“She’s a changed woman. She rides a bicycle—something she never felt inspired to do back home (maybe it was the months of bone-chilling weather).”
“He’s made lots of expat (and local) friends. He volunteers with a local charity and participates regularly in community outreach. We’ve never seen him busier…or happier!”
“The saying ‘blondes have more fun’ never held true for her back home. But in Panama, she certainly is having more fun than ever…”
As International Living’s Panama editor, I explore every inch of this country and get to know lots of the expats who are drawn here. For the past seven years, I’ve noticed one thing that retirees have in common: Since coming to Panama, their lives are busier than ever before.
Panama is well known for its friendly people…and that includes both expats and locals. It’s easier than ever to find like-minded people who are willing to make friends, include you in their activities, or support you in starting something new.
It also helps that Panama’s cost of living is low…for most North Americans, much lower than back home. And the nation’s Pensionado program has made it easy for thousands of Baby Boomers to take advantage of all the fun this tiny tropical powerhouse has to offer.
The program was originally developed to give local retirees or pensioners access to wide-ranging discounts, thus easing the transition to a fixed or pension income. But the country has a history of welcoming foreigners…and of according them many of the same rights that locals enjoy. So these days, Panamanian law extends the discounts to qualifying foreigners. And as an added bonus, the Pensionado program also grants them residence.
Most any pensioner who can prove an income of at least $1,000 a month is eligible to apply.
Enjoy entertainment? A first-run movie in Panama will cost you a whopping $5. But pensionados pay only $2.50 after their 50% discount is applied. At one of the local kosher supermarkets, my retired father gets 25% off medications (all pharmacies here offer some sort of discount for retirees, many offering more than the government-mandated 10%). The last time Dad needed to see a doctor, we went to a tiny clinic in Panama City and paid $6 for the consult…after his 20% pensionado discount.
We also enjoy discounts on major expenses, like 25% off certain flights, 25% off monthly power bills, 30% off boat and train fares, 30% to 50% off hotel stays, and 25% off at restaurants. (I count restaurants as a “major expense” because we eat out a lot.)
Dad’s favorite cuisines are Greek, Indian, Panamanian, and Chinese. It never matters how many we’re ordering for, we’re always allowed by restaurateurs to use the discount… That’s if we even bother to ask for it. At one of our favorite places, a vegetarian Chinese restaurant called La Casa Vegetariana, a full meal costs just $2. (There’s sort of an unspoken code when it comes to such cheap meals… no one we know asks for the discount when the check’s less than $5!)
As if the deal weren’t sweet enough…what with the program offering discounts on everything imaginable plus residence for foreign applicants…there’s one more perk to being a pensionado here. People in Panama like and respect the elderly. The banks we go to almost always have a special line for pensionados or retirees. Even if we go somewhere without a designated line, people have a tendency to wave my Dad to the front. His life is easier and his cost of living is lower because he’s a pensionado. And our errands get done a lot faster!
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