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
Bill Brown wanted a beachfront property. When he decided he needed a change from his teaching job in St. Louis…a home on the beach was his dream. But where could he find beachfront property that would be affordable? He conducted internet searches on the best countries to live in before he settled on Panama. He was intrigued by the culture.
My wife, Liz, and I moved from Tennessee to Las Tablas on Panama’s Azuero Peninsula in 2010. It’s a small town in one of the most traditional parts of the country and it’s perfectly located between the mountains and the beach so we have the best of both worlds on our doorstep. But we like to explore so we’ve also taken day trips and short vacations to other parts of Panama, too.
For any intrepid traveler, finding great deals on airfares is one of the best ways to save money as you travel. And fortunately, there’s an app on the market that can help you do just that. Hopper is a smartphone app (available in the Apple app store) that can tell you the cheapest time to fly to locations all around the world and find you the cheapest deals on airfare. Knowing the right time to book can save you up to 40% on airfare alone.
The sun peeks out from behind a ﬂuffy white cloud as I hop out of the motorboat and wade to shore. The bright rays alter the scenery. The water goes from a soft baby blue to an almost ﬂuorescent turquoise, and the sand is a dazzling white. I didn’t have to ﬂy halfway across the world or empty my pocketbook to get to paradise. My round-trip ticket from Panama City to Contadora Island was only $90. Meals are between $6 and $20 a person. Sipping tropical drinks and watching yachts drift by, I ﬁnd it hard to believe I’m just a 20-minute ﬂight from a bustling metropolis.
The highlands in the breadbasket province of Chiriquí attract expats from around the globe. Boquete and Volcán are favored destinations here, with temperatures ranging from about 65 F to 86 F. Folks are drawn to the perfect climate, with plenty of sunshine despite frequent afternoon showers.
Though Panama is tropical, there are some drier areas along the Paciﬁc coast. The Coronado region, an hour west of Panama City, is known as the Dry Arc or Arco Seco. This dry swath stretches all the way to Pedasí on the Azuero Peninsula. The region gets 40 to 60 inches of rain a year, whereas Panama’s Caribbean coast usually gets over 120.
When Harry Segil ﬁrst got off the plane in Panama in 2007, he had half a mind to leave. “My glasses fogged right up,” he says, adding that the humidity was a surprise. “I thought, I’m getting back on the plane!”
In many great-value places overseas, a couple can live comfortably on less than $2,000 a month. It means that instead of pinching pennies, you can relax, travel, eat out, and lower your stress level. Your quality of life increases, even though you’re spending less.
I was in my favorite grocery store the other day buying fresh chicken at the butcher counter, and it made me think about a recent food scare in the U.S. One of the mega-conglomerate producers had recalled thousands of pounds of chicken, due to possible contamination. Then over coffee the next morning I read a story online about health insurance companies raising their “affordable” premiums by 20% to 40% next year. And I realized how relieved I am that those things don’t concern me here in Chiriquí Province, Panama.
Craig and April Lewis have an idyllic life in the Panamanian beach town of Pedasi. Having first visited the town as dive instructors in 2010, they now run their own B&B there. Pedasi kept beckoning them with its activity-rich waters and many colorful festivals. You’ll hear it said there are 700 fiestas a year in this part of Panama, and this is the region where you’ll feel the country’s colonial heritage most keenly.
You keep hearing advice about establishing an online business and creating your own income source by “thinking outside the box.” Jennifer Daniels, 58, took that advice and transformed her traditional medical practice into a work-from-home, online business in David, Panama. She explored Europe, the Caribbean, and Central America before settling on Panama.
Lush, tropical jungle rings the Panamanian island where Laura Kay has lived for nine years. She has dozens upon dozens of white-sand beaches to choose from. Laura lives the simple life of a yoga instructor…in spectacular surroundings in Bocas del Toro, Panama. The Caribbean province is best known for the hundreds of islands that dot the waters just off the mainland.
“In Pedasi, Panama, we live a life we couldn’t have had back home,” say Connie and Mikkel Moller. “If we were in the U.S., we’d both be working, at least part-time, and constantly worrying. After visiting for a few days in 2012, the Mollers fell in love with Pedasi. “We loved it. We fell for Pedasi. The people, the ambience…everything about it.” Located five hours by car from Panama City (you can also fly; it’s just under an hour from Panama City in a tiny commercial plane), most days of the year are sunny. Average daytime temperatures are around 88 F, but evenings and mornings can be 10 to 15 degrees cooler, thanks to the ocean breezes.
When I think of country living in Panama, I think of Volcan in Chiriqui Province. To me, it offers the ideal blend of rural lifestyle in a small-town setting.
Fun and Sun in Panama’s Most Convenient Beach Community
Most folks looking for their dream home have a good idea what they want…a mountain estate with panoramic vistas, or perhaps a country cottage with a colorful garden.
According to the latest figures from the U.S. Social Security Administration, U.S. retirees overseas received more than $3 billion in social security payments in 2013. That number shows an increase of $160 million since 2012—and has nearly doubled since 2013. In total, 373,224 U.S. retirees received their social security payments as residents of a foreign country in 2013. Europe is home to the most U.S. retirees drawing their social security payments abroad (154,238), followed by Canada and Mexico (95,767), and Asia (70,586).
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“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.