I came to Panama for the first time on a Thursday evening. I was always characterized for having a strong spirit of adventure, and adventure, along with personal growth, is exactly what I came to look for in Panama. I wanted to make my dream come true of becoming a professional pianist and making money out of it, and, at that time, I thought Panama was the best choice for me. I wasn´t wrong.
I came to Panama alone, with a few dollars saved, without knowing anyone, and only a year later I already had a job, great friends, I was working as a pianist and I even had a Panamanian family that considered me like one of their own. This is something I could have never achieved in my home country. Let me tell you my story.
First impression in Panama
Since I didn’t know anyone nor had a place to live, I booked a room in a hotel and that´s where I lived for the first few months. My first days in Panama I got to know the city. I walked down Calle 50 several times, which is a very cosmopolitan avenue and is considered the business center of Panama, with skyscrapers reaching out to the sky.
One of the first things that stroke me about Panama is that it doesn´t have addresses. You´ve heard it right. For the citizens of European or European-like countries this is something we can´t understand, and I couldn’t understand it at the beginning either. People get to places using references like: “from the Tornillo building two blocks to the right”, “next to the gas station of Via Argentina”, etc.
I couldn’t understand how people get mail or how they can purchase on the internet, but it turns out that there is always a solution. If you regularly purchase online you have several private and public post services, where you rent something like a private post box where you receive your purchased goods and then you retire them at their office. I have done this many times without problems.
There is something very particular about Panama: it is absolutely not built for pedestrians. The structure of the city is very disorganized and there are no sidewalks, there are very few pedestrian traffic lights, which means that sometimes you have to take a big turn in order to cross an avenue. However, buying a car is affordable in Panama, and that´s actually one of the reasons why most Panamanian have cars, sometimes even two or three cars in one family.
If you enjoy walking, do not worry, you have places where you can do this. Parque Omar, for example, is a huge park near the Via Porras where you have a large jogging track. Due to the high temperatures, the ideal time for jogging is around 6 pm. In Parque Omar, you also have fitness equipment that you can use, and they are available for free. This place also offers a schedule of fitness lessons including yoga, aerobics, salsa lessons, and more.
However, things in Panama are about to change because there is a whole new neighborhood under construction that is specially planned for pedestrians. It is called the new Casco Antiguo because it´s based on the same colonial design as the old Panamanian neighborhood. This town inside Panama City will have wide sidewalks, parks, squares, and even a small forest with a river and it´s available for investors. Find more information here.
Accommodation in Panama
Since I didn´t know anyone in Panama, I booked a room in a hotel for a month. During that month I intended to find a place to live. Since I got to know people, I found out that one of the people that worked there was giving out a room for rent in his apartment. For me it was great since I was just getting started and living with other people would help me to socialize. I rented a small but decent room for only 250USD in one of the most beautiful places in Panama: Via Argentina.
If you want to live close to the city center, then a big room with a private toilette is about 500 or 600USD a month, depending on the zone. If you are single this is a great option because you have your private room and can share the common areas like kitchen and living room with other people.
If you have a family, then there´s also the chance to rent a whole apartment for yourself. In the nicest and more centric areas a one-bedroom apartment starts from800USD a month, and a 2 or 3 bedroom can be rented for 1,000 or 1,200 USD.
Eating in Panama
One of the first things I tried in Panama is the sancocho. People may wonder how come people eat soup in a country with such high temperatures. Well, the truth is that they do, and I do it too. I love sancocho so much that I don´t mind if the temperature is higher than 30 degrees. This is a soup with chicken, vegetables, and a tubercle called “ñame”, which is like a potato but softer and with a slightly sweet taste. The sancocho is usually accompanied by a portion of rice.
One thing you need to know: Panamanian typical food is delicious but not healthy as it is in general very oily. I particularly love the carimañola, which is similar to an empanada filled with meat and covered with breaded potato. This is cooked in oil so, although delicious, it´s better not to have it every day.
If you want to eat healthily, in the supermarkets you can find the same products that you find in any western country, meaning that you can cook whatever you want to your own taste. There are also many naturistic shops where you can find natural, organic, light products, celiac products, products for diabetic people, and so on. In one of these places I remember I used to buy gluten-free pasta and even gluten-free beer!
If you enjoy eating out, then Panama is the right place. You can find a wide variety of restaurants with international food, in this sense, Panama is remarkably similar to New York, being a very cosmopolitan place, a mixture of cultures, and the bridge of the world. In Panama, you will find restaurants that offer Argentinian meat, Arabic food, sushi, and Japanese food, Chinese food, Peruvian food, and, as this country is surrounded by oceans, great fish and seafood. All of this in a wide variety and excellent quality.
Residency in Panama
As I said, I have a strong spirit of adventure and I came to Panama to stay, to build a life, and to make my dreams come true. For that, I needed residency. But I didn´t know anybody nor had any idea how to get one, but this didn´t stop me, on the contrary, it encouraged me to keep going. I had a tourist visa that allowed me to stay in the country for 6 months, so that gave me time to figure out what to do. I started to consult with lawyers and immigration experts, and I found out something truly incredible.
Panama has a program that´s one of a kind and you won´t find it anywhere else in the world, with this program, citizens of chosen countries can access permanent residency in only a few months and with a straightforward process. Imagine how pleased and surprised I was to find out that my country, Argentina, was one of these countries.
To sum up: in less than 6 months (before my tourist visa expired) I had already permanent residency and a Panamanian ID. Really, do you know anywhere else in this world where these things happen? Only in Panama!
Let me tell you this fantastic story.
Friendly nations visa
The two main things that I needed to get this visa were: a job contract or registering a company and depositing 5,000 USD in a bank account.
The difficult part was to open an account without being a resident, but luckily, I found a bank that was willing to do it. All I had to do was to get two Panamanian people to write a letter of reference and deposit 50USD. Then I had to deposit 5,000 USD. For this, my parents helped me from Argentina, drawing the money from my account and sending it through Western Union. Western has a limited sending amount so they had to send me the money little by little. But in less than a month I already had the required 5,000 dollars, that, it is worth mentioning, are still yours and you can then use once your residency is approved.
This was not the best bank in Panama, but it served its purpose. Once you get your residency you can open accounts in any Panamanian bank, which are among the best in the world and offer excellent services. With my current bank account, for example, I can transfer and withdraw money from any part of the world, using my debit card and the excellent online banking service.
The other difficult thing was to get a job contract dully registered in the Ministry of Work, but, thanks to some connections that I found I got a job teaching in a school and got the right kind of contract required by the immigration office.
After this, everything went smoothly and, after some minor requirements like a health certificate, police record from my consulate, etc., I got permanent residency in less than six months.
It is important to know that, while your application is being reviewed, you cannot leave the country or you´ll have to pay a 2,000 USD fine. For this reason, I recommend you get a multiple-entry visa that costs only 50USD.
If your country is not on the list of friendly nations, do not worry because Panama has many other visa programs. You can find these explained in detail in our country focus.
Do you have questions?
Panama enacted Law 24 to encourage private investment in efforts to restore the country’s rapidly diminishing tropical forests. To reverse this trend, Law 24 offers significant tax advantages and residency visa eligibility to investors in government-approved reforestation projects. Individuals who present proof that they have invested in an approved reforestation project of at least 5 hectares (about 12.3 acres), including the purchase of the land itself, can apply for a Panamanian Reforestation Residency Visa.
This visa is particularly advantageous for those who want residency in Panama but who do not qualify for a retiree visa or friendly nations visa and want to avoid the lengthy and expensive process of obtaining a standard investor’s visa. The latter can be very challenging for citizens of some nations and is much more expensive (USD +300k). The Reforestation Residency Visa offers you high value, high security, and a straightforward process for a lower cost.
Luckily, Privatus Maximus has a partner with a green program that meets all the qualifications of the visa. The total cost of your project includes all legal costs and government fees, visa for yourself as well as the fully managed forestry plot 100% titled in your name. For more about the project, please visit our country page.
No, this visa is not only for retirees as the name suggests. Anyone at any age that can prove to have an income for life of at least 1,000USD a month can apply for this visa. This income may come from a private or a public institution. Usually, people that have an income for life are retirees that are already receiving their pension, and this becomes a great program for them, especially for people from the USA and Europe, because with a 1,000USD pension they can have a much better lifestyle in Panama than in their home countries. Moreover, retirees have access to great discounts and benefits including discounts in medicine, healthcare, entertainment, hotels, cinema, theaters, and more.
Panama is great if you want to have an international lifestyle. In Panama, I have met friends from all over the world, which helped me have a better understanding of the world and grow as a person. I met an Indian lady of about 60 years of age that had an arranged marriage and found this to be very natural. This person lived a long and happy life with her husband, happier than my parents´ marriage who supposedly got married out of love.
I met an English man who absolutely adored Maradona (the Argentinian soccer international star), despite the fact that he cheated and scored a goal with his hand against the English during the ’90s and in a world cup semifinal. “We forgive him because he is the greatest player of all times”, he said to me.
I met an Australian teacher who speaks great Spanish and explained to me the difference between verbs “estar” and “ser” in Spanish. A difference that I couldn´t understand as a native Spanish speaker but that he could understand since he had to learn this language, and had to learn the difference between these two verbs that don´t exist separately in the English language.
I met my best friends: a Polish girl, a Panamanian woman, a Russian lady, a Russian who lived on a boat and loved sailing, great jazz and Latin musicians who studied in the Berkley School of Music and with the great Panamanian piano star Danilo Perez.
I sailed on a boat into the beautiful and not yet exploited by men islands of the Pacific, I saw dolphins and a turtle swimming freely in the open ocean. Thanks to the money I was making I traveled to New York, Costa Rica, and Mexico, having some of the most amazing experiences in my life.
All these people and this experience changed me forever and in the best way possible.
Only a year after that Thursday night in which I arrived in Panama to an empty hotel room, alone and scared but ready to conquer the world, I was already playing with the best musicians in Panama and making good money, I had a permanent residency and amazing friends.
In Panama not only did I make my dream come true, but also got the best gift any person can have: personal growth.
Find out the amazing opportunities that Panama has for you, whatever your profession is, whatever your area of business. Privatus Maximus experts can help you establish a company, establish in the free zone, arrange residency, and tax residency, create a foundation, optimize your taxes, open a bank account in Panama.