Affordable Places to Retire Abroad: Spotlight on Panama

Panama City Retirement

An increasing number of older adults are setting their sights on international locations in which to retire. Not only can overseas destinations infuse your next life chapter with adventure and personal growth, some places actually allow you to live larger on a smaller budget. Depending on where in the world you choose to relocate, you could enjoy substantial savings on housing costs, medical bills, household help, dining out and other daily expenses. With the rising price tag of senior life back home, you may be able to enjoy a lower cost of living plus a better quality of life elsewhere. It’s a smart retirement strategy worth considering.

This post puts the spotlight on Panama, which might not be a place you’ve heard much about or ever dreamed of living in. Think again.

The Republic of Panama is a modern nation at southern tip of Central America. You may know if best from its famous Panama Canal, a feat of engineering that links the Atlantic and Pacific oceans and essentially transformed global shipping routes. The country boasts vibrant cities with world-class amenities and reliable infrastructure, warm and inviting tropical beach communities, welcoming locals and a safe, comfortable, affordable living standard. It has a solid, stable, growing economy and is one of the most accommodating countries to foreign expats. Although it is a Spanish speaking country, its American influence and reliance on tourism mean that many people, both urban and rural, speak English.

We advise spending several months in Panama, renting in different locations before settling in and perhaps investing in a property. A quick one or two week holiday isn’t sufficient to evaluate a place in terms of actually building a life there. Moving abroad is a huge decision, and you’ll want to be sure you will enjoy the lifestyle before committing.

Where to Retire in Panama
Panama has plenty of wonderful options for retirement, depending on what your preferences are.

Some expats choose urban life in the cosmopolitan capital of Panama City, with its gleaming skyscrapers, modern office towers, comfortable condo complexes, first rate hospitals, stylish shopping malls, culture-filled, theaters, stunning views of the bay and all the conveniences and amenities you would find in a city back home – for a fraction of the price.

Other retirees prefer the slower, quieter pace of El Valle, a lush crater valley a few hours drive from the capital. It’s an eco-friendly enclave with a comfortably cool climate surrounded by waterfalls, hot springs, ponds and mountain trails that will captivate any nature-lover. The area is popular with green-conscious tourists and expats as well as locals, so there are plenty of inviting cafes, bakeries and pubs to meet like-minded people.

Another area popular haven for expat retirees is the fertile Chiriqui Highlands, where relaxed towns like Boquete, David or Santa Fe enjoy year-round spring-like weather and amazing fresh produce. All the amenities and simple pleasures you could need are on hand, along with endless natural and recreational opportunities. Here you can be as busy or relaxed as you choose, with golf courses, yoga studios, spas and more at your disposal. You’re only an hour’s drive to coastal beaches and an hour’s flight to the capital if you need a change of pace.

If it’s the beachy island life you’re after, look to the Bocas del Toro, an archipelago of hundreds of islands, the main one being Isla Colon. You’ll be at home with laid-back surfers, boaters and barefoot beach lovers from all over the world, and you can be as reclusive or as social as you like. Most residents don’t have cars, so you’ll often head out to a restaurant or shop by water taxi. You do have to put up with some tropical rains and importing goods from the mainland, but the trade-off is worth it to those who love this Caribbean expat paradise. Another selling point, the lush jungles and crystal clear waters of Bocas isn’t in the hurricane belt.

If that sounds too remote but you still want a beach vibe, check out the Pacific town of Coronado, just an hour’s drive from Panama City and it’s amenities.

Budget Guidelines
There are lots of variables, but as a general guideline a couple could retire very well in Panama City for about $1,800 to $2,800, while a frugal single person could retire in a beach community for $1000 and up.

Residence Permits, Visas and Taxes
Panama offers multiple visa options for foreigners interested in full-time residence, including special visas just for retirees. As long as you have a pension, Social Security or annuity income of US$1,000 per month, you can qualify. With Panama’s pensionado visa, you are entitled to a one-time tax exemption on importing household goods and a tax rebate on every two years of import duties for the importation of a car. In fact, having pensioner status in Panama’s offers some of the most generous retiree discounts anywhere, including:

  • 50 percent off entertainment including movies, theaters and concerts
  • 30 percent off bus, train and boat fares
  • 25 percent off airline tickets
  • 50 percent off midweek hotel stays and 25 percent off weekend hotel stays
  • 25 percent off at sit-down restaurants
  • 15 percent off at fast food restaurants
  • 15 percent off hospital bills if no insurance applies
  • 10 percent off prescription medications and 20 percent off medical consultations
  • 15 percent off dental and eye exams
  • 50 percent off closing costs for home loans

It’s also good to note that Panama exempts all income earned outside the country.

Healthcare in Panama
Healthcare is often of paramount concern for retirees looking to move abroad, and rest assured that you will be well taken care of if you move to Panama. Their hospitals, clinics and facilities are modern and on par with North American or European standards. Most doctors are English speaking and trained in the US, and many drugs can be bought affordably without a prescription.

The country has both public and private healthcare systems. Most expats prefer the better services of the private facilities, especially as the medical costs are usually a fraction of US prices. A health plan costs about $150 per month for a couple in their 60s and pays between 50 to 70 percent of most healthcare expenses.

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