With spectacular beaches and miles of sun soaked Caribbean coastline, it is no surprise that Panama is becoming increasingly popular with expats looking for their own piece of paradise. Often overlooked in favour of its larger neighbours to the North and South or the glamour of the Caribbean islands, expats are slowly discovering this Central American gem, which combines many of the best qualities of all of these countries.
Around 1000 British expats currently reside in Panama and it is known for being a popular retirement destination.
Panama’s vast, spectacular coastline makes it an enticing prospect for anyone looking to enjoy a more relaxed pace of life. The country has both the dramatic surf of the Pacific Coast to the west and the picturesque white sands of the Caribbean to the east, so you’ll soon find your perfect beach.
Away from the coast, the lush green interior is packed with tropical forests and spectacular mountains to explore. The dramatic peak of Volcan Barú National Park and the incredible range of wildlife in the Coiba National Marine Park are particularly worth a visit.
There is never a bad time to go outdoors in Panama thanks to its consistently warm, tropical climate. While it does have a rainy season, most of the year is sunny and warm. Also, unlike many nearby countries, it is outside the hurricane belt and reasonably safe from natural disasters.
Despite the constant lure of stunning landscape and idyllic beaches, Panama is also a surprisingly productive country with one of the highest GDPs and strongest economies in Latin America. As the official currency, the Balboa, is tied to the US dollar, inflation and interest rates have consistently remained low and stable.
Ambitious projects, such as the on going expansion of the Panama Canal, have lead to enormous economic growth in recent years. Careful and steady development of Panama’s tourism and service sector has particularly helped improve the country’s financial strength and it is now the fastest growing country in Central America.
This economic strength is reflected in the flourishing jobs market. Panama now boasts an incredibly low unemployment rate of just 2.5%. Largely thanks to the dollar-pegged economy and considered development of tourism and shipping industries, the vast majority of people who want to work are able to find fulfilling employment.
The banking sector is now central to Panama’s economy, largely due to its conservative financial policies and relatively low risk economy. Other service industries such as insurance, health care and hospitality all provide employment for a large number of skilled, professional expats. Manufacturing and agriculture are also central to Panama’s economy as they export a large amount of goods to the US and Canada in particular, everything from clothing and machinery to bananas and sugar.
Like most countries any income earned in Panama will be subject to taxation and, in many cases, mandatory social security contributions. These deductions are, however, generally proportionately lower than the UK leaving you with a little more disposable income to enjoy.
Retirement in the Sun
If you’re thinking of enjoying your post-work life abroad, Panama was recently voted the best place in the world to retire. As well as the beautiful beaches and tropical climate, Panama also offers low cost of living and affordable housing options. The ‘Pensionado’ programme allows international citizens to retire in comfort in Panama as long as they are able to prove they can draw a pension of at least $1,000 per month.
Panama has an excellent and accessible healthcare system more than able to cope with needs of retirees. Many costs are even reduced or subsidised for pensioners, from discounted entertainment to cheap travel.
Panama has so much history and culture to explore, allow yourself plenty of time to get to know your new home and its rich heritage. Panama City is a great place to start with ancient areas such as Panama Viejo and Casco Antiguo bursting with history. For some more recent history, the iconic Panama Canal has two dedicated museums close to Panama City.
Panama’s vibrant arts scene blends African, Spanish and native traditions to create a diverse, exotic style unique to the country. The Museum of Contemporary Arts has a beautiful collection of native and international art and the stunning museum of biodiversity is worth a visit for the architecture alone. Panama also boasts a thriving theatrical scene as well as regular operas, ballets and orchestral concerts.
To truly understand the country’s culture, however, it is worth spending some time away from Panama City exploring the vast national parks and gorgeous colonial towns and villages scattered along the coastline. Experiencing one of the countless festivals is another ‘must’ for anyone new to Panama, a heady mix of music, food and, if you’re lucky, some traditional ‘tamborito’ dancing.
Like many countries, food is central to Panama’s cultural identity. Echoing the country’s history and heritage, the cooking combines Afro-Caribbean spice with the rich, deep flavours of Hispanic cuisine. Panamanian food also reflects the diverse flora and fauna found across the country, so expect to find plenty of fresh seafood as well as native produce such as yam, plantain, rice and beans.
Ranked as one the best foodie hotspots in all of Latin America, Panama City is the gastronomic centre of the country. There you will find eateries for every taste and budget, from upscale modern European restaurants to bustling markets serving the freshest and tastiest local dishes.
World Class Infrastructure
Panama has undergone enormous growth over the last 20 years and has invested heavily in its transport infrastructure. The country’s road networks, while occasionally a little chaotic, are now relatively safe and easy to use. Likewise, Panama’s public transport system may seem a little confusing to newly arrived expats, it is comparatively reliable and safe.
You can also access education and healthcare facilities of the highest standard in Panama. For those thinking of moving their family abroad, Panama has some of best private international schools in Central America. Likewise, the country also boasts world-class hospitals and highly trained, expert doctors and nurses, although the majority of expats chose to take out health insurance to ensure they access the very best treatment as quickly as possible.
How to Get There
There is so much to entice any itchy-footed expat to Panama, it is clear why thousands of new arrivals make a new life in this beachside paradise every year. It is reassuring to know that the process of moving to Panama is surprisingly easy.
Any resident of Canada, the US or EU can apply for a six month visa to find out more about the country and assess work and housing options. To stay longer, you will need a work visa, which can only be issued once a job offer has been secured. In order to process the work permit, you must hire a local attorney who will guide you through the procedure and apply to the Ministry of Labour on your behalf. A work visa must be renewed every year, but you can apply for permanent residency after you have lived in Panama for five years.
So, if you’re looking for postcard-worthy views, a low cost of living or better career prospects, Panama could offer it all. To find out how we could you there, have a look at our shipping services to Panama.