Panama is a seriously beautiful country. When I first moved to Panama, I did so on a whim. It was after living in Ecuador and I was itching to get back to Latin America. From Atlanta, I looked up the cheapest plane ticket to the region and it happened to be to Panama City. I bought it and figured out the rest afterwards.
I ended up living in Panama for almost a year. I spent 1 month living in Bocas del Toro with a volunteer gig through Workaway and the rest of my time I was based in Panama City. Well, kinda. I worked as a tour guide on the San Blas Islands (aka paradise on earth) but lived in the city on my off days from the job.
Panama wasn't necessarily my plan but then again no where I've lived have been part of said plan and that's primarily because I don't have one. At that time, I was focused on living abroad on a budget, so I went places that were affordable and I could either get a good volunteer gig or a paid job. Now that I work online and take my job on the go with me, my priorities have shifted.
One thing is certain though: Panama is one of the most beautiful countries I've ever seen. The natural beauty is enough to leave you in awe. Combine that with welcoming locals, a low cost of living, and modern amenities (if you choose to live in the city), and there's a lot that could draw you to Panama.
So, if you're thinking about moving here, too, these are the 5 best places to live in Panama.
1. Panama City
There's a lot to love about living in Panama City, especially if you're a city person. I for one am not. I was much more at home on the islands than I ever felt in the city but really, that's a personal preference.
Panama City itself blends modernity with charm really, really well. On one side of the city, you'll be surrounded with luxury high-rise apartments, casinos, and malls and one the other side of the city, you can amble down old alleyways lined with brightly painted homes in Casco Viejo, or the Old Town.
Pros to Living in Panama City
Panama has long been one of the biggest expat hubs, especially for those coming from North America. A big reason for this is because there's no income tax on foreign-earned income so a lot of expats see it as a nice little tax haven, especially those coming from countries that only require tax for residents.
Alongside this, as far as a cosmopolitan city goes, it's very affordable. You can find anything from incredible penthouse apartments that overlook the Pacific Ocean and shared houses in a local neighborhood. The price ranges for these lifestyles will vary greatly but still won't be as much as the equivalent would cost outside of the region.
Thanks to the large expat community, making friends shouldn't be as difficult as it might be in some of the small towns on this list. There are a handful of international schools if you move here with a family and foreign retirees if you plan to retire in Panama. There's never a bad time to visit because even during rainy season, since it's such a big city, there's always something to do.
There are also more job opportunities for foreigners who prefer to work in person. Teaching English, teaching at international schools, or working in tourism are the best paths to follow if you want to find a job quickly. If you'd like to teach English abroad, the main requirement you'll need is a Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) Certificate.
Cons to Living in Panama City
While there are plenty of perks to living in Panama City, there are some cons, too. One of things that frustrated me the most about living in the city was the fact that while it was on the Pacific Coast, there's no beach right in town to enjoy. To really take advantage of living on the coast, you'll need a car to quickly get to the surrounding beaches.
This goes hand in hand with the weather. Panama City is hot and humid and without a beach to cool off on, I sweated my way through my time living here. And this is coming from someone who grew up in the South of the US and has lived in the rainforest.
Panama City is also known for its traffic. Depending on where you're going and at what time, it could take you much, much longer than expected. If you work online, this might not be a problem because you can strategically plan your movements but if you'll be working in an office and need to commute, plan your housing accordingly.
2. Bocas del Toro
Bocas del Toro really is a hippie's paradise. That's not to say that all of the people living in Bocas are hippies but many expats here at least have the mindset of one. It makes sense. Bocas has an incredibly laid back vibe and a closeness to nature you can feel.
While it does have some stunning beaches, the landscape of Bocas del Toro is more than that. It's essentially a cluster of mangrove islands, lush jungle, and crystal clear Caribbean Sea. Bocas Town is one the edge of Colón Island, with Carenero Island and Bastimentos just across the water from it.
The pros and cons to living on Bocas really will depend on what kind of person you are and what kind of lifestyle you're after. I'm going to go with my personal pros and cons from when I lived there.
Pros to Living on Bocas del Toro
For the adventurous nature-lovers like I am, it's easy to fall in love with living in Bocas del Toro. Here, you can spend your days in Bocas Town, enjoying the small town life. Although you can walk from one side to the other in just a few minutes, you'll find plenty of restaurants, coffee, shops, bars, and hostels.
If you enjoy a party and love having a constant influx of new people, Bocas will be great for you. If you don't, and would prefer a more stable lifestyle, this will quickly become a con. Although still relatively off the travel radar, it's one of the most popular destinations within Panama so from high season to low season the town might look completely different.
For entertainment purposes, a bike is enough to explore Colón Island and the beaches nearby. To get deeper into the mangroves, go snorkeling, or splash around in the water, I suggest a kayak or standup paddleboard. If you're in decent shape, you shouldn't have much trouble finding a quiet spot to hang out.
Bocas is still to this day the one place I've ever seen "deepboarding." You have to see it to believe it but it's essentially a clear boogieboard attached to the back of the boat. As the boat goes, you can maneuver the board to go underwater and back up from a breath. It's the closest you'll ever feel to a dolphin!
Cons to Living on Bocas del Toro
If you're not interested in living in a touristic town, you won't like living in Bocas. While there are many expats living here, especially those who work in tourism, a majority of the foreigners who come to Bocas are just travelers passing through.
It can be a good spot for digital nomads but that really depends on how demanding your online job is and how necessary internet connection is. It might be good enough for the basics but if you work with big files or have scheduled video calls, this might be a frustrating place to live.
The cost of living in Bocas is quite low but can get more expensive during high season. It's also helpful to know that since you're on a laid back island, you won't have the modern amenities and the access to goods you'd have in Panama City.
Since Bocas del Toro is an island, and a small one at that, it can be tough to travel internationally (or even domestically from here). You'd have to first get to Panama City or cross the northern border to Costa Rica.
Coronado is located on Panama's Pacific Coast, just over an hour drive from Panama City. Other than the fact that they're both beach communities, Coronado and Bocas del Toro are really opposites. Where Bocas is "back to the basics" at its finest, Coronado is known as a resort town and has the amenities to match it.
Ocean lovers will love living in Coronado. Many apartments and homes have ocean views and if they don't, no matter where you live in town, you'll be a quick walk from the expansive coastline.
While not all expats living in Coronado are retirees, many are. Expats tend to choose Coronado if they're the type of person that would want to retire in Florida but at a fraction of the cost. The lifestyle here is laid back but with all the amenities you could dream of.
Pros to Living in Coronado
Coronado has all the amenities that one usually associates with a fantastic way to retire: golf courses, tennis, pickleball, supermarkets, high-end hospitals and clinics, and plenty of shops and restaurants. Just outside of the city, you'll find numerous hiking trails and of course, the ocean there for fishing, scuba diving, swimming, and sunbathing.
Alongside those who retire in Panama, there are a number of expat families living in Coronado thanks to the amenities and private school options. There are also plenty of private clinics and hospitals, like there are in Panama City, so for those that want easy access to quality healthcare, either of these cities is a good place to live in Panama. Although health services are much more affordable than they are in the US, having a good travel insurance is good to have, just in case!
The cost of living in Coronado will range based on the lifestyle you dream of living but just like in Panama City, it would come at a fraction of the cost if compared to the same situation in North America. Also, since you're only an hour's drive from Panama City, you're near a big international airport to travel freely.
Cons to Living in Coronado
Since Coronado is located on the Pacific Ocean, the ocean here can be much more aggressive than the Caribbean side. That's not to say the water is always wild but it's important to realize that big waves, strong currents, and darker seas are uncommon.
Living in Coronado is like living in a bubble, gated communities and all. Yes, you live in Panama but will you feel that on a day-to-day? Most likely not. Nearly half of the people who live in Coronado are part of the growing expat community so English will be widely spoken and amenities will look like those that you're used to back home, not what the norm is in Panama.
For me, I love living abroad to really immerse myself in the local culture but I do understand that that's a personal preference.
Taking us away from the Caribbean beaches and Pacific Coast, let's head inland to Boquete. Boquete is a small, lush mountain town near the border with Costa Rica. Here, you'll exchange ocean views for mountains, coffee plantations, and shades of green everywhere you look.
Even though you're not on the beach, given Panama's skinny shape, you're an hour away from the nearest beach and David, Panama's 3rd largest city. That means, while Boquete itself might not have all of the amenities you need, you'll find much of what you're lacking nearby in David.
Pros to Living in Boquete
Boquete can provide you with most of the reasons you chose to move to Central America to begin with: stunning natural beauty, a low cost of living, friendly locals, and a calm lifestyle. In Boquete, the expat community tends to be active and outdoorsy. You can enjoy a variety of hiking trails, quiet places to relax outside in a hammock with a book, flowing rivers, and beaches not so far away.
Expats and locals alike find themselves living in Boquete, so while many of the people living in Boquete might not have been born here, you will find a large number of Panamanians that moved to Boquete searching for the same tranquility as you.
The weather is also a huge perk to living in Boquete. Instead of the intense heat you'll get on the coast, Boquete enjoys a spring-like climate all year round.
Cons to Living in Boquete
While the cost of living in Boquete is still relatively affordable, it can be more expensive than other areas since it's such a popular place to live and visit. While it's not necessarily as expensive as living in a big city, most people associate a small town with a low cost of living and for some goods and services, you might be surprised.
Boquete, like Bocas del Toro, has lacking infrastructure in some areas. Digital nomads might be frustrated by the power outages and sometimes slow internet. If you work online, it's best if you have a job that you can do on your own schedule, just in case. Most expats work in-person in Boquete or are retirees.
5. El Valle de Antón
El Valle de Antón is another mountain town that's a great alternative to coastal living. Uniquely enough, this town was developed in the crater of an ancient volcano so no matter where you are, you have great mountain views and cloud forests to explore.
Much like Boquete, El Valle de Antón enjoys spring-like weather all year round and stunning natural beauty, it just might get a little hotter here. If you're happy to exchange cooler mountains with the warm coastline, El Valle should be considered.
Pros to Living in El Valle de Antón
This town is a tropical paradise. While I never visited El Valle when I was living in Panama, I've heard nothing but good things about the stunning scenery. You'll have plenty of great places to go hiking and waterfalls to find.
Although it's a small town, with only 5,000 inhabitants, you'll find plenty of grocery stores, restaurants, shops, and hotels. Living here is best for those that don't enjoy city life and prefer a place where they can live alongside locals and immerse themselves in the local culture.
Cons to Living in El Valle de Antón
When you look at Anton Valley on a map, it looks like it's really close to Panama City. And while yes, it kind of is, it takes about 2.5 hours to get there. This is important to note if you were thinking you could quickly get to the city for the international airport or to enjoy a quick day trip.
While there are other expats that live in the area, the community isn't super active so it might be a tougher place to make friends if you're new in town. You might need to make more of an effort when you first move here to find friends, local or foreign.
Before You Move to Panama
Now that we've taken a look at the best places to live in Panama, there are a few more things you should know before you make your move official.
While you're most likely used to 4 seasons, you can forget about that when living in Panama. In Panama, just like in other countries nearby, you have the unique advantage to choose the weather you want to enjoy year round. The weather here is determined by the altitude, nothing more, just like all of the other countries near the equator.
Since Panama doesn't have super high mountains, you'll only be able to choose from summer to spring, with slight variations in how hot to how cold it stays year round. The only big change you'll see in the weather is between the wet and dry seasons. How intense the wet season is depends on where in the country you decide to live.
There are a few different ways you can live in Panama. One of the easiest ways is by getting a job in the country, so long as it's a job that's willing to sponsor a work visa for you. Just know that it's not uncommon for jobs to pay you under the table while you're on a tourist visa.
You could go this route with or without a job, doing a visa run every 90 days (for most nationalities). It's important to note that while this is a relatively common practice in many countries in Central and South America and Southeast Asia, you do always run the chance of a snarky border officer holding you up thanks to so many exit and entrance stamps on your passport.
Digital Nomad Visa
Panama is one of the countries that offers a digital nomad visa. This visa allows you to live and work from Panama for 9 months, with the chance to extend the visa for another 9 months. This visa seems pretty upfront to get, with the main requirements being the ability to prove you do have a remote job with an income of $3,000/month.
Friendly Nations Residency Program
Another common visa route is through the Friendly Nations Residency Program. People from a handful of countries are given the opportunity to apply for a 2 year residency permit which can then be extended to permit residency.
Culture & Language
Panama is a Spanish speaking nation but depending on where you decide to live, the necessity of learning Spanish will vary. For those living in small towns or wanting to immerse themselves in the local culture, learn the language, for those that are seeking international living, you'll be able to skirt by.
I always recommend learning at least the basics of the language though. Trust me, it'll make a difference in your quality of life if you can at least say a few pleasantries. Get a head start on the process and use the app Mondly to start learning before you go. Once there, enroll in a language school and make a real effort to practice with locals.
From my experience the culture you'll find all throughout South America is warm and welcoming towards foreigners. People are genuinely curious about what foreigners are doing in the country, especially those that have chosen to live there. Be open and forthcoming and trust me, you'll make friends quickly.
Where Will You Move in Panama?
While I've highlighted the cities and towns that I think are the best places to live in Panama, where will you choose to live? This country boasts incredible nature that's never too far away, even if you choose to live in Panama.
Enjoy a laid back, affordable quality of life regardless of which of these 5 places you choose to live in Panama. Your biggest decision will be based if you're craving a bustling city, beach town, or somewhere deep in nature, and of course, which year round weather best suits you.
All photos by depositphotos.com.