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How to retire in Panama in 2023: An expat’s guide

Retirement can be just another exciting chapter of your life if you prepare for it properly.

After all, what could be more daring than packing up your belongings, leaving your home country behind, and spending your senior years surrounded by a totally different culture?

For many expats, they choose to retire in Panama, a popular destination in central America that provides many benefits for retirees.

This tiny country has risen in popularity among retirees for many different reasons, including its inexpensive cost of living in comparison to other Latin American or European countries, the conveniences it provides expats, and its great healthcare system.

However, as with moving to any country, make sure you are fully informed so that there are no unpleasant shocks when you retire in Panama.

Regardless of where you intend to spend your golden years, a financial advisor can assist you in making plans, saving up the nest egg you need, or even help in creating a budget for your retirement abroad.

If you want to invest as an expat or high-net-worth individual, which is what I specialize in, you can email me (advice@adamfayed.com) or use WhatsApp (+44-7393-450-837).

Why retire in Panama?

High standard of living at low cost

In recent years, many expats are increasingly choosing Panama as their retirement destination due to its stunning beaches and pleasant temperature. This makes it highly likely that you will not be alone in your retirement.

There are sure to be loads of retirees for you to make friends with, but due to the influx, the cost of living has increased compared to what it was in the past as a result.

In all likelihood, your initial impression of the city will be of gleaming skyscrapers against the backdrop of azure Panama Bay. And Panama’s attractiveness isn’t just surface-level. Panama is one of the most developed countries in Central America, and if you look into it, you’ll see why.

Panama’s position as a top tourist destination is based on the country’s advanced infrastructure and convenient facilities.

Many expats choose to retire in Panama for its excellent retiree benefits, high standards of living, and quality healthcare. | Photo: Pexels
Many expats choose to retire in Panama for its excellent retiree benefits, high standards of living, and quality healthcare. | Photo: Pexels

If you decide to make Panama your permanent home, you likely will not have to sacrifice any of the creature amenities you are used to. More of life’s little luxuries will likely be within your budget as a result of savings on major expenses like medical care, insurance, gasoline, and entertainment.

Despite the fact that prices are on the rise here and around the world, Panama remains an excellent bargain. You can get around the city for less than a dollar on the metro, drink a cold beer for two dollars, and dine on fish and shrimp for twelve dollars.

Retirement cost of living estimates for Panama vary, but generally speaking, you may anticipate spending between $1,500 and $3,000 per month to live there.

Modern conveniences and beautiful natural scenery can be found at a lower cost in Panama. With less than $3,000 a month, a retired couple in Panama City can enjoy a comfortable lifestyle.

Purchasing an apartment here will allow you and your significant other to spend as little as $1,500 a month on housing.

A single retiree in Panama can enjoy a comfortable lifestyle in either a verdant highland retreat or a beautiful beach community for $1,400 to $1,700 per month.

Where you live will have some bearing on how much money you spend. The cost of housing will be more in Panama City, the nation’s capital, than it will be out in the suburbs or in a smaller city.

Your cost of living will also be impacted by other decisions you make. You can decide not to pay for certain expenses, like an automobile.

You can also decide to lead a life that is much simpler than it was throughout your career. For instance, you can save money by renting a small apartment rather than buying a house.

You might also decide to reduce your frequency of eating out in order to reduce your expense of living. This is particularly true if you reside in a large city or a tourist hotspot where the cost of food at restaurants is prone to be very expensive.

Plus, if you decide to reside outside Panama City you can find lower cost of living there.

Panama is one of the cheapest countries in the world to retire, and it also has some of the greatest medical facilities and hospitals in Central America.

You may lead a pleasant life in Panama without spending a lot of money. Remember that your lifestyle and where you live have a big impact on your budget. For instance, living expenses in large cities are higher than those in smaller ones or in rural areas.

Lively culture and plenty of activities

There is never a dull time of year in Panama City because to the city’s abundance of restaurants, cafes, theaters, art galleries, museums, and parks, as well as sporting events, jazz nights, film festivals, and other activities.

The people of Panama are warm and welcoming, and the country itself is stunning. Numerous beaches, forests, and mountains make it ideal for pursuits as diverse as hiking, mountain biking, and horseback riding.

Museums and retail malls abound in Panama City, the country’s capital. Restaurants selling both traditional fare and more exotic options like sushi and pizza can be found in abundance.

And the pace of life there is fast. Expats in various cities across the country host events for one another.

They enrich an environment that already includes English-language films, outdoor activities, and live music.

When you retire, you might be concerned about how you’ll spend your time, but living in Panama means you will never have to face that problem.

Great weather and climate

Panama’s reputation as one of the world’s sunniest countries is a major draw for foreign residents.

Even in the wettest months of August through November, the country rarely has more than a few consecutive gloomy days.

The average high temperature is 86 degrees Fahrenheit, while the typical low drops to around 66 degrees Fahrenheit at night.

There is lots of sunshine and wind all year long. Between two thousand and four thousand feet above sea level, you’ll find a number of chillier regions.

Quality healthcare amid the safest places in Central America

Many people who have left the United States, Europe, or Canada have relocated to the Caribbean because they can finally afford the beachfront lifestyle they’ve always wanted.

Additionally, it can be easily accessed. The primary international airport in Panama is one of the best in the Americas, with direct flights to major cities in the United States, Canada, and Europe.

Most foreigners to Panama are pleasantly surprised by the quality of their healthcare. Not to mention the many smaller clinics that provide everything from competitive dental work to free eye tests, the country’s big facilities are low-cost and up-to-date.

There are a lot of American-educated physicians in Panama, and they all speak English. The medical facilities here are on par with those in the United States or Europe.

Major private hospitals in Panama City are actually affiliated with renowned American medical centers, although their prices are up to 50% lower.

Public hospitals in Panama are supported by the Caja de Seguro Social (Social Security System) and the Ministry of Health.

As a result, not all of the services provided by public hospitals are free. However, pensioners receive a discount on healthcare services in accordance with Panamanian law.

In Panama, both public and private clinics feature qualified medical staff, specialists, and cutting-edge equipment. Both public and private health insurance is available to expats.

Affordable health, auto, and other insurance policies are a major source of financial relief for expats living in Panama today.

Panama is one of the safest places in Central Americas. | Photo: Pixabay
Panama is one of the safest places in Central Americas. | Photo: Pixabay

Then there’s the medication to take into account. Here you can find medications that are also sold in the United States, and in certain cases you don’t even need a prescription to get them.

The nation’s status as a bastion of political and economic stability is well-earned. It has used the US dollar as its official currency for many years and maintains cordial relations with the US.

The crime rate in Panama is significantly lower than the regional average. For this reason, it attracts a large number of foreign residents and companies.

However, Covid and safety concerns in two regions of the Central American country are the two reasons the U.S. State Department advises against traveling to Panama.

Additionally, it mentions two regions as having a high crime rate: the Mosquito Gulf and the Darién Region. Do not travel within 10 miles of the coastline, from Boca de Rio, Chiriqui to Cocle del Norte, according to the department’s website.

In this location, there occurs drug trafficking and other illegal activity. Regarding the latter, the department issues a travel advisory for El Salto and all areas south of Jaque, including Manene, Yaviza, and Lajas Blancas cities, the Colombian border.

According to the department’s website, “criminal elements and drug and human trafficking networks operate in these areas.”

Low taxes and excellent pensions for retirees

One of the biggest reasons for seniors and foreign visitors to choose Panama as their retirement destination is because of its low government taxes and the excellent Pensionado program.

One of the best retirement plans in the world is available to expat retirees in Panama. Retirees can benefit greatly from the Panama Pensionado program.

But first, foreign nationals who choose to enroll in Panama’s retirement program must apply for a retirement visa.

How do you retire in Panama?

American nationals can enter Panama without a visa. However, if you intend to stay in the nation for a minimum of three months, you must have a current passport. An initial 30-day tourist card that can be renewed for an additional 60 days is available at the point of entry.

You will want the assistance of a Panamanian immigration lawyer in order to submit an application to become a permanent resident of the nation.

You must demonstrate that you have an income or pension of at least $1,000 per month and $250 for each dependent in order to qualify for retiree residency status.

Your choice of residence when you retire to Panama will be among your most significant choices. Before you travel to Central America, you should have an idea of how much you can expect to spend on housing since it is one of the highest expenses for anyone.

Depending on where you reside and what you’re looking for, housing costs vary. You may pay less than $400 a month in smaller cities or towns. You may have to pay more than $5,000 a month for a huge, luxurious apartment in Panama City.

Utility costs should also be taken into account. You might be tempted to constantly run your air conditioner because it gets hot in Panama. Consider only using the air conditioner when you absolutely need it because doing otherwise can be costly.

The Ministry of Social Development (MIDES) is in charge of Caja de Seguro Social. The national insurance scheme for pensions, health, unemployment, and workplace accidents is administered by CSS.

In order to apply for Caja de Seguro Social under the “Old Age Pension” and utilize CSS services, retirees must be at least the required age (57 for women and 62 for males). You can always go with private health insurance providers if that’s what you prefer.

What is the Panama Pensionado program?

The Pensionado program was established by the government of Panama in 1987. It’s still one of the most sought-after retirement communities since it offers some of the best perks available anywhere.

Those who meet the requirements to become a “pensioner” can retire in Panama for as long as they choose, and during that time they will be eligible for a variety of discounts only available to members (known as “pensionados”).

Everything from medical care to shows to flights home from Panama is discounted by 10% to 50% for pensionados in Panama. As a member, you can save money on anything from groceries to restaurant meals.

The Pensionado visa makes it easy to relocate to Panama if you get a monthly pension of at least $1,000.

How do you qualify for the Panama Pensionado Program?

If you want to apply for the Pensionado retirement visa in Panama, you must meet the following criteria:

  • You must have a minimum monthly income of $1,000 that can be verified. This could be retirement from a commercial company, Social Security, or other government retirement programs (military, state retirement, police pension, etc.).
  • The age restriction must be met. Men in Panama can retire at age 62, while women can do so at age 57. Even though you are not yet legally of retirement age, you are still eligible to apply for a retirement visa; however, you will not be eligible for all of the Pensionado program’s advantages.

What are the benefits of Panama’s Pensionado Retirement Visa

The Panama Pensionado Program, one of the top retirement plans in the world, provides you with great advantages like:

  • Unrestricted residence in one of the safest nations in Central America
  • For domestic items, you will be exempt from import taxes.
  • Every two years, you’ll be allowed to import a new car without paying import taxes.
  • In addition, you can get savings on things like utility bills, airline tickets, medical expenses, admission fees for movie theaters, cultural and athletic events, etc. The list is as follows:
  • reductions of 25% on utility bills.
  • 25% off plane tickets and 30% off all other forms of transportation.
  • 15% off loans taken out in your name.
  • personal residential mortgages are subject to a 1% discount.
  • If no insurance is present, 20% off of doctor’s bills and 15% off of hospital treatments are available.
  • 15% off eye and dental examinations.
  • 10% off prescription drugs.
  • 20% off of invoices for technical and professional services.
  • 50% off on movie theater, cultural, and sporting event admission.
  • Hotels provide a 50% off Monday through Thursday and a 30% off on the weekends.

How do you apply for the Pensionado visa?

You can apply for a Panama retirement visa at the immigration office in Panama City if you match the requirements. The following is a step-by-step breakdown of the application process:

Depart for Panama. You have the option of entering with a tourist visa or without one and afterwards changing your immigration status.

Put together the document checklist. You must include all necessary documentation, but the immigration office will let you know if any more are required.

Complete the registration form for a retirement visa. At the immigration office, you can obtain a registration form for the retirement visa. After that, join it to the rest of your papers.

Send the paperwork to Panama City’s immigration office. You must go pick up your visa in person after it has been issued.

You cannot submit your application through the Panamanian consular offices if you are seeking for a Panama retirement visa from overseas.

Instead, you must do it through an immigration lawyer in Panama.

If you are unable to submit the application directly, the Panamanian immigration office requires that it be reviewed and filed through an immigration lawyer.

This implies that you must deliver all the necessary paperwork to your attorney so they can file the application on your behalf.

If your application is accepted, you must also pick up your visa in person.

Make sure you have all the required documentation before submitting your Panama retirement visa application:

  • an application form. The registration form is available at the Panamanian Immigration Office.
  • genuine, current passport. Include duplicates of all pages (including the cover) of your passport that have been notarized and authenticated by the Panamanian Consulate.
  • Four recent photographs. The images must be taken on a light background and be 2 inches by 2 inches in size.
  • a health certificate from a doctor in Panama. This must be a certified document describing your current health. The certificate must be signed by the treating physician.
  • a police file. You must have the last five years’ worth of police records issued by your country’s government validated by the Panamanian Consulate or by an Apostille.
  • Your pension or income documentation. You must produce a document from a private or public organization stating your pension status and the monthly sum you receive. It must be a genuine letter that has been notarized.
  • Apostille or the Panamanian Consulate authentication of the received amount is required.
  • Statement under oath describing your background. A lawyer is used to accomplish this in Panama.
  • a certificate of bachelorhood verified by the Panamanian consulate (only applicable if you are unmarried).

You are welcome to move in with your family under the Panama Pensionado retirement scheme.

However, you must boost your minimum monthly income by $250 for each family member in order to bring your spouse or young children.

Additionally, you must submit the following paperwork:

  • marriage license verified at a Panamanian consulate or with an apostille stamp.
  • a five-year police history for each dependent that has been notarized and verified.
  • birth certificates for children who have been verified by the Panamanian consulate.
  • copies of passports.
  • four photos of each member of the family.
  • a doctor in Panama has granted a health certificate.
  • statement under oath regarding one’s background. This needs to be done through a lawyer.
  • The Panamanian consulate validated and notarized the letter of responsibility.

Note that prior to submitting documents to your attorney in Panama, you must get them validated by the Panamanian consulate or with an Apostille stamp.

Can you apply for permanent residence through the Panama Pensionado visa?

With a Pensionado visa, you can indeed settle in Panama permanently. The retirement visa entitles its holder to live and retire in Panama for as long as desired.

After residing in Panama permanently for five years, you are eligible to petition for citizenship.

What are the best places to retire in Panama?

Whether you want a condo in Panama City that faces the ocean, located in a coastal town’s beachfront, or a chalet in the Swiss style in the milder mountains, you can find it in Panama.

You can find apartments to rent or houses to buy in Panama that meet your every need and price point. Choose to be pampered or to rough it like a native, the choice is yours.

There are a lot of fantastic places to retire in Panama. Panama offers a wide variety of lifestyle options for expats, including the bustle of Panama City, the cool breezes and mountain views of Highland villages like Boquete, the laid-back beach culture of Coronado, and many other options.

There is something for everyone in Panama, whether that something is buying a coffee estate or constructing a shack on a deserted island. 

The finest places to retire in Panama are places where nature and modern conveniences harmoniously coexist.

These places are worth exploring whether you intend to retire from your current work and “do nothing” or you simply want a change of scenery.

El Valle

Expats of all ages share a common goal: raising their living conditions while cutting costs. Modern society places less value on labor and more on leisure. El Valle, a verdant crater valley, is an ideal location for this.

El Valle, located about two hours outside of Panama City, has long been a popular getaway for the country’s upper class.

It is hardly shocking that retirees who had previously lived abroad found this trend and started following it. To meet the needs of locals and travelers, some have even opened cafes, inns, and bakeries.

El Valle has developed into a popular eco-tourism spot with numerous accommodations and attractions. Nonetheless, it still maintains the charm and character of a tiny town.

El Valle’s elevation of around 2,000 feet gives it a relatively cool environment, which is a major selling point. It also has a welcoming expat population.

Popular events include expat-organized mixers (open to anybody), trivia evenings, and more. Some of the best places to go in El Valle to meet local expats are the Golden Frog Inn, the Peruvian restaurant El Camino del Inca, and O’Pedro’s pub, a twist on the traditional Irish pub.

Of course, there’s more to local culture than just the food and drink. For those who find inspiration in nature, this is paradise.

El Valle is a wonderful spot to be active thanks to its many natural features, such as its waterfalls and ponds, mountain routes, and hot springs.

The convenience of being so close to Panama City, which is home to world-class medical facilities, shopping centers, theaters, and more, is an added bonus.

Bocas del Toro

Bocas del Toro can be a great destination if you wish to spend a more opulent retirement and experience living in the Caribbean on a budget.

Over 400 foreigners live in Bocas del Toro. The lovely province provides a wealth of regular activities and stunning natural vistas so you may unwind and live peacefully.

The beaches are one of the reasons why many expats choose to retire in Panama. | Photo: Pixabay
The beaches are one of the reasons why many expats choose to retire in Panama. | Photo: Pixabay

Bocas del Toro is the perfect destination for a beach vacation in Panama. Isla Colon is just one of hundreds of islands that make up the province’s renowned archipelago.

Here you’ll discover an international mix of surfers, bohemians, boaters (both visiting and living), and retirees.

Many tourists travel to this section of the Caribbean and find that they cannot get enough of the turquoise-blue waves speckled with white sands and verdant rainforests, despite the fact that tropical rains maintain this area lush and green all year long. Bocas is stunning, and that’s not even being modest.

In addition, there is never a dull moment in Bocas. Day trips to neighboring islands’ beaches are popular, and in the evening, hundreds of hip spots provide ocean views, ocean breezes, and ocean fare.

The landscape is continually changing and there are always fresh and exciting individuals to meet. The beauty of Bocas may be irresistible to those who are prepared to face the hardships of island life, such as the constant threat of tropical storms and the necessity of importing nearly all of your food.

There are also many beautiful beaches on the mainland of Panama, for those who prefer coastal living.

Boquete

Boquete is Panama’s premier retirement community, so there’s never a dull moment.

Boquete, the epicenter of Panama’s well-known expat community is in the Chiriqui Highlands, and may be reached in an hour by air or in roughly six hours by car from the nation’s capital.

Boquete, with its population of over 23,000, is referred to as “Panama’s Top Expat Havens” and is ideal for expats seeking a straightforward and peaceful retirement.

Retirees from all over the world come to Boquete to spend the rest of their lives because of the pleasant climate, active lifestyle, beautiful natural surroundings, music, and art.

Chiriqui

The bustling city of David, with its hospitals, shopping centers, restaurants, and more, is only 40 minutes distant via a newly constructed road. David is the heart of the prosperous Chiriqui province.

The mountainous region of Chiriqu is home to temperate weather typical of early spring, a wide variety of outdoor activities, and some of the world’s best coffee and orchids.

The majority of trips made here involve walking. Fresh produce and seafood stalls outnumber fast food restaurants. Dancing and horseback riding are two examples of physically active social activities that attract individuals of all ages.

Expats often report losing weight without making any changes to their diet or activity level. And maybe that isn’t so surprising after all.

Here, people spend less time indoors and more time in nature. Cut back on fast food and up your intake of fish and veggies. They are less alone and experience less stress as a result of more social interaction.

It’s the norm around here. Chiriqu is home to the only annual jazz and blues festival outside of Panama City, thanks to the abundance of groups and activities in the area.

In addition to the three national parks, there are a pair of golf courses. Make an effort to bore yourself. Foreigners generally agree that it cannot be done.

Pedasí

Pedasi is the best area for you if safety is your top priority when looking for a new house. In Panama, Pedasi has the lowest crime rate.

The rural area is ideal for those who love the ocean and fishing because it is surrounded by lush, natural vegetation and stunning beaches.

Pedasi is located in the province of Los Santos on the Pacific Ocean’s Azuero Peninsula. It takes five hours to get there from Panama City; after leaving the Pan-American Highway and driving south, the route passes via the cities of Chitre and Las Tablas before ending in Pedasi after another 45 minutes of driving.

Pedasi, a tiny peaceful community with a year-round population of about 2,500, embodies the best of country life.

There are lush pastures with grazing livestock all around the hamlet. Three magnificent undeveloped beaches, the Pacific Ocean, and the village center can all be reached in just five minutes by car.

Fishing is the primary source of income for the residents here. The area is known as Panama’s “Tuna Coast” and the seas are teeming with fish. Here, sport fishing has become popular since you can almost always count on having a successful day of fishing.

Surfing is a different attraction that has grown in popularity recently. Surfers from all over the world have found Playa Venao, a nearby surfing beach. Playa Venao became a well-known surfing destination after hosting the World Surfing Championships in 2011 and 2012.

El Arenal beach is only a 20-minute boat ride from Isla Iguana National Park. Numerous boat captains are willing to take you on a full- or half-day journey. No reservations are required.

For swimming, lounging, beachcombing, snorkeling, and scuba diving, it is a local and tourist favorite. The beaches have white, Caribbean sand.

The wildlife sanctuary on Isla Iguana is renowned for housing numerous frigates, as well as numerous birds, hermit crabs, and vibrant iguanas. Many tourists stop at the seaside cantina for a cold drink on the way back to El Arenal.

Torio

A little village in Panama’s Azuero peninsula called Torio. Torio has hospitable residents and a stunning beach.

Although the town is well-known for its surfing and fishing spots, there are many other things to do while visiting, like horseback riding and mountain climbing.

You will feel a sense of nature and people coming together if you choose to live in Torio. Moreover, people who enjoy being connected yet still having a private haven to return to would enjoy the city for its creature comforts.

It is sufficiently connected to allow you to realistically establish a very comfortable and modern existence while also giving you the impression of living in true communion with nature, thanks to high speed Internet, a dependable facilities system, a fair network of roads, and a big city just over an hour away.

Whether you enjoy farming, surfing, fishing, hiking, or any other activity, Torio will put your interests within reach.

Santa Fe

Santa Fe is an excellent area to retire and take advantage of the affordable housing and pleasant weather.

The genuine town is ideal for a cozy and straightforward living. You will value the inexpensive cost of living, welcoming community, and breathtaking tropical setting as a retiree.

Santa Fe is a town that is truly embodying Panama. Rainbows crisscross the powder-blue skies here, high in the Veraguas province, where lush, green hills are scattered across the horizon.

The people are pleasant and the buildings are built in the traditional manner with tilted wooden roofs, pastel-colored walls, and compact rooms. They will casually greet you as you pass by. Views of the rising mountains and the gently sloping countryside can be seen from up here.

Boquete is one of the most popular places to retire in Panama. | Photo: Pexels
Boquete is one of the most popular places to retire in Panama. | Photo: Pexels

There are only approximately 3,200 people living in Santa Fe, and the old industries have been preserved. Mejoranas are handcrafted Spanish guitars made by master artisans and cost less than $100.

Around Panama, Santa Fe is well-known for its orchids, and you may visit gardens to observe more than 300 different kinds of exotic blooms. There is also an annual event honoring the renowned orchids in August.

Here, wildlife is diverse and plentiful. There are toucans that are iridescent. You may explore the beautiful rainforest in the 70,000-hectare Santa Fe National Park on horseback or with a guide.

Spend just $5 to rent an inner tube and experience a thrilling ride down the Rio Bulabá. Take a stroll around the many rivers, streams, and waterfalls and take in the beauty of the countryside and the purity of the air.

A visit to a coffee farm will allow you to learn more about the rich, steaming drink that is an integral part of the local culture. In this rich, forested environment, bird viewing is a thrill for aspiring ornithologists, and Cerro Tute is the ideal location to take in the breathtaking valley vista.

Bottom line

Panama is a great place to retire. It has a lot of benefits that make it an attractive option for retirees.

The cost of living is lower than in America, but it is increasing as more Americans and other foreigners want to retire there. Your location and lifestyle, of course, will have a big impact on your housing prices.

The wonderful Panama Pensianado scheme, which offers retirees a lot of discounts, does give a counterbalance to the cost of living.

The weather is beautiful year-round. Panama also has a tropical climate so you can expect warm days with cooler nights throughout the year.

Panama is home to many expats who choose to retire in Central America. Panama offers everything you could wish for in a retirement destination: entertainment options, restaurants, shopping malls and beautiful beaches.

If you need more guidance on how to retire in Panama, or plan for your retirement down the line, it is highly recommended you seek the advice of an expat financial planner.

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Adam is an internationally recognised author on financial matters, with over 760.2 million answer views on Quora.com, a widely sold book on Amazon, and a contributor on Forbes.

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