1. Panama: One of the Lowest Costs of Living for Foreigners in the World
You can live comfortably on $2000.00 a month in most places in Panama. Or if you're good at penny pinching, $1500.00 will also be fine. Panama City is the most expensive place to live. The city of David near the Costa Rican border is an increasingly popular place to live for those on tight budget. Everything is cheaper including homes and rentals.
2. The US Dollar as Currency
Panama has the US dollar as its currency- a great convenience. No need to calculate how much that meal just cost. The dollar as currency also contributes to Panama's low inflation rate and its status as the most stable economy in Latin America.
3. The Best Retiree Benefit Program in the World
The Panamanian government encourages retirees to retire in Panama with one of the world's most generous retiree program. with many benefits and discounts.
Some of the benefits for retirees:
- 50% off entertainment including movies, concerts, theater etc. (a regular movie ticket costs $4 - the retiree price is $2.)
- 25% off restaurants
- 50% off hotel accommodations from Monday-Thursday
- 30% off bus, boat and train fares
- 25% off domestic and international airline tickets
- 10% off prescription medicines (much cheaper than US prices to begin with)
- 15% off dental and eye exams
- 50% off closing costs for home loans
The only requirements for a retiree visa are a proven monthly income of $1000 (plus $250 for each dependent), a health certificate and a police report from your country of origin. You can get a health certificate from any Panamanian doctor no questions asked. This retirement program is set up so that anyone who joins is guaranteed their status for as long as they reside in Panama.
4. Panama is Safe: Lowest Crime Rate Against Tourists in the Region & Hurricane and Earthquake Free
Panama is the safest country in the region for tourists and foreigners. You won't constantly be on your guard for pick-pockets or purse snatchers like in other countries in the region.
Like every big city, there are some neighborhoods to avoid, but in general, you can go about Panama City and Panama worry free. Foreign residents will tell you how safe they feel compared to other countries in the region. In addition, you won't experience the hurricanes and earthquakes other countries in the region suffer from.
Another major indication that coming to live here is a good idea—over 100 top US and international companies have moved their regional headquarters here because of the excellent infrastructure and safety. Even diamond traders are here—the Panama Diamon Exchange, Latin America"s only diamond bourse, recently set up in Panama.
5. With So Much to Do You"ll Never Be Bored
Although Panama is a small country about the size of South Carolina, it has a great variety of world-class attractions: exotic tropical rainforests, beautiful mountain refuges, two coasts with both Caribbean and Pacific type beaches, more than a 1000 islands, seven living indigenous cultures, a fun Miami-style sophisticated capital city, a vibrant nightlife, full service resorts, exotic off-the-beaten-path getaways, scads of Spanish colonial historical sites, world class golfing, diving, sport fishing, and surfing, not to mention that 8th wonder of the world and engineering marvel, the Panama Canal. It is hard to think of any other destination in the world that has such a variety of attractions so close by and easy to get to. And your relatives will love to come visit you.
6. An American-Style Infrastructure, a By-product of a Special Historical Relationship
In Panama, you'll never feel too far from home. When you stay for extended periods in another country, you want to feel away from it all, but not totally. You'll find familiar services and most of the comforts of home. Why? 30,000 Americans lived in the Panama Canal Zone next to Panama City. For 80 years. As a result, Panamanians understand the American personality and how to get along. Another result of Canal Zone is an American-style infrastructure starting with being one of the only country in Latin America where it's safe to drink the tap water. Today 50,000 Americans live in Panama.
Panama also has a long history as an international crossroads beginning from Spanish colonial times. The culture is Latin-Caribbean, with US influences.
7. A Foreign Investor and Retiree-Friendly Government
Panama is all about business. According the the 2014-2015 World Competitivity Forum, Panama ranks # 2 as the best place to do business in Latin America. Most Panamanian businessmen are US-educated and understand and know how to work with foreigners.
8. Panama: One of the Best Economies in Latin America
Panama's economy has been growing at an impressive rate- between 6-10% in recent years. It's Law 41—modeled on Singapore's law, gives tax breaks, hiring privileges and other incentives international corporations. It has caused many major companies put their regional headquarters in Panama. Add to that the expansion of the Canal, which will double its capacity, a Panama City subway system and a secure financial sector - this is an economy will continue to do well. .
9. Panama is Close
Located in Central America, Panama is easy to get to. It's just 3-5 hours by plane from the States. There are non-stop flights from: Miami, Atlanta, Houston, Dallas, Newark, Los Angeles, New York, Washington D.C., San Francisco, Orlando, Chicago, Boston, Denver, New Orleans and Fort Lauderdale. Flights from Canada, Toronto and Montreal are served by Delta, United and Copa. From Europe, KLM, Air France and Iberia have direct weekly flights.
10. The Panamanian People are "Globalized", Peaceful, Friendly and Fun-Loving
Panama is a great place to live is because of the Panamanian people -one of the friendliest peoples in the world. Due to Panama's position as a world business and transportation crossroads there's a long history of living and working with foreigners. Panamanians actually enjoy foreigners. There's a saying that Panama was "born globalized". Historically a crossroads, Panama is home to immigrants the world over. Different nationalities and peoples get along. Most common are "mestizos" or persons who are a combination of Spanish and native Indian and blacks. There's also sizable European, American, Chinese, Jewish, Hindu and Arabic communities.
Panamanians are a fun-loving people—parties are a national pastime, evident in their Carnival celebrations and lively nightlife scene. They also have a predilection for beauty and elegance, visible in the delicacy of their Indigenous handicrafts, their beautifully groomed women and Panama City's many attractive neighborhoods.
11. Dependable Travel in Panama-Roads, Highways and Public Transportation
Travel within Panama is dependable and inexpensive. Taxis in Panama City are cheap and reliable. You can go just about anywhere in Panama City for less than $7. Uber is big here.
If this is your first trip we don't recommend driving in Panama City because of the lack of signage and all the traffic jams.
Outside Panama City, the highway system and the feeder roads off the main highways are excellent. If you are renting a car you can easily take the Interamerican highway that goes from the border of Costa Rica to Panama City- a four-lane highway all the way.
If you aren't driving, for $16 or less you can travel from Panama City to any city on a bus from the Albrook Bus Terminal.
12. Inexpensive First Class Health Services and Medical care
One of the reasons many Americans of retirement age are deciding to live in Panama is because both health insurance and health care are inexpensive and high quality. More than any place in Latin America, you can readily find English speaking trained doctors and dentists. Several hospitals are equipped with the latest in diagnostic testing and services. Prescriptions and over-the-counter medication are cheap. Full coverage health insurance policies are very reasonably priced for any age, as low as $250 for a couple.
Another big health plus is that you can drink the tap water, a rarity in Latin America. Sanitation is good as well, the "Montezumas revenge" illnesses that tourists are prone to in other countries of Latin America are almost unheard of in Panama.
Panama has the best shopping in Latin America. Starting with the supermarkets- Riba Smith, El Rey and Super 99 stock just about everything you would find in an American supermarket but at lower prices. There are five Price Costcos in Panama City and one in David in Chiriqui (they're called Pricesmart here).
Panama City has four major shopping malls: Multiplaza in Punta Pacifica, Albrook Mall, Multicentro on Balboa Ave and Metro Mall near the international airport. For setting up your home, you'll find large electronic, appliance, computer and furniture stores with familiar brands. Prices that are similar or better than in the USA
14. High Speed Internet and Services
High-speed internet access is better than in the US. Phone service and other basic services are also cheaper than the USA (a cell phone data plan is only about $30 .
15. Lots of Good Restaurants
Foreign residents really enjoy the restaurant scene. As an international crossroads, Panama City has many fine, reasonably priced restaurants with a wide variety of cuisines. It's fun just trying to decide where you're going to dine. If you're homesick, American restaurants and fast food joints are everywhere including TGIF, Bennigans, Wendys, Pizza Hut, KFC, Subway, McDonalds, Burger King, Taco Bell, Domino's, Dunkin Donuts, and a couple of Hooters.
16. Banking Conveniences and a Strong Financial Services Sector
ATM machines providing access to your USA bank account are located throughout Panama City and in locations outside Panama City. Panama has a sophisticated banking sector with over a hundred banks. We recommend Scotia Bank of Canada, which caters to foreigners. If you are looking for offshore activities there are specialists who can provide personal or corporate services with strong financial privacy laws and no taxes on offshore profits.
17. Excellent Schools
Families with children will find a number of excellent private schools to choose from. Most foreign capitals have just one American accredited school, but Panama has three: The International School of Panama, Balboa Academy and the Metropolitan,.
For more detailed info on schools, see our Living in Panama section.
18. Variety of Residential Venues to Choose From
The most popular places for foreigners to live are: Panama City, the beach areas near Coronado, Los Altos de Maria in the mountains near Panama City, Chiriqui province, especially Boquete, and the sea side town of Pedasi. For Bocas del Toro, we only recommend the villas of Red Frog Resort because of the spectacular beauty and complete safety.
In the beach areas, choose from beachfront lots, homes and condos. Panama's mountain areas like Boquete, Volcan, Sora and El Valle offer perfect all-year-round spring weather. Bargain basement deals are a thing of the past, but prices are still pretty good and you're investing in a country with one of the best futures anywhere.
19. Architectural Variety
Unlike any other country in Latin America, Panama has refreshing variety of architecture styles. In the rest of Latin America Spanish colonial styles dominate, while in Panama there's a refreshing variety of modern, Spanish colonial, American, French and English styles.
20. Foreigners who purchase property in Panama enjoy all the same rights as Panamanians
Unlike other countries, in Panama foreigners who buy property enjoy all the same rights and protections as Panamanians.
Is Living in Panama for Everyone? :
Living in Panama is not for everyone. If you are coming here because your company has set up here- you're lucky- for international families, there's simply no better place to live in Latin America and the Caribbean.
If you are coming here to retire or start a business, consider whether you have the temperament to enjoy a foreign culture that is not yet " first-world". Panama is still a third world country in some ways i.e. at times things don't go so smoothly. You need to be able to enjoy cultural differences and be able to put up with a fair amount of third world bureaucratic hassles and glitches.
Also, if you are on a very low budget- say less than $1500.00 a month- Panama may not be the place for you. It costs much less to live here in style than in the States, but you still need an income of at least $1500.00 a month to live comfortably, including rent in a good area and utilities, maid service, groceries and services like cable etc.
Finally, if you are not willing to learn at least some basic Spanish, think twice about living here. Yes- the most educated classes speak English- but the majority of people speak only a little English. How will you communicate with your maid, plumber, car dealer etc. if you don't learn some Spanish?
Take Advantage of the Many Ex-Pat Organizations
Panama City has both young and Baby Boomer Expat groups, and groups are in beach area near Panama City, Boquete and Pedasi. These meetings are the best place to get tips on buying real estate, reliable lawyers, realtors and services etc.
Beware: When Buying Property Do Your Homework about the Developer, Your Realtor and Your Lawyer
When buying property, condos or homes, it's important that you ask around about the reputation of the builder-some who don't have a good track record and people are unhappy with the final product. Also, only hire a lawyer from a recognized firm or one with impeccable recommendations from people you know well personally. Stories of people have been cheated by a "wonderful Panamanian that is opening doors for me and showing me everything" are not uncommon. We also recommend you rent a house or apartment in the place you want to live first to test out whether Panama is right for you.
THE PRESS: WHAT THEY'RE ARE SAYING ABOUT RETIREMENT IN PANAMA
Is It Really Cheaper To Retire Abroad?
In Panama, you could go to a Johns Hopkins-affiliated hospital for a small fraction of what that costs in the U.S., You could buy a 2,000-square-foot home living among Panamanians in a beautiful, rural setting for $135,000. If that would be going “too native” for you, a similar house in the popular, well-developed expat community of Boquete, Panama might cost the same as one in Tucson, Ariz. But the Tucson house is 400 miles from the ocean and is in a place where the high temperature can exceed 95° for four months at a time. Boquete has an average high of 75° year-round (no heating or air conditioning needed) and is one hour from the Pacific Ocean, three hours from the Caribbean.
Forbes May, 2015
Panama the Smart Choice
Panama is the smart choice for retirees who want it all—in a country that really wants them. Not only does it feature attractive retirement destinations-sleek capital city, hot beach towns. cool mountain villages- but it offers an unbeatable package of retiree benefits and discounts (and a currency tied to the US dollar ) Little winder there has been a steady stream of expats in the past few years"
AARP: Best Places to Retire Abroad 2014
Panama City no longer qualifies as cheap, but other parts of the country certainly do. Panama continues to offer the world's gold standard program of special benefits for retirees. The currency is the U.S. dollar, so there is no exchange rate risk if your retirement savings and income is in dollars. The climate in Panama City and on the coasts is tropical, hot, and humid. However, the climate in the highlands can be temperate and tempting. Panama is the hub of the Americas, meaning it's easily accessible from anywhere in North and South America and Europe."
U.S. News, March 2014
For a more complete list see: The Press: What They're Saying about Panama as a Second Home and Retirement Destination.