Panama is the southernmost country in Central America. Its main claim to fame is the Panama Ship Canal which links the Caribbean Sea with the Pacific Ocean. Cargo ships sailing through the Canal cut thousands of miles and many days off a sea voyage which otherwise would take them all around South America. The building of the Canal in the early 20th century brought many laborers to Panama from the Caribbean Islands and created many links with America who were charged with building the canal. Consequently Panama was widely influenced by America and many workers migrated to Panama, married and stayed on.
Panama today has a dollar-based economy. It is very stable politically and it benefits from the huge income created by the fees charged to ships using the Canal. English is widely spoken as a second language by many educated Panamanians. The official language however is Spanish.
Panama has recently had an influx of retirees moving down to enjoy the warm climate, cheap accommodation, good standards of living, stable financial situation and excellent affordable healthcare. The AARP and ‘International Living’ organizations rated Panama as ‘#1 Best Offshore Retirement Destination in all the Americas” which encouraged many people to consider retiring to Panama. Younger people are also drawn to Panama as visas are easily obtained through work or investment. There is plenty of information on www.learn4good.com website about visas and working in Panama. A specialist immigration lawyer will need to be hired but their fees are generally very reasonable.
Panama has a good infrastructure of roads. It also has a world-renowned banking sector for investment. It is considered one of the safest countries in Central America and the Caribbean and the police have a high profile. Although Spanish is the official language, English newspapers and TV channels are also available so the transition is not too traumatic.
Panama also draws many medical tourists. Panama City has a huge number of excellent hospitals and facilities which rival any of their counterparts in the USA. However medical procedures are very affordable in Panama. Wages are much lower, there is no medical insurance culture and drugs are very affordable. Most doctors, dentists, specialists and surgeons trained in the USA and Europe so they speak excellent English. All this has built a huge trade in visitors coming to Panama for private medical treatment that would be unaffordable elsewhere. There is plenty of information on sites such as Panama Medical Vacations. Once people have visited Panama, they see the benefits offered and many choose to stay and live there.
Choosing where to live in Panama is a challenge as there is a huge range of choice. The city of Panama is bustling and vibrant. It is also very crowded and busy. There is an active ex-Pat community who meet once a month at the ladies’ ‘Who’s New’ Club.
Many retirees choose to live high in the mountains in Boquete or El Valle where temperatures are cooler and the vegetation and flowers are beautiful. However it is a much wetter climate than on the coast. The Pacific coast is also popular with ex-pats. Coastal towns such as Gorgona and Coronada are popular with immigrants and snnowbirds from Canada, Europe and the USA. Local supermarkets there stock more American-type foods, although it is expensive and house prices have rocketed due to the high demand. However, Panama is still a third-world country behind its smart façade. Many local people live in homes with tin roofs and air bricks for windows. Cars are a luxury which is only affordable by the very rich. Electricity is expensive and is often cut off. Similarly water and internet services are disconnected almost weekly for short periods of time. It takes some adjusting to these inconveniences and to the laid-back attitude of local service providers and workers.
American-style houses are as expensive in Panama as they are in America. They are sold through realtors, but each realtor sells only their own listing. Consequently buyers need to visit all the realtors to view a choice of houses on the market. Several companies are listed on www.encuentra24.com website or search by area. A lawyer is also essential to check out deeds of land ownership. Many people move to Panama for a lower cost of living, and that is true for healthcare and some basic foods and restaurants meals. Staff is very affordable as they are only paid around $12 per day as maids, gardeners and care-givers. However many things are more expensive in Panama as they are considered luxury items. Gas (petrol), second hand cars, imported foodstuffs, wine, furnishings, household cleaning products, cell phone contracts and electricity are much more expensive than in the USA.
Panamanians are quiet and friendly people. Generally they welcome ex-Pats; however petty theft is a major problem. Anything left unguarded on the beach, such as towels and shoes will vanish immediately. Staff tend to regard taking medicines, clothing and money as the norm and see nothing wrong with that. Break-ins are quite commonplace even on gated communities, as ex-Pats are seen as wealthy and well able to afford what to local Panamanians are luxury items.
If you want to enjoy tropical sunshine and sea breezes, beautiful beaches and mountain backdrops, affordable healthcare and a laid-back lifestyle, you will no doubt settle happily along with many others who have successfully moved to Panama.