Panama Retirement Information
If you daydream about sunshine, tropical beaches, and welcoming locals, you owe it to yourself to consider Panama. If you know you don’t do well without modern amenities, then Panama becomes an even more likely contender. And if you feel a solid, growing economy and stable, business-friendly government is essential to a free and happy life…well then Panama may well be a perfect fit.
International Living was one of the first publications to home in on the clear, concrete benefits of retiring to Panama…though mainstream publications like Smart Money, The Street, and The New York Times have begun to take notice. Still, Panama is far from overrun.
In fact, you won’t find any so-called expat enclaves here. There are active, engaged expats all over the country…from North America, Europe, and beyond…but they live alongside locals. This is a common phenomenon in safe, welcoming countries where foreigners don’t feel out of place.
Retire in Comfort & Convenience in Panama
It’s not uncommon for visitors to Panama to experience something of a shock when they leave the main airport, known as the Hub of the Americas. A first glimpse of the capital typically features towering skyscrapers rimming the Panama Bay. A closer glance reveals that Panama is much more developed than other countries in Central America…and not just on the surface.
Panama has built its reputation as a world-class destination on a solid foundation that includes reliable infrastructure and modern amenities. So if you live in Panama, you’ll have access to familiar products and comforts from back home. And you’ll likely be able to splurge on more of life’s little luxuries because of lower costs on healthcare, insurance, transportation, entertainment, and more.
Though costs have gone up all over the world in recent years, Panama continues to offer nearly unbeatable value. In the capital, you can still take a taxi or Uber for $4, get a haircut for $5, buy a good bottle of wine for $6, or enjoy dinner and a cocktail at a nice restaurant for under $20 a person. Outside the bustling capital, where many North American expats choose to live…things like transportation and dining out are often even cheaper.
And life in Panama is active. You’ll find expat-organized activities in different towns across the country. They merely enhance a local landscape that features live music, outdoor adventures, English-language movies, and so much more. You may be wondering how you’ll fill your days when you retire…but expats in Panama have found it’s impossible to get bored.
Quality Housing & Healthcare
Are you interested in a Panama City high-rise…a condo in a popular beachfront community…or a Swiss-style house in the temperate mountains? You’ll find a selection of rentals and property for sale to suit your needs and desires in Panama’s diverse regions. Opt for a bit of pampering or live like a local in a simple home…the choice is yours. You’ll meet many an expat here enjoying the property they always dreamed about but could never afford. That is, in the U.S., Europe, or Canada, where little luxuries like proximity to a beach come at bigger premiums.
Healthcare in Panama is perhaps the biggest—and most pleasant—surprise for most newcomers. The country’s major facilities are inexpensive and modern…not to mention the many smaller clinics that offer everything from dental work to eye exams.
Many Panamanian doctors have trained in the U.S. and speak English. Hospital standards, equipment, and techniques are on par with what you would find in North America or Europe. In fact, Panama City’s major private facilities have affiliations with prestigious U.S. hospitals (and yet they charge up to 50% less for similar services).
Ask any expat living in Panama today, and they’ll likely tell you that some of their biggest savings stem from affordable insurance—health, auto, and more. And then there’s the medication. Most drugs available in the U.S. can be found here…some of them without a prescription, which can save you even more time and money.
Panama’s Unparalleled Pensionado Program
In 1987, Panama’s government introduced the Pensionado Program. To this day, it’s one of the world’s most popular retiree residence programs, with the most appealing benefits you’ll find anywhere in the world today. Not only does it allow qualifying “pensioner” expats to retire in Panama for as long as they like, but it also entitles members—or pensionados—to a wide range of money-saving discounts.
Pensionados in Panama get 10-50% off on everything from hospital visits to entertainment to travel…including flights back home from Panama! Even your restaurant meals are cheaper when you’re a member.
The Best Places to Retire to in Panama
Some of the best retirement destinations in Panama also happen to be among the most beautiful places in the country. A happy convergence of natural beauty, convenience, low cost of living, and more makes these towns ideal for the would-be expat…of any age. Whether you’re looking to retire from your current job and “do nothing” or you just want to make a change, these locations are worth checking out.
The best places to retire in Panama…and stay active
As a long-time writer for International Living, I have readers of every age…some barely in their thirties. They all have one thing in common: the desire to improve their standard of living (and spend less doing it). These days folks want to work less—if at all—and enjoy life more. And one place where this is easily done is the lush green crater valley known as El Valle.
Just a couple hours by car from Panama City, El Valle has long been a weekend and retirement destination of choice for Panama’s elite. It’s no surprise, then, that expat retirees discovered it and began to follow suit. Some of them have even opened small businesses—cafés, inns, bakeries—to cater to residents and visitors. Today, El Valle is known as a green tourism destination, with a variety of places to stay and plenty to see and do. That said, it has retained its small town feel and appeal.
El Valle’s cool climate—it sits at an elevation of about 2000 feet—is part of the draw. So is its friendly expat community. Favorite activities include trivia nights, expat-organized mixers (all are welcome), and more. Popular venues—where you’ll be likely to meet resident expats—include the terrace at the Golden Frog Inn, El Camino del Inca Peruvian restaurant, and O’Pedro’s pub. (Even El Valle has its take on the typical Irish pub…and with a name like O’Pedro’s, it’s a very unique take at that.)
Of course, there’s much more to life here than eating and drinking. This is a wonderland for lovers of the great outdoors. The waterfalls and ponds, the mountain trails, the hot springs…all this and more make El Valle a great place to stay active. The close proximity to Panama City…with its first rate hospitals, malls, theaters and more…doesn’t hurt, either.
Retire to Bocas: the most beautiful beaches in Panama
If you’re looking for beach adventure, then you may want to look at Bocas del Toro. The province’s famous archipelago features hundreds of islands, the main one called Isla Colon. Here you’ll find a motley crowd of surfers and bohemian-types, boaters—both in transit and in residence—and retiree expats from all over the world.
Despite the tropical rains that keep this part of the Caribbean lush and green all year long, many a visitor comes here to find they just can’t get enough of the turquoise blue waters dotted with white sands and green rainforests. You could call Bocas beautiful, but that would be an understatement…
Plus, Bocas is always interesting and always fun. Take day trips to surrounding islands to enjoy the beaches, and at night there are dozens of cool places where you can enjoy the cool ocean breeze and a variety of cuisines. There are always new and interesting people to meet and the scenery never gets old. If you’re happy to weather the challenges of island living…dealing with tropical rain and importing most everything from the mainland are a couple of them…then the beauty of Bocas may just be hard to resist. (And if you prefer coastal living, Panama has plenty of mainland beaches worth your attention, as well.)
Never bored in Boquete: Panama’s best-known retirement destination
Finally, there’s Boquete, one of Panama’s most active expat communities outside of Panama City. Located in the Chiriqui Highlands, Boquete is an hour flight (or about a six-hour drive) from the capital. Just 40 minutes away via a neatly paved road is the major town of David, where you’ll find hospitals, malls, restaurants, and much more. In fact, David is the capital of the wealthy Chiriqui province.
With elevations of 2,000 to 4,000 feet, this mountain region is known for its spring-like weather, myriad outdoor activities, and award-winning coffee and orchids. People walk a lot. There are more fresh veggie and seafood stands than fast-food places. Social activities for people of all ages more often involve movement—like dancing or horseback riding. Most expats find they lose weight (and even blood pressure points) without any conscious effort. With so much to do, it’s tough to spend day after day watching television, mindlessly munching and slurping whatever junk is on hand.
It’s just the way things go here. There are so many groups and activities that Boquete is the only town outside Panama City that boasts a yearly jazz festival. Two of the major developments here—Lucero and Valle Escondido—have golf courses (the former designed by J. Michael Poellot). Just try and get bored. Most of the expats I’ve talked to say they are more social, more physically active…and much happier… in Boquete than they were back home.