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Living in Panama?

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William Shirming

Living in Panama, from Great Britain

"Thanks to the City Guide, I found the right place to go for a business lunch in Panama City. "

Carla Echevarria

Living in Panama, from Spain

"As a Spanish expat in Latin America, moving to Panama was probably easier for me than for others. But I am still glad that I found this site! "

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Panama at a Glance

Healthcare and Housing in Panama

Do I need private health insurance while in Panama? What do I need to know about the social security system? What is accommodation like for expats in Panama? The InterNations expat guide to living in Panama has the answer to all these questions and many more.

Medical Facilities in Panama

Public healthcare in Panama is in the hands of two public entities: the Ministry of Health (Ministerio de Salud) and the Social Security System (Caja de Seguros Social). The latter runs the country’s public hospitals and clinics.

One of the main issues with the Panamanian healthcare system is accessibility. While people living in Panama’s big cities usually have a choice of several hospitals and doctors, rural areas suffer from a lack of good medical care. Often, only first-aid services are available.

Unfortunately this also applies to the private sector. While modern, state-of-the-art medical facilities are available in Panama City, none can be found in smaller towns or in even more rural areas. Recommended private hospitals in Panama City include the Hospital Nacional, the Clinica Hospital San Fernando, and the Hospital Punta Pacifica. Due to its affiliation with John Hopkins, the latter has a lot of US-trained, English-speaking staff.

Bills for medical treatment received in Panama are usually expected to be settled immediately, even in cases of emergency treatment. Please note that private healthcare is very expensive in Panama. A good and comprehensive private international health insurance is therefore highly recommended for expats moving to Panama.

Social Security in Panama

As mentioned above, social security is provided by the Social Insurance Fund (CSS). With some 29% of the population living below the poverty line, this is not an easy task. Most of the disadvantaged members of society live in rural areas and belong to the indigenous population. Narrowing that gap in eligibility and accessibility of healthcare is one of the great challenges Panama faces.

The social security system is based on a combination of social insurance and individual account systems. Every employee contributes 9.25% of their gross salary to social insurance. Public and private-sector employees with gross monthly earnings exceeding 500 Balboas contribute another 8.16% of their earnings above that limit to their individual account. For the self-employed, both rates are at 13.5%. The employer contributes 4.25% of every employee’s salary to social insurance, and another 4.25% to the individual account if applicable. Social insurance covers old age, disability and survivors’ pension.

Sickness and maternity benefits are also administered by the CSS, but not from the same pot of money, so to speak. They are financed through a contribution of 0.5% of gross earnings from every employee and 8.5% from self-employed persons. The employer contributes 8% of the gross payroll. The maximum period during which you can receive sickness benefits for any one illness is 52 weeks. Maternity benefits are granted for six weeks before and eight weeks after childbirth. There is no paid parental leave in Panama.

Expat Accommodation in Panama

Expats in Panama have several accommodation options; you can get anything from a fancy villa to a beach hut or a mountain cottage. It all depends on where you live and how much money you have at your disposal. Most expats, however, choose to live in gated communities offering apartments or condominiums with all modern comforts. Many of them come with shared luxury facilities such as tennis courts, gyms, a swimming pool, and even nurseries. Domestic staff is usually part of the deal when you are living in a gated expat community. However, even if you rent individual accommodation, it is very common for middle-class and upper-class families to employ a cleaner, a live-in maid, or a nanny.

Foreigners are allowed to buy property in Panama, and the real estate market is booming. So if you’re moving to Panama for the long term, you might look into that option. (Owning property also has implications on your residency status. For more information, please refer to our article on moving to Panama.) If you are going to rent accommodation while in Panama, please note the following.

Renting Accommodation in Panama

Apartments come either furnished or unfurnished – the latter excludes all appliances. The terms of contract are usually freely negotiable, both with regards to rent and length of contract period. You can, of course, use the Internet to explore your options before coming to Panama, but in general it isn’t a bad idea to look at the place in person and make sure that everything works before signing a lease. Short-term furnished accommodation is readily available for expats on the flat hunt. Once you have arrived in Panama, your easiest (though not cheapest) option is to enlist the help of a local estate agent. Luckily, most of them speak English.

Once you have signed your contract, it must be registered with the Directorate of Leases at Ministry of Housing in order to be legitimized. This gives you additional security and peace of mind with regard to your rights as a tenant. A security deposit of one month’s rent is also due to the Ministry of Housing. Once your rental contract has been terminated and you have vacated the property, the deposit will be refunded to you if no damage to the property has occurred during your occupation. 

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