The Plentiful Benefits of Retirement in Panama

Retiring in Panama is an excellent way to stretch your post-career dollars further, but many expat retirees wind up embarking on the journey without a great understanding of the pros and cons. As a third world country that holds a unique history with the United States, Panama offers plenty of economic, environmental, and health benefits. Yet, it holds some potential perils too, ones which may cause those who want to retire abroad to look elsewhere.

The Many Pros of Retiring in Panama

Like many other third world countries that have become popular destinations for American retirees, Panama stands out for its climate, thriftiness, and natural charm. Every year, thousands of retirees decide to head southward in their golden years, and that number is growing. For these folks, shoveling snow and risking their lives treading on ice isn’t an option. Panama is an easy way to escape the snow forever, giving you the chance to spend the bulk of your time a tropical paradise.

With its year round warmth, Panama is only matched by its tropical neighbors closer to the equator in South America. The nation regularly experiences a mild to hot temperature all year round, with humidity and dryness spread evenly among the valleys, hills, and oceanfront territories. As is the case throughout Central America, Panama's territory is composed of several different zones. Beaches, flat plains, and rainforests filled with coffee and fruit plantations take up much of the country.

The weather in Panama is normally restricted to a narrow range, with seasons that may be difficult to discern for non-residents. Retirees from snowy areas are most surprised by the rain, which can be intense during the cooler months, but far from overwhelming.

Panama is full of bargains, some of which are eye popping to settlers from the United States and Europe. Housing, food, and other basic necessities are all plentiful and a good deal cheaper than in the West. The country enjoys a fairly wide array of quality consumer goods, thanks to its status as one of the world’s major shipping lanes, where goods from all over afar pass from the Atlantic to the Pacific through the famous Panama Canal.

Housing may only cost you several hundred dollars per month. While rent is reasonable, it’s best to purchase a place outright upon arriving in Panama. This nets you the best bargain, and you’ll further reduce your ongoing expenses in retirement.

Services like healthcare are remarkably cheaper in Panama – another one of its noteworthy pros. Many retirees with American citizenship are able to stay on supplemental plans for health insurance, which covers much more of their bill than they would find available back in the States. Doctors go through rigorous training on par with many Western medical schools, and hospitals in major locations like Panama City are modern and well equipped.

Another definite plus in Panama’s column is its lengthy history with the United States. American ties have generated an impressive community of expatriates who have settled in the country permanently. Many of the older residents and their families are leftover settlers who decided to stay after the Panama Canal Zone reverted back to Panama’s control in the 1990s. If you decide to live around these areas, then camaraderie and help from familiar people is just a short distance away.

A Few Cons of Retiring in Panama

Despite the many pros, retiring in Panama carries some serious cons as well. If you’re truly set on moving abroad, however, it’s worth evaluating each challenge on an individual basis, and seeing if there is a work around that’s suitable for you.

One of the biggest downsides to retiring in Panama is security. Violent crimes in the country are uncommon, as long as you stay out of the poorest areas. Yet, petty thievery remains pretty high in major urban areas and smaller, secluded towns.

To reduce your chances of having property stolen, don’t wear your wealth on your sleeve with flashy styles, big vehicles, or unguarded homes. Luckily, a growing number of pre-built retirement communities are coming equipped with their own security measures like gates and part time guards to reduce this problem.

Sometimes, cheap isn’t always a plus in Panama. For instance, its transportation costs are widely touted as a good reason to move there, Yet, driving or taking public transportation is a major challenge for those who aren’t accustomed to it. Learning to navigate Panama’s large urban centers requires years of observation and practice. You’ll definitely want to come equipped with a car that won’t kill you if damage occurs. The poorly marked signs and wild driving habits of citizens on the road means that buses and taxis aren’t always much safer.

Just like any other country with a niche population of affluent people, scammers are prevalent in Panama, but no worse than in certain parts of the US and Europe. Simply use common sense to avoid real estate swindles that attempt to snare you into signing onto property that doesn’t exist. Learning Spanish can give you tremendous insights into contractual or outright dishonesty.

Be sure to pick over offers and marketing claims of retirement communities. Too many agencies want to overcharge you for real estate, or they want you to sign onto property, without ever seeing it first. Doing so is a big mistake, since you may run into unexpected noise, odors, or beautiful scenery that’s blotted out by the landscape beyond your window. Plan on visiting Panama first before settling down to avoid this fate. Ideally, scoping out several different areas across the country is better yet, providing a window into how diverse the nation truly is.

With a thorough analysis of all the pros and cons of retiring in Panama, you raise your chances of making a good decision. As a retiree, a significant nest egg is your most precious asset, and Panama is one of the best places where you can enlarge it without investing an extra dime. If you want to see it happen, then make sure the proper amount of thought and caution goes into planning your relocation, and you can enjoy Panama’s many wonders without any unexpected hiccups.

Retiring in Panama City
Credit: Dirk van der Made