13 Reasons Why Panama Is The Perfect Caribbean Destination For Expat Retirees

I’m an expatriate and I love it! I spent the majority of my working years in the United States, but the Caribbean was calling me into retirement. My life partner, Doug, and I moved to Panama to enjoy our golden years.

Between us we have four adult children and five grandchildren who love visiting us and our home on the water and off the grid in this tropical paradise.

Before choosing Panama, we traveled to several other countries to find our place in the sun. Here’s what we learned in the process and why, after 12 years of living here full time, we would choose Panama again for our retirement.

Our original location options

Hawaii

I thought we’d like Hawaii, but it turned out to be too far from my family and very expensive, and the temperature of the Pacific Ocean was too cold for me.

Mexico

The beaches in Mexico are beautiful and it was certainly close and easy to get to, but I found it difficult for a non-citizen to buy property.

Guatemala and Nicaragua

Guatemala and Nicaragua were too underdeveloped and didn’t have the expat communities I wanted.

Belize

In Belize, I thought I was in heaven at Ambergris Caye. I loved the beaches and that English was the main language. Unfortunately, the prices there were out of reach at the time.

Costa Rica

When I arrived in Costa Rica, I thought, That’s it. I have been there three times and had friends there. However, the prices where I wanted to be in Manuel Antonio were too expensive and the other areas I could afford were too far away. I never found the right thing at the right price.

Waterfront buildings in Bocas Del Toro

Photo credit: KikoStock / Shutterstock.com

Visit Panama before retiring there

Bocas del Toro and beyond

Finally, I was flipping through a magazine for those looking to retire in awesome places around the world that are emerging markets. A classified ad read “Cheapest land in the Caribbean” along with a phone number. I called and after a 45 minute conversation with the gentleman on the other end of the line, I decided to cross the border into Panama.

I took a small plane to a place called Bocas del Toro, took a quick look around and realized, It is the place. By the time my 4 day trip ended I had put a deposit on land on a small island called Solarte. On my second trip, I purchased commercial property in town. It would take a few years before they could move and build. I never looked back.

After years of exploring different countries, here are the reasons I recommend Panama to adventurous travelers and people looking for their perfect retreat time and time again.

1. The People

You won’t find warmer and more welcoming people than in Panama. They are modest, kind and very family-oriented. You will often see generations of the same family working together in small businesses.

2. The landscape

Beautiful beaches abound along both coasts with crystal clear, turquoise blue water. The rainforest is lush and green all year round with amazing hiking trails. The views of both are to die for. On a clear day from Volcan Baru you can see both oceans. Panama City is modern and charming. it’s not just about the channel, which is amazing in itself.

Restaurants at a fish market in Panama City, Panama.

Restaurants at a fish market in Panama City

Photo credit: Angela N Perryman / Shutterstock.com

3. Food

Fresh and delicious, you can enjoy amazing restaurants serving local dishes in both cities and rural areas. Fresh-caught fish, juicy vine-ripened mangoes and pineapples, coconuts, bananas, avocados and other organic vegetables. The coffee is second to none.

4. Activities

You will never be bored in Panama. There are plenty of activities to keep you busy. Panama has something for everyone, whether you like charming cities with opera and theater, rugged mountains for adventure, or beautiful beaches for all your water sports.

If you love festivals, there are myriad throughout the year with colorful costumes, parades, music and dancing. Many volunteer opportunities are also available, whether you are traveling or living here.

5. Security

Panama is a safe place to travel and live. I always felt safe here even when traveling alone. Violent crime is low. We have petty crime and you have to lock doors, bikes and boat motors.

6. Quality of life

One of the things that impressed me was the expat quality of life at half the price it costs in the US, including services like housekeeping and gardening. Your feel-good factor increases and your stress decreases when you can enjoy nature outdoors every day.

7. Government

A stable democracy since 1989, Panama remains closely linked to the United States. The currency used is the US dollar although they also have the Balboa. The economy also remains stable thanks to the Panama Canal. The laws make it easier to buy property and obtain a residency visa.

Blue skies over Panama City in October.

Blue Skies Over Panama City in October

Photo credit: GTS Productions / Shutterstock.com

8. Weather

Panama has perfect weather in my opinion, unless you like snow. I’d rather fly somewhere for a few weeks to ski than living through a whole winter in cold weather. Tropical beaches are 70 to 85 Fahrenheit year round with warm trade winds. The highlands have temperatures ranging from 50 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit, so cool, spring-like weather all year round. It can be hotter in cities due to population and roadway. Even the rain is nice and warm. The absence of hurricanes is a big plus.

Pro tip: With tropical weather, unfortunately, come the bugs. Bugs aren’t my favorite thing to deal with. Considering all the positives, I make it work, though. The main pain is what’s called a no-see-um: tiny bugs that come out at dawn and dusk and pinch themselves. Some people have a minor reaction and some have a major reaction. We treat it by:

  • Do not go out at dawn or dusk
  • Put on insect repellent and/or long sleeves and pants
  • Screening porch areas with “chitre” screen, which is readily available here

9. Health

Panama is known for its cheap and good quality medical care. A visit to the doctor for me with a specialist costs about $45, x-rays $15, teeth cleaning $50, hernia operation about $2,000. Insurance is cheap too, but I just go to the US and use my Health Insurance for the big things.

10. Character and Culture

Panama has character. Panama City is well developed and reminds me of Miami. Bocas and Boquete are quaint and charming. There are lots of open spaces and agricultural country.

11. Development

Twenty years after Costa Rica, Panama is ripe for investment and other opportunities with its growing middle class. There are small airports all over the country, so you can choose to fly, drive, or take a private bus or charter to get where you want.

12. Language

You do not have to to learn Spanish unless you want. It’s handy for conversing with blue-collar workers and gaining the respect of locals. It’s a work in progress for me.

13. Vibrant Expat Communities

Retire in Panama and you will meet wonderful people from all over the world and can exchange stories with them. Many of them also speak English.

There is something for everyone in Panama. Pacific and Caribbean oceans, tropical climate, mountains and cool climate, and a modern city.

You know, each person has their own version of what heaven is. My partner and I have lived here full time for 12 years and still love it. In my opinion, the many positives far outweigh the negatives for us. I found my paradise and I believe you should check it out too.

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