Thinking about moving to Panama from the UK? We’ve got you covered.
Decadent, dazzling, and diverse, Panama is a place to experience wild and natural wonders or indulge in a sophisticated city lifestyle, all the while bathing in the sunshine of almost perpetual summer.
Panama is a paradise for many expats, and life here is entertaining and endlessly fascinating, whether you come for the glamorous beach life, to get your kicks surfing or diving beneath the turquoise ocean, or to explore the rich landscapes and experience laid back rural life.
No matter what your taste or budget, you’ll find that Panama has infinite possibilities on offer.
Here’s our guide to making the move to this idyllic destination as a UK expat…
- 1 Panama Visa Requirements for Brits
- 2 Way of Life in Panama
- 3 Cost of Living in Panama
- 4 Popular Areas for Brits
- 5 Jobs in Panama for British Expats
Panama Visa Requirements for Brits
If you’re visiting Panama for a short length of time, different rules apply depending on how you enter the country.
Brits arriving by sea on anything other than a cruise ship, will need a tourist visa to enter the country. Arrive by air however, and no visa is required for stays of up to 90 days.
If you do enter Panama on a visa, your visa will grant you permission to stay for up to 180 days. In most circumstances tourist visa extensions are not permitted.
Be sure that your passport is valid for a minimum period of 6 months from your date of exit from Panama and has several unused pages. You must also have a return or onward ticket and the equivalent of US$500 cash or a credit card.
UK citizens coming to the Republic of Panama to work for a foreign company do not usually need a work permit.
However, if you’re a foreigner working for a local company you will have to apply. Only those who have already found employment in Panama before moving there can qualify for the work permit.
Once your job offer is secured and you have signed a contract, your future employer will act as your sponsor to help you receive the appropriate work permit.
The process can be a bit of a bumpy ride, so hiring a lawyer to help you handle the paperwork is recommended.
Want to make Panama your permanent home?
Provided you have resided legally in the country for 5 years or more you have the right to apply for permanent resident status. If you want to fast track your residency, you must either make a significant financial investment in the country or buy property worth $300,000.
Alternatively, permanent residency can be achieved if you marry a native Panamanian.
Way of Life in Panama
Panama is a place of contrasts, where the cosmopolitan capital with its glittering skyscrapers, high fashion and gourmet restaurants is a far cry from the indigenous peoples in rural areas who still cleave to their traditional way of life.
Such contrasts are part of what makes life in Panama so intriguing, but it cannot be denied that this clash of old and new also brings with it a sharp divide between rich and poor, and modern life is encroaching ever more on Panama’s native people and the awe inspiring natural environment.
Family is at the heart of daily life in Panama, and the welcoming and easy going locals have a strong sense of community and look out for one another.
Almost 70% of Panama’s inhabitants live in urban areas, and expats living in the city can look forward to a lifestyle with pretty much all of the comforts of back home, and a society with a rich mix of cultures.
Spanish is the main language spoken here rather than English, so it’s best to learn the local lingo if you want to integrate as smoothly as possible.
Being an isthmus which reaches long and thin to create a bridge between Central and South America, Panama has a glorious coastline the stretching along the length of both sides of the country, offering up awesome opportunities for watersports and sunning yourself on beautiful beaches, while inland lush jungles and lofty mountains are begging to be discovered.
Panama is relatively small, but there are nonetheless some domestic air services which operate internal flights which are often the quickest and most comfortable way to explore the country’s many islands and more inaccessible locations.
If you choose to take a boat or ferry to the islands, there are regular services from Panama City, as well as organised tours.
For most long distance journeys however, buses are the most popular mode of transport. Roads are reasonably well maintained and connect most land bound communities. Luxury coaches with air conditioning, toilets, and other facilities cover a number of long haul routes along the highways, but for the majority of journeys smaller buses known as chivas are a more common way to travel.
If you’re into vintage train travel, the scenic Panama Railroad runs from Panama City to Colón, but it is more of a tourist attraction than a practical way to travel, and there are no other train services.
Panama City is served by an efficient underground system known as El Metro, as well as a Metrobus system, both of which are a convenient way to get around the capital. Taxis are another good option as they are inexpensive and can be flagged down almost anywhere.
Driving in Panama
Major highways in Panama are well maintained, but it’s a different story if you venture onto secondary roads and it can be a good idea to have a 4WD if you want to really explore — particularly during the rainy season.
Signposting isn’t the best either, and other drivers are known to be reckless at times, so keep your wits about you.
The cost of renting a standard car is relatively reasonable, although you can expect to pay significantly more for a 4WD. if you want to hire a vehicle you must be over the age of 25 with a valid passport and driving licence — a UK driving licence is fine.
Pay attention when it comes to speed limits, as the Panama police force closely monitor highways and main routes.
Weather in Panama
Expats living in Panama get to benefit from a hot, tropical climate all year round. There are only two real seasons: summer and winter.
Summer is dry and sunny, with March and April being the hottest months. Winter runs from May to November, and brings abundant rainfall, although temperatures remain warm — rarely dipping below 26 °C — and rains tend to come in short bursts rather than lasting all day.
There are noticeable climatic differences between Panama’s Pacific and Caribbean coasts, with the Caribbean coast receiving almost twice as much rain per season than the Pacific coast. The annual average temperature on both coasts is 29° C.
Another major positive for Panama is that it sits outside the hurricane zone.
Cost of Living in Panama
Panama’s low cost of living is a big part of its appeal as a retirement haven for expats.
Foreign residents do not pay any tax on foreign earned income — including pensions and any other funds set up outside of Panama.
While it isn’t the cheapest expat destination in the world, it nevertheless offers a comfortable lifestyle at an affordable price. A three course meal for two people at a decent restaurant in glitzy Panama City costs around £17, which is pretty good value by UK standards, although posh international restaurants are more expensive. Beer, wine and other alcohol is cheap, and groceries are very affordable as long as you avoid imported goods and opt for fresh, local produce instead.
The monthly cost of utilities including water and gas is very low, with electricity being a little more pricey.
Should you decide to become a car owner, be aware that importing a car is very expensive and second hand vehicles may cost more than in the UK. That said fuel and insurance are no more expensive than in the UK, and Panama’s public transport systems are are very wallet friendly alternative to having your own wheels.
Take a look at this video on the cost of living in two of Panama’s most popular cities, Panama City and Boquete, for an inside look:
How much rent you will pay living in Panama as a UK expat will depend on where you choose to live and in what type of property.
As you would imagine, the price for renting a luxurious beachside villa in an exclusive area can be sky high, but most of expats choose to live either in city apartments or gated expat communities complete with domestic staff and shared facilities such as swimming pools and gyms.
Monthly rent for a 1 bed apartment located in the heart of Panama city will likely cost somewhere in the region of £650 to £800 per month.
On average, rental prices in Panama are roughly 25% higher than back in the UK.
Access to good quality medical care in Panama depends largely on your location. Both public and private facilities are available, but these do not often extend into smaller towns or rural areas, and though the general standard of healthcare is good, the costs for state of the art treatment in private clinics can be expensive.
Expats are advised to take out a private health insurance plan to ensure that they receive the best treatment possible — as quickly as possible — in the event of a health issue. Healthcare plans in Panama start for as little as around £30 per month for basic coverage.
Panama provides some excellent education choices for children of expat families. Although the Panamanian public school system is sadly underfunded and the quality of education variable, the country has some of the best private and international schools in Central America.
Nearly all international and private schools are based in Panama City, although there are some in other areas of the country.
Most of these schools charge an initial enrolment fee, a monthly fee, plus other additional yearly fees. Like top quality schools anywhere else in the world, these charges aren’t cheap.
Enrolment fees can cost anywhere between the equivalent of £300 to £1500, and monthly fees range from £80 to £1200.
Popular Areas for Brits
This glamorous and thriving beach resort community just an hour away from Panama City is an expat hotspot for sun, sand, and living the good life.
Particularly popular with retirees and families, Coronado offers pristine white sand beaches, access to great schools, healthcare facilities, sparkling shopping malls, fabulous restaurants and bars, and a host of activities including gold, horse riding, biking, and surfing.
Brits find it easy to fit in here, and English is widely spoken.
Panama’s cosmopolitan capital city is buzzing and sophisticated with a diverse culture, and a favourite destination amongst younger, professional expats who are attracted by the chic lifestyle and wealth of job opportunities.
Here you can dine in world class restaurants, dance the night away in vibrant clubs and bars, shop in hip boutiques, stroll along the banks of the infamous Panama Canal, or visit some of the city’s many historical sites.
Panama City is also the gateway to myriad excursions and activities in the surrounding areas, and from here you can sail to nearby islands, explore the tropical wonders of the rainforest, or discover beautiful beaches.
Watched over by Panama’s mighty volcano Volcán Baru in the heart of the country’s western highlands, Volcan is a laid back town with a rural vibe, perfect for relaxing and enjoying the majestic surroundings.
The area’s rich volcanic soil has made Volcan a hub for agriculture, and it it also the perfect base from which to go hiking and explore breathtaking cloud forests bursting with unique wildlife and exotic plants.
Also situated in the rolling green landscape of the Chiriquí highlands, La Concepcion has a diverse ethnic population which includes numerous expats.
The town is well known for its festive atmosphere, and has a calendar boasting a host of events and festivals all year round.
Idyllic Boquete is perhaps Panama’s most popular expat haven. This convivial and lively town in the highlands benefits from a wonderfully picturesque setting with views of mountains and the winding Rio Caldera river.
The town has a pleasant climate almost like perpetual springtime, and as well as excellent restaurants, great bars, and markets selling delicious local produce, it also has a flourishing music, arts and culture scene.
This charming mountain town is home to traditional artisans and famous for its orchids. The lifestyle is in tune with nature and the people are friendly. This could have a lot to do with Santa Fe’s envious position on the edge of the immense Santa Fe National Park, with 70000 hectares of lush rainforest, rushing rivers, and tumbling waterfalls to enjoy.
Picture perfect Pedasi is a small, sleepy fishing town with a colonial past and the ideal combination of adventure and relaxation.
This up and coming location is surrounded by gorgeous beaches for lazing, swimming, or surfing, and proximity to two of Panama’s most stunning islands.
Jobs in Panama for British Expats
Panama’s economy is very stable and growing fast, and there are many businesses with job openings for skilled foreign workers.
However, as companies in Panama are only legally permitted to fill up to a maximum of 10% of their open positions with foreign nationals, competition for jobs can be tough.
UK expats have a much higher probability of getting a job through networking with either multinationals with operations in Panama or other expatriates who have set up their own businesses there, rather than with local Panamanian companies.
The job sectors in which expats can work are limited too.
For example, as a Brit you are unable to practice medicine or law, or work in retail or real estate. That said, there are plenty of sectors bursting with opportunities for expats, including hospitality, banking and finance, construction, science and technology, IT, and more.
Are you considering a move to Panama from the UK?