Find A Job
Panama is already a popular destination for American retirees but increasingly expats have been looking at the country for employment choices, too. Salaries tend to be comparatively low, particularly in relation to the USA, but the cost of living is also low, which balances out the lower wages. Panama is currently Central America’s biggest economy and is continuing to grow after new presidential elections and a boost to the country’s infrastructure.
It is advisable to look first at one of the many international companies which have a base in Panama: either as secondment from a company for which you already work, or as new employment, but there are other opportunities and we will look at some of these below.
Panama has recently overhauled its legal requirements for overseas employees and overall has extended the length of most types of work permits.
The government has created a new category of (non-resident) stay visa for US nationals. This allows you to enrol for temporary and/or technical work, investment, and labor transfer for up to a year, and this can be extended.
This new visa requires documentary evidence of the intended work. However, you will not need to pay the usual US$100 migration service fee.
There is also an option for temporary residence permits for aviation personnel.
In order to encourage the employment of local personnel, Panama operates a quota system and also has a policy of adhering to the Marrakech Agreement (for companies with fewer than ten employees). In order to apply for a work permit under the Marrakech Agreement, a company must employ a minimum of 3 Panamanian employees and no other foreign national employees.
For a standard work permit for professionals (for example, people working in international trade or administration), you can apply for a permit for 2 years, renewable for 3 years. You will no longer need to renew your work permit every year during the 10-year period that is required before you are eligible to apply for a permanent work permit (this is designed to reduce immigration costs for employers and administrative burdens for foreign personnel).
However, you will need to submit a substantial amount of documentation in order first to be registered as a professional foreigner:
• your passport, including the cover, authenticated by a Notary Public of Panama
• a police record certificate: apostilled or authenticated by a Consul of Panama
• your original university degree certificate + 2 apostilled copies of your university degree (one for your residency and the other for the work permit). All degrees must be approved at the University of Panama
• a medical certificate
• 3 x passport photos
• proof of residence (receipt of public services or lease)
• Power of Attorney
You will also need to pay a fee.
Once you have been registered, you will need to apply for your actual work visa itself by submitting the following to the Ministry of Labor:
• document accrediting your immigration status issued by the SNM
• 4 x passport-sized photos
• apostilled copy of your university degree
• copy of your residence card authenticated by a Panamanian Notary
• the Power of Attorney and your request
Panama is still an aviation hub between the Americas and if you are working within this sector you may well find opportunities open to you, for example in aviation engineering.
The banking sector is also expected to undergo significant growth into the 2020s, and if you have a background in finance, for example in fund management, Panama may be an appealing option.
Teaching English is also a popular choice and if you have a TEFL certificate, you will find a number of suitable vacancies. You do not need to have a university degree to teach English in Panama: however, you will have wider choices and can command a higher salary if you do.
It is recommended that you have at least basic Spanish, since this is the primary language of the country.
Typical working hours in Panama run from 8 a.m. – 12 p.m. with a long lunch break, then from 2 p.m. – 5/6 p.m.
You will have 13 national holidays. Annual leave is set at 30 days after 11 continuous months of employment.
The Panama minimum wage rate ranges from 1.22 to 2.36 Panamanian balboas per hour, depending on the region and sector (the balboa is pegged to the US dollar). An average monthly salary in Panama City is in the region of US$1200 and US$500 in more rural areas.
You will be eligible for paid maternity leave for up to 6 weeks before delivery and for 8 weeks after the birth. There is a minimum 14 weeks rest period.
Your spouse can come with you to Panama but there is now a separate employment visa for spouses, issued initially for two years and renewable for three years.
You can apply directly to a company and speculative applications are considered routine. You may need to upload your CV and any supporting documents.
Online jobs boards are a possible source of information, or you could consider applying to a recruitment agency. If you are on the ground in Panama, the local press may also advertise any vacancies.
Applying For A Job
A standard CV/resume should be acceptable. Some Panamanian companies report a poor standard of CVs/resumes from local applicants, so make sure that yours is as strong as possible.
Panama has recently instituted anti-discrimination legislation but may not yet be up to speed with North American countries.
Qualifications And Training
You may need to have any specialist qualifications or degree certificates apostilled. You may also need to have important information translated into Spanish unless you are applying to an international company.
Apply For A Visa/Permit
Panama is an attractive country for expats. It is currently Central America’s biggest economy and is continuing to grow after new presidential elections and a boost to the country’s infrastructure. It is appealing to both employees and retirees, particularly from the USA. If you are intending to spend time there, it is important to understand the regulations. We will look at some of your options below.
Panama has a range of visas, including:
• Pensioner (retiree) visa
• Friendly nations visa
• Professional employment visa
• Reforestation investor visa
• Self economic solvency visa
• Business investor visa
• Married to a Panamanian citizen visa
Panama has visa agreements with a variety of nations. If you are a British citizen, you will not need a visa to visit Panama, unless you are arriving by sea (see below), for a stay of less than 180 days.
If you are a citizen of another visa-waiver country, such as the United States, Canada, and members of the European Union, as well as some other countries, you do not need a formal visa to gain entry to Panama if you intend to stay for less than 180 days. You will, however, need a passport that has been valid for at least three months, and this may need to be six months at the time of your arrival.
The country offers benefits to expat retirees, including the pensionado visa, which is available to anyone over 18 who has a lifetime pension, annuities, or an income of $1K per month (you can combine this with your spouse’s income). If you buy property worth over $100K, the minimum monthly income requirement drops to $750. However, this visa does not entitle you to work.
If you are a British citizen, you must have a return or onward ticket and the equivalent of US$500 or a credit card.
If you enter Panama by land from Costa Rica, and are not a legal resident of Costa Rica, the immigration authorities may ask you to show proof of onward or return travel to your country of legal residence. Note that the UK government warns that you may be detained by immigration officials if you attempt to renew your tourist visa by visiting a neighbouring country, including Costa Rica.
An initial stay of 180 days is granted when you enter Panama. Extensions are not normally allowed, unless you apply to change your immigration status within the 180 days (for business purposes, marriage, etc.).
Make sure immigration officials properly stamp your passport with the date you enter the country.
If you wish to stay for longer, and are from one of the countries listed here, you can apply for a friendly nations visa. This follows Executive Decree 343, an immigration directive dating from 2012, which means that specific countries, with professional or economic ties with Panama, can apply for residence.
You will need:
• A summary of a police background check notarised by the Panamanian consulate in your area
• Utility bills demonstrating that you have established a presence in Panama
• Bank statements proving you can support yourself financially
• Valid photo identification
You may be asked for additional documents, such as an employment contract.
A tourist card costs around US$5.
If you are a British national and arrive in Panama by sea, except via a cruise line, you will need a visa. There is a fee of $100, plus a $5 registration fee, per person for passengers and crew members of vessels. Other fees may be charged, for example, for cruising permits.
The Panamanian authorities warn that visa processing from abroad can take up to 60 days.
Panama has recently overhauled its legal requirements for overseas employees, and overall it has extended the length of most types of work permit.
The government has created a new category of (non-resident) stay visa for US nationals. This allows you to enrol for temporary and/or technical work, investment, and labour transfer for up to a year, and this can be extended.
This new visa requires documentary evidence of the intended work. However, you will not need to pay the usual US$100 migration service fee.
There is also an option for temporary residence permits for aviation personnel.
In order to encourage the employment of local personnel, Panama operates a quota system and also has a policy of adhering to the Marrakesh Agreement (for companies with fewer than ten employees). In order to apply for a work permit under the Marrakesh Agreement, a company must employ a minimum of three Panamanian employees and no other foreign national employees.
For a standard work permit for professionals – for example, for people working in international trade or administration – you can apply for a permit for two years, renewable for three years. You will no longer need to renew your work permit every year during the 10-year period that is required before you are eligible to apply for a permanent work permit. This is designed to reduce immigration costs for employers and administrative burdens for foreign personnel.
However, you will need to submit a substantial amount of documentation in order first to be registered as a professional foreigner:
• Your passport, including the cover, authenticated by a notary public of Panama
• A police record certificate – this must be apostilled or authenticated by a consul of Panama
• Your original university degree certificate and two apostilled copies of your university degree – one is for your residency and the other is for your work permit – which must be approved at the University of Panama / University Technology
• A medical certificate
• Three passport photos
• Proof of residence (receipt of public services or lease)
• Power of Attorney
You will also need to pay a fee.
Once you have been registered, you will need to apply for the actual work visa itself, by submitting the following to the Ministry of Labor:
• A document accrediting your immigration status, issued by the SNM
• Four passport-size photos
• An apostilled copy of your university degree
• A copy of your residence card, authenticated by a Panamanian notary
• The Power of Attorney and your request
Get Health Insurance
Many expats take out private medical insurance, even if this is not a requirement of residence, because healthcare is expensive in their destination country or because certain treatments and procedures are not available.
When taking out health insurance, be sure to check factors such as the annual and lifetime policy limits, whether there are any exclusions which are likely to affect you, whether you are limited to treatment from specific types of healthcare providers, and whether the policy covers emergency evacuation for medical treatment.
Too frequently, potential buyers of health insurance look only for the lowest cost of premiums before really considering the specific benefits and areas of cover they may actually need. Some plans are cheaper for a reason. Often they include large voluntary deductibles on any claim you might make in the future and may severely cap the benefits received under the plan. Clients should define their needs first, establish the particular area of cover they need, then determine their annual healthcare insurance budget. Only then should they look to premium comparisons, last of all.
Do not buy a plan without studying the policy wording carefully. If in doubt, ask, and only when completely satisfied complete all application forms fully, to the best of your ability.
Important questions to ask the insurance provider:
1. Does the plan allow for cooling off periods, cancellation and then repayment of premium in full?
2. Does the plan offer “Moratorium” or is it “Full underwriting” and do you need to have a medical examination before joining?
3. Does the insurer offer a 24 hour help line, 7 days a week, available from anywhere in the world (freephone)? Most insurers now offer this facility.
4. Are pre-existing conditions excluded when joining and if so, for how long are such conditions excluded?
5. Are all and any nationalities accepted or are there restrictions which apply to local nationals? Some insurers will only take expatriates abroad and not local nationals into an overseas plan.
6. Does the plan allow you to continue cover unbroken through your lifetime? In most cases insurers will continue to offer existing clients cover year on year, irrespective of age or claims history, although premium rates charged can increase dramatically with age.
7. Does the insurer allow for any doctor or consultant or hospital within the plan? Are there any restrictions in this respect? Most international plans do not place restrictions on either hospitals or doctors, but almost all demand that their help lines are called first, prior to approval of any inpatient care.
8. Does the insurer provide for the direct settlement of bills presented by hospitals worldwide, regardless of location (or do you have to pay first)?
9. What are the insurers procedures for outpatient claims? Do these require any pre-authorization or if stated in the plan can you just pay and claim? How long before you get money back from the insurer? 14 days? 28 days?.
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Rent Or Buy Property
Renting property in Panama is popular amongst expats. Whether you’re a resident or a tourist, you can sign local leases, and owners are often very accommodating with regards to how long these are for.
Panama has a very affordable rental market, although prices tend to be higher the more central the property is. Oceanfront suburbs in Panama can also be expensive.
Generally speaking, most rentals are let out furnished, and leases are typically set for one year. In some cases, you can rent month-to-month, although it may be at a premium price. It is also worth noting that Panama has a law against rentals that are shorter than 45 days. Make sure that your lease is notarised and checked over by an attorney, before you sign a contract.
If your chosen home is more than three years old, it may be worth conducting some checks to ensure that everything is functioning properly. It is also important to check whether the landlord resides nearby, as they are responsible for maintenance and repairs to the property. If they live on the other side of the country, or even overseas, you may struggle to get them to fulfil this obligation, and may potentially end up having to organise and pay for repairs out of your own pocket.
It is not a mandatory requirement to hold a residency visa in order to rent a property in Panama. However, you will need at least one month’s rent as a security deposit, along with your first month’s rent upfront. If, after moving in, you find that the location or property is not for you, but you have already signed your tenancy agreement, you can legally get out of it, providing it is within a 30-day notice period. In such cases, it is unlikely that you will be able to get your security deposit back, but you won’t be liable for any more rent.
Apartments are the most popular accommodation type among expatriates, and they can be found by using local estate agents or by simply driving around neighbourhoods and looking for rental signs. If you’re looking for some security, or are worried about the language barrier, then it’s best to use a licensed estate agent/broker.
There are multiple websites you can use, as well as Facebook groups that you can join. Several popular websites include:
A typical rental in Panama City can cost anywhere from $1,200 to $4,000, depending on the area of the city. The lower priced rentals are mostly found in smaller, older apartment buildings, while the pricier rentals tend to come in the form of luxury condos. Online database website Numbeo estimates that the average monthly rent for a one-bedroom apartment in a city centre is approximately $781.43, with the price dropping to roughly $520.31 further outside the city. A city centre three-bedroom apartment can cost upwards of $1,415.00 per month, with its suburban counterpart costing around $947.14. The most popular cities in Panama for expats are Boquete, Coronado, and El Valle de Anton.
Prices for new real estate in Panama have been steadily rising over the past few years, but the average cost still remains cheaper than in the US or UK. Buying property in Panama can be a good investment opportunity, with a promising return.
There are relatively few restrictions on foreign nationals buying property in Panama. However, there are some, including specific stipulations on waterfront and island properties, as well as untitled land. Untitled land must be owned by a citizen of Panama for a minimum period of at least two years before it can be sold on to a foreign buyer. After the two-year period has passed, the land can be titled and resold without any restrictions. However, it is worth noting that in some circumstances untitled land can never be sold. It is best to seek professional advice from a legal advisor before you commit to purchasing any untitled land.
If you want to make your life a whole lot easier and to avoid any unnecessary complications, your first step should be to look for a real estate agent or broker. Before you decide on which agent or broker to work with, it’s a good idea to do some background research – read reviews, ask for references, get recommendations from people you know, and check that they are appropriately licensed and experienced.
In many ways, purchasing property in Panama is very similar to buying back home. To get you started, you can look on websites such as Encuentra24, where sellers, agents and developers all list property for sale. This will give you an idea of the sort of price you will be looking at. From there, you can work out your budget. After you have found a property that you like, it’s always best to view it in person, and more often than not, it’s also a good idea to get an independent surveyor to look the place over before you put your offer in.
After this, you can put your offer in and hopefully agree on a price with the seller. You can then get an attorney in Panama to check the public registry, in order to make sure that the property you’re buying has a good, clean title. The attorney can also verify the size of the property, land boundaries and any restrictions in place. Some checks will need to be conducted on the seller to ensure that they are the legal owner or have the power of attorney to sell you the house.
Once background checks on the seller have been conducted and the title has been confirmed, you can enter into the buying agreement. You can sign preliminary papers laying out the terms of sale and the closure date. This is the stage when you would usually pay the deposit. At closing, both parties should sign a final buy/sell contract, and then the title is transferred. The contract will be drawn up as a public deed, and all parties must sign in the presence of a notary.
After all this has been done, you can transfer the remaining funds. It’s better to do this via an “irrevocable letter of payment” than a direct person-to-person transfer. This basically means that you pay the funds into a local bank in Panama, and they issue a letter to the seller telling them they have the money and will release it when certain terms and conditions are met – i.e. the title has been transferred and any mortgages or loans have been paid off. You will need to make sure that the purchase is recorded at the public registry. Once this registration is complete, your attorney will give you the registered title deed. Make a copy of this deed and file it with the tax records department.
Residential mortgages are available in Panama for foreigners. Mortgage lenders rely on loan-to-value ratio and the ability to pay. It is typical for a Panamanian bank to require that you open a bank account as part of the loan application process. In order to do this, you will likely need a letter of reference from your bank in your home country.
*Prices shown in US Dollars.
Move Your Belongings
Consider if you want (or are able) to transport your belongings yourself or whether you will need the services of a removals company that deals with international moves. Unless you are travelling very light, or making a fairly short move by road, you will probably need professional help to ship your possessions. Ask for quotes from several companies first, ensuring that they visit your home to carry out a survey of your requirements. It may be worth paying extra for the removals firm to pack your possessions for you, particularly if they are going to be transported to a distant country and need special protection for the long journey. Make sure you bring to their attention anything fragile or precious that needs particularly careful wrapping and packing.
Before agreeing to a quotation, ensure that you are fully aware of exactly what is covered in the price, and that the service to be provided meets all of your requirements. For example, does the service include both packing and unpacking of your household effects? What about disassembling and reassembling of furniture? If you are planning to put anything into storage in your destination country while you find accommodation, does the price include final delivery and unpacking at your home, or will you need to arrange collection of the items? Obtain a firm estimate of the likely arrival date of your items and obtain contact details for any agents that will be dealing with the removal in your destination country. Ensure that the removals company is aware in advance of any practical considerations such as the lack of an elevator to your apartment, or likely parking problems.
If using a removals company, you may be required to take out their insurance cover for your possessions. Whether or not this is the case, ensure that you have adequate insurance for anything of actual or sentimental value that could get lost or damaged during the move. Take the time to accurately complete or check an inventory of your possessions to be moved, as this will form the basis for any insurance claim for losses or damages. Find out if insurance is included in the price quoted by the removals company, or whether you are required to pay extra for this.
The removals company should arrange any customs and importation documents on your behalf, but if you are arranging the move independently you will need to find out what documents are required and what import duties and taxes are payable (and whether you are eligible for exemption from these).
Make sure that you set aside the important documents you will need for the journey, such as passports and air tickets, and keep these easily accessible in your hand luggage.
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Register For Healthcare
QUICK LINK: Panama health insurance
MINSA operates public sector healthcare and the Caja de Seguro Social covers public health insurance. Both currently offer only basic coverage and many expats opt for private coverage instead, or choose to pay out-of-pocket. Health insurance is not compulsory, but it is estimated that around 3.49 million people are in fact covered, out of a population of 3.9 million. Of these, 1.6 million are actual contributors, while 1.8 million are dependents.
Panamanian health insurance operates on a reimbursement model and if you are covered you will be entitled to use the public, or ‘regional’ hospitals, clinics (polyclinicas) and social security hospitals, depending on the type of national insurance that you have. You will be expected to pay upfront if you visit a healthcare provider, including for emergency treatment.
Out-of-pocket care is still cheap in the public hospitals, especially when compared to the USA, but it is becoming more expensive (expats have quoted $20 for a GP visit and $60-65 to see a specialist). A hip replacement, for instance, will cost you $5000. Cataract surgery has been quoted at around $2000.
In addition to public insurance policies, Panama also has Health Maintenance Organisations (HMOs). These are medical insurance groups that provide health services for a fixed annual fee. Discount care plans run by individual hospitals are also available throughout the country. There are no age restrictions or deductibles, and pre-existing condition coverage will commence after your first year. Some discount plans will cover 85% of your medical costs.
If you are a member of the US military you may also be eligible for Tricare, which is a benefit rather than insurance per se.
If you are employed, your employer should register you with the CSS, but check that this has been done.
It is also possible to make voluntary contributions into the national health insurance schemes, for example, if you are self-employed. To do this, you will first need to contact the CSS. They may need to see the following documents:
• personal identity card, passport, or original permanent resident card
• copy of your income tax return and your payment receipt for comparison
• any other document that the CSS requires in coordination with the Ministry of Economy and Finance
• probate card for the designation of beneficiaries and / or heirs
If you are not working, contact the CSS and check if it is possible to pay contributions into the system on an independent basis.
Open A Bank Account
In order to open a bank account in Panama applicants have to present a certain amount of documentation. These requirements can vary from bank to bank, but the basics are generally the same and applicants should expect to be asked for more information than they would have to provide in some other parts of the world. Any information that applicants provide to the bank needs to be current, as older information can be rejected.
One of the first things to do is to supply is a photocopy of a valid passport. This also includes the page with a photo on it and some pages with recent stamps. This documentation is usually required, but it may be different with each bank. Another form of ID is required as well. This includes a driver’s license or a Panamanian ID card for those who already have one. In addition applicants also need to provide two financial reference letters. These need to be from institutions such as banks that have been dealt with in the past. These need to be addressed to the bank in which the applicant wishes to open an account and they must be signed by a manager of the bank or company.
There are two further letters that are required. These are from professional or commercial people that the applicant has dealt with before. They need to be printed on an official letterhead and can be from a solicitor, financial advisor or former employer. If these letters are sent from Panamanian nationals then it can make this process much easier. Photocopies of income tax returns from the previous two years also need to be provided at this stage. This should all be sent with the completed application form for the bank account. Those who are in the country on one of the retired persons’ programmes need to enclose a copy of their pension status statement.
Opening the account could be a problem for those who do not speak Spanish fluently, so it is wise to bring someone who can serve as a translator. Many banks require a minimum deposit at the time of opening a bank account, which can vary from around $150 to $300, depending on the type of account. This amount is usually held until the bank verifies the account and lets the applicant know that it is opened. Once the account is active, users can pay in a number of ways. This includes paying in cash, by cheque or a bank transfer. The process of opening the new account can take up to 10 working days.
If a chequebook, debit card, ATM card or online banking are required, applicants need to request these when they opening the account. Most of the banks in Panama have online facilities which offer options for paying bills and other items. In order to have a credit card users need to have a minimum deposit in their account. Credit cards come with varying limits and rates, so it is wise to check all these details with a desired bank. A debit card features a “Clave” logo which gives customers the opportunity to use it at one of the many ATMs in the country. Some banks also charge a fee for a debit card and its use, but these may vary.
There are different types of bank account available in Panama. These includes savings, current and deposit accounts. Interest rates usually vary from bank to bank and most of them offer higher interest for those who save more. Banks in Panama offer a good and efficient service, as they all have modern facilities. Some branches in rural areas may not offer the same quality of services as banks in the cities across the country.
Offshore banking is very popular in Panama as well. Among the popular banks are Banco General and Bancafe. International banks with a presence in Panama include HSBC and Citibank. Many locals use the two state owned banks, Caja de Ahorros and Banco Nacional de Panama. These offer the same services as numerous international banks. Banks in Panama are open Monday to Friday from 8.30 am to 4pm, closing for an hour at lunchtime. On Saturdays the working hours are from 8.30 am to 1 pm.
The Panamanian currency is the Balboa, which is named after Vasco Nunez de Balboa, the Spanish explorer who played a significant role in bringing Panama under Spanish rule. The international code for the Balboa is PAB and it has the same sign as the US dollar. The balboa became the main currency after Panama stopped using Colombian currency in 1904, shortly after gaining independence from their neighbouring country. At the time when the currency has changed, the Colombian peso was given the value of half a balboa. More than 4 million pesos were given to the banks in exchange for the new currency. The old coins were melted down, some in New York and some in London. The total was almost half of all the Colombian coins in circulation, which later led to some problems within the Colombian economy.
The new currency was immediately linked to the American dollar and was structured in very much the same way. One balboa is divided into 100 centesimos and has the same value and exchange rate as the US dollar. There are no longer any Panamanian banknotes as this country uses only American banknotes, although Panama does have its own coins. It is worth noting that if you have American $50 and $100 bills, then some businesses, particularly small businesses in Panama, will not accept them. Some shops and businesses that do accept them will expect that customers provide some identification first. Those who are given coins in Panamanian banks will find that most of them are US coins.
This can be confusing, particularly if travelling to Panama and trying to obtain Panamanian currency. It is easier to take American currency or traveller’s cheques as these are accepted everywhere and there is no need to exchange currency. There are bureau de change offices in numerous places across the country, with most hotels and banks offering this facility as well. As the balboa is interchangeable with the US dollar, the exchange rate with the currencies of other countries has the same rate as the US dollar has with them, so when comparing currencies, it is easier to simply check the rate for the US dollar.
There are many ways of sending money from one country to another. As always, expats can save themselves a lot of trouble and expense if they do a little research and shop around for the best deal.
International Bank Transfers
For most expats, currency transfer involves transferring small to medium sized amounts regularly from an existing bank account back home into a new overseas bank account in the local currency. These may be pension payments, benefits, or any other form of income.
Your home bank will usually be glad to oblige. You can set up facilities with them “on demand” whereby you fax or call them on the phone, provide a secret code or two, tell them the amount in question, and they will transfer it to your new bank, automatically converting it into the relevant local currency. Some banks also allow you to make international payments online. Whatever method you choose, transfers normally take between 3-7 days although 1-2 day transfers are often available but be prepared to pay more for these.
You can also set up regular transactions that are processed automatically on a fixed day of each month. Many state pensions and benefits can be paid directly into your new bank abroad without going through your home bank at all. Some private pension organisations may also offer the same facility.
When you first set up a transfer of funds abroad, the sending bank or institution will ask you for various codes that identify the destination bank. Often they will ask for IBAN (International Bank Account Number), BIC (Bank Identifier Code) or SWIFT codes but don?t panic – your new bank will give these to you and they may even already be listed in your new chequebook or bank statements.
As far as charges are concerned, you will probably be required to pay a flat fee per transaction. Additionally a percentage fee is often charged for the currency conversion itself. You may also find that your receiving bank charges you for receiving the transfer. Charges vary by bank but can quickly add up – ask your bank(s) for an indication of the fees involved.
As a general rule, transferring larger sums less frequently usually works out cheaper than transferring smaller amounts more often. However, if you need to transfer regular amounts of at least a few hundred pounds/dollars or need to make a larger one-off payment (e.g. for a house purchase) you should consider the services of a currency broker.
Cash Machine/ATM Withdrawals
Thanks to modern technology, most people abroad can go to a cash machine/ATM and withdraw local currency funds directly from their home bank account. This is a useful option to have for expats but exercise caution – many banks make hefty charges for using this type of facility. You may also find that withdrawal limits are in place (as a security measure) even if you significant funds in your account back home.
You can also use VISA or Mastercard credit cards to obtain cash in this fashion and if you pay the amount off quickly and avoid interest charges then fine – but once again credit card charges for cash withdrawals can be high. Check the rates carefully.
Currency brokers (also called foreign exchange brokers) offer significant advantages over traditional banks. Firstly, brokers will often be able to offer you a better rate than your bank. Secondly, the entire process is more transparent – many banks require you to accept the exchange rate available on the day they process your transaction, whatever and whenever that may be, but a specialist broker will offer greater flexibility, even allowing you to specify the rate you want in advance.
Currency brokers are smaller companies than major banks so always check their background carefully. Ask existing expats for their own experiences and recommendations before choosing a firm to handle your own foreign exchange requirements.
A good broker will discuss all the options with you and enable you to make the best decision for your circumstances. Using a broker will typically off the following advantages:
1) Currency brokers generally provide superior exchange rates to the high street banks. The currency brokers have access to the interbank rate and do not have the high costs that the banks have. This means that they can usually offer better exchange rates.
2) Use of a free Market Watch/Order Service: This allows you to tell your currency broker your target or budget exchange rate and they will ring you if that exchange rate level is reached. As the rate moves every few seconds, currency brokers can act as your eyes and ears on the market.
3) Ability to fix the exchange rate in advance using a Forward Contract. If you know you need to convert/move funds in the future but don?t yet have the money you can reserve a rate in advance using a Forward Contract. During this period, you are exposed to exchange rate movements and therefore, a forward contract is ideal if, for example, you have agreed to buy a house and want to fix the rate now but will not be making payment for a couple of months.
Savings from currency brokers can vary from between 1 and 4 per cent on the exchange rate alone, and specialists do not typically charge any fees for transmitting the funds abroad, unlike banks which often levy expensive fees or charges. If you are emigrating and transferring a large sum of money – such as the proceeds of a property – a foreign exchange company could potentially save you thousands.
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Learn The Language
If you are planning to live and work in Panama, you may be questioning how easy it will be for you to communicate in the workplace and on the street. Which languages are spoken in Panama, and can you get by in English? We will provide some answers below.
Spanish is the official language in Panama, but over a dozen other tongues are spoken as well, including indigenous languages such as Kuna, which is taught in some schools, and Ngobe-Bugle. The Teribe language is spoken in northwestern Panama. Guari Guari, or Creole English, is spoken in the Bocas del Toro: this is a patois English which includes Spanish and Ngobe-Bugle words. Other commonly spoken languages include:
• Chinese (including Cantonese and Hakka)
The Spanish spoken here is more closely related to Caribbean Spanish rather than to Central American Spanish. You will find some differences, too, if you are used to speaking Spanish in Spain.
English is another minority language in Panama, so you will find that some English is spoken throughout the country. Around 14% of the population are estimated to be English-speaking. Both Spanish and English are spoken in the workplace. It is recommended that you have your business cards printed in both English and Spanish. It is also a good idea to have references and qualifications translated into Spanish and apostilled.
Although you will usually be able to make yourself understood in urban areas, this may not be the case in more remote parts of the country. You are also likely to find that younger people are more fluent in English.
If you are planning to relocate to Panama in the longer term, it is recommended that you learn Spanish more extensively, for instance via formal language classes. You will find good provision for language training in Panama: language schools here require teachers to have college degrees and advanced training in E.L.E. (Español como Lenguaje Extraño).
Panama has four Cervantes-accredited schools (Instituto Cervantes is the international authority for Spanish language learning worldwide) in three different regions, including Panama City, the mountains and the coast. In Panama City, you will find provision in Universidad de Panamá or EPA! Español en Panamá, or Habla Ya Spanish Schools in Boquete and Bocas del Toro. Some schools offer homestays for an immersive environment.
You will have plenty of opportunity to speak Spanish in Panama: it is also recommended that you watch Spanish language television and read the Spanish media. You may also be able to participate in a language exchange with someone who wishes to learn English and team up with a ‘language buddy.’
It is advised that you take a good phrasebook with you and do not rely on digital methods such as translation apps on your phone: more rural areas may not have total wifi or mobile signal coverage.
Teaching English is a popular choice among expats coming into the country to work and you will find a number of suitable vacancies: there is quite a high demand for EFL provision in the country. You do not need to have a university degree to teach English in Panama, but you will have wider choices and can command a higher salary if you do.
It is always easier to get work in international education if you have at least a certificate in either TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) or TESOL (Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages).
It is also preferable if you have experience in teaching schemes such as the Cambridge English exams or IELTS (International English Language Testing System): the English test for study, migration or work. Some teaching experience in the Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT) will also be helpful. This assesses analytical, writing, quantitative, verbal, and reading skills in written English for use in admission to graduate management programs, such as the MBA.
You may also find work more easily if you are experienced in teaching English for particular sectors, such as tourism and hospitality, or in business English. You may well find that your main clients are business professionals keen to learn English for career development in Panama’s highly international commercial environment.
It will also be helpful to have at least a Bachelor’s degree as most language schools prefer this, although it is not usually a formal requirement in Panama: basically, the rule of thumb is that the more qualifications you have, both in TEFL and in academic subjects, the easier you will find it to get work.
You can expect a monthly salary in the region of US$900 – 1500 in higher end language schools but this could be a lot lower: however, the cost of living in Panama is comparatively low as well. February/March and July/August are the main hiring periods and most jobs are to be found in Panama City. Contracts typically extend from six months to a year.
Panama has recently overhauled its legal requirements for overseas employees and overall has extended the length of most types of work permits. You may be able to find work in translation and interpretation but your proficiency in Spanish will need to be high and you will need the relevant qualifications.
Choose A School
Education in Panama is divided into three stages:
Basic education lasts from the ages of 4-15 and is itself divided into stages:
• pre-school (2 years; ages 4 and 5)
• primary (primaria, 6 years; 6-12)
• middle school (premedia, 3 years; 12-15)
Pre-school classes (maternales) are available from the age of one year and eight months. Kindergarten is compulsory from the age of five.
At the end of the primary cycle students will take the Certificate of General Basic Education, following a broad curriculum featuring standard subjects (Spanish, maths, history, science etc.). Secondary schools take students aged 15-18 and they can choose either an academic or a vocational/technical track. Both primary and secondary education in the public sector are compulsory and free of charge. Students undergo a five-point assessment process at regular intervals.
From 15-18 students will study a particular modality (such as the sciences, IT, commerce, humanities and so on), and will take their High School Diploma in this area.
However, according to World Economic Forum reports, Panama’s education ranks low in global terms, despite recent curriculum reform which has gone some way to improving retention rates; it may result from government underspending in education. It ranks particularly low in maths and science, but scores highly on some areas, such as staff training. However, the Panamanian government has recently been trying to develop education further by increasing bilingual education and improving vocational training.
Educational infrastructure in the country is fraying. A percentage of schools, especially in rural areas, have erratic supplies of drinkable water and electricity, and a limited number of schools in comparison to the size of the population has meant that schools tend to operate on a ‘split shift’ system which impacts on the length of the school day. This is being addressed, but the country is not yet up to speed in terms of international educational standards.
Panama has scored low in the OECD PISA rankings in the last decade and, concerningly, refused to take part again until 2018 (it was ranked third from the bottom of the scale in 2009). However, the 2018 results were similar to those of almost a decade before and the OECD says that compared to the OECD average, a smaller proportion of students in Panama performed at the highest levels of proficiency (Level 5 or 6) in at least one subject; at the same time a smaller proportion of students achieved a minimum level of proficiency (Level 2 or higher) in at least one subject.
Bilingualism is also an issue: various Panamanian authorities recognise the importance of English as an international language and efforts have been made to address the levels of English spoken in the country. The Panamá Bilingüe programme has been running from 2014 – 2019, and may run beyond, consisting of teacher training, an after-school programme for grades 7-11, and a programme for pre-school to grade six. The intention of this was to train 2,000 teachers a year in bilingual education, improve bilingualism rates for around 50,000 students overall. This was to be achieved through teacher training, and after-school and pre-school programmes. An extensive teacher training programme has been established and a Bilingual Technical Institute has been in the works.
Despite these ongoing efforts, you will still find that the bulk of instruction in Panamanian schools is conducted in Spanish.
For this reason, plus the ongoing challenges faced by public sector education, many expats in Panama choose to have their children educated in the private sector. There are a number of private and international schools in the country and you should find a wide range of choice. Annual fees normally range from US$1K to $12K but you will need to negotiate this with individual schools.
As an example, Knightsbridge Schools International Panama is an International Baccalaureate World school, part of the global Knightsbridge chain, situated in the Panama Pacifico development. It is open to students aged 2 to 18 years.
King’s College, The British School of Panama, is located in the leafy outskirts of Panama City and caters for children from the ages of 3-17. It offers an IGCSE curriculum and you may wish to consider it if your children will be returning to education in the UK. Fees here range from US$3K per term at nursery level to US$6K per term for Year 13.
The International School of Panama is another option, educating around 900 students from pre-school to 12th grade. It was the first IB world school established in Panama and as well as offering the International Baccalaureate diploma and certificate pathway, it also teaches the Innovation & Entrepreneur Certificate (IEC) pathway, and/or the MEDUCA diploma, as part of achieving the ISP Diploma (certified by the Ministry of Education). Instruction is conducted in English.
Balboa Academy also teaches pre-school through to 12th grade and has both Panamanian and USA accreditation: classes are taught in English but Spanish is also taught. Annual tuition fees are around US$12K.
You will need to pay additional one-off fees such as capitalisation or enrolment fees. Some schools will ask to test your child, for instance in proficiency in English. Make sure that you are fully informed about your payments: some schools will allow you to pay in instalments.
The school year either follows the American model (September – June) or the Panamanian model (March – December).
Homeschooling is an option here and a number of expat parents undertake homeschooling of their children, to avoid the problems inherent in the public sector and the expense of private education.