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Living in Panama: Settling into Your New Country

Last Updated on May 8, 2022 by Retire in Panama

In another Living in Panama segment, we will discuss arriving in Panama and what to do next. Continue reading as this guide is for you. We will go over some of the critical things you need to do to settle into your new home country.

You have done a lot of planning over the last few months. You probably have communicated with your immigration lawyer and have all the paperwork you need. You probably have rented an Airbnb or other short-term rental, so you can look for your long-term place, but the first thing you need to do is sit back and relax for a few days and enjoy your new surroundings.

Getting your Panama Cell Phone Getting your Local Cell Phone

Being mobile and having internet data in today’s world is essential. Using programs like WhatsApp, which you will use daily in communications in Panama, and apps like Google Maps and Waze to navigate these signless streets will be essential to you.

If you have not read the How to Handle Your Phone Numbers article, I suggest you do that now. You have probably arrived here with unlocked phones and Google Voice or another VOIP number on your phone. It’s time to get a Panama number.

Panama has 4 major cell phone carriers. Tigo, +Movil, Claro and Digicel. The best one for you will be determined solely by where you end up living. Even in the same town, one carrier works better than the other on one side of the town. So the first thing to do is ask the person you rented your short-term rental from which carrier works best in that area and go pick up a sim card and a $5 recharge card.

Sim cards and recharge cards can be purchased at almost any small store or phone store, which is abundant in Panama. The staff will probably even help you install it and charge it up, but you need to watch it closely, so you can do it next time. A sim card will cost you $2 and $5 for the recharge, which will give you unlimited data for a week.

If you are happy with the service, you can recharge it next week. Panama does offer post-paid plans to foreigners with a credit card, and they start at $20 a month but do not commit yet unless you are in your long-term rental.

Meeting with Your Lawyer to get Your Residency Started

The first step is to schedule a meeting with your immigration lawyer. You should have contacted them over the last few months, getting the paperwork together now. Give them a call now and schedule an appointment to meet. At this meeting, they will start getting your residency underway.

During this initial consultation, your lawyer will go over all the documents you brought with you, see if there is anything else you will need, and discuss the entire process. They can also answer any questions about Panama immigration law or the visa application process.

Once all the necessary paperwork is in order, your lawyer can help you submit your application to immigration. They will go to immigration with you to get your picture taken, and you will receive your temporary residency card. They will guide the entire process.

This initial process will take two to three weeks for a Pensionado Visa and a bit longer for a Friendly Nations Visa. With their help, you can ensure that everything is done correctly and increase your chances of getting your Panama immigration visa approved. If you are reading this and have not started the process of immigration and want to be connected to the best immigration lawyer in Panama, go here.

Finding Your Permanent Rental Finding Your Panama Rental

First, find yourself an excellent rental agent in Panama. This agent does not charge you. They get paid by the landlord. A perfect rental agent has your needs in mind and has a reputation to keep, so you are safer using one than going to a place like Facebook or Craigslist to find a rental.

It’s essential to consider your budget. While Panama is generally a relatively affordable place to live, rentals can vary widely in price depending on location and amenities. Make sure to set a budget and stick to it – otherwise, you could spend more than you intended.

Second, think about what kind of rental you’re looking for. Do you need a furnished apartment? Would you prefer to be in a gated community? Are you looking for something pet-friendly? Knowing what you want (and don’t want) in a rental will make your search easier.

Finally, don’t forget to factor in the cost of utilities. Electricity, water, and internet can all add up, so ask your potential landlord about estimated utility costs before signing any lease. Every rental is different in what is included in the rent and what is not. If you live in the City or on beaches, air conditioning can be estimated at $100 – $200 a month for a couple of A/C units and how much you use it.

Open a Bank Account

You should have your temporary residency visa and rental lease, so it is time to open a bank account. Having a bank account in Panama, in my opinion, is essential. You are likely to be paying your rent with it, you can pay your utilities with it, and you will not have any international transaction fees like when you use your foreign card here. Read about Banking in Panama as an Expat here.

Get your Panama Driver’s License

The minute you receive your temporary residency visa, your foreign driver’s license is no longer valid in Panama. Sorry, but there is no grace period, so you have to plan according. In our Living in Panama series, we wrote an entire article on this subject, and you can head it here.

Purchase Health Insurance in PanamaPurchase Health Insurance

You are probably still on your tourist travel insurance, and now that you have your temporary visa, you need to decide on what health care coverage is right for you. To do this, you need a reputable agent who works for you to see what your needs are and what plan will best be suited for you.

A quote from a reputable health insurance agent will be exactly the same as a quote directly from the company. The difference will be, when you are in a time of need, your bilingual agent will be there for you, recommending doctors or hospitals and assisting you with the paperwork and claims. They work for you, and they want your business next year.

To be connected with the best health insurance agent in Panama, go here. To read more about the health care system in Panama, go here.

Setting Up Your Utilities

The day of moving into your new home is approaching fast. Depending on what is included in your lease, you need to determine what you want for the internet. If the landlord wants to change the electricity to your name, they will assist you. Typically water and garbage pickup stay with the owner of the property.

There are two major fiber internet providers in Panama with speeds of up to 1000 Mbps. Tigo and +Movil. They are available in the most populated areas. There are private fiber companies also. You may not have fiber in more remote areas, and you will be stuck with radio internet with an antenna pointing to a tower. Much more expensive and slower speeds. Ask your neighbors what service and speeds they have.

Some people also order cable tv with their fiber internet, it’s actually relatively inexpensive, with 200 + channels, but only about 1/3 of them are in English.

Finding and Buying a VehicleBuying a Vehicle in Panama

Car rentals, even long-term ones, are costly in Panama, and you probably will need to purchase a vehicle.

When it comes to buying a car, Panama offers potential buyers a wide range of options. If you buy new, find the main dealership for your make of car, and deal directly with them, they will get you everything you need. New and used vehicles can be purchased from dealerships or private sellers.

However, a few things to keep in mind when searching for a pre-owned vehicle in Panama. First, it is essential to have a clear idea of what type of vehicle is needed and what budget is available. Second, it is necessary to research the market value of the desired vehicle to avoid overpaying. It is also very advisable to have the money for this vehicle in a Panama bank, so it is more convenient when it is time to transfer.

Finally, it is advisable to work with a reputable company or individual who can offer guidance and support throughout the purchase process. You will need to make sure the VIN of the vehicle is clean, the vehicle is free of liens, mechanical inspection is done, and the title transfer and insurance are all proper.

With these tips in mind, buying a car in Panama can be a smooth and enjoyable experience. Remember, everything here is in Spanish. For a reputable company offering vehicle purchase assistance in Panama, go here.

Now that you have some idea of what needs to be done once you have arrived in Panama, it’s important to get started on the necessary preparations. Settling into your new country will be an exciting adventure, just have patience, give things time, and you can start enjoying your new life in Panama.


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