Panama City, Panama – City Guide for Nomads and Expats

Updated in 2022.

Panama City, Panama.

Often mistaken by Google for Panama City, Florida in my online searches, Panama City is the largest city and capital of the Central American country of Panama.

It is an important international financial and commercial hub, and home to one of the largest Carnaval celebrations outside of Brazil. Has similar vibe and layout to American cities.

POPULATION: 1,300,000


Skip the guesswork and develop your ideal Latin Life Plan with our consultation services:

Schedule Your Personal Consultation With My Latin Life


DIGITAL NOMAD COMMUNITY IN PANAMA CITY

Many digital nomads also pass through Panama City. After all, the Selina hotel group started in Panama City! Digital nomads often start with a few days in Panama City before heading to Panama’s tourist destinations like Playa Venao. High value entrepreneurs come to Panama City to open bank accounts and create efficient corporate structures.

 

EXPAT COMMUNITY IN PANAMA CITY

Panama is home to a large expat community. People come to Panama from all over the world and especially other parts of Latin America to live and work in Panama. Panama City also has some of the best healthcare in Latin America. Panama is a great place to retire. Canadian and American expats have been retiring to Panama for 50 years. Not all expats in Panama go to Boquete – many stay in Panama City or at least have a place in the city.

 

WHERE TO STAY IN PANAMA CITY

Casco Viejo or not? That is the question. Panama City actually has quite a few cool areas, but if you are only in town for a few days you should stay in Casco Viejo. In Caso Viejo you will get to experience the history and culture of Panama. You can see the colonial architecture of the neighborhood. The center of the nightlife industry in Panama is also in Casco. You can find high-end restaurants, rooftop bars, and crazy nightclubs. It’s also a little bit unsafe and noisy.

If you do not want to stay in Casco, you have several choices of good neighborhoods. San Francisco is a great walkable neighborhood and close to the mall. Obarrio is good and close to the office buildings. Punta Paitilla is really upscale and right on the water near the Marriot. Anything near Parque Omar is good as well. Costa del Este is another neighborhood that is popular among long term expats but not recommended for visitors because it’s quite far from the city.

 

THINGS TO DO IN PANAMA CITY

Climb Cerro Ancon, the emblematic hill in the center of the city. It’s a short walk and you’ll get views of the whole city from the Panama Canal to Casco Viejo.

Visit the Parque Natural Metropolitano, another park-within-the-city. It’s such deep jungle that you won’t realize how close you are to the city. Make it to Mirador Cerro Cedro for amazing views.

Visit the Panama Canal, of course! There’s also a Panama Canal Museum in Casco Viejo that’s worth a visit. 

Visit the ruins of Panama Viejo, some of the oldest archeological remains in the New World. Dates back to 1519 and said to be built by early Italian explorers. 

Visit the Biomuseo, a museum in a Frank Gehry designed building. Perfect for trips with families.

Head to the Amador Causeway at night for dinner, ice cream and city views. Perfect for a date night or family activity. There are bike lanes stretching the whole way so it’s also popular for long bike rides. 

Take a boat to Taboga Island, only a short boat ride from the city. It’s a perfect weekend day trip. Boats leave from Amador.

Check out Coronado, the beachside retiree destination a 1 hour drive from Panama City. Coronado is a really nice town known for the large quantity of expats and rich retired people that live there. Many of the best golf courses in Panama are in the Coronado area.

Get out of the city! Seriously, the nature in Panama is stunning and unique. You’ll want to check out El Valle de Anton, Bocas del Toro, Boquete, and Pedasi. San Jose, Costa Rica is a 12 hour drive away.

Get drinks on a rooftop! Casco Viejo (old town) has many spots for dinner and drinks. More on that below…

 

BEST BARS & NIGHTLIFE IN PANAMA CITY

8.5/10 

The beating heart of Panama City nightlife is in Casco Viejo. You might hear locals simply refer to it as Casco. There are also clubs on or around Calle Uruguay some classy spots around Calle Argentina as well. The nightlife on Calle Uruguay is a phenomenal mix of locals and internationals. What it isn’t, however, is cheap or inclusive, so dress accordingly. You’re looking at a $10 cover to get into most bars, but once you’re in, it’s a good time. Panamanians know how to party. Panama City is one of the reggaeton capitals of the world, alongside Medellin, Santo Domingo, and Puerto Rico. Nightlife in Panama is a good time — don’t miss out. 

My Latin Life recommends recommends:

Santana: Reggaeton artist Sech’s favorite bar.

Selina Rooftop: Good mix of travelers and locals. Different music nights ranging from salsa to techno.

Lazotea: Cool rooftop in Casco.

Casa Casco: Cool roodtop in Casco.

La Rana Dorada: Chain of beer bars that are very popular. 

 

COST OF LIVING IN PANAMA CITY

The following data is from Expatistan, a crowdsourced database of prices and cost of living around the world. In our experience, the data tends to underestimate cost of living, so take the following as the minimum you might need to live here.

*Figures are listed in USD

You’ll need a minimum of $1708 USD/month to live in Panama City, Panama

cost-of-living-panama-city-panama

HOSPITALS IN PANAMA CITY

The hospitals in Panama City are the best in Central America, by far. The healthcare system in Panama is quite good. One of the best benefits of being an expat living in Panama City is having close access to excellent healthcare facilities. Some of the hospitals in Panama, like Punta Pacifica, are among the best hospitals in all of Latin America.

 

HOW TO GET TO PANAMA CITY

Panama City is one of the best connected cities in the world. From Panama you can catch direct flights to cities all over the world. Panama to Bogota is only 90 minutes flight time.

 

RENT AN APARTMENT IN PANAMA CITY

In Panama City, changes are you’re going to live in a high-rise apartment building. Panama City has a large stock of skyscrapers and 10+ story buildings. Your alternatives to high rise living will be a casa colonial in Casco Viejo, or a house/low-rise near Cerro Ancon or Clayton/City of Knowledge area. Renting an apartment in Panama City is not cheap by Latin American standards, but still cheaper than North American cities. $600.00 can be done in a safe neighborhood like Rio Abajo (predominantly West Indian community), but if you want to rent anywhere close to the seawall or Calle Argentina, you’re looking at $700 at least.

 

JOB OPPORTUNITIES IN PANAMA CITY

Banking. I’m sure many major America banks are up to no good here in Panama City, so if you work for one, you could aim for a transfer.

I knew a guy who worked as a private English teacher here, and there is a market considering the business environment and amount of tourism, but you’d have to work for yourself. Panamanians look after their own first when it comes to work, so getting a work visa will be tough.

 

IS PANAMA CITY SAFE?

Panama is one of the safer Central American cities. In many neighborhoods it’s perfectly safe to walk around at night. That being said, some parts of the downtown are a bit sketchy if you go a few blocks the wrong direction. The interesting dynamic in Panama City is a lot of poor people get to live for free. They don’t pay rent or electricity, but the government has tolerated it for years. A lot of buildings and mini-neighborhoods in Santa Ana, Curundú, Perejil, and San Miguel are like this. El Chorrillo is one of the slums that borders Casco Viejo, a popular tourist destination. These neighborhoods have some beautiful crumbling colonial buildings. During the day you can even walk through El Chorrillo many times with no issues.

 

FINAL THOUGHTS ON PANAMA CITY, PANAMA

A good time. Panama City has decent food, relatively cheap living costs and a pretty good airport.

Try to come during Carnival in March if you can. All the rich people flee for Las Tablas because they think that the Panama City Carnival is too dangerous. That gets all of the prudes out of your way so you can really enjoy yourself. The lineup to get into the fairgrounds can be about 1 km long, but don’t let that intimidate you; It moves fast.

Panama City would be worth an extended stay if you can find affordable housing in a good location.

 

OVERALL RATING: 7.5/10

 

Skip the guesswork and develop your ideal Latin Life Plan with our consultation services:

Schedule Your Personal Consultation With My Latin Life