Retiring and Living in Panama

There is definitely more to Panama than a canal!

Panama is fast becoming one of the world’s top retirement destinations and also a world class tourist location – particularly for adventure and ecotourism. Long overshadowed by its neighbors such as Mexico and Costa Rica where mass tourism is now the norm, Panama has been relatively unknown except to travelers with special interests such as world record deep sea fishing, birding, river rafting and rain forest experiences. All these exciting opportunities together with gorgeous beaches and great surfing, kayaking and diving, ensure that Panama has something for everyone. It has an interesting cultural background, from stone age indigenous peoples (still in evidence) to the history of conquistadors and now a modern society with an infrastructure that is first world. Panama is still a country where you can see a myriad of birds including a quetzal while sitting alone in a rainforest, rather than having to join many tourists viewing one quetzal. From the Caribbean to the Pacific, imagine these choices for yourself! In addition Panamanians are some of the friendliest people you will ever meet. All this makes Panama an ideal location for retirement or a second home.

It was no surprise then that in the May/June issue of Modern Maturity magazine (the AARP magazine with the largest circulation of any consumer magazine in the world, upwards of 20 million subscribers) rated Boquete, Panama, the fourth best retirement destination in the world. International Living rates Panama even higher on their list at No.1. As well as the picture perfect highlands of Boquete, Panama has a perfect location for every taste; from a cosmopolitan capital city to palm fringed beaches, cool mountain climates and tropical resorts. However the best fact is that it is affordable! There are many financial incentives for retirees. If you are looking for a second home or a retirement option, then Panama should be at the top of your list. A smart choice indeed!

With a US style infrastructure, Panama offers an easy transition particularly for US retirees. 75-80 million Baby Boomers will reach retirement age in the next 10 years in the US alone. US Government statistics show that most of them will not be able to sustain their current standard of living by relying on savings, assets and/or pensions. More than ever before, U.S. baby boomers are considering retirement outside the U.S.A. Having traveled far more extensively and being more active and adventurous than previous generations, they are also identifying the need to maximize their diminishing retirement incomes, so the idea of overseas retirement is appealing to many. Discovering a less stressful environment also has a definite allure! The families of the North Americans who lived in the Canal Zone during the “official” presence of the United States in Panama (90 years) look back at their “Paradise Lost” and very often return. Living and retiring overseas was once an option available only for the wealthy, but is now an affordable trend.

Copa Airlines, the national airline of Panama, in alliance with Continental Airlines is increasing its direct flights to an additional number of US cities now making Panama easier to visit with family and friends. Incidentally, in April 2004, Copa was named Best Airline in Central America, Mexico and the Caribbean by SkyTrax, an English market-survey company that conducts the World Airline Survey which is the largest airline passenger survey in existence. Copa also has an impressive “on time” flight record!

Interest in Panama does not only come from the United States. Many Canadians are heading further south than Florida for their “snowbird” sojourns – and staying for retirement. The increasing cost of living, overcrowding, and higher crime rates in Florida encourages them to take a slightly longer flight south! A weekly charter flight from Toronto is now available too.

Despite the distance, Europeans are not unaware of the affordable opportunities that Panama has to offer. The Expatriate Telegraph (offshoot of a venerable British newspaper) suggests Panama as an alternative retirement destination over the usual venues of Spain, France and Portugal. In other words, retirees should consider a “warm, adventurous and inexpensive place to retire”. Panama also offers an attractive incentive program for retirees. Again, Panama compares most favorably with the more usual European choice of retirement destinations with its lower cost of living and great climate, not to mention the financial incentives.

The international mainstream press is also “singing the praises” about Panama, as articles in National Geographic, Travel and Leisure, New York and LA Times, Boston Globe, and Harpers Bazaar are stimulating interest with descriptions such as “the most beautiful retreat in the world and almost undiscovered” (Harpers). “Known mostly for its canal, Panama is in fact an undiscovered tourist paradise” (Boston Globe). Articles like these ensure that tourists and retirees alike are discovering Panama very quickly.

So why is Panama gaining in popularity among retirees, investors, and part-time expatriates? Panama has more amenities, lower costs and lower crime rates than many other traditional retirement locations. In fact, Panama’s advantages are unrivalled. Apart from tax advantages and privacy advantages, consider the following:

  • Panama has a stable government and a growing economy
  • The US dollar is the legal tender. Panama has a stable economy that has been based upon the U.S. Dollar since 1904
  • Residents pay no tax on foreign earned income
  • Foreigners can buy and own property in Panama with the same rights and protections as Panamanian citizens.
  • The “Pensionado” program (retiree incentive program) is the best in the world. It is not necessarily age related and the benefits are considerable.
  • Tourism investments have exemptions from import duties, construction materials and equipment, income, real estate taxes, etc.
  • Property tax exemptions apply to all new construction on a sliding scale according to value
  • English is widely spoken
  • A long time US presence has lead to a US style infrastructure with a number of familiar names and businesses
  • Panama has a number of US standard health care facilities and services with many US trained English speaking doctors available.
  • Panama has a reliable communications system with fiber optic telephone lines and much of the country has ADSL internet
  • Panama is one of the best offshore havens in the world

Last but not least, Panama is beautiful. From cool mountain retreats like Boquete, to affordable beachfront property, or cosmopolitan city apartments overlooking a stunning harbor, the choice is yours. With real estate prices beginning to rise, you also have an opportunity to make a considerable return on your investment if you buy now. Rental property is in high demand particularly in the highland areas, so even if you are not looking to retire for a while this is an opportunity to get into the market and earn a return on your investment in the meantime. To view properties, farms, houses, condos, and islands in the different parts of Panama, visit our Real Estate Listings.

There has never been a better time to invest in Panama. Not only is there tremendous interest in Panama as a tourist and retirement location, but economically speaking Panama is gaining strength. The new administration, under President Martin Torrijos, elected on May 1st 2004 with a strong popular majority, has the momentum to carry out measures to promote growth. The plans to enlarge the Panama Canal and participate in additional free trade associations will stimulate the economy even further. Panama’s Free Trade Zone (CFZ), located in Colon, established in 1953, is the largest in the Western Hemisphere and contributes substantially to the country’s economy. Panama has consistently maintained one of Central America’s highest per capita gross domestic product. In March 2004, the International Monetary Fund recorded 4% real term growth for 2003, and forecasts are positive for the future. The U.S.A. is still the largest user of the Canal and is Panama’s foremost trading partner, central banker, and is also influential regarding its monetary policy.

To encourage long term foreign investment, Panama does not require special permits, authorization, or registration to qualify investors. The 1998 Investment Stability Law protects foreign investors for ten years following the registration of an investment, shielding them from changes in tax, customs duties, and also municipal and labor laws. Major companies doing business in Panama include Federal Express, DHL, PriceSmart/Costco, Marriott Hotels, Holiday Inn, Sheraton Hotels, Kansas City Southern Railways, Continental, Delta, American Airlines, Warranty Company of the Americas, and Hutchison Whampoa to name just a few. You will find just about every US franchise on the streets of the larger cities from McDonalds, Dominos, KFC, Pizza Hut, TGIF to Dunkin Donuts, etc. Luxury clothing lines such as Nautica and Liz Claiborne have stores in Panama City too. You will feel right at home.

Over 80 banks have full service branches here including HSBC, Scotiabank, Dresdner and BNP/Paribas. Panama is a growing international financial center with good communications and first world amenities.