Retirees Don’t Wait in Line in Panama…

Pase al frente“… “Go to the front.” That’s the phrase I hear most when I’m with my Dad, who is 75 years young. When I was a kid in Oregon, I don’t remember there being a particular emphasis on respect or special courtesies for our elders. Now we live in Panama, where I’ve discovered that locals have very specific notions about how to treat mature citizens.

Every bank has a dedicated line for pensionados (retirees or pensioners). Interestingly, though the signs say “pensionados,” no one makes a fuss if you’re not exactly elderly. I’ve seen pregnant women and wheelchair users ushered into the pensionado line along with elderly customers. The idea is to make life a little easier for those who need it. It’s gratifying to see that people here don’t blindly enforce “the rules” and forget the intention behind them.

Supermarkets here have gotten with it, too…The El Rey and Riba Smith chains in Panama City have recently made electric chair shopping carts available. So now my Dad can do what he loves best: shop for fresh fruit and veggies (and then go home and spend the day cooking up a storm).

Everyone we come into contact with…shoppers, security guards, kids…tries to help him. If he seems to be struggling to get to the car, a security guard will take his arm. People never fail to hold open doors, help direct traffic, or just be kind. He’s never treated as if he’s invisible or unimportant.

Best of all, seniors who reside here legally—whether born here or of expat origins like my Dad—have access to a surprisingly wide range of discounts. Created by the government in the 1980s to ensure retirees could live comfortably and with dignity, the pensionado discounts include, among other things:

  • 50% off the price of admission to movies and other entertainment
  • 25%-30% off fares for buses, trains, ferries, and planes
  • 30%-50% off hotel stays
  • 15%-25% off restaurant bills
  • 20% off medical consults
  • 50% off closing costs and commissions for loans
  • 25% off monthly power bills
  • 25% off monthly water bills

…and much more.

Best of all, if you’re not a resident, you can become one via the Pensionado Residence Program. Just prove that you have a monthly pension (of at least $1,000 a month if you’re applying without any dependents), and you will be eligible to apply for permanent residence. It’s relatively easy to qualify and, once you do, you gain access to all the discounts.

The savings add up—I can tell you that from personal experience. We save about $25 a month on power, so that’s about $300 a year. We also save $250 or more on my Dad’s plane tickets to visit my sister in Vancouver.

We enjoy going out to eat together. Dad’s favorite restaurants include Sabor de la India, which features delicacies from both North and South India. The masala dosa is to die for, a savory crepe filled with curried potatoes. He also loves Athens, a local chain with inexpensive, ultra-fresh Greek fare. He always orders the vegetarian Greek pizza, piled high with artichoke hearts, Kalamata olives, feta cheese, and bright red tomatoes.

No one nitpicks when we ask for the check and the pensionado discount…whether my Dad’s paying for himself or both of us, it doesn’t matter. We save $10 or more every time (the food at these places is very inexpensive, so we usually order more to go after we’ve eaten).

It’s good to be a pensionado in Panama—not just for my Dad, but for those of us who care about him and spend time with him, as well. The kindness of the Panamanian people…coupled with the discounts…makes all of our lives easier and more pleasant. ¡Gracias, Panama!

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