How Many Expats (and From Where) Live in Panama?

Panama has a large population of expats coming from different corners of the world. It’s just that the country has it all–a first-world city, incredible beach towns, beautiful highland communities, and peaceful remote islands. There’s simply a place for everyone in Panama, and that goes from kids to adults and retirees. 

Did you know that Panama City alone is home to 30,000 expats? It is the largest group of expats in the entire country, and it is predicted to grow even higher. 20% of the 25,000 inhabitants of the mountainous town Boquete is also comprised of expats. The expats living in Panama come from different countries. The most popular among them are the United States, Canada, Spain, Mexico, England, and Colombia. Most of these expats are retirees as well. 

The numbers are intriguing, and there’s a lot more behind these figures. Read on to learn more about the expat world in Panama. 

Where Do Most Expats Live in Panama?

To understand the figures above, it helps to know where these expats usually reside. Panama has many attractive towns and neighborhoods, yet most people only know of Panama City. There are many major places in Panama expats flock to, yet there are particular ones that attract them the most. 

The following are the most expat-inhabited towns in Panama:

Panama City

The capital has a population of 1.5 million. The growing 30,000 expat population is widely distributed throughout the city. They are a mix of working adults and retirees. Due to a large number of expats in the city, there are certain groups of them that meet now and then to socialize and help each other adjust better to the lifestyle and ways of the city. 

Panama City is blessed with the bay, parallel to high-rise buildings and major commerce institutions. Many retirees reside in the city due to that refreshing view along with easy access to malls, banks, restaurants, and other important commercial establishments. Many expats also find great work in the city due to its global competitiveness in different industries, especially financial.

Boquete

Boquete is one of the earliest expat spots in Panama. It has 5,000 expats out of its total of 25,000 residents. The highland town is popular for its cooler weather, making it a favorite among expats who can’t stand the generally hot climate in most regions of Panama. Expats have practically turned Boquete as their own exclusive community. They’ve even opened bakeries, restaurants, hotels, wellness centers, and other businesses here. Yoga and other holistic activities are popular among the residents.

Coronado

The trendiest beach town in Panama is Coronado. Even Panamanians have second homes here. A big portion of the 5,000+ population of Coronado is composed of expats from Canada, the United States, and different European countries. The beach community was established in 1941, starting with shops, resorts, restaurants, and outdoor activities. It used to be just a weekend getaway destination for Panama City residents. Nowadays, you’ll see many expat families and retirees in this gated community.

Pedasi

Pedasi is an underrated beach town with a total population of 5,000. Still, several expats are starting to form a community in the area. The pristine beach and downtown areas of Pedasi are just lovely. It’s away from the noise of the city and not so full of tourists, unlike the other beach towns in the country. A little further down the two-lane road of the area is Playa Venao. It is one of Panama’s best-surfing spots.

El Valle

El Valle is a charming little community that’s 2 hours away from Panama City. It is situated in an extinct volcano crater that’s also close to the beaches. It’s perfect for nature lovers, especially that the population there is only small at 7,000. The expat community is a lot smaller here compared to Panama City, of course. However, it’s still pretty big given the small total number of inhabitants in the community. 

Why Do Expats Move to Panama?

The primary reasons expats move to Panama are the convenience and affordability of living there. You can enjoy an urban lifestyle without the standard expensive costs. You can also live happily in a nice beachfront home and still eat like a king (with even healthy options, too). You can make a humble salary per month and still feel like you’ve got everything you need. 

Here are the specific factors that influence expats into moving to Panama:

Residency Visas Are Easy to Obtain

The easy entry to Panama is one of the irresistible charms of moving to Panama. Residency visas are affordable and easy to obtain. Expats have never cited any issues in acquiring their visas as the process is just smooth. Panama is also welcoming to legal immigrants, so you’ll feel like you belong in the country immediately after processing your visa.

The Cost of Living Is Cheaper

The overall cost of living in Panama is a lot cheaper than most countries like the United States. With just a monthly salary of $450, you can live comfortably with even a lot to spare. Rent is cheap, especially outside of the city. Food and other utilities are extra cheaper in the west of Panama as well as it is the food basket of the country.

Panama Weather Is Varied

Panama’s weather varies in different locations. It is cooler in the mountainous towns such as Sora, Boquete, and Anton Valley. Then there are the Azuero’s Peninsula’s east coast and the Central Pacific regions for hot and dry weather. If you like it melting hot, you have Panama City for that, too. The weather is diverse enough for different preferences, except if you’re looking to ski, of course.

The Locals Are Friendly

One of the best things about being an expat in Panama is that you have friendly locals who are helpful, accommodating, and social. The Panamanians are also open-minded so they get along well with people of different cultures and beliefs. What many retirees and expat families also love about Panama is its being a family-oriented society. 

Healthcare is World Class

Many people outside Panama assume that health care there is not reliable. On the contrary, Panama’s health care system is world-class. The country has plenty of foreign-trained medical practitioners. Several people are even starting to take medical vacations to Panama for cheaper, high-quality services. 

Panama Has Modern Infrastructure

Despite being close to nature, Panama has modern roads and bridges. Their infrastructures are well-maintained, unlike what many people assume. The internet in Panama is also reliable and has high-speed. Many expats are surprised by the impressive performance of the internet connection even outside the major towns. 

Take not that electricity outages are no longer a thing in Panama, except for extremely remote areas. You’ll also be glad to know that you can enjoy clean drinking water straight from the kitchen faucet in different towns of Panama.

It’s Not Necessary to Drive in Many Areas

Different towns in Panama are easy to reach without having to own a car. There are taxis, Uber, and Buses around to take you anywhere you want. They’re cheap, convenient, and air-conditioned. Local buses only charge $0.25 per trip and it’s $0.35 for the new metro system. 

Is Panama Safe for Expats?

With many expats already living in Panama for many years, the country is indeed a very secure place to live or raise a family. There’s crime in Panama like any other country, but it’s often just petty theft. Also, it’s worth noting that Panamanians don’t like confrontations so they veer away from situations close to that as much as they could. 

In keeping that fact in mind, you can be assured that no locals will go through the trouble of doing something shady when there’s a huge risk of getting caught in a confrontation. Just keep an open mind about general safety in different countries. The United States has even more dangerous cities than Panama. Panama’s towns are a lot calmer and easier. 

Many expat families are even moving to areas outside the capital, which many people assume as unsafe. Coronado even has a tightly secured gate, protecting all the residents within the beach community. There’s also a wide police presence in the locations mentioned earlier. 

Can Expats Work in Panama?

Many expats have regular jobs in Panama. There are different rules for various work situations, though. Unfortunately, these policies aren’t discussed much due to the dominance of retirees in the expat community. Still, you have a number of expats that seek or currently work in companies in Panama. That is despite the emerging population of expats working online and are able to take their jobs anywhere. 

If you’re looking for traditional work, you should take note that expats coming to Panama to work for foreign companies as consultants are not required to have a work permit. Of course, if you’re planning on working for a local company, you need to secure a work permit. Work permits in Panama are a bit challenging to attain. 

The country has strict regulations in the employment market. About 10% of local companies are even restricted to employ foreigners. That’s why many expats stick to working for international or foreign companies. You have to understand that domestic companies are just prioritizing people from their own country.

There’s a loophole to those standard rules, however. If you’ve already acquired a permanent residence permit for Panama, you won’t need a work permit anymore regardless of where you’re working. The 2012 presidential decree also makes it easier and faster for the 50 Panama Friendly Nations to qualify for permanent residence, temporary residence, and work permits. The list includes many European countries, the US, and other Latin American countries. 

Take note that you’ll have to go through several complicated processes whichever route you take to work legally in Panama. On the bright side, you can easily apply for a 5-year permanent residency to Panama even if none of the cases above applies. That should be a more convenient point to begin your journey to settling down and getting the job you like.

Conclusion

Panama is very welcoming to people from all over the world who are looking to create a better life for themselves. You’ve got to admire how sharing Panama is when it comes to its hidden island gems, cheap world-class city amenities, and overall cultural and social experiences. That’s simply why there’s a constantly growing number of expats in different parts of the country.

Matt Romero

I’m Matthew Romero, one of the guys behind PanamaLifeInsider.com I am incredibly passionate about Panama, its beautiful territory, and all the incredible opportunities which offer to people coming here from all over the world both either visiting and settling. In this blog, I decided to share my passion with you!

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