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Rent an Apartment in Panama City, Panama: 10 Things to Consider First

Updated on July 8, 2011

So, you have decided to move to Panama City, Panama and now all that remains is finding an apartment to rent. Where you choose to live is one of the most exciting, nerve wracking decisions that you will have to make. After all, your very future happiness hinges on how well you settle in to life in Panama and where you are living will have a lot to do with it. Some factors, such as how well you get along with your neighbors or whether your children will enjoy their new school are beyond your control but others (such as those listed below) are easy to check before you make the move

For starters, you will want to check out the classified ads in the La Prensa newspaper and if the ad says "c/b/e" that means "cuarto y bano para empleada" which translates to "room (bedroom) and bath for an employee (maid)." Many apartments, even smaller two-bedroom apartments, will have a small little room and separate bathroom, just off the kitchen, for a live-in maid. Normally, the rooms are just big enough for a twin-bed and a small dresser. But, if it says "c/b/e" then you've got a space for a live-in maid.

And, the price or value of any apartment in the city, either to rent or buy, is normally determined by the following factors:

#1: The location. Closer to the city center (easier commute) usually more expensive. All of the areas you mentioned before (Obarrio, Bella Vista, El Cangrejo, Punta Paitilla, El Carmen) are in the city center, and are the easiest commutes. So, they rent for a little more.

#2: The size. Apartments are described in square meters. Stay away from anything less than about 110 square meters. Anything larger than that is considered "big" in relative terms. Smaller little one-bedroom studio apartments for bachelors or singles might get as small as 65 square meters. Some of the most expensive apartments in town (like in the Miramar) are about 365 square meters, and cost $350,000.

#3: The age. How old is the building? What kind of shape is the elevator in? How well has the building been maintained, painted, repaired, etc. Some older buildings might be in a great area, and relatively large, but the common areas have been poorly maintained and managed.

#4: Parking. How many spaces come with the apartment, one or two? How many cars will you be driving? Which spots are yours (exactly)? Do you have to park next to a little Hyundai, or is your "parking neighbor" driving a Hummer on steroids (making it hard or impossible to get into your spot). So there are two factors here, how many spots, and "ease" of parking.

#5: Security: What floor are you on, compared to how high can a well-motivated crack-head climb while wasted? Is there a 24/7 security guard on duty? Is the parking area secure as well? Is there an intercom system (does it work?)

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#6: Included utilities: often the owner pays for water, and very often gas is included with the building. So, buy gas-fired water heater and clothes dryer, for example.

#7: Condition of the apartment itself: How's the paint? Are there any appliances included (stove, fridge, water heater, air conditioners.) Do they all work? What happens if one craps-out? Is all the wood (doors, cabinets in kitchens and bathrooms) solid? What kind of shape are the floors in?

#8: Motivation of the owner: Just how motivated is the owner to rent. If the owner is desperate, they might give you a great deal just to get a warm body in there to help pay monthly maintenance costs, mortgage, etc. If the owner is stinking rich and does not really need your money at all, they might be very inflexible on the price. It's all negotiable.

#9: Pool and social areas. First off, is there a pool? How big is it? What kind of shape is it in? Is it obviously being used often, or has it been neglected? Is there a large social area (often on the roof of the building) for throwing birthday parties and the like.

#10: Age and kid demographics of the building: Is it a blue-hair community, or are there lots of people like yourselves, younger families with kids. Check the place out at about 3:30 PM, when school is out, before the parents have gotten off work, on a weekday. If there's ankle-biters to be had, they will be swarming most at that time, usually with the maid in tow, watching them do laps on the training wheels or something similar... Ask the security guards about numbers of kids in the building -- they will know them all by name.

So, what you are looking for is the best deal for the money, with all of the above factors to consider (and probably a few other's that I've forgotten.

Article by Anne Alexander Sieder


Useful Links

Panama Forum is a forum and message board all about everything you would ever want to know about living in Panama, City, Panama from people who have already made the move.

Panamatotal is another excellent resource where you can research the answers to common questions or post your own and have them answered by expats currently living in Panama.


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