Film editor and producer Sarah Tyler was living in New York when she decided she was ready to say goodbye to grueling winters. “I also wanted the experience of traveling abroad and practicing Spanish,” she says.
Sarah now lives in Panama City’s Casco Viejo sector, where she feels at home among the cobbled streets and colonial plazas that she loves.
“It’s a neighborhood known for its beauty and historical value,” says Sarah. “There’s a great bohemian vibe thanks to the people that live and visit here—artists, wayfaring travelers, investors, and entrepreneurs from all over the world.”
With galleries, monuments, and great architecture around every corner, Casco is the heart of Panama’s art scene. Though much smaller than Manhattan, it has a very similar appeal. It’s a hub for jazz, dance, and film festivals…home to Panama’s National Theater…and the number one nightlife destination in the country.
But while apartments in the Big Apple averaged close to $3,500 a month in 2014, Casco is much more affordable.
“My rent here has been anywhere from $600 to $1,100,” says Sarah. “My cost of living is cheaper than it was in New York and…well, the living is so much nicer. Casco Viejo is an actual neighborhood, a walkable neighborhood, and a UNESCO World Heritage site.”
Many of Sarah’s expat neighbors live on about $2,500 a month…less than the average NYC rent. But the quality and cost of good food are what impress Sarah the most.
“Fish in Panama is crazy. At Whole Foods in the States, imported tuna is $18.99 per pound. Here, freshly caught tuna is a fraction of that…I’m talking 80% less.”
When Sarah wants to splurge, she goes to Panama’s finer dining establishments.
“We have a real culinary scene, and it’s exploding with talented and devoted chefs,” she says. “There are places that offer out-of-this-world gastronomic experiences. They are changing the food scene in Panama at an exponential rate and their prices are fair…super fair.”
Among her favorites are Atelier and Humo, two of the city’s most expensive restaurants, where you can get a meal worthy of Manhattan (an appetizer, a main, and a drink) for as little as $27. In New York, you’d pay at least double.
At little cafés in Casco’s colonial plaza, you can still get a beer or a drink for $3 to $5…and at supermarkets, national brews sell for about $0.50 each. Try beating that in any major U.S. city!
When she’s not at one of her favorite restaurants or cafés, you can often find Sarah at the movies. “A movie here is $6 for an adult whereas in Times Square at the AMC theater, I paid $25 per person.” Expat retirees even get a 50% reduction on cinema tickets.
Of course, Casco Viejo is just one area in a country with much to offer. Sarah has traveled beyond Casco Viejo to see more of Panama—from the farms of Penonome to the beaches of Pedasi.
Rainforests…fishing villages…and hidden-gem beaches…Panama has virtually every landscape and climate imaginable (except for snow and hurricanes, of course). You could be on the baby blue waters of the Caribbean for lunch and less than two hours later find yourself on the warm, sunny shores of the Panama Pacific.
And it’s a place you can earn money. Sarah found that her career was easily portable.
“Since moving to Panama I’ve directed commercials,” explains Sarah. “I cover my rent, my living expenses, and I can dine out, eat delicious food, and take incredible trips.”
It’s the best of all possible worlds.
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