How to move to



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.

Job Vacancies

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

For those who wish to live in Panama on a long term basis, there are a number of different visas and permits that can be applied for, depending on the circumstances of the individual.

The "Turista Pensionado" is one of the most popular visas here and it is designed for those who wish to retire to Panama. Those who receive pensions which are at least $900 per month, either from their own government or privately, can apply for this type of visa. The pension statement is enough evidence to apply for this. It is also important to know that lawyers’ costs for this application are around $900-$1000. This type of visa is valid indefinitely, but applicants must provide a proof of interest on an annual basis. This type of visa includes exemption from duty payments on household goods that are imported into the country and the exemption of duty when importing a car in Panama.

Those who wish to live in this country on a retired person’s visa, but who are not in receipt of a pension, may do so if they prove that they have a private income. In order to qualify for this visa a lump sum would need to be deposited with the National Bank of Panama and it should be enough to provide a monthly income of at least $750 per month. This visa needs to be renewed every five years.

Some might wish to apply for a visa on the Reforestation programme which requires an investment of $40,000, where another level of investment is available at $80,000. Investors can obtain a visa not only for themselves but for a spouse and any dependent children as well. This visa needs to be renewed every year and after a period of five years an application for citizenship of Panama can be made. This may seem expensive but is a fairly popular route for obtaining citizenship in the country. An approved programme provides a return on investment, enabling investors to leave their money untouched for a minimum of ten years. Any profit made during this period is not taxed in Panama. Both levels of investment give residency status. Applicants must provide a passport which is valid for a minimum of six months, a certificate from the police in their home country to declare that they do not have a criminal record, a marriage certificate if applicable, proof of investment and the relevant completed application forms. Fees are payable for each person who needs a visa.

Those who are not retired, but who have independent means to support themselves can apply for a "person of means" visa. They must be able to prove that they have a minimum of $200,000, of which $80,000 must be earmarked for the purchase of a home in Panama. This visa is granted for a period of one year, but after one successful renewal it is considered to be permanent and gives the holder the right to apply for a local identity card. After a period of five years, the holder can make an application for citizenship.

Expats who wish to establish their own business can apply for an Investor visa or a Small Business Investor visa. Each carries a minimum level of investment and a requirement of the minimum number of native Panamanians who are hired to work in the business. These visas are granted provisionally for a period of one year, but are permanent after being renewed successfully. After five years, an application can be made for citizenship.

Processing time

For most visa applications people usually wait for between 1 and 2 months, although if some incorrect information or missing documents occur, this period can last much longer. Application forms can be obtained from the Panamanian consulate or embassy in expat’s home country. For the residents of some countries, a visit to Panama can be made on one of the 30 day tourist visas. Fees for each type of visa are different and are subject to regular reviews. A medical exam is not essential when applying for a visa.

Citizenship in Panama

Those who wish to become citizens of Panama can only do so once they have been a legal resident of the country for a minimum of five years. Expats must have the status of an immigrant, rather than retired expat status. Those who are married to a Panamanian citizen need to wait three years to apply for their own citizenship status. Citizenship status is not permanent in Panama, but obtaining immigrant status or citizenship is not difficult. It is important to know that this status or citizenship can be canceled at any time.

In order to make an application for Panamanian citizenship, expats must have a number of documents. An applicant must also have five testimonials from Panamanian citizens who are not related to the applicant in any way. These must state that the applicant has been a legal resident of Panama for the minimum of three or five years and has been living in the country on an uninterrupted basis. Some medical documentation is also required. Proof of a negative HIV test must be presented, along with a lung X-ray and proof of a general medical examination, which shows that the applicant is in good health and free from any infectious disease.

There is also the requirement of a notarized copy of the applicant’s passport, but it has to be a copy of the entire passport. It has to be submitted along with two passport-sized photographs. There are fees payable and the amounts change frequently. The latest information about it can be obtained from the Panamanian immigration department. All applicants must also write a statement which declares that they are renouncing their current citizenships. It should be noted that the applicant’s home country may not consider this to be legally binding and this should be clarified before making the official declaration. There are also stamps to a total of $300 that have to be attached to the letter of naturalization.

Those who wish to become citizens of the country need to be able to prove that they have a means of income and they need a letter from their employer to confirm the salary amount they earn or a letter from the applicant’s bank to show that they have savings that will support them while they are living in the country. If the applicant has already been working in the country they may also need to obtain a copy of their Social Security Fund record to show that they have made contributions. Other documentation that should be included is a power of attorney form to request confirmation from the Personal Identification Division of the date that the identity card was issued to confirm that the applicant has met the minimum three or five year requirement of immigrant status.

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?.

Save On Health Insurance

Compare quotes from leading international health insurance providers

Rent Or Buy Property

Renting Property

The laws on renting property in Panama are quite geared towards the landlords, although rents can be negotiated between the tenant and the landlord. The rental agreement for any residential property can include details of rental increases which can be applied in the future. On the other hand, rents that are no higher than $150 per month can only be increased if the landlord has written permission from the Ministry of Housing. The request must be assessed on the grounds of the fairness of the rent and the return that the landlord should expect. Exempt from this are rural properties which are located in the Canal Zone, rental of any holiday properties where tenants live for fewer than 6 months, and any properties that are managed or administered by an official body.

Those who wish to rent property in Panama should expect to pay a security deposit at the same amount as one month’s rent. This deposit is passed by the landlord to the Ministry of Housing and is returned when the rental agreement comes to an end, unless the landlord is making a claim on the monies for rent that is owed by the tenant or to cover any damage that has been occurred while the tenant was there. There are not any usual restrictions on the length of rental agreement. This is usually agreed between the landlord and tenant prior to signing the agreement. The contract is not binding with regard to the length of contract, as the tenant can terminate the agreement with a notice period of one month.

Tenants can be evicted in case of not paying the rent, but there is also a minimum period of time which passes while the legal procedures can take place. This includes the service of process, the trial and the enforcement, and this can add up to 120 days. In order to evict a tenant the landlord must be prepared to go to court, as the notice to evict must be enforced by the Corregidor, the highest legal authority of each region. Landlords who want to evict tenants for not paying the rent may find that due to the workload of the courts the process can even take several months.

Most people who rent property in Panama usually find a home through an estate agent. The estate agent acts on behalf of both the tenant and the landlord and a standard lease agreement gives the tenant a minimum of three years in the property in case that neither party wishes to terminate the agreement earlier. Some rental agreements can be even made for a period as long as 20 years. Some early terminations may bring penalties for the tenant, but any penalties are already stipulated in the contract. Rentals of less than a year are likely to cost the tenant more in rent and deposit.

Rent increases are not usually more than 5% per year, with an average of around 3% being the norm. All rents are payable monthly in advance.

Tenants can find both furnished and unfurnished properties. Furnished usually means that a property has some basic furniture such as a bed, wardrobe, living room furniture and kitchen appliances such as fridge. Extras such as a television are not usually included, although some landlords may provide kitchen utensils. Unfurnished means that a property has no furniture and occasionally no kitchen appliances, so the tenant is expected to provide their own. Unfurnished also means that carpets and curtains are provided by the landlord but this can still vary. The tenancy agreement stipulates all the items which are to be included.

As with all countries, property rental prices vary depending on the area and facilities. In cities, good quality apartments that have 2 or more bedrooms, secure parking and have basic appliances can cost from around $600 per month. Apartment buildings that have communal gyms or swimming pools will charge a lot more and depending upon the area can be $2000 or more. Beach front property can be $3000 or more, while houses with gardens are $1500 or more depending on the area. Houses in poorer areas can be found for less than $500 per month, but the facilities available are usually very basic.

Property types

As Panama has been experiencing a kind of property boom in recent years, it is a good time to invest in a home there. Prices of all types of property are low when compared with similar properties in the United Kingdom and the United States.

New builds and homes being bought off-plan are particularly popular at the moment among expats. This is because they can get a brand new home that needs no repairs. When it comes to the larger developments they can expect fellow expats to be their neighbours. In areas such as Panama City, new builds and off plan are mainly apartments, although there are some developments of detached houses as well. Areas such as Punta Pacifica and Marbella have large numbers of condo buildings and apartments for sale too. Suburban areas, such as Albrook, Altos de Curundu and Amador, are the places to go if looking for single family homes.

New build properties offer a number of benefits. Many of them come with fully fitted kitchens including appliances so the tenants do not have to buy fridges and cookers. Tenants can also decide how they want the property to be decorated.

Resale homes can also be bought for a good price, particularly if an expat has the resources to do a little renovation work. The older part of Panama City has a large number of homes which are undergoing redevelopment so expats can easily find a period property for a bargain price. These are popular with those who do not have a great deal of money to spend.

Outside Panama City expats can buy properties close to the beach in towns such as Punta Chame and Farillon, or look for mountain property at El Valle or Altos del Maria. Villa properties close to the beach are particularly popular with those who are moving to Panama to retire.

Buying Property

When expats wish to purchase property in Panama, they usually find that the process is not that simple. On the other hand, they soon realize that they have the same rights as Panamanian citizens. One of the few restrictions on expats buying property in Panama is that they cannot purchase land or houses that are within 10 miles of the borders of Costa Rica or Columbia. As Panama is becoming a very popular place for expats, particularly retirees, property is relatively inexpensive. The procedures for purchasing property are much the same as in many other countries in the region.

Property in Panama falls into two categories. They are either "titled", which means that buyers own the freehold of the property, or they are "right of possession", which is similar to leasehold, where buyers do not own the property outright. Right of possession properties cannot be used to raise a mortgage and cannot help expats to qualify for an investment visa. Legal advice is essential when purchasing a property in Panama. Lawyers can help with the research that expats need to do and they carry out all the validation and security checks. It is always a good idea to ask around when finding a lawyer to help with this process and choose the one that is recommended by other expats who have gone through the same process.

Once they have found the right property expats can make an offer to the person who sells it. Before signing a contract which commits them to buy it, customers need to carry out a few checks on the property. The property and ownership records are available from Panama’s Public Registry or the Ministry of Economy and Finance. A lawyer can help expats to check if there are any financial or legal problems that might prevent them from becoming the legal owner of the property.

The sale of contract must be in Spanish, but buyers can request that an official translation be made available as well. Each contract is different, but it must include information on the payment method, which must be confirmed by both seller and buyer in order to avoid any penalties which can be incurred if there is a breach of contract. A deposit must be paid when signing the final contract. This can be between 3% and 20%, depending upon the property and its value, and this deposit is not given back if the buyer changes their mind in the last stage of the purchase.

A survey is also carried out on the property in order to check the structural soundness of the building and to ensure that the description provided by the seller is an accurate description of the building’s condition. Problems that are uncovered by the survey can later be dealt with before the sale is finalized. The property seller must make a legal declaration and provide supporting documentation to prove that there is no legal reason preventing them from selling it, such as any debts or legal disputes. The seller should also ensure that there are no outstanding bills attached to the property and any maintenance fees, such as water supply or sewerage. It should be all paid before the transfer of ownership takes place. The seller is obliged to ensure that their own mortgage on the property is dealt with by the time the purchase is finalized.

When it is clear that all the mentioned matters have been taken care of, the seller and the purchaser can sign the deed of sale, which must then be confirmed by a Notary Public. This document is then passed on to the Public Registry with copies of the documents that prove that there isn’t any outstanding debt on the property. They will then authorize the transfer of the property title to the buyer. This process can take around 10 days. This way both sides are protected from any last minute problems that may occur. After this has been completed the buyer can take a copy of the deed of sale to the Property Registry and the Registry of Government Property, which is the part of the Ministry of Economy and Finance in Panama.

Property prices

The worldwide economic downturn has not affected property prices in Panama very much and the influx of foreign investors in the country has managed to keep the situation fairly steady. It is possible to purchase a property off plan at a very reasonable price and usually with a good discount. As there are many developments taking place across the country these bargains can be found in most places. However, when the properties are finished, there is not often much negotiating that can be done. Most sellers are happy to hold on to a property until there is a purchaser who is willing to pay the asking price. With the increased investment in Panama it is expected that property prices will increase by around 6% each year.

At the end of 2010 the average property prices in Panama City for an apartment varied depending on the location and size of the apartment. The average price for a small 90 sq m inland apartment was less than $150,000, while an apartment of a larger scale, such as 350 sq m, had an average price of just over $500,000. Beachfront properties are very popular and average prices for apartments on the coast in Panama City in 2010 were much higher than those further inland. For an apartment of around 80 sq m an average price of just over $175,000 was quite common, while the larger apartment of 350 sq m had an average price of $550,000. A beachfront house in Panama City had an average price of just over $900,000. It should be noted that these are the more luxurious properties and that there is a variety of properties that fall into lower price ranges as well.

Panama City is not the only popular destination among expats who wish to move to the country. Boquete is also proving very popular with foreign nationals thanks to its location. The town has a population of less than 20,000 and there is a large community of expats there. Prices in this area have been steadily rising over recent years, but they are still cheaper than many other areas in the country. For example, for the price of a small apartment in Panama City expats can purchase a house with a small parcel of land in Boquete.

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.

Save On Moving Costs

Compare quotes from leading international moving companies

Register For Healthcare

QUICK LINK: Panama health insurance

Panama has a Ministry of Health which oversees all health services that are provided in the country. The programmes that they offer include free care and examinations for the poorest population groups, all aspects of health education, monitoring sanitation conditions, building new hospitals and providing advice and care on the subject of nutrition. The health service is funded by the government and partly from the national lottery. The health service regularly receives support from organizations such as the World Health Organisation and UNICEF as well.

Diseases such as yellow fever, malaria and smallpox were quite rife in Panama for a while. With a concerted effort from the US, malaria has been brought under control and diseases such as yellow fever are now almost non-existent. In order to achieve this, many changes had to be made in the way that people live in this country. Poor sanitation and malnutrition were the problems that needed to be dealt with at first. By the year 2000, nearly 90% of the population had clean drinking water in their households. Vitamins are mainly distributed into areas where nutrition is considered to be still in poor shape. Nowadays, the main health issues in the country are heart disease, pneumonia and cancer.

Children are immunized for various diseases including diphtheria, polio, tetanus and measles, so problems with these types of illness are now unusual.

Hospitals in Panama

Larger cities in Panama offer good healthcare facilities. Many hospitals and clinics are new, having good and modern facilities. Most of the medical staff in Panama are trained in some other countries such as the US, so they are aware of all the latest developments and technologies in modern medicine. When compared with other countries, the standard of healthcare in this country is considered to be high.

The biggest hospital run by the Ministry of Health is the Hospital Santo Tomas, which is located in Panama City. The city also has a special children’s hospital that is publicly-run as well. Those residents of Panama City who are holders of social security can make use of the Hospital de Especialidades Pediatricas. Panama City also has the National Hospital, which is a private facility.

There are few more big hospitals in other areas such as the Hospital Amador Guerrero in Colon and the Hospital de Chepo in Chepo City. The city of David has a maternity hospital and a children’s hospital as well. Most rural areas have clinics that are run by the Ministry of Health, rather than private institutions. Private hospitals such as the Hospital Punta Pacifica have some of the best facilities in the country. This particular hospital is affiliated to Johns Hopkins, which is the one of the most prestigious hospitals in the United States. Several hospitals in the country have connections to US institutions, which ensures that they offer the best facilities and highly trained medical staff.

All health care facilities are available to people living or visiting the country. In general, no patients are rejected by hospitals if they do not have the proper insurance. Private health insurance is available for those who want to have it and there is a number of private health clinics available. Obtaining private health insurance in Panama is easy and it does not cost too much. Policies are cheaper than similar ones offered in countries such as the United States.

Emergency services

In order to get emergency medical care, it is enough to dial 911 if you are not capable of going to a doctor or a hospital. There is an ambulance service that can be sent out by this department, but the number of ambulances available is limited, so you amay need to wait for some time until the ambulance arrives. It also possible to subscribe to a private ambulance service, but these services do not operate in all areas of the country. Those who need counseling or any type of mental health care can be treated at the Ministry of Health-run National Psychiatric Hospital in Panama City. Some private hospitals will also offer counseling services.

All the information regarding the Ministry of Health can be found on the official website.

Vaccinations and health certificates

There are a number of recommended vaccinations for all those who are visiting Panama. All visitors should consult with their doctors a couple of months before travelling. There are some essential vaccinations that should be checked out with a doctor to determine if there are any further vaccinations that visitors of Panama might benefit from.

Routine vaccinations should also be current before visiting this country. These include chickenpox, polio, MMR, tetanus and influenza. Vaccine-preventable diseases include those for Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B, Typhoid and Yellow Fever. There are also some instances of cholera and Dengue fever as well. Some of these diseases are almost eradicated in Panama, but there is still a risk, so it is smart to be cautious. Those who wish to work with animals such as bats are recommended to have a rabies vaccination as there is always the risk of being bitten while working.

Malaria is also a big risk in Panama, so visitors should take anti-malaria medication as a precaution. Some parts of the country do not suffer from it, such as the urban areas of Panama City and the Canal Zone. The more dangerous areas are those close to the borders of Colombia and Costa Rica. One solution to this problem is to take an anti-malaria medication, but it is also possible to be protected by simply wearing long sleeves and using insect repellent to prevent mosquito bites. Bites can also be prevented by using bednets to avoid being bitten by mosquitoes during the night. Preventing the bites is just as important as taking the medication as for some people the medication itself might not be enough. Symptoms of malaria include fever, sweats, headache, body aches, fatigue and nausea. These can take more than a week to appear after being bitten and if left untreated can lead to kidney failure, coma and even death.

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.

Transfer Money

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

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.

Save On Money Transfers

Compare quotes from leading foreign exchange currency brokers

Learn The Language

The main and official language in Panama is Spanish, which is widely spoken by the majority of people in this country. Apart from Spanish, another popular language in Panama is English, which is fluently spoken by around 14% of the population. English is also one of the media of instruction in education in numerous schools across Panama. Some Panama nationals are also bilingual, speaking both Spanish and English with equal ease. The literacy rate of the country is quite good, a approximately 88%. Some other languages such as Japanese, Hebrew, Arabic, Eastern Yiddish and Korean are also spoken by a minority in Panama.

Other Languages

As the Panama population is a fusion of various ethnic groups in the country, there are numerous important native languages that still exist. Many native languages are still spoken among certain population groups. Buglere, Yue, Hakka, Embera, Northern Embera, Embera -Catio, San Miguel Creole French, Panamanian Creole English, Ngabere, San Blas Kuna, Epena, San Blas Kuna, Woun Meu and Teribe are some of the traditional languages in Panama.

Spanish Dialects

Those who cross the border from Costa Rica and enter Panama, will notice a significant change in the dialect. Affected by its Caribbean orientation, Panamanian Spanish sounds much closer to Puerto Rican than Nicaraguan Spanish which is spoken further north. Many students who speak Mexican or European Spanish may need some time to get used to this variety of Spanish. However, it is quite easy to understand. For example, Panamanians tend to pronounce "H" instead of "S" and they usually do not pronounce some "D’s" at the end of certain words. Panama City has its own dialect which includes the mix of English and Spanish words.

Other Languages

The official language in Panama is Spanish and it is a result of many years of Spanish rule in this region. There are a number of less common indigenous languages which are still in use, but these tend to be localized. These include Hakka, Ember, San Blas Kuna, Teribe and Epena, and many more.

English is spoken fluently by approximately 15% of the population and it can be mainly heard in the cities, which is the result of the influence from the Americans, who had a strong presence in Panama during the 20th century. English is commonly used in some businesses, particularly those that are international, but most will use Spanish on a daily basis. It is not essential to be able to speak Spanish before starting work in this country as most Panamanians can speak some basic English. It is worth checking out these details before applying for a job as most companies still expect that expats are willing to learn the local language. Learning basic Spanish should be enough for some, helping them to deal with day to day activities such as shopping and socializing.

Those expats who do not speak Spanish can always apply for language schools. Lessons are available in the form of intensive courses, night classes or day release classes, which are usually organized through an employer. In Panama, schools such as "Languages in Action" have been in existence for years. "Languages in Action" is accredited and the courses last from one week to one year. Accommodation can also be arranged for those who need it for the duration of their courses. There are also some specialized language programmes for those who work in specific industries. These include medical Spanish, business Spanish and courses for children.

"Habla Ya Spanish" is a language school that offers private lessons as well as group classes. Volunteer placements can be also arranged so that students can put their new found language skills to good use as soon as possible. Courses begin each week, so no matter what time of the year expats arrive in Panama, they do not have to wait for tuition.

The "ILISA", Instituto Lantinoma de Idomas, is a school which offers courses made for those who want to learn intensively. This school has been present since 1987 and it is based both in Panama and Costa Rica. Group classes include no more than four students per class and programmes can be designed to ensure that they learn the Spanish they need for work or daily life.

Many expats who come to Panama do this to teach English, particularly younger expats. This is a good option that most English speakers can opt for in order to support themselves in this country. A qualification in TEFL is required for most schools and work can be easily arranged before arriving in the country. There are agencies which arrange work and a number of websites which advertise vacancies for TEFL teachers in Panama. Once they arrive in the country, expats can arrange work at other locations as well, as most TEFL jobs are not full-time positions and that most of the work takes place in the evening.

It is also possible to earn money as a private English tutor in this country. In order to work as a TEFL teacher it is not strictly necessary to be able to speak Spanish, as many language schools insist that only English is spoken during the lesson. However, for private work expats will need to know some Spanish. In some cases, the students already have some knowledge of English as most of the population can hold at least a basic conversation in English. On the other hand, in some very rural areas the language may be limited to Spanish or to one of the indigenous languages, so a guide or translator might be needed when visiting.

English language television channels and radio stations are also available in Panama. Some channels even offer a secondary language, so that people can watch in either Spanish or English. Most cable and satellite providers offer channels in English, Spanish, French, Italian and German. Some TV channels are also broadcast with subtitles, although dubbing is much more common.

Language schools

Languages in Action

Habla Ya Spanish
Tel: (507) 730 8344

ILISA (Instituto Lantinoma de Idomas)
Tel: (506) 2280 0700 (Costa Rica)

The International School of Panama
Tel: (507) 293 3000

Choose A School

Education in Panama is compulsory for the first seven years of primary education and the three years of middle school. As of the 2004/2005 school year there were around 430,000 students enrolled in grades one through six, with the attendance of 95%. The total enrollment in the six secondary grades for the same period was 253,900, with attendance of 60%. More than 90% of Panamanians are considered to be literate. in 2004, more than 92,500 Panamanian students attended the University of Panama, the Technological University of Panama, West Coast University – Panama, Polytechnic University of Central America and the University of Santa Maria La Antigua, a private Catholic institution. Including smaller colleges, there are 88 institutions of higher education in Panama.

Expat education

Compulsory education in Panama is composed of two sections, 6 years of primary schooling and 3 years of schooling at a middle school. High school is available for those who wish to continue their education, as is university or college. There’s an increasing number of students who take advantage of these opportunities. The school day varies, depending largely on the school, but children usually begin at any time between 8 am and 9 am and finish any time between 2 pm and 3 pm.

Education in Panama has changed a lot since the USA took over the Panama Canal. The policy prior to this period was to offer the best education to those in the higher classes of society. Education became progressive under the US influence and the number of children enrolling in primary school by the mid 1930s doubled. The level of illiteracy among adults had been very high but dropped to below 50% in less than 10 years, dropping to less than 28% by the mid 1950s.

Enrolment in schools continued to increase and high schools and universities saw a huge increase by the mid-1980s. Today, Panama has an education budget which is roughly 20% of the national expenditure. Government-run schools offer free education for the compulsory years of school, and pre-schooling for children aged between four and five is free as well. Enrolling is an easy process that includes just making an appointment to see the school and meeting with the head teacher to determine if there is enough space. Each school requests a certain amount of documentation, which may include transcripts and reports from former schools and some evidence of identification such as a birth certificate or a passport.

In secondary schools children are taught science, mathematics, various languages and social studies for their compulsory years. In recent years, technology subjects have been included in the programme as well. Extra-curricular subjects at most schools range from languages to sports, with crafts and dance included too. Rural schools may not offer many extra-curricular subjects.

The school year runs from April to December and government schools use Spanish as the language of instruction. Most schools divide the year into 4 terms, but this does vary from school to school. Government-run schools also follow a very similar syllabus for all subjects, so the standards of education across the country could be easily monitored. There are several bilingual schools in existence in areas where the expat presence is higher and there are schools where children can be taught in French, Italian and Chinese as well. Universities and colleges offer a wide range of diplomas, certificates and bachelor’s degrees, and some larger universities offer the opportunity to earn a doctorate.

Panama has also several schools for children with special needs.

There are international and private schools in the some larger cities. The cost of private education varies, depending upon the school and the location, but in general it goes up to around $6000 per year or even more. Appointments are required at private schools before enrolment can take place, but most schools have available places. In some cases the websites of the schools offer online enrolment forms which can be completed prior to being invited to see the school.

There are both American and British International Schools located in Panama City. The Balboa Academy, which is in the Clayton district, the Oxford International School in central Panama City and the Crossroads Christian Academy in the Curundu district are popuar options. All of these follow a standard US syllabus. The Oxford School, which can be found in the Edison Park area, offers a British syllabus and an international examinations programme as well. This gives children the chance to earn qualifications which are widely accepted in their home country. This is also good for the children who intend to go to university in their home countries after they finish school here.

Schools in rural areas are much more basic. In some cases, depending on the number of children, there may be only one free place. An increasing trend among expats who live outside the main cities is to home school their children.

International schools

The International School of Panama (ISP)
This is Panama’s most expensive international school. The high school has the best academic level of the three American accredited schools. It also offers the International Baccalaureate. The location is far away from everything but well connected by the beltway. ISP also has the same school year as the States, but begins a bit earlier in mid August.

Balboa Academy (BA) in the former Canal Zone
Located in Clayton, Balboa is an accredited international school which provides a more laid back American style education. It also accommodates kids with learning problems. Kids adjust well to this school and are generally very happy. Balboa offers AP courses the same as any American school. Balboa is expensive, but a bit less pricey than ISP. It follows the same school year as the States.

Metropolitan School in Clayton
This school is one of the top three choices for international students. It offers an International Baccalaureate. It’s in the process of getting its USA accreditation, which will most likely happen by 2018. It is in the same price range as ISP and Balboa. It’s on the American school schedule starting in August.

King’s College: the British School of Panama
The British School of Panama is a part of King´s Group, one of the largest international school groups that deliver the National Curriculum of England and Wales with over 40 years of experience. It follows the English National Curriculum and the teachers are qualified and experienced British teachers. It is located in Clayton, just 20 minutes from the center of Panama City.

Boston School International
Offering a quality international English language education, Boston School offers an integrated classroom technology including online curriculum and books, Smartboards and touch screen laptops. Classes are Pre-K3 through 9th grade, and eventually aims to run through 12th grade. Located in Balboa, it follows and American school calendar. It’s currently going through an accreditation process by the North West Accreditation Commission and the International Baccalaureate.

Expat Health Insurance Partners

Cigna Global

Cigna has worked in international health insurance for more than 30 years. Today, Cigna has over 71 million customer relationships around the world. Looking after them is an international workforce of 31,000 people, plus a network of over 1 million hospitals, physicians, clinics and health and wellness specialists worldwide, meaning you have easy access to treatment.

Copyright © 2019 Expat Focus. All Rights Reserved. Use of this website signifies your agreement to the Terms of Use/Privacy Policy. Comments are property of their posters.
Interactive software released under GNU GPL, Code Credits, Privacy Policy