Retiring to Panama (Hope You Don’t Like Beef!)

A guy, we’ll call Bob, writes in telling me about his experience in considering moving to Panama in retirement.  Obviously, this is just one anecdotal personal experience and assuredly won’t apply to everyone.   But I thought it’d be interesting to post.


My rent here in the U.S. in a totally remodeled 3bed/2 bath 1440 square foot brick home is $1250/month. I don’t buy because I move every two years.

I looked at condos on the beach in Panama which were smaller than my home and not as nice for $1100/month. Homes in the mountains were over $1000/month and also not as nice as the one I am in. We did see some homes up in a remote area for $600/month but you have to drive on a tiny two lane road up a mountain which is some what remote. The towns are not as nice as living in the US. The exception was Panama City (very expensive) and David. Streets are not as well kept, sidewalks are horrible to non-existent. Drivers use their horns more than their brakes.

To be able to stay in Panama long term, you really need a permanent residency visa. I wasn’t planning on taking my social security right away, so I could not qualify for a Pensionado visa. I would have to get a Friendly Nation’s visa. Cost of visa including attorney’s fees and starting a corporation run around $5000 if you have connections. However, you have to put $7500 in a Panamanian bank to show you are financially sound. This is the cost for a couple.

A lot of Panama is third world. You can save money on groceries if you buy local brands and shop at farmers markets. However, I can do a similar thing here. I visited a number of stores and compared prices. I really didn’t see that much difference.

One thing that stood out to me and my wife was every grocery store we entered had an overwhelming odor coming from the meat market. Strong fish smell and other strange smells I am not used to having to deal with in the US. Oh, if you love beef, this is not the country for you. Being a meatatarian who loves his steak, this was a big issue. You better like chicken and fish if you want to live here. Their beef is not very good at all.

One thing we were told is you have to become accustomed to the Panama way of doing things. They are not in a hurry and may not do what they say they will do. I found this was more of not wanting to do their job. I stayed in one hotel where my refrigerator was locked. I asked the front desk if they could unlock it. I stayed there for four days and they never unlocked it even though I asked multiple times. That is just not doing your job.

The one area where you might be able to save on cost is health care assuming you have health issues. We do not. Medicine is much lower there as are doctor and hospital visits. Again, if you don’t have health issues, no savings. If you really want to save through Panama, you can always go there to have a major operation and do it for 20% the cost. You don’t have to live there to get that benefit.

All in all, we were not the only people who came to the same conclusion while we were there. Many agreed with our conclusion that they could save as much money living in their area of the US as moving to Panama. And you don’t have to spend all the money and deal with the hassles of getting a visa, much slower service, and lower your standard of living. There were a few that thought the place was great and planned to return. Our assessment was the it’s an okay place to visit, but not a great place to save money for what you have to give up during your retirement.

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