Healthcare and Health Insurance for Americans & Canadians Moving to Panama

Those moving abroad should understand the medical landscape before making the move. Having a plan in place for meeting your primary care, emergency care, elective care,  and medication procurement, can give you peace of mind, and ensure that you and your loved ones are taken care of in any event.

Healthcare and Health Insurance for Expats in Panama

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Healthcare overview for expats in Panama

Panama’s healthcare system was ranked #49 in healthcare efficiency by the World Health Organization (compared to #37 USA) and #54 in the Numbeo 2022 health care index (compared to #33 USA).

Panama has three healthcare systems: two are public - Public hospitals and clinics are run by the Ministry of Health while Social Security hospitals are run by the Caja de Seguro Social. There is also a private system, which offers more dedicated care and shorter wait times. The same doctors work across multiple systems.

Public hospitals and clinics are open to anyone, but exist largely to serve the poor. Working class Panamanians pay into the Social Security system and about 70% of the population uses the Social Security health system. Private hospitals and clinics are largely used by middle and upper class Panamanians, by expats, and by medical tourists. 

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Costs

Private healthcare is more expensive than the other Panamanian systems, but considerably more affordable than healthcare in the U.S. You can expect costs to be 1/4 to 1/2 of U.S. costs. There are four large private hospitals and limited smaller hospitals and clinics. Great facilities are located in Panama City, David, Chitré, and Coronado in particular. 

Some expats choose not to use health insurance, as paying out of pocket is affordable for basic, standard care. For example, a typical doctor's visit will cost only $1.50 in the public system and $20-70 in an upscale private clinic. However, any emergency or larger issue can quickly become expensive. We highly recommend private insurance for all expats for this reason. 

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Access - What to Know

  • Care is often received on a first-come, first-serve basis, even if you have made an appointment. You should be prepared to wait before being seen by a doctor.

  • Many doctors have been educated in Europe and the United States and speak excellent English.

  • While you can pay for the cost of procedures with a credit card, you usually must pay any doctor's fee in cash. In private hospitals you are typically required to pay in full before any costly procedure.

  • If you need an ambulance while in Panama, you should call 911

  • Dental care is covered under the national scheme, and you can also opt for private dental cover. Teeth cleanings are ~$50 and implants are ~$1000 without insurance.

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Expat Health Insurance in Panama

Local coverage in Panama is provided by private insurers in HMO-style or hospital-based plans. Basic coverage can cost as little at $30/month or up to $200/month for advanced cover. Of course, premiums will vary based on age and pre-existing conditions.

Many local insurers have age restrictions, so it is recommended to sign up with a provider before 65 if possible. Local health insurance in Panama also won't cover pre-existing conditions for the first 1-2 years, so you'll want to either look at international plans or sign up for Panama coverage before moving to avoid any gaps in coverage. For those over 65, or for anyone who travels more frequently, it may be better to look at international health insurance from the major providers.

Note that you can include or exclude U.S. coverage in these plans. Including the U.S. will lead to much higher premiums. It is also worth noting that claims in the U.S. with some of these companies can be challenging - many international insurance companies are unfamiliar to U.S. doctors' offices, and they may require you to pay up front and then claim reimbursement.

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Our Recommendation

We recommend all expats in Panama look into private health insurance. For those who want to save on costs and do not plan on traveling much outside of Panama, we recommend domestic companies including: ASSA, MAPFRE, Aseguradora ANCÓN, Seguros VIVIR, and Blue Cross Blue Shield Panama. If you would like to use the services of one hospital primarily, check with the hospital about hospital discounts and plans supported.

For those who will travel more within Panama and internationally, we recommend international insurance companies including Cigna, WEA, Allianz, IMG, MAPFRE, Pan-American Life Insurance Group,  and VUMI. If possible, we recommend excluding U.S. coverage under these plans and purchasing travel insurance for trips back to the U.S.