Where to Retire: Panama

A view from the air of Panama City. (Creative Commons / Dsasso)Panama is the hot spot for US retirees. The country offers the best set of benefits to retirees out of anywhere in the world and has a low cost of living, minimal crime and great scenery to boot. In this article we'll outline some of the benefits to choosing Panama as a spot to retire.

Panama's Pensionado Program

To qualify for a pensioner visa in Panama, you need to be over 18 years old and receiving at least $500 per month from either a government agency or a derived-benefit pension from a company. This moves up to $600 if you apply as a couple. You'll also need a police check and a clean bill of health. Once you have this visa, you qualify for a huge range of benefits including:

  • Import tax exemption for household hoods.
  • 25 percent discount on utility bills
  • 25 percent discount on airline tickets
  • 30 percent discount on bus, boat and train fairs.
  • 25 percent off restaurant meals
  • 20 percent off doctors' bills and health services if you don't have insurance.

This is just a selection of the benefits - for more information visit the Panamanian Embassy's website. And once the visa has been granted, there is no need to renew it and no further fees to pay.

Other Financial Benefits

Residents of Panama do not pay tax on foreign-earned income, which is a huge benefit for retirees. And there are a variety of more general foreign investment rules that make Panama even more attractive. If you buy or build a house, you won't pay property taxes for 20 years, and you'll enjoy the same property ownership rights as Panamanians.

The US dollar is the currency in Panama, which is a great convenience to US retirees. This also shields you from volatile currency markets, so you can always be sure exactly what your money is worth.

The cost of living in Panama is very low, even by Central and South American standards. Clothing, food and other goods are generally very cheap - for instance a beer at a bar costs around 35c. Real estate prices have boomed in some areas, but are still generally cheaper than US retirement areas, and if you get away from Panama City there are still bargains to be found. If you've got a bit of extra money, you can even have a live-in maid for about $200 a month.

Health Care in Panama

Panama has a good health care system that is reasonably priced, along with affordable insurance. More so than in many other Central and South American countries, there are plenty of English-speaking doctors who cater to the retirees. Prescription and over-the-counter medicines are available at low prices. Full coverage health insurance policies are readily available for retirees.

Living in Panama

Compare to most other countries in the region, Panama is very safe for foreigners. Panamanians are an internationally savvy people and English is widely spoken. The pace of life is generally slower than you'll have been used to in the US - but isn't that why you retired in the first place? Panama City also has a fine restaurant scene with many different types of cuisines available.  And the US is only a couple of hours away by plane.

Where to Buy?

A number of Panamanian locations are popular with retirees, including:

Panama City: A cosmopolitan, first-world city which is actually affordable. It's a beautiful city that's right on the ocean  that will suit those who can't bear to be away from the energy of a big city.

Boquete: A mountain location which has become a very sought-after destination. Surrounded by nature, it's a picturesque place in which to spend retirement,  and numerous US retiree-focused developments have sprung up there.

Pearl Islands: Unspoilt and beautiful, these islands were home to two series of the reality television program Survivor. An abundance of nature and wildlife makes this a very popular place to retire.

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