If you’re looking for inexpensive cosmopolitan living—but with many of the conveniences you’d expect in New York, Miami, or any other major First-World city—you owe it to yourself to take a serious look at Panama City.
Panama City boasts a skyline of skyscrapers, modern office buildings, condo complexes and hotels of shining glass and steel, with world-class views of the Bay of Panama. The city is a major international commerce and banking hub, home to more than 80 of the world’s largest banks, scores of international non-profits, and giant multi-nationals such as Federal Express, Dell, 3M, and many more.
In the city and the surrounding communities, your international phone calls go through the first time, every time. High-speed Internet is the norm, rather than the exception. Power and water service are reliable and every amenity you could possibly want is within easy grasp.
Panama City is also fast becoming one of the world’s leading culinary destinations with eateries of every variety offering high-quality, fresh fare for much less than it would cost stateside.
Expats are attracted here thanks to its first-class health care and thriving property market that lends to a viable yet luxurious way of life in Panama City.
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After eight years as Panama Editor for International Living, you’d think writing about the best places to vacation in Panama would be a cinch. But there are so many great places to vacation in Panama that it’s hard to narrow it down to just a few. In fact, I’m constantly adding new favorites to my list.
Ten years ago, I left the U.S. in search of a new adventure with my husband, Al—a decision that led us to the city of David in the province of Chiriquí, Panama. Al and I have spent time in Mexico, Guatemala, Costa Rica, Belize, Nicaragua, El Salvador, and Honduras since leaving the U.S. but, for many reasons, Panama won out as our retirement destination. Chiriquí Province is beautiful. It’s the country’s farming province, all rolling hills lined with fields where you’ll find pineapples, papaya, rice, coffee plantations, and orange groves.
“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.
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.
“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.
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.
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.
My wife and I moved to Ecuador in 2006 to enjoy the more laid-back atmosphere and travel extensively. The problem was that our taste for lazing around on sandy beaches and spending money in out-of-the-way Quechua village markets was starting to eat into our retirement funds. We needed to develop a new income…one that wouldn’t cut into our relaxed evenings watching gurgling mountain streams from our resort deck.
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.
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…
Though the inn is small, just nine rooms, Mieke and Bill like to be onsite as much as possible, helping guests organize tours and transport and answering all kinds of questions about Panama. “We absolutely love this part of Panama City,” says Mieke of the Balboa area. Located in the capital’s Ancón district, this area is a world away from the city skyscrapers.
“What are you doing tomorrow?” That’s how the best weekends start in Panama. Last-minute invitations are never considered rude. And I’ve learned they should always be accepted…especially if you want to explore the country. So the next thing I knew, I was piling into a pickup truck with two local friends and heading to the little mountain town of Cerro Azul.
Panama has much to offer, from mountain havens boasting year-round mild temperatures to colonial towns where the traditions of grand old Spain have shaped and enriched the local culture. But it’s Panama’s sunny beaches that get the most attention…and with good reason.
My first year in Panama City, I started my mornings with a $0.15 cup of strong, dark coffee. (That’s how the locals drink it, and the only way it’s made at food stalls.) I would also usually buy a little bag of corn fritters, or torrejas de maiz, for $0.25. Very greasy and very tasty.
To me, there’s something almost magical about the beach. From the peaceful sounds of the surf breaking against the shore to the squawking of the gulls high above, it conjures up visions of simpler times when the only worry in the world was whether or not the water would wash away our sand castle.
Standing on a bridge over the Calderas River, watching it bubble and tumble down the valley, it’s easy to see why the Swedes and Swiss who arrived in this sheltered spot in the early 20th century felt so immediately at home. Pure mountain air and forest-green hillsides are something you expect of Scandinavia or the Alpine foothills…not tropical little Panama.
I visit Panama at least once a year, and every time I approach the city from Tocumen International Airport I’m amazed. It’s what Dorothy must have felt as she traveled the Yellow Brick Road and got her first glimpse of the towers of Oz. This is one big, bustling city, and it seems to get bigger and more bustling every year.
We at International Living are sending one lucky winner (along with a friend or spouse) to Coronado, Panama for a full month in 2014—free. The prize includes round-trip flights from the U.S. or Canada to Panama City, furnished accommodation in the beach-resort town of Coronado, plus a living-expense stipend of $1,500.
What are your reasons for visiting Panama? Ask any tourist that question and you’ll get a different answer. Some come for the beaches and the sun, others to explore the jungles or cloudforests. There’s a lot to see, and if you’ve read anything about Panama, it’s likely you’ve felt tempted to hop on a plane. To help tantalize you just a bit more, here are my top four reasons to visit Panama.
The retire-overseas experts at InternationalLiving.com will send one winner (along with a friend or spouse) to Coronado, Panama—for a full month in 2014, free. The prize includes round-trip flights from the U.S. or Canada to Panama City, furnished accommodation in the beach-resort town of Coronado, Panama, plus a living-expense stipend of $1,500.
My adventures in pursuit of stories have taken me to strange and wonderful places. The spice-scented bazaars of Istanbul were memorable, as were the breweries of Dusseldorf on the banks of the German Rhine. I have haggled with gypsies, queried stamp investors, “borrowed” a speed boat to check out real estate, and handled shotguns in London worth $100,000 each.
Cynthia West bounced through the door vibrating with the news she was about to tell her husband Robert. He listened with mounting glee as she explained her medical company’s plan to inject some younger blood into the workforce. They were offering an early retirement package—one that would give Cynthia “an avenue of escape” from her high stress, 10-hour-a-day job in Silicon Valley. She grabbed the opportunity. Though Robert, 62, was working part-time…
There’s a big difference between how a tourist sees Panama City and how a potential resident views it. If you come for a visit, you’re likely to note the sparkly, spiky skyline. Even back in the 1990s it was impressive—no other city in the region could compete. And these days there are more than plain old skyscrapers here. There are some true architectural specimens, like the Trump building (sail shaped, like that iconic hotel in Dubai).
Coronado is a relaxed community. Only an hour from Panama City, this coastal town—now popular with expats—was once a vacation getaway for Panamanians, who came from miles around to sun themselves on the black-and-white-sanded beach and swim in the Pacific Ocean.
When I first discovered Sora, I had been looking for someplace quiet to spend a weekend away from Panama City. I wanted a place that was an easy drive from the capital. Somewhere with a cool climate and little noise or light pollution. I wanted to be able to look up and see the stars, maybe wear a light jacket, and have a relaxing weekend.
Steve Doane is a guy’s guy. A retired member of the NYPD, this keen surfer has an athletic physique and likes his rock ‘n’ roll. So when he describes his new life in Panama as “like falling into a Walt Disney movie,” there are no raised eyebrows. Rather, there are nodding heads. “What I mean is everything’s so intense…the sights and sounds,” he says.
One of the places my wife, Suzan, and I have lived since moving abroad in 2001 is Panama City, Panama. And I must say, if it was a big, modern city I was after as an expat destination, Panama City would have to be it. The idea of craving the amenities of a big, busting metropolis as a place to retire or have a second home strikes some people as odd.
Panama City is one of the world’s top cities for retirees. There are plenty of reasons. For one thing, Panama’s Pensionado program provides the most attractive range of retiree benefits you’re likely to find anywhere. The temperature rarely drops below 68 F. And the city is jam-packed with modern amenities, thousands of restaurants, glittering shopping malls, cinemas where you can catch English-language movies…
Panama’s a place of sunshine, 365 days a year. You have hundreds of miles of beach…highland retreats with green valleys where the weather is spring-like, even in January and August…and a genuinely cosmopolitan capital city, too, with one of the world’s largest financial districts. And Panama offers the world’s most generous retiree benefits.
As I sit here sweating in the middle of January it’s hard to imagine that it’s cold somewhere. Our friends back in the U.S. are still working, yet I’m only 53 years old and happily retired now for two years. The past two and a half years have gone by quickly as we’ve settled into our new life in Panama.
My friend Ben lives in Panama City and wouldn’t live anywhere else. He thrives on the metropolitan vibe, the non-stop activity and being in a major commercial and business center. If you love city life, Panama’s capital has it all, with skyscrapers, huge shopping malls, live theater and music, and cuisine from all over the world. On a much smaller scale, the city of David, where I live, has the commercial and cultural advantages of a city, but in the countryside of western Panama.
“You’re starting a business where?” That’s the question you’ll get, over and over, when you tell your friends you’ve decided to pack your bags and move to Panama. They’ll likely know that Panama is famous for its canal. But they may also think of Panama as a Central American “Banana Republic.” Nothing could be further than the truth, of course. Thanks to the Panama Canal, this has long been a destination for international business. So Panama has always focused more on its business infrastructure than on luring vacationers.
Integration into your new community is very important. When you move overseas, you want to know that you will be accepted into the community and make new friends quickly, which will in turn make the transition between countries and cultures easier.
When moving overseas you may be worried about seeing your family back home or saving your money to get to the U.S. when you need to. However some countries offer discounted airfare to retirees—which will lower your travel costs.
I’ve lived in Panama for the past eight years and the country has always been a winner in my book. International Living ranked Panama the best retirement destination in the world well before the mainstream press caught on. In fact, it took the number one spot in IL’s Annual Global Retirement Index not once or even twice, but seven times in a row. This year, it takes the top spot again in the Index as the best place in the world to retire.
We all dream of giving up the rat race, packing our belongings, and moving some where warm and sunny, but why wait until you retire? Moving overseas can be a big decision, even bigger when you have children—but the benefits that make living abroad a good thing for adults are similar to those that make it a good thing for kids. A lower cost of living, healthier lifestyle, varied life and cultural experiences…they all benefit your child’s life in some way. Here are some of the best places to retire for families.
It’s hard to believe four years have passed since I moved to Panama. It’s even more incredible to think that I left the U.S. almost nine years ago. I live in David, the capital of Chiriquí Province in the west of the country. I didn’t plan to move here; it was never on my “to do” list. But when my husband, Al, and I first saw the rolling hills and slopes lined with rows of vegetable plants, acres of pineapple and rice fields, coffee plantations…
The cost of elective procedures such as dental and cosmetic surgery is cheaper in these four countries than in the U.S., even when you take the cost of travel into account.