Retire In Luxury?

“Kathleen, I receive and read your e-letter every day. I am British.

“I visited Panama earlier this month to look and see. I don’t think I could live in Panama City. It has the bars and the restaurants I’m looking for, but there are drawbacks.

“I went both west for the day, past Playa Blanca, and then north another day, as far as Portobello. The amenities outside the city are negligible. There are limited facilities, including restaurants, bars, etc., of an acceptable standard.

“This week I am in Cyprus, also taking a look. Here there are more amenities, but housing is expensive and food is not cheap because of the exchange rate.

“My wife and I want a luxury lifestyle. In a recent article, you said that Buenos Aires, Argentina, and Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, are good candidates for luxury living on a budget. Are these really the only two options for the kind of lifestyle my wife and I are looking for at a reduced cost?”

Ah…this pesky cost-of-living question. The truth is, it’s nearly impossible to pin down, for two reasons.

First, cost of living is completely relative. What’s cheap to me is expensive to someone else. It depends on your experience and, mostly, your current coordinates. If you’re living in Detroit right now, the entire rest of this world seems relatively costly.

Second, your cost of living depends on how you want to live.

The reader whose e-mail I share above understands this. He and his wife know what’s important to them. They want to retire to a place with the distractions and amenities of a real city. They want a lifestyle that would qualify as luxury, but they don’t have a lavish budget. They recognize, therefore, that their retirement destination options are limited.

Just how limited, they’re wondering…

You can live well in Panama City. But the reader is right. This city has drawbacks. I cite them regularly. Panama’s capital is hot, humid, dirty, and noisy.

In other parts of the country, though, as the reader discovered, you can escape the heat, the humidity, the construction mess, and the noise…you can find what qualifies for me (and many others) as heaven on earth.

My favorite part of Panama is the west coast of the Azuero Peninsula. An Elysian outpost. The place where, later this year, Lief and I intend to begin building the beach home we’ve been dreaming about and planning for for more than six years. A big, sprawling Spanish-colonial hacienda overlooking the Pacific Ocean.

On paper, that sounds like it might qualify as luxury. And, if things go according to my plan, yes, the house will be nice.

But “luxury”? On the west coast of Panama’s Azuero Peninsula? Not possible. Not today.

This region is remote. Beautiful, pristine, and virgin…the very best Mother Nature has to serve up. But rustic. No matter how nice a house you build for yourself, you’re still hours away from the trappings of luxury. The restaurants, the nightclubs, the casinos, the spas, the shopping, the theaters…those things are back in that hot, humid, dirty, noisy place you came out here to escape.

Lief and I don’t mind, because we don’t intend to reside in our Azuero beach house 365 days a year. We’ll get our fill of luxury living elsewhere…then retreat, with our kids, with our friends, to our little corner of Paradise on the Pacific.

And that’s my recommendation to this reader. As his goal is “luxury” retirement (as, I admit, ours is, too), then he should consider perpetual retirement, as I think of it.

Like the reader seeking luxe living, Lief and I don’t have an unlimited retirement budget. And our IRA has taken a hit this past year just like everybody else’s.

Still, we have an idea about how we’d like to live once we’re ready to flip the switch to the retirement phase of our lives. And that idea doesn’t have anything to do with making do or getting by.

That’s why our perpetual retirement plan revolves around the following mix of “affordable luxury” destinations:

  • First, Paris. This city offers quintessential luxury living. And, yes, you can enjoy it on a reasonable budget. We’re spending more to live in Panama City than we did to live in Paris.
  • Second, Buenos Aires. Best choice for luxury living in South America. Argentina’s capital boasts world-class restaurants, nightlife, and shopping. But, for me, for a place to qualify as “luxury,” it must have more than these commercial trappings. It needs also history…an ambiance of charm and culture…plus parks, squares, plazas…places to walk and wander. B.A. has all this.
  • Third, Croatia. I like the Istrian peninsula, but for “luxe living,” you should look at this country’s major cities, especially Dubrovnik. You could live an enviable lifestyle in this walled World Heritage Site town that is beautiful, historic, and home to all the five-star restaurants you could want.

Kathleen Peddicord


“My fiancé and I are considering moving overseas and are researching different areas that we may like.

“I have just started reading your articles about Panama. I find the e-mails helpful and informative.

“I wonder if malaria is still a concern in Panama? What kind of poisonous insects, snakes, etc., are there?

“Also, I hear that a person/couple have to give what I call a ‘deposit’ to the government to apply to live in Panama. Is this true and, if so, how much?”

— Roxanne E., United States

Malaria is a concern in all the tropics, but dengue seems to be more of a current issue. The problem is that people stop worrying about tropical diseases once they are under control…and then they come back in force (as has happened recently with dengue in Brazil).

I haven’t heard of any malaria or dengue cases in Panama in a while, but that doesn’t mean they don’t exist. I’d say you’re safe in this country if you use normal precautions. Use bug spray, for example, and know the symptoms. Both malaria and dengue are treatable, the earlier the better.

Yes, there are spiders and scorpions in Panama, as well as snakes. We saw horrible, hairy spiders last weekend in Veraguas, nesting in a half-built home we toured.

Venomous snakes in this country include the bushmaster (rare), the coral, and the fer-de-lance. Most common is the fer-de-lance. Before you venture into the forest or the jungle, familiarize yourself with what these snakes look like. If you see one, stay out of its way. None of these snakes is aggressive. That is, they typically won’t bother you if you don’t bother them.

Regarding obtaining residency in Panama by putting a sum of money on deposit, there are two options for this:

First, you could deposit money with the Panama government (that is, in one of the two government banks). The amount deposited must generate US$2,000 in interest each month. In other words, the deposit amount varies, depending on the current interest rate. Right now, you’d have to deposit US$600,000.

This visa is called the “Private Income Retiree” visa.

The second option is the “Person of Means” visa, which requires an investment of US$300,000. You can make this investment by depositing that amount into any bank in Panama (not necessarily one of the two government banks).

Or you can purchase real estate worth US$300,000…or you can make a combination bank deposit/property purchase for a total investment of US$300,000.

These are but two of the more than a dozen visa options Panama offers. Before making a determination as to which one might be best for you, speak with a Panama attorney experienced helping foreigners choose among this country’s many residency options.

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