You know, when I first made the decision to move to Panama and told some of my friends and family back in Canada, they thought I was crazy. Some of them even thought that panama was a country embroiled in rebel war. I knew that was not true, as I, like you also know, have been doing research on Panama for quite some time, and realizing that it is known as the best place to retire in the world right now.
Well, that does not make the decision any easier, it will be a courageous move if you decide to go. There is, however, some things you can do now that will make the move much easier. I had to figure some of these things out when I got here, but with Oscar and I and our almost 20 years combined experience in Panama, and 12 years total experience dealing with expats moving here, these are the top concerns we always hear.
Communication: How will I talk to my friends and family back home
Well, believe it or now, Panama’s communication system, phones and internet, are 1st world. 98% of the country has cell phone access, from 4 competing carries, and high-speed internet at speeds of up to 100mbs, is available in most cities and towns.
Whats App is the most used means of communication in Panama. Cell texting is rarely used. Whats App is a text, Voice, Video app for your phone used by over 2 billion people on this planet, and many North Americans have never heard of it. I suggest downloading it and giving it a try, it’s totally free.
The best things about Whats App, is that even when you travel back and forth to other countries, even if you change your sim card, you Whats App stay registered to your phone. People can always get a hold of you. Voice and Video quality is excellent on WIFI, and voice even works on 3G/4G. Try it out with some friends and family and you will see how easy it is to communicate.
Then there always Skype, almost everyone has used Skype. You can even buy some Skype credit, and call phones in many places in the world for 2 cents a minute. If you want a local number from your country, you can do that with Skype also. For example, my Skype number is 1 (206) 905-9459 ( Seattle Number), if that number is called Skype on my phone, or desktop will ring, and it costs me only $2 a month to have it.
Now, there is still another option for a “Land Line” local number from your country, in Panama. It called VIOP (voice over IP) . There are many companies offering VIOP that you can actually plug a real house phone into, (like a cordless phone) connect the VOIP unit to the internet and receive and make calls in Panama with a number from your home country. Retire in Panama’s main line, 1-786-282-6302 is a VOIP service from MightyCall. For $20 a month, I get 2 numbers, and multiple extensions, this is great if you plan on running a business in Panama, or if you have a family, and want separate number for the kids.
Banking and Money
There are many options here for you, and it will totally depend on your circumstances. We do however recommend you keep your home bank in your country if you move here, at least for a while. I still have a bank in the USA and one in Canada that I keep active.
Once you move here, and get your residency, you will have the option to open a Panamanian bank account. Panamanian banks are very secure, and solvent. The requirements here of cash on hand to moneys loaned are way higher than the rest of the world. The part I like best, is the banks here, pay 3% – 5% interest on savings accounts, and even higher on CD’s.
To open a Bank Account in Panama, you will need your Residence Card, and a bank reference letter from your current bank in your country. On our tours, we will meet with one of the best banks here, that offer services in person an online in English.
What most retirees do, is keep their home bank, and have their pension check directly deposited into it, and use a Visa debit card to spend here in Panama or withdraw cash with debit card from ATM’s here. Withdrawing from an ATM in Panama will cost you an additional $5.50 plus any charge from your bank.
I don’t like the extra charges, so I opened a bank here, wired some money here from my home bank, and collect a nice interest on my savings account. (instead of .00025% what North American banks pay)
Health Care in Panama
This is one of the most talked about things for expats in Panama. What do I do about health care? Medicare from North America is not accepted here. The cost of medical treatment here is a fraction of the cost of the USA, and much cheaper than places like Europe. Let me give you some examples, just using the private medical system.
I live in the town of Boquete, where there are several Doctor offices (some that speak English, and 3 labs. Here are some costs I have incurred) There is a 15% additional discount for anyone with a Pensionado Visa.
Doctors Visit $15
Blood Test at lab ($10)
Complete physical with Blood, Urine, X-ray, EKG . . etc., a total of 15 tests ordered – $135 (this was for medical insurance qualification, which I will get into later)
Panama has a 2-tiered medical system, a Private pay for service, or private insurance, and a public hospital. The Private system is world class, with John Hopkin’s affiliate hospitals like Punta Pacifica. The public (regional) hospitals are very inexpensive, and great for general care, and available to all residents. If you work in Panama, like some of you that may be coming here on a Friendly Nations Visa, a small amount is take from your paycheck monthly and you can use the Regional Public system at no cost.
For people under 70 years old, private medical insurance is a good thing, and is much more affordable here than in North America, especially of your keep your worldwide deductible high. Let me give you an example, actually my example. I am 54 years old and in good health. I pay $108 per month, for one million dollars annual 100% coverage, with a $1000 annual deductible in Central America including Panama, and Columbia, and a $10,000 deductible worldwide.
If I travel to the USA or Europe, I purchase GAP insurance, which is very little to insure my deductible.
For people 70 an over, there are some co-pay insurance options available from some of the private hospitals. To learn more about health insurance options in Panama, we highly recommend Magda Crespo Insurance, she can provide you with all your options, and be sure to tell her Oscar and Rod sent you. On our tour, you will hear directly form Magda and be able to chat with her in person.
What Residency Visa Should I Get and Do I Qualify For?
This is the second most asked questions, and again there are many options. The 3 most popular, are the Pensionado Program, The Friendly Nations Visa and the Person of Means Visa. I will discuss each below.
Panama is known throughout the world for this visa as the easiest residency visa to get. All you must have is a permanent pension of $1000 of more to qualify as a single or couple for this visa. With this visa there is a lot of discounts from 5 – 50% that you get in every day of life in Panama. (link below to see all the discount) This visa will not lead to a work visa or to nationalization. (Passport)
Friendly Nations Visa
The is a very popular visa with a list of 50 countries that their citizens can qualify. This requires you opening a corporation and business bank account and depositing $5,000 into that account. The lawyer will handle all that information for you. You are not required to operate a business, and you can remove the money and close the account after your permanent residence is granted.
This visa can lead to a permanent work visa and even to nationalization if you desire. One thing to remember though, in choosing this visa or the Pensionado Visa, if you ever want to work in Panama, or open a business, you will want to get the Friendly Nations Visa. You will still get the discounts when a woman is 58, and a man is 62.
Self-Economic Solvency Visa
With this visa all you do is open a Panama bank account, and deposit $300,000 into it.
Actually, there are about 30 more visa options that you can choose from . Go here to learn more about these visas.
Choose the right visa is very important, and we recommend choose a great Lawyer to help you. Retire in Panama Tours recommends one law firm, as both Oscar and I have used them personally, and referred them to dozens of clients all with 100% satisfactory results. If you want to connect with them, Go Here.
Is it Safe in Panama?
Another good questions, I know when I told people I was moving there, I had family members who still thought there was gorilla war far in the jungle. Of course, that is not true. Panama is probably the safest county in Latin America, and safer than most US and Canadian cities. Of course, there are problem areas in Panama City, but there are safe neighborhoods also. In the country it is very safe.
When I started doing my research about Panama, I found a site called Nation Master which tracks and compares the crime in all countries. You can look at all the stats, but I think the most import one to compare, is total crimes per 1000 people.
Well, that complete the most asked questions that people are trying to answer to get the courage to take the plunge and move to Panama or retire here. Our Retire in Panama Tours are the best way to see the country and decide if you want to live in Panama, where you want to live, what visa to get to lead to residency in Panama, and what to do about your health insurance, For 6 days and 7 nights, we will show you all you need to know about panama, retiring in Panama and relive any fears you may have. Visit our itinerary here and book your tour here.
Retire in Panama Tours
It’s more than a tour . . it’s an experience.