The decision to move from one’s native homeland to ride out the golden years can present a challenging situation for many retirees. On the other hand, maybe not quite so much. I am of the “other hand” crowd. The decision to move overseas to enjoy my retirement years in a warm, more tranquil and life-affirming environment was a no-brainer for me.
After my initial research, which included a six-week look-see visit, Panama easily topped the list. You will find that Panama annually ranks as a top-tier retirement destination. It must be the radiant sunshine, tropical breezes, and retirement discounts!
I am a Black Expat residing in Panama for the last three years as a permanent resident. Even with the pandemic, I have enjoyed my time here for the reasons I list below. Panama is truly a tropical paradise that offers plenty for anyone who decides to retire here.
1. Year-Round Tropical Climate
Panama has great weather, notwithstanding its eight-month-long rainy season from mid-April to mid-December. The average temperature during this time is 79 degrees. During the dry season, the average temperature is 80 degrees, with temperatures in the range of 88 to 93 degrees year-round, depending on location. This great weather translates into beach life on both its Pacific and Caribbean coasts. If you’re like me, beach life is a major draw for retirement and why I list tropical climate as my top reason. There are so many great beaches to enjoy in Panama! Some of Panama’s best beaches, of which there are many, include Playa Venao, Las Lajas, Santa Catalina, Isla Grande, and Bocas del Toro’s Wizard, Star, or Bluff beaches.
2. Close Proximity To The U.S.A. (And Easily Accessible)
From anywhere in the U.S., you can reach Panama within a day’s travel. From most major airports, there is a direct flight that will be about 6 to 8 hours on average. So, if you happen to have an emergency or need to return home quickly, Panama, in most cases, is a short flight away.
3. The Retirement Visa (Pensionado) Program
Panama’s Pensionado Visa offers great retiree benefits and is the most attractive retirement visa you will find. This fact consistently keeps it ranking as one of the top three retirement destinations, many times placing first or second. The retirement visa’s ease of application process, income requirements of at least $1,000 guaranteed monthly income, and its once-and-you’re-done approval/authorization (no renewals necessary) makes it an incomparable choice and the decision to retire here highly desirable. Some of the discount benefits available under this visa include:
- 50% discount on entertainment such as cinemas, theaters, sports, and other public shows
- 30% discount on bus, metro, ferry, and train fares
- 25% discount on air tickets
- 30% to 50% discount on hotel stays
- 15% to 25% discount in restaurants
- Discount of 15% on the total bill for services of hospitals and private clinics
- Discount of 20% on the price of drugs in pharmacies
It is fair to say that Panama’s retirement visa, with its generous benefits package, lends retirees the opportunity to live a comfortable yet affordable lifestyle on a fixed or limited income. U.S. retirees like myself who took early retirement at 62 can with reasonable assurance expect to sustain an affordable, comfortable lifestyle here, especially if involved in a shared housing situation.
More information about Panama’s retirement visa and its application process can be found here.
4. Affordable Lifestyle
Panama’s cost of living, specifically when it comes to housing, is most affordable outside the city proper. Cost of living in the capital, Panama City, is more expensive just like every other cosmopolitan and progressive city. Here you will find that real estate values are comparable to U.S. cities such as Miami and New York. However, Panama City’s vibrant culture, its eclectic and varied culinary scene, its fantastic waterways, and its skyline views seen from energetic rooftop bars provide plenty of exciting entertainment that is far more affordable than what you would similarly experience in Miami or New York.
Favorite expat communities include Panama City; Coronado, a favorite Pacific coast beach community; the beautiful, scenic archipelago of Bocas del Toro on the Caribbean coast; and the cooler and extremely popular Boquete, located in the highlands.
5. Panama Accepts U.S. Currency
I believe the fact that Panama accepts the U.S. dollar as its currency is under-appreciated as a reason to retire here. The country’s official currency, the balboa, has no notes in circulation, only coins, i.e., $1, 50-cent, 0.25-cent, 5-cent, 10-cent, and 1-cent pieces. That being so, the main currency used in terms of bills is the U.S. dollar. This allowed for an easier transition for me, in that I did not have to deal with currency conversions and exchange rates upon arrival. This remains a big deal for me because it reduces the stress of residing in a foreign country, which will be especially welcome if it is your first overseas move or you are not a frequent international traveler.
6. Natural Beauty And Biodiversity
I love the breathtaking beauty of Panama. From its majestic waterfalls, spectacular mountains, and magnificent beaches to unique wildlife and abundant flora and fauna, there is enormous natural biodiversity and variety of species. There are also two natural facts specific only to Panama: 1) Panama City is the world’s only national capital with a tropical rainforest within its city limits, and 2) Panama has the only vantage point in the world where both of a country’s coasts can be viewed simultaneously — an experience you can have atop Mt. Baru in Volcan, Chiriqui province.
7. Lifestyle And Culture
Whether you enjoy the exciting energy of the city, the peace and tranquility that its beach life offers, or the adventurous lifestyle of exploring the great outdoors, where many of the country’s national parks are ideal for walking, hiking, and bird watching, Panama’s lifestyle has something for everyone. From the city to its national borders, Panama is a country that is laid back and welcoming, full of diversity and wonder that constantly surprises you.
Panama, for a less-developed country, has very good infrastructure. Its roads, hospitals, and airports are the standard-bearer for Central America. Its high-quality medical services are also a welcome relief for expats. The capital city has all the cosmopolitan atmosphere that you will find in world-class cities, including jazz and film festival activities, theater, dance, concerts, and other cultural activities.
Panama is a land of many faces in that many cultures and races have settled here. The majority of the population includes a mixed population of Creoles, Mestizos, European immigrants, Africans, and indigenous Indians. This combination has generated a fusion of customs and gastric flavors that can be appreciated only after you have spent some time in the country.
As a Black expat, I am fascinated by the “Afro-colonials,” blacks who are descended from slaves imported in colonial times. They speak Spanish and are Roman Catholic, whereas the “Afro-Antillean” blacks are a group descended from Caribbean residents who came to work on the construction of the Panama canal. They speak English, French, or an English patois at home and are mostly Protestant.
8. A Great City- And Countrywide Transportation System
Panama is home to the first metro rail system to operate in Central America. Panama City’s two lines with a third currently under construction are impressive with their affordable 35- and 50-cent fares and cool, clean trains and platforms. According to its official website, Metro de Panama, the average monthly weekday use as of January 2022 was 129,439 passengers.
For travel outside the city, Panama has an excellent transportation network to reach other parts of the country, consisting of more than 5,000 miles of highway roads with a fleet of over 4,000 buses that will get you just about anywhere you want to go — and they’re quite affordable for retirees with the Pensionado discount.
9. Stable Economy And Body Politic
Panama has no army, but it also has no enemies. Following a dark political period culminating in the U.S. invasion of Panama and its ouster of General Noriega in 1989, Panama has enjoyed free democratic elections and political discourse has been stable.
The one thing Panama is famous for and crucial to sustaining its economy is the Panama Canal — an engineering marvel, and one of the seven wonders of the world. The Panama Canal conducts passage of transport ships generating close to $3.1 billion in fees annually, making it a vital link in the world’s supply chain, and a mega generator of the country’s economic activity. Panama’s second-largest industry is tourism.
So, you may be wondering if Panama is the retirement haven it appears to be. I would say yes, and further, that it is also a safe place you can retire to. Realizing every country will have its upsides and downsides, I feel very much at ease here. However, you do your due diligence to confirm if Panama is the retirement destination for you; and if you’re curious about my favorite upside, that would be that Panama has the world’s best coffee!
For more Panama inspiration, see all our Panama content here.