A David Panama retirement may not be on the top of everyone’s list but that may be because it’s not a well known destination. David is Panama’s 3rd largest city and sits on the west side of the country approximately 28 miles from the Costa Rican border and an hour south of the popular town of Boquete, Panama.
We spoke with Kris, the creator of a wonderful blog about expat life in David, Panama called The Panama Adventure. She and her husband, Joel, are enjoying a David, Panama retirement for about $1200 per month! We wanted to find out more about what it was really like.
We originally intended this to be a podcast but it was recorded during the rainy season and the sound of the rain on Kris’ metal roof made for bad audio quality. So we transcribed the podcast. Enjoy!
Hi Kris, before we jump into what it's like to be retired in David, Panama. Let’s talk a bit about how you got there. Tell us a little bit about yourself.
Well, we were living in Florida before we came here and we were looking at retiring. And it's just too expensive to live anywhere in the US where we really wanted to live. So we started looking for alternatives. My husband looked at Costa Rica and then looked at Panama and we said, this might work! So we went to Panama City and spent a few days there. It was too much city...we love the country. So we went to David and said, “This will work!” So here we are.
What was your most important criteria in choosing a place to retire abroad?
Well, we didn't go about it the recommended way and look at a bunch of alternatives. But we wanted someplace close enough to the US because I have children and grandchildren whom I like to visit. And we wanted someplace that was relatively peaceful, stable.
Panamanians are accustomed to people from the U.S. coming over, they use the US dollar and it's a travel hub for the area. It's not that far to get back to the States and it just looks like a good thing. And I thought, what's the worst that can happen? We’ll go, we’ll decide it’s not for us and we’ll look for another place.
But it's worked out wonderfully beyond anything I ever expected. So we're still here.
Is speaking Spanish necessary to get around in David?
It's not required, you can make it without Spanish, but you will not have the same experience. I'm so glad I’ve learned. I mean, it's hard and it takes a long time.
You’ve got to be very persistent. It can be very frustrating. But when you talk to the local people and develop relationships with them, it's just such a joy.
And I think you're really missing out if you can't make friends with the local people because they are the best, most kind, loving, friendly, welcoming people you ever want to meet.
Have locals in David been accepting of you and do you feel like you are a member of the community?
Yes, it's very interesting, they take you as an individual.
You know, they don't care if you're rich or poor, if you go to church, or if you have a fancy car. All the stuff we are used to looking at, they don't care. If you're nice and respectful and kind, they'll welcome you with open arms.
I feel more at home here than I've ever felt in the United States. I mean, go figure that one!
What are some of the other things about the culture in Panama that you might want to mention?
It's very different, and if you come here expecting that 4 o’clock means 4 o’clock and that they will have your Ritz crackers in the supermarket, you may be really frustrated. You may have to get a different kind of cracker.
And your friend may have come across somebody on the way over to your place and they may be an hour or two late. But it's a much more relaxed kind of life.
What is the weather like in David? Does it rain constantly in the wet season?
Oh, no, not at all. It's very unusual that it would rain for 24 hours. Usually you get up in the morning to beautiful blue skies and puffy clouds. It’s just gorgeous.Then the afternoon, the clouds start rolling in and it begins to rain about 3 or 4pm. Normally it doesn’t rain through the night, usually it rains for an hour or two, maybe six hours. But once the sun goes down it’ll dry out again.
Is it humid year-round in David?
Well, it's the tropics, it is humid. The dry season goes from mid-December to about April. So by February, March, it gets pretty dry.
Otherwise you can expect humidity and we're down close to sea level. If you go up in the mountains, you get more humidity all year round.
Why are the mountain areas more humid than David?
They have a mist, Barenque, that comes floating through. It makes it too cold for me. I don't like it that chilly but a lot of people say David is miserable!
So you have a lot of options between the mountains and David. You can pick an elevation that suits you. If you don't like humidity, maybe Central Panama might be a better choice.
It is like I said, it's the tropics. So you've got to expect warm weather.
Is David a safe city? Do you feel comfortable going out on your own?
Always. I’m very comfortable going out on my own. Of course, I'm a New Yorker, I'm not worried about too much, but there's a lot of single women that live here. They're doing just fine. Women are generally treated respectfully.
What about crime in David? Is it mainly petty theft?
Everybody's got bars on the windows just because the neighbors all have bars on theirs. So if you don’t have them too, your house would be easier to break into. But generally we leave stuff laying out.
So I think it's just being smart wherever you go. No place is crime-free. There have been people assaulted here but it's very unusual.
The best thing you can do is get to know your neighbors. Your neighbors will look out for you.
Are there large expat communities in Panama?
It depends on where you live. Boquete is full of expats if that’s what you’re looking for. That's a great place. They have theater, art classes, yoga classes and hiking groups. Really, all kinds of expat activities.
Down here in David there are expats, but they tend to be more integrated into the community and don’t hang out with each other as much. So it just depends on what you’re looking for.
What types of goods are available in David? What things should I bring from the U.S.?
It depends on what you want. I came down with a suitcase and I did just fine. But my husband's a musician, so he shipped down guitars and all of his equipment. I’ve heard people talk about bringing a favorite kitchen appliance like an InstaPot. Or, if you’re picky about your sheets and towels, you should ship those as well.
Can you get items from Amazon.com in David?
There are delivery services here, like the Mail Boxes Etc, they'll give you a Miami address so your Amazon packages get sent to that address in Miami. They then ship it from Miami to David. When you go to pick up your package, you pay the shipping fee from Florida to Panama and you’ve got your stuff.
And it won't be tomorrow. You’ll have to wait maybe a week or two. If you're addicted to online shopping, this may be a good cure!
Do you need a Panamanian bank account? How do you pay for things in David?
Generally, you don’t need a Panamanian bank account unless you buy a house, need a mortgage or something like that. I have one, the only thing I use it for is to put more money on my telephone.
There's also ATMs everywhere, if you need cash, you can just take the U.S. credit card and get cash out of an ATM. We use credit cards a lot and just pay it online so you really don't have to have a bank here.
But I recommend that you definitely get two or three credit cards in case you have a problem with one that expires or you lose one. You don’t want to be left without a means to get money.
How does the cost of living in David compare to the cost of living in Florida?
It’s drastically less. We figured basic living in Florida was about $3000 per month for just the basics: house, food and utilities. Here it’s about $1100 to $1200 per month.
1 Bdr Apartment in City
$510 per month
1 Bdr Apartment Outside City
$215 per month
Average Utilities: 1 Bdr Apt
$45 per month
Inexpensive Meal for One
3-Course Meal for Two, Mid-Range
Do your monthly expenses include air conditioning?
Yes but it's limited. For a while we didn’t have air conditioning but David has some hot afternoons when the sun gets lazy. We now have one unit in the living room that we can use if we need it.
Are you allowed to work in Panama to supplement your income?
Not as a retired person, but if you want to get a work permit, then you have to get the friendly nations visa and then get a work permit. And not all jobs are available to expats. For example, I'm a nurse. I can't work as a nurse here. That job is only open to Panamanians.
So a lot of people, if they need to earn a living, they'll work over the Internet remotely or they'll start their own business. A lot of people have restaurants or tour guide businesses.
But if you need to work here, research that carefully and the pay scale will not be what you’re used to.
How is the healthcare in David? Have you had to use the healthcare system yet?
Yes, I had a problem with my eye so I went down to the hospital and I said, “I need to see an eye doctor.”
They told me he's not here, can you come back at three o'clock? So I got in the same day to see the eye doctor and it only cost me $40!
And the quality of care here, I mean, they may not have the latest greatest thing, but the quality of care has been very good from what I've seen. They take time with you. Doctors will share their cell phone numbers. I’ve been so impressed.
And not only is it good quality and available, it's affordable.
Are medications readily available and are they reasonably priced?
I think a lot of medications may not be much cheaper than they were in the States. And they may have a different version of the same medication we're used to.
So I highly recommend if you need medications, maybe see a doctor on a visit here and ask some questions. You can ask things like:
- This is what I take, is it available here?
- How much will it cost?
- If I need you for something, are you available?
- How would I go for help?
Let’s switch gears a bit. Do you dine out often and how are the local restaurants?
That's kind of all over the place. Boquete is full of restaurants. If you like to eat out, you can get dinner for $8.50 depending on where you want to go. If you want to have lunch at a local Panamanian restaurant, you can get lunch for about $3.00 or $4.00.
We're not really big on eating out because we like our own food. And the produce here is amazing! It's all grown up the hill so you get all the best fruits and vegetables so why would you want to eat out? But there are quite a few options for eating out in David if they want to do that.
Do you have easy access to grocery stores in David?
We have excellent supermarkets. Here where we live, there's three big supermarkets, all within two blocks of each other and numerous other supermarkets in town.
And there's fruits and vegetables stands and people selling produce and seafood down the street.
What kind of residency requirements are there if you want to retire in David?
You really do need to become a legal resident here. As a tourist, you're allowed to stay 180 days and then they want you to go home.
So people used to live here, go over to Costa Rica, get their passport stamped and come back for another 180 days. But it’s not that easy anymore.
You will need a lawyer to get residency here. It’s a lot of paperwork. You’ll need proof of income. They will also run a criminal background check to make sure you won’t be a problem here. Once all of your paperwork is done and you submit it, it takes about 2 or 3 months to get your residency card.
What are your favorite things about retirement in David, Panama?
Sometimes I hesitate. We are so happy here, I don't want anybody to say: you said it was great...we came down here and we hated it!
But for me, by far, the people. The people have been so nice to us. And of course, the cost of living is huge. Not having to worry about how you are going to pay the bills every month.
And we like the climate. I like the humidity and the warm weather. No more hurricanes.
And it's just it's a peaceful life here. I feel included in the community and welcomed by the people. I’ve just been happy here beyond what I ever imagined.
What are your least favorite things about your David Panama Retirement?
To me, the negative things are minor and it really depends on your attitude. Getting stuff done can be a pain in the neck. The processes for getting stuff done can be tedious, especially if you don’t, know what you’re doing. And of course, everything is in Spanish. For things like getting a license plate, you may have to go to several different offices. You can hire someone to help you through the processes, though.
Other small annoyances happen like when I couldn’t find blue thread at the fabric store, but I found it in the supermarket! But they are pretty minor.
Are you planning to stay in David long-term?
Absolutely. I do not want to leave.
What advice would you give to someone considering a David Panama retirement?
You've got to kind of take life as it comes. If you've got to have everything one way, it's going to drive you crazy.
Just just chill out and don't expect anything. And if you just come out, then you may be pleasantly surprised.
A lot of people do leave. They say they can’t deal with it and they go back to the United States. So it's not for everyone.
You can read more about my retirement adventures in David on my blog, The Panama Adventure.
If you're interested in Panama City, check out our blog about our exploratory trip to Panama's capital city.
Quick Facts about David Panama Retirement
Hot and humid year round with an overcast wet season. Average temps are from 72°F and 92°F
Flight time to U.S.
7.5 hours hours by plane to Miami
US Dollar and Panamanian balboa. You can use either.
Yes. The Pensianado program.
Yes. The Pensionado visa allows you to stay if you can prove a monthly income of $1000 and $250 for each dependent.