Panama vs. Belize: The Ultimate Guide for Expats

Embarking on an expat journey is a thrilling endeavor, but the choice of destination can be daunting. Panama and Belize stand out as enticing options, each offering a unique blend of opportunities and lifestyle. This article is your roadmap to navigating the intricacies of these two remarkable countries. From the rich tapestry of geography and culture to practical considerations like climate and living costs, we provide an in-depth comparison to aid in your decision-making process. Explore the nuances of healthcare systems, real estate markets, and residency pathways, all designed to empower you in choosing the perfect expat haven. Join us as we unravel the layers of Panama and Belize, helping you pave the way for your exciting new chapter abroad.


Overview of Geography and Culture

Discovering Panama


Panama stands as a unique country in Central America, characterized by its slim landmass that at its narrowest point measures merely 75 kilometers across, forming a vital link between South America and Central America. As of March 2024, its population has reached 4.5 million, according to data from Worldometer. The strategic importance of Panama in international commerce cannot be overstated, largely due to the architectural marvel that is the Panama Canal. This canal facilitates the passage of ships between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, cementing Panama’s critical role in global trade and transportation. The people of Panama form a diverse community with roots in European, African, and Indigenous American backgrounds. This diversity is reflected in the nation’s rich cultural expressions, encompassing folklore, music, and particularly its cuisine. Panamanian cuisine is a flavorful fusion of Native American elements, Caribbean flair, and Latin American and American influences, offering a gastronomic reflection of the country’s varied cultural heritage.


Panama’s historical narrative is equally fascinating, with its territories originally occupied by various Indigenous peoples before becoming part of the Spanish Empire in the 16th century. The legacy of the colonial era is visible in the country’s picturesque old districts and historical monuments. The establishment of the Panama Canal in the early 20th century marked a significant chapter in Panama’s emergence as a sovereign state, playing a crucial role in its national development. Furthermore, Panama is celebrated for its environmental riches, featuring diverse ecosystems from lush tropical rainforests to majestic mountain ranges. This ecological diversity supports a wide array of plant and animal life, making the country a paradise for ecotourism and wildlife enthusiasts worldwide.


Discovering Belize


Situated on the eastern coastline of Central America, Belize is bordered by Mexico to the north, Guatemala to the west and south, and the Caribbean Sea to the east. Its prime location provides Belize with a rich ecosystem that includes lush jungles, numerous islands or cayes, and the world’s second-longest barrier reef, known as the Great Mexican Reef. According to Worldometer, Belize has a current population of roughly 414,949, representing a diverse blend of ethnic groups that contribute to the country’s vibrant cultural mosaic. The culture of Belize is influenced by various demographic groups, including the Mestizo, Garifuna, and Creole communities. This cultural diversity is celebrated across the country through numerous festivals and events that showcase the traditional music, dance, and customs of these groups. The demographic composition of Belize includes Mestizo, Creole, Maya, Garifuna, East Indian, Mennonite, Arab, Chinese, and European populations, among others. This diversity fosters a society in which multiple cultures and languages thrive together, with English serving as the official language—a unique trait in Central America.


Belizean cuisine mirrors this diversity, featuring dishes that blend Caribbean, Mexican, and Maya influences. Common staples include rice and beans, seafood, chicken stew, and a variety of tropical fruits and vegetables, with corn, cassava, and recado as frequent ingredients in rural diets. The arts in Belize, including painting and sculpture, often draw inspiration from the country’s natural landscapes and cultural history. While Belize boasts a strong tradition of oral literature, its written literature scene is gradually expanding, with works that explore Belizean stories and poetry. Music is a vital form of cultural expression in Belize, with genres like Punta and Brukdown being particularly popular. Sports also play a role in Belizean society, with football, cycling, and water sports reflecting the community’s enthusiasm and competitive nature.


Panama and Belize Climate Comparison

The climate in Panama varies based on location. In the main city, temperatures are consistently warm, varying between 22°C and 33°C all year. By contrast, higher elevations such as Boquete enjoy a cooler average temperature, which falls between 13°C and 24°C. Panama’s climate is tropical, maintaining steady conditions year-round, with a rainy season from May to December and a dry season from January to April.


Belize features a humid tropical climate, with its seasonal changes slightly diverging from those of other Caribbean nations. In the capital, Belpoman, the climate remains warm throughout the year. Belize experiences its rainy season from May to October and its dry season from November to April. Average annual temperatures in Belize range between 23°C and 27°C, showing some regional variation, with coastal areas typically warmer than inland regions.



Living Costs in Panama vs. Belize

When comparing living costs of Panama with Belize, one finds that Panama caters more to those seeking an urban atmosphere, especially in the bustling Panama City, and offers varied living experiences through its well-established expatriate communities in places like Coronado and Boquete. These locations offer everything from metropolitan living to serene beachside escapes and the cooler weather of mountainous regions. On the other hand, Belize appeals to its breathtaking natural landscapes, a more laid-back lifestyle, and a tight-knit expatriate community, particularly noticeable in Ambergris Caye and the Cayo District. To give a better understanding of the cost differences in terms of housing, food, transportation, and utilities in each country, a comparison table is provided. This table aims to give those considering moving or traveling a detailed view of how their expenses might vary between Panama and Belize.

Item Panama Belize
Meal, Inexpensive Restaurant $10 $6.80
McMeal at McDonalds (or Equivalent Combo Meal) $8 $7.45
Water (0.33-liter bottle) $1.23 $0.83
Rice (white), (1kg) $2.10 $2.16
Eggs (regular) (12) $2.44 $2.32
Chicken Fillets (1kg) $7.18 $5.37
Apples (1kg) $3.24 $6.37
Potato (1kg) $2.07 $2.45
One-way Ticket (Local Transport) $0.47 $1.75
Monthly Pass (Regular Price) $25 $24.82
Taxi Start (Normal Tariff) $2 $3.49
Gasoline (1 liter) $1 $1.73
Basic (Electricity, Heating, Cooling, Water, Garbage) $95.61 $86.18
Internet (60 Mbps or More, Unlimited Data, Cable/ADSL) $47.84 $58.37
Apartment (1 bedroom) in City Centre $809.86 $374
Apartment (1 bedroom) Outside of Centre $535.15 $249.23
Price per Square Meter to Buy Apartment in City Centre $2,296.88 $1,041.84
Price per Square Meter to Buy Apartment Outside of Centre $1,400.00 $1,248.61
Fitness Club, Monthly Fee for 1 Adult $48.69 $35.20
Cinema, International Release, 1 Seat $6.75 $8.42
1 Pair of Jeans (Levis 501 Or Similar) $50.73 $34.42
1 Pair of Nike Running Shoes (Mid-Range) $79.65 $82.60
1 Pair of Men Leather Business Shoes $85.79 $88.91


Healthcare System Comparison of Panama vs. Belize

The healthcare system in Panama is designed to serve a diverse population, ensuring that both expatriates and residents have access to high-quality healthcare services. The public healthcare system, funded by the government and administered by the Social Security Fund (CSS) and the Ministry of Health (MINSA), offers free services to citizens and permanent residents. Meanwhile, the private healthcare sector, though more expensive, often delivers higher quality care. Private hospitals in Panama attract medical tourists and are favored by expatriates for their affordability, high standards, prompt service, and the availability of English-speaking doctors. The country is recognized for its state-of-the-art facilities, a wide range of specialized services, and proficient healthcare professionals, catering to various healthcare needs from routine check-ups to emergency interventions and specialized procedures.


In Belize, the healthcare system aims to meet the medical needs of its residents through both public and private sectors, with a workforce that is fluent in both English and Spanish. The healthcare framework is regulated and funded by the Ministry of Health (MoH), which manages the public healthcare services available to all residents, including expatriates, financed through taxation. Despite this provision, the system is relatively underfunded, with a significant portion of resources allocated to Belize City and the Karl Heusner Memorial Hospital (KHMH), the premier public hospital in the nation. The public healthcare infrastructure includes 60 state clinics and seven hospitals. However, the private healthcare sector is known for its superior quality, especially in specialized care, offering modern facilities and reduced waiting times for those who can afford it. Belize’s healthcare system faces challenges in managing complex health issues like cancer and heart disease, leading many expatriates to seek advanced treatments in countries like Ecuador or Mérida, Mexico, or even Panama for better healthcare options.



Real Estate Comparison – Panama vs. Belize

Panama’s economy is thriving, positioning it as one of the fastest-growing in Latin America. The country holds significant sway in international trade and banking, boasting a multitude of major global corporations headquartered within its borders. This prominence can be attributed largely to Panama’s strategic location, notably enhanced by the Panama Canal, a vital conduit that has revolutionized the dynamics of commerce and shipping within the nation. Anchored by the use of the US Dollar, Panama’s economy exhibits robustness, stability, and consistent expansion. Despite facing challenges amid the pandemic, Panama remains resilient, leveraging its sturdy economic framework to rebound effectively. The tourism sector wields a substantial influence on the real estate landscape in this Central American nation, with projections indicating further growth. The allure for international investors is palpable, given the sustained appreciation in property values over recent decades coupled with unrelenting demand for rental accommodations, thus presenting a favorable entry point into Panama’s growing real estate market.


Belize real estate market has witnessed steady growth, buoyed by escalating interest from both local and international buyers. Benefitting from a stable political climate, a flourishing economy, and tax incentives, Belize has emerged as a hotspot for real estate investments. Moreover, the country offers affordable property rates relative to other popular investment hubs, rendering it an attractive prospect for investors seeking value and potential returns. Bolstering investor confidence are government initiatives such as the Qualified Retired Persons (QRP) Program, aimed at fostering investment. Belize’s surging popularity as a tourism and retirement haven has propelled demand for real estate, attracting a diverse range of visitors, from adventure-seekers and nature enthusiasts to retirees in pursuit of tranquility and affordability. This escalating demand has catalyzed the expansion of vacation rentals, eco-resorts, and retirement communities, offering lucrative avenues for investment in the hospitality and leisure sectors.



Panama consistently earns its place among the top five global retirement destinations. It offers exceptional retirement programs featuring distinctive advantages for expatriates and retirees that are rarely matched elsewhere.


Panama Golden Visa Overview

To be eligible for residency, applicants must opt for one of the following three investment pathways:

  • Qualified Investor
    To maintain permanent residency, a commitment of five years is necessary. Additional charges are applicable for both the primary applicant and their family. Options include investing $300,000 in real estate, $500,000 in stocks, or a $750,000 fixed deposit in a bank.
  • Friendly Nations
    For nationals of Panama’s ‘friendly nations,’ options include a $200,000 real estate investment, a fixed-term deposit of $200,000, or securing employment with a Panamanian company for residency based on labor grounds.
  • Forestry Investor
    Temporary residency can be obtained by investing in a company with a forest registry. Options here include a $100,000 real estate investment or a $100,000 teak reforestation investment. After two years, applicants can apply for permanent residency. Alternatively, an immediate permanent residence can be acquired by investing $350,000 in teak reforestation.


Procedures of Obtaining the Panama Golden Visa

  1. Application Submission
    To apply in the program, applicants are required to submit completed forms along with fees and supporting documents. Necessary details encompass information about the origin of investment funds and the investor’s general information. The documentation required varies depending on the selected investment option and includes certificates from institutions such as the Panama Public Registry, National Authority of Land Ownership, Securities House, among others.
  2. Due Diligence Checks
    Prior to application submission, preliminary due diligence checks are conducted, followed by subsequent verifications after the initial review. Additional due diligence involves confirming the accuracy of the information provided in the application.
  3. Processing Time
    The processing time for residency applications varies based on the chosen pathway. For the Qualified Investor route, the processing time is 30 days. Conversely, the Friendly Nations and Forestry Investor routes have longer processing durations of four to six months. Processing time denotes the period from submission to approval for each case.
  4. Issuance of Permanent Residence Permits
    Residency permits under the Qualified Investor and Forestry Investor routes in Panama are promptly issued, while the Friendly Nations route entails a two-year temporary residency period before granting permanent residence. Immediate issuance is contingent upon successful completion of due diligence checks and meeting specified requirements, with all applications subject to review by the National Immigration Service.




Belize stands as a highly attractive tourist spot for American travelers. Investors keen on securing residency in Belize can do so through substantial investments within the country. It’s important to note that the details of this residency program may differ, hence seeking guidance from an immigration attorney is recommended for comprehensive information.


Belize Investment Residency Overview

There are two types of Residency status in Belize. If you are looking for residency status in Belize, you can apply to be a Permanent Resident or Temporary Resident.

  • Permanent Residency: This status is sought by individuals aiming to establish Belize as their long-term home. Applicants intend to reside and settle in Belize indefinitely.
  • Temporary Residency: Temporary residency is available for those seeking status in Belize, demonstrating their investment in the country. Temporary residents typically include individuals who have made significant investments in Belize, such as in real estate, but are unable to fulfill the requirements for permanent residency due to obligations outside of Belize.


Belize provides a pathway to residency for investors through a program often termed “Temporary Investment Residency.” This initiative targets investors and entrepreneurs who make substantial financial commitments in the country, with investments valued at a minimum of $250,000 USD ($500,000 BZ). These investments commonly take the form of real estate or ventures in sectors like tourism and agriculture.


Temporary Residence Requirements

  1. Receipt of Acceptance from the Immigration Department upon submission
  2. Duly filled Application Form
  3. Letter elucidating the motives behind the application for Temporary Residence
  4. Comprehensive Copy of Passport
  5. Police Clearance Certificate (from Belize)
  6. Police Clearance Certificate from the most recent country of residence (issued within the last 6 months)
  7. A medical certificate along with HIV, VDRL, and TB test results
  8. Proof of residency in Belize, such as a rental/lease agreement accompanied by a current utility bill bearing the applicant’s name and address, or property title along with property tax assessment
  9. Documentation demonstrating investments in Belize, officially assessed at a minimum of $250,000 US ($500,000 BZ), including but not limited to:
    • Ownership deeds of real estate
    • Business bank statements
    • Official valuation reports for equipment and buildings intended for business/investment purposes
    • Company Registration Certificate
    • Articles of Association and/or Summary of Share Capital
    • Valid trade license issued in Belize
    • Registration with Belize Social Security
    • Assessment of Belize General Sales Tax and Business Tax
  1. Income Tax Verification Letter
  2. Recent Bank Statement (if applicable), highlighting transactions to/from Belize or banking activity within Belize
  3. Marriage Certificate (if applicable)
  4. Three passport-size Photographs
  5. Social Security Card (if applicable)
  6. Social Security Contribution History or a declaration stating non-contribution, accompanied by an explanation.


Residence Process

  1. Gather required documents
    Proof of your lawful residency in Belize and demonstration of your financial stability.
  2. Application Submission
    Please submit your application at any Immigration Office authorized to accept residence applications. An accepting officer will then schedule an interview date for both you and your referees. Kindly note that the interview will take place at the office where the application was submitted. Upon submission, you will receive a receipt of acceptance containing the assigned file number for your application. This file number will be necessary for any inquiries regarding your application status.
  3. Interview with Immigration Authorities
    Following the completion of the application process, the applicant will proceed to an interview with immigration authorities. During this session, officials will pose questions to gain insight into the applicant’s background, intentions, and proposed activities in Belize.
  4. Interview with Police Department
    The Special Branch of the Police Department interviews you at your place of residence. This interview is conducted within three months following the completion of the Immigration Interview.
  1. Notice from the Immigration Authority
    Your submission will undergo evaluation by the Nationality Department following the guidelines outlined in the Belize Nationality Act. Subsequently, you will receive a notification regarding the status of your submission. The Immigration office will inform you upon approval of your application or if supplementary documents are needed.
  1. Payment and Submission of Security Deposit
    Upon the approval of your application, it is necessary for you to personally visit an Immigration Office to fulfill the payment requirements.
    You are obligated to submit the Security Deposit Form along with the following sureties:
    • A photocopy of your Belize Passport or
    • A photocopy of your Belize Voter’s Identification Card


The fees for Permanent Residence vary depending on the applicant’s nationality. Please note that all fees are denominated in Belize dollars.



CARICOM Countries


Central American Countries, Mexico and Dominican Republic


Commonwealth Countries


European Countries


Other Countries



  1. Receipt of Residence Card
    You may retrieve your card from the Belmopan Immigration Office 5 days subsequent to payment.



Security and Crime Rates in Panama and Belize

Panama stands out as an attractive option for expatriates seeking a stable and prosperous living environment, characterized by its lower crime rate and hospitable ambiance towards travelers. With a crime rate of 44.10 (per 100k), the government has made safety a priority for residents and visitors alike, investing in modern infrastructure and reliable security measures. This commitment renders Panama an appealing destination, especially for retirees. Noteworthy is Panama’s distinction from other locales in its minimal prevalence of issues like envy or racial animosity. Though not entirely devoid of crime, instances of violence are uncommon, and adhering to basic travel safety protocols ensures a secure experience. While Panama offers safety, it’s prudent to exercise caution in specific areas such as Yaviza.


Belize with a crime rate of 52.3 (per 100k) presents a mixed picture, with varying levels of safety depending on the location within the country. Belize City, in particular, has been recognized as a focal point for violent crime. While Belize is generally safe for tourists with smart and sensible precautions, some areas are safer than others. Caye Caulker, Corozal, and San Pedro on Ambergris Caye are highlighted as safer areas, known for their relaxed atmosphere and expatriate communities. However, tourists are recommended to exercise caution, particularly in Belize City, and avoid certain areas recognized for higher crime rates, such as George Street, Kraal Road, and mostly any place after dark.



In conclusion, choosing between Panama and Belize for your expat adventure requires careful consideration of various factors. From the vibrant cultures to the practicalities of climate, cost of living, healthcare, real estate, residency options, and safety, both countries offer unique advantages. Whether you’re drawn to Panama’s cosmopolitan allure or Belize’s laid-back charm, our guide equips you with the necessary insights to make an informed decision. Whichever path you choose, may your journey be filled with excitement, opportunity, and the fulfillment of your expat dreams. Safe travels on your new chapter abroad!

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