Welcome to our country guide providing economic, healthcare and health insurance information to expatriates living in Panama. Panama is situated in Central America and links North and South America. It is surrounded by Costa Rica, Colombia and the Caribbean.
Panama's capital is Panama City. Panama City is the largest residential area in the country with half the country's almost 3.9 million population living and working in the city. Other main cities and towns are Boquete, an agricultural area with a population of 20,000 and popular with expat retirees. David is the country's third largest city. The native language is Spanish although English is also widely spoken particularly in in commercial situations.
Panama in numbers
|Area||77,381 sq. km*|
|Life Expectancy||77 years**|
* Nations Encyclopaedia
** Worldbank Data
*** Daily Telegraph
Panama has a very strong Spanish influence in its culture, food and architecture. The currency is the US dollar. Investment in Panama has brought the Pan-American Highway that runs the breadth of the country making travel across the country very easy. Panama also has very good communications and air and water quality.
Healthcare in Panama
Panama has a high quality health service, particularly in the cities across the country. The Punta Pacifica Hospital is one of the most technologically advanced medical facilities in Latin America. Doctors are generally trained in the US meaning the hospitals offer services equally as good as many in the US and Europe. The majority of medical staff also speaks English. Despite the high quality, healthcare across the country is still one of the most affordable in Central America.
Private Medical Insurance in Panama
Although private healthcare is affordable and there is a public healthcare system provided by the Government it is advisable for expatriates to arrange private medical insurance cover. The affordability of healthcare in Panama helps to keep private health insurance premiums low for expatriates but this cover does mean faster access to generally better quality healthcare facilities.
A variety of medical insurance plans are available, for example, some hospitals and clinics offer private health programmes for that specific facility. A monthly premium, based on age and current health condition, will generally cover examinations, tests and operations. This type of insurance cover is not insurance as such, but more discount programmes providing up to 50% to 60% off medical care.
More traditional medical plans provided by insurance companies will cover most medical costs. Most of plans will exclude medical services in the United States although it is possible to find policies – especially international private medical insurance - that include cover but this will sharply increase premiums as the US healthcare system is one of the most expensive in the world. It's worth noting Medicare does not apply to Panama.
Important Health Information Before You Go
You should be up to date on routine vaccinations. Some vaccines may also be required for travel.
|Routine Vaccines||Make sure you are up to date on routine vaccines. These vaccines include measles-mumps-rubella (MMR), diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis vaccine, varicella (chickenpox) vaccine, polio, and your flu injection.|
|Hepatitis A||CDC recommends this vaccine because you can get Hepatitis A through contaminated water in Panama, regardless of where you are staying.|
|Typhoid||You can get typhoid through contaminated food or water in Panama. CDC recommends this vaccine for most travellers, especially if you are staying with friends or relatives, visiting smaller cities or rural areas, or if you are an adventurous eater.|
|Rabies||Although rabies can be found in bats and other animals in Panama, it is not a major risk to most travellers. It is only recommended in certain instances for example working with or around animals.|
|Yellow Fever||Yellow fever is a risk in certain parts of Panama, so CDC recommends the yellow fever vaccine for children nine months of age and older. For more information see yellow fever recommendations and requirements for Panama. Ask your doctor for advice.|
|Malaria||When travelling in Panama, you should avoid mosquito bites to prevent malaria. Talk to your doctor about how you can prevent malaria and for advice. For more information see malaria in panama.|
Source: Centre for Disease Control and Prevention
Prescription Drugs in Panama
Most medicines are cheap and many that would need a prescription elsewhere are available over the counter. However, the name of drugs will vary, and it is advisable to consult a doctor first to find out what the drug is called locally. Alternatively if you have an international health insurance policy, your insurer will often provide a drug translation facility on their website.
Pharmacies are called farmacia in Panama and there are many to choose from in all the main towns and cities.
It is generally quick and easy to get an appointment with a GP, and doctors can usually fit patients into their schedule within a few days. The costs of basic medical services in Panama are reasonable with doctor's visits usually costing anywhere between US$20 and US$40 depending on the doctor. As an example, specialists generally charge US$40 per visit while general practitioners will be around US$20. For every day pain and ailments, paying cash for a doctor's visit is normal in Panama.
Food Hygiene and Health in Panama
The standard of hygiene is high in Panama and tap water is safe to drink in most areas. Restaurants hotels in the cities also generally provide a high standard of food hygiene. The most common health problems that affect new residents is sunburn and mosquito bites. It can get very hot with temperatures over 90 degrees Fahrenheit (32 degrees Celcius) . Illnesses that once ravaged the country such as yellow fever and malaria, are no longer epidemic in Panama.
In case of an emergency situation, numbers to call include:
- Emergency – 911
- National Police - 104
- SEMM (Mobile Emergency Medical Services) Private Ambulance Service - 507 307-9142
- Red Cross - *455 (from mobiles only) / 507-315 1388
- SINAPROC (Crisis/Natural Disasters) *335 (from mobiles only)
- Transit Police 507-511-9281/511 9320
If a person requires emergency medical assistance dial 911 and ask for an ambulance. Possible hospitals which include:
- Punta Pacifica, 507-204-8000
- Paitilla, 507-269-5222
- San Fernando, 507-305-6301/6350
- Nacional, 507-207-8100
- Santa Fe, 507-227-4733
If you are an expatriate looking for health insurance in Panama, click here to create your own tailored international health insurance cover.