Retire in Panama - Part I

Cost of Living * Climate * Infrastructure

Do not retire in Panama ... before you know all the facts. With the right advice, retiring to Panama can be the best decision you ever made. 


Cost of Living

We are going to use our benchmark of $1,200 per month as baseline.  Can you live comfortably in Panama on less than $1,200? Yes, you can. But only if you are willing to live like a local, especially if you want to retire in Panama City. By choosing the right neigbourhoods, buying your groceries at the markets and sticking to local products rather than imported goods, you can stay well within your budget. 

As rent or mortgage for your home will be your biggest expense, you need to know which areas in Panama City are safe AND affordable. During the International Living Conference in Panama in August 2009, I learned that the following districts are top locations with reasonable prices:

  • Ancon
  • Bella Vista
  • San Francisco
  • Parque Lefevre
  • Bethania
  • Pueblo Nuevo

As soon as you head for the countryside, housing costs will go down considerably, allowing you to live well on $1,000 a month (and this includes a full time maid!). More about cost of living in Panama coming soon.

Climate

If you want to retire in Panama, you need to like it hot, humid and cloudy - just as I do! Although I have to admit that at sea level it can get too hot as soon as the sun comes out behind the clouds. 

Panama climate is classified as "tropical maritime". There is little seasonal change in temperature, with warm days and cooler nights throughout the year.  However, temperatures vary according to location and altitude. The annual average temperature on both coasts is 29° C (84° F), and it ranges from 10° to 19° C (50 to 66° F ) at various mountain elevations.  

Compared to other tropical countries, Panama has a loooong rainy season from May to December. This leaves just a few dry months from January to April. The Pacific coast gets less rainfall (average of 178cm or 70 inches in Panama City) than the Caribbean coast (328cm or 129 inches in Colón).  The good thing is that it rarely rains the whole day. You get a good downpour for a couple of hours, usually in the afternoon, and then the rain stops for the rest of the day.

Infrastructure & Internet

I don't know about you, but one of the first things I do when I arrive in a hotel or B&B is to check out their internet access - and I expect it to be complementary. So I was rather disappointed when I found that the otherwise immaculate Intercontinental Hotel in Playa Bonita charged $10 per day for their pretty shaky wireless service.  

The good news is: Broadband or high-speed Internet access is readily available in Panama. In Panama City you can choose between dial-up services, broadband, wireless and cable modems. In the countryside, your choices will be fewer.  One of the established providers, Cable & Wireless Panama, offers a variety of broadband services, starting with a 1MB connection for 16.95$ per month.

Traveling within Panama is best done by bus, taxi, plane or boat. If driving yourself, drive with caution. Poorly maintained streets and vehicles, the lack of traffic lights even at busy intersections and the - uhm - rather undisciplined driving habits of most Panamanians can turn your car trip into a nightmare.  Driving into Panama City during rush hour ... not for the faint hearted.

Once you find a reliable taxi driver, get his phone number or business card. I did this during my last trip to Panama, and Oscar, "my driver", was always on time, drove safely and didn't try to rip me off.

Rather hail a taxi from the streets. Remember to settle the fare before you get in as most cabs are not metered. Within Panama City, fares generally range between $1 and $3.

Buses to every part of the country reachable by road depart and arrive at the Albrook bus terminal.  Buses within Panama City are plentiful, colorful and cheap ($0.25), albeit not very comfortable, as it's mostly converted school buses.

Tocumen International Airport is modern, clean and ... freezing. Why on earth do they "kill" the blessing of their tropical climate with excessive air conditioning? A question that I keep pondering during my travels.

Panama has two major domestic carriers: Air Panama and Aeroperlas. Both have well designed web sites in English and Spanish, where you can book flights to destinations throughout the country.

Retiring to Panama - Part II

Before you retire in Panama, learn about Education & Schools * Safety  * Real Estate

Panama Retirement- Part III

Before you retire in Panama, get the facts about Visa & Benefits * Health Care * Culture & People

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