Right Now Could be the Best Time to Come to Panama...the Hub of the Americas
Panama has long been the prime choice for retirees, second-home buyers, and property investors alike. Today you can still find apartments in sought-after areas of Panama City for $80,000 and live well on $1,200 per month.
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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
“We worked harder for less,” says Robert. “We thought we could do better, have time for ourselves, and enjoy a better quality and a more natural way of life.” After a trip to Costa Rica in 2003, they knew they wanted to move permanently to somewhere in Central America. “We missed living in nature, surrounded by nature,” Robert explains. “Central America seemed to have the natural lifestyle we were looking for.”
We’re sitting on the terrace of our cozy Casa Mariposa bungalow, drinking our morning coffee…grown, picked, and roasted just beyond the emerald hills below. From our vantage point it feels like we can see forever, the morning light playing across the rocky-topped Mount El Tute in the distance.
Mr. Bauman is a former member of the United States House of Representatives from Maryland (1973-1981). He is also a former federal official and state legislator; member of the Washington, D.C., Bar; graduate of the Georgetown University Law Center (1964) and the GU School of Foreign Service (1959). Mr. Bauman serves as legal counsel to International Living. He’s also one of the world’s foremost offshore experts. Here are some of his recent articles:
Columbus called Costa Rica “the Rich Coast”—and it still is, with Caribbean beaches and Pacific shoreline that’ll take your breath away. But this nation has much more to offer, too: a year-round tropical climate, modern cities, rain forests, lush valleys and majestic mountains.
On a dusty corner in Panama City’s Casco Viejo sector, there is a bar/restaurant. It doesn’t look like much, but the name on the sign makes passersby stop and puzzle: Mojitos sin Mojitos. In English it means, “Mojitos without Mojitos.” Weekend nights, the place is full to overflowing. There are hipsters from the local art scene…young bankers from the financial district…backpackers from France.
“Should I choose the city or the country?” It’s a question I get from nearly everyone who considers a move to Panama. The truth is, you’ve probably already decided. Chances are, if you’re reading this, you’re over 25. And you know what you like. Save time and acknowledge your expectations.
Panama is a perennial favorite among expats looking for a better life abroad, and achieving Panamanian residency just got a lot easier. A new visa program began in June that not only cuts the cost, but also cuts the time it takes to get Panamanian residency. Panama attorney and legal expert Rainelda Mata-Kelly has already helped clients start this process.
“Gentrified” Casco, if you can call it that, is a small place…10 or 11 streets long, intersected by Avenue A, Central Avenue, and Avenue B. Yet there’s so much going on. Panama’s artists gravitate here…and there are galleries, shops, handicraft stalls, chic little cafes and bars, and more.
For some it’s the rainforest…for others it’s the beach or the mountains or the city. You may come here and simply fall for the laid-back culture or the smiling people. But these expats all have something in common—they didn’t just listen to their hearts. They also took a good look at Panama from a practical point of view.
Parades, dancing, and the election of a Sara Ñusta (Queen of Maize) mark the Fiesta del Yamor in Imbabura, Ecuador, the ﬁrst week of September. Join in and offer thanks to the sun god for a bountiful harvest. Street traders take over the French city of Lille for the Grande Braderie on September 1 and 2.
You want to leave it all behind for that one idyllic Caribbean island—a place surrounded by vibrant seascapes and white sand…your very own hard-to-reach haven. But why settle for one when you can have 378? That’s a Caribbean island paradise for every single day of the year…and a few left over for friends. That’s how many islands sit in the San Blas chain, strung out along the Caribbean coast of Panama.
Nearly every expat of retiree age has said it to me: Panama sneaks up on you. The people, friendly and fun loving at first, seem even warmer and kinder when you really get to know them. The culture…so much richer than the cosmopolitan city suggests. And speaking of Panama City, the bustling streets can seem chaotic at first, but the large number of expats here is a testament to the capital’s…
Panama has long had “open door” immigration policies that welcome foreigners. For instance, it has the best program of special benefits for foreign retirees and their families you’ll find anywhere in the world today—the pensionado, or pensioner, visa. But for non-pensioners, most of Panama’s other residency programs required substantial investments…until now.
Sixty-two-year-old Neil Sander knows how to get things done. Throughout his seven years in Panama’s island-rich Bocas del Toro region, this Oklahoma-born pioneer has taken the bull by the horns more than once. The key to his success? “Respect,” he says. “Respect gets you further than money on any of your projects.
Nobody gets in the way of the Carnival celebrations in Panama. This party is country-wide and a full week long. Businesses close, Panama City is abandoned, and music is everywhere as what sounds like the world’s largest collection of speaker systems comes together to blast pop, reggae, and pop music to the masses.
If your idea of the perfect Panama includes lush tropical scenery without the heat of the lowlands, head to the highlands to see the other side of Panama. You’ll meet plenty of expats who, like you, left the postcard-perfect beaches behind in search of cooler climes. Though Panama is best known for its city and beaches, the mountain areas do not disappoint and offer a wide variety of activities, property, and
lifestyles. Live the High Life in the Highlands – Panama: Dream it, Find it, Live it details our favorite cool-weather locales.
“We have more friends than ever—our kids can’t believe how social we’ve become,” says one expat couple. “I’m busier than ever before,” says another expat in Panama. It’s a constant refrain from those who thought their retirement years might be marked by the restraints of a fixed income and a waning social calendar. Only to find that in Panama, the retiree lifestyle is a lot of fun…
Veraguas is Panama’s only province to span the country from Atlantic to Paciﬁc, offering everything from sandy beaches to cloud-draped mountains. Nearly in the center of the province, where the fertile ranching savannahs start their climb toward the pine-covered slopes, is the town of San Francisco de la Montaña, where you’ll ﬁnd one of the most extraordinary churches in the Americas.
Panama has long had “open door” immigration policies that welcome foreigners. For instance, it has the best program of special beneﬁts for foreign retirees and their families you’ll ﬁnd anywhere in the world today— the pensionado, or pensioner, visa (see sidebar below).
In Panama’s Veraguas Province, Santa Fe looks exactly as a Central American village should. After the modern skyline of Panama City—a shock if you were expecting to encounter the Third World—Santa Fe is a relief. The “real” Panama. Ah, yes, here it is. And here, it exists in its most exemplary form. The prettiest mountain views and the most welcoming people. The “best-of-both-worlds” climate…
During a recent stay in Panama, I took a trip to the country’s under-explored Caribbean side in the hope of getting some photos I might sell. My destination was a little town called Portobello. Christopher Columbus landed here back in 1502, naming it “Puerto Bello” or “Beautiful Port.” It later became a key strategic asset of the colonial Spanish, to export gold and silver.
I was closing in on the San Blas Islands; a paradise archipelago scattered off Panama’s Caribbean coast. It was early morning and I was traveling from the mainland via motorized dugout canoe to Cartí, one of the largest of the 378 islands. We pulled up next to a wooden jetty…and stepped into another world.
On the Cover This Month… Chile’s Lake District is a wonderland of sparkling freshwater lakes, snow-capped volcanoes, and green forests, often with the towering Andes as a backdrop. With all this natural, unspoiled beauty, it can feel like the last perfect place on earth. And today, more and more expats are choosing to live here. […]
In Panama’s Veraguas Province, Santa Fe looks exactly as a Central American village should. After the modern skyline of Panama City—a shock if you were expecting to encounter the Third World—Santa Fe is a relief. The “real” Panama. Ah, yes, here it is.
Mitzy and Bill Martain moved to Panama from North Carolina in search of a simpler, yet better lifestyle. “Our standard of living had deteriorated,” says Mitzy. “We lost our pensions and our medical, and were going to have to survive on social security.” In contrast to these stark words, Mitzy today is the picture of contentment, shelling peas on her tidy, sun washed porch as she shares her story.
A three-bedroom, two-bath home in central Boquete was just listed for $90,000. At approximately 2,900 square feet, it’s spacious, and the lot is over 5,300 square feet. Excellent value for a home with mountain views, indoor laundry room, storage room, and large patio.
Panama’s Pensionado program has made it easy for Baby Boomers to take advantage of everything this tiny tropical powerhouse has to offer. Most pensioners who can prove an income of at least $1,000 a month are eligible to apply. Prove that you have an income with which to support yourself here in Panama—and the country will grant you residency in perpetuity. Panama also grants foreign retirees the same discounts as local ones.
What if I could show you how (and where) to buy your dream home on an island like this one, with palm-tree rimmed. white-sand beaches washed clean by clear, warm Caribbean waters… or on a lush jungle cliff-top with a mega-mile view of the blue Pacific stretching out before you…
If I stand in my living room and look out over Panama’s Pacific coastline early in the morning, I can see the local boats of the Gorgona fishing fleet heading east toward their favorite fishing spots. Later in the day, I hear the purr of outboard motors as the fleet returns home to Gorgona beach. Some boats travel far out to sea while others stay just off shore.
The bargain-beautiful Panama we’ve been writing about for years is alive and well…especially in Las Tablas. This little colonial town differs from hot retirement destinations like Panama City, Boquete, or Bocas del Toro. It’s in an area surrounded by farms and ranches, and that makes the climate, the landscapes, and the people unique. The tableños—that is, the townfolk in Las Tablas—are proud of their work ethic and keep their town neat and clean.
Testimonials from IL’s Fast-Track Panama: Lifestyle & Opportunity Conference 2012
I enjoyed the opportunity to hear from and then talk to the people who have “been there and done that” by moving offshore themselves – Dan and Suzan and others. Also, the legal and tax presentations – maybe not the most exciting subject matter but extremely important information to factor into any decision.
— Sharri Speaker
Overall the speakers were excellent and the information presented by them was very knowledgeable. It really gave us confidence in knowing what to do and the right people to talk to in Panama.
— Edward Hill
Another outstanding job done by the staff of IL, speakers and event sponsors!
— Lynn Albert Burrill
I thought the overall conference was run very well, with an excellent group of speakers. The conference was well worth attending. Thanks for all the hard work that went into making it a success.
I was exposed to the full range of information needed to make the decision to move to Panama. The speakers knew their stuff. I now have the materials and references I need.
The conference was incredible! It was my first IL conference but definitely won’t be the last. The speakers were knowledgeable and very willing to share advice and experiences. I learned so much that I sometimes felt like my brain would explode if I tried to pack any more in!
-– Sherri Speaker
I enjoyed the conference and learned a lot. It was a great first step to figuring out where to go. Thanks!
— Beth Lauderdale
Lots of good info – gave me a good point of reference as to what to consider when evaluating if Panama could be a good fit for me.
— Elaine Schaefer
Across the board everyone was a great speaker and presenter, with a lot to cover in the time allowed. The visuals were great and the sound system well done. Having coffee into the afternoon and the snacks provided throughout the whole day were much appreciated. You took good care of us.
All were excellent. One complaint, if a complaint at all, make it longer!
— Dave Kochubka
Great content and information. Very realistic as to what to expect in Panama. I know some of the expats were very nervous but they gave great information and I really enjoyed hearing them all speak. PLEASE let each one know how much the information they gave was appreciated!
Editor’s Note: For more information on upcoming IL events, see here.
When you talk about Panama, you’ll often find that you’re talking about all the things that make a place a tropical paradise. Panama is hugely popular with U.S. and Canadian expats, and for good reasons. But like any place else, having experienced legal help on your side is critical, even in Paradise.
The Panamanian side of the Darién is dominated by deep valleys, rivers and a 6,000-foot-high mountain peak. You won’t find much else here. Starbucks hasn’t made it, and there’s no Home Depot. This is frontier country. But you will find an open door to immediate residency in Panama, along with a chance for profitable investing.
Santa Fe de Veraguas in Panama is a tiny mountain hideaway with lots of natural bounty. About 200 miles west of Panama City, it’s the kind of place where expat couples are able to live on small pensions (as small as $1,000 a month). And I mean live comfortably. It’s easy to grow heirloom vegetables or rare orchids, should you desire.
My husband and I had recently returned from our third vacation to Panama. We had a busy trip—we toured the Panama Canal, visited the ruins of Panama La Vieja, taken a Spanish language immersion class, explored the restaurants on Via Argentina…and that was just in the city. We also got out into the countryside, strolled quiet beaches and walked in the mountains.
I love to travel to exotic destinations—like on my last trip to Panama. I trekked in Cerro Azul in the majestic mountains overlooking Panama City and visited Santa Fe—one of the country’s hilly frontiers. The rugged natural beauty of these places begs to have a camera pointed at it. Bring a camera with you, and you can start making money right away.
We were ﬂying low over the glittering Caribbean when I saw my dream out the window. Looking down on reefs of coral and lush green islands, I just knew I had to live down there, with my toes buried in those warm, white sands,” says Stephen Crabtree.
Since my first visit to Panama in the 1970s I’ve returned countless times and visited every part of the isthmus except one—the Darién Gap, a large swath of swamp, jungle and forest, 99 miles long and 31 miles wide, that separates Panama’s Darién Province from the Republic of Colombia.
To see what makes Panama unique, explore its rich and fascinating indigenous cultures. Bocas del Toro is the best place to start—by dint of sheer beauty. The province is partly made up of an archipelago of Caribbean islands ringed by white-sand beaches and waters the color of a summer sky. To get to Bocas del Toro from Panama City, catch a one-hour ﬂight on domestic carrier Air Panama.
Sometimes the best way to see something is through someone else’s eyes. For example, I know Panama. My wife, Suzan Haskins, and I lived in Panama City several years ago, and we’ve traveled nearly the entire country. We’ve also attended dozens of International Living events in Panama.