Another Panamanian secret has been revealed during the past few years–it is a great place to retire to. In 2001, International Living, the renowned magazine and recognized expert for promoting U.S. expatriate lifestyles, stated that Panama is the best place to live outside of the United States. The American Association of Retired People’s (AARP) Modern Maturity Magazine, has ranked Panama’s town of Boquete as fourth in its listing of the “Fifteen best cities in the world for U.S. retirees.”
Panama’s popularity as a retirement destination is easy to define. This country’s mixture of a high quality of life, easy life-style, retirement incentives and modern amenities allow persons to change their location and lives, with very little problem.
To begin with, Panama is an incredibly beautiful country. It has a diversity of flora and fauna that is found in no other place, due to the Isthmus’ position as the crossroads of North and South America. Potential residential opportunities range over city, mountain, beach and island communities so that a special place can be found to suit anyone’s taste. Once you decide where to settle, you have the security of knowing that, as a foreigner, you can own property easily and are granted exactly the same rights and protections as a Panamanian property owner.
Due to the pull-out of the American military and other factors, prices for Panamanian real estate have remained basically unchanged from the early 1990s (except for “hot” areas like Boquete in Chiriqui and the islands of the Bocas del Toro archipelago). As of this writing some representative prices in the better known areas include: a three-bedroom, apartment in Panama City, $60,000; a two-bedroom condo in a new high rise, $175,000; a four-plex building in the old Albrook military base, $155,000; a three-bedroom house with lot in Boquete, $100,000; and, a home on the beach in Colon, $40,000.
There are a number of real estate land developments ideal for retirees. Foremost among these is Altos de Cerro Azul and Altos del Maria, both within reasonable distance from Panama City but situated in cooler, mountainous areas and with their own residential infraestructure and services such as clinics and supermarkets close by.
Once you purchase your home, you can also bring your personal and house belongings with you tax-free and a new car (for private use) every two years, plus you pay no property taxes on your residence. If all this is not beneficial enough, English, is spoken widely enough so chances are you can converse with at least some of your new neighbors.
Panama is one of the safest countries in the world and has the highest rating for tourist safety from the prestigious Pinkerton Intelligence Agency. Panama is a constitutional democracy with no dictator and no standing army. Due to the presence of the Panama Canal, Panama also enjoys international protection and monitoring.
In terms of health standards Panama is among the top countries in Latin America. Life expectancy is around 75 years. A large percentage of Panamanian doctors are bilingual and have been trained in Europe and the United States. Private medical facilities are among the best in Central America (many are affiliated with major hospitals in the U.S.). In addition, health standards in most parts of the country are quite good as a result of massive sanitation programs initiated during the construction of the Panama Canal. Water is also potable in most of the country and in the cities you can drink straight from the tap.
Making the most of their money is, of course, a prime concern for retirees. The U.S. dollar has always been the republic’s currency. Panama is known for its banking center, which boasts branch banks from nearly all of the international players. On another note, the cost of living is reasonable and is much less than in the States and Europe. Inflation rates are some of the lowest known, normally hovering between 1% and 2%. Plus, pensioners, or “jubilados” to use the Spanish term receive generous price discounts such as 50% on movies and cultural events, 30% on transportation, 25% on utilities, 15% on personals loans and 1% on personal mortgages.
Those settling in Panama can expect the tab for day-to-day living to be significantly less than in “first-world” countries. Nice apartments and homes can be rented for $1,000 or less per month. Grocery prices are 25%-30% lower. A meal at a good restaurant can be enjoyed for $15-$40. First-run movie tickets are $3.75. Concert tickets range from $20-$100. Maid service is around $180 per month. Gardeners cost under $10 a day. A bottle of Scotch whisky can be found for $6.
Purchasing just what you need is not usually a problem. Due to its mixture of cultures and positioning as an international trade hub, Panama offers a wide range of top-quality goods and, therefore, shopping options.
Keeping in touch with friends, family and the rest of the world is no problem. High-band Internet connectivity, cellular phone networks and ADSL in-home phone capability are readily accessible. Full service satellite and cable TV are common.
Regarding accessibility, many major airlines call at Panama’s Tocumen International Airport, including American and Delta. Panama’s international airline COPA flies to 29 cities in 19 countries and now has direct flights from Houston, Los Angeles, Miami (2 1/2 hours), Newark and Orlando. There are also direct flights from the major Central and South American centers. Anyone wishing to travel from the Eastern Hemisphere will probably be routed through the U.S.
Finally, obtaining a retiree visa is a very simple and inexpensive process. All you need is a “clean” police report from the area in which you lived before Panama, a certificate of health from a Panamanian doctor and proof of personal income of $500 per month, with $100 monthly for any dependents.
Given all the benefits listed above, it is no wonder that for those looking to retire, Panama has become the Latin American location of choice.
If you desire more information about retiring in Panama, numerous legal firms offer a full line of advisory and relocation services. Retirement-related reading includes: “Getting to Know Panama”, “The Visitor” and “Focus on Panama”, published by Focus Publications (Int), S.A. (www.focuspublicationsint.com), “Living in Panama” from the American Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Panama (www.panamcham.com, under “Publications”) and the Panama Country Kit from International Living’s Panama branch (www.agora-inc.com/reports/pvom/wilvbb31). Another good source of information is Panama Info (www.panamainfo.com).
Americans may want to contact the American Society of Panama (www.amso.org). There are a number of organizations for foreigners and of interest to foreigners including active groups of Alcoholics Anonymous (www.panamakevin.com)
Panama Relocation Services was created to offer full-assistance in the process of moving and relocating in Panama or from Panama to another country. Services include airport pick-up, orientation to Panama, search for and installation in new residence, help in finding schools and doctors and everything a person or family could need in starting a new life. (www.panamarelocation.com)