Medellín vs Panama City, Panama, which is really the better place to live? Both places have been rated as two of the top foreign retirement locations. So, which is really better? In our Medellín vs Panama City comparison, we comprehensively compare the two places in in 21 categories to see which is the better place to live in for expats.

We previously wrote about 11 reasons why Medellín is considered a top foreign retirement location. The foreign retirement publications have for several years been touting both Medellín and Panama as top foreign retirement locations.

International Living ranks the country of Panama as its third best foreign retirement location in 2018, which is ahead of Colombia that is ranked number six.

Panama City is located along the coast at the Pacific entrance to the Panama Canal. Medellín is a city located in a valley in the Colombian Andes Mountains in Colombia. And mountains surround Medellín with a river running though the city.

Many expats I have met living in Medellín prefer Medellín. And expats living in Panama tend to prefer Panama. But many of these expats living in one of these two places have never traveled to the other. It’s not really fair to compare two places if you have not been to both of them.

I have lived in Medellín for over seven years. But I have traveled several times on business and vacation to Panama City and other locations in Panama. And I have some friends living in Panama. In my opinion, both places have their pluses and minuses. No place is perfect.

Note, the following 21 categories in this Medellín vs Panama City comparison are in no particular order. And where possible, we provide some statistics to back up how we chose the winner of each category in our Medellín vs Panama City comparison.

View of Medellín from Pueblito Paisa, photo by Jenny Bojinova

View of Medellín from Pueblito Paisa, photo by Jenny Bojinova

View of Panama City

View of Panama City

1. Cost of Living – Medellín vs Panama City

Medellín easily wins here. Apartment properties I have seen in Panama City tend to rent for or sell for about 50-70 percent higher prices than similar properties in Medellín. And sometimes even higher. I have seen some rental properties with 80 percent higher prices in Panama City compared to similar properties in Medellín.

The cost of living in terms of USD or Euros has dropped in Medellín over the past few years due to the weakness of the Colombian peso. And in Panama City the cost of living has increased due to inflation as well as the increased number of expats in the country driving up some costs.

In addition, the cost of living sites Expatistan and Numbeo report that the cost of living is substantially higher in Panama City than in Medellín. For example, Expatistan reports that Panama City is 50 percent more expensive than in Medellín. So, in general the cost of living is higher in Panama City than in Medellín.

Both the Expatistan and Numbeo cost of living websites collect data using a crowdsourcing. Users enter prices for their own city and the more users that enter prices for a city, the more accurate comparisons will be. But this method has limitations. For more accurate cost of living information we recommend talking with expats living in the cities.

However, you should also factor in taxes into the cost of living. Colombia has a higher IVA tax than Panama, which is included in the prices of goods sold in stores. And Colombia taxes the worldwide income of tax residents while Panama only taxes local income.

A number of expats living in Panama try to avoid the high cost of living in Panama City by living in a much smaller city or town in Panama. But if you live outside of Panama City you lose some of the benefits of the big city. Plus, you will most likely need a car.

Two different expats I have met in Medellín over the past year that used to live in Panama City told me their cost of living is now lower in Medellín by at least 40-50 percent.

Electricity in Panama City is relatively expensive and if your run your air-conditioning regularly you can expect to have electric bills of about $150-200+.  Air-conditioning is not needed in Medellín due to the climate.

I have a good friend living in Panama City with his wife living in an apartment that is similar to what I rent with my wife in Medellín. And he pays rent that is over double what I pay. And their total cost of living is about 70 percent higher than our cost of living as a couple living in Medellín.

Panama does have some discounts for retirees that should be factored in to the cost of living. This includes 50 percent off entertainment, 25 percent off airline tickets, 15 percent off hospital bills and so on. But keep in mind the cost of living is still higher in Panama City than in Medellín. In Medellín, there are fewer discounts like this available.

2. Climate – Medellín vs Panama City

Medellín wins here. The temperature during the year in Medellín averages 72.5 °F (22.5 °C). The Medellín weather and climate is a benefit of living in the city. Also, Medellín is known as “La Ciudad de la Eterna Primavera”, or the city of eternal spring. The average temperature in Medellín typically only varies by about 1 °F during the year.

In Medellín, the high daily average temperature ranges from 81.0 to 82.8 ° F (27.0 to 28.2 °C). And the low daily average ranges from 61.7 to 63.3 ° F (16.5 to 17.4 °C).

In Panama City, the temperature during the entire year averages 81.0 ° F (27.2 °C). The daily average high temperature in Panama City ranges from 90.7 to 95.7 °F (32.6 to 35.4 °C). And in Panama City, the daily average low temperature ranges from 65.1 to 70.3 °F (18.4 to 21.3 °C).

In Panama City, you will definitely need air-conditioning. The average humidity in Panama City for the entire year is over 80 percent. And during the rainy season (May to December), the average high humidity in Panama City is normally 94 percent or higher. So, with the high humidity it frequently feels like it is over 100 °F (37.8 °C).

During the rainy season in Panama City, it typically rains over 8 inches (over 210 mm) in six out of the eight months from May to December.

In comparison, in Medellín there is only one month out of the year (October) that has over 8 inches (over 210 mm) of rain. And it is much less humid in Medellín with the average humidity each month ranging from 63 to 73 percent.

For the entire year it rains on average 69.0 inches in Medellín and 75.1 inches in Panama City.

The bottom line is that Medellín has an eternal spring climate and air-conditioning and heating isn’t required. But in Panama City air-conditioning is definitely needed, so Medellín wins this category.

Hospital Punta Pacífica in Panama City, the best hospital in Panama

Hospital Punta Pacífica in Panama City, the best hospital in Panama

3. Healthcare – Medellín vs Panama City

Medellín wins here. Medellín has nine of the top 58 ranked hospitals in Latin America while Panama City only has one.

Panama City and the entire country of Panama only has one hospital on the top Latin American hospital list – Hospital Punta Pacífica. This private hospital in Panama City is relatively small as it reportedly has less than 80 beds. And it is ranked #19 out of the top 58 hospitals in Latin America. In addition, it’s affiliated with Johns Hopkins Medicine International.

In comparison, Colombia has 24 of the top hospitals in Latin America. And Colombia’s healthcare system has been ranked as the best healthcare system in Latin America by the World Health Organization (WHO).

WHO ranks Colombia’s healthcare system as #22 out of 191 countries it ranked, which is ranked higher than many wealthier countries like the United States (#37), Germany (#25), Canada (#30) and Australia (#32).

Panama’s healthcare system is ranked much lower than Colombia’s healthcare system by WHO, as they rank Panama at #95 out of 191 countries.

Hospital Pablo Tobón Uribe, the best hospital in Medellín, photo by SajoR

Hospital Pablo Tobón Uribe, the best hospital in Medellín, photo by SajoR

Here is a list of all the top ranked hospitals in Medellín and Panama, with the rankings in the top 58 hospitals in Latin America:

  • Hospital Pablo Tobón Uribe – Medellín (#9)
  • Hospital Universitario de San Vicente Fundación – Medellín (#16)
  • Hospital Punta Pacífica – Panama City (#19)
  • Clínica las Américas – Medellín (#26)
  • Clínica Universitaria Bolivariana – Medellín (#28)
  • Hospital General de Medellín – Medellín (#33)
  • Clínica El Rosario – Medellín (#41)
  • Clínica Cardio Vid – Medellín (#42)
  • Clínica Medellín – Medellín (#43)
  • Clínica Las Vegas – Medellín (#53)

Good healthcare is a very important category for retirees. And Medellín wins this category due to having nine of the best hospitals in Latin America and the best rated healthcare system in Latin America according to WHO. Also the cost of health insurance reportedly is higher in Panama City than in Medellín.

4. Traffic – Medellín vs Panama City

The two cities arguably tie here. In a survey by Waze in 2016, Panama City was ranked #175 and Medellín was ranked #176 in the world in terms of drivers’ satisfaction out of 186 metros surveyed.  And Panama City was ranked lower than Medellín by Waze in terms of just traffic.

Traffic can get bad in Medellín during rush hours. It can sometimes take an hour or more during rush hour to get certain places in Medellín. The worst traffic in Medellín in my experience tends to be in El Poblado, El Centro and Envigado.

But there is worst traffic in Latin America than in found in Medellín or Panama City. In my experience, the traffic is much worse in the bigger cities of Bogotá, São Paulo and Mexico City.

Furthermore, in my experience both Medellín and Panama City can have bad traffic but during rush hours it sometimes can be worse in Panama City.

Panama City's Metro, photo by Mario Roberto Durán Ortiz

Panama City’s Metro, photo by Mario Roberto Durán Ortiz

5. Public Transportation – Medellín vs Panama City

Medellín wins here. Medellín has a modern metro system, which is the only rail-based metro system in Colombia. And it has been in place for over 20 years.

The Medellín Metro is a comprehensive and inexpensive system. Furthermore, it integrates two rail lines, four Metrocable cable-car lines, two Metroplús elongated bus lines, a Tranvía tramcar line and even feeder Metro buses.

Panama City has a much smaller metro system. Panama City’s metro only has one line with only 14 stations and it doesn’t cover much of the city.  In comparison, Medellín’s metro is much larger with nine lines including integrated cable car, tram and articulated bus lines.  Furthermore, Medellín’s metro system has over 60 stations throughout the city.

Both Medellín and Panama City have extensive and inexpensive bus routes plus inexpensive taxis. The taxis in Medellín are metered and you just need to pay the fare on the meter.

Unfortunately, Panama City has unmetered taxis. There are official fares that taxi drivers are supposed to charge in Panama City. But these official fares aren’t always followed and can be inflated for unknowing tourists.  I am aware of some expats in Panama City that were asked to pay $15 for a fare when the official fare was only $5.

In addition, the streets in Panama City can be difficult to navigate with confusing road signs and missing road signs in many locations. Most people in my experience in Panama City only know the major streets. So, it is important to know landmarks to give to taxi drivers when going to non-major streets or locations.

In comparison, Medellín is easier to navigate with most streets using a simple numbered grid system with Carreras running north/south and Calles running east/west. And there are street signs everywhere.

The Medellín Metro system was named one of the top transport systems in the world by the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy (ITDP) in 2012. Due to Medellín’s much more comprehensive metro system that is considered world-class, Medellín wins this public transportation category.

Medellín's Metro

Medellín’s Metro

6. Safety – Medellín vs Panama City

Panama City wins here. Panama City generally has lower crime rates than are found in the city of Medellín.

According to statistics from the Panamanian National Police, the overall homicide rate in Panama fell from 434 (2015) to 368 (2016). This continues a downward trend. Reports of armed robberies fell from 6,087 (2015) to 5,777 (2016). Petty theft also decreased, with 18,877 cases (2015) dropping to 15,796 cases (2016).

In 2016 in Medellín, there were a total of 534 homicides reported, which was up 7.9% compared to 2015. But over the past few years Medellín has experienced a homicide rate that is lower than is found in St. Louis, Baltimore, Detroit or New Orleans in the U.S.  But Medellín experienced more homicides in 2016 than the entire country of Panama.

Furthermore, Medellín dropped off of the list of the 50 most dangerous cities in the world a few years ago based on homicide rates.

In a survey of 12,548 Colombians, Medellín ranked higher than all other cities in Colombia in terms of citizens feeling safe in their barrio (neighborhood) – slide 41.

7. Pollution – Medellín vs Panama City

Panama City wins hereMedellín has pollution problems. According to the World Health Organization’s (WHO’s) 2018 Ambient Air Quality Database, Medellín is ranked #9 out of the most polluted cities and towns in Latin America based on PM2.5 pollutants.

Medellín’s biggest issue is that it’s located in a canyon. Mountains surround the city of Medellín. So, pollution tends to stay in the Medellín metropolitan area. This is similar to the problem in Denver in the U.S. But fairly regular rain in the city can help clean the atmosphere.

However, according to WHO, in Latin America several cities and towns have worse pollution than in Medellín. Lima, Peru; Monterrey, Mexico; five towns in Chile; and Guatemala all have worse air pollutant problems.

Panama City in general has less pollution than Medellín. Panama City has some heavy industries but sea breezes and fairly regular rain help to keep the air generally clean.

In general, Medellín has more pollution than is found in Panama City. So, Panama City wins this category. However, Medellín is the cleanest city out of over 30 cities I have been to in Latin America and you won’t see much litter.

Entrance to Tocumen International Airport in Panama, photo by AnelGTR

Entrance to Tocumen International Airport in Panama, photo by AnelGTR

8. Travel Access to North America, Europe and Latin America – Medellín vs Panama City

Panama City wins herePanama City’s Tocumen International Airport has non-stop flights to over 70 international locations in North America, Europe and Latin America.

From Panama City, you can fly non-stop to Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Denver, Fort Lauderdale, Houston, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Miami, Montreal, Newark, New Orleans, New York-JFK, Orlando, San Francisco, Santa Clara, Tampa, Toronto and Washington D.C. in North America.

From Panama City, you can also fly non-stop to, Amsterdam, Frankfurt, Madrid and Paris in Europe. In addition, from Panama City you can fly non-stop to over 45 different cities in other countries in Latin America.

Inside the terminal at José María Córdova airport in Medellín

Inside the terminal at José María Córdova airport in Medellín

Medellín’s José María Córdova international airport (MDE) is the second largest airport in Colombia. This airport has non-stop flights to nine international locations in the U.S., Europe and Latin America. And on November 9, 2018, a 10th international destination will be added for Medellín when Spirit starts flights twice a week to/from Orlando.

From the MDE airport there are non-stop flights available to Fort Lauderdale, Miami and New York (JFK) in the U.S. In addition, from MDE you can fly non-stop to Madrid in Europe. Also, you can fly non-stop to Lima, Maracaibo, Mexico City, Panama City, San Salvador and Valencia.

In addition, there are more domestic Colombia flights available from Medellín as the city has two airports: the international José María Córdova airport and the domestic Olaya Herrera airport (EOH). From Medellín’s two airports you can fly non-stop to over 30 cities in Colombia.

The bottom line is that you can fly non-stop to many more international locations from Panama City’s Tocumen airport. So, Panama City wins this category.

9. Things to Do – Medellín vs Panama City

The two places arguably tie here. Both Medellín and Panama City have many things to do.

TripAdvisor has 181 things to do listed in Panama City. And it has 188 things to do listed in Medellín. While this is unscientific it demonstrates there is a similar number of things to do in both cities. And both cities have hundreds of more things to do within a couple hours drive.

Colombia is a much larger country than Panama. So, there is obviously a much bigger variety of things to do throughout Colombia. Furthermore, Colombia is the second most bio-diverse country in the world after Brazil.

Panama has beaches on two coasts but so does Colombia. And the beaches in Colombia in Cartagena are only about an hour flight from Medellín.

Since Medellín and its nearby pueblos and Panama City and nearby both have hundreds of things to do they arguably tie in this category.

10. Restaurants and Nightlife – Medellín vs Panama City

Medellín arguably wins here. Medellín is a much larger city with a metro population of about 4 million. While Panama City’s metro population is only about 2.6 million. In fact, Medellín’s population is about the same as the population of the entire country of Panama, which is about 4 million.

If you look on TripAdvisor, it lists only 946 restaurants in Panama City but over 1,160 restaurants in Medellín. So, you will have a bigger choice of restaurants in the larger city of Medellín. But both cities have many good restaurants. In addition, Medellín has many more restaurants than any of the smaller cities or towns in Panama.

Medellín also has many more nightlife options. You can find bars, nightclubs, music and pubs of many styles in Medellín found in areas like Parque Lleras, La 70 and La 33. In comparison, in the smaller city of Panama City, there are fewer nightlife options available in my experience. And the smaller cities in towns in Panama have even fewer nightlife options.

11. Currency and Banking – Medellín vs Panama City

Panama City wins here. Panama uses the U.S. dollar. So, there isn’t a fluctuating exchange rate like you will find in Colombia, which uses the Colombian peso. So, you won’t ever need to change money in Panama.

In 1904, Panama dollarized its economy. Panama use currency notes from the U.S. It also uses U.S. coins in addition to local coins.

Panama uses balboa and centésimo coins in denominations of 1 and 5 centésimos and 1/10, ¼ and ½, 1 and 2 balboa coins that circulate in Panama alongside coins from the U.S. 1 balboa = 1 USD and 1 centésimo = 1 US cent.

However, the fluctuating exchange rate in Colombia has been beneficial to expats over the past couple years making cost of living lower in Colombia in terms of U.S. dollars.

For example, four years ago, the exchange rate in Colombia was about 1,940 pesos to the USD. And the exchange rate is now 2,906 pesos to the USD. This makes real estate and other products in Colombia priced in pesos cheaper in terms of U.S. dollars than four years ago.

But this fluctuation can work with you or against you if you have a currency like the USD. For example, two years ago, the exchange rate was higher than it is now at about 3,211 pesos to the USD.

Furthermore, it is easier for foreigners to open bank accounts in Panama City. A foreigner can usually open a bank account in Panama City with a passport plus normally a second ID. While in Colombia, banks normally require a cedula to open an account. A cedula is a Colombian photo ID you received after you have a visa.

12. Taxes – Medellín vs Panama City

Panama City wins here. Panama can be considered a tax haven for foreigners with incomes in another country as tax residents in Panama are only taxed on local income. While in Colombia tax residents are taxed on worldwide income.

In addition, DIAN (the IRS of Colombia) previously ruled that foreign pensions are taxed in Colombia but this reportedly changed in 2018 and foreign pensions are now exempt up to a limit.

If you need to file income taxes in Colombia you may not have to pay taxes depending in your individual situation. For example, I have lived in Colombia for over seven years and only had to pay income taxes in Colombia in two of those years.

Colombia has many income deductions including deductions for expenses related to receiving your income, mortgage interest, health insurance, retirement savings and economic support of dependents. In addition, you can exclude 25 percent of your salary (up to a limit) from taxes.  Also, some income taxes paid in another country are subtracted from income taxes due in Colombia.

Furthermore, we highly recommend talked to a tax professional to understand the tax implications before moving to another county.

Property taxes in Panama are typically range from 1.75 to 2.1 percent. And property taxes in Colombia typically range from 0.3 to 3.3 percent.

The IVA tax (VAT tax) is higher in Colombia at 19 percent for many items. In comparison, the VAT tax for most items in Panama is currently 7 percent.

However, with the much lower cost of living in Medellín it is possible that even if you have to pay income taxes in Colombia, your total cost of living including taxes can be lower in Medellín than in Panama City.

Aedes aegypti mosquito, photo by CDC

Aedes aegypti mosquito, photo by CDC

13. Mosquitos and Other Bugs – Medellín vs Panama City

Medellín wins here. Mosquitos and other types of bugs can be a major problem in Panama City. Medellín is at a much high elevation. So, it doesn’t have as many mosquitos and other bugs as are found in Panama City.

Reportedly the Aedes aegypi mosquitos that spread the Zika virus infection are more prevalent in Panama City. The CDC has issued a Zika warning about Panama. Most notably, the Aedes aegypi mosquitos also spread the Chikungunya virus and dengue fever. So, make sure to take precautions in Panama City and use insect repellents.

Aedes aegypi mosquitos are less prevalent in Medellín.  In addition, most of the cases of Zika reported in Colombia have been at lower elevations.

For over seven years, I have lived in higher floors in high-rise apartments in Medellín. And I can sleep with the windows open with no bugs and I have never even seen a mosquito. Reportedly mosquitoes typically don’t fly very high.

Last year I met an expat in Medellín that told me he had traveled to Panama and got sick with dengue fever. This demonstrates that it’s important to take precautions in Panama. And the grocery stores and drug stores in Panama all sell insect repellents.

14. Job Opportunities – Medellín vs Panama City

Medellin wins here. Medellín is a much larger city with nearly double the metro population of Panama City. So, clearly there are many more job opportunities in Medellín. And the smaller cities and towns in Panama will have even fewer job opportunities.

Medellín has several very large employers and several multinational companies have offices in Medellín that are headquartered in the U.S.

But there aren’t that many work opportunities in either city for foreigners. This is particularly the case if you don’t speak Spanish fluently. Fluency in Spanish is typically required for the best jobs in both Colombia and Panama.

In both Medellín and Panama City you can find English teaching job opportunities if you are a native English speaker. However, the pay for English teaching isn’t the greatest in either city. And competition is reportedly fierce for English teaching jobs in both places.

15. Expat Community – Medellín vs Panama City

Panama City arguably wins here. Panama City reportedly has a larger expat English speaking community than Medellín has.

Panama has over 14,000 expats from the U.S. and nearly 4,000 from Canada and the UK living in Panama according to International Organization of Migration. Likely up to half of those expats live in Panama City, the largest city in Panama.

The entire country of Colombia has nearly 19,000 expats from the U.S. and over 2,200 expats from Canada and the UK living in Colombia according to International Organization of Migration. But a majority of those expats living in Colombia likely live in Bogotá, which is the largest city and business center in Colombia.

The expat community in Medellín is likely much smaller and unfortunately there aren’t statistics for Medellín. However, I would estimate there may be less than 4,000 expats from North America and Europe living in Medellín. In addition, the expats in Medellín are less noticeable in the much larger city of Medellín.

However, both places have active expat populations that are fairly well organized. Medellín has several large expat groups on Facebook that are very active including:

Panama also has a sizeable Expats in Panama Facebook group with over 6,500 members that is active.

In addition, in both Panama City and Medellín there are many regularly organized meetups for expats each month.

The new Language School building at Universidad EAFIT in Medellín

The new Language School building at Universidad EAFIT in Medellín

16. Education Options – Medellín vs Panama City

The cities arguably tie here. Medellín is a much larger city so it has nearly 40 universities. Panama City has about half as many universities due to being nearly half the size in terms of population.

However, with a bigger expat population in Panama City, it apparently has more Spanish language programs available than are found in Medellín.  However, Medellín has Universidad EAFIT, which reportedly has the largest Spanish language program in Colombia for foreigners.

In addition, both Medellín and Panama City each has over 10 bilingual schools available for children.

Both places have many education options. But Medellín has more universities and Panama City has more Spanish language programs and the cities both have many bilingual schools. So, the two cities arguably tie in this education category.

17. Internet Availability and Infrastructure Reliability – Medellín vs Panama City

Medellín arguably wins here.  In Panama City and the rest of Panama intermittent power outages, Internet outages and water outages are to be expected. In addition, the power outages are more common in Panama City during the rainy season.

As a result, some of the high-end apartment buildings in Panama City even have generators and backup water tanks. But the generators may just power the elevators and building lights and not the apartments.

I only experienced three power outages in over seven years living in Medellín. And one of these outages I was informed about by the provider EPM beforehand, which was due to maintenance. In addition, I only experienced three Internet outages with Claro in Medellín and these were each resolved within an hour after calling the company.

Internet services in Panama City in most parts of the city should be considered average at best. High speed Internet isn’t available everywhere and tends to be more expensive in Panama City.

For example, a friend in Panama City pays more for 10 Mbps Internet than I pay for triple-play service in Medellín that includes HD TV service for two TVs, 10 Mbps Internet and landline phone service with unlimited calls in Colombia.

In Medellín, it is possible to get up to 300 Mbps Internet speed from Claro. In addition, up to 150 Mbps speed is available from Tigo-UNE and up to 40 Mbps from Movistar.

Most buildings in Medellín will have service from at least one of these three providers. And all three providers in Medellín provide triple-play Internet/TV/phone services. Also, we have a guide to Internet and cable TV providers in Medellín.

In Panama City, high Internet speeds tend to be more difficult to find. Furthermore, the highest speed Internet in both cities will normally be available only in the newest apartment buildings. In older buildings, you may be limited to lower speeds.

In general, the infrastructure is more reliable in Medellín and services are less expensive. So, Medellín arguably beats Panama in this category.

18. Economic Freedom, Ease of Starting a Business and Corruption – Medellín vs Panama City

Medellín edges out Panama City here. Since both cities are in different countries it is good to compare the countries in terms economic freedom and ease of starting a business and corruption when considering them as places to live.

The Heritage Foundation ranks countries in terms of economic freedom. It ranks Colombia as a “moderately free country”. It ranks Colombia #37 out of the 180 countries it ranks in terms of economic freedom in the world.

Heritage Foundation also ranks Panama with a “moderately free” economy.  It currently ranks Panama #54 out of 180 countries in terms of economic freedom. So, Panama’s economy is considered to be less free than Colombia’s economy.

In particular, Panama has a weak capacity to resolve contractual and property disputes, which is illustrated by a low rating for judicial independence (119th out of 140 countries) in the World Economic Forum’s 2015–2016 Global Competitiveness Report.

Furthermore, it is reportedly more difficult to do business in Panama than in Colombia. The World Bank ranks Panama #79 out of 190 countries in the world in terms of ease of doing business. In comparison, Colombia is ranked #59 in terms of ease of doing business. So, if you are looking to start a business this will be somewhat easier to do in Colombia.

Corruption is found in both countries but corruption may be a bit more prevalent in Colombia. Colombia is ranked #90 out of 176 countries in terms of corruption perception by Transparency International. And Panama is ranked #87.

Since Colombia is ranked with a freer economy and is ranked as an easier place to do business, Medellín edges out Panama City in this category.

Santafé mall in Medellín

Santafé mall in Medellín

19. Shopping – Medellín vs Panama City

Medellín wins here.  Medellín has more Western style malls and more shopping options than the smaller city of Panama City. The largest malls in Medellín metro area include El Tesoro, Los Molinos, Mayorca, Oviedo, Premium Plaza, Puerta del Norte, Santafé, Unicentro and Viva Envigado.

Santafé mall is one of the largest malls in Medellín with over 400 shops. And in October 2018, Viva Envigado, the largest mall in Colombia opened in Envigado, directly south of Medellín. The Medellín metro area has many malls and we have looked at the 13 best malls in Medellín.

Some expats that used to live in Panama told me they were impressed when they saw the huge variety of items found in Santafé mall and the other large malls in Medellín.

Albrook Mall in Panama City, photo by Randreu

Albrook Mall in Panama City, photo by Randreu

The largest mall in Panama City, Albrook Mall, reportedly has about 350 shops. You can’t find as many of the large scales malls like are found in Medellín in the smaller city of Panama City.

The bottom line is that Medellín has many more malls which tend to be larger than in Panama City. And as a much larger city, Medellín has more shopping options than are found in Panama City. So, Medellín wins this category.

20. English Proficiency Levels – Medellín vs Panama City

The two cities tie in this category.  In both cities, you will frequently find some English speakers in hotels and nicer restaurants. And even a few of the taxi drivers and shopkeepers in both Medellín and Panama City speak some English. Also, executives at larger companies in both cities typically are bilingual.

But in everyday life in both Medellín and Panama City you will be challenged to find English speakers.

Education First ranks Panama in its English Proficiency Index with a score of 49.98. And Colombia is not far behind with a score of 48.90 (a higher number signifies that more people speak English).

I have seen some publications claim that many people speak English in Panama City. This is simply not true in my experience. The bottom line is that some Spanish is needed in either Panama City or Medellín. Or you will need to depend on someone bilingual.

21. Ease of Getting a Visa – Medellín vs Panama City

The two places arguably tie in this category. Colombia and Panama both have a number of visa options and the visa processes for both countries are fairly straightforward.

Both Colombia and Panama have retirement (pension) visas with relatively low-income requirements. In addition, both countries also have investor visas with lower investment thresholds than many other countries.

As an example, Panama’s retirement visa requires a minimum retirement/pension income of $1,000 per month.

In comparison, Colombia’s new retirement visa (a migrant visa of category 11) requires a minimum retirement income of three times the minimum wage in Colombia.

The minimum salary in Colombia is 781,242 pesos per month in 2018. So, you would need an income of only 2,343,726 pesos per month ($808 USD at the exchange rate of 2,900 pesos to USD) to qualify for this retirement visa. The Colombia retirement visa fee is $282 USD including the processing charge.

Panama also has its Friendly Nations Visa with 50 countries including the U.S., Canada and the UK. This visa can be obtained by starting a new business or purchasing an existing business (with relatively low investment requirements) or being hired to work for a Panama company.

The visas in Panama visas typically require more paperwork like a criminal background check than the visas in Colombia. In addition, visas in Panama reportedly can take much longer to get.

And several expats I have talked to in Panama recommend using a lawyer in Panama for visas. However, many of Panama’s visas are good for an indefinite time period.

Colombia streamlined its visa process a couple years ago and you can apply online and approvals are now relatively fast, typically in a week or less.

After having most Colombian migrant (M) visas for five years (or two years for the new migrant marriage visa) you can apply for a Colombian resident visa that is good for five years.

The Medellin Guru City and Place Comparisons

We have compared on this website living in Medellin with living in several foreign locations:

Also, we have compared living in different cities in Colombia:

Night view of Panama City, Panama

Night view of Panama City, Panama

View of Medellín at night from El Tesoro mall, photo by Jenny Bojinova

View of Medellín at night from El Tesoro mall, photo by Jenny Bojinova

The Bottom Line: Medellín vs Panama City

In our Medellín vs Panama City comparison:

  • Medellín wins in 10 of our 21 categories.
  • Panama City wins in six of our 21 categories.
  • The two places tie in five categories.

So, in this unscientific and somewhat subjective Medellín vs Panama City comparison of 21 categories, Medellín wins if you equally weigh the categories.

If having a lower cost of living, better climate, better healthcare and having good public transportation are your most important categories, then Medellín would win for you.

And if being more of a tax haven, having a bigger expat community and having better flight access to North America and Europe are your most important categories, then Panama City would win for you.

I have met several expats living in Medellín over the past several years that moved to Medellín from Panama. The most common reasons I heard from these expats about why they moved to Medellín were: a better climate, lower cost of living, better healthcare and the excellent Medellín metro system. But I haven’t heard of the reverse – expats moving from Medellín to Panama.

Both of these places in our Medellín vs Panama City comparison have their pluses and minuses. I prefer living in Medellín due to it having an eternal spring climate, low cost of living, good healthcare and good public transportation.

The bottom line in our Medellín vs Panama City comparison is that the best place to live is the best place to live for you. Everyone has different priorities. The only way to know which place is the best for you is to spend time there.

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Editors note: updated on September 9, 2018 to add new Medellín flights from Spirit to/from Orlando that start on November 9, 2018 with flights twice a week.

Editors note: updated on October 8, 2018 to add the new Viva Envigado mall, which is the largest mall in Colombia.

Editors note: updated on November 1, 2018, with updates to Claro’s fastest Internet speed.

Editors note: updated on November 5, 2018 to add information that foreign pensions are now tax exempt in Colombia.

Editors note: updated on December 22, 2018 with new 2018 Colombian hospital rankings.

Editors note: updated on March 13, 2019 with data from the WHO’s 2018 Ambient Air Quality Database. 

Editors note: updated on October 29, 2019 with new 2019 hospital rankings in Latin America.

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