How Many Empty Condos In Panama City?

How Many Empty Condos In Panama City?

Straight to the Mailbag:

“If Panama is so good and the #1 place in the world to retire, Kathleen, why are there so many empty condos in Panama that are not selling or renting? Why are so many Panamanians living here in the United States, and why aren’t more people moving there?”

— Marie S., United States

How many empty condos in Panama City right now? We’ve been trying to find an answer to this question ourselves. Editorial Assistant Rebecca Tyre is on the case and will report back. Meantime, if you have a good source of reliable data on this, we’d appreciate knowing about it.

Anecdotally, I’d say that most apartment buildings in this city are three-quarters occupied or better…most buildings, that is, except the newly “delivered” ones.

When a building is “delivered,” as they refer to it in this town, it’s empty, of course. As I’ve observed, it then takes 6 to 18 months for it to fill.

We took possession of our apartment in Bayfront Tower on avenida Balboa two years ago. When we arrived to furnish and prepare it for short-term rental, we found the building eerily vacant. Now, about 24 months later, it’s busy and active. We stopped by two Saturdays ago to spend the afternoon poolside, but all the lounge chairs were already taken.

We moved into the building in Paitilla where we’ve been renting for the past year, again, just as it was being delivered. We were among its first residents. Today, the building is at least 80% occupied.

Apartments in this city are delivered as shells. Owners must build in kitchens, install lighting fixtures, fit appliances, and, of course, furnish. Many apartments were sold as rental investments, meaning that, once finished and furnished, they must be placed in rental pools. In this part of the world, nothing happens overnight. Each phase of this process takes two or three months at least.

Returning to this reader’s questions…why do so many Panamanians live in the United States? During Noriega’s rule, in the 1980s, many Panamanians fled to North America. Canada even offered incentives for skilled Panamanian laborers to migrate to that country. This is no longer the case, and many of the Panamanians who left during the Noriega years have returned.

Wealthy Panamanians continue to send their children to university in the States, but after they’ve finished their education, these young Panamanians typically return home, as well. I’ve met many of them myself.

Why aren’t more Americans moving to Panama? They are. An estimated 50,000 Americans live in Panama already. There are sizable Canadian and European populations, as well. Americans and Canadians who moved to Costa Rica over the past decade are migrating to Panama now, too.

The gringos are here, and their numbers are increasing steadily. Stop in the Felipe Motta wine shop, the Punta Pacifica hospital, Costco, or any of the Riba Smith super grocery stores around the city, and you’ll find them.


“Is it true that health insurance should be arranged before one leaves the States to live abroad? My husband and I are planning to relocate at the beginning of next year and want to be sure to handle this correctly.”

— Anya P., United States

Yes, you should consider your medical coverage options before leaving your home country. That is not to say that you should necessarily invest in health insurance. In some countries, the cost of health care is so affordable that going without coverage can be a reasonable strategy.

If you don’t feel comfortable going naked, you have both local and international health coverage options, which are detailed in our special report “Top Health Insurance Options For The Retiree Abroad.”


“I am having trouble getting detailed information on Lake Atitlan, Guatemala, the retirement haven you wrote about recently. Can you help? I am interested in renting there.”

— Joe F., United States

Central America Correspondent Michael Paladin suggests


“Last week, you gave San Pedro, Belize, not a very good write-up. I haven’t been back there in a little over a year but was very impressed when I visited before. As you’re not keen on San Pedro, would you know someplace similar, where the means of transport is walking or golf carts and the way of life is laid back? I’m looking for a destination like this so I can get out of Florida.”

— Debbie G., United States

Au contraire, dear reader, and we’re sorry to confuse. We’re great fans of Belize, and we like San Pedro. We published a reader’s less enthusiastic take on this small island town (as we accommodate all points of view and understand that no one place suits all). For our own take on this beautiful, friendly, English-speaking Caribbean nation founded by corsairs, take a look here and here.


“I have reviewed material you’ve published on Panama but could not find information on applying for and the benefits of the country’s pensionado program. Do you have something comprehensive on this specific issue? There appears to be a new law effective this year, and I have seen many different reports on the new program details. Can pensionados bring their household goods on a one-time basis without having to pay customs? Can they ship a car into the country without paying customs?”

— Barbara J., United States

Yes, Panama’s pensionado law was recently changed. Today, you must earn at least US$1,000 per month from a government or private pension to qualify for the pensionado visa. You must be able to show pension income of an additional US$250 per month for each dependant. Your spouse can qualify as a dependant if he or she is younger than you.

Yes, one of the many benefits of pensionado visa status is that you are entitled to a one-time tax exemption on the importation of your household goods (up to US$10,000). You can also import a car tax-free every two years.

Full details are featured in our recently updated and expanded Live & Invest in Panama Kit, available here.

Kathleen Peddicord

P.S. We’re well settled into our new office digs in Panama City’s central banking district, and, thanks to the opening of this city’s just-finished malecon area along avenida Balboa, our daily commute is a delight. We join the rest of the general Panama City population now each early morning and evening for a leisurely constitutional past the city’s high-rise towers on one side and the Amador Causeway and the Bay of Panama on the other. We watch the boats awaiting their turn to start their passage through the Panama Canal as we dodge the children on bicycles and scooters. This city-center beautification project, part of the avenida Balboa expansion work, is a smashing success. Lined with palm trees and park benches (and trash cans!), the brick-paved walkway gives the city a whole new look.


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