Bordered by Costa Rica to the west and Colombia to the southeast, vibrant Panama serves as the meeting point between two oceans, as well as two continents. With a population of almost four million people, Panama is a small country, but recent years have seen a massive influx of investors, businesspeople and fortune-seekers riding the country's development wave.
Panama has shaken off its third-world image to become a haven for expats. Foreigners are drawn to the country for its modern infrastructure teamed with a warm climate, peaceful lifestyle and beautiful tropical surroundings. Large expat communities can be found here, particularly in Panama City, and there is also a growing number of foreigners setting up holiday homes on Panama’s offshore islands.
In years past, many expats living in Panama were of retirement age and were enticed by government incentives such as discounts on goods and low-cost medical treatment. However, the Panamanian government has been pushing foreign investment and, as a result, there is now a vibrant, dynamic and driven community of people looking to grow their businesses in Panama.
Expats moving to Panama will be pleased to discover that the country's cost of living is quite low. The price of property has increased with the country's growing popularity, but this is dependent on the city and location. The cost of transportation is relatively cheap compared to North America and Europe, and shopping in Panama is mostly duty-free.
There are also a few cultural and lifestyle adjustments new arrivals should consider when pondering a move to Panama. Those from Western countries may struggle with the lack of certain conveniences and the much slower pace of life. Getting used to shops closing for lunch and even government services being shut at inconvenient times is something newcomers will have to accommodate.
The standard of healthcare in Panama is fairly good, particularly in private hospitals in major cities. Expats should ensure they have a good health insurance policy to gain access to the best care and facilities. Compared to other South- and Central American countries, Panama is relatively safe, but burglaries are still common and theft from vehicles is widespread. Police have a strong presence on Panama’s city streets and carry out regular checks on cars at roadsides to keep track of criminal movements. Expats should always exercise caution when using ATMs and be vigilant when walking alone at night.
The Panamanian people are known for being friendly, hospitable and welcoming towards new arrivals. While the official language of Panama is Spanish, English proficiency is extremely common, especially in the cities and when conducting business.
A fascinating and incredibly picturesque country, Panama is sure to have expats staying far longer than originally anticipated.
Population: About 4 million
Capital city: Panama City
Neighbouring countries: Panama is bordered by Costa Rica in the north and Colombia in the south.
Geography: Panama forms the isthmus that connects Central America to South America. The country is home to white sandy beaches with turquoise waters and dense jungles, which lead up into the volcanic mountain ranges that run its entire length.
Political system: Unitary presidential constitutional republic
Major religion: Roman Catholic
Main language: Spanish
Money: Panama's official currency is the Panamanian Balboa (PAB), which can be divided into 100 cents. The currency used for day-to-day interactions is the United States Dollar (USD). Expats will find that ATMs and card facilities are widely available in Panama.
Tipping: A tip of 10 percent is generally expected for most services where gratuity has not already been included in the bill.
Electricity: 110 volts, 60Hz. Plugs with two flat blades are used throughout the country.
Internet domain: .pa
International dialling code: +507
Emergency numbers: 104 (police), 103 (fire and ambulance)
Transport: Panamanians drive on the right-hand side of the road. Panama City has a reliable and extensive public transport network. For travel around the country, expats should consider air travel or taking their own car as inter-city bus networks are known to be unsafe.