Panama: The World’s Best Retirement Haven 2019

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With the New Year comes a new set of resolutions, plans for the year ahead…and the publication of our Annual Global Retirement Index and this year the top honor goes to Panama. With modern infrastructure, proximity to the U.S., and a mild climate it is no surprise that Panama is a popular retirement location. In fact, Panama has ranked number one on our index a total of 10 times.

Panama topped the categories of Benefits and Discounts, Visa and Residence and tied for first place in Governance and Development while scoring well in the Healthy Lifestyle, and Entertainment and amenities categories.

For expats from the U.S., Panama is convenient because the currency is the U.S. dollar. No matter where you’re from, you’re likely to appreciate the fact that there are many English speakers in Panama, especially among the well-trained medical community. The hub that is Tocumen International Airport makes it easy to fly from Panama to nearly anywhere in the world…often with no layovers.

For a small country, it packs a real punch. But what makes it special from the expat retiree’s point of view is its Pensionado Program. Year after year, Panama takes the number one spot in the index’s benefits and discount and visas and residence categories. IL Panama Editor Jessica Ramesch, says “It deserves the praise it gets. It offers foreign pensioners an easy ‘in’ to becoming legal residents of Panama.”

The program also grants discounts to seniors on a wide range of goods and services, from medical consultations and prescriptions to movie tickets and meals—there are even specific lines marked pensionados to beat the queue.

Panama also provides affordable, good-quality healthcare, anchored by the excellent clinics and hospitals in Panama City, which enjoys a top-notch reputation throughout Latin America.

On top of that, sunshine is year-round in Panama, with a mild, tropical climate, which means expats can get out in the open any day of the year and never worry about ice, snow, or even hurricanes.

Benefits and Discounts

Benefits and Discounts in Panama

Once again Panama scores an impressive 100 in the Benefits and Discounts category. Panama has put together the most appealing program of special benefits for retirees you’ll find anywhere in the world today…and the program is open to foreigners. Under the pensionado program retirees are entitled to a host of moneysaving discounts.

As a qualified pensionado retiree you will be entitled to 50% off entertainment—such as movies, theaters, concerts, and sporting events, 30% off bus, boat, and train fares, 25% off airline tickets, 30% off hotel stays and up to 25% off at restaurants. In terms of medical expenses retirees are happy to learn that they can receive 15% off hospital bills, 10% off prescription medicines, 20% off medical consultations, 15% off dental and eye exams, and 20% off professional and technical services.

Expat Jim Gault who lives in Pedasi says “Because my wife and I take several medications, we often use this benefit…when you ask for the discount and show the proper identification, the pharmacist will reduce the cost. This is a significant saving for us."

Visas and Residence

Visa and Residence in Panama

Traditionally, Panama has scored top marks in the Visa and Residence category, and 2019 is no exception. The pensionado residence program is the most popular option for potential expats for many good reasons. It is highly effective in drawing people to Panama because, in addition to providing a permanent residence solution, it also entitles retirees or pensionados to a host of moneysaving discounts.

Jessica explains “To apply as a foreigner, you simply have to show proof of a verifiable pension—corporate or government—of at least $1,000 a month. If you’re applying with a spouse, you need only prove that you receive a combined total of at least $1,250 a month—that’s what the Panamanian government deems sufficient for you to live a good life here.”

Nanette Witmer who lives in David adds “My residency Visa was easy to get in Panama. The paperwork required was straightforward as was the process. My friendly nation visa took only three months, and everything went smoothly. A month after that I received my e-cedula.

Jim Gault says “When my wife, Abbe, and I looked to retire overseas a few years ago, I found that Panama’s excellent Pensionado Visa or Retirement Program was a great way to stretch my Social Security pension. Naturally, the perks sounded like a perfect way to save some money, and they have proven to be just that—providing substantial discounts on many goods and services we regularly use. We regularly enjoy the perks of the Pensionado program to save significant amounts of money, including the tax money we would have paid on the pre-discount rate. We use the money for a better lifestyle, which includes more dinners out, and weekday getaways.”

Governance and Development

Governance and Development in Panama

Panama scores 98 and 94 for Governance and Development respectively. As a retirement destination, Panama is simply outstanding, but it is also a business mecca—a place where expats who have big ideas for their retirement can explore their options. Major organizations and businesses from all over the globe come here to take advantage of low costs and the best strategic location for expanding into the Latin American and Caribbean markets.

IL Chiriqui Correspondent Nanette Witmer “The economy is thriving, and Panama has a stable government. There is a lot of opportunity here in Panama as its economy seems to be the fastest growing in the Latin America. There are many opportunities for specialized commercial ventures.”

“One of the best things about Panama is its business- and foreigner-friendly government,” says Jessica Ramesch. “Panamanians are accustomed to foreigners and they welcome them with open arms. Increasing numbers of North Americans, Europeans, and others are moving here. Some come in search of adventure or a quality retirement destination, and many continue to take advantage of all Panama has to offer as a business destination.

Since 2003, Panama has had one of the world’s fastest-growing economies, expanding an average of 8.4% between 2004 and 2013. Despite slowing due in part to a weakening of global growth, it continues to lead the region in 2019.”

Healthy Lifestyle

Healthy Lifestyle in Panama

Not surprisingly, Panama scores an impressive 95 in the Lifestyle category. Despite Panama’s tiny size, it’s one of the most diverse countries you’ll find. The incredibly long coastlines—Pacific and Caribbean—offer endless opportunities for waterside living…not to mention fishing, scuba diving, surfing, and more.

IL Chiriqui Correspondent Nanette Witmer says “You have a real option to live a healthy lifestyle in Panama. The abundance of fresh fruits and vegetables to eat well in addition to being outside more breathing in clean air. The laidback lifestyle with less stress has made most expats feel better.”

And whether you’re seeking a luxury lifestyle or plan to live like a local, you’re likely to live more comfortably and save more easily than you did back home.

Janet Hitchens who lives with her husband, John, in Sant Fe says “People live very well here—most people who come here drop at least 20 pounds. They eat locally grown mangos, papayas, and bananas, as well as locally raised chicken and beef.

Jim Gault says “Hammocks are common and symbolize a relaxed, casual lifestyle. People eat more fresh meat, vegetables, and fruits, and less processed or junk foods.”

Entertainment and Amenities

Entertainment and Amenities in Panama

Panama scores a respectable 93 in the Entertainment and Amenities category in this year’s index. Panama City is home to hundreds of skyscrapers, shops, entertainment venues, and modern amenities and services that visitors are surprised to find in this region.

Jessica Ramesch who lives in Panama City says, “I saw a world-class concert, featuring woodwind and strings musicians from Lithuania and Spain, for $20. It doesn’t get more cosmopolitan than Panama City’s San Francisco sector. Virtually anything you could want is within a short striking distance…modern malls, restaurants, supermarkets, and entertainment venues…the vast Omar Park…and some of the best clinics and hospitals in Latin America.

As a qualified pensionado retiree in Panama, you will be entitled to 50% off entertainment—such as movies, theaters, concerts, and sporting events anywhere in the country. Movie tickets in Panama City are $6, and pensionados pay 50% less. On Wednesdays, many theaters are half-price for all moviegoers. A popcorn, nachos, and soda combo will cost you about $6. And in case you’re wondering, Panama gets a wide array of first-run and blockbuster movies. Most films are played in the original language with Spanish subtitles.

Nanette Witmer says “There is no shortage of entertainment in Panama. Festivals, parades, fairs and local happenings are always going on. We have first run movies in English, a roller-skating facility in Boquete, plenty of concerts both a mix of local musicians and expat bands. Expats in Chiriquí also tend to gather at each other’s homes for barbecues, potlucks and social hours.

In the video below our Panama editor Jessica Ramesch discusses some of the reasons why Panama took the number 1 spot in the 2019 Annual Global Retiremet Index.

The World’s Best Places to Retire in 2019

An Overview of Traditions and Culture in Panama

The Best Places to Vacation in Panama