The number of Americans moving to Panama is increasing, mainly because the country has so much to offer. There’s an exceptional culture, outstanding food, a warm climate, and a stunning landscape. Plus, buying a home in Panama is within reach of many due to the lower prices.
While you might want to find your perfect property immediately, it’s critical to understand what buying a house in Panama involves for Americans. It’s also crucial to know what living in the country is like, as it does differ from the United States. If you’re considering moving to Panama from the USA, here’s what you need to know.
What to Know Before Moving to Panama
Before buying property in Panama, it’s wise to learn more about the country to ensure it meets your needs. Panama offers an exceptionally relaxed lifestyle and amazing culture, but that doesn’t mean it’s right for everyone.
Panama has an intriguing history. Indigenous tribes called the area home long before Spanish colonists arrived during the 16th century. However, it became part of the Spanish Empire for more than 300 years before breaking away in 1821 and becoming part of the Republic of Gran Columbia. In 1831, The Republic of Gran Columbia dissolved, and Panama then became part of the Republic of Columbia. Then, with support from the United States, Panama seceded in 1903, officially transitioning into its own nation.
Panama began flourishing due to the construction of the Panama Canal, which became critical for trade. Additionally, tourism boosted the economy. Panama has exceptional biodiversity, expansive beaches, and much more that brought travelers to the area, leading to a booming service-oriented economy.
When it comes to government, Panama is a stable democracy. The country is also generally considered safe, particularly compared to many other countries in the region. However, it isn’t necessarily crime-free, as petty crime is common in many cities. There are also areas where drug trafficking and related activity are common – such as Boca de Rio Chiriquí and Coclé Del Norte, along with parts of the Darién Region – so it’s best to avoid those regions entirely.
Another reason why people want to move to Panama from America is the climate. It’s a tropical zone, where lows are rarely cooler than 76°F and highs are typically between 86 and 90°F. However, temperatures vary by elevation, although anything below 70°F is rare in many cases.
Panama is more humid than many parts of the United States, and a lengthy rainy season runs from May to January. But the warmer temperatures can still keep it pleasant overall.
Since Panama is a Central American country, most people aren’t surprised to hear that the official language of Panama is Spanish. However, other languages are also spoken in the region.
Panama is home to seven indigenous groups, and they may speak Emberá, Kuna, Ngöbe-Buglé, Teribe, or Wounaan, though many also speak Spanish. You may also encounter Jamaican descendants speaking Wari Wari, which is sometimes referred to as Creole English.
English also isn’t uncommon in Panama, with an estimated 14 percent of the population using it. As a result, Americans near larger cities or areas frequented by tourists may have little trouble finding English speakers, giving you extra time to learn Spanish if you aren’t fluent before arrival.
One of the most convenient parts of moving to Panama is that Americans don’t have to worry about exchange rates. Panama uses the US Dollar, so you don’t have to convert your money into another currency.
Panama also has a stable and growing economy, primarily outpacing many of its neighboring nations. While it’s a relatively young country, it’s an economically healthy one, so there are fewer financial concerns than heading to certain other less-stable nations.
Cost of Living
Overall, the cost of living in Panama is far below what you typically see in the United States. While the United States scores 69.92 on the global cost of living index, making it 15th among the 137 ranked countries, Panama comes in at 48.25, which puts it in 49th place.
However, those scores are based on national averages. As a result, the city you choose plays a major role. Living in Panama City is far more expensive than in many other areas, though it’s still generally cheaper than in many major cities in the US. Depending on where you choose, you may see your spending decline by 25 to 50 percent.
Buying real estate in Panama is also relatively affordable compared to many parts of the United States. But there are expensive areas – including Panama City and Coronado – so keep that in mind.
Before moving to Panama from the US, it’s critical to know how to contact the local US Embassy. That office can assist you with a variety of issues that can occur, including emergency medical needs, arrests, crimes, and deaths, while you’re in the country.
If you need to call the US Embassy and are currently in Panama, dial 317-5000. If you’re in the United States and need to reach the US Embassy by phone, you’ll need to dial 011-507-317-5000 to connect.
You can also head to the US Embassy in Panama in person during regular business hours. The address is:
US Embassy Panama
Avenida Demetrio Basilio Lakas,
Legal Resident and Immigration Requirements
As an American, you don’t need a visa to enter Panama if you’re staying less than 180 days, thanks to an existing agreement between Panama and the United States. As a result, you can explore Panama before you decide to move there as long as you have a valid passport that doesn’t expire for at least three months after your arrival date and meet other entry requirements.
If you’re trying to figure out how to move to Panama as an American and want to stay permanently, then you’ll need a visa. You’ll have to secure services from an attorney, as applications are only accepted from immigration lawyers in Panama.
As an American, several visa options could meet your needs. One of the most popular options is the pensionado visa, which is open to anyone with lifetime pensions, annuities, or income of at least $1,000 per month (plus $250 per month for every dependent). While the program targets retirees, anyone at least 18 years old is eligible to use this program if they meet the requirements.
One reason the pensionado visa is popular is that it comes with incentives. There are import tax exemptions, utility bill discounts, mortgage interest rate reductions, and much more available to those who use the program. However, it doesn’t come with work rights, so keep that in mind.
Other programs, such as the friendly nations visa, are available that can put you on the path to permanent residency. If you don’t qualify for a pensionado visa, contact a local immigration attorney to see what options may fit before buying a house in Panama.
Buying a Home in Panama
Overall, buying property in Panama isn’t overly challenging, but it does differ from purchasing real estate in the US. Typically, the first step you’ll need to take is choosing a location. Informal expat communities in Panama are centered on popular destinations, including Boquete, Coronado, and El Valle de Anton. However, you can explore any part of the country as long as you’re at least 10 km from an international border, so keep that in mind.
Once you’ve decided which city or region best meets your needs and know which visa you’ll use to secure permanent residency, it’s time to focus on buying a home in Panama. There aren’t many restrictions, though there are some idiosyncrasies to navigate. The rules may differ for waterfront or island properties. Additionally, untitled land isn’t uncommon in Panama, and those purchases are complex and risky.
Acquiring a mortgage in Panama is similar to what you need to do in the United States, though you may need a letter of reference from your primary bank as part of the process. You’ll need to have a suitable loan-to-value ratio (with 70 percent of the purchase price typically being the maximum amount you can finance) and a clear ability to pay, as Panamanian banks give those two points more weight than your credit history. There can also be age-related restrictions that may limit your maximum term length or overall eligibility.
In most cases, working with a Realtor® who’s familiar with Panamanian real estate is your best bet. They can help you focus on titled properties, which carry far less risk and ensure the process goes forward smoothly.
If you’re ready to explore your options, explore the homes for sale in Panama through Global Property Systems. Contact us to learn more about the available properties and how to handle the purchase process.