulate in Tampa.

  16. I am from the U.S. and have been living in CR for the past 12+ years. I spoke to my Vet here, he suggested, as I have 12 cats and 3 dogs, that I travel through Paso Canoas, find a local driver with a Pamamian liscense plate and just bring them on through. Should you be residing/traveling in CR with your four footed best friends I will be more than happy to explain in detail how to do it.

  17. Thank you for this info. I am planning a trip soon to.check out both CR and Panama. CR looks so beautiful from whatI’ve seen in photos. Did you then drive your vehicle.to CR? I thought the only way to get my car to Central America.would be to ship it @$6000.
    Thanks for your offer to tell me about this. I really appreciate it.

  18. Catherine. I have driven in Costa Rica multiple times, but there is no way I would consider driving a car from the US to Panama. You will be hassled at every border crossing to pay fines, assuming you have the correct paperwork. Plus many of the countries are nothing less than dangerous to drive through now.

    Besides that, unless it is a special car, I would not consider bringing a car to Panama. Cars sold in Panama and thos sold in the US may not have the same replacement parts.

    I think it is wiser to come and purchase a car here.

  19. Hi Don, i will not attempt to drive … it did sound crazy although I saw a couple drive, trailering a 4-Wheeler
    to Nicaragua (I think) on House Hunters International awhile ago. They were exhausted by the time they got there. They didn’t film any of the border crossings, that might be what exhausted them! I only think about bringing my vehicle becausee it’s a 2015 Subaru Forester 4WD, low mileage, and I’ve had it since it was new so I know the history of it. Even paying $6K + taxes to ship it to PC … I would pay that amount in profit to a car dealer for a late model used car (don’t want to spend $$$ on a new one). So My logic is I pay $6500 & have my trusted Subaru -v- buying something used I am unsure of …I am not a mechanic so I would not know a whole lot about cars, I would probably end up with a bunch of problems. Does that make sense? Thanks for the heads up about the parts etc of a made in US (I think Japan makes Subaru) … I will have tto research that. Love these blogs!

  20. As far as I know, the only Subaru dealer is in Panama City. I have no idea ob how well they keep parts and what parts might not be available for a US Subaru in Panama.

    I had a late model Acura and Lexus that I left in the US,

  21. So many decisions. So little time to even think about them while I’m still working full time! I have been taking Spanish classes for about a year and studying as much as I can, that’s the best advice! And pray that I make good decisions. Thanks all of you for your honest info.

  22. An awesome read. I looked for 8 years before deciding on panama. We purchased a condo 3 years ago and are slowly easing our way in. I don’t think we will ever life there full time but the goal is up 5 to 6 months at a time. We (my wife and I) are working on this goal to happen over the next 2 years.

  23. “In the US. doctors apparently prefer that one becomes an addict. ” I resent this comment. Many of us do not offer narcotics but NSAIDs (like Ibuprofen or naproxen) first. We now have many new rules making harder to abuse them and easier for us to stop them. Granted, US is the #1 user of prescribed narcotics, almost 90% been Hydrocodone (Norco), but we are trying to change this.
    Don, the US embassy in Panamá should place a link on their website to your article as a reference to “How to move to Panamá”

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