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 spent about five years researching good retirement destinations before actually moving to Panama,” says Bill Hamilton who moved with his wife Mieke to the country’s capital city. “I’m the type of person to look up every single thing…crime rates, politics, cost of living, real estate, health care…and Panama City kept popping up in my research as the best option across the board.” Though in their 60s and already retired from previous careers, the Hamiltons made the decision to move in order to take a stab at running the Balboa Inn, a nine-room B&B in Panama City.
“We were frustrated with extremely long, cold winters, high Canadian taxes, and we were weary of the rat race.” So says Denise Patrick, who—along with her husband Neil—moved to the beach community of Coronado—just 90 minutes from Panama City. The couple first fell in love with Coronado when they spent a vacation there in November 2010—so much so, in fact, that they decided on the flight home to sell their house and belongings.
Conventional wisdom says that you have to get the travel bug out of your system early; that once you have children you have to abandon your overseas dreams—or at least shelve them until the kids grow up and leave the nest. But it’s just not true…and an increasing number of American families are proving it. Folks from all over the U.S. are bucking tradition and traveling the world with their kids—for a summer, a year, and longer.
In the 2014 Fast-Track Your Retirement Overseas Package we’ll introduce you to more than a dozen beautiful places in the world where you can live a caviar lifestyle on a hot dog budget.
Perhaps you long for your own cottage on a quiet beach… a grand apartment in a city vibrant with concerts and cafes… a mountain villa where the air is crisp… or even your own vineyard amid gently rolling hills…
After her daughter left for college, New Yorker Judy Ganes Chase began to look at the possibility of moving overseas…and getting involved in a new business venture. She chose a frozen yogurt franchise and is now the first franchisee in Central America for the Chicago-based chain Forever Yogurt. She has two outlets in Panama City. But Judy has gone a step further and purchased the franchise rights for all of Panama. She plans to open five additional locations in the next two to three years.
Not everyone has a knack for languages…and studying a foreign language at the age of 50, 60, or 70 may seem challenging. For some people even the thought of it is overwhelming. So the good news is you don’t have to speak Spanish if you want to live in Panama. In Chiriquí—where I live—there are several thousand expats. Plenty of them are European and may speak multiple languages, but the majority are North American and I would wager that a good 75% of them do not speak Spanish.
To live the big city life for less and enjoy a world-class retirement look no farther than the San Francisco neighborhood of Panama City. I chose to live in San Francisco because of its walkability, its amenities, and just how close it is to the kind of action that makes for a great city life…and from gourmet delis to evenings at the opera, I enjoyed every minute.
This year, Panama holds the number one spot in International Living’s Annual Global Retirement Index. Being a retiree in Panama myself, I agree that it’s a great place to retire. The word for retirees in Spanish is “jubilados.” I’ve always loved that, because to me it sounds like “jubilant” and shouldn’t we all be jubilantly happy in our old age? In Panama, jubilados are treated with respect and receive special benefits due to their elder status.
Panama is the world’s top retirement haven and it’s Chiriquí province attracts more expats than anywhere else in the country. In the provincial capital, David, homes rent for as little as $220 a month.
The first time I saw Chiriquí Province I was enchanted. It felt familiar and was just so green! Although I was born and raised in New Jersey, I’m a country girl at heart and Chiriquí felt like home. My husband Al and I had rented a car to tour Panama in our quest for a new place to live. Having traveled throughout Central America, Panama was our pick due to its warm climate, low cost of living, developed infrastructure and economic and political stability. We came back to stay in 2009, made our home in Chiriquí and I’m still awed by the stunning scenery.
In 2005, I left my job in the cruise industry and decided to try my luck in Panama. I had a wonderful group of international friends—some from the Americas, and others from as far off as Australia. And I told them all to come visit me in Panama sometime. To my surprise, many of us actually did keep in touch and visit each other. I remember a girl from Venezuela asking me how come there were so many U.S. products on the shelves here.
When my husband, Al, and I left the U.S. nearly 10 years ago I had no idea I would make my home in Panama. We set sail from southwest Florida to navigate the Caribbean Sea and study the Maya culture in person. With our boat secure at a marina in Isla Mujeres, we explored eastern Mexico for six months, then sailed to Belize and on to Guatemala. In the Rio Dulce we found a community of boaters that embraced us, and a marina to call home for the next three years.
I’ve booked my flight to Las Vegas for the Fast Track Your Retirement Overseas Conference in October. I’m looking forward to chatting with attendees, along with my compañera Jessica Ramesch, about life in Panama.
It was sports that first brought Jim to Panama in 2004. “I lived in Boston and was running a sports-marketing company for American football. I handled recreational events, tournaments, leagues, and celebrity events. “While coaching a start-up flag-football team here, I first met my wife Priscilla. We went back to the U.S. and worked together in sports marketing, but when we decided to start a family in 2009, we returned to Panama and made our new home in Las Tablas. We wanted to be near Priscilla’s family.”
When 52-year-old Michael Druillard first set foot on Panamanian soil, this sunny, Central American country won his heart. It was the perfect country for his needs. Besides the warm climate, it has a stable government, a low cost of living, and varied employment opportunities. Now his life in the warm beach town of Coronado is a world away from shovelling snow in his native Canada.
Any location that finds favor with expats ultimately needs a place for them to hang out. There is a ready market of people who want a menu of familiar food—like burgers, hot wings, or a juicy steak—prepared in familiar ways. Put their favorite music on the jukebox, and they’ll be drawn in. Offer them NFL football or a pool table, and they’ll become good regular customers.
Sarah Booth was only 23 when she bought her first vacation rental. It was a tiny studio in a ski resort village in Canada, but it was the beginning of a portfolio that now includes properties in Panama, Colombia, and Mexico…and an income that allows Sarah to enjoy a wonderful lifestyle from her home in Coronado, Panama. “Ultimately, my rentals have funded my lifestyle and my travels,” says Sarah. “I live for free and enjoy awesome rental yields.”
Affectionately nicknamed the “Rose of the North,” Chiang Mai is Thailand’s charmer; a laidback, yet vibrant, university city famous for its many Buddhist temples, culture and good food. The warm climate, low costs and excellent, modern infrastructure have attracted expats in big numbers, and that includes thousands of retirees from all over the world.
“Won’t you miss your family and friends if you move overseas?” That’s a question we at IL get asked a lot, and the answer is… “Of course you will.” It’s something my husband Dan and I have experience of. We didn’t think about it too much when we moved to Ecuador back in 2001. With the exception of Dan’s mother, none of our family—my parents and our siblings—lived in the same city as we did.
Optimism and purpose, a low stress level, a natural diet and an active lifestyle…experts say those factors are three times as important as your genetic makeup when it comes to enjoying a long and healthy life. Luckily, it’s easy to embrace those elements when you’re living in a place where they come naturally. And they do in our top picks for the world’s healthiest places to live.
As International Living’s Panama Editor, I travel several times a year to speak at conferences. Often the image people have is of a country with pretty beaches, plenty of palm trees…and not much else. One of the questions I get most is: “Will I be bored there?” If you’re expecting to take it easy and have a quiet retirement, you may want to think again. Bluntly speaking, it’s nearly impossible to be bored or even inactive here.
Panama is one of the fastest-growing countries in Latin America. And with a steady influx of expats of all ages and a growing middle class, its beleaguered education system has been hard-pressed to meet the growing demand for quality instruction. Public schools don’t prepare students very well for college. So middle and upper class residents turn to the nation’s private schools.
“Plenty of everyday people are choosing to live on the water full-time—in their retirement,” says InternationalLiving.com editor Jason Holland, author of the publication’s new report. “After a bit of training and hands-on experience at home, they’re tying up beside mega-yachts in the Mediterranean, finding large floating communities of like-minded expat sailors in the Caribbean, and island hopping in the Gulf of Thailand, heading wherever their fancy takes them.”
With a tropical climate, excellent quality health care, and a low cost of living…there are many reasons why Panama is a great place to live. Panama has been named the best country in the world to retire to in International Living’s 2014 Annual Global Retirement Index. This is not a new revelation as Panama has topped the pole an astounding seven times. It also boasts the benefits of being a short flight away from the U.S. and the U.S. dollar is the official currency in Panama.
Despite being in the tropics, Panama boasts several towns located in the highlands that defy the heat. The mountains are small—not like the Alps or the Andes—but their elevation is enough to alter the climate from hot and muggy to cool and refreshing, which is why these locations are so appealing.
China is changing. That much we all know. And in the last few years a major shift has been in people’s diet. Spurred on by improved incomes, the growing Chinese middle class has developed a hunger for western-style foods—that means more meat and dairy.
Mangoes are falling, ripe, to the ground. A light breeze flutters through the fruit-laden trees, and a yellow tanager takes flight. A couple passes me, wearing tank tops and shorts. I’m at one of Panama City’s many parks, thinking life just doesn’t get much better than this. It’s warm, the sun is shining, and everything around me is dripping in rainforest green.
“Why is life better here? Well it’s warmer, I don’t shovel snow, I buy beer for under $1, I’m 10 minutes from a beach, and I play softball all year round,” says expat Jim Thomas. Jim lives in Las Tablas, a small town that serves as capital of Panama’s Los Santos province, heartland of the country’s Spanish-colonial heritage.
Warm and sunny days…beautiful people lounging on the sand as surfers vie for choice waves… palm tree-lined boardwalks in picturesque beachside towns, dramatic craggy cliffs…the California coast has certainly captured the popular imagination. No wonder; it’s one of the most pleasant places in the world to live. But on the flip side, it also has some of the most expensive real estate in the world and a high cost of living.
We enjoy a busy social life here in Las Tablas, Panama. That’s partly because eating out is so inexpensive. We indulge several times a week and it’s easy for friends to join us. Dinner for the two of us averages about $15, and lunch can be as little as $2.50 apiece for the menú del día, which includes a soup, the main dish, and a beverage.
Oklahoma…Montana…Minnesota…Chile. Neil Sander has lived in numerous destinations, been involved in countless projects, and has had a plethora of careers…but since arriving in Panama in 2004 he has had no desire to live anywhere else. He was approached to move to this beautiful Central American country and supervise the designing and building of a retirement housing development in a virtually uninhabited area of Bocas del Toro.
Picture this: You’re sitting with an iced glass of banana/mango/papaya smoothie in your hand, in a comfy chair on the terrace. A slight breeze tickles your skin as you enjoy a symphony of birdsong, the chirping of geckos on the walls, and iguanas nibbling the grass in the yard in front of you. You might even see a giant green leaf bug perched on the chaise lounge.
If you like easy-going people…a chilled environment…a warm climate…and an income of up to $5,000 a month, then owning a beach bar might be just the lifestyle career for you. After all, if your customers are predominantly tourists, they are at their most relaxed and happy when they come into your place. And the profits from serving them can be considerable.
Claire Ross had a great idea…no experience…and a small investment. It was all she needed to set up a bar in the beach town of Coronado in Panama. “When I first moved here, there was nowhere to hang out and meet people if you were single or new in town.” With new arrivals trickling in, Claire wanted to create a space where everyone would feel comfortable and embraced.
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…
My husband Mark and I live around 10-minutes’ drive away from several beaches. On weekdays we can let the dogs run loose, as we have the beach to ourselves. Mark, an avid cyclist, rides with a group of locals several times a week. Twice a week I go to the nearby pool for aqua aerobics and gossip.
One of the most common bits of advice given to those considering a move overseas is “Rent before you buy!” In Chiriquí Province of western Panama, where I live, there’s a very good reason to follow this advice…and it all has to do with the climate. You may be surprised to learn that this small area of a small country has quite a number of micro-climates.
When I was 14, my parents informed my sister Jacquelyn and me that we would be moving to Panama, where my dad was planning to take advantage of opportunities in property development. Back then, we lived in Roswell, Georgia, and I was your average braces-wearing pre-teen, with big plans to enroll in the local magnet high school, where I’d become an artist or actress of distinction.
It’s a lifestyle that’s waiting for you in Panama’s Los Santos province. Beaches here come in all shapes and sizes, but each is unspoiled and often deserted. These perfect stretches of sand and the warm waters that lap them are what draw most foreign folks to the region.
You’ve just weighed anchor on another night of bliss, lulled to sleep by the gentle rocking of your sailboat in the calm sea. Before you is a small cove lined by craggy cliffs. Clear blue waters end at a white-sand beach. You’ve had it all to yourself for the last week. It was supposed to be just an overnight stop. But it was so beautiful, you decided to stick around. After a quick dip, you’re enjoying a cup of coffee and a light breakfast on deck as you contemplate which island paradise you’ll go to next.