FAQ - The Most Frequently Asked Questions for Those Planning to Move to Panama

1. What about a visas?

Most people go back and forth for a while on their tourist visa which you get upon entering Panama. Citizens from the US, Canada and the European Union get to stay 180 days.

For a permanent residency, there are 5 main types of visas. If you can prove a minimum of $1000.00 in monthly income, you can get a Retirement (pensionado) visa regardless of your age.
In June 2012 a new law was passed that made it easier for citizens from the US and the EU to live in and start a business in Panama. Only $5000.00 is necessary. You need to consult with a reputable lawyer since this is a new law, the details are not clear. (Previously if you wanted to start a business, a $160,000 temporary deposit in a Panamanian bank to show you have the funds to begin a business.)

There's also a visa for persons who purchase a home, mortgage free for $200,000 or more and a Reforestation Visa which requires a $40,000 investment in a reforestation project. Finally there's an Investors visa for those who can deposit $300,000 in a bank account. After 3 years of any of these visas, you can apply for permanent residency. Your spouse and underage children dependents are eligible for a residential visa under your visa.

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2. What is the most important real estate advice you can give me?
Attend ex-pat meetings to get advice on good real estate buys and trustworthy professionals to hire. Also, it's a good idea to rent a home or apartment and live 3-6 months in the place you are interested in moving to—that way you can be sure you want to make this move. Meet with the various ex-pat groups in different parts of the country. Don't listen to just one person's opinion about something, get several perspectives on the same topic.

Finally, be sure for whatever you do that involves legal work, that you retain a reputable lawyer. Beware of people offering to help unless they come with several impeccable recommendations. We too often hear sad stories about foreigners who got swindled by a "wonderful Panamanian with lots of high level connections " who offered to help them.

Panama does not have a multi-listing system yet. To get an idea of home prices and house rentals, this is an excellent website that has listings: Encuentra24. Use the Panama site in English. Both owners and agencies post listings of their properties there. Many of the prices are wishful thinking but it will give you an idea of what things cost.

For a lawyer, use one of the law firms listed on our Legal Services page or a law firm that is a member of the American Chamber of Commerce. You can also listen to the advice of other ex-pats who recommend lawyers but the best guarantee is to work with a lawyer that belongs to a reputable firm. The main reason we emphasize this is that if you get into trouble because you have an incompetent or crooked lawyer, you can't resolve things quickly like in the States. Panama's legal system is very slow and complicated.
Visit our Relocation Services page for more helpful services.

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3. How can I ship my car and household goods?
Ship from any shipping company in the USA—Panama is a close and convenient port. Many people can put all their household goods and even their car in one 40 foot container. The container can be loaded right in front of your house in the States and brought to the front of your house in Panama.

There are no import taxes on importation of your household goods. (There is some rule that there is no tax on up to $10,000.00 worth of household goods but no one is going to be able to say exactly how much all your used household goods are worth.)

For your car, it can be put in your container or shipped separately. Whether you are a Retiree or not, taxes will apply for your car.
For customs entry and processing your goods and car once they arrive, you must hire a customs broker who will get things out for you and arrange shipping to your home—the charge is reasonable.

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4. What about buying furniture and appliances in Panama?
No problem. Prices are comparable to US prices, but don't expect sales. For moderate prices the best places are Furniture City in Panama City and David, and Collin's in Albrook Mall. For bargains you can find inexpensive furniture and household items in the Costo and Titan department stores.
At Furniture City on Via Espana. you can order from US furniture catalogs if you don't find what you like on the floor. Nearby is Home Center with modern furniture at moderate prices and Econo Precios with fairly cheap furniture. Price Costco is also a great place for appliances and there are also a number of upscale furniture stores in Panama City, all in the business district

For appliances, Panafoto at Albrook Mall and on Calle 50 have the best selection. Price Costco in Panama City and David have some good deals, but a limited selection. Important: Do not buy refrigerators or other appliances with high tech digital stuff. Power (short) outages in are not uncommon in Panama and they throw these delicate systems out of order—they cost hundreds to fix. We recommend sturdy American brands like Whirlpool and Frigidaire.

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5. Is there anything like a Home Depot?
Do-it Center and Novey Center come the closest you will find all the basics for your do-it-yourself needs.

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6. What about shopping for clothes

There are plenty of clothing stores in the various malls in Panama City. Men don't seem to have much trouble but women might want to buy their clothes on trips to the States. Unless you shop at the upscale department store like Felix B. Maduro, which carries Liz Claiborne and other better American brands clothes, clothes can be hard to find for women because the clothes sizes are for the more petite woman and don't fit Americans well. The Albrook mall has Gap and Banana Republic stores, but the prices are 30% higher than the States.
For discounted American women's clothes and shoes we love BMB in Albrook Mall with well known American brands like Liz Claiborne and at 30-50% discounts. Super deportes and Flow are good options for beach-wear.

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7. Grocery Stores:
We have been all over Latin American and Panama has by far the best American-style supermarkets. El Rey, Super 99 and Riba Smith are complete and large supermarkets. Riba Smith with just 4 stores, all in Panama City, is most popular with Americans because it has the most American brands and items and a house brand of prepared foods that are delicious—we recommend the chicken pot pie, lasagnas, the multicereal bread and their ice cream department. El Rey has stores in almost every neighborhood in the city, as well as in Coronado and David.

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8. How can I safely send and receive mail in Panama?
The Panamanian mail system is not reliable- we don't recommend it for anything. Fortunately there are two excellent companies dedicated receiving and sending your mail as well as bringing stuff you have ordered over the internet etc: Air Box Express and Mail Boxes Etc. Airbox Express delivers your mail and packages directly to your home. Mail Boxes receives them at the offices where you can go pick them up. They'll give your own PO Box address in Miami where you can have things sent to and they'll bring your mail from Miami to Panama for a starting fee of about $25 a month. These mail services are invaluable for life in Panama. For more info see Air Box Express.

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9. Can I get a job in Panama?
The best way to work in Panama at this time is to set up your own business. However, in 2012, the government made it easier to hire foreigners. Consult with a lawyer what this means.
To get a job at a Panamanian business is still difficult because of laws limiting foreign employees to ten people. There are also specific laws forbidding for example foreign lawyers, doctors, translators, university professors etc. to work here. Panama's booming economy needs more skilled persons, but for now it's just not easy to be hired here.

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10. How can I get around Panama City and get all the things I need?
For the newly arrived, Panama City traffic is chaotic and not easy to get around by car. You can hire a taxi driver to take you around- but some caveats. It is generally very safe but some rules: Never get in a taxi where there's another person besides the driver. Avoid night time if possible. Also it works best in you speak some Spanish.
For stress-free and fun shopping. if you can, we recommend you hire a personal driver with fluent English. Judy Tovar of Easy Travel Panama is a great choice. Contact Judy at: email: easytravel@cwpanama.net/Cell Phone: 507.6617-4122

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11. What about meeting fellow Americans?
There are several excellent organizations for Americans and others. There's a Newcomers Club, Who's New Panama for women (contact 399.3499), the Young Expats in Panama (YEP). The American Society has paid for r mix and meet events.. Call Joy at 6747.6762. www.amsoc.org
In Boquete there's a monthly expat meeting. Boquete and the Coronado Beach area has well organized ex-pat groups.

If you are a businessman, join the American Chamber of Commerce. It is a great place to network and learn the ropes from fellow American and Panamanian businessmen.

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What are some other good sources of quality, up-to-date about moving to and living in Panama?

One the best ways to get quick, usually quality info is to join Yahoo's group "Americans Living in Panama".
People who live here answer the questions of others living here or thinking about living here. It's free and the info and discussions go straight to your email.

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