Fred Fleet and his wife spent nearly seven years planning for their retirement overseas. After countless hours of research, one place came out on top. In a quick question-and-answer session we had recently (below), he explains what it was about Panama that made it a clear winner…
Q. What made you start planning to retire overseas?
A. We knew we would have to do considerable downsizing after retirement. We were living in Pasadena, California and our pension income would be one eighth of our working income. In Panama we found we could comfortably live off approximately $800 a month.
In 2007 we moved to Panama. While building our home we rented a small house in the outskirts of the city of David. Our monthly expenses were $150 for rent, $5 for propane gas for cooking, $8 for trash and water combined, $50 for electricity, $250 for groceries and $100 for gasoline.
Six months later we moved into our home. Currently, our expenses are a little higher for groceries and gasoline, but propane gas is still $5 per tank, electricity still the same and we pump water from our well.
Q. What’s the best thing about Panama?
A. The most attractive feature that Panama offers is the retirement program called the Pensionado. This allows retired persons who can prove that they are receiving a pension to apply for a pensionado visa. My wife and I received ours in 2007. We enjoy 25% discounts on various services such as health care insurance, restaurants, hotels, medicines, and transportation.
Q. Do you need to learn Spanish to live in Panama?
A. Panamanians are the friendliest people we know. They are even friendlier when you attempt to speak Spanish. Most of the people speak Spanish and, especially if you venture away from the city as we did, you need to learn some Spanish. Learn the language and doors will open up to you. If you are suffering to speak the language, they will suffer to help you as much as they can.
A good Panamanian friend can help navigate you through their system. At some businesses there are clerks who speak English and can assist you but government offices have few English-literate clerks. We needed to rely on friends or lawyers to help us with immigrations, driver licenses, etc.
Q. Did you think about access to health care before you came to Panama?
A. Health care was a major concern for us even though we do not have any major health care issues. But we needn’t have worried. Our health-care insurance is just $65 a month for my wife and me and most doctors in Panama are educated in the United States.
We found a wonderful doctor, Dr. Rafael Rodriguez, at the Chiriquí Hospital in David. Doctor Rodriguez takes the time to answer all of our questions. We receive X-rays, mammograms, bone density tests, lab and blood work costing us less than $200 and our doctor’s visits are only $10 each!
Panama also provides socialized healthcare to all its citizens and, last year, Panama passed a law that all tourists would have access to free health care for 30 days.
Q. Would you ever consider moving back to the U.S.?
A. While we travel back and forth to the States, we love living in Panama and have no plans on leaving. Panama really welcomes its foreign retirees—from all over the world.
The government is working hard to attract retirees, particularly when it comes to improving its infrastructure. Since 2006, we’ve seen improvements in road repairs, traffic lights, expanding airports, more hospitals—making Panama one of the grandest of places to retire.
Q. Anything else you’d recommend?
A. The rum! There’s no shortage of Panamanian rum. Captain Jack Sparrow would love it here…
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