For U.S. residents wanting to live and retire abroad, Panama is a spectacular destination in Central America for a plethora of reasons. The first notable convenience of relocating to Panama is its close proximity to the U.S. If you still have family back home, then you can easily hop on a plane and visit whenever you want. What is more, the currency used in Panama is the U.S. dollar and there are a ton of English speakers living in the city in a very vibrant and growing expat community, so communication shouldn’t be such a problem.
Economic and logistical factors aside, Panama is a truly beautiful retirement destination. This Central American country is small, but packs in a lot of fascinating landscapes, cities, beaches and things to do. For such a small country Panama is geographically diverse which adds to its unique charm and allure. The country is blessed with one of the most eclectic ecosystems in the world. More than 40% of the country is covered in rainforest! With 13 national parks and 5 UNESCO World Heritage Sites to discover, many islands (Islas), nature and history lovers will feel like they should have moved here years ago. Panama is also an isthmus, meaning that it connects two larger pieces of land and has ocean on either side. Panama is is in Central America and is bordered by Costa Rica to the west, Colombia to the southeast and is the only country in the world where you can watch the sun rise over the Pacific and set on the Atlantic!
Panama is an affordable destination in South America that offers city and town living with all the amenities you’d need. When you first arrive in Panama City, the nation’s capital, you’ll be surprised to find a stunning skyline. The capital city is a real urban metropolis but with the added bonus of being framed by the Pacific Ocean. Instant and alluring Miami vibes come to mind as you stroll along the water’s edge looking at the cityscape.
After the construction of the Panama Canal in 1914 groups from around the world began to see the appealing qualities of the country. This resulted in the acceleration and improvement of modern infrastructure, which now mirrors that of any world class city. Whether you choose to be in the heart of the city or on the outskirts, Panama provides an unparalleled tropical climate, modern amenities and cost effective living.
Another enticing factor as to why many expats, retirees and digital nomads choose to visit and retire in Panama is its local culture and diversity. Panama is an amalgamation of contrasting cultures. This is mostly to do with Panama’s economic growth and different groups such as the Spanish, French and later Americans coming to settle in the country. This diversity has resulted in a super welcoming atmosphere throughout the country and one where expatriates feel at home.
Panama climate is tropical maritime which varies from region to region. At sea level the climate is generally warm and humid but cooler weather can be experienced in the mountainous areas. Panama does experience the rainy season between May and November. Between December and April, it is considered a dry season. This might sound like a super long rainy season, and come on, does anyone really love the rain? But it’s not as bad as it seems. Usually, the rains come in the form of heavy downpours in the afternoon and evening, not for the entire day. Yearly temperatures vary from 75°F (23°C C) to90°F (32°C).
So, what will your lifestyle be like if you decide to move to Panama? Panama has been for years a top destination for US retirees. The cost effective nature of this country means you will be able to live a more comfortable lifestyle than say in the U.S.
With a reduced cost of living comes the extra perk of being able to afford to do fun activities and spend on eating out, entertainment, adventures and exploring the outdoors. The country is also home to some of the best ecolodges in the world. It’s not just economics that supplement a good lifestyle. Top notch medical care in big cities, stable democratic government, and infrastructure make this an easy place to settle down.
The official language spoken in Panama is Spanish. Additionally, English, French, and Nāhuatl are also spoken among certain ethnic populations. There are also several other indigenous languages which are primarily used in more rural areas of the country. If you want to enjoy Panama’s expat life to its fullest, we recommend learning how to speak spanish.
Safety and Security
You may be surprised to hear but Panama is generally safe and secure country for expats, retirees and digital nomads. The Global Peace Index ranked Panama in number 61 out of 163 other countries in the world. For an upper-middle income country Panama doesn’t experience the same level of crime that other countries in the region do. Despite the infiltration of richer expats this hasn’t created much racial tension either. Panama’s different cultures blend well together in a cohesive manner.
Many expat Americans have been cited as saying that living in Panama feels safer than back home. That being said, there are some areas that are best avoided due to higher crime rates. Parts of Panama City like Calidonia, El Chorillo and San Miguelito are considered unsafe due to sporadic shootings and violent crimes, particularly at night. You should also stay alert for pickpockets at bus stations, tourist areas and on key shopping streets.
Panama is often voted one of the best retirement destinations because of the cost of living. Individuals can live comfortably on around $1000 – $1200 a month in Panama. Apartments can also be rented for around $700 dollars if outside of the popular tourist areas in Panama City.
If you choose to source your groceries at local markets, then you will find your spending dramatically reduced. Local fruit and vegetable produce is super fresh and affordable compared with slightly higher priced supermarket items. Many household items are also 50% cheaper than their U.S. counterparts.
Due to the hot and humid climate one of the bills you must watch out for is air-conditioning. If you are someone who needs the AC on all the time you will find this is a significant part of your monthly budget.
Firstly, you only have to pay Panama income tax if you earn an income in the country. If you are earning a foreign income there is no need to report it to the Panamanian government. You pay taxes only in your home country. Those purchasing property will be pleased to hear that Panama’s property tax rate is one of the lowest in the region.
Good news for retirees, Panama has one of the most attractive visa and residency programs around. The Pensionado Retirement Visa Program has some alluring benefits such as 15% off hospital bills, 25% discount on energy bills, 50% on selected entertainment, and much more. This program allows foreigners to retire in the country under the condition that they have a guaranteed pension. Helpfully there is also no minimum or maximum age on the people who can apply.
There is also Panama’s Friendly Nations Visa which is open to citizens from nations who have a friendly relationship with Panama. This includes the U.S., Canada, and many European countries. To qualify for this unique visa, you can invest $200,000 in real estate, deposit $200,000 in a fixed term account based in Panama or show details of permanent residency requirements for the purpose of work.
Also Read Visas in Panama
Panama’ healthcare system is ranked 96 in the world according to World Health Organization. The country’s healthcare varies greatly between the different regions of the country. Big cities in Panama have some of the best and modern hospitals in Latin America (like Punta Pacifica hospital that is affiliated with Johns Hopkins International), which should give potential retirees great peace of mind.
Hospitals, particularly those in Panama City and David have invested well in all the latest cutting edge technologies. Though major cities have good healthcare infrastructure it should be acknowledged that rural areas lack a lot of options and facilities and standards are considered rather outdated. If being near a hospital is something on top of your list, you will likely want to consider relocating to Panama City or David. Even if you don’t have a private health insurance and are paying out of pocket for your healthcare Panama’s public health system and private healthcare are very affordable.
Cost of medication is about a third of what you would pay back home.
There is a lot of affordable real estate in Panama, making it a popular place to purchase real estate to live and retire. Two-bed condos in Panama City can be found for $160,000 and new houses retail at around $95,000 in nearby David, the capital of Chiriquí Province.
Viewing as many properties as you can across a variety of areas will give you a better indication of the prices and standards of Panamanian properties. Buying a house in Panama takes on average 5-8 weeks, assuming there are no hiccups. This is something to factor in when considering the myriad of things that need to be discussed when moving abroad.
There is no multiple listing service like in the U.S. so you should be in communication with your local real estate agent to agree on prices and budgets. Usually there is a bit of wiggle room on the price, so never make an offer at the listing price.
If you enjoy city life then look no further than the capital. Living in Panama City offers up job opportunities, an array of amenities, international events, golf clubs, high speed internet and a lively atmosphere. If you are looking to retiree but still be in the heart of all the action, then the largest city in Panama is a fantastic destination. From high end shopping and dinning to stunning views of the old Casco Viejo. The city is also home to the largest expat community in the country.
In contrast the Coronado beaches are just an hour outside Panama City and provide that sleepy community atmosphere. There is a plethora of communities, starting at Chame and extending 50 miles towards San Carlos. If you love beach life, coffee culture and want to be close to the big city, this area of Panama is an ideal destination.
El Valle de Antón
El Valle de Antón is selected by many expats because of the cooler temperatures, its amenities and its proximity to Panama City. One of the coolest things about El Valle de Antón is its situated right in a huge extinct volcano and surrounded by forest and mountainous peaks.
For U.S. residents Panama’s proximity to the states is a definite pro of retiring in the country. You can get a direct international flight from New York to Tocumen International Airport in Panama City that takes 5 ½ hours. From LA and San Francisco direct international flights to Tocumen International Airport are 6 ½ hours and from Miami just 3 hours. This is great because you can easily fly back and forth to visit family and friends.
Activities and Recreation
This is one of the things that Panama truly excels at. There are a ton of exhilarating things to see and do throughout the country. Panama is an outdoor lover’s paradise. There are countless beaches, national parks, a rainforest, watersports and mountains to visit. Oh, and let’s not forget the engineering marvel that is the Panama Canal. For adventures further afield why not explore some of Panama’s 1,400 islands? Some of the best exotic islands with amazing beach resorts include the San Blas Islands, Isla Saboga, and Pearl Islands.
One of the best national parks to explore in Panama is Baru Volcano National Park. The park’s main attraction is the Baru Volcano which is the highest point in Panama at 3,474 meters. This national park is in Chiriqui province which is renowned for its geisha coffee, the flavors of which are enhanced by the volcanic soil.
Expats tend to head to the ocean to enjoy scuba dive, deep sea fishing, surfing, whale and dolphin watching tours and relax on the beach in the caribbean sea.
After all that outdoor activity you may want to check out the gastronomic delights Panama has to offer. You may not be super familiar with Panamanian food, but it’s well worth exploring. Traditional Panamanian food is a mix of Spanish, African and Indigenous food flavors. Sancocho is one of the most beloved dishes in Panama. It’s a kind of rustic chicken soup. It traditionally consists of chicken and yam, with garlic, onions, and seasoned with oregano. Explore the other flavors of Panama from local delights to foreign influences.
It is hard to ignore the perks that living in Panama offers to expats and retirees. A lower cost of living compared with the U.S., stunning natural scenery, affordable and accessible healthcare and attractive visa programs are just some of the benefits of making the move to Panama.
Despite its rapid development, prices in Panama remain low. It’s societal diversity and multiculturalism makes this a safe and inclusive place to live and retire.
Here is a list of the Pros and Cons of traveling, living, moving and retiring in Panama
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