A Canadian's Perspective On Panama

Originally from Canada, Rebecca now lives in Panama, where she runs a news and information website. Read her thoughts on what small-town expat life in Panama is like for her and learn from her tips about the local way of life, cost of living, and learning the language if you're considering moving to Panama.
 

Rebecca Tyre

-Where were you born?

I was born in Ontario, Canada.

-In which country and city are you living now?

Las Tablas, Panama. A small town on Panama's beautiful Azuero peninsula.

-Are you living alone or with your family?

I moved to Panama alone, but live with my Panamanian boyfriend.

-How long have you been living in Panama?

I have been living in Panama for more than 3 years.

-What is your age?

28

-When did you come up with the idea of living in Panama?

I first came to Panama on vacation with my mother. I immediately fell in love with the country and as soon as I returned to Canada from my vacation, I started looking for jobs in Panama. Two more visits in 2 months and I made the move.

-Was it hard to get a visa or a working permit?

In Panama there are a number of visa options for foreigners, but I don't fit in to any of the categories. Work visas are very hard to get, as the government doesn't want to take any jobs away from locals. Many expats living in Panama are "perpetual tourists." You can legally stay in Panama for 3 months, and then hop the border to Costa Rica for 3 days and the clock starts over again.

-Was it difficult for you to get medical insurance before you went there or when you first arrived?

Private medical insurance can be purchased through a number of different companies in Panama. It's pretty affordable and easy to get. Prescription medications are way cheaper in Panama than in the US or Canada. Panama has some of the best doctors and dentists in the world. Far more affordable than in North America, yet many of these professionals were trained in the US.

-How do you make your living in Panama? Do you have any type of income generated?

I originally moved to Panama to work in the real estate industry. I did that for a while but didn't really like it. I now run a news and information website about Panama. My background is in journalism so it seemed like a good fit.

-Do you speak Spanish and do you think it's important to speak the local language?

Though English is taught in Panamanian schools, not very many people are fluent in English. It would be quite difficult to live in Panama without at least some knowledge of Spanish. I moved here with basically no Spanish, but I have a pretty good handle on the language now. Panamanians very much appreciate when foreigners at least attempt to speak Spanish.

-Do you miss home and family sometimes?

I do miss family and friends back home, but fortunately, the airfare between Panama and Canada is pretty reasonable so I go home as often as I can and people visit me in Panama as well.

One of my favourite activities in Panama is fishing. It's affordable, fun and a great way to enjoy Panama's natural beauty (whales, dolphins, turtles, etc).

-Do you have other plans for the future?

Because Panama lies directly between Central and South America, it's a great place to explore other Latin American destinations. I hope to stay in Panama for a long while (maybe forever) as long as I remain happy here and can make a living.

-What about housing, have you bought, or are you renting a home? How much do you pay for it?

My boyfriend and I currently rent a house in a medium-sized town. For a new 3 bedroom, 2 bathroom house it's not uncommon to pay about $200/month for rent.

-What is the cost of living in Panama?

The cost of living in Panama is cheaper than in North America and Europe. Some things are more expensive (electronics) but for the most part, it's cheaper to live here than in Canada. In the area of the country that I live, it is cheaper than in Panama City, the capital.

-What do you think about the Panamanians?

Panamanians as a whole are very proud, friendly, loving people. They are much more laid back than North Americans, so it can take a long time to get ANYTHING done. No one is ever in a rush (except for the expats!). If you befriend a Panamanian family, you have friends for life. They are very loyal and treat foreigners well. In Panama it is not uncommon for expats to be victims of petty crime. Expats are viewed as being "rich" by Panamanian standards and small time criminals sometimes take advantage of that.

-What are the positive and negative aspects of living in Panama?

One of the things I love the most about Panama is the people. They love life and always want to have a good time. They want everyone else to be happy as well. Panama has such a wonderful natural beauty and great weather, so it's the perfect location for outdoor activities.

Some of the negatives would be traffic in the capital city, corruption, and the slow pace at which everything gets done.

-Do you have any tips for our readers about living in Panama?

If someone is considering a move to Panama, it's important to visit as many times as you can before making the move. Panama is not for everyone. At the minimum, learn basic Spanish and your life here will be a lot easier. Panamanians have been living their lives the same way for many, many years. Expats cannot change what they don't like about Panama, though many try unsuccessfully. You just have to go with the flow!

-Do you have any favorite Web sites or blogs about Panama?

The best blog site about Panama would be mine (of course!)

www.panamatravels.com

You can also check out:

www.thepanamareport.com
www.bananamarepublic.com
www.thepanamanews.com

cost of living in panama

noel's picture

Hi Rebecca
cost of living per month for 2 icluding rent

Cost of Living

RebeccaT's picture

Hi Noel,

It depends on where in Panama you live. If you live in Panama City, you'll be paying a lot more than if you live in the country side. In Panama City expect to pay about $1200/month for two people including rent. If you live outside the city, two people can get by on about $750, including rent. The Panamanian minimum wage is about $250/month US dollars. So some Panamanians are able to survive on that amount, though they do struggle. Most foreigners would not dream of getting by on that.

FOOD EXPENSES

noel's picture

Hi Rebecca
It's great to communicate with you on updated information.
Most sites we visit are so out of date ,years old.
My husband and I will be in panama next august ,we are coming over to see if we like it there
We will be retiring in a few years and are interesred in panama.
Sounds like a lovely place to retire
We will be self funded retiree's for while till our pension kicks in
All information on panama would be appreciated, food costs, transport, real estate, rental proprties.
we are simple people easily pleased.
Currently living in Australia ,my husband is irish, we couldn't possibly afford to live in ireland or Australia when we retire,
far to expensive on all fronts.
In panama we would be looking outside of the city to buy eventually, first we would rent for 12months
and look around just a nice home 2bed 2bathrooms .
We love seafood and fruit and veg sounds like it's plentiful over there we hope.
Where would you suggest we stay in august ,we only have a week this time and we want to make the most of it.
Have enough information when we get there ,so we don't waste time.
Cheers Rebecca
and thanks again

Cost Of Living

RebeccaT's picture

Hi again Noel,

If your intentions are not to retire in Panama City, then in August I think you should stay in the Azuero peninsula. From there you can get around pretty easily, but your accomodations and travel expenses will be less. Try Chitre, Las Tablas or Pedasi. If you are going to be living on a budget once you move to Panama I would not suggest living in Boquete either. Boquete is beautiful and cooler than the lowlands, but it's full of expats so the real estate is pretty expensive.
In the interior of Panama, you can easily buy a brand new 2bed, 2bath house for about $50k USD.
Grocery bill for 1 week for 2 people (including meat, veggies, cleaning supplies etc) is about $40.
Hope this helps and let me know if you have any other questions!
Rebecca

transport

noel's picture

Hi Rebecca
Thanks heaps for the information
Now we know where to head once we get over there.
To get to citrie or las tablas and pedasi what transport is there.
We would be flying in from miami to panama,then where and how would we get to these places and what costs .
WE would be trying to live on $1800 AU a month when we retire ,having bought a home as well.
At the monent our dollar isn't doing well for us, hopefully near future is gets better.
Sounds like we would be ok and able to manage there.
Once again any information you have on panama and surrounds send it on.
Can't get enough of it.
THANKS AGAIN REBECCA
great site and helpfull.

Transportation

RebeccaT's picture

Hi again Noel,

Once you get to the Tocumen Airport in Panama City, you will have to take a taxi to downtown or the bus terminal. Unfortunately there is no other way to get from the airport. The taxi will cost you about $25 from the airport to downtown.
Depending on the time your flight arrives, you may have to stay in a hotel in the city your first night. The last bus from Panama City to Chitre leaves at 6pm. The last bus to Las Tablas leaves around 4:30 or 5pm. The cost is $8/person. If you get in to Panama City early enough, you can go straight to the bus station and on to Chitre or Las Tablas. (I would suggest Las Tablas). You have to ask the taxi to take you to "el terminal nacional" (the national terminal). It's about 10 minutes away from downtown and if you stay in a hotel in the city the first night, the taxi to the terminal should cost about $2.50.
$1800AU is about $1275 US today. As long as you live in the countryside of Panama, you can live on $1275 without much of a problem.

Hope this helps!

Rebecca

real estate sites

noel's picture

Hi Rebecca
How long is the bus ride.
Can you tell us what sites to go to for real estate in chitre or surrounds.
We have been looking and houses are going for $160,000 plus US Dollars.
Couldn't find homes for $50,000 us or anything close to it
maybe in the wrong sites
May buy a home when we come over next year.
cheers Rebecca.

Panama Housing

RebeccaT's picture

The bus from Panama City to Chitre is about 3.5 hours.

Many of the $50k houses aren't advertised on real estate websites. That's the kind of thing you've got to find when you come here. The real estate websites are geared towards rich foreigners. You really won't find much in that price range online.

Email me at rebecca.tyre@gmail.com and I will send you some pics of $50k houses in Panama.

Many Thanks

noel's picture

Hi Rebecca
Thanks once again
you have been so very helpful to us.
CHEERS

renting for 4 months

blackwidow68's picture

It has been exciting to read your blog. I must agree that it is so nice to find current information on Panama. Your suggestions to Noel have helped me in my search.
My husband and I are heading to Costa Rica on the 4th of November-yes 2008. We have 6 months or so (more if needed) to check out the areas of Costa Rica and Panama. We are starting in Costa Rica because of an acquaintance who told us about some friends of his who live there. It will be a nice place to start. However we have really been interested in Panama and plan to head that direction mid December or early January. We have just been frustrated about where to start and where to head in Panama. Our ultimate goal is to fish. Rick was brought up deep sea fishing and we are now in a position to pursue his long time interest. We are hoping to eventually purchase a sport fishing boat, and/or a fishing business of some type. We have been looking for places to rent/lease for about 4 or 5 months (or more if needed) while we check out Panama and the fishing situation. I've had a very very hard time finding anything and at this point still have not found a place to rent/lease. We do not really want to be in Panama City, but obviously want to be near or on the Ocean. Do you have any ideas?

We will be leaving the United States on Nov. 4th and will be in Costa Rica where we will not have phone service. I'm hoping to try and locate something in the next few weeks (In Panama)

Thank you so much! You are doing a terrific job with your upbeat and positive information.

Blackwidow

Renting

RebeccaT's picture

Hi Blackwidow!

I think you'll enjoy Costa Rica. It's a beautiful country. I know many people that once lived in CR but have since moved to Panama since the cost of living is less in Panama than CR.

I'm glad to hear you enjoy fishing! That's one of my favourite acitivies here. In fact I was out fishing yesterday!

If you want to be in an area of Panama with great fishing, I would suggest the Azuero peninsula. That's where I live. Even in the bigger towns on the peninsula, you can be at the ocean in 10 minutes or less.

Short term rentals can be hard to find in Panama. The hotels in this area are pretty reasonable so many people chose to rent a hotel room for a few months. I may know of someone with a small place to rent in Las Tablas. It's not luxurious though. Email me at rebecca.tyre@gmail.com if you would like me to find out about that rental.

Info on how to travel and search for real estate in panama

Lizzysmom's picture

Rebecca--I am so happy to have found your blog. You seem to have a wealth of information for us gringos who want to move to Panama to retire. We have found that there are many companies and offers on the internet for trips to Panama that take you to various real estate communities around the country. We would prefer to do this ourselves, but are uncertain how to do so. We are primarily interested in the mountains around El Valle. We have looked (via the Internet) at Altos del Maria but feel that this community seems overpriced and atuned to the wealthy foreigner. We want something new, but simple, clean and safe and, of course, we would need high-speed internet. Should we rent a car? Where--airport--other? And how do we find the right realtor to lead us to our perfect place. Any advice would be appreciated. Thanks.

Real Estate Travel In Panama

RebeccaT's picture

Hi Lizzysmom,

If you are considering doing a real estate tour, there's only one company I suggest. Email me offline if you'd like to know. It can be difficult to find all the available real estate if you're not using a real estate agent. I would suggest you rent a car from the airport, and then drive out of the city right away if you have no interest in high rises!
Altos del Maria is very nice, there are also a couple similar communities in that area, but they can be difficult to find if you're on your own.
A friend of mine works in real estate in that area of the country. She's Canadian and knows a lot about the El Valle area.
Email me at rebecca.tyre@gmail.com if you'd like her contact info.

Good luck!
Rebecca

ESL Teacher

Pam's picture

great info, more here then anywhere on the net. Do you have any info about teaching ESL in Panama. I struggle to find any info on this subject. Thanks in advance, Pam

BANKING

grebilfarrell's picture

Any tips on banking in Panama and whether or not to keep money in US or Canada and deposit periodically or ?>

Banking in Panama

jjtminerv's picture

Rebecca,
I really enjoy reading your posts and the advice you give. Thank you for the valuable infomation!
My wife and I are planning on moving to Panama within the next 6 months, and I am finalizing my research on "what to do" and "when to do it". We have just about everything nailed down (visas, location, property, etc.). My remaining questions center around finances, banking, and taxes (both US and Panama taxes). Can you give any advice, or life experiences, that would help? Many advise on keeping most funds within the US, and to make regular transfers to a bank in Panama to spending/rent/etc. Seems tedious, if not expensive, but am open to advice.
Thank you in advance!!!!
jjtminerv

Long range planning

robertdc50's picture

Hello Rebecca,

I'm currently living near Kitchener, Ontario and am REALLY getting tired of Canadian winters! I've been researching tropical climate retirement (or semi-retirement) destinations for several months now with thoughts of making a move within the next couple of years. The Azuero peninsula is an area that seems almost perfect to me, as I'm a small-town, middle class kinda guy with modest expectations and simple tastes. You've mentioned that you live in the area and have pretty reasonable living expenses, so am wondering if you can recommend a good reliable source of information for rental properties. There are just too many websites with too little information when googling the area.

I'll be spending some time browsing your blog to see what I can glean from there too, but am hoping to get some first hand info from someone such as yourself who's already on the spot! You've "been there, done that" so to speak, so I assume that your experiences would be most valuable.

Thank you in advance for the assistance.

Bob from Listowel, ON

Moving business to Panama

Markus77's picture

Rebecca,

It was really pleasure reading your section at ExPatInterviews. I would love to have your suggestion about our case. We are originally from Poland, but moved to Windsor, Ontario 13 years ago. Together with my wife we run a small, but relatively profitable on-line business. As you perfectly know running web site is like competing against the rest of the world, so it requires quite big focus and 7 days/week work. We are like perfect citizens: we hire Canadians, bring all income from other countries and spend here and in exchange we receive one of the highest taxes in the world. You heard that story many times, so that's nothing new. After struggling like that for last 10 years we decided to relocate. We did quite big research and Panama is really at the top of the list. Luckily we have independent income and if there is a need, we can also move our office from Canada and hire local employees in Panama. It makes many things easier. But since out business is strictly related to Internet, the biggest problem here is finding the place with very good and reliable Internet access. What would be your suggestion about it? We know Panama City would be the best. But what other places would you suggest?
Thank you in advance.

good place to move?

cici25's picture

Hello Rebecca.

Me and my fiance are planning on moving to panama next summer. I am a canadian citizen and i have a university degree I was just wondering if you have information on where I can get a good job since I know most places dont pay to high! Also where would be the best place to live, somewhere near the beach and not to far from the city as well but somewhere affordable where we can rent a house... ?? thanks for your time!

Housing Costs

darrell's picture

My wife and I are retiring and relocating to the Azuero peninsula. We were in Panama four times in 2008 & 2009 and have already decided to relocate to the peninsula. We are drawn to either Las Tablas or Chitre, we have looked at buying comparable new 3 bed and 2 bath houses in both towns, between 50 and 60 thousand. What I would like to find out is if the housing costs have changed in the last year.
Thank you in advance for any assistance.
darrell

single in panama

playabrian's picture

Hi Rebecca

I am a single 62 Yr old Canadian looking to relocate to Panama possibly the Los Santos area I like to be near water and beaches and i don't need much. A comfortable one bedroom 1 bath apartment is fine. I will be living on approx 2400.00/mth Cdn with a little more at retirement. Is it possible to achieve this and live comfortable. I have a small amount of Spanish

Brian

Beautiful Panama

Daniel William's picture

Hi Rebecca,
I live and worked in Ontario, Canada and look forward to move permanently to Panama. What area would you recomand close to water, and not very expensive as I'm an avid swimmer, free diver and scuba diver too. I also speak a little spanish and intend to become fluent in a 3-4 month. Thank you for your wonderful articles, I red them all, they're very helpful

Community Living in Panama

Esther W's picture

Hello Rebecca,
I live Calgary, AB, Canada, and like nearly everyone here, see you as a resource for Canadians. I would really like to connect with other Canadians on their way to Panama, or ones who are already living there to network for employment placement and services. I too, speak a little Spanish and also investigating the possibilities of teaching English as a second language. Of note, and this may read 'weird' ....I am told 'the guy for you is a lawyer in Panama"....go figure! Well, who knows? I do know, I'm already enrolled in living there and staying in Panama and surrounding areas, despite all the complaints of water treatment, infrastructure etc. I know I can make a good go of it, I like to grow plants! Thanks again for posting this article.

Hello Rebecca, Im from

sucre's picture

Hello Rebecca, Im from canada and im also looking to make the move to panama! i love it there, im am 22 and not sure where to begin!! ( any recomendations on where to start or any good sources for places to live?)