Retiring in Panama: What to expect when you first arrive

Retiring in Panama is an exciting and rewarding experience for many expats. With its warm weather, beautiful scenery, and friendly people, Panama continues to be a popular destination for retirees from around the world. If you’re considering retiring in Panama, here are a few things you can expect as a newcomer.

Cultural Differences to Navigate

Retiring in Panama involves adjusting to cultural differences, just like moving to any new country does. Indigenous, Spanish, and Afro-Caribbean influences all coexist in Panama’s culture. Respecting regional traditions and customs is crucial, as is spending time getting to know the people. Many retirees mention the following differences with their home country:

Family and Community

These are important values in Panama, and expats may find themselves becoming part of a close-knit community. This sense of togetherness and support may differ from the individualistic values found in some Western cultures.


Panamanian cuisine is a mix of local influences. Expats may encounter new flavors and dishes that they’re not familiar with. It’s important to keep an open mind and try new things – although burgers and pizza are common in most towns.


The majority of Panamanians are Catholic, and religion plays an important role in many aspects of life, which in general is still conservative in Panama. Expats may encounter religious customs and traditions that differ from their own.


Panamanians have a more relaxed approach to time than some Western cultures. Punctuality is not always a priority, and meetings and events may start later than scheduled, much later. Expats may need to adjust to a more laid-back approach to time management.

Spanish and English

Panama’s official language is Spanish, but English is also widely spoken. English is especially common in business, as well as among Panamanians who work in tourism.

While many Panamanians do speak English, it is still important for expats to have some knowledge of Spanish, particularly for daily activities like grocery shopping, banking, and medical appointments and to fully immerse themselves in the local culture.

Some expats may find that not speaking Spanish can be a limiting factor in terms of social interactions and accessing certain services in Panama. However, many expats still find ways to navigate language barriers and enjoy their retirement.

Security and Crime

Panama has a reputation for being a safe and stable country; but like any country, some areas are safer than others. While most expats and tourists in Panama do not experience security problems, theft is the most common crime, mostly in the form of pickpocketing: wallets, cell phones, and other valuables, particularly in tourist areas and public transportation.

Cases of more violent crime such as armed robberies at homes or vehicle thefts in urban areas have also been reported, but they are infrequent. Another security problem expats in Panama face are phone scams, in which criminals pretend to be family members or friends in need and ask for money.

It is important to be cautious and attentive at all times to avoid becoming a victim of these crimes. Taking preventive measures such as avoiding walking alone in low-traffic areas, keeping valuables to yourself while in public, and handling money or credit cards carefully are some of the recommendations to avoid becoming a victim in Panama.

Active Expat Community

Panama has a large and active expat community, particularly in popular retirement destinations such as Panama City, Chiriquí, and Coronado. This community offers a variety of opportunities for socializing, networking, and engaging in activities such as hiking, golfing, and volunteering.

Many expat organizations in Panama offer a variety of services to help new arrivals get settled in their new country. For example, these organizations may provide language classes, assistance with finding housing, and information about the local healthcare system.

Expats in Panama can easily connect with others through social media groups (especially in Facebook), expat organizations, and community events. Here are some examples of groups and organizations that offer services and support to new arrivals:

American Society of Panama – a non-profit organization that offers a variety of services to American expats in Panama, such as assistance with visas and residency, community events, and a monthly newsletter.

Boquete Newcomers Club – a social organization that welcomes new residents to the Boquete area and offers a variety of activities and events, such as coffee mornings, dinners, and excursions.

Opportunities to Volunteer

Panama has a range of opportunities for retirees who want to volunteer and give back to the community. Many organizations are looking for volunteers to help with environmental conservation, education, or healthcare initiatives. Retirees can make a meaningful impact while also getting to know the local community and culture. Here are a few examples of programs:

Rotary Club of Panama – The Rotary Club is an international service organization that aims to promote peace and help those in need. They have a chapter in Panama that offers volunteer opportunities for expats to get involved in community service projects.

Panama Audubon Society – This organization is dedicated to the conservation of birds and their habitats in Panama. They offer volunteer opportunities for those interested in birdwatching, environmental education, and conservation efforts.

Casco Antiguo Spanish School – This language school in Panama City offers a volunteer program where students can teach English to local children and participate in community service projects, such as cleaning up local parks and helping with food drives.

Ready to Retire in Panama? Let Kraemer & Kraemer Help

For those who are ready to embrace a new chapter in their lives, Panama can offer a wealth of opportunities for adventure, relaxation, personal growth and connections. Include Panama on your list of potential destinations – you just might find your perfect retirement paradise!

Our team of experienced attorneys specializes in immigration and residency services, and we can guide you through the process of obtaining the necessary visas and permits to make your retirement in Panama a reality. Contact Kraemer & Kraemer today to learn more about our services and how we can help you make Panama your new home.

Published April 24th, 2023, as Commentary on Immigration by Johana Sum