Right Now Could be the Best Time to Come to Panama...the Hub of the Americas
Why do so many expats choose Panama? Often the intangibles…the feel of a place…play a big role. But there are also a lot of concrete, quantifiable reasons Panama is so appealing, starting with its modern infrastructure.
Panama’s cosmopolitan capital, Panama City, is the only true First World city in Central America. The beautifully maintained Pan-American Highway runs the breadth of the country, making travel easy. High-speed Internet and cell coverage are remarkable…as are the power, air, and water quality.
For expats from the U.S., Panama is also convenient because the currency is the U.S. dollar. No matter where you’re from, you’re likely to appreciate the fact that there are many English speakers in Panama, especially among the well-trained medical community. The hub that is Tocumen International Airport makes it easy to fly from Panama to nearly anywhere in the world…often with no layovers.
Choose From a Varied Landscape
Many of the expats here also cite Panama’s geographical diversity and location, with proximity to North America being a major factor. In a country roughly the size of South Carolina, you’ll find mountains and beaches within an easy striking distance—no matter where in the country you are. Wake up on the Caribbean and have lunch overlooking the Pacific…they’re a couple of hours apart at the isthmus’ “skinniest” sections. Choose your preferred climate, topography, population density and more in Panama’s varied landscape.
And then there are factors the lists and indexes can’t quantify. For instance, the people of Panama are beautiful, inside and out. Get to know them just a little and you’ll see they have big hearts and an even bigger zest for life. They’re welcoming to foreigners, who in turn feel safe here. Increasing numbers of North Americans, Europeans, and others are moving here and contributing to the burgeoning economy.
Panama: A Convenient, International Hub
Some expats come in search of adventure or a quality retirement destination, while others seek to take advantage of all Panama has to offer as a business destination. There are well-established expat populations (and many clubs and organizations) in Panama from all over the world.
And though Panama has always been a busy little hub (thanks in large part to the Panama Canal), it’s experiencing something of a heyday. In 2007, Panama’s economy was hailed as the fastest-growing in the hemisphere. Despite the 2009 global financial crisis, Panama’s economy has continued to grow faster than nearly any country in the region. Mega-port projects and major investment in infrastructure will continue to fuel the economy into the next decade.
There’s a palpable excitement as the country is coming into its own. You can see it in the exciting food and culture scenes and the flashy, innovative architecture and the new industries that are adding to local offerings. New laws to encourage filmmaking paved the way for Panama to get its very own International Film Festival. The annual jazz festival is a renowned event. Major international summits are held at Panama’s large, modern convention centers.
You’ll find golf, tennis, sailing, fishing, surfing, birding and every other activity imaginable—with the exception, of course, of snow-skiing. With so much going on, expats here will tell you that it is extremely easy to make friends, regardless of age, gender, or marital status.
Moving to Panama is Easy
For those looking to move to Panama or live here part-time, two new residence options make moving here even easier than it was before. (Quite a feat, as the Pensionado residence program has already helped thousands move here with relative ease.) These days, there's a visa for everyone.
The international community here has always been strong, but thanks to the new residence programs, it’s growing faster than ever. And new arrivals are introducing locals to new foods, activities, methods and more. It’s been great for Panama.
These days, you can get trendy food items like kale and chia seeds…indulge in clothes from Banana Republic and Gap…and buy specialty items, from kitchen and barbecue gadgets to sports and hobbyist gear. What other country in the region can boast such convenience?
Then there’s the cost of living. Panama is not the cheapest country in the region, but it is often cited as the best overall value for your money.
If you daydream about sunshine, tropical beaches, and welcoming locals, then Panama may be for you. A couple can live well here for $2,500 a month or less, including rent.
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- Population: 3,559,408
- Capital City: Panama City
- Climate: Tropical maritime; hot, humid, cloudy; prolonged rainy season (May to January), short dry season (January to May)
- Time Zone: GMT-5
- Language: Spanish (official), English 14%; (many Panamanians are bilingual)
- Country Code: 507
- Coastline: 2,490 km
“I have always wanted to live abroad. In my family of four I’m the most adventurous one, yet I was the only one who had not made an international move,” Karen Walter says. “David in Panama’s Chiriqui Province is exactly what I was looking for.” “After 10 years I had grown tired of Arizona, and the time was right to end my career in social work and fostering challenged children,” she says. “I was fed up with the bureaucracy of the child welfare system, and I didn’t expect that to improve.
Slowly the walls rise above us, hemming us in as our vessel sinks into the depths. Barn-sized doors of riveted steel loom above us as valves open and siphon the water away. With a clank, the doors crack open, widening to reveal another chamber. We sail in, feeling as though we’re in a gigantic bathtub…
Lorelei Kusin lives on an island in Panama’s Bocas del Toro province, and in this part of the Caribbean, time seems to stand still. “Our small house is situated on a bay facing the ocean,” she says. After waking to the sound of chattering birds, Lorelei and her husband James enjoy a cup of freshly ground Panamanian coffee, followed by a smoothie using local fresh produce such as fresh coconut water, mango, pineapple, guanabana, and bananas. “Then I often swim or paddleboard before we head to town in our 22-foot boat.”
In 2012, Connie and Mikkel Moller planned a trip from their hometown of Auburn, California, to Panama without checking the local calendar. They ﬂew into the busy hub of Panama City, and hopped on a bus to the ﬁshing village of Pedasí. Little did they know it was Carnival season…one big, nationwide party, with the biggest concentrations of revelers just minutes from the town center.
Where else can you wake up in the morning, put on shorts and a t-shirt, sit outside, and have breakfast from the fruit on your property with delicious, locally grown coffee? Our new lives are great,” says Sue Dickinson. Home for Sue and her husband Jim is the tiny fishing village of Boca Chica, on the coast of Panama’s Chiriquí province.
If you dream about a life where you have the freedom to “call the shots”…to pick up and head to a cottage on a sun-dappled beach and “retire” in the tropics…or rent a little getaway in a history-rich colonial town for the winter…or take an apartment for a few months a year in Paris or Buenos Aires…but you need the flexibility that would allow you to leave…and an income that could make it happen…
In 2005, I decided to leave the U.S. for good and move to Panama. The tropical climate is perfect for me—especially the Caribbean isles of Bocas del Toro. Near Panama’s northern border, Bocas is what you picture when someone says “paradise on earth”—white sands, jewel-toned waters, swaying palms, and a slow pace of life. Bocas is just one of Panama’s many, many treasures. If I wanted to I could spend every single day of the year on a different isle or mainland beach.
The road leading to the town of Santa Fe de Veraguas climbs gently and steadily up the slopes of the Continental Divide, winding past cattle ranches, jungled hillsides and gurgling rivers. The bright blue roof of the Catholic church in the middle of town is one of the first sights you see. This church marks the center of town. Around it you’ll find a soccer pitch, a shaded plaza with benches and a gazebo, and small stores and businesses along the main street.
“I brew beer for a living. How bad can it be?” asks Dave O’Keeffe of the Boquete Brewing Company in Panama. Dave is originally from San Diego and previously worked as an ER nurse in Oregon. “When I decided I wanted to open my own business brewing beer I started looking overseas,” he says. “The market in Oregon is already saturated but here in Panama it’s just getting started. The annual Brew Fest celebration in Panama City gets bigger every year.”
If you love growing your own…pickling and preserving…smoking and curing… crafting gourmet recipes…or any manner of artisan food production, Latin America is ripe with opportunity. You can make a living selling your creations via farmers markets, food trucks, or small-scale distribution. Take Dom and Angela Najab, who left Toronto, Canada, in 2011 and arrived in […]
The drive from my hometown of David west to the town of Volcan in Chiriquí Province is one of my favorite scenic routes in all of Panama. I pass cattle pastures, dairy farms, horse stables, and chicken farms framed by rolling green hills. At certain vantage points I look out over the landscape and can see all the way to the Pacific coast. Colorful flowers and a surprising variety of trees and foliage decorate the roadway as I wind my way up the slope of the mountain.
The sound of rolling waves soothes me as I lie on the warm, glittering white and black volcanic sand. Bursts of green palm trees ring the beach, which is dotted with bits of driftwood, coral, and shells. White marine birds complete the scene, standing on spindly legs, looking out towards the sky-blue sea.
Cost of living is one of the major concerns for many retirees considering a move overseas. It’s one of the reasons my husband and I chose to settle in David, the capital of Chiriqui Province in western Panama. Life here is not only pleasant, relaxed, and fun, but super affordable. We average about $1,500 a month for our living expenses. Here is a typical monthly budget for myself and my husband:
After enduring too many cold winters I decided it was time to move overseas. Shoveling snow just to get to work and more shoveling to get back into the garage at night was exhausting. It was adding more time to my work day, meaning less time for relaxing at home. Plus I hated how the cold dictated how and when I did everything. It would take twice as long to get anywhere. And my cost of living was going up and up and my heat bills just kept rising. Then there was the worry about the wear and tear on the car due to the freezing temperatures, frozen pipes, downed power lines, and power outages.
Neither Yvonne nor Michael Bauche qualiﬁed for a pension in Canada. And so the adventurous duo decided to embark on a round-the-world trip that has seen them visit Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, Portugal, Italy, France, and the Caribbean. “We cut our expenses in half,” says Yvonne of their new life on the road. “Running two cars, paying for electricity, gas, phone, cell phone, internet, food, and eating out used to cost us almost $4,000 a month. Our average expenditure is now about $2,000, and we live and play very well on that.”
“We were drawn to Panama by the size of the country and all it has to offer…large cities with great shopping…the number of expats, and the friendly, relatively easy visa process,” says Kimberly Call. Kimberly and her husband, Dale, and their family were living in Texas when they decided it was time for a lifestyle change. Dale had spent over 40 years in the grocery business and was ready to leave it behind him. He feels that Panama is a good place for him to start a new business.
Much of Panama’s pacific coast consists of unspoiled beaches and little communities where you’ll find friendly people and small towns offering a taste of the past. Here authentic Panamanian culture still exists and people treat visitors like welcome guests. One such community is the surf town of Santa Catalina. It’s located in the province of Veraguas, about two-and-a-half hours southwest of the city of Santiago.
There are many countries around the world that offer you the right to residence without having to be physically there. The biggest benefit of having residence in another country is the ability to avail of offshore and financial protection strategies that would otherwise be unavailable to you as an America citizen.
It’s amazing how moving abroad can open your eyes to opportunities. My wife, Shelly, and I moved to Panama in August 2014 and settled in the small beach town of Pedasí. I had some ideas for income but they were long-term. So we were dipping into our savings. Shelly, however, found a gap in the market. It came through her voluntary work at a spay/neuter clinic.
The global rise in demand for craft beer from microbreweries has given birth to thousands of small businesses—brewing, serving, and distributing. In a backlash against mass production, the world wants its beer made in small quantities with great care. It has become a business where manufacturer and consumer are chasing discerning production…and the small operator has a great chance of succeeding.
If you’ve been researching places around the world to retire, you may have noticed that Panama keeps showing up in lists of top spots. And with good reason. I’ve been living in Chiriquí Province in western Panama for the past six years. So I can tell you, there are plenty of reasons why Panama keeps taking those high honors.
Halong Bay is one of Vietnam’s most spectacular wonders. This 580-square-mile natural cove contains some 2,000 limestone islands—occupied only by trees, ferns, birds, and monkeys. Small ﬂoating villages and isolated sandy beaches also entice. The best—and perhaps the only—way to see Halong Bay in its entirety is by boat, or more speciﬁcally, by junk. A junk is an ancient Chinese sailing-ship design, and many junks still sail Halong Bay.
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Though Panama boasts two coasts and hundreds of islands, there’s a region on the Pacific that really stands out in terms of climate. Known as the Arco Seco, or Dry Arc, the Coronado region gets more sunshine than nearly any other place in the country.
At home, prices are rising. It costs more to put gas in the car, buy groceries, and pay for health insurance. At the same time, retirement savings eroded in the market downturn. If you’re looking overseas for a low-cost alternative to an uncertain retirement at home, there’s good news. You can ﬁnd it in places that offer not just “cheap” living, but a whole basketful of beneﬁts, too—places where a mild spring-like climate is yours all year round…beaches are of powder-white sand…snow-capped mountains soar above colonial towns…and your costs could be as low as $1,000 a month.
The town of Las Tablas on Panama’s Pacific Coast, is renowned for everything from colorful Carnival celebrations to artisanal textiles, pottery, and leatherwork. And beaches. Life in this sunny region of Panama is good , say the expats who, in increasing numbers, have begun to settle there. “Las Tablas is graced with more sunny days and less humidity than any other part of the country,” says InternationalLiving.com Panama editor Jessica Ramesch. “And the cost of living is the lowest in Panama. Here, a couple can easily live on $1,000 a month, including rent.”
For too many of us, daily life means paying mounting bills, commuting to work, staying there far longer than is healthy, and worrying about…well…everything. It’s what folks call the rat race. The futile grind. It’s stressful, it’s bad for your health, and it feels like it will never end. But freeing yourself from it is easier than you think. In this issue of International Living we hear from expats who have already escaped and taken advantage of low costs overseas to free themselves. They are living in beautiful locations around the world, enjoying lives that are a far cry from their experiences back in the States.
Lorelei Kusin has seen four Panamanian presidents come and go during her 14 years in Panama. But she lives on an island in Bocas del Toro province, and in this part of the Caribbean, time seems to stand still.
“Congestion, noise, and frenetic energy.” That’s how Maureen LoBue describes her former life in San Diego. Her new life in Panama couldn’t be more different. Here, her days consist of salsa dancing, swimming, and plenty of happy hours. “I rent a three-bedroom house with three porches and a huge yard—in the beach town of San Carlos—for just $800 a month,” says Maureen. Panama City is just over an hour away. She goes often, adding that a bus to the vast Albrook Mall and National Bus Terminal is just $2.50. And she’s about 10 minutes by car from a hub town bustling with supermarkets, shops, a clinic, and more.
Jennifer Blackstone’s newfound tropical lifestyle is a far cry from her childhood in Wisconsin. In fact, it’s a life she didn’t think she could ever have. “Several things fell into place and conspired to get me to Panama,” says Jennifer, who fell in love with the tropics several years ago. “I visited Costa Rica and I loved the tropical feel…the colorful ﬂowers and the warm ocean,” she says. “But the thought of living there…it was a fantasy.
My husband Gary and I love to travel. Happily, since we retired to Panama, it’s easy and convenient to do. The proximity of Costa Rica, Colombia, Nicaragua, Brazil, Peru, and numerous additional Latin American countries, as well as many exotic Caribbean islands, gives us the opportunity to visit them all. Being retired we have the time…and, since our life in Panama is so economical, we can afford it.
Peter Roberts and his wife, Sally, were never really intending to move to Panama. They had even less inkling that they would buy a property—specifically a working farm. Two bird enthusiasts, Peter and Sally visited the mountain region of Boquete to take a bird-watching tour.
Being a small country, it’s easy to get around Panama. That means most parts of the country are within easy reach of our home in the Chiriqui Province. Recently, my husband Gary and I jumped in the car and took to the road to check out the beach town of Pedasi.
Something strange happens when you’re buying property overseas. It happens to cautious folks, wary folks, even savvy folks that are seasoned pros when it comes to buying real estate. It’s something you need to watch out for. It’s getting caught up in the fine details of your contract…and, in doing so, losing sight of the forest for the trees.
I get a couple of emails a month like this from International Living readers: “I’ve been doing my research as you suggest. I know I want to make my move abroad, but no matter how many likely destinations I cross off my list, I still have too many to choose from. Where should I go?”
The Brodeurs chose Las Tablas so they could live well, without sacrificing the good things in life. They go to the local expat hangout, Ponchalo’s, several times a week. The cost averages $20 total, including beverages. “Recently we had a to-die-for filet mignon for $6 at a place around the corner,” says Armand.
People come from all over the world to enjoy life among the paradise islands of Bocas del Toro on the Caribbean coast of Panama. They come for the surfing…for the deserted islands…and for the turquoise sea. Justine and Jeff Catalano also came for the sense of community. “Our favorite thing about living in Bocas is […]
Santa Fe is a lovely rural village in the highlands of Veraguas Province of central Panama. With a population of around 3,200, it truly has a small town feel and charm. With an elevation of around 1,500 feet, is also boasts a near-perfect climate. The daytime high temperature ranges from 75° F to 85° F and at night it cools down to 65° F to 70° F. These traits attract Panamanians seeking relief from the heat of the lowlands and foreigners seeking a slower pace of life in a mountain setting.
Lying in the Arco Seco, little Las Tablas is Panama at its best. This town of under 30,000 people lies on the Azuero Peninsula, a region renowned for everything from colorful Carnival celebrations to artisanal textiles, pottery, and leatherwork. Life in this region of Panama is good. It is graced with more sunny days and less humidity than any other part of the country. And the cost of living is the lowest in Panama: Here, a couple can easily live on $1,000 a month, including rent, as expats Joyclyn and Armand Brodeur have found out. Originally from St. Louis, the Brodeurs came to Las Tablas in August 2014 to test-drive their Panama retirement, so to speak. Armand, 66, and Joyclyn, 59, long yearned for a tropical, beach lifestyle. At the same time, they wanted to choose a place where it was possible to live on a social security check.
Spectacular mountains, a towering volcano, azure waters, and verdant rainforests with a wealth of wildlife: Chiriquí province is Panama’s natural treasure trove. It’s also the place I—and about 20,000 other expats—call home, and it’s Panama’s most popular tourist destination. Whether you live in Chiriquí, plan to retire here, or just come on vacation, here are seven of my favorite daytrips that Chiriquí has to offer. Mysteries of Panama’s Distant Past. One of Panama’s most intact archaeological sites, Sitio Barriles was a center of the native Barriles culture, which thrived in the area until around 800 AD.