Travel

The Complete Panama Digital Nomad Guide (2024)

Last updated on June 1st, 2024

This Panama digital nomad guide is everything you need to work, stay, and play in Central America’s most beautiful and biodiverse isthmus. While neighboring Costa Rica and Colombia enjoy mass fanfare, Panama sits between the two quietly courting adoration as a brilliant destination with a warm climate for working remotely and living your best paradise life. With year-round sunshine and more than 1,000 islands, this slender S-shaped isthmus has much to offer sunseekers — and digital nomads.

 

Remote workers in Panama enjoy excellent beach trips, wondrous waterfalls, high-octane hikes, and sunny days working with the fastest internet speeds in Central America. News of a Panama digital nomad visa has further sweetened the deal. Here is a comprehensive Panama digital nomad guide with everything you need to know about working, living in, and loving Panama.

 

QUICK FACTS ABOUT PANAMA FOR DIGITAL NOMADS

Panama is one of few isthmuses in the world, connecting two large expanses of water. 10% of all the world’s butterflies live in Panama and it has over 976 bird species, more than Canada and the U.S. combined. 

 

At its narrowest point, Panama measures just 31 miles (50 kilometers) wide. A third of Panama’s four million-plus population lives in the capital, Panama City, and the country is divided into nine provinces.

 

Panama was the first country in Latin America to adopt the U.S. dollar as its official currency. The national currency, however, is the Balboa, which exists alongside the Dollar in coin format only.

 

A fact that surprises many, the Panama hat isn’t from Panama at all. It originated in Ecuador. Panama’s official language is Spanish, though English is widely spoken in the capital.

 

 

WHERE IS PANAMA LOCATED?

Panama is a gorgeous country in Central America. It shares a border with Colombia and Costa Rica and it is the second least populated country in Central America. 

 

Panama Map 

 

WHEN TO GO TO PANAMA

There are two basic seasons in Panama: the rainy season from May to November and the dry season, which runs from December to April. You’ll pretty much never be cold in Panama but you might be very wet if you visit during the rainy season when sideways downpours might interfere with your beach time or hikes. Bear in mind that the Caribbean coast experiences different weather and rainy periods compared to the Pacific side.

 

 

WHAT IS THE PANAMA DIGITAL NOMAD VISA?

The Panama digital nomad visa was created by executive decree on May 7th, 2021. The Panamanian government introduced it with remote workers in mind to help anyone working for a foreign company to be able to stay in Panama for up to nine months. This remote worker visa is extendable for the same duration. An immigration lawyer will need to help you with the whole process and this visa for remote workers is open to individuals with an annual income of at least 36,000 USD annually (or a 3,000 USD monthly income).

 

 

IS PANAMA GOOD FOR DIGITAL NOMADS?

 

The pros of living in Panama 

 

No hurricanes

Panama is outside the hurricane belt so there is really no bad time to visit to avoid natural disasters.

 

Incredible biodiversity

Panama is one of the most biodiverse countries in the world. Nature lovers and outdoorsy folks will have a splendid time here.

 

Strawberry poison-dart frogs can be found on Isla Bastimentos in Bocas del Toro.

 

Ease of travel

Panama is an ideal base to be able to travel easily to North America or South America. Tocumen International Airport is dubbed “the hub of the Americas”.

 

Infrastructure

Internet speed is great in the major cities as well as many of the popular islands. Panama has the fastest broadband speed in Central America.

 

 

Great healthcare

If you’re based in Panama City, you will have no difficulty finding public and private hospitals as well as more specialized clinics. Many doctors speak English as well.

 

Time zone

Panama is in Eastern Standard Time (GMT-5) which is convenient for remote professionals who work with companies in major US cities.

 

It’s always summer

There are powdery-white sand beaches and spellbinding archipelagos on both coasts and the weather is warm enough to enjoy them. No matter which month you visit, you will see sunshine every day that you’re in Panama.

 

 

 

The cons of living in Panama 

 

Receiving deliveries is long-winded

There aren’t postcodes in Panama nor is there a consistent mail delivery system. Most people have things sent through a mailbox service like Mailboxes Etc or Miami Express where your package is posted to their depot in Miami and then brought to Panama City where you pay for it by weight. Others rely on traceable courier services like FedEx and DHL, which aren’t wholly reliable either.

 

Reset your expectations about punctuality and timing

Panama time exists. When someone says “tomorrow”, this means any day but today and not necessarily tomorrow at all.

 

Pedestrians be warned

There are genuine holes in the ground in some parts of Panama City so mind the gap. Besides Cinta Costera, the extended walkway along the Bay of Panama, the capital city isn’t too pedestrian-friendly.

 

The Panama sign on Cinta Costera.

 

Community

The community of remote working English speakers is not as robust as one might find in a nomad hub. You’ll meet many more digital nomads in Medellin (Colombia) or Playa del Carmen (Mexico), for instance. The majority of foreign nationals and ex-pats are not autonomous business owners or location-independent digital nomads. They are predominantly employed by the many resident multinational corporations or embassies.

 

The cost of living

You will have higher costs if you choose to live in Panama instead of the capital of another country in Central America. The US dollar is used, tipping is prevalent and you may be surprised by the cost of certain food items (like avocados for example).

 

 

THE BEST PLACES TO VISIT AND LIVE IN PANAMA 

 

1. Panama City

Panama City is majorly developed. You’ll find lots of places reporting to be the first, biggest, or tallest here: the largest mall in the Americas (Albrook) or the highest pool bar in Central America (Panaviera). After New York and Chicago, Panama City has the most skyscrapers in the Western Hemisphere. This is the safest and most stylish capital in Central America and one of the most vibrant cities in Latin America.

 

Best places to stay: W Panama, Hotel la Compañia, Sofitel Legend Casco Viejo, American Trade Hotel, Sortis, JW Marriott Panama

 

Casco Viejo, the old town of Panama City

 

2. The San Blas Islands

No article about Panama would be complete without mentioning San Blas (known as Guna Yala),where postcards come to life. One for every day of the year, San Blas is an archipelago of 365 breathtaking islands in the northwest of Panama, which are inhabited by the indigenous Kuna group who control all tourism to the region. There are countless local tour organizers that can whisk you to this slice of paradise like Guna Yala Explorer, San Blas Dreams, and Go2SanBlas to name but a few.  You’ll usually pay just over US$100 per day, regardless of which tour organizer you choose. The trip involves driving from Panama City to Cartí by 4X4 and then continuing your journey by boat to your chosen island destination(s).

 

The San Blas Islands Panama - Wishing on a star - Starfish beaches

 

San Blas brings a new meaning to island hopping. The archipelago has around 365 islands and islets; you can often genuinely swim from one to another, taking in the friendly marine life along the way. The waters here are so pristine that snorkel gear is essentially optional. San Blas’ beauty really does call for a reality check. The San Blas Islands are great for a visit but you won’t much work done here if it requires internet connectivity. Accommodations are rustic and many only have electricity for a portion of the day.

 

Finding peace in your home away from home - A guest post by Julie Renson founder of Beyoa Panama - settling in when moving to a different country

 

 

3. Isla Taboga

The most accessible island to Panama City, Taboga is the perfect day trip on a platter. Affectionately called the “island of flowers”, Taboga is a mere 30-minute ferry ride from Panama City’s Amador Causeway with Taboga Express. Be sure to bring your ID or passport with you. See the flowers and more with a hike through one of the island’s many paths.

 

Best place to stay: Villa Caprichosa, Cerrito Tropical Eco Lodge, Taboga Palace SPA Hotel

 

 

4. Veracruz

Veracruz is one of the closest beaches to Panama City on the other side of the Bridge of the Americas (it’s about 20 minutes away depending on traffic). The kilometer-long beach may not be the best for swimming, but it makes up for this by offering great opportunities to eat very well. There are several beach bars dotted all around where you can enjoy fresh ceviche and patacones and similar Panamanian dishes. 

 

 

5. Boquete

Located in the picturesque province of Chiriquí, Boquete offers a serene escape for nature enthusiasts and adventure seekers alike. This charming town boasts a delightful year-round mountain climate, making it an ideal destination for outdoor activities like hiking, birdwatching, and exploring lush coffee plantations. TheChiriquí Highlands proudly supply more than 80% of the nation’s bountiful agricultural yields.

 

Best places to stay: Los Establos Boutique Resort, Linda Vista Cabins, Aparthotel los Pinos, Buena Vista Boquete

 

 

 

6. Isla Contadora

The Pearl Islands are one of Panama’s most glittery archipelagos and Isla Contadora Island is their gem. It’s alleged that Spanish conquistadors escaped to Contadora to take stock of their inventory, granting the island its unique name (“Contadora” is Spanish for a bookkeeper). You’ll find lots of evidence of this period of wealth and a curious ferry shipwreck. Contadora is also home to Panama’s only legal clothes-optional beach. You can get to Contadora from Panama City with the Sea las Perlas ferry.

 

Best places to stay: Contadora Island Inn, Hotel Contadora, Hotel Gerald

 

 

7. Playa Venao

Five hours away from Panama City in the Azuero Peninsula, go to Venao for a distinct mix of party, adventure, and/or surf lessons. A few years ago, this black sand beach was practically bare. Today, Playa Venao has gained notoriety as a surfer’s beach and also has somewhat of a reputation as Panama’s home of electronic music thanks to four festivals during the year including Ibiza Sonica. 

 

Best places to stay: Selina Playa Venao, El Sitio de Venao, Nao Venao Boutique Hostel, Playa Venao Hotel Resort, Blue Venao

 

 

8. Cajones de Chame

In less than two hours from Panama City, you could be relaxing at Cajones de Chame. While not technically a beach, you can swim, jump, and play to your heart’s content at this natural canyon. Don’t forget your (waterproof) camera. The road there is rather turbulent so going with a 4X4 is highly recommended.

 

 

9. Coronado

Approximately 90km west of Panama City lies this expansive black and grey sand beach. Coronado accommodates city escapees hoping to surf and mingle with the growing number of foreigners setting up shop (or home) here permanently in Coronado’s gated communities. Coronado is about an hour’s drive from the city or you can take a bus from the Albrook bus terminal. 

 

Best places to stay: La Maracuya Panama, Hotel Coronado Inn, Las Catalinas Coronado

 

 

10. El Valle de Anton

Some three million years ago, a volcano blew its top. The town of El Valle de Anton sits in the crater of that huge extinct volcano. With its virgin territory and lush greenery, it’s a popular weekend jaunt for Panama City residents looking to be at one with nature. There are plenty of hikes and thus, knockout views to be had from any of the summits.

 

El Valle de Anton, with its fresh breeze and slow pace, stands as a great option for getting away from it all. There’s not much distraction there and it could even be described as a tad sleepy. El Valle is the perfect place to slow down the tempo and take it easy. 

 

Best places to stay: Los Mandarinos Boutique Hotel & Spa, Golden Frog Inn, Caracoral Hotel Boutique, Bodhi Hostel & Lounge

 

 

 

11. El Palmar

A laidback beach where the surf’s good and the living is easy: that’s El Palmar in a nutshell. You can get there in an hour and a half if driving, or you can take the bus from Panama City towards Penonomé (from Albrook bus terminal) and hop off in San Carlos. Then you can take a taxi down to the beach or walk for ten minutes.

 

Palmar is 10km to the west of Coronado and has been known to see a gorgeous purple sunset or two. Palmar is one of the best places to surf and learn to surf, close to Panama City. 

 

 

12. Portobelo

This Colon port city is home to UNESCO World Heritage sites as well as some tranquil beaches for snorkeling and extreme relaxation. In Portobelo, you’ll find several scuba-diving schools as well as Panama’s first customs building. It may be relatively sleepy today, but its history is anything but. Portobelo was once a pirate city, attacked several times by pirates such as British Sir Francis Drake, lured there by all the looted Spanish treasures from the Inca Empire (Portobelo was a trans-shipment point during the Spanish Colonial era).

 

An hour and a half drive from Panama City, in the province of Colon, Portobelo could make an eye-catching stopover on the way to visit Isla Grande or Isla Mamey. Getting there by bus entails going to Albrook station and taking a bus to Sabanitas. From there you change for the bus to Portobelo. 

 

 

13. Isla Mamey

Also in Colon, Isla Mamey is two hours from Panama City and it’s another contender for the Panamanian island beauty Olympics. You’ll be tasked with bringing your own picnic gear and supplies here, as there are no restaurants; just endless powdery white sand and blue water; perfect for a barbecue, to camp, or stargaze come nightfall.

 

Isla Mamey is a 5-minute boat ride from Puerto Lindo. You can reach Puerto Lindo by taking the bus to Colon from Albrook station. Once you arrive in Colon, stay within the terminal and take the bus with “La Guaira” written on it. Once there, a lancha (motorized boat) will get you to Mamey in no time. There are also tour operators that organize day trips there and back.

 

 

14. Isla Grande

Another Colon gem, you’ll be struck by how colorful Isla Grande is.  Not to be confused with Playa Grande, Isla Grande is close to Portobelo and is about two and a half hours away from Panama City. You can also get there by catching a boat at the harbor in the town of La Guaira. The island is only 300 meters away from there.

 

On Isla Grande, you’ll witness a statue of a black Jesus in the water while hiking to Isla Grande’s lighthouse which is over a century old. The view from the top is impressive and despite its rusty exterior (and hole), the lighthouse is still fully functioning. Tip: While on Isla Grande, ask a local resident to show you the “Congo” dance.

 

Best places to stay: Hotel Cocotal, Paradise Island Beach Hotel, Macondo Hostel

 

 

15. Bocas del Toro

Bocas del Toro is an aesthetically blessed archipelago of nine main islands in the west of Panama. Between these palm-lined streets, you will find whatever you’re looking for, whether that’s great surf or great beaches, wonderful seafood, or wonderful vistas. In Bocas, there is an island to suit every craving. Isla Colon is where the bulk of the action happens: restaurants, bars, surf and diving schools, as well as tour operators. Isla Carenero conversely suits those in search of a little peace and quiet.

 

The Zapatilla islands are the pristine untouched gems you will dream about once you return home. Isla Bastimentos, one of the largest islands, attracts those longing for postcard beach views with a bit of rough jungle in the background. In Bocas, a water taxi is the main form of inter-island transportation to cart you from one noteworthy beach to the next. You can add the starfish-strewn beaches of Playa Estrella and Boca del Drago to your bucket list right now.

 

One of the Zapatilla cays

 

Bocas del Toro is a 50-minute flight from Panama City with Air Panama. Flights depart from Marcos A. Gelabert Albrook Airport. Be sure not to go to Tocumen International Airport. Once you land at the airport in Bocas, you’ll be pleasantly surprised to discover that it is only a five-minute walk to the town center, and to the start of your adventure. Bocas del Toro is one of Panama’s most popular beach destinations with sufficient infrastructure for digital nomads.

 

Best places to stay: Bambuda Bocas Town, Selina Bocas del Toro, Bocas Paradise Hotel, Palma Real

 

 

THINGS TO DO IN PANAMA CITY

 

Hike Cerro Ancon (Ancon Hill)

Hikers are in for a treat pretty much anywhere in the country. Panama City, however, is the only capital in the world that has a rainforest within the city limits (Cerro Ancon). The brisk 30-minute hike to the top results in an impeccable 360 view of the city and perhaps, a toucan or two.

 

See the Panama Canal

The Panama Canal opened on August 15, 1914. It generates a third of the country’s economy and all vessels going through have to pay a fee, even if it’s a person swimming through (this happens too). The 14-mile Panama Canal serves more than 140 of the world’s trade routes. Go see the ships pass (and learn about the history of the canal) from the Miraflores Visitor Center.

 

Taste the local cuisine

Dishes local to the region include sancocho, carimañola, and el centenario, which is made of fried bread (hojaldre) topped with eggs and a criolla sauce of tomatoes, onions, peppers, cilantro, cheese, and fried pork rinds (chicharrones). You better like your food fried. A fantastic place to try delectable updates of traditional Panamanian dishes is Fonda lo Que Hay in Casco Viejo.

 

Take your pick from the fabulous rooftops

What better place to feel the wind in your hair than on a fabulous, cloud-caressing rooftop? There are so many rooftop bars in Panama City. In the old town of Casco Viejo, one is particularly spoilt for choice. The scope of rooftop bars means that if you aren’t content where you are, you can essentially peer over your shoulder and peek at how things are going at the other nearby rooftops, which you can either see directly or hear the music playing from. Start with Tantalo, Lazotea or Casa Casco.

 

Visit the biodiversity museum

The Frank Gehry-designed BioMuseo is a celebration of architecture and nature on the Amador Causeway, a stretch of land made with sand from the Panama Canal. This kaleidoscopic daydream of a museum is Gehry’s first project in Latin America.

 

Flowers bloom outside Amador Causeway’s Biomuseo.

 

CELEBRATING CARNIVAL IN PANAMA

Every spring (in February or March) Panama comes alive for this multi-day celebration that’s deeply entrenched in the country’s culture. Nationwide, there are street parties, parades, fireworks, and mojaderas — water balloons, buckets, and even fire hoses spraying you till you’re soaking wet. If you’re around for the mega-holiday that is Carnaval, you’re in for a treat. If you live on Panama City’s Avenida Balboa, catch up on all your sleep the week prior to the carnival as Cinta Costera and Balboa are the scenes of all Bacchanalia in the capital. A procession of floats, dancers, and revelers in wacky attire descend upon this picturesque locale for the city’s biggest street party of the year.

 

 

SIM CARDS IN PANAMA

It’s very straightforward and easy to get a local sim card and data plan in Panama. The main networks are Más Movil, Digicel, and Movistar. You can also get a digital sim card from Airalo that covers Panama (or any country in the world) before you arrive in the country so you never have to bother going into a shop. With the Airalo app, you can keep track of your data usage at all times and top up easily. 

 

 

MUSIC TO LISTEN TO IN PANAMA 

 

We curated this playlist of songs from and about Panama for you to dive deeper into the destination. 

 

 

THINGS TO KNOW BEFORE TRAVELING TO PANAMA

 

What currency do you need in Panama?

Bring U.S. dollars for your stay in Panama. You can also withdraw cash from any ATM upon arrival. Note that there are high ATM fees for foreign bank cards throughout Panama. You will also see the Balboa which is the national currency that exists alongside the Dollar in coin format only.

 

What language is spoken in Panama?

Panama’s official language is Spanish but you’ll hear a lot of English, especially in the old town of Panama City (Casco Viejo) which sees a lot of tourists. If you need to freshen up your Spanish schools while you’re in the capital, book a short course with Casco Antiguo Spanish School.

 

Is Panama safe?

Panama is the safest country in Central America. It is notably safer than neighboring Costa Rica and Colombia but not without its dangers. Your level of safety naturally depends on where you go. The port city of Colon (not to be confused with Isla Colon in Bocas del Toro) is a complete no-go zone. In Panama City, the Calidonia, El Chorillo, and San Miguelito neighborhoods have the most reports of crime. The Darién Gap is one of the most dangerous (and least visited) places in the world so visit at your own risk. Like anywhere, you should keep your wits about you in Panama but for the most part, your trip should be smooth sailing.

 

What is the best travel insurance for Panama?

Safety Wing is the ultimate made-for-nomads-by-nomads travel insurance provider. Protect yourself while in Panama with their flexible nomad insurance.

 

Can you drink the tap water in Panama?

Panama City is the only place in Panama where it is genuinely safe to drink water from the tap. Some state that Playa Venao also has drinkable water but it’s best to stick to filtered water anywhere outside the capital city.

 

How can I get a SIM card in Panama?

It’s pretty straightforward to get a local SIM card and data plan in Panama. The main networks are Más Movil, Digicel, and Movistar. You can also get a digital SIM card (eSIM) from Airalo that covers Panama (or any country in the world) before you get there so you never have to bother going into a shop. With the Airalo app, you can keep track of your data usage at all times and top up easily.

 

How can I travel around Panama?

From Albrook Bus Station in Panama City, you can get a bus to many outlying destinations around the country. If you’d rather rent a car and drive, use Discover Cars to compare different car rental companies. You can check ratings for different factors like efficiency, pick-up procedure, and overall value. Be aware of bumpy and incomplete roads in some rural areas. If you wish to drive to the San Blas Islands, you will need a 4×4.

 

What are the best tours to book in Panama?

Use Viator to plan ahead and search for highly-rated tours all around Panama. You can find tours with various price points and the site has a stellar 24-hour cancellation policy.

 

Do I need a visa for Panama?

Nationals of the U.S., Canada, the UK, Australia, and European Union countries can enter Panama without a visa. The maximum amount of time that you can stay in Panama is three months.

 

How can I search for a hotel in Panama?

There are great deals to be found for short and longer stays (of up to 30 days) in Panama on Agoda, Trip.com, Expedia US, or Booking.com where you can search for accommodations and filter according to criteria like desks, air conditioning, private bathrooms, and complimentary Wi-Fi.

 

Want to become a digital nomad?

If you wish to start your own location-independent business, find a remote job, learn about special digital nomad visas, or dive head-first into the world of digital nomads, book a 1:1 session with me here and ask me anything.

 

Where can I take courses about location independence?

On Discovery Sessions Learning, you can find on-demand courses to help you escape the rat race, travel, freelance, build or grow an online business, and maximize your freedom. Visit our course library here

 

Where can I find useful travel resources for digital nomads?

You can find all my nomad-friendly resources right here on this page. These will help you out whether you’re looking for the best flight search tools or digital sim cards. Also, sign up for Freedom Friday, our weekly newsletter that gives you five links with informational bites from the worlds of digital nomadism, remote work, travel, freedompreneurship, life design, and location independence.

Hi, I'm Rosie Bell, a location-independent writer, editor and lifestyle entrepreneur. If you want inspiration and support to live, travel and work anywhere, look no further. Let's talk right here.