Advantages (And Disadvantages) To Retiring To Panama

Mariachis, Moonlight, And Mingling–Live And Invest In Panama, Day 1

“Welcome to Panama!” I greeted the 150 attendees assembled in the meeting room of the Four Points Sheraton Hotel here in Panama City today.

We kicked off Day 1 of this week’s Live & Invest in Panama Conference with a big-picture tour of the top options this diverse country has to offer.

Generally speaking, I explained to the group, in this country, you have three lifestyle choices to consider–city, beach, and mountain.

Then I helped our group to thin-slice these big-picture options, as follows…

In Panama City:

Biggest downsides: Hot and humid year-round, chaotic traffic, and constant noise from constant construction and seemingly omnipresent car alarms

Biggest advantages: Increasingly a real city with many good restaurant choices, international-standard shopping, and the most developed and reliable infrastructure (including for banking) of any city in the region

Top location choices: Paitilla, San Francisco, Marbella, Casco Viejo, Costa del Este, and El Cangrejo

We focused our discussion today on El Cangrejo, which offers a comfortable, well-appointed lifestyle in a neighborhood of Panama City that boasts loads of character and that is home to growing numbers of expats attracted by the restaurants, the nightlife, and the walkability.

We took a close look at a budget. I recommend, I explained, that you figure US$2,050 a month for a comfortable, expat-standard lifestyle here, including US$800 a month for rent.

Not super-cheap.

Remember, though, that Panama City is the most expensive place to live in Panama. El Cangrejo isn’t the most expensive neighborhood in Panama City (that’d be Marbella or Costa del Este, for example), and it isn’t the most affordable. I’d say, though, that it offers the biggest lifestyle bang for the buck.

Yes, you could live here for less than US$2,000 per month. But I don’t imagine you’re looking to move to Panama City to dine at home alone every evening in your tiny un-air-conditioned apartment on rice, beans, and yucca.

At The Beach:

Top location choices: Beaches within commuting distance of Panama City (not the nicest in the country but the most expensive), Bocas del Toro (we’re not fans), Colon, also on the Caribbean (more accessible with the completion of the new highway from Panama City), the Azuero Sunset Coast (our favorite coastal region in the country, pristine and undeveloped…also the only coast in the country from which you can watch the sun set over the ocean), and Las Tablas

We focused our beach discussion today on Las Tablas, on the eastern coast of the Azuero Peninsula. This side of the Azuero Peninsula is considerably more developed than the other (western) side. We like Las Tablas in particular because it’s a charming colonial town within minutes of the beach where you can enjoy a comfortable life on a very small budget.

Specifically, how much to live in Las Tablas? Our budget for a retired couple totals US$970, including US$300 a month for rental of a one-bedroom house. You could spend more, of course, on housing, but you wouldn’t have to.

Bottom line, all things considered, Las Tablas is our top budget choice in the country right now. You could live more comfortably here for less than anywhere else.

In The Mountains:

Biggest advantages: The weather. It’s better than in Panama City or on the coast, markedly cooler and often less humid.

Top location choices: Santa Fe, Volcan Baru, El Valle, Boquete

El Valle is the most accessible higher-elevation choice (about two hours from Panama City). Santa Fe is the most affordable, but it’s also the most remote; living here you’d have to adopt a very local way of life. Boquete is the best known and most developed highlands option…meaning it’s also the most expensive.

Housing costs have fallen in Boquete over the past two years (as they have throughout the country). Still, all things considered, life in Boquete could cost you as much as life in Panama City. The budget we presented to attendees today totaled US$1,790, a couple of hundred dollars per month less than our Panama City budget, primarily because we allowed more for housing in the big city. Our Boquete budget included US$600 for rent.

Kathleen Peddicord

P.S. Following my big-picture overview and introduction, attendees heard from our Panama legal eagle on foreign residency and visa options (the country offers 12), from Richard and Janet Novak of Remax Beaches and City on top current property offerings, and from friend Claudio Carrasco, who showed them the many natural attractions of this beautiful little country in full and wondrous color.

In addition, Lief Simon armed attendees with perhaps the most practical advice of all. He shared his insider tips on how to take a taxi in Panama City. How to hail one, how much to pay for a ride in one, why not to be surprised if your cab comes minus door handles or taillights, and what to do when a driver tells you he just doesn’t feel like taking you wherever it is you want to go…

Armed with that invaluable information, we all headed across town to enjoy a rooftop cocktail reception. From our tower-top perch, we watched the lights of the nighttime Panama City skyline sparkle and reflect on the Bay of Panama stretched before us.

Mariachis in the background and new friends all around.

Welcome to Panama.

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