Why Retire in Panama?
Retiring in Panama City has been an obsession of ours for many years. I wrote marketing copy for someone who sold books and courses about retiring in Panama. I have to say, my writing was so good, I convinced myself! 🙂
But really, there are a lot of reasons why Panama makes so much sense for so many people. Some of the benefits that put Panama at the top are:
- Excellent and affordable healthcare
- Generous pensianado program offering discounts to retirees
- U.S. Dollar being an official currency
- Stable economy due to the income from the Panama Canal
- Affordable real estate
- Choice of climates and surroundings from hot and humid beachfront to cool and dry mountains.
- Easy travel to and from the United States
Because of all of the benefits, we had to go and check it out. We love the idea of living in a high-rise with a beautiful city view so we chose to check out Panama City and everything it has to offer.
Pensianado Program: Retiree Benefits in Panama
I’m starting here because Panama has one of the best retirement benefit programs in the world. It’s called the Panama Pensionado Program and provides generous benefits for those who decide to retire there.
Retirees can enjoy things like:
- 25% discount on utility bills
- 25% discount on airline tickets and 30% on other forms of transportation
- 20% off doctor’s bills and 15% off hospital fees if you don’t use insurance
- 10% of medicines
- 50% discount at hotels during Mon-Thu and 30% of the weekends
- 50% off movie theater tickets and sporting events
You can find the full list of benefits and also the residency requirements at the Embassy of Panama.
Top 5 Favorite Things about Panama City, Panama
- The People
Between my husband and myself, I’m the lover of languages so whenever we travel somewhere where the language is different, I try to learn as much as I can before the trip. I studied Spanish in college and on and off since so I had a head start.
When we arrived, I could speak enough to get around but understanding was a different thing. I had a hard time deciphering what people were saying but even so, everyone we came across was so patient and friendly. From Uber drivers to waiters to the bartender we visited nightly at our hotel, we never felt out of place...we always felt welcomed. We didn’t have one bad experience when it came to the Panamanian people. +1 for Panama City!
- The City
The city itself is stunning. As we traveled in from the airport, we were in awe of how modern and shiny the city looked.The high-rise buildings look so fancy and the city views we saw from the various condos we looked at were breathtaking.
Because of the gorgeous high-rise buildings, it has a decidedly modern flair to it. It feels like a city that would be beyond our financial reach. But this is Panama City, not New York City or San Francisco. The city life is still a possibility here.
First peek of Panama City coming from the airport.
- El Cangrejo
El Cangrejo is one of the districts within Panama City. It has lovely residential buildings with great views but it also has a nice neighborhood vibe. It feels like a place where you establish some roots and get to know the people in the neighborhood.
Albert Einstein head sculpture - Panama City, Panama
The stunning view from a condo we looked at in El Cangrejo.
- Avenida Balboa
After our amazing breakfasts, it was a wonderful place to walk around before the heat of the day settled in and burn off some of the calories we just took in.
- Avenida Balboa is an oceanside promenade that spans a little over 2 miles. If you go to Panama City, you need to stroll this famous avenue. There are so many great pictures to take of the beautiful buildings of Panama City.
- Just know that if you're walking along during low tide, the water flows out and it leaves the sea floor exposed. It can be a bit stinky.
Hanging out on Avenida Balboa...I could get used to this.
The water disappears at low tide along Avenida Balboa
- Casco Viejo (Old Quarter)
Casco Viejo was founded in 1673, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is a must see if you’re in Panama City. The colonial style buildings are beautiful. As you stroll the streets, be sure to take a careful look at the buildings. Sometimes you’ll see that the building is only a facade waiting for renovation.
By day, there are lots of cute tourist shops, ice cream shops and places to get a cold cerveza. By night, Casco Viejo offers a lively nightlife scene if that’s your thing.
The Panama Canal is responsible for one-third of Panama's entire economy.
Top 3 Things We Didn't Like about Panama City, Panama
- The Heat
I’m not sure what it was but Panama City was HOT. And this is coming from someone who lived in Tampa, Florida where it’s hot and humid. It just seemed like we were really struggling with the heat at times.
- >>>The big factor regarding the heat and humidity is air conditioning. If you like your AC on 24/7, it could cost you about $300 per month.
- Not walkable
One of the criteria we have for our retirement place is to not have to own a car. We’d love to live somewhere where we can access all of our essentials on foot. Prior to going to Panama City, we were well aware of the warnings of the potholes and uneven surfaces when walking around but reality was so much worse.
When walking around the streets of Panama City, you really can’t look around. In order to be safe, you have to stare down at the sidewalk the entire time you’re walking. No really, the entire time! This means you miss things. You might walk into poles or other people. Because you’re looking down at the sidewalk all the time, you don’t notice your surroundings, which can be dangerous.
Mr. Rover saved my life one night when we were walking back to our hotel. A taxi made a left from the right lane of a main avenue as I was crossing the road he was turning onto. If Mr. Rover hadn't pulled me back hard, I would have been hit. After that, I found out that cars have the right of way, not pedestrians.
Watch out for random holes in the sidewalks!
- Traffic and Driving
We had a few days to experience Panama City drivers as we walked around and rode in Ubers. Nothing prepared us for the driving situation there. First, Panamanian drivers love to honk their horns. They honk if you wait too long at a light, they honk if you’re going too slow, they honk if you’re going too fast, they honk just to hear their horns. I have never heard so many car horns going off before and it became quite unnerving.
Traffic rules also seem to be a suggestion. No one uses a signal, people veer into lanes without warning, they’ll tailgate anyone ahead of them who isn’t speeding and forget about slowing down at yellow lights. After about 3 days of this, we were scared to death of our upcoming road trip to Coronado. I started to think that retiring in Panama City could get stressful due to the traffic situation.
Panama is the only place in the world where you can see the sun rise on the Pacific and set on the Atlantic.
Top 3 Things That Surprised Us about Panama City, Panama
- Eating out more expensive than expected
One of the things that we just thought would be significantly less is the cost to eat out. Turns out that it's not as easy to do as we thought.
For instance, our first night in Panama, we went to a local burger place around the corner from our hotel. I have a thing about trying local takes on burgers so this was perfect. After ordering burgers, fries and cokes for two, we ended up paying over $40. Yikes! We were surprised at how much we were spending on food.
If you want to eat at a more reasonable price there are plenty of good local options. You can get a cup of fresh ceviche for around $2.00 at the local fish market. There are also good, local restaurants like Concolon Street Food Cafe where your bill for a meal for two will cost you about $20 to $30 depending.
Bottom line is don’t expect to eat at upscale restaurants on the cheap.
- Not as much English
I was glad to have brushed up on my Spanish prior to arriving in Panama City. It came in handy everyday when doing things like ordering in restaurants or asking for directions. But I would have been in trouble if I had to communicate anything more complex.
It’s not impossible to get around with only English but don’t be surprised if you find yourself in a situation where you’re pulling out your phone for Google translate. I would say if you're planning on retiring in Panama City, start learning Spanish today.
- Beaches Aren't Great
Sure Panama City is on the Pacific coast and there are miles of oceanfront and beautiful ocean views. If you want to be able to grab a couple of beach chairs and lounge by the waves, you'll need to go to another area of the country.
- Maid’s quarters in condos
One interesting thing we found was that many condos come with maid’s quarters. The rooms are quite small with just enough room for a twin bed and nightstand.