Reef, Ruins, Rivers, and Rainforest

Reef, Ruins, Rivers, and Rainforest

The mail is piling up:

“Kathleen, I’m from Canada. I’m 67 years old, and my wife is 61. We have a Canadian pension, but outside Canada, it will amount to US$500 per month. That’s it. We’re interested in Panama but have been told that, to retire there, we must have a pension of at least US$1,100. Is this correct? We’re looking for a warm place, close to the sea. Do you have any suggestions?”

— Gene M., Canada

The required monthly pension income for a spouse and dependent to become pensionado residents in Panama US$1,250 (US$1,000 per month for the applicant and US$250 per month for the spouse). It sounds as though your Canadian pension wouldn’t qualify you.

Panama, though, offers many options for obtaining a residency visa, typically requiring lump-sum initial investments. To qualify for a Private Income Retiree Visa, for example, you must deposit approximately US$600,000 in a Panamanian bank (enough to yield at least US$2,000 per month).

The Person of Means Visa requires a US$300,000 investment in the country. This can be split between an investment in real estate and a bank deposit.

The Forestry Investor Visa can be the most cost-efficient option. This requires an US$80,000 investment in timber (not a bad idea right now). United Nature is the best option in this case and has been helping foreigners obtain residency in Panama through a Forestry Investor Visa for more than 10 years. More here.

Note that you can qualify for a pensioner visa in Nicaragua with a pension income of as little as US$500 a month. I believe this is the most affordable pensioner residency program available anywhere and comes with a good package of special benefits for qualifying retirees.


“Kathleen, thanks for all the great info you provide. What do you think of the area being developed outside Panama City on the former U.S. military base in terms of the development itself, pricing, and location?”

— Susan S., United States

Panama Pacifico, as the development taking shape on the former Howard Air Force Base a half-hour from downtown Panama has been named, is another ambitious infrastructure project in a country with a long and successful track record when it comes to ambitious infrastructure projects.

The thinking behind this mega-development undertaking is simple: Panama is the most appealing country in the region for doing business, but Panama City has become a crowded, congested place to navigate. Come to Panama to do business, the backers of Panama Pacifico propose. But forget Panama City, with its traffic and its chaos. Come out to Panama Pacifico, a pleasant, planned business community by the sea.

And enjoy some serious tax, visa, and employment advantages in the bargain.

Panama Pacifico is a 40-year, 1,400-hectare, US$700-million project being carried out by international developer London & Regional. Because of its location on a former U.S. Air Force base, all infrastructure, including electricity, potable water, and state-of-the-art telecommunications systems, are already in place.

Furthermore, the development has been designated a special economic area, meaning it boasts important tax incentives. International companies who set up shop at Panama Pacifico can even operate tax-exempt. Plus, companies operating here will be able to hire foreign workers and to obtain five-year residency visas for their foreign staff.

Construction of the business park is under way, and the first two buildings are scheduled to finished at the end of this year. 3M, Caterpillar, and other international concerns, including logistic companies and schools, have already contracted for space.

Residential sales will begin in August with pre-construction condominium prices starting at US$1,500 a square meter. Construction on the townhouses and duplexes will begin at the end of the year.

When built out, Panama Pacifico will include 1-million square meters of commercial space, 20,000 homes, 40,000 new jobs, retail centers and hotels, schools and places of worship, parks, recreational facilities, and a Greg Norman championship golf course. The developers expect that 50% of investors and residents will be Panamanian, the other 50% foreigners.

Panama’s Tocumen International Airport is just 45 minutes from Panama Pacifico, but to make the new community, really a city in its own right, more accessible, an on-site airport is planned, complete with immigration and customs.


“You talk about reliable annual yields of 5%, Kathleen, but I can get that at any bank in Panama! Without the rental problems.

“CDS in Panama are netting 5% to 5.5% a year. Tax-free. Guaranteed.”

— D.D., United States

Indeed. For example:


“My wife and I have lived in Cyprus for the last seven years and have recently been thinking about Belize as an alternative. We are happy here in the Mediterranean, but we have visited many of the Caribbean Islands and spent a lot of time in Florida.

“We will be visiting Belize in November for a few days only, and, as there appears to be so much to see and do, we would appreciate any help or advice before our arrival. What is good/great and what is bad/awful about life in Belize? The north is apparently very different from the south. Could you address this? What about hurricanes?”

— Colin K., Cyprus

Belize Correspondent Phil Hahn replies:

“I recommend planning an itinerary that includes the ‘4R’s’ of Belize: Reef, Ruins, Rivers, and Rainforest.

“Most resorts on Caye Caulker and Ambergris Caye offer snorkeling, scuba diving, and fishing excursions. As the largest living reef in the world, Belize’s barrier reef is a World Heritage Site and a must-see.

“This country also boasts the world’s biggest concentration of Mayan sites. Two of the most spectacular are Lamanaii and ATM (Actun Tunichil Muknal), both featuring two of the 4R’s, ruins and rivers. To reach Lamanaii, the largest continually occupied city in the Maya world, in the northern district of Orange Walk, you take a guided boat tour down the New River.

“ATM is to the west, in the Cayo District. It is a rare experience that may not be available much longer. After leading you through the forest and then a cave, which you must swim through, your guide will point out pottery, skeletal remains, and other artifacts of the Maya underworld. I expect that it won’t be long before this fragile and valuable site will be closed to tourists.

“While in the Cayo, see the Belize Zoo, home to one of the biggest collections of Central American animals in the world. Started years ago by a documentary filmmaker who wanted to rescue injured animals, the zoo continues to grow with the same mission in mind. Ask about their guided behind-the-scenes tour, often conducted by the zoo founder.

“Cahal Pech Village Resort in San Ignacio offers rainforest tours, including horseback riding and trips to the Maya Mountains. In the mountains are the 1,000 Foot Falls, the seventh-largest waterfall in Central America, and pristine rivers cascading into shallow pools perfect for an afternoon swim.

“What is bad about Belize? You want to avoid some parts of Belize City at night.

“As you’ve spent time in the Caribbean, you already know that the casual approach to living in this part of the world requires an adjustment for most people from outside the culture. Neither will you be able to find everything you might be looking for just when you want it. If you’re used to running out to Wal-Mart at any time of the day or night for groceries or hardware, for example, life in Belize may seem challenging.

“You ask about the weather. The rainy season (green season) runs from June through December with a respite in August. The amount of rainfall varies from north to south. The amount of rainfall in the north is similar to that in Florida–about 50 to 70 inches per year. It’s greater in the south, which can see as much as 160 inches per year.

“Regarding hurricanes…yes, we get them. Prior to purchasing my first piece of property in Belize, I studied the hurricane history of the region. I found that, since 1850, 17% of named storms (including tropical storms) have affected this country. Proper home design and building are vital.”


“I would like to have country budgets for Spain and France.”

— Heidi B., United States

A complete budget for living in the south of France is detailed in our France Retirement Report, available here…and a full budget for the cost of living in Almuñécar on Spain’s Costa Tropical is featured in our Spain Retirement Report, available here.

Kathleen Peddicord

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