The Truth About Living, Retiring, And Investing In Panama

“Kathleen, what is the closest or most convenient airport to get to Las Terranas? I plan to make a scouting trip in the next six months and want to make plane reservations as soon as possible.”

–Deborah D., United States

The nearest airport is El Catey. However, this airport doesn’t offer a lot of scheduled flights from the United States, though Jet Blue flies to El Catey from JFK. The next-nearest alternative is the Santo Domingo airport, which is about a two-hour drive from Las Terrenas on a good toll highway. You have many more flight options to and from Santo Domingo.


“Kathleen, it is highly unlikely you will answer this question, but I have been reading a book called ‘The New Escape to Paradise: Our Experience Living & Retiring in Panama’ by Richard Detrich. His comments about Panama conflict, to say the least, on what you’re publications promote. I have been following your publications for years trying to decide to make a move and have just joined in your trial 52 Days program.

“Frankly I’m now shocked and confused with the material from this new book. Panama, as he portrays it, is corrupt, lazy, expensive, and dangerous if you don’t have an attorney glued to your side. What am I supposed to believe?”

–Bill Gordon, United States

I haven’t read Mr. Detrich’s book. Based on your comments, it sounds as though he’s not a fan of Panama. I wonder why he continues to live here.

That aside, the points you indicate as referenced by Mr. Detrich in his book are all valid. Based on my experiences living and doing business in Panama (I’ve lived here for seven years and have been investing and doing business in the country for more than 15), I can corroborate. In Panama, you’ll encounter corruption, laziness, and risk. Further, living here is nowhere near as cheap as it was when I first recommended the country for retirement a decade and a half ago. Panama City offers the option for a luxury-standard lifestyle if you can afford it. That is, it’s possible to live in Panama City on US$10,000 a month or more.

On the other hand, it’s possible to live in Pedasí or Santa Fé, for example, two towns I like in the interior of this country, on US$1,500 per month or less. I know people living in Panama City on US$1,500 per month and less, as well. Remember, many parts of a monthly budget are controllable—electricity costs (depending on how much your use your air conditioners), groceries (depending on where you shop), entertainment (depending on how many times a week you eat out at high-end restaurants… Panama City offers dozens of them if that’s your thing), etc.

Doing business in Panama, as I have been all these years, I’ve been offered chances to pay bribes and cut corners. I just say no… as I do everywhere in the world where I invest and do business. I don’t pay bribes… period. It’s a personal choice that I make not for ethical reasons (is it wrong to pay a bribe… I’ll leave it to you to answer that question for yourself) but practical ones. Pay a bribe (as our essay from Kat Kalashian on the Dominican Republic today reminds us)… and you’re marked a payer. Further, pay a guy to do something for you that he’s not supposed to do… and what’s your recourse when he takes your money but doesn’t deliver? Are you going to report him to his superiors or the authorities? What would you say? I paid this guy to do something he wasn’t supposed to do… and he didn’t do it!

I write about the lack of service standards in Panama, and, privately, I bemoan them. It’s a problem in most of Central America and the Caribbean. Service and efficiency aren’t valued in this part of the world. It’s a reality. If that makes you shake and shiver, maybe you shouldn’t be thinking about spending time or money here.

Is Panama dangerous? I’ve known people here who have gotten into fights, who have been mugged, and who have had their homes burglarized.

As well, I’ve known people who’ve had those experiences in dozens of other countries, including the United States. The most dangerous place I know is Baltimore, Maryland, where I grew up and where I was mugged at midday on the street returning to my office after lunch one day years ago. Bad things happen everywhere.

No place is perfect, and Panama is no exception. Would Panama make sense for you? You have to answer that question yourself. I’d recommend you base your decision on personal experience. Come on down and find out what Panama’s like firsthand.

Continue Reading: Navigating Property Markets In The Dominican Republic