My Colourful Expat Life in Panama

My Colourful Expat Life in Panama

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If you’re looking to work in fast-paced Panama City, relax on one of the many white sand tropical beaches, or spend time hiking around the county’s many mountain trails, then Panama has it all.

Panama rose to the top of the expat wish list a few years back due to the great weather options, postcard perfect scenery, cheap cost of living, and ease of transition. Although moving to a Spanish speaking country could be terrifying for some, the more relaxed or adventurous lifestyle could make it worth it.

I’m one of the few Kiwis (New Zealanders) living in Panama. The good news is the Friendly Nations Residency Visa actually makes it pretty easy and painless to move here, we can get lifelong residency and never expiring work permits. Now 47 countries are part of this amazing Panamas Friendly Nations Visa program.

Photo by Ricki-Lee Joyce

Now, you can’t just rock up and get it. To clarify, you either need to be hired to work as an employee for an existing Panama corporation or set up a new Panama corporation. You will need $5000 USD in a Panama Bank Account, and roughly $2500 USD for lawyer fees, depending on your nationality. 

You will need a police check from your country and bank statements are also required- from Panama and your home country. But compared to many other countries (believe me I’ve spent a decade living nowhere and everywhere) it’s definitely a simpler task in Panama than most countries.

I’m going to be blunt- you do need to find a recommended lawyer that won’t take advantage of you - yes, unfortunately that does happen to few people.  While Panama’s reputation is getting better there is still some corruption within its borders, but the average person will not come across that situation often.

Luckily there is an amazing group of Expats in Panama, and you can join Facebook Groups (like Expats in Panama, or Young Expats in Panama) and get names of people who can be contacted, as well as advice on moving here, what city would suit you, meet up events, as well as occasional rental properties listed.

Photo by Ricki-Lee Joyce

There are voids in the business market. Starting your own company is a simple process but expect the many hoops you will need to jump through. Panama developed a free trade zone focusing on attracting companies that deal with manufacturing and this coupled with the Panama Canal as a transport hub has contributing to the quick growth of the economy.

Panama’s rapid growth has lead to an increase in international businesses, hotel chains and manufacturing companies making Panama a main hub for many big-name businesses. If you have the right skills you can get a decent paying job.

Wages- USD per month

  • The average Panamanian will make around $600
  • Expats can make more depending on your skill level $1500+

Photo by Ricki-Lee Joyce

Housing can differ greatly depending on what city you want to live in and the level of comfort required. It’s highly recommended you come here to live for at least a year and rent before you look at purchasing a property.

Housing Costs- USD Per month

  • Rent in a local part of Panama City can cost $500-$600
  • Punta Pacifica/Casco Viejo rentals you would be looking approx. $1500
  • Prices can drop as you move away from Panama City, and into the country’s interior, by $150 or more.

If you stay away from imported and fast food, then you can also get by eating inexpensively as well. You will do well in Panama if you enjoy rice and lentils, tropical fruits and vegetables from local markets. Healthy living is cheap.

Photo by Ricki-Lee Joyce

Most modern amenities are country wide, like WIFI and running water. But this is still Panama, so expect WIFI to be spotty at times and electricity or water to suddenly turn off without warning for hours. Services will not be as reliable as they are living in other first world countries. 

The bonus when that happens is that it reminds you to turn off the technology, unplug from the world and listen to the birds of the forest, waves of the gorgeous beaches, or honking horns of the city… ok that one’s annoying, but go for a walk and enjoy this bright lively culture that surrounds you.

Like much of Central America, Panama has its challenges but, as long as you are open and willing to take life at a slower, more relaxed pace, you will find your slice of heaven in Panama.

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Ricki-Lee Joyce

After living nowhere and everywhere for over a decade, I found myself volunteering at a hostel in Panama. The next thing you know, I was a resident and have spent 3 years managing a Travel Agency while balancing the colourful and adventurous lifestyle that Panama has to offer. Finding a new family and friends has made it all that more homely.


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