Retire in Panama

When are we going to retire? How are we going to live? Where are we going to live? How are we going to manage on what we have? We had these questions so we started looking at our options, and ended up in Panama!

Retire in PanamaI’m Kris, 61 years old, retired nurse. My husband Joel is 66, retired musician and home repair and remodeling guy. We’ve had a good life with the normal ups and downs. But, we haven’t amassed a retirement portfolio or qualified for pensions, so our retirement years will be supported by social security with some savings as backup. This is not enough to live in the US in a style or location that we find acceptable. What were we going to do?

We looked at options, focused on Panama, asked a lot of questions, made some visits, and decided to make the move. Now that we are in Panama, I get the same questions from many others so I know we are not alone. I thought it might be interesting to write a bit on the main topics that come up again and again.

Why Retire in Panama? It’s close enough to the US that we can go back to visit family. It’s warm. It’s a politically stable democracy. The economy is thriving. It’s welcoming to expats. It has good infrastructure. It’s beautiful. It uses the dollar so there is no exchanging money. There are many lifestyle options from beaches to mountains, and from modern city to quiet countryside.

What does it cost to live here? Of course anyone’s cost of living depends on the choices they make. Panama City is expensive. More rural areas are much less expensive. Local food is inexpensive, but imported food costs as much or more than in the US. Do you want a car? Air conditioning? Shopping opportunities? Entertainment? Upscale restaurants? These things will affect your cost of living. For us, a comfortable life here is about 1/3 of what it cost us in Florida. (Cost of living is by far the most frequent question, so check my blog for specifics on our expenses here)

Retire in Panama, Panama CityIs it safe? Yes. We feel safer here than we did in the US. But, of course, like anywhere, this depends on the choices you make. Certain locations aren’t considered safe. If you live an obviously expensive lifestyle and are lax about security, you may become a target. Maybe people, myself included, were a bit rattled by the obvious security everywhere – security gates, bars on windows and doors, security guards in every parking lot, armed guards at banks and business where money is on site, and police and armed guards all over town. But, Panamanians do not want problems! Because of all the guards and security, there aren’t many problems. You can park your car and go shopping without worry because there is a guard standing in the parking lot. Everyone looks out for their friends and neighbors. Of course there are a few bad people everywhere who will take advantage of an opportunity if they think they can, but generally this is a very peaceful place and you can live your life with minimal worry.

What is the healthcare like? We have found the healthcare to be excellent. A doctor visit will be $25-40 depending on specialty, and the doctor will spend as much time as necessary with you, even if it’s over an hour! Many doctors are trained in the US and speak English. Doctors are not tied up with paperwork and concerns about getting paid, so they can actually practice medicine. They consult with each other. They give patients their personal cell phone numbers. They take the time to listen and talk with patients. A friend recently had hernia surgery and his out of pocket costs were less than he would have had to pay in co-pays in the US. He felt that he got excellent care at the hospital and from his surgeon. We have had equally good experiences with dentists. I had my teeth cleaned (by the dentist himself!) for $30, and a crown for $250 with great care to detail and perfection of fit.

Do you have to learn Spanish? Yes, I think you do, at least some. There are people who speak English but you can’t count on finding someone when you need to, and getting things done is difficult when you can’t communicate. And, without some Spanish you will be missing out on so much of the experience. These people are so warm, friendly, and welcoming that it’s a true pleasure to get to know them. Even if you only know a little Spanish, they really appreciate that you are trying to learn and communicate with them, and will bend over backwards to help you in any way they can.

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  1. Definitely one has to learn proper Spanish. About the US Dollar as legal tender in Panama it makes it only easier to compare prices. Changing major currencies is not a problem with wire transfers or ATM machines.
    Do not trust your savings in US Dollars as it is losing quickly against the Euro and Swiss Franc. Foreign major countries lost faith in the Dollar as a world currency. Les deseo una vida larga, sana y prospera en la república de Panama. De todas maneras, gracias por su información Kris!

  2. Very accurate, Kris! Too many people fall for the hype or are only enticed by the lower cost of living without thinking things through.
    And, learning Spanish es muy importante

  3. Good article Kris!

    As you mentioned, Panama “uses” the US dollar and it’s value is on par with their official currency which is the Balboa. Therefore, I’ve been told that, it will not necessarily be in jeopardy if the dollar should devalue.

    Speaking of safe also, I agree with you. I have traveled all over the country and felt safe everywhere except some of the few and obviously ‘bad’ neighborhoods in the cities. Even those weren’t as bad as some places I can think of in the US!

  4. Is there a contact person to talk to when you go to Panama on an exploratory trip. To guide you around. I’m from Puerto Rico, so the language is not a problem,so i’ll like to live where the locals live. A middle class neigborhood. Or a mixed neigborhood; exparts and locals.

    I heard about Boquete; to be a very nice area to live. I like to know more about Colon and other areas close to Airports. Thanks

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