Things to know if you are thinking of Panama as a Retirement Haven – Retire in Panama
By Larke Newell
No question – retiring to another country is exciting and uplifting, but I cannot stress enough how imperative it is to first do your research.
Having lived in Panama now for six years I believe I can be of some help in that regard, imparting some of my firsthand experience. Consequently I have compiled a list of the most common but necessary “rules” which should apply to all of those attempting to “take the plunge.” Here are my 7 things to know before retirement in Panama.
Unquestionably, at the very top of my list is this: keep an open mind and be prepared for a huge learning curve. Throw any pre-conceived ideas out the window and learn your facts. Do not expect that living in a Latin American country, even one as advanced and forward moving as Panama, is identical to your home country. You need to embrace a different culture, language, thought process, and complete way of life. Panamanian people are friendly, patient, and always willing to assist you during this process. Never be judgmental or arrogant but positive and open-minded.
Learning to speak Spanish is second on my list. Although it is possible to “get by” speaking only English while using gestures and a form of pantomime, it is not very efficient and can be frustrating. In the larger centers like Panama City English is somewhat more prevalent than in the smaller, more outlying areas where very little English is spoken. This is rapidly changing as the government and business owners have realized the importance of learning the language of their new residents and it is now being taught in most schools. In the meantime it is so much easier to obtain household help, get house or car repairs done, make purchases, get directions, and countless other necessary tasks if you have at least a rudimentary knowledge of Spanish. I repeat, Panamanians are patient and willing to assist any way they can and accept your “Spanglish” with a laugh and a twinkle in their eye.
Decide in which area you would prefer to live. Panama is a hugely diverse country and provides the opportunity to live near the beach, in the cooler highland elevations, amongst the rolling farms and ranches, or in a bustling city. You can reside in a mostly ex-pat community or in a small Panamanian neighbourhood as do my husband and I. Ideally you should rent in different areas in order to discover your preference. Rent is very affordable in all areas, especially as compared to “back home.” I have friends who spent their first year in Panama renting for two to three months at a time in different parts of the country. In this way, they were able to ascertain which area met their criteria and they eventually purchased a property in their favorite location.
Research health insurance issues as well as the medical system itself, especially if either you or your spouse has a pre-condition. Thankfully Panama has excellent doctors and state of the art hospitals and the cost is minimal compared to that in the US, for example. Long waits for specialist visits and medical procedures are almost non-existent and there are numerous health insurance plans available that are also relatively inexpensive. Again, do your research and decide which would best fit your situation.
Hire a reputable lawyer to handle such legalities as obtaining your residency and/or pensionado, buying property, and other similar situations. It is imperative to do this as Panamanian laws, rules, and regulations differ noticeably from those in the countries with which we are familiar. Hiring a qualified translator for official documents is also a wise decision.
Learn to “go with the flow” and shift into a lower gear regarding your day to day life. Things do not happen quickly in Panama or any of the Central American countries, whether it be business decisions, appliance, yard, or automobile repair appointments, or food service and you must accept this or you will spend your retirement years feeling frustrated and angry. In Panama family enjoyment is the most important thing to them. As neighbours and friends are more important than money. I firmly believe that Panamanians are much happier and healthier due to this ingrained attitude. Learn to embrace it and you will be too!
Enjoy and savour every single minute of life in your new country. Panama is breathtakingly beautiful, hugely diverse, has a stable government, a low cost of living, the best pensionado program in the world, excellent and constantly improving infrastructure, and, most importantly, kind, helpful, happy residents. It is not surprising that in 2013 this country was voted the #1 country in the world in which to retire by the New York Times and has consistently been in the top four in both AARP magazine and International Living.
Embrace your new home and be grateful that circumstances (as well as your long years of hard work), have allowed you to live here.