If you daydream about sunshine, tropical beaches, and welcoming locals, then possibly Panama is for you. If you know you don’t do well without modern amenities, then Panama could be for you. And if you feel a solid, growing economy and stable, business-friendly government is essential to a free and happy life, then Panama may be a perfect fit.
International Living was one of the first publications to hone in on the clear and concrete benefits of retiring to Panama, though mainstream publications have begun to take notice…including Smart Money, The Street, and The New York Times. Still, Panama is far from overrun with expats.
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. There’s a solid foundation here—including reliable infrastructure and modern amenities.
Living in Panama, you’ll have access to familiar products and comforts from back home. 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. You can still take a taxi for $4 (in the capital…you’ll pay half that in other towns), get a haircut for $6, buy a good bottle of wine for $5, or enjoy dinner and a cocktail at a nice restaurant for under $20 a person.
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 speak English, having trained for a time in the U.S. Hospital standards, equipment, and techniques are on par with what you would find in North America or Europe. In fact, Panama City’s major facilities are all affiliated with prestigious U.S. hospitals…and yet they charge up to 50% less for similar services.
For a great many expats living in Panama today, some of their biggest savings stem from affordable insurance—health, auto, and more—and medication. Most drugs available in the U.S. can be found here…some of them without a prescription, which further saves 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 pensioner expats to live 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.
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The Best Places to Retire to in Panama
Some of the best places to retire to in Panama also happen to be the most beautiful places in the country. A happy convergence of natural beauty, convenience, low cost of living, and more makes these places ideal for the would-be expat…of any age. Whether you’re looking to retire from your current job and “do nothing” or just want to make a change, these locations are worth your consideration.
The best places to retire in Panama…and stay active
As a long-time writer for International Living, I have “retired” readers of every age. In fact, one of the youngest is barely in his thirties! He chose to make his home in a lush green crater valley. A place where he could practice yoga and massage and live simply. The name of the town is El Valle, and it’s just a couple hours by car from Panama City.
El Valle has long been a retirement locale of choice for Panama’s elite. So it’s no surprise that expat retirees discovered it and began to follow suit. Today, El Valle is becoming known as an eco-tourism destination, too. With the new small businesses that have opened here and a small but steady influx of foreigners, El Valle is more fun than ever, yet somehow retains its small town feel and appeal.
A favorite activity for expats here is salsa lessons, held every weekend at Paraiso Restaurant and Bar. It’s turned into the ultimate place to spend a fun Friday, meeting and talking to like-minded people and getting in a little exercise, too. Another popular place is O’Pedro’s (now 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).
But dancing and drinking are the least of all there is to do here. This is a wonderland for lovers of the great outdoors. The waterfalls, the flora and fauna, the walking trails and hot springs…all this and more make this 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, bohemians, backpackers and expats from all over the world.
Despite the tropical rains that beat down on the Caribbean islands for at least eight months out of the year, residents can’t seem to get enough of the turquoise blue waters dotted with white sands and green rainforests. I’d call it Panama’s most beautiful retirement haven any day.
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.
Never bored in Boquete: Panama’s best-known retirement destination
Finally, there’s Boquete, which may be one of Panama’s most active expat communities outside of Panama City. Located in the Chiriqui Highlands, Boquete is an hour flight (or six-hour drive) from the capital. But it’s just 45 minutes away from 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.
The region is known for its spring-like weather, outdoor activities (like white-water rafting and hiking) 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. You’ll find you don’t have time to sit in front of the 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—Cielo Paraiso and Valle Escondido—have golf courses (the former designed by Michael Poellot). Just try and get bored. Most of the expats I’ve talked to say they are more social, more physically active…even healthier… in Boquete than they ever were back home.