Panama Expat Conference: Hot Air or Helpful?

Casco Viejo, Panama CityI’m writing this from my hotel room in the Four Points Hotel in Panama City, Panama where I’m attending the Live & Invest in Panama conference.

A couple of months ago I asked whether expat conferences are valuable tools or expensive hype, and by the time we finish our meetings tomorrow night I’ll be able to answer that question for you.

In the meantime, here are a few highlights of the “Living in Panama” portion of the conference so far.

Living in Panama

One minute we were milling around the conference room introducing ourselves to our neighbors, and the next we were in full swing. Live & Invest Overseas publisher Kathleen Peddicord started us off with a discussion of why Panama might be the right place for us — or why not!

“Depending on your priorities and preferences,” she told us, “every plus can be a minus.”

Some might love the hustle and bustle of the city, for example, while others revel in the tranquility of a small town in the highlands.

But whether you like the highlands or the beaches, city or countryside, there are some things that are true for all expats in Panama.

The country is easily accessible

Panama is easy to get to. It:

  1. Is the “hub of the Americas”
  2. Has direct flights to the US and Europe
  3. Has easy access to all of Latin America

Panama’s infrastructure is the best in Latin America

It has better roads and bridges, a better electrical grid, internet and banking services. That doesn’t mean it’s perfect, Kathleen reminded us, but it’s the best in the region.

Based on her two decades of experience, Kathleen told us unequivocally that Panama is the best choice right now for retirement or for launching a web-based business.

Cost of Living in Panama

People ask all the time what they can expect their cost of living to be, and “that’s a question I can’t answer,” Kathleen admitted.

It all depends on your lifestyle.

She gave us details of budgets ranging from $800 to $7,000 per month, depending on location and lifestyle choices.

“On the western coast of the Azuero you can live on almost nothing,” she joked, “but that’s because you’re almost nowhere.”

Selling, Investing and Doing Business in Panama

Attorney Rainelda Mata-Kelly jumped in and walked us through some legal considerations for structuring our expat lives in Panama.

She outlined several legal entities (including corporations and foundations), giving us the pros and cons of each.

Most of her time, however, was spent discussing various types of visas and residency available. “Panama’s residency requirements are very flexible,” she told us. “You only have to stay in the country once every two years.”

Getting Around in Panama

In one of the shortest but most uproarious sessions of the afternoon, Leif Simon talked about taxis in Panama.

His best nugget of advice? Carry a thick stack of $1 bills around with you, because whatever your smallest bill is, that’s the fare the cabbie will demand. Get familiar with the fares and know them ahead of time to avoid being ripped off.

Who’s Attending This Conference?

After a few more information-packed sessions, we piled into buses outside the conference hotel to head into the old part of the city, Casco Viejo, for a cocktail party.

Held at the Panama Canal Museum, it gave us a chance to mix and mingle and meet other expats and would-be expats from all over the world.

I met attendees from Florida, Texas, Missouri, California, Maine, Virginia and several other states. I also met a young man from Cyprus; an expat Brit currently in San Diego; and a few others.

I met a woman a woman from Canada, finishing up a multi-month stay near Las Tablas, Panama by attending the conference before heading north.

I met a couple who’ve been reading about Panama and thinking about it for over five years, and finally decided to do something about it.

I met a couple from the US who’ve been living in Panama City for the past six months. They’re renting an apartment in Panama City while they look for someplace outside the city to settle down after a life of globetrotting.

I met another man who’s here for the first time. After the conference wraps up on Saturday he’s heading west to the house he’s rented in Panama’s interior, sight unseen except for pictures online.

I met a couple from New England who’ve been spending a few months each winter here for years.

In other words, I’ve met people at every imaginable stage of their expat journeys.

What stage of the expatriation process are you at?

Photo by kmacelwee on flickr

Comments

  1. Hi Susanna. We are making plans to move to costa rica in 3 yrs and I’m wondering now how the infrastructure compares to that of Panama. This is good information. I will have to see if conferences like this exist in CR too.

    • Marianne, I have not been to Costa Rica. I can tell you a couple things though.

      At the conference, I met a retired man who’s been living in Costa Rica. He’s in the process of moving to Panama because CR has gotten too expensive and they’re taking away the retiree pensionado benefits.

      My understanding is that Costa Rica’s road infrastructure is very poor, that roads that had potholes 20 years ago when retirees from the states started going there, are still potholed.

      Panama has the best infrastruceture in Central America. That said, it probably can’t compare with what you’re used to. It’s all relative. We’ve seen a ton of road construction while we’ve been here.

      I’m told by those who have experience that Panama’s cell phone service is not only the best in Central America, but probably better than what you have in the States. Internet is widely available, at higher speeds than we normally see in the US as well.

      I’m typing this from a little snack bar across the street from my hotel, using their wireless internet. Works fine! :-)

      Susanna

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