cell phone beach

Living in Panama: How to Handle Your Phone Numbers

Last Updated on November 29, 2022 by Retire in Panama

How to Handle Your Phone Numbers when Moving to Panama How to Handle Your Phone Numbers when Moving to Panama

So, you have decided to move to Panama as a permanent move and are now in your home country in the planning stage. You have probably retained a Panama immigration lawyer and maybe have started getting quotes to move some of your belongings, or even all of them.

One important thing to consider is what to do with your phone. You may want to stay connected with family and friends back home or still have some business back home. You may need to receive OTPs (one-time passwords) texted to you for logging in to banks, investments, or other sites.

These are two suitable methods of staying connected. Keeping your cell phone plan in another country is called roaming, and it can be costly, so you have to be careful and be sure you have the right plan. Some people have made the mistake of switching to what they thought was an international carrier but later found out this company had restrictions on how long you can be out of the country per year to keep the plan active.

An excellent example of one of these plans is Google Fi only for people from the US. An international cell phone plan at $20 a month, plus $10 for every 10 gigs of data, with data, texting included almost worldwide, and 20 cents a minute for calls, free in WiFi. Sound too good to be true because it is. Buried in the small print, you must be in the USA for six months of the year. So this is a great plan to switch to, for snowbirds, spending 3 – 6 months in Panama, but not for people planning to live here full time.

cell phone beach Method 1: Using a US Cell Carrier in Panama

Now, back to moving to Panama full time. The first method is to use companies like T-Mobil. Their Magenta International plan offers some good roaming packages. You can get unlimited data (3g – very slow), texting, and calls for 25 cents a minute. The problem with this is that you will also want and need a Panama phone, so you either have to have a dual sim phone or carry two phones.

So if you did have a dual sim phone, place your new Panama sim in slot one, and use it as primary data and your T-Mobil in slot 2 to use for incoming calls and texts. When making a call, you will be asked which sim to use to make that call. Otherwise, you will carry two phones, your Panama phone and your US phone. I have seen couples doing this here; each of you may not need a US or Panama number.

This method will cost you $50 – $70 a month per line, and the only real advantage is no cost text messaging, as calls are 25 cents a minute.

You also need to ensure your phone is unlocked if you plan on using it in Panama with another sim card. Typically carriers who give you a phone with their package at a reduced rate lock the phones to that carrier, so you cannot move to another. You need to call their support to verify that it is not locked, and if it is, get them to unlock it. This can be done over a support call.

Method 2: using Google Voice in Panama cell phone on beach

The second method, to eliminate your US carrier monthly bill, the solution that works best is Google Voice. Google Voice is an app that runs on your phone or computer; it is not a sim card and provides no data connection. If you are from the US, you can get a free google voice number, and it is free to call and receive calls to and from the US from anywhere in the world. Also, free texting.

If you are from Canada, Denmark, France, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, or the United Kingdom, you can get Google Voice if you are a Google Suite user, but it will cost you $10 a month.

Another great option for Canadians is Fongo instead of Google Voice. https://www.fongo.com/

You need to sign up for Google Voice BEFORE you come to Panama. You must be in the US (or one of the listed countries above) with an active cell phone from your country.

You sign up at https://voice.google.com and set it up. Then two weeks before your move, you “port” your existing cell number over to Google Voice. Within a week, usually a couple of days, your cell phone carrier will no longer be delivering your calls and texts; Google Voice will. You will see the call and text notifications in the Google Voice app. To make a phone call, just open the Google Voice app, dial the number, or look up the contact.

Now depending on your data needs, in those last few days in your country, you may need to go to a phone store and buy a new pre-paid sim just for your data. You will be fine with WiFi, but you may need to be connected to calls and texts outside of your home in the final days of planning your move.

receiving otps in Panama

One thing to prepare yourself for is that solutions like Google Voice (which are called VOIP – voice-over-internet protocol) do not always work with OTPs (one-time passwords). This is the same for Skype, TextNow, and various VOIP options available to you. We are recommending Google Voice, after trying many solutions in 10 years here, as it just has better call quality and can actually be used over a good 4g data connection.

You need to test receiving OTPs before you move to Panama. In all your banking and financial sites that use OTPs before you “port” your number over to Google Voice, test it. When you first sign up for Google Voice, you will be given a temporary phone number. Go to your online banking, login, receive the OTP to your cell phone number, then try changing your number, and they will send an OTP to your Google Voice number to confirm the change. It will not work for that purpose if you do not get it.

The simplest way to avoid problems with OTPs is to change them from a text to an email. Some banks or financial companies even over token devices or authentication protocols to sign in. You need to figure this out before you come here, as you do not need to get locked out of your financial institutions. I have been using Google Voice with Bank of America OTPs for several years with no problems.

panama sim card

When you arrive in Panama, to get data on the phone so Google Voice will work everywhere; you will need to get a Panama sim card. We recommend either Tigo or +Movil, as they have the best roaming plans for when you go back home. Don’t purchase a plan just yet, as depending on where you are settling, one service may work better than the other, but you can buy a pre-paid sim for $2 and a week of data for $5, to begin with.

Cell phone plans in Panama are very inexpensive. I pay $20 a month from Tigo for ten gig data, and you can get unlimited data plans for $35 a month. You will need a Panama phone number for immigration and banks. Still, most people in Panama, even businesses, use WhatApp instead of the actual number for talk and text.

Once you get settled and get a monthly cell plan, look for one with good roaming. Tigo has free-roaming in the Americas on all plans over $27. So when you return to the US or Canada, you will have Data, and your Panama and Google Voice numbers will be operational.

We hope this article provides enough detail on how to best handle telecommunications in your future move to Panama. Staying connected with family and friends – even business – has never been so easy and affordable.

Setting yourselves up, so there is still easy access for the kids and grandkids to call or text will be reassuring in the coming months as you plan your move, and arrive in Panama, your future home.


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