“Think globally, act locally.” I’ve always liked that saying, because it sums up so well the attitude of many of the expats I know living abroad. They are obviously thinking globally to get the big picture on issues that most affect their quality of life.
As healthcare costs and complexity in the U.S. continue to spiral upward, more and more retirees are asking, “Can I get high-quality healthcare for less if I move overseas?” The simple answer is yes. The Healthcare category of the 2016 International Living Global Retirement Index ranks the healthcare systems of the 23 most popular retirement locations abroad.
Panama, Ecuador, Mexico, and Belize earn top rankings as the countries with the best retiree benefits and discounts in the newly published 2016 Global Retirement Index from InternationalLiving.com.
The 2016 Global Retirement Index lists the top countries where retirees can live better for less around the world. But as well as offering a lower cost of living, some countries stand out in the category of significant retiree benefits and discounts, including savings on transportation, entertainment, social services, visa costs, and healthcare.
Bill and Mitzi Martain are living the retirement of their dreams. “We have a lovely new home, a beautiful farm, wonderful friends and neighbors, and each other,” Mitzi says. “There’s no way we could have this lifestyle and quality of life in the U.S.” Bill and Mitzi have what they consider an ideal life. They own 10 acres of fertile land in a rural valley, surrounded by hills and mountains. They enjoy sunny, warm weather year-round, with no snow, no ice, no hurricanes or tornadoes.
Where should you stash your rare coins, precious metals, or other long-term investments you want to keep safe and secure? You could hold them in the U.S., in a bank safe deposit box (if it’s big enough) or a private vault. But if you really want to keep them safe, you’ll want to consider storing them internationally, to diversify where you keep your wealth. There are some other great reasons for doing this.
Panama takes the top spot in InternationalLiving.com’s 2016 Annual Global Retirement Index. Months of research goes into compiling this Index and InternationalLiving.com’s editors are helped by their large team of expat contributors based around the world, who help collect the data and offer input used to identify, rank, rate, compare, and contrast the very best retirement destinations in the world.
Imagine a place where sunshine is ubiquitous, a high-quality lifestyle won’t cost the earth, and as a retiree, you’re treated like a VIP…you’ll get a red-carpet welcome and be rewarded for your age and experience. Places like this exist…and they have claimed the top spots in the “Benefits and Discounts” category in International Living’s 2016 Global Retirement Index. In many countries all over the world you can live better for less.
I was tired of working 40, sometimes 50 hours a week as a designer for an international furniture manufacturer. Working on commission only, I often worked on my days off to facilitate clients, and meeting my required goals had become increasingly difficult. Continually declining markets, escalating real estate taxes, and the rising cost of electricity and heating oil were other factors that made me decide it was time for a change.
It’s that time of year again…International Living’s Annual Global Retirement Index is hitting the presses. And in the top spot: Panama. I should say: Panama again. Because this tiny powerhouse has topped this index more times than any other country. (International Living’s first Annual Global Retirement Index was published in 1992.)
I am very fortunate to have the opportunity to travel severals time a year to places like Ecuador, Panama, Costa Rica, and Mexico. You might wonder how I became so lucky? Well, seven years ago, I came to Mexico to teach English as a second language. This allowed me to fulfill my dream of living abroad and immerse myself in another culture.
Retiring abroad is easier and more affordable than ever before. These days it really is possible to spend your days relaxing beneath palm fronds on a Caribbean beach, enjoying farm-fresh produce in a mountain haven with year-round spring weather, or wandering the storied streets of a historic and cultured European city…or all of the above. But with so many choices available, finding the right one can seem daunting.
“From our porch we can see down to the river, where we have our own little private beach and swimming hole,” says Albuquerque native Bob Caragol of his and his wife Irma’s new home. “We just fell in love with the area. There’s no crime and no pollution, and my asthma symptoms improved immediately.”
“We have everything we want here,” Chris Gallimore says of his and his wife Katherine’s new life in Panama. “A nice home in the country, perfect climate, plenty of friends, and a social life. Before we moved to Panama, work just got in the way of our hobbies. Now we do what we want.”
“We’re healthier and living a better lifestyle here than we ever did in the U.S.,” says expat Mitzi Martain, who has lived on her farm near Santa Fe, Panama for nearly nine years now. “And our Social Security income covers all our monthly expenses.” Mitzi and her husband Bill are two of the approximately 50,000 U.S. expats who have found their piece of paradise in this year’s winner—Panama.
At a crossroads in his career, Chris Young left Missouri with his family for the mountain town of Boquete, in Panama’s Chiriquí province, five years ago. Here, in a town with a low cost of living, low costs of doing business, and a thriving culinary culture, he found the perfect place to realize his dreams of becoming a chef. Today, after immersing himself in the area’s exciting food scene, he indulges his passion by preparing delicious meals for expats and locals alike.
One of the things folks love about Boquete is there’s always something to do. It may be an art display, live musical performance, photography exhibit, or live stage production. Since expats and retirees began moving to this rural town they have transformed it into the cultural Mecca of western Panama.
With a vibrant cultural scene, Panama’s capital is a wellspring that’s well worth exploring. In Panama City, you have so much to choose from that whether you’re into art, architecture, gourmet cuisine—or anything else—you’ll find plenty to keep you occupied. Best of all, this surprising city is filled with contrasts. Small colonial gems and skyscrapers with cutting-edge designs…hidden galleries and state-of-the-art museums…centuries-old ruins and more modern wonders, too.
It feels likes standing in a virgin wilderness. In front of you are some of Panama’s finest white-sand beaches. Tropical birds call from the trees behind you. The land is undeveloped and quiet. You won’t meet many people here. Occasionally, you’ll see a kite surfer or someone walking an almost-deserted beach.
You can’t help but feel happy in Panama’s highlands. The views are inspiring, with verdant pines and bougainvillea bursts covering the hillsides. Hidden gems include streams, waterfalls and even hot springs. Not to mention some of Panama’s best flora and fauna…including hundreds of species of colorful birds, orchids, and more. To be sure, Panama is known for its stunning Caribbean islands and popular Pacific beaches.
I first came to scout Panama City 11 years ago. Back then, the city was on the cusp of a massive growth spurt. It was primed for big things—set to transform into one of the commercial hubs of the Americas. That growth played out just as I expected. Since then, I’ve watched the city change almost beyond recognition.
The mountain town of Boquete is undoubtedly familiar to anyone with even a passing interest in living or buying a home in Panama.
During the second Chinese Opium War, in the 1850s, a penniless teen named Cheong Fatt Tze fled from China to Southeast Asia. There he would make his fortune as a merchant. He became so wealthy that he earned the moniker of “Rockefeller of the East.” Tze owned many fine houses throughout Southeast Asia, but none was as extravagant as the Blue Mansion, on the tropical island of Penang off the coast of Malaysia. It’s a colossal beacon of 19th-century Chinese extravagance
As the savage North American winter begins to bite and the snow and ice pile up, many of us ﬁnd ourselves yearning for warmer climates elsewhere. Imagine a place that’s never too hot or too cold—just perfect. Outside, the birds are chirping, while gardens and wildﬂowers bloom in multicolored glory. You can walk around in a light tee-shirt at any time of year. Throw out your coat and boots. Forget about heating and air-conditioning bills and suffering through sweltering heat and humidity.
Not that long ago, you could buy a CD in a U.S. bank and get a decent rate of return…4% or 5% annually was typical. Sure, you wouldn’t get rich this way. But it was a safe and affordable way to build a nest egg. Today of course, times are very different. For nearly a decade, the Federal Reserve has kept interest rates at zero. And instead of paying 4% to 5% annually on CDs, now you’re lucky to get 1%.
The island destination in Panama I’m asked about the most is Bocas del Toro—and with good reason. A trickle of adventurous visitors and a tight-knit expat community have transformed insular Bocas del Toro from a sleepy archipelago to a bustling outpost. But if you’re considering island life, you’ll be interested to know that Bocas is not the only exciting option available.
I retired to Panama in 2007 and I’ve seen big improvements in that short time. Getting around the country has become much easier in the time we’ve lived here. For example, the Panamanian government is expanding the Pan American Highway from Santiago to David.
Boquete is the premier expat and retiree destination in the highlands of Panama. The name applies to both the small hamlet resting in an ancient volcanic formation and to the larger surrounding district, home to about 25,000 residents. It’s located in Chiriquí Province in western Panama, not far from the border with Costa Rica, on the eastern-facing side of Volcan Baru, Panama’s highest peak (11,400 feet) and only volcano.
Since my husband Clyde and I retired to Panama four years ago, a typical day is anything but that. We awaken each day to the sound of birds singing, roosters crowing, and geckos’ chirping as our peaceful little neighborhood comes to life…wondering what the new day will bring
One almost sure-fire way to succeed in business is to find a gap that needs filling, or a niche that is unoccupied. And right now there’s a great big gap in the Chiriquí Province of western Panama for home maintenance, lawn care, and handyman services. Of course, there are locals who carry out yard work, but that laidback outlook that expats find so appealing in some ways can leave them waiting to have work done. And when it comes to home repairs, it’s hard to find qualified tradesmen with the right tools. With an expat population of around 20,000, Chiriquí Province has a market.
“Buenas,” he says, nodding his head as he rides past. Leathery tan on a face framed by a worn cowboy hat, he’s the very picture of a Marlboro Man. Except he’s Panamanian. I’m sitting in an ancient Lada Niva—a Russian 4×4 made for rugged terrain. We’ve stopped so our cowboy (and his herd of cows) can pass safely. It’s a chance to take in the view… In the distance I can see the national park, where hiking trails crisscross hills lush with rainforest. In the treetops above me, I’ve seen monkeys and toucans and several species of birds I can’t name. This is Santa Fe de Veraguas, Panama—a tiny mountain hideaway about 200 miles west of Panama City.
Since I moved to Panama 10 years ago, the islands of Bocas del Toro have become one of my favorite vacation spots of all time. It’s just an hour-long flight from Panama City…though I’ve also driven the scenic seven hours or so to the launch point of Almirante, where you can get a 30-minute water taxi to the main island. I’ve traveled extensively throughout the Caribbean…St. Thomas, Grand Cayman, Martinique…you name it, I’ve probably been there. But for me, none of them can hold a candle to Bocas del Toro.
When I decided to get away from the cold winters of Colorado, Panama attracted me with its warmer climate, low cost of living, and first-rate infrastructure. That alone was worth moving for…but as a retiree here, it gets even better. One of the national laws of Panama can make the already low cost of living even lower. Law #6 entitles any resident of the country who is a female over 55 or male over 60 to receive a discount on specific services.
When my husband Clyde was working as a firefighter and paramedic in Corpus Christi, Texas he had top-notch health insurance. While he was still working, the city paid a portion of our premium but after he decided to call it quits we’d be responsible for the full amount. With a monthly premium of over $1,200 how could we afford to retire, let alone retire early?
As night begins to fall, strings of lights twinkle above my head. The temperature drops 10 degrees to about 78 F…absolutely perfect. The open rooftop terrace of Panama City’s Tantalo Hotel is a fantastic place to enjoy the cool evening breeze. Not to mention the colonial architecture of Casco Viejo, one of Panama’s oldest (and most romantic) quarters.
From our porch we can see down to the river, where we have our own little private beach and swimming hole,” says Albuquerque native Bob Caragol of his and his wife Irma’s new home. “We just fell in love with the area. There’s no crime and no pollution, and my asthma symptoms improved immediately.” Their story is typical of expats living in the scenic mountain town of Santa Fe, located in Veraguas province in west-central Panama.
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.
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.
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.