What It’s Like Living in Panama City


Anyone living in Panama City can’t help but notice a lot of changes. In the last few years the city has had a building boom, partly due to the influx of money from businesses and expats – not all from the US – who are moving to Panama. Now, modern high rises jut into the sky throughout the city and subway construction has begun, promising a bright economic future for the country.

View of Panama City from the top of Ancon Hill. Highrises are quickly replacing the older buildings.

This is no third-world country. Not anymore.

We’ve enjoyed our time in the city and have lived in three neighborhoods: San Francisco, El Cangrejo and Coco del Mar. Our San Francisco apartment was a month-to-month furnished place that we rented while we got to know the city. We fell in love with El Cangrejo, a sidewalk café-nightlife kind of neighborhood. Our balcony overlooked a park and beautiful, tree-lined Via Argentina, and we could see mountains and the Panama Canal lifts in the distance beyond them. It was an ideal location … but the construction was poor and we finally had to move out in order to preserve our health.

Our current apartment

It was the social area that sold us on moving into our current building in the Coco del Mar area of San Francisco. We have an infinity-edge pool, gym, racquetball court, hot tub, steam room and sauna, free to use whenever we want. We bought a couple of racquets and Dan’s been showing me how to play, but far more often you can find us moving back and forth between the steam room and the pool. When we’re in the pool we watch the waves and the birds and hang our heads over the infinity edge to see if anything interesting has washed up onto the shoreline by the building.


Every room in our apartment has floor-to-ceiling windows, and both the living room and master bedroom open onto a glass-walled balcony that overlooks the Pacific Ocean. When the early morning light creeps around the edges of our bedroom’s roller blinds and through my eyelids, I can sometimes find the energy to stumble out of bed and watch the sky change colors over the ocean and Costa del Este, one of the new bedroom communities on the outskirts of the city or watch the ships disappear beyond the islands of Amador Causeway and enter the Panama Canal. Soon cars and buses will snake their way along the Corredor Sur causeway, bringing workers into town and home again.

Our neighborhood

Next door are an artisan shop where Indians and other locals sell their handmade wares and the Panama Viejo museum. We can walk to Panama Viejo, a vital city from 1519 to 1670 that now stands in ruins, thanks to Captain Morgan.

Up here on the 23rd floor, we can also make out the Pearl Islands on the horizon. Recently they became better known as a location for the Survivor TV show. Not being a fan of reality TV, all I can say is that the islands themselves are worth a visit. But that’s another post.

Although we have two parking spots for our car, Panama’s famous buses, the diablos rojos, run down the road in front, and there’s a bus stop right outside the door. For 25 cents it takes passengers to the Atlapa Convention Center and the very upscale MultiPlaza Mall, or past Panama Viejo’s ruins to the Costa del Este suburb we can see from our balcony. That’s how our maid arrives every week. She charges $25 to clean our entire apartment and do our laundry. Yeah, living is good here.

More thoughts about living in Panama City

Yes, Panama City lies on the Pacific but people have told me that the country’s shallow continental shelf will temper a tsunami. I don’t know about that, but I do know that when the waves retreat there is plenty of room out there for migrating birds to pick at crabs and other delicacies. Amid the expanse the low tide also reveals numerous big, flat rocks and occasional tidal pools. I’ve considered wandering out to see what might be trapped in them but the city’s coastline isn’t sandy; I often see deep footprints in the muck. As I’m not a fan of dirty shoes or squish between my toes, I’ll probably just continue to think about it.


As I write this I’m watching the last vestiges of red and orange disappear in the dusky evening sky. The tide is coming in and the pelicans are chattering as they roost in the mangroves nearby. For now, I’ll sit on the balcony and just enjoy the country’s beauty.

Would you consider living in Panama?

Places to stay for a visit

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Written by Linda

Linda is multilingual and has been to around 60 countries. Her insatiable love of travel, cuisine, and foreign languages inspired her to create As We Saw It with her husband Dan, a professional photographer. Her goal is to make travel easier by sharing her experience and advice.

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4 thoughts on “What It’s Like Living in Panama City”

  1. Thanks! Really helpful article … I’m planning a month’s stay in Panama in May/June.
    Do you have a favourite place for a quiet beach vacation as well? I’m thinking somewhere in Bocas del Toro to start.

    • Panama is a great choice; I’m sure you’ll have a blast.

      Bocas del Toro is an ideal beach location. Lots of islands to choose from. However, if you want a quiet location, you need to know that sound travels well over water and the area around Bocas Town on Isla Colon turns into Party Central at night. You could also consider Bastimentos, home of the Strawberry Dart Frog, but avoid Almirante on the mainland, which has nothing going for it.

      Let us know if you have any other questions.

  2. The pictures are great and are especially encouraging for anyone that may be considering the life of an ex-pat. I’ve thought about this from a glamorous, work from the beach perspective in the past, maybe one day I’ll be brave enough to pack it up and follow through!

    • Thank you for the photo compliments, Stephanie. We do enjoy living overseas and encouraging others who dream of travel. Some people we know have lived as ex-pats for a short while and then returned to the States. Perhaps that would be more your style. 🙂


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