In recent years, Panama has seen a great deal of American expats move into the country. Whether for a vacation or to make a more permanent move, the country has become an ideal location for those who want a change of scenery yet still want to be close to the U.S. Aside from the spectacular beaches running along both sides of the country, Panama also has a very cosmopolitan environment in the city and you can find many affordable homes and apartments for rent in Panama for virtually any decent budget.
Whether you are planning a move to Panama for the beaches, a work opportunity or a plan to invest in Panama, family or friends or you just want to start a whole new life, you should consider what items should be brought with you, and what may best be left behind when you start your journey.
Panama is a country that is relatively easy to make a move to. For Americans, this may be great news as many countries have stringent policies on immigration and obtaining a visa as well as the length of time you can stay in the country. On a tourist visa, you can stay up to 180 days if you are an American or Canadian. A retiree visa, which does not technically mean you must be an actual retiree, can be obtained if you have a lifelong pension income of at least $1000 monthly. You can also obtain economic visa’s that allow you stay if you make a large ($300,000 USD) deposit over a time span of three years to purchase Panama property or other visa’s that are based on your annual income or even through executive order from the government. To find out more about obtaining the right visa for your stay, you can check with the Embassy of Panama in the U.S. before you plan your journey.
Finding a Home
Taking time to sit down and carefully plan your trip to Panama is a good idea. Even better, if you plan to make a permanent move, you may want to take a vacation to Panama to visit Panama real estate agents to see what apartments may be available or homes to purchase in Panama. This will be the perfect opportunity for you to visit a variety of areas to see which cities may be best suited for your lifestyle or the hobbies that you enjoy. You will find many homes available by the ocean as well as in the city where you will have a wide array of entertainment, shopping and even the possibility of a little adventure depending on what you like to do and where you look at potential homes. It may even be a great way to scout the area to find the right place to locate an office to rent if you plan on investing in Panama by starting a new business.
If you don’t have time to take a vacation before the move, you need to speak to a real estate agent to assist finding a home when you arrive. Staying in a hotel is nice, but it can become costly if you need to stay long-term. If you have a retiree visa, you may be eligible for discounts on your airfare to Panama as well as for hotel stays. You will want to pack your luggage as fully as possible if you plan to relocate, and the rest of your belongings can easily be shipped over by plane or boat or even a truck.
Packing for the Move
Packing needs to be something that you do carefully. You won’t need to pack your winter skis or your heavy winter coats for your move, so be sure to sort through your clothing and other property and only take what you are going to need. Downsizing before a move like this is essential not only to cut down on moving things you will never use, but to also help keep moving expenses down when relocating to a new country. Unlike a move from one state to the next, a move to Panama will incur shipping fees and import taxes on all property that you ship.
You may want to skip bringing large items or appliances, furniture and other household items like this. Store them, sell them or give them away to someone before you leave the U.S. Downsizing can be a great way to make a little extra cash to buy some necessary furnishings once you find a house in Panama. Another thing to consider is your car. Yes, Panama has great public transportation and you can usually hail a cab or take a bus or even hop on a boat to visit nearby islands, but having your own car may make travel easier when you want to get somewhere quickly.
If you plan to bring a car with you, you will need to hire a pro to move it to Panama for you. You also need to check well in advance of your planned move to see if bringing your car will be wise decision. If you own a brand-new Mercedes-Benz or a Dodge Charger, you may want to store or sell the car before you move as they are not cars that are commonly found in Panama. If you have a Toyota, Hyundai or a Honda, they are more common. Common cars are easy to find parts for and most mechanics will be able to service and repair them. Luxury cars and rare cars can be difficult to find mechanics who can repair them and parts will often need shipped in and this can be very expensive.
Taxes to Pay
Not many things in life are tax free, and this includes importing your car and household goods to Panama. If you are fortunate enough to make your relocation with a retiree visa, you may be able to import one car every two years without paying import fees. You will need to be in Panama when your property arrives and this goes for cars as well as personal and household property. You will also need to hold a valid residency visa or have a letter from a lawyer in Panama stating that your residency visa is processing. You also must have your passport.
Taxes on imports can range from 15% to more than 30% depending on the value of your property. This may be good to know when moving with a car because the lower your car value, the lower the tax rate will be to import it. While it may be a little costly to import a car, it’s important to know that while there are many cars for sale in Panama, you probably have a larger selection in the U.S. and are apt to find cars that have no mechanical issues when you buy in the U.S. or import your own personal car.
The Cost of Living in Panama
You may have heard that the cost of living in Panama is lower than the U.S. and that you can live off $500 USD monthly. This is true, however, if you have an expensive lifestyle, you will need to adapt to living like a local and not overspending on souvenirs and other items when you move and doing what you can to live a frugal lifestyle. This is especially true if you live on a fixed income and need to maintain a strict budget.
There are many apartments throughout in Panama that have very affordable rental rates but you will also find luxury apartments in areas like beautiful Punta Paitilla, San Francisco and Punta Pacifica, Panama with rental rates ranging from as low as $800 monthly to more than $3000 monthly. Property values will vary based on whether you live in the city, by the ocean or what amenities the homes for rent or sale have. Even with a wide gap in rental and sales rates, you can live your dream lifestyle on any budget when you live in paradise.
Panama has so much to offer expats and this includes the best adventures living at the beach, shopping in some of the greatest markets in the world, and a chance to try some great Panamanian dishes at local restaurants that you won’t find anywhere else. Once you arrive, be sure to take some time to destress from the flight and just enjoy life a little more in your new paradise home. Be sure to learn a little basic Spanish before you arrive however, as it will make communication and having a social life much easier.