Panama City digital nomad guide (2022)
This Panama City digital nomad guide is everything you need to work, stay and play in Central America’s safest and most stylish capital and one of the most vibrant cities in Latin America. While neighbouring 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 isthmus has much to offer sunseekers — and digital nomads. Remote workers in Panama City enjoy a multicultural ex-pat community, uber-hip hangouts, and sky-high oceanfront workspaces. News of a Panama digital nomad visa is further sweetening the deal. Here is everything you need to know about living and working in Panama’s picturesque capital.
FAST FACTS ABOUT 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. 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.
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.
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.
WHEN TO GO TO PANAMA CITY
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.
Thought Carnival was only for Brazilians? Every spring (in February and March) Panama comes alive for this multi-day celebration that’s deeply entrenched in the country’s culture. Nation-wide, 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 Panama carnival, 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 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.
WHERE TO STAY IN PANAMA CITY (NEIGHBOURHOODS)
Casco Viejo proudly wears the title of the coolest Panama City neighbourhood and all but some of the nightlife has moved here. During the day, your time will be spent taking in the beautiful narrow streets, endless viewpoints of the Pacific, and a ton of attractions. Casco has several names (Casco Viejo, Casco Antiguo, and San Felipe) and it was bestowed with UNESCO World Heritage status in 1997. It’s a place of contrasts with new and old juxtapositioned harmonically. Casco is experiencing a lot of regeneration and painfully quaint cafes are popping up at an alarming rate.
If you’re working remotely and you’ll be frequenting these said cafes and restaurants, it might make sense to situate yourself here in Casco instead of making the commute from downtown Panamá each day. Casco is also quite safe and has a robust police presence due to the president’s offices being located there.
Staying in Casco also means that you’re a stone’s throw from Cinta Costera, the scenic oceanfront walkway and park. A stroll from Casco through the fish market (Mercado de Mariscos) and onto Cinta Costera will bring you face to face with the city’s famed skyline as well as a huge Panama sign to commemorate your time in the isthmus.
In Casco Antiguo, you have everything (almost) under one roof: yoga studios, hotels, hostels, restaurants, fabulous rooftop bars caressing the sky, gelaterias, cafes, churches, shops, and historical squares.
Everything is within walking distance in Marbella which means “beautiful sea” in Spanish. This modern neighbourhood behind Avenida Balboa is also a stone’s throw from Calle Uruguay which used to be the city’s nightlife haven. Now it’s a quiet area to dine on the fancy food you fancy in peace, a bounty of skyscrapers and Parque Ricardo Galindo.
Paitilla is a beautiful and built-up residential area next door to Punta Paitilla with stunning Panama Bay views. Remote workers that wish to live within walking distance of Cinta Costera and Avenida Balboa will enjoy living in this Panama City neighbourhood.
Given its waterfront location, living in Punta Pacifica is lush. This exclusive Panama City neighbourhood has an abundance of shops, private schools, and a private hospital, John Hopkins, which has English-speaking doctors. Punta Pacifica is also where you’ll find the Panaviera bar at the Ocean Sun Casino, which is the highest pool bar in Panama and Central America as a whole.
If eating out is your bread and butter, you’ll love San Francisco as there’s a truckload of food trucks dotted around the neighbourhood. Don’t miss a trip to Esa Flaca Rica which serves up the juiciest meat and veggie burgers.
If there’s a major event going on in Panama, it’s most likely to be held at the ATLAPA Convention Center, which is the largest in the country. Park Omar Torrijos is here too, which has free exercise classes every day. San Francisco is also home to Multiplaza Mall, which houses all your favourite brand stores from back home as well as a large supermarket, Riba Smith.
Panama City digital nomads would be wise to situate themselves in San Franciso as it feels quite residential, it’s close to tons of stores and it has lots of wonderful places to eat that you’d only really discover by perusing the area. Remote workers here will also have plenty of opportunities to meet locals due to the plethora of cafes, brew pubs, and open spaces for lingering.
El Cangrejo & Via Argentina
“The crab” as it was called due to the way the streets sprawl out, is wholly cosmopolitan, yet tranquil enough to actually live in. El Cangrejo is a former Jewish enclave, though much of the population has since moved to upscale Paitilla and Punta Pacifica. A nod to its past is still evident through the rather large statue of Albert Einstein in the aptly named Plaza Einstein.
Today, El Cangrejo could be perceived to be the most multicultural Panama City neighbourhood, judging by the sheer magnitude of restaurants serving international cuisine.
For greenery, there is Parque Andres Bello and Recreational Park Omar Torrijos is a 40-minute walk if you’d like to get your heart rate pumping. Like Casco Viejo, it is one of the few neighbourhoods that lends itself to walking.
Obarrio isn’t the most affordable place to live. Its streets are lined with embassies, shops, restaurants, casinos, and hotels. This is where you’ll find the Sortis Hotel which has one of the most delightful rooftop pools in the city.
Balboa Avenue is a tourist attraction in itself, but it might not be the calmest place to live given the estimated 75,000 vehicles, which pass by per day. It is, however, practically smack on the Bay of Panama and many apartments here will leave you drooling at the decadent views though you will probably pay a premium for having the water right on your doorstep.
Another benefit of living on Avenida Balboa is that you have a park right in front of you, the ever-photogenic Cinta Costera. It’s also great for its proximity to Casco Viejo — it’s a short walk or bike ride from there to the old quarter.
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 process your application. 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).
WHERE CAN I WORK REMOTELY IN PANAMA CITY?
Whether you wish to meet other remote workers and freelancers, or simply want a quiet space to gather your thoughts, there are quite a few options available for Panama City digital nomads — just remember to bring a sweater. Many cafes and public buildings ramp up the air conditioning, so if you’ll be working away all day, you might want to bring something to keep the arctic chills away.
Cafes in Casco Viejo (the old town)
Unido is a delightful coffee shop chain with several branches dotted all over Panama City. The fine brews attract people to bring their work here, whatever the nature. It is not uncommon to see people conducting job interviews and transatlantic video calls at the Casco Viejo branch. Unido at Multiplaza is nestled in the rather opulent Luxury Avenue of the mall, neighboured by Dolce & Gabbana, Polo, Hermes, and Michael Kors. It is known for its clean décor, great coffee, and friendly staff and baristas. Panama isn’t generally known for its customer service, making this fact particularly noteworthy. Also worth mentioning are the cookies and impeccable Wi-Fi.
Café Unido has locations in Casco Viejo as well as in Multiplaza Mall and Costa del Este
It’s clear that many eat at Nomada purely to work, particularly in the early afternoons. You may find yourself sandwiched between graphic designers and architects working on their blueprints as well as their burgers. Nomada feels very hip, largely due to the funky art dazzlingly on display from literature books glued to the bathroom walls to a painting of a sequin hat-wearing skull. The menu includes a fantastic breakfast and the lunch of the day is always sizeable, varied, and well-priced.
Nomada Eatery, Calle 9a Este, Casco Viejo, Panamá, Panama
Imagine if Subway was Panamanian and made sandwiches right before your eyes that were healthier, heartier, and certainly larger. That’s Super Gourmet for you. This Casco Viejo establishment is as good a place as any to lose track of time. If you find yourself in Bocas del Toro, there is a small takeaway branch there too.
Super Gourmet, Calle 6a Oeste, Casco Viejo, Panamá, Panama
Benissimo just beckons you to enter when walking through Casco Viejo’s fabled cobbled streets. Once inside, you will be greeted by a host of tantalising gelato flavours and the irresistible scent of warm waffles and fresh coffee. This cafe is air-conditioned so bring a sweater, just in case.
Calle 4a Este, Casco Viejo, Panamá, Panama
When you need a spark of inspiration, it’s handy that the coffee shop you’re working at has the most random facts you never knew you needed to know on rotate on the TV screen. This Casco Viejo coffee shop is cozy and has friendly staff who hand over smiles freely.
Lumaca, Avenida A. Casco Viejo, Panamá, Panama
The owners of Mentiritas Blancas in Via Argentina are fervent coffee enthusiasts and will take the time to explain all the options available to suit your particular preferences. Mentiritas Blancas is also a great place to try Geisha coffee, which Panama is renowned for. This coffee shop is particularly appealing for Panama City digital nomads and remote workers so you’ll find many of them there. The shop describes itself as an “Artisan bakery and coffee lab”. It’s anyone’s guess, however, why it is called Mentiritas Blancas, which is Spanish for “little white lies”.
Mentiritas Blancas, Local 2B, Edificio de Mar, Calle Gaspar O. Hernandez, Panamá, Panama
Juan Valdez Café
Colombian coffee comes to Panama courtesy of Juan Valdez, referred to by some as “the Colombian Starbucks”. Expect a tranquil atmosphere and people chatting, trapping, and tapping away en masse.
Juan Valdez Café, locations in Multiplaza Mall and Soho Mall
Europhiles will know French patisserie Paul Bakery for its delightful desserts and laidback atmosphere. Its menu is laden with hearty meals, pastries, and delicious smoothies to get those brain juices flowing. Come here to get a large table all to yourself to lessen your workload – if the aroma of freshly baked bread doesn’t torment you too excessively.
Paul Bakery Panama has locations at Multiplaza Mall, Albrook, and Evolution Tower
The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf
California import The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf keeps remote workers afloat in Punta Pacifica, Balboa Avenue, Costa del Este, and a small branch in Multiplaza. Flying out of Panama City? If you’re flying out from Tocumen International airport and need fuel to get some work done, there’s a small outpost there too.
The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, Locations in Punta Pacifica, Balboa Avenue, Costa del Este, Tocumen Airport, and Multiplaza Mall
Coworking spaces in Casco Viejo
My Office Panamá
My Office won the Nomad Capitalist Award for best co-working space in 2016. Their newest branch is in Casco Viejo on Avenida B but their original office is in the Credicorp building on Calle 50, and it houses freelancers from Panama and beyond. The space is well-lit with a fabulous skyline view of the city, and the walls are emblazoned with Instagram-ready captions and motivational messaging. You feel instantly comfortable here. The friendly founders are all English-speaking, making it a very convenient place for international visitors.
My Office Panamá, Torre Inteligente Credi Corp. Piso 8 Oficina 802, Calle 50 and Casco Viejo Avenida B, Panamá, Panama
Selina Casco Viejo
What started off as a hostel in the sleepy Panamanian town of Pedasí has turned into a global brand that blends hostel, hotel, nightlife — and coworking. Selina in Casco Viejo has a dedicated coworking station with day passes available for non-residents. Once the workday is done, you can head upstairs to the rooftop bar and restaurant (Tacos la Neta) for sunset with nibbles and tipples.
Selina Casco Viejo, Calle 12 Este, Panama city
Coworking and workspaces downtown
Workings has branches in two fabulous skyscrapers in Panama City for your optimum convenience: the prime location in Tower of the Americas in Punta Pacifica, and one in Costa del Este’s Dream Plaza. Both locations provide terrace access, events, benefits and discounts, phone booths, a branch officer, TV, high-speed Internet, a kitchenette, and mineral water. Within Workings, there is Drinkings, where one can get their hands on all the refreshments the heart desires, including coffee and beer. There are also terrace parties with live music, masseuses, and yoga classes.
Workings, locations in Punta Pacifica and Costa del Este / firstname.lastname@example.org
Panama Coworking Center
Panama Coworking Center has snazzy offices at the Prime Tower in Costa del Este, in Kenex Plaza in Obarrio, and at the Banistmo building in San Francisco. Members benefit from an outdoor terrace with a sea view, high ceilings, and business consulting services, in addition to the usual bells and whistles.
Panama Coworking Center has locations in Obarrio, San francisco and Costa del Este
Workspace Business Center
Workspace Business Center has locations in Costa del Este and Obarrio
Both private offices and co-working spaces are offered at this Business Point Panama, which opened in 2015. Meeting rooms are also available for hire and coworking memberships are flexible.
Business Point, Calle 39, P.H. Business point, Avenida Peru, Panamá, Panama / Instagram @Businesspointpty
If you’re looking to meet other Panama City digital nomads, Spaces is a sure bet. The international coworking space has a home in Panama City and membership grants one access to multiple Regus locations all around town (their parent company). There’s an on-site cafe (that does a mean chai latte), various work areas with comfortable seating and it’s right on Calle 50 with a multitude of lunch options wherever you turn.
Spaces Panama City, Plaza 2000, Calle 50 and Marbella
THINGS TO DO IN PANAMA CITY
The Panama Canal might be the country’s biggest international export, however, there’s much more to Panama City than this feat of engineering.
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.
Spend a day on Taboga Island
One of the benefits of being based in Panama City is that a gorgeous beach is often just a hop, skip, and a jump away. The most accessible island to Panama City, Taboga is the perfect day trip on a platter. Affectionately called the “Island of Flowers” by Panamanians, Taboga is a mere 30-minute ferry ride from Panama City’s Amador Causeway.
See the Panama Canal
The Panama Canal opened on August 15th, 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.
Take a trip to the San Blas Islands
One for every day of the year, San Blas is an archipelago of 365 breathtaking islands on the Caribbean coast of Panama, which are inhabited by the Indigenous Kuna group. At the San Blas islands, the sea is largely visible from any single spot. What awaits you at this earthly paradise is perfectly powdery white sand and warm, gin-clear waters that essentially render snorkeling gear useless.
Go to Isla Contadora
The Pearl Islands are one of Panama’s most glittery archipelagos and 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.
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 (chicharonnes). 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.
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.
PANAMA CITY 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.
Take your Panama City experience to new heights with a visit to Tantalo. This is one of the most popular rooftop bars in Panama City and has been the pulsating heartbeat of Casco Viejo’s nightlife scene for many years. Tantalo is actually a ten-room boutique hotel with a bar and restaurant on the ground floor, however, the rooftop terrace is the jewel in its crown. The sunset-lovers start arriving in the late afternoon to wine and dine on quinoa and chickpea salads, sautéed octopus with coconut milk, and other fine culinary creations.
Lazotea was one of the first rooftop bars in Panama City to have a swimming pool that you could actually swim in. It’s a fabulous place for parties and celebrations under twinkling lights.
Capital Bistro Panamá
At the very entrance of Casco Viejo, one rooftop stands out among the rest, tempting prospective patrons with an enticing view of the Pacific. Capital Bistro is a scintillating outdoor bar on the banks of the water – any closer and you would be in it. Their scrumptious signature cocktails coupled with the string-lit ocean view, make this one very magical evening out indeed. Be prepared to drop a bit of cash, however.
Casa Casco feels utterly elegant, but the staff members aren’t too fancy to play dress up. On special occasions, the terrace bartenders will don whatever props they can get their hands on to spruce up your experience. Casa Casco is the name of the entire building and the first three floors house three independently run restaurants. The fourth floor is the nightclub, Casco Club, and finally, the fifth floor is the site of the decadent terrace bar with panoramic vistas. Upon arrival at the roof terrace, you will be asked if you would prefer the city or sea view. What a laborious choice that is.
Experience the envy-inducing view at Panaviera at least once in your life. When next will you be able to say that you saw sunset from the highest pool bar in Panama and Central America as a whole? Panaviera sits pretty on the 66th floor of the Ocean Sun Casino next door to the iconic, sail-shaped JW Marriott Hotel. Lamentably, you can’t actually enter the pool, but you probably wouldn’t want to anyway given how spectacularly you dressed for the occasion (hint).
Celebrate that year-round warm weather that Panama City is blessed with by taking a dip at the W hotel’s WET Deck, a welcome addition to the Panama City rooftop bar scene.
PANAMA CITY BUDGET AND MID-RANGE HOTELS
Selina Casco Viejo
The aforementioned Selina Casco Viejo is a one-stop shop for inexpensive beds, coworking, tacos galore and a happening rooftop pool in the heart of the action in the old town.
Panama Hat hostel is connected to La Milonga which is the place to be during any major football matches. This is important information even if you’re not a football fan as the atmosphere is glorious. The location is safe, there are often live music events, ample outdoor seating (for the Panamanian heat) and the food is just delectable. The owners are Brazillian, Argentinian, and Uruguayan so expect to find flavours from your travels if you’ve come from down south.
Magnolia Inn is a classy Casco Viejo mainstay in a 150-year-old French mansion. This boutique hotel and hostel houses travelers in charming, unique rooms with air-conditioning and orthopedic beds.
PANAMA CITY LUXURY HOTELS
American Trade Hotel
American Trade Hotel is a charming building restored to perfection while maintaining its Old-Word feel. The 50-room boutique property in Plaza Herrera has a grand reading room where guests may enjoy Hemingway in the afternoon and a glass of wine in the evening. Up a picturesque set of stairs is the rooftop pool which invokes St. Tropez-esque elegance in the middle of the old town. This is one of the finest hotels in the city.
A stone’s throw from the presidential palace, Central Hotel is steeped in history as the oldest hotel in the city. It’s elegantly decorated and has a spa, 24-hour gym, and a rooftop pool. Count Ferdinand de Lesseps and Theodore Roosevelt are among previous guests.
InterContinental Miramar Hotel
To ascertain the luxurious quality of the InterContinental Miramar Hotel, bear in mind that Panama’s former president Juan Carlos Varela opted not to have a residence of his own and rather chose to reside in a suite there. The appropriately named Bay View restaurant is on the same floor as the swimming pool where expansive views of the Bay of Panama are up for grabs. The hotel is situated on bustling Avenida Balboa right along Cinta Costera, the city’s prized outdoor park and waterfront promenade.
Besides obligatory 24-hour room service, Bristol Panama boasts a pool with a view and a peaceful open-air relaxation area alongside it. The gym is well equipped and spacious with complimentary water, fruit, and magazines for your reading pleasure post-workout. Yoga classes are also coordinated in the mornings depending on the number of sign-ups. There are 125 rooms in both towers of the hotel, each with impeccable city views or partial ocean vistas and Egyptian cotton sheets are standard.
Central America’s first W Hotel, W Panama draws on the Isthmus of Panama for design inspiration. The integration of local aspects is intricate and calculated; most of the furniture is sourced from Panamanian craftsmen (and women) and the chandeliers are impeccably styled bamboo fishing baskets. At the ground floor entrance, a wall of 70 Panama hats greets guests. Among the hotel’s amenities are the AWAY spa, two restaurants, eight sunlit meeting rooms, four bars, and the sky-high FIT fitness centre. Let’s face it, hitting the gym is that much sweeter when towering views of Panama Bay and the canal are on the cards.
IS PANAMA GOOD FOR DIGITAL NOMADS?
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 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 timings
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 so mind the gap. Besides Cinta Costera, the extended walkway along the Bay of Panama, the capital city isn’t too pedestrian friendly.
The community of remote working English speakers is not as robust as it is in Medellin, 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.
Panama is outside the hurricane belt so there is really no bad time to visit for avoiding natural disasters.
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.
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. Welcome to paradise.
* Last updated 2 September 2022.