Medellin vs. Panama City for Expats
Latin American culture is widely known as being one of the most vibrant and colorful cultures in the world. Latin American cities are the epicenters of this vast culture. Within them holds a modern culmination of the many years of history and tradition which has taken place on the Central and Southern parts of the American continents.
It’s no wonder that these cities present themselves as attractive alternatives for expats looking to escape the standard day to day life in their own countries and new, more exciting ones.
But which Latin American city is the best for expats looking to relocate? How does one begin the process of choosing between the many beautiful locations? From latin music, salsa dancing, to the tasteful food scenes enriched with spices and freshly grown produce, each of these cities offers a different kind of spice not only to the people who have long lived in them, but also to people who are just arriving.
In this article, we will compare two of the most popular expat cities in Latin America: Medellin vs Panama city, located in Colombia and Panama, respectively.
By the end of this article, we hope to give expats or “soon-to be” expats a better idea of how to start their journey, avoid gringo prices, and eventually make the right choice and settle down in one of these cities.
Let’s start with a general overview of Medellin vs Panama City:
Medellin (pronounced locally as “MED-EH-YIN” OR “MED-EH-JIN”), has been rated as many times as one of the best cities to live an expat. Located in a lush valley in the Andes mountain range, Medellin is home to about 4 million people, making it smaller than Bogota, Colombia’s capital, which boasts more than 7 million. Yet, living in Medellin certainly does not lack any of the excitement of Bogota or any other Latin American city.
In comparison, Panama City (the capital of Panama) is home to only 1 million people. Panama city is famous for the Panama canal, attracting many foreigners who come there to work. Living in Panama City is widely considered to be an equally exciting and lively city for both locals and foreigners.
Climate and Weather
Medellin has often been famed as the “city of eternal spring.” It has temperate, springtime weather all year long, never getting too hot or too cold. In fact, it is considered by many to have one of the best climates in the world.
Panama City, by comparison, isn’t always so temperate. It tends to get really humid and hot during certain parts of the year, making AC a necessity, especially for those coming from colder climates who haven’t lived in such intense heat their whole lives.
Cost of Living
Of the two cities, living in Medellin tends to be, by far, much less expensive than living in Panama City. In Medellin, you will likely be able to find a 3-bedroom apartment for 800 USD per month and to spend a total of about 1600 USD per month on all of your living expenses.
In Panama City, a 3 bedroom apartment will run you about 1,300 USD per month and total living expenses will likely cost you about 2400 USD per month. To see how we calculated these costs, check out our videos linked below on daily living expenses in Medellin and Panama City:
In Medellin, it should be noted as well that it can be difficult to attain an apartment because you’ll need a “fiador“, or “cosigner,” who will be held liable if you don’t pay rent. For more information on why you need a fiador to attain an apartment, check out this video:
In both cities, prices tend to be higher for expats than they are for locals seeking places to rent. If you are able to find a local contract, however, you’ll be in better luck.
Transportation and Traffic
As far as transportation and traffic in these two cities, Panama City has much lighter traffic, making it easier to get around if you’re driving and safer if you’re a pedestrian.
In Medellin, the location of the valley (surrounded by mountains) has prevented roads from being adequately spaced out over the years, thus contributing to more traffic congestion. If you’re trying to get around during rush hour, you’re likely to face subways and streets jam-packed full of people and cars, which can be especially stressful to people who are new to busy cities.
You would also need to watch out for people rapidly changing lanes and motorcycles speeding through the streets. These circumstances prove difficult for pedestrians trying to get around Medellin, who are likely to find crossing the street a risky adventure day-to-day.
Like in any big city, you need to be a bit more aware of your surroundings when living in a Latin American one. While Medellin and Panama City are no exceptions to the danger of living in a big city if you make an effort to be consciously aware of where you are and you know in advance where you’re going, you’ll pretty much be fine.
While Medellin might seem worse in terms of safety to those who have heard stories about Latin American drug cartels and other related violence, the two cities are actually reported as about the same in terms of safety by expats who live there.
To stay safe, stay out of bad neighborhoods, be careful of what you’re doing, where you’re going, and don’t wander around by yourself at night in parts of the city you don’t know. Contrary to some beliefs, there aren’t gang members running rampant around the cities and it’s very rare for tourists to be targeted.
Generally, there are lots of expats who live in these cities who remain unaffected by crime and violence. However, safety should always be something to consider.
Healthcare and Insurance
While both cities have good insurance coverage for expats, insurance in Medellin is a bit less expensive. As far as healthcare, you’ll likely find that the quality doesn’t really differ if you’re an expat coming from a wealthier nation. While, according to the WHO, Colombia has overall better healthcare than Panama. If you’re an expat, you’ll likely be able to afford to see the best of the best doctors anyway, which can be found equally in both countries.
If you’re sensitive to air pollution, you should keep in mind that Medellin has a worse pollution problem than Panama City. However, pollution does tend to vary a lot depending on where you live in the city, so it may be helpful to spend some time in different neighborhoods to see how much you’re bothered in this regard before moving there permanently.
Because of Medellin’s location in the valley, there is not as much wind to carry pollution away as there is in Panama City, which is wide open to the winds of the Pacific Ocean.
Activities and Culture
If you’re an outdoor enthusiast or a restaurant connoisseur, Medellin is the place to be. With the Andes Mountain Range surrounding the valley, you’ll never run out of different hiking trails to explore or views to capture if you’re into landscape photography.
If you’re more of a beach person, however, you might enjoy living in Panama City more. However, be aware that you will have to travel outside of the city to enjoy the beauty of the beach. This can certainly be a bit of a chore when it gets really hot in the city and you feel the need to quickly escape the heat.
Medellin definitely wins this category when it comes to the restaurant scene. There are a greater number and variety of restaurants in Medellin, including a lot of upscale places and all of the different international foods you could possibly want. In Panama City, there are a lot of nice restaurants as well, but the variety is quite limited compared to Medellin.
In both cities, Spanish is the primary language. If you’re a newbie to Spanish, you can easily find language classes or tutors to help you. If you’ve been learning Spanish in a classroom setting back home, relocating to a Spanish-speaking country is an integral part of becoming fluent.
While the first few months might be a challenge in this regard because most people do not speak fluent English in either of these cities, you’re bound to pick up words and phrases the more you get out and explore. With enough time, patience, and practice, you’ll soon be able to easily communicate with native Spanish speakers.
If you’re looking for a good way to invest your money, both Medellin and Panama City are great places to do this. While Panama is generally considered to be a better place for investment since its uses of the US dollar and taxes are better, keep in mind that there has already been quite a lot of foreign investment in Panama City.
Medellin, on the other hand, is considered to be an up-and-coming city by foreign investors and you can make a fortune here if you play your cards right. In both cities, however, there are ways to avoid paying taxes.
Visa In Panama and Colombia
Lastly, we’ll talk about a pressing logistical requirement for relocating to any new country: the Visa requirement. Before you make the move, you’ll need to attain a Visa to live there as a permanent resident. In both countries, you will need a visa. However, it’s way easier to get one in Panama than Colombia. The Visa in Panama is called a Panama Friendly Nations Visa. If you’re a retiree, it’s a lot easier to attain one of these.
Summary – Medellin vs. Panama City
We hope this article has provided you with a good introductory comparison to living as an expat in Panama City and Medellin. While these two countries are both phenomenal choices for relocating, you can also check out our free “Expat Country Test”, which is based on factors like weather, lifestyle, and monthly income, to name a few, to easily get a better idea of how you might enjoy other major cities in Latin America.
See Free Expat Country Test here: