Immigration for Business or Retirement in Panama
Is it Safe to Live in Panama?
Panama is one of the safest countries in Latin America. Whether you’re comparing crime statistics, reading tourist guidebooks, or checking Canadian or U.S. State Department travel advisories, you’ll find this to be true. And whether you’re looking up tourist-reported incidents, police corruption, or big city crime, you’ll find this to be true.
“Safety” is a subjective term, of course. Is your current city safe? Look at “top ten” lists for the world’s safest cities and you won’t find any in the U.S.
That said, if you observe the many expats and well-heeled locals who live here, you’ll find that they live out in the open—not shut up in heavily guarded compounds or followed about by armed guards.
Though I don’t recommend that you wear fancy jewelry or carry a lot of cash, the truth is you’ll see signs of prosperity everywhere you look. People drive nice cars and carry smartphones. Women go out alone at night and drive cross-country without fear. Children play in parks and go to concerts and festivals.
Ask any of the expats who choose to make their homes here whether they feel safe. Most will tell you that not only do they feel safe—they feel safer than they did “back home.” Most will also tell you that they feel welcome here.
It helps that Panamanians are so accustomed to foreigners. Since before construction was completed on the Panama Canal in 1914, Panama has been a crossroads for people from the Americas, Europe, and beyond. You’ll find every race, religion, and ethnicity represented here, many of them attracted by the stable, pro-business government and welcoming residence programs.
So, does it follow that Panama is free from crime? No… traveled the globe and never encountered a country that was free from crime or corruption. But it is relatively easy to keep yourself from becoming a target for crime.
On occasion, visitors to Panama make the mistake of letting their guard down completely—something they’d never go back home. In an unfamiliar city or town, it’s important to be aware of your surroundings and to do what you can to blend in. Big cities (and small ones, too) always have good and bad areas. Use your city smarts and you’ll see just how easy it is to avoid becoming a victim.
For example, you’ll note that in Panama, as in most of Latin America, most houses have metal grills over the windows. They look decorative, but they’re there to discourage break-ins. The average Panamanian family also has at least one dog who will bark at passersby or potential intruders. Here in Panama—or whatever country you’re moving to—we recommend doing as your neighbors do.
We agree that Panama is very attractive when it comes to safety and security, and the expats who choose to live here obviously concur. Single expat women report feeling safe, whether they live in Panama City, the beach town of Coronado, or the mountain town of Boquete. There are small towns where people don’t lock their doors or hesitate to walk at night.
Feeling Safe and Welcomed in Small Town Panama
In 2012, Connie and Mikkel Moller hopped on a bus from Panama City. Their destination, the fishing village of Pedasi. Population: under 5,000. “We loved it. We fell in love with Pedasi. The people, the ambiance…everything about it.”
They found Pedasi to be a sleepy, tranquil town with a welcoming expat community. For the Mollers, it was the perfect retirement destination, and within a matter of days, they’d decided to make it their new home.
“We chose it for many reasons, primarily because we love the ocean,” they say. The Pedasi region is home to a string of beaches, each more beautiful than the last. “Our friends back home were worried about safety,” says Connie. “But I feel safer here. This town is like Mayberry in the Andy Griffith Show. I can walk at night and not be afraid. Children play out in the street—that doesn’t happen in the U.S. anymore. It’s kind of like where I grew up…I could be out all day and play and ride my bike and do whatever. We like that about Pedasi.”
She adds: “Since it’s a small town, everybody knows everybody. And everybody is friendly and helpful.” Not just the locals, but the expats, too. From their first day, the family was accepted and welcomed. People showed them around, helped them find a rental, and introduced them to other expats. Almost instantly, they were part of a tight-knit group they could count on for help or advice.
In the Panama destinations popular with expats, your biggest concern is likely to be petty theft or break-ins. Random violence is practically unheard of here. Panama has a visible police presence and a cadre of tourist police. Crimes against tourists or foreigners are seriously dealt with. The police are also reliable—detectives do catch criminals here.
What else helps keep Panama as safe as it is? The country continues to grow its middle class and make successful efforts to reduce poverty. There isn’t the envy or racial tension you might find in other economically deprived areas where Westerners have swept in. In large part, this is because large international communities have been here for decades. Plus, Panama is a land of opportunity, and locals who strive to improve their lot can go far. Finally, new and better urban planning, social programs, and an abundance of fresh, locally grown food don’t hurt. Jessica Ramesch
Panama Expat Experience: Joel on moving to Panama
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8 Best reasons to retire early in Panama! Small country but Think Big!
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The 10 Most Affordable Countries To Live or Retire in 2019
You often dream of quitting your job, ditching it all and moving to paradise. In this video, International Living revealed the top 10 cheapest places to live & retire for 2019 and the reasons why we think these are the best places to consider. The list isn’t just for retirees, it’s also for people who want to live somewhere so cheap that they don’t have to work. 10. Spain. 9. Thailand. 8. Peru. 7. Portugal. 6. Colombia. 5. Malaysia. 4. Ecuador. 3. Mexico. 2. Costa Rica. and number ONE on this list is Panama. Thanks for watching this video. I hope it’s useful for you. (This article is an opinion based on facts and is meant as infotainment).
Why Should I Consider Investing in Panama?
- Panama is the headquarters of Live and Invest Overseas…
- What’s more, our property experts have more personal cash invested here than anywhere else in the world.
- There’s a good reason for that: Panama is Latin America’s top investment market. The fundamentals of this market are overwhelmingly strong…
- The U.S. dollar is the currency, meaning no exchange-rate risk…
- Panama is Latin America’s banking hub, with more than 90 international banks in Panama City alone…
- This country has seen strong, sustained GDP growth of as much as 9.6% per year over the past eight years (even during the Great Recession)…
- The Panama Canal is critical to the world’s economy, which ensures that this will always be a stable and valuable area…
- This is a pro-business and foreigner-friendly government, meaning great incentives for foreign retirees and investors…
- The country has a solid legal system and strong personal property rights…
- A strong, stable economy is important for investment growth, but Panama also offers a unique set of benefits for its property investment market
- Depending on what you buy in Panama, you can be exempt from property tax for up to 15 years…
- Panama has been one of the fastest-growing countries in the world when it comes to new construction… you’ll find here long track records for key local developers, meaning you can feel confident when buying…
- Panama doesn’t depend on North American buyers and investors, but it does cater to them, with American designs and features not found in many other Latin American countries.
Need To Buy A Car in Panama as an Expat or you just Relocated. And Get Your License? Here’s How.
Buying a car in Panama can be an adventure.
My first attempt culminated in the loss of US$6,000 and a great deal of time.
Some people imagine living the expat life without a car and enjoying the vast options of public transportation, which is doable but may not suit your lifestyle long term. Panama’s public transportation is improving; however, reliance can become a problem.
Used cars hold their value quite well, making them a bit pricey. The good news is that the cost of maintenance and insurance is lower than in the United States or Canada; and most auto service shops do not operate on a sell, sell, sell mentality.
Here are a few tips that will greatly increase your chances of making a good purchase…
It may seem obvious, but making all the changes that come with becoming an expat can test your patience and judgement. Take it slow. Finding the car that’s best suited for you could take time.
Find A Good Mechanic
Don’t wait until you’ve found a car to start looking for a mechanic. If you’re not a fluent Spanish speaker, find an English-speaking mechanic or a good translator. Panama’s climate, relaxed safety laws, and a general aversion to preventative maintenance can be rough on vehicles. It’s important that you have a professional inspect your car before buying.
Consider Parts Availability
If you’re from the States or Canada, you’re accustomed to availability of parts for a wide range of makes and models. It’s not the same in Panama. Ask your mechanic what makes and models are good choices given parts availability. You want to know that your preferred mechanic can easily source parts for the car you buy.
Everything Moves Slower In Panama
Mostly everything moves slower in Panama. While it’s quite pleasant to sit in a restaurant for an hour after a meal, the slow pace of Panamanian government agencies can be maddening. Patience will be your best asset. It will save you a great deal of stress and mitigate the risk of bad decision-making.
Registration, Title Transfer, And License Plate Renewal
Registration and title transfer between owners must be done in the municipality of the vehicle’s existing registration. Registration can be transferred to the municipality of your choice, but only when the car’s license tags are up for renewal.
License tags must be renewed annually by law. Requirements include a simple form, a valid driver’s license, proof of insurance, and your passport or residency card. You’ll also need something called a revisado (vehicle inspection), which must be done in person.
It sounds simple, but you could spend an entire day dealing with the municipal office that manages renewals. Luckily, there are service providers who will help you with these processes, for a fee.
Obtaining A Driver’s License In Panama
You don’t need to have a Panamanian driver’s license to own and drive a car or motorcycle, unless you plan to stay in the country as a permanent resident.
The steps to obtain your license are as follows…
First, visit your embassy and have your foreign driver’s license authenticated. Be sure to make an appointment, as they do not take walk-ins.
(If you’re a U.S. citizen, visit the embassy website to read more on obtaining your Panamanian driver’s license.)
Then, your license must be authenticated by the Departamento de Autenticación y Legalización.
Panama requires verification of your blood type, so you’ll have to visit a clinic.
With residency documents, passport, valid license, notarized documents, and proof of blood type in hand, you’re ready to visit the SERTRACEN office closest to you (there are several in different parts of the city). Be prepared to take a hearing and sight test, and a simple written exam.
Municipal and government offices a dress code. You can’t wear sandals, shorts, t-shirts, tank tops, or sleeveless tops.
Obtaining insurance is relatively easy. I recommend you ask your local community for a referral.
Consider a broker that has an actual office and visit them in person. Never pay cash. Insurance payments should be made to the underwriting insurance company. They accept payment by credit card, local bank transfer, or via Panama’s Multipagos system.
Full coverage is not overly expensive, so buy it if your vehicle is eligible. Don’t hesitate to contact an insurance company or broker if you have questions.
Traffic laws in Panama are somewhat similar to U.S. and Canadian traffic laws. However, enforcement is not the same. I advise you read through and learn the laws. Paying for traffic tickets is a cumbersome and time-consuming process you’ll want to avoid.
Familiarize yourself with the unwritten rules of the road. These are counter to what you may have learned in a defensive driving class. In fact, part of being a defensive driver in Panama is observing, learning, and following these unwritten rules.
Before driving in Panama, especially in the city, know that almost everyone drives in what can only be described as a chaotic manner.
Important things to keep in mind are:
Blinkers are “optional.” It’s rare to see someone signal if they’re planning to make a turn.
Yellow light means push on the gas pedal before the red stop light comes on.
When the green light comes on, wait a few seconds in case some drivers decide to ignore the red stop light.
Drivers will seldom let you pass when trying to cross an intersection. If you don’t cut in front of another driver, you’ll likely be stuck in the same spot for a while.
Alto (stop) signs are treated as a suggestion. No one is going to come to a complete stop.
When backing out of a parking space, take it slow. Drivers won’t stop because they see you. In fact, they’ll most likely zoom past you.
If a driver rolls their window down and starts yelling and gesturing at you, don’t engage. Taxi drivers are usually the ones to do this.