I am an expat and I love it! I spent the majority of my working years in the States, but the Caribbean was calling my name in retirement. My life partner, Doug, and I settled on Panama to enjoy our golden years.
Between us, we have four grown children and five grandchildren who love to visit us and our over-the-water, off-grid home in this tropical paradise.
Before we chose Panama, we traveled to several other countries to find our place in the sun. Here’s what we learned in the process and why, after 12 years of living here full time, we would choose Panama for retirement all over again.
Our Original Location Options
I thought we would love Hawaii, but as it turned out, it was too far from my family and very expensive, and the temperature of the Pacific Ocean was too cold for me.
The beaches of Mexico are lovely and it was certainly close and easy to get to, but I found it was difficult for a non-citizen to buy property.
Guatemala And Nicaragua
Guatemala and Nicaragua were too undeveloped and did not have the expat communities I wanted.
In Belize, I thought I was in heaven in Ambergris Caye. I loved the beaches and that English was the primary language. Unfortunately, the prices there were out of my range at the time.
When I arrived in Costa Rica, I thought, This is it. I visited three times and had friends there. However, the prices where I wanted to be in Manuel Antonio were too expensive, and other areas I could afford were too remote. I just never found the right thing at the right price.
Visiting Panama Before Retiring There
Bocas Del Toro And Beyond
Finally, I was flipping through a magazine geared toward those wanting to retire to awesome places all over the world that are emerging markets. A small, classified ad read “Cheapest Land in the Caribbean” with a phone number. I called, and after a 45-minute conversation with the gentleman on the other end of the line, I decided to go over the border to Panama.
I took a small plane to a place called Bocas del Toro, took a quick look around, and realized, This is the place. By the time my 4-day excursion ended, I had put a deposit on some land on a small island called Solarte. On my second trip, I purchased a commercial property in town. It would take a few years before we could move and build. I never looked back.
After years of exploring different countries, here are the reasons I recommend Panama to adventurous travelers and people looking for their perfect place to retire, over and over again.
1. The People
You won’t find warmer, more welcoming people than in Panama. They are modest, kind, and very family oriented. You will often see generations of the same family working together in small businesses.
2. The Scenery
Beautiful beaches abound along both coasts with water that’s pristine and turquoise blue. The rainforest is lush and green year-round with amazing hiking trails. The views of both are to die for. On a clear day from Volcan Baru, you can see both oceans. Panama City is modern and charming; it’s not just about the canal, which is amazing in itself.
3. The Food
Fresh and delicious, you can enjoy incredible restaurants serving local fare both in the cities and rural areas. Fresh caught fish, juicy vine-ripened mangoes and pineapples, coconuts, bananas, avocados, and other organic vegetables. The coffee is second to none.
You will never be bored in Panama. There are plenty of activities to keep you busy. Panama has something for everyone, whether you like charming cities with opera and theater, rugged mountains for adventuring, or beautiful beaches for all your water sports.
If you like festivals, there are a myriad of those held throughout the year with colorful costumes, parades, music, and dancing. There are also many volunteer opportunities available, whether you are traveling or living here.
Panama is a safe place to travel and live. I have always felt safe here even when traveling alone. Violent crime is low. We do have petty crime, and you need to lock doors, bicycles, and boat motors.
6. Quality Of Life
One of the things that impressed me was the quality of life for expats at half the price it costs in the States, including for services like housecleaning and gardening. Your well-being factor goes up and your stress goes down when you can be outside enjoying nature every day.
7. The Government
A stable democracy since 1989, Panama stays tightly connected to the US. The currency used is the U.S. dollar even though they have the Balboa, too. The economy stays stable as well, due to the Panama Canal. The laws make it easy to buy property and get a residency visa.
8. The Weather
Panama has perfect weather in my opinion, except if you like snow. I’d rather fly somewhere for a couple of weeks to ski than live a whole winter in cold weather. The tropical beaches are 70 to 85 Fahrenheit year round with warm tradewinds. The highland boasts temps that range from 50 to 75 Fahrenheit, so cool, spring-like weather year-round. It can be hotter in the cities due to population and pavement. Even the rain is beautiful and warm. No hurricanes is a big plus.
Pro Tip: With tropical weather, unfortunately, come bugs. Bugs are not my favorite thing to deal with. Considering all the positives, I make it work, though. The main pain is something called a no-see-um: tiny bugs that come out at dawn and dusk and pinch. Some people get a minor reaction and some a major one. We deal with it by:
- Not going outside at dawn or dusk
- Putting on bug spray and/or long sleeves and pants
- Screening porch areas with “chitre” screen, which is readily available here
Panama is known for its inexpensive, good-quality medical care. A doctor visit for me with a specialist is about $45, x0rays $15, teeth cleaning $50, hernia operation approximately $2,000. Insurance is inexpensive, too, but I just go to the states and use my Medicare for big things.
10. Character And Culture
Panama has character. Panama City is well developed and reminds me of Miami. Bocas and Boquete are quaint and charming. There are lots of open spaces and farm country.
Twenty years behind Costa Rica, Panama is ripe for investment and other opportunities with its growing middle class. There are small airports throughout the country so you can have your choice of flying, driving, or taking a bus or private charter to get wherever you want to go.
You don’t have to learn Spanish unless you want to. It does come in handy for conversing with blue-collar workers and gaining respect with the locals. It’s a work in progress for me.
13. Vibrant Expat Communities
Retire to Panama, and you’ll meet wonderful people from all over the world and get to exchange stories with them. Many of them speak English as well.
There is something for everyone in Panama. Pacific and Caribbean oceans, tropical weather, mountains and cool weather, and a modern city.
You know, each person has their own version of what paradise is. My partner and I have lived here full time for 12 years and still love it. In my opinion, the many positives well outweigh any negatives for us. I found my paradise and I believe you should check it out, too.