Enjoying Panama’s Cafes, Culture, and City Life (at a Discount)

“On an ideal day, I get up, sit on my balcony, and read a bit. Then I exercise or take a swim in the pool, and come back for breakfast. I might check my email or go for coffee with a friend. Later I might play bridge, or go to the National Theater, or meet with one of my clubs. There are just endless things to do,” says Joyce Perrin.

The Canadian transplant traveled the world before settling on Panama. After stints everywhere from the Mediterranean to Asia and then South America, she had seen 200-plus countries. But as travel became more of a hassle and less fun, she decided she was ready for a change.

“I was ready to settle down,” says Joyce, “so I put some thought into the criteria that mattered to me.” On her list were drinkable water, proximity/easy travel to North America, and good medical care. “After volunteering in a lot of remote locations, I also wanted a good-sized expat community,” she adds.

She traveled all the way through Central America, but only Panama fit all her criteria. “Having traveled so many countries before, I knew what I wanted. It didn’t take me long to decide that Panama was it,” says Joyce.

Panama City’s large, active expat community appealed to Joyce, and she settled in El Cangrejo, a city-center neighborhood dotted with little cafés and restaurants.

It’s a walkable, bustling area that draws young backpackers and bohemian types, artists, musicians and expats from around the world.

Joyce also works here. She has written for her home paper in Edmonton and is currently working on an e-book about her travels. The flexibility of writing allows her to take advantage of all Panama City has to offer, while still making an income.

“I like it very much,” she says. “My neighborhood is very homey and friendly, and, in the past four-and-a-half years, I’ve really seen Panama grow. More so now than before, we have all kinds of art exhibits, top entertainers, foreign-film festivals…there are so many cultural activities.”

Plus, she adds, it’s easy to make friends. “There are Canadian and U.S. organizations here that can help you meet people, and all the other nationalities here seem to have something, too.” The Alliance Française offers French classes and film festivals…the Spanish club has helped make flamenco popular in Panama…and the Lebanese community boasts some of the city’s best restaurants (belly dancers, hookahs, and all).

“Overall, this is a fun place to live! People here are always interesting. And the low cost of living and discounts for retirees are very helpful.”

As a retiree resident, she has only to flash her local ID and she pays less than her younger friends. “The discounts are for Panamanians and residents, and I’ve never had any trouble using them as an expat,” says Joyce. She gets 50% off admission for movies and theater performances…25% off domestic flights…30% to 50% off hotel stays. There are discounts for everything from medical treatment to mortgage closing costs.

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