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What Are the Pros and Cons of Retiring in Panama?

Hey everybody. My name is Kent Davis and I’ve been living in Panama since 2007 and today I’m going to tell you about some of the pros and cons of retiring in Panama. 

So here at Panama Equity Real Estate, we’ve helped people from all over the world retire in Panama. Some of those people have stayed and some have gone home pretty quickly. So the idea for today’s video is to save you a little bit of time and give you some guidance on what to look for and what to ask. 

The pros and cons of retiring in Panama are all over the internet in terms of what you want to be thinking about, especially about Panama’s really attractive retiree benefits.

First and foremost is that all-important Pensionado Visa, which gives you access to discounts pretty much everywhere. From restaurant discounts to travel and to transport, these discounts really add up. In some cases, you can find up to 50% off and in other cases, 10% off but it really just depends on the service you’re looking for.

Panama laws are also very favorable to retiring in Panama in terms of granting foreigners the same rights and protections as Panamanians. Here’s what you really got to think about, because as a smart client once told me “it’s easy to plan for the good, what you want to do is plan for the bad”, just in case Panama might not be the right fit for you after coming out here. 

So first things first, when you are in Panama for the first time, you want to talk to as many people as possible across the spectrum. And what I suggest asking them about is what do they not like about Panama.

Everybody’s the first to tell you the weather’s great, the people are lovely and the cost of living is good. And a number of other factors that they’re just happy to explain to get some more people down here, but really you want to dive in.

You want to ask:

  • What do you miss about being at home? 
  • What do you miss about the last place you lived? 
  • What are some things that are frustrating for you? 
  • What do you think Panama might be missing? 
  • What did you think you were going to expect?
  • What did you think you were going to run into?
  • And then what did you actually run into?  

A pro that might come to mind first and foremost is the weather. The weather’s awesome if you like hot weather because we’re in the tropics. However, you can get away from that heat a little bit when you go up to the mountains or in some areas of the beach where there’s plenty of shade, and air conditioning, etc. However, for the most part, Panama’s average is anywhere from 85 to about 95 degrees Fahrenheit. So that would be about 28 to 35 or so centigrade. That’s one maybe con if you’re expecting Medellin temperatures. Medellin is known as the eternal spring and that’s going to be more like 70 degrees, but there are obviously pros and cons with moving to Colombia, Ecuador, Mexico, or Europe. 

The people in Panama are lovely. Despite what it says on the internet, a lot of people don’t speak English. They’re not too worried if you try to speak to them in broken Spanish and they’re always the first to try to understand and be understood. In short, you’re not going to get any kind of pushback.

In general, a lot of people who don’t speak English are working at grocery stores, working at cell phone companies, working at insurance companies. You can usually work your way to the right people to find somebody who speaks English, but walking in and expecting someone to greet you or understand you in English is not that likely here in Panama. Now you get used to it. Obviously, you can learn Spanish or you can have an assistant, but that might be a con for you if you’re expecting that a lot of people are going to speak English right off the bat. 

Customer service is a little to be desired, but you get used to the rhythm of it. It stops being offensive when somebody’s not so excited to see you. When you walk into their store and they just kind of look at you and just kind of wait, that’s the culture here right now. It’s nice compared to a place like Columbia, where for example, you go to the beach and you get inundated with people who want to give you massages and sell you necklaces and food. And it’s overwhelming. Panama is the exact opposite of that. Don’t get me wrong though, people are definitely business-minded, but they are not aggressive. So that’s kind of nice. 

As far as living in Panama as a retiree, it’s not as cheap as some people say it is. Some things are still very cheap such as movies, taxis, local food, local produce, and healthcare. These things are all still very affordable compared to most parts of North America and Europe. However, when it comes to furniture and eating out you should expect to pay about what you’re going to pay in a city like Chicago, or maybe the suburbs of Washington DC. Don’t worry though, it won’t be as expensive as San Francisco or Manhattan. In addition, Panama services, as far as plumbers, electricians, general repair work are still very inexpensive. All in all though, Panama is still one of the cheapest countries to retire to. 

If you are on a special diet such as gluten-free or dairy-free, there’s not as much of it here yet. However, you can always bring it in or you can always find special places like Foodie or some of these mini gourmet supermarkets in the downtown Panama City area. In fact, even now you’re starting to see these stores in the interior of the country.

In terms of lifestyle, there are a lot of foreigners in Panama and some of those foreigners might not speak your language. If you speak English you will meet people from Spain, people from France, people from Argentina, people from Russia, people from China. So it is definitely an expat-friendly country but it might not be as expat-friendly as you’re used to. For example, you don’t have as many retirement communities here. We don’t have 55 and above facilities where pretty much everybody is, you know, blue-blooded American. It just doesn’t exist. Maybe that’s a business opportunity, but right now it just doesn’t exist.

You’re not going to be around the same people that you see back home in Panama, but for that matter, it takes a special person to move to Panama. It takes someone that’s looking for adventure. It takes someone that wants to get out of their normal. It takes someone who is, you know, just looking for something new. So in that sense, you get a lot of retirees that are kind of similar, excited, and adventurous, and that’s great. That’s actually one of my favorite things about living in Panama! Actually, all the retirees that we’ve helped tend to be very adventurous. 

In conclusion, you want to ask the hard questions first, and speaking of hard questions, we are always happy to answer questions.

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