Why Panama’s Top Retirement Spots Lie Beyond Panama City

Is Panama Still A Good Place To Retire?

I was a guest on the “Breakfast With Gerry D” radio show in Panama this week.

“Do you think Panama is still a good choice for retirees?” Gerry wondered.

Not at all… and sure, I explained.

It depends on where in Panama.

I don’t recommend Panama City for retirement anymore. First, this city is no longer a cheap place to live. If you own your own place, you could get by on US$1,000 per month.

If you don’t own your own apartment, you’ll spend US$1,500 per month or more to rent a decent one.

Panama City is an expat city like Dubai is an expat city. The cost of living here continues up as services, standards, and amenities expand to meet the demand of the global executive community in residence. Adidas and Estée Lauder, to give two of the most recent examples, have just signed agreements to join the dozens of other big-deal international businesses with operations in Panama City.

The housing stock, the grocery shops, the clothing stores, the restaurants, the cafés, the shopping malls, the furniture stores, the car dealerships, the jewelers… they’re all evolving to service the employees of these groups, especially the top-tier employees, who earn international rather than local salaries.

Panama City is a boom town with all the trappings. This is a busy, dirty, noisy city with construction on every street and traffic that can turn a 10-minute run to the dry cleaners into 90 minutes of agony.

Not the kind of place most retirees dream about. Panama City is a place to come to do business or make money. Not a place to embrace a post-working-life retreat.

Elsewhere in Panama, on the other hand, yes, still has a lot to offer the would-be retiree overseas.

Many dream of retirement at the beach, and Panama is lousy with beaches. Pacific coast, Caribbean coast, sand-fringed islands… beaches for tourists, surfers, shell collectors, boaters, and recluses… coastal villages and five-star gated communities…

Whatever kind of beach experience you’re interested in, you can find it in Panama.

Panama also offers diverse highland options where the weather can be less sticky than down at sea level. Again, you have developed choices (Boquete) and nearly off-the-grid ones (Santa Fe). El Valle can be a great mountain lifestyle option as it’s within easy driving distance of Panama City for shopping and medical care.

The cost of retirement living outside Panama City is, first, much lower than the cost of any kind of living in Panama City. Second, it’s controllable depending how local you take your lifestyle.

You could live in Santa Fe on US$1,200 per month including rent if you’re up for living like the locals. In truth, you’d have little choice but to adopt a local lifestyle in Santa Fe. Services and amenities for the expat market are all but non-existent in this pretty highland town.

Panama still offers a great retiree residency program… though, in truth, today you have other options that can be cheaper. Panama was among the first countries to try to attract American retirees and their disposable income by offering easy and perk-filled residency, but, over the past decade, other countries across Latin America have launched pensionado programs of their own to compete.

Panama uses the U.S. dollar. For a retiree on a fixed U.S. dollar income, this can be a plus, eliminating concern over currency movements and exchange expense.

Panama is home to some of the world’s biggest communities of expat retirees—in Boquete and Coronado, for example. For some retirees, this is a selling point; for others a turnoff.

Medical facilities in Panama City are global standard… but, remember, I don’t recommend retiring to Panama City. If quick access to good health care is a priority, consider Panama locations within easy reach of the capital.

“What about Panama for business?” Gerry wondered next.

Panama City is still my number-one pick for best place in the world to start a laptop business (that’s why we’re here, after all)…

But the truth is, unless your plan is to grow big, making an appropriate labor pool a necessity, you could start a laptop enterprise anywhere in the world with a reliable internet connection.

If you want to try out a new life overseas but need an income to fund the adventure, think first about where you’d like to live.

If you could live anywhere… where would you go?

I’d bet that, wherever that is, you could sort out a reliable internet connection.

Kathleen Peddicord