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
Worried that the U.S. government seems increasingly eager to get its hands on your money? Frustrated at your limited choices for diversifying your portfolio? Or looking to protect some of your assets in case you are ever on the losing end of a costly lawsuit? You may want to think about opening an account abroad.
Don’t let Southeast Asia’s “exotic” reputation fool you. Yes, this part of the world is rich with color and unfamiliar culture. But what you may not realize is that Southeast Asia is also one of the easiest places for English-speaking expats to get “set up” and start living very, very well…for a small fraction of what a comparable lifestyle would cost at home.
With the coming of fall, my family and friends in the States find themselves thinking of the long, cold winter approaching. It’s not just the ice and snow they have to cope with, but the enormous heating bills, and not being able to enjoy the outdoors. But not me…living in Panama I don’t ever have a heating bill and I haven’t seen snow in years. The great outdoors is my playground all year round here in the Chiriqui province of western Panama. And that includes being able to go to the beach anytime I want.
I’m fortunate to live in Chiriqui province in a small, quiet Panamanian neighborhood near the tiny town of Dolega. We are centered between our province’s two main urban centers…both of which I love for different reasons. David is the larger of the two and is a 50-minute drive from my house. Although much smaller than Panama City, it’s a busy and bustling place. David provides everything we need—banks, supermarkets, repair shops, insurance agencies, car dealerships, and modern shopping malls.
Morning is my favorite part of the day…it’s cool and the day is new. My wife, Luz, and I sit on our patio, coffee in hand, and watch birds splashing about in the birdbath I made from stained glass shards. When I first moved to Panama five years ago, I lived in the city of David. But after exploring the country I decided to make Las Tablas, on the Azuero peninsula, home. It’s a charming town with a tranquil public park and the locals are a friendly bunch.
Weekends, Rita Sosa tends to spend at her beach house, just over an hour’s drive from Panama City. “Our house is literally on the beach,” says Rita. “When I go up there, I just go to relax and swim. I’m very happy to sit and read a book outside and not do a whole lot of anything. It’s so great to have beach weather 12 months a year, and I love the tropical greenery.
From our new home town of Pedasi every beach seems to offer its own playground. From a launching point for Isla Iguana Wildlife Refuge, to waves fit for championship surfers and beginners alike. Located on the Azuero peninsula on Panama’s Pacific coast, Pedasi is an ocean-lovers dream. Driving out of town towards the popular beach of Playa Venao offers picturesque views of rolling hills on one side and stunning Pacific views on the other.
People used to ask me what I was going to do with myself all day when I didn’t have to work. Believe me, I haven’t had a problem finding things to do since moving from Florida to the city of David in Panama. I spend many hours biking around the city and exploring the surrounding countryside. I work on my blog, I have more time for my photography and I recently started painting classes.
Moving to Panama was “a bit of an adventure” for expat James Bloomfield. “When I first moved to the capital, I was out exploring nearly every weekend,” he says. He fell for the coastal area of Pedasi, just 200 miles west of Panama City. It’s a region of pristine, uncrowded beaches and abundant waters just teeming in tuna, wahoo, dorado, and more.
We knew we wanted to open a B&B, and now we have this beautiful place and a great lifestyle,” says Manzar Lari, 55. In 2013, Manzar and his partner, Terry Richmeier, 48, left jobs in corporate healthcare in Minneapolis to create a new life in the highland town of Boquete, Panama…and a new livelihood in the hospitality business.
A million shades of green surround me as I drive. Above, the sky is a deep cornflower blue. I’m on the perfectly paved (and newly expanded) National Highway, driving down the Azuero Peninsula’s eastern coast. As is customary in this region of Panama, the sun is shining. A five-hour drive will get you from Panama’s sultry capital to Pedasí, a gem of a village. Banana trees, sugar cane, and countless varieties of palms line the flat horizon. There are no highrises here…towns in the greater Pedasí district are tiny.
Home to 4.4 million people, New Zealand and its awesome landscapes are admittedly a long way from North America. But as our winter is their summer, you could consider retiring here part-time. In a pollution-free environment, it’s much easier to embrace a healthy lifestyle.
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 […]