The tropical paradise of Panama always ranks in the top 10 countries for retirees. The beaches, the climate, the cost of living, and the close proximity to the U.S. are just a few reasons retirees flock to this Central American country.
If you’re thinking about retiring in Panama, where should you start? We asked our expat experts to help us out.
1. Ask The Right Questions
Joyce Barr moved to Panama 3 years ago. She is still learning her way around the country, but that’s one of her favorite parts. She also likes to share her knowledge with others considering Panama for retirement. Barr started off by making a list of questions:
- How long is the visa process for retirees?
- Are there good medical services and facilities available? Is Medicare accepted?
- How long is the rainy season? Where is the driest part of the country?
- Can I afford to live comfortably on a modest retirement income?
- Is safety a big concern for foreigners?
- Is English widely spoken?
These will help you get started in your search for a good location to visit in Panama. Barr recommends spending at least 2 weeks to get a sense of what areas you might want to consider.
2. Plan An Exploratory Trip
Jackie Lange moved to her tropical paradise in 2010 and has loved every minute of it. She now guides other people on retiring in Panama.
To plan a perfect exploratory trip to Panama, Lange starts with two things: what kind of weather you prefer, and what your monthly budget will be when you retire in Panama. This process will eliminate some places so you can focus only on places that are a good fit.
You can check Craigslist Panama to see what rental prices are like in the area you are considering. Also consider what resources are nearby, like hospitals, doctors, restaurants, and even golf, fishing, and expat communities.
If you’d like to visit a variety of different places in Panama while also learning all the things you need to know to have a smooth move, consider taking an all-inclusive 6-day, 7-night tour with Panama Relocation Tours. The company also offers private tours of the most popular places to live in Panama.
3. Know Your Destination Options
Hunter Schultz has lived in Panama for almost 20 years. He recommends starting your journey in Panama City because it’s easy to get around and a good way to connect with other expats. This home base will give you a feel for city life in Panama. He suggests staying in a hotel in Casco Viejo.
Pro Tip: Airbnbs are not allowed within the city.
Communities Near Panama City
If city life isn’t for you, Schultz suggests three other areas that are within 2 hours of Panama City. There are micro-communities, towns, and different cultures within each area. These communities will quickly refine your thinking about climate and amenities, without the extensive travel required to get to Boquete, the Azuero Peninsula, and Bocas del Toro:
- Coronado and the beach communities on the Pacific Coast
- El Valle de Anton, which is mountainous and inside an extinct volcano
- Portobelo and Linton Bay on the Caribbean side, which have calmer seas and warmer water
Outside of Panama City, Schultz suggests Airbnb or a small boutique hotel for weeklong stays, which should give you plenty of time to decide whether Panama is right for you. Renting a car is doable — it’s just that some people will be uncomfortable driving here. Hiring a guide is also helpful; Schultz has used Ancon Expeditions and Isthmian Adventures.
Pro Tip: You needn’t go all over to get a feel for the country on your first trip. Decide which climate and vibe you like, then come back and spend more time in areas closer to your wants and needs, including those requiring more travel.
Bocas Del Toro
Anne-Michelle Wand has called Panama home for the last 12 years.
In Bocas, where Wand lives, the sunniest months are February, March, September, and October. The rainiest months are traditionally July and November. It’s beautiful year round, rainy or not. It often rains at night, and it doesn’t usually rain all day. If you are going to retire here, you will want to experience all types of weather anyway.
- Bring boots or mud shoes, or buy them in Bocas.
- There are many great places to stay. A few I recommend are Valle Escondido in Boquete, Casa Acuario in Bocas, and Plaza Paitilla Inn in Panama City.
4. Explore, But Not Like A Tourist
Once there, Schultz recommends focusing on doing things you would do as a resident. Go to the grocery store. Get a haircut. Buy a few cheap items at the hardware store. Grab a cup of coffee or a meal at a local fonda, or small café. What are the locals like?
Pro Tip: Keep a written or recorded journal about what you liked and disliked. You’ll forget small but important details.
5. Give Yourself Time
Wand recommends staying at least 3 weeks. She says this will give you the ability to see at least three different locations and get a feel for each of them. She also suggests mixing with the locals and asking them lots of questions. (Keep in mind, Spanish is the official language.) When Wand first visited Panama, she traveled all over to see where she liked it best.
6. Return In A Different Season
Panama has many micro-climates, along with rainy and dry seasons. To get a good feel for living here year round, Schultz suggests at least two exploratory trips, with one during the rainy season, which is May through mid-December. The heaviest rains are in October and November.
December through April is the dry season — there is much less rain and it will be windier. Panama gets more rain in October and November, but the rains usually start in the late afternoon, so you’ll usually wake up to blue skies and sunshine even in the rainy season.
Additional Locations To Explore
While you’re visiting, Wand suggests visiting several of her favorite stops:
- Coiba National Park, often called the Galapagos of Panama
- The Panama Canal, a world wonder
- The western San Blas Islands
- Isla Escudo de Veraguas
- The Boquete Flower & Coffee Festival in January
- Hiking to Volcan Baru and seeing the quetzal bird
- Bocas del Toro and Santa Catalina for surfing