Recently, it has occurred to me that many of my clients’ frequently asked questions about Panama are driven by fear. Fear of the Unknown, fear of change, fear of risk-taking.
While having a certain level of fear is healthy to some degree, it’s important to assess fear with an open and fact-based mindset. Wouldn’t it be awful to let a grand opportunity pass you by, for a fear that needn’t exist?
Here are my honest assessments of the most “FFQ” about Panama. I’ll leave it up to you to decide which are worth the nailbite.
“Is Panama safe?”
Over the last decade, Panama has consistently been rated as one of the safest places to live and travel in Latin America.
According to the US Dept of State Bureau of Diplomatic Security, “Panama remains relatively safe when compared to other Central American countries, yet crime rates are still higher than one would encounter in most of the United States.”
This is in contrast to crime stats as reported from Nationmaster, which deems crime in the US to be over 500 times more prevalent than Panama. Of course, the U.S is a much larger country than Panama, but the general consensus amongst expats is that the Panama is a safe place to live.
Some areas are safer than others. Communities that expats and retirees tend to live in (such as Coronado and Gorgona) have top-shelf safety standards including security gates, patrolling policemen, and neighborhood watch. High tourist areas are also heavily patrolled, and it would take a very stupid (and unsuccessful) criminal to strike there.
“Will I get ripped off buying property?”
Being lured into overpaying for real estate is something that happens all too often in one’s home country, making this particular fear an understandable one.
Thankfully, Panama’s revered Foreign Investment Law eliminates many of the risks that often coincide with buying property abroad. It awards foreigners with the same rights as nationals when it comes to property investments and most business deals. It’s one of the primary reasons so many foreigners buy property here.
And yes, there is the chance that an shady broker will attempt to sell you a property that, whether for the area, the price, or the property itself, isn’t right. My advice for avoiding this is the same that I give to anyone, anywhere: Do your research.
Read into the background of the person selling you property. Google their name, pay attention to how they treat people, and vice versa. Look into the area you’re buying into, try to find honest evaluations from expats like yourself. Do your homework so your home works for you.
“Do I need to learn Spanish?”
Short answer: No.
Honest answer: You should.
Living in certain expat-friendly communities, you can get by without learning to speak Spanish. Many have done so for years. It is my personal opinion and observation, however, that having at least an elementary hold on the language is setting you up to have the best possible experience.
Part of the reason we move abroad is to get outside of our comfort zone and keep the old heart and brain ticking (and fulfilled.) Learning a new language improves cognition function, memory, and creativity. It’s also a social stimulant, helping you meet and appreciate people- and have more to talk about.
Bottom line: Don’t feel like you need to master Spanish before or by the time you move. But open your mind to learning as you go.
“Will I have friends and/or things to do?”
While Panama will probably be a much more relaxed environment than what you’re used to, you won’t be starved for company- or activities.
Panama has several thriving expat and retiree communities, such as those in Coronado, Gorgona, and Boquete. Panama City is also diverse, though you’ll more often find a younger (under 40) crowd there due to the nature of city living.
As for recreation, if you can think it you can do it. Modern recreation is vast, including shopping, restaurants, travel, theater, and sporting, musical, or cultural events. Natural recreation is equally abundant, with coastlines on two different oceans and miles of rainforests in between.
“What about my friends and family back home?”
Seeing your friends and family less is just part of the nature of moving abroad. But, with literally hundreds of international flights entering and exiting Panama every day, getting to and fro is easy.
Flights from North America average around 3-4 hours, with some- like those from Florida- taking as little as 2 hours. Plus, living in one of the most appealing places in the hemisphere means it shouldn’t be too difficult getting your loved ones to visit.
“What about my children?”
If you’re moving abroad with kids, you’ll be happy to know that certain schools in Panama are considered very high quality, progressive, and well equipped. Sadly, this is more so the case with private institutions than the public ones. Stick to private, and your kids will have the best of opportunities.
Even beyond the educational aspect, Panama is a great place to raise a family. Watching my young children blossom here has been a dream. They’re multilingual, culturally diverse, active, healthy, and happy. I don’t doubt for a second that this is the right place for them to be.
“What if it’s just not for me?”
Worst case scenario? You show up, give it your best go, and decide that Panama isn’t right for you. Then what?
Then, my friend, you have a solid property investment in one of the most lucrative markets in the hemisphere. You sell it and go. Or you keep it and go, renting it out for passive income. Or you hold onto it for a few years, watch it deepen in value, and flip it for a pretty profit.