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Mike Vuytowecz of Inside Panama Real Estate – Best Places In The World To Retire User Account
Beachhouse, Panama – Best Places In The World To Retire – International LivingThe number one best reason to retire to Panama would be the adventure. Panama offers the opportunity to be able to have a different lifestyle and a different culture that is geographically very close to home. Living here is very affordable and the healthcare is very good. If you come to Panama and you are North American, you won’t change your diet very much because they eat the same foods that we eat. However, the food here is not processed with chemicals and the animals aren’t raised in cages. They are all natural and free-range chickens and cows. That makes a difference.
Panama offers a lifestyle that many in North America would like to live but couldn’t afford it, like living on the beach. Many of the clients who I deal with always wanted to live at the beach but they couldn’t afford it, but in Panama you could certainly afford to live at the beach.
All kidding aside, I really think that most of the people who I encounter who come to live in Panama are coming for two main reasons. One is that they simply can’t afford to live the quality of life that they want wherever they are coming from, whether it’s in the US or Europe or wherever.  The number two best reason to retire to Panama is politics. Some people don’t like the political climate wherever it is that they are coming from and they come to Panama. Of course once you get to Panama, you tend to be far enough away from American politics to not even care after a while. You certainly can’t vote in Panamanian elections so you really remove politics from your life, ideally. However, you can still vote in American elections if you choose to. As far as the economic side, you definitely have the opportunity to live a better lifestyle for less money here in Panama.  
(Beach house, Panama, pictured.)
Sarah Booth of Panama Holiday Homes &  Buyer's Consultant with My Panama Real Estate – Best Places In The World To Retire User Account
Sarah Booth in Mexico – Best Places In The World To Retire – International LivingOne of the things that I love about living in Panama and one of the reasons why I moved to Panama is because it’s the “Belly Button of the Americas,” as it is often called.  Its right smack in the middle of what feels like everything. And every year we have more and more direct flights coming in from Europe and from South America.
My airline of choice is Copa, which is based in Panama. From Panama, you can fly to Uruguay direct. You can fly to France. You can fly all over Central and South America in an hour or two.  This is just one of the reasons why I love living in Panama; it’s just so accessible to the rest of the world and my biggest passion is travel. Panama is my first choice of any country in the world that I want to live in but I do like that fact that I can go in a heartbeat and be almost anywhere quickly and comfortably.
It’s even more accessible than most places in the US.  On many flights, when I’m on going back to Panama, most people are going through Panama to go somewhere else. Panama is just a huge, huge hub. In addition, they’re currently expanding the airport. It’s one of the busiest airports I’ve ever seen. I’ve seen so much wonderful growth in Panama, and with regard to travel, it’s amazing.
(Sarah Booth in Mexico, pictured.)
Iván Eskildsen of Cubitá Group – Best Places In The World To Retire User Account
Panama Canal Miraflores Locks – Best Places In The World To Retire – International LivingThe political stability of Panama is one of the best reasons to retire to Panama.
Panama is also one of the most secure countries in the area and Panama City is one of the most secure cities in the area.
In general, in Panama, you have high standards with regard to health, commercial facilities and shopping. Panama has a free trade zone. It has access to products from all over the world and at very good prices. So in Panama, you have a mix of things that First World countries would have with regards to commodities, accommodations and living social standards, while at the same time, you have the lower cost of living, which is not as high as in First World countries.  
(Miraflores Locks of the Panama Canal, pictured.)
Melissa Darnay of Choose Panama – Best Places In The World To Retire User Account
Yacht Club Tower, Panama City, Panama – Best Places In The World To Retire – International LivingThere are so many great reasons to retire to Panama. Finding a place to retire is kind of like finding the person you want to marry. It’s not just one reason. It’s a multitude of reasons. Panama is a good place to retire not just because it’s beautiful here, but also because there’s a dollar economy that’s great not just for US citizens, but for people who want that stable economy as well. Let’s face it. The dollar is a very stable and strong currency.
Also, there are no natural disasters on a regular basis in Panama. Unlike places like the Caribbean or even Florida, you’re not going to have to worry about the disasters and you’re not going to have to pay for them through paying higher insurance rates.
Another great reason to retire to Panama is that Panama City is a vibrant and big city. Anything you need to find can be found in Panama City. People are always shocked not just by the skyscrapers, but by the fact that you can buy all your high end haute couture, such as Prada, Brioni, and Chanel. If that’s important to you, it can be found here. If it’s not important to you, it’s still available.
Given that Panama is an English-friendly environment, you don’t necessarily have to know Spanish. When I moved to Panama, I knew ten words and five of those words were numbers.
Panama is an easy location to get to because of the international airport. The Panama City airport is the hub of the Americas. Panama has a stable government. It has a growing economy. It has low unemployment. It also has inexpensive services like inexpensive maid service and cheap wine.
(Corner view from an apartment in the Yacht Club Tower, Panama City, Panama, pictured.)
When you consider all those pieces, Panama all of a sudden becomes the perfect place, just like that certain something might lead you to marry the perfect person, all these things put together make it what it is.
(Corner view from the Yacht Club Tower, Panama City, Panama, pictured.)
Isha Edwards – Best Places In The World To Retire User Account
man walking on the beach in Pedasi Panama – Best Places In The World To Retire – International LivingThe best reason to retire in Panama is the economy. Panama has a growing economy which has the biggest growth in Central America and it is already known that it will keep on growing until the next year. Not only is the economy of Panama growing, but it is growing so fast.
Besides the economy, another best reason to retire in Panama is the climate. There are no tornadoes here. The weather is great. Half of the year is sunny and the other half is rainy, but you will still have sunshine in the rainy part of the year.
Another best reason to retire to Panama are the beaches. The beaches are really nice and the ecotourism is great. If you are an eco-friendly person, Panama is the place for you.
The fact that we use the US dollar really helps our economy. Panama is a very cheap place to live. Clothes are cheap and food is cheap.
I can compare Panama because I come from Mexico and there is a big difference being here in Panama, especially when it comes to violence. We all know that Mexico is not the most secure place, unfortunately. Even if Panama has some crimes, the crime rate is still very low. 
Linda Jensen – Best Places In The World To Retire User Account
Arne Jensen happy in Boquete condo – Best Places In The World To Retire – International LivingWhen I first studied Panama, there was not this site, so I had to do a lot of digging and research, but the one thing that kept me interested was the climate. It’s awesome. It is a bit windy today, but it’s still awesome. Actually, given the health benefits that my husband and I, as well as all the other people that I find have enjoyed similar benefits, I would think that doctors will be writing prescriptions for people to come to Panama. 
In Panama, there is very clean air and good, fresh food all the time. There is no growing season, so there is always fresh food, and they are without additives.
Honestly, I find retiring to Panama to be less stressful.  We used to own a home, pay taxes, and pay insurance and upkeep. We used to take care of a large yard and deal with all that stress, and the weather made it even more stressful. We had hailstorms, the heat, the unbearable cold, the high utility bills, the constant upkeep, and all that. We had a car, then the taxes, and other fees with the car. In contrast, we don’t have a car here in Panama and we get around just fine. There is public transportation. There are buses and taxis available everywhere. We have wonderful friends who take us to places with them. What we do is we budget. We put a rental car in our budget every month for a couple of days. We hardly ever use that, but it’s there in case we need it. 
After we moved here to Panama, we realized that we don’t need that much. Needing a lot of things causes a lot of stress, too. In Panama, you don’t need and want things as much. I find that to be very helpful for me. Your attitude absolutely changes when you retire to Panama because Panama is not as populated, and not as harried as the USA. Everything has a slower pace here in Panama. You call for a plumber, he says, “I will be there tomorrow,” which could mean “next week.” That sounds stressful but once you get used to the way they do things, you don’t expect it to be different, and you just deal with it. That’s how we do it. Panama was rated number 1 in happiness in 2014 in the world. I find that to be wonderful because that is how we feel.  
(My husband, Arne, happy in his Boquete condo, pictured.)
Charles Conn of The Visitor – Best Places In The World To Retire User Account
C:\\\\\\\\Users\\\\\\\\Kaysey Scott\\\\\\\\Desktop\\\\\\\\Isla_Coiba_in_Panama_the_largest_island_in_Central_America.png – Best Places In The World To Retire – International LivingThere are many best reasons to retire in Panama, but I would say the very low cost of living here is the major reason why people come here. People who retire on a fixed income and who have a modest pension can come here and stretch their funds compared to how much their money would buy if they were in the US. The cost of living here in Panama is a lot less than in the US, which is true for almost everything: healthcare, food, clothing, real estate.
Apart from that, there is also a discount given to expat retirees that generally applies to food, medicines, etc. If you are above retirement age, you are automatically entitled to a discount off of many goods and services. For example, if you go eat at a restaurant, you get a discount, which is a nice perk for retiree expats here in Panama.
Another best reason to retire in Panama is the vibrant culture and travel destinations. There are a lot of things that are interesting that you can do to occupy your time. You won’t be bored here in Panama.
*In picture: Isla Coiba, Panama, Central America's largest island.
Michael A. Martinez of B & B Real Estate Nicaragua / Panama Real Estate Information – Best Places In The World To Retire User Account
living retiring in Panama – Best Places In The World To Retire – International LivingI am from California, and as a Californian, I have lived off the coast all my life. If you like this life, where else can you afford it? Unless you already have your estate on the ocean in San Diego or in Santa Barbara or in Northern San Francisco, you are talking about $3 million probably just to find a house. Here in Panama, you can find a fixer upper on the beach for as little as $120,000. Economic reasons are great reasons to move here. If you want more for you and / or your children, you can come here and save more on living expenses and on housing.
Another good reason for retiring in Panama in is the cost of food. You can go to the public market once a week and buy red ripe tomatoes. I went to the market recently and bought tomatoes for 80 cents a pound. The last time I checked in California, tomatoes cost $1.90. You can buy red snapper the same morning it came from the ocean at the market for no more than $2 per pound. If you know where to shop for beef, you can get good deals on beef.  A filet minion in a big upscale store would cost about $4 to $4.50 per pound, whereas if you learn where to buy, and you go to the public market, you could cut that price by 40%. You really get a lot more bang for your buck here in Panama.
Panama has a slower pace of life. We do not have freeways here where I live. We do not have people shooting each other on the highways. If you get behind a truck on the road, but you know what, if you are patient, he will tell you when to pass him. Your blood pressure runs a lot lower here in Panama.
I have a friend who is a plumber in New York and he had very, very bad diabetes. But when after he came to Panama, his sugar level became perfect.
He told me, “Yeah! It’s the stress!”
When Panamanians shop here they go to the open air market. They buy fish. There are days when the truck comes by with the lobster. There are a lot more options here than you would have if you lived in Santa Monica, California, where everything is so expensive. Food is expensive there. Even doctors and medical care is expensive there. Whereas here in Panama, you can go to a doctor in Santiago, Veraguas, where you will be in a nice clinic and the charge is around $5. Who needs insurance if what you are going to pay is only $5?
Bill Hamilton of Bill Hamilton – Best Places In The World To Retire User Account
sunset view in Calobre Panama best reasons to retire overseas Panama – Best Places In The World To Retire – International LivingThe best reasons to retire to Panama are the peace and tranquility you’ll find here, and getting to know the culture. The lifestyle is laid back, which I like. The cost of living is not the most important for most people, but it is very important for us because we’re on pensions now. And, nature, above all. We love nature. We used to go hiking every weekend in Spain, up in the mountains. We do the same thing here. We go down to the beautiful beaches with warm water.  If you’re not happy with most of the facilities, the natural stuff is fine.
We have met really good friends here. American friends and Brazilian friends, Panamanians. We filled out a nice social event with friends. We don’t see them all the time, but they’re always welcome to call in and out. People from Brazil called the other day and stayed for a couple of nights. To us, that’s the sort of community that we prefer than being on top of each other every five minutes of the day.
In the country, you wake up in the morning, and you have got the sunrise. At night, you’ve got a beautiful sunset across from the front porch. We live out on the terrace, literally. I’ve got a barbecue going. So we have everything we want.
We have a little bit of elevation here. It is not as cold as Boquete and it’s not as hot as Panama City. It’s a nice temperature for us. We got used to it. We put a sweatshirt on the other night because it was too chilly. Most of the people I know in Boquete think it’s lovely there. We were sitting there with a couple of sweatshirts on and a jacket, while they were in shorts!
A better reason to retire is you can choose the climate of the place where you want to be. Panama has microclimates everywhere so you can choose exactly the climate you want. We would have loved to live in two places, either in a jungle atmosphere or on the beach, but both were too expensive. So we chose the country, which is not jungle. It’s farmland with trees and rivers and lakes, but we like it. We’re quite happy so we sort of got into the middle ground.
Lucia Haines of Panama Realtor Inc. – Best Places In The World To Retire User Account
Project Hope Medical volunteer – Best Places In The World To Retire – International Living
The best reasons to retire to Panama is a really good topic. There are a lot of people who come to Panama for humanitarian reasons; there are a lot of missionaries. Every time you help other people, it tends to make you happy as well. Those folks tend to thrive pretty well.
There are a lot of people who come to Panama for work reasons or family reasons as well. There are just so many reasons, and it is such a personal thing for a lot of people.
It is amazing what drives people back to Panama. I was at a birthday party on the weekend, and I ran into somebody who had been in Panama for just a month, and the reason they came back is because they were born here, and they just wanted to know what their natal land was like. They came with kids all the way from Toronto to give Panama a try.
So it is different for everyone, and Panama has this huge reach. Everywhere I go, no matter what part of the world I am in, I seem to run into somebody from Panama, which is amazing for such a small country.
(Project Hope medical volunteer, pictured.)
kevin obrien of BarefootPanama – Best Places In The World To Retire User Account
The best reason to retire to Panama is the climate. I meet a lot of people who came from cold places and the reason why they moved here is because they are tired of the cold. Here in Panama, you might get some precipitation but we do not have snow that you need to shovel. The climate here is hot all year round. The climate suits your clothes. When you go up the little hills, you will get the eternal springs. Panama is nine degrees north of the equator so the climate is the most pleasant surprise. It is fantastic.
The second best reason why people retire to Panama is the way Panama relates to the US. North Americans like Panama because the currency used here is also the US dollar. At least twenty cities in the US have direct flights from Panama. You can go to shopping malls very similar to the ones in the US. The restaurants here have English menus. We have Do It Center, which is like Home Depot and Price Smart, which is like Costco. The lifestyle here is similar to the lifestyle in the US in many ways. The similarities and the ease of transition from one country to another is a big factor. This is why Panama, which is a Developing Country, is preferable compared to a Third World country.
Terry Bradford of Origen Real Estate Panama – Best Places In The World To Retire User Account
Here in Panama, there is no bigotry, no racial overtones, no political correctness, no ridiculous taxes and there are less regulations.
It is such a delight not to have these things because when we go back to the States, all of these bad things exist.
The Panamanian people could not believe that the US is going through such things. 
Sieg Pedde of Helix Courier Limited – Best Places In The World To Retire User Account
People retire to Panama for various economic reasons. It costs less money to live in Panama and have a higher quality of living than you would have in the United States or Canada using the same amount of money. Panama is a great place for people who want to relax and have fun since there are a lot of recreational activities available.
Another good reason to retire to Panama is that Panama is very accessible via plane. For example, if you fly to Tocumen Airport in Panama City, there are direct flights from all over the United States and even from Canada. Tocumen is a hub airport. From there, you can hop on a flight to just about any place in Central America or South America and to a lot of other places as well.
Retirees can live in one of the many provinces in Panama and if they want to go somewhere else, they can either drive or take a bus or plane. So ultimately, that’s an attraction for people who see a lot of travel throughout their retirement in the future.
Also, if you are in Panama, you no longer have to endure cold winters. There will be no more shoveling of snow and wearing a parka.  Personally, I don’t like that at all. So rather than staying in your apartment in Canada for 6-7 months a year as I do, Panama gives you wonderful things like beautiful weather all year round. 
Robert Adams of Retirement Wave – Best Places In The World To Retire User Account
Presented with permission from Bob Adams of Retirement Wave.
As we get older, we get to a point where our bodies don’t handle colder temperatures as easily as they once did.  We tend to get a chill easily.  We need to be warmer than we did 20 or 30 years earlier.   And that’s why, when you walk into a nursing home or a retirement home you often suffocate.  (When I used to visit my 90+ year-old mother, I would always be hot, but she would turn down the temperature to make me comfortable and then wear a jacket.)
In the case of my mother (who lived in a “4 seasons climate”), I saw this very vibrant woman lose so much of that vibrancy as she went outside less and less because of the cold, as she got older.    I said to myself “I’m never going to let this happen to me.  When I start getting to a point when I’m getting older, too, I want to be in a country or in a place where I can walk out the door and be comfortable.  I don’t want to be trapped inside.”
And that’s exactly what doesn’t happen to you when you come to live in a place like Panama.  I can go outside 365 days a year, there’s just no question about it.  And, yes, some days its really hot and humid and other days it isn’t so humid or so hot, but it’s always warm.  The situation in Panama is a complete reversal of the situation my mother had where she would stay inside where it was warm, whereas going outside would be too cold.  Here in Panama, if I get too cold, I can just turn off the air conditioning, or just walk out here on the balcony and sit down, which I do.  I spend a lot of my time out here.
When I get to the point where I’m 75 years old or 85 years old and not as mobile as I once was, its going to be wonderful to be able to step out onto a balcony or a porch or a patio and just enjoy that warmth and be really comfortable outside where I can see the birds and hear life going on and be part of that environment.
My mother told me “Bob, I don’t know what I’d do without my television set.”  For her of all people, it was horrifying, really awful.  I don’t want to get to that point.  I look out my balcony here and I see plenty to keep me busy.  I don’t need the television set.  I like that.
I wanted to get into this sort of climate to adapt to it and get used to it before I HAD to.  Often, when you get to a point where you HAVE TO, you may be too old or too weak to do it, and I’m not about to let that happen to me.
So, if you come out of a temperate climate and you think, “I’ll never adapt”, give it time.  You’ll probably adapt long before you need to, but when you need this warm weather, you’ll have it. 
ROSALIND MCCOY of PANAMA SIGNATURE REALTY – Best Places In The World To Retire User Account
If you are taking up a new approach to your second stage of life, to challenge yourself to learn a new language (Spanish), to get to know a different culture and customs, to explore a different country, to use Panama as a hub to travel to other countries of South America, to experience tropical hot climate all year around, to get to know new friends, then Panama might be the right place.
But if you are looking for a cheap retirement in Panama City, a banking haven for Americans, this is not the case any more, especially since the President Martinelli signed the exchange information on tax Agreement with United States in 2010.  Also, if you are thinking to hire a low cost maid or worker to serve you, it will be a challenge to find a good and consistent one.  Crime is getting worst with the outcome of a higher population, although overall, Panama is one of safest countries in which to live in South America. Or again, if you are searching for a quiet easy environment for retirees to enjoy, this is not in the city but it is highly in the interior.
Above all, there are still a number of advantages to retire in Panama:
  • Incentive program offered to retirees, providing discounts on many service businesses.
  • Many good restaurants to try but not too too expensive.
  • Infrastructure is a mess while the metro is still under construction.  Driving around is a big challenge but then you can hire a taxi driver at a low rate, even though it´s gone up.
  • Affordable in comparison with North American standards.
  • Panama is a small country. Nowhere is too far to reach.  You can try out activities anywhere like the beach, the island, the rainforest within a reasonable time.
As long as you can manage the way how to fit with your personal lifestyle, be prepared, be flexible, and be patient, Panama does have its charms for you to explore.
GISELLE SOCARRAZ of Real Estate Chiriqui – Best Places In The World To Retire User Account
The best reasons to retire to Panama?

Allow me to list a few:
Panama has been ranked as the number 1 retirement destination choice.
According U.S. News and World Report’s ‘The 18 Best Places to Retire Overseas 2012′:

“Panama is the world’s top retirement haven. Panama City no longer qualifies as cheap, but other spots in this country certainly do. Panama continues to offer the world’s gold standard program of special benefits for retirees. The currency is the U.S. dollar, so there is no exchange rate risk if your retirement savings and income is in dollars. The climate in Panama City and on the coasts is tropical, hot, and humid. However, the climate in the highlands can be temperate and tempting. Panama is the hub of the Americas, meaning it’s easily accessible from anywhere in North and South America and Europe. “

According to the International Living (2012):

“ Panama tops the category with an organized program of discounts and perks called the pensionado. The program is open to foreigners and there’s no minimum age requirement.With it you have serious discounts, money off that makes a big difference to your costs. Like 20% off any professional services used in Panama; 50% off for movies, theaters and sporting events; a 30% discount on public transport, 25% off the price of food eaten in a sit down restaurant; 15% off in fast food joints, 15% off in hospitals and private clinics…25% domestic flights on COPA…the list goes on…”

Panama is free of the truly devastating natural disasters that plague other nations.

According to the Panama Planner (2005):

“Panama is the only country in Central America in a climate zone that is absolutely hurricane-free. Truly blessed by nature, Panama also has none of the destructive earthquakes that plague its Central American neighbors.”

Panama has the lowest crime rate in Central America and one of the overall lowest crime rates against tourists in the World

According to Panama Info (2012):

“Panama is one of the safest countries in Latin America for tourists. Tourism crime especially is low. You won’t have to be constantly on your guard for pick-pockets or purse snatchers like in other countries in the region. Foreign residents will tell you how safe they feel in Panama compared to other countries in the region and it is only getting better. Under the new Martinelli government, effective measures are being taken that have already reduced crimes in general by 28%.”

Panama has world class beaches, mountains, waterfalls and natural splendor

According to Panama Invest (2009):

“Think of fine powdery sand on your feet. Think of rugged landscapes and seaside cliffs. Think of the coral reefs and the variety of marine life and fish. Panama has it, in great abundance. After all, Panama is sandwiched between two oceans.For those whose passion is surfing, you can take your pick or explore all of Playa Punta Puss Head, Paunch Beach, Bluff Beach, Larga Beach and Cayo Zapatillas. Panama is great for snorkeling, scuba diving, deep sea fishing, and diving activities. One of the most beautiful snorkeling destinations is San Blas Islands. Home to the Kuna Indians, San Blas is one of the last remaining unspoiled beaches, and it has miles and miles of coral reef that you can explore to your heart’s content. Go to the Pearl Islands and explore around 60 beaches of all types and colors while island hopping.”

“Bird watching and trail hiking are offered in Panama. It has miles and miles of live coral reefs and it has 12 national parks as well as 19 protected areas. You want the sea, Panama has it. You want jungles and forests, Panama sill has it. For nature birdwatchers, you can indulge your passion in Bocas del Toro’s Island Birds where around 50 species of migratory birds go. In the Teribe Territory, about a 100 species of birds also thrive. Here you will also find the famous thumbnail size red frogs. You can also visit native Indian tribes in their natural habitat trough travel agencies that offer this. Ecotourism is becoming more and more popular in Panama, and the possibilities are endless. Here we have rainforests, jungles, water falls, streams, rivers, mountains, deserted beaches, anything nature can provide, all in this small country called Panama.”

Panama has a stable and rapidly growing economy that makes it a boon for investors

According to the US Commercial Service’s Investment Climate Report (2012):

“Panama’s investment climate is generally positive. The country’s sterling economic success is based on a strong macro-economic policy and excellent management of the Panama Canal and associated transportation services. Panama has enjoyed some of the highest economic growth in Latin America in the past decade, and most observers predict continued strong growth in the years ahead due to stable and consistent macro-economic policies. Growth tallied 10.5% in 2011 and 7.5% in 2010, after a deceleration to 3.2% in 2009. The Government of Panama (GOP) has promoted economic growth over the last decade through open market policies and by encouraging trade.”

Lissy Lezcano  of Lissy Lezcano Attorney & Mediator – Best Places In The World To Retire User Account
One of the best reasons to move to Panama is the food!!! You have to taste our flavors; the mix of spices is great.  For example:
  1. Sancocho de Gallina de Patio
  2. Tamales de Maiz Viejo
  3. Ropa Vieja
My top 3 regarding food!!!
Boca Chica you great place!!!
I love my country.
Robert Adams of Retirement Wave – Best Places In The World To Retire User Account
Reprinted with permission from Bob Adams of Retirement Wave

Why Did You Choose Panama?

That is a question I have been asked more times than I could possibly remember. Sometimes in emails, but it is simply too time-consuming to do more than share a couple general thoughts in response. The majority of times, it is asked by members who I meet face-to-face. That allows a little more detail, but still falls far short of a good explanation. So, finally, I have decided to put something up here at the Members section.
First, let me quickly state the obvious. What worked for me may not work for you. My reasons may not include yours or be relevant to you. There is no answer to this question that is not personal, thus often not too practical for others. With that out of the way, let's move along.
In my professional career now spanning some 43 years, I have lived and/or worked in more than 40 nations in Latin America, Africa, Asia, the Middle East, Europe and, of course, North America. I say "more than 40 nations" because I gave up counting a long time ago. I did not really care. All I remember is that some 20 years ago, I happened to have all my old passports in front of me one day and I sat down and counted the number of nations I had visited. I did not take vacations outside the US, so they were all "work" nations. There were 36. I have never bothered to do that again and I am not sure I could even find all my old passports, so I just say "more than 40 nations" and leave it at that. For all I know, 50 might be more appropriate, but I do not know and it continues to mean nothing to me. It was the work and experiences I had in these nations that I remember and that I want to remember.
What Were You Looking For?
I have looked at every nation I have ever visited as a possibility for living, not just visiting. When I decided in January of 2004 that the time had come for me to look seriously, I set personal requirements.
It had to be a tropical country. I am a "temperate climate" kind of guy, born and raised in upstate New York in the US where winters are cold and spring and autumn cool and lovely. But I have also studied the aging process ("ageing" for my British cousins) for nearly three decades and am keenly aware that older people handle temperatures differently than younger people. This was strikingly true of my mother who had spent her whole life in the temperate climate of Canada and the northern US. She lived to 91 and prior to that spent several years in assisted living and finally a nursing home.
Every time I visited her, as was true of most older folks I met, she had the temps up high in her room and I felt as if I would suffocate! She felt exactly the same way when she visited her mother many years before in a home for the elderly, but now it was her turn. The result was that she lived her last decade or so in familiar territory, but spent more and more time each year locked up in her apartment. She just hated the cold and damp of winter, later fall, then spring as well. She only went out when I or my brother visited and took her out. Each year, the time spent inside went up and the time available for being outside fell. Eventually, she was truly a prisoner and it took a great toll on her emotionally and physically, and on all her family and friends just seeing her go through this.
I swore I would not allow this to happen to me, if I could avoid it. I want to be able to go outside year-round, even if it is only to a patio or balcony, and feel comfortable. I never want to lose my connection with the living world around me. I know the day will come when "hot" will become "warm and comfortable". I knew from decades of travel that this is best found in a tropical or semi-tropical environment, so that became a major factor in my planning.
I am an American, so I was fortunate. I had all of Latin America from Mexico to Argentina readily available to me. After years and years of slow recovering from crossing multiple time zones, I was also glad that nearly all of Latin America was never more than one or two hours different from my home in the US. I had more than my fair share of waking up at 2 am because my body thought it was 8 am or 10 am or, god forbid, 2 pm! It was nice to take that out of the equation.
I first eliminated South America. Trips back and forth to the US would be too long and too expensive for my taste. I have taken many long air trips and I knew my tolerance for flights longer than 3 or 4 hours was very limited. And my tolerance for flights costing me more than 1K was extremely limited! South America also failed for other reasons I will discuss later, but it was never in contention.
I considered the Caribbean islands. I knew several of them and loved them for vacations, but I was looking for a place to live. They were not ruled out, but they were low priority for two reasons. One was the sense of "isolation" that can occur after living there for awhile and the other was the simple fact that most of them depended on imported food and goods that could be very expensive without locally-produced alternatives available. Finally, too many were "tourist" countries and I knew from my experience that a wonderful "tourist" country was one where many people had been professionally trained to be polite and kind, for money. They were good at it, but some would not be so friendly once I was just another resident. I have had friends go through that and I can do without it.
That left Mexico, Central America, and Panama. By the way, folks, that is what this region has been called for a very, very long time, both informally and formally by regional and global institutions. Panama is not part of Central America, despite the fact that foreigners assume this on the basis of a map. Mexico has always been separate, not just because of its size, but due to its history of economic and social connections to its northern neighbor. It is now usually accepted as part of North America. Panama was always separate from Central America due to its 500 year history of economic, social, and political ties to South America. After all, Panama was part of Colombia until the early 20th century and its capital was in Bogotá. The gold carried across the isthmus was not from El Salvador, it was from Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador and surrounding areas. Like Mexico, Panama stood apart from Central America – Costa Rica, Guatemala, Belize, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Honduras.
Okay, so I had chosen Mexico, Central America, and Panama for these general reasons, now for the details.
Ignore the Gift Wrapping, Check the Contents
These are the factors that took a nation off my list.
I will not choose a nation that has large-scale criminal organizations (cartels) resident in that country. That eliminated one of my favorite Latin American nations, home to about 750,000 Americans (by US State Department estimate) and far more if you count people with vacation or part-time homes, plus 100,000 Canadians or more. That nation is Mexico.
I first visited Mexico 47 years ago when I moved to Tucson, Arizona to attend university and have visited it on several occasions since. Throughout that period, right up until today, I have many Mexican and Mexican-American friends who are dear to me. It is a wonderful nation, but it is a nation with a huge cartel problem, far greater than Colombia's at the moment. The final number is not in, but 2009 will have seen some 7500 DRE's (drug-related executions) in Mexico, the result of this war. That is more than the total losses suffered by all US and allied forces in Iraq since that war began in 2003. And it follows some 5800 DRE's in 2008.
I am amazed how many Americans and Canadians are completely unaware of the war between the Mexican federal government and the Mexican cartels that has been underway for several years. If it is of interest to you, the folks at Roubini Global Economics provide a brief, but clear, summary report. Although prepared in mid-November of 2009, nothing has changed to improve the picture. Stratfor (Strategic Forecasting, a group of highly respected global analysts) provides a brief video update on recent (mid-December 2009) events that gives you a small taste of the situation.
Where Mexican Cartels Are Most Active – Best Places In The World To Retire – International LivingAnd here is a map they provide showing areas of Mexico where various cartels are active.
I am not the least bit "anti-Mexico" and hate to appear as such, but the ignorance of the on-going war is so wide-spread, I feel I have to mention it. I have great faith that Mexico will eventually take care of this terrible situation, but until then, it cannot be on my list of places to live. This is also true for any nation with a traditional war underway, but that is not a problem in this region.
  • I am not interested in living in a nation that is still recovering (socially, politically, and economically) from a long and deadly civil war. I love Guatemala and have visited many times for more than a decade, but it may take another 36 years to fully recover from its 36-year civil war that officially ended only in 1996 after approximately 200,000 people were killed, plus it has a sky-high crime rate. Civil wars have had a huge impact on some other Central American nations as well, notably Nicaragua and El Salvador.
  • I want a nation that allows free speech, a free press, and is democratic, but I avoid nations whose political life is largely determined by an extreme right and an extreme left. These nations can be extremely unstable and what is true in the treatment of foreigners today may not be true a year from today. As far as I am concerned, Honduras is, most unfortunately, a recent example of the problems associated with this kind of "face off" between political extremes. Which "side" I prefer is not important. I simply do not want to live in a nation that faces this sort of continuing political conflict.
  • I prefer a nation that does not depend on agriculture and/or tourism for its economic growth. Weather is always a potential problem for farmers and a graph of the prices they can get on the international market for their food often looks like the Himalayas, too many "peaks and valleys" for sound and steady economic growth. Tourism can be suddenly and devastatingly interrupted by a hurricane, for example. And, in both cases, these nations are in constant competition with neighboring nations for the attention of buyers or tourists. When that is all you have to build an economy on, then that is what you have to do, but it is not anywhere near as nice as a steady source of income that does not depend on the whims of weather or tourists. I looked for a nation whose economy was based on products and/or services whose markets are relatively stable when compared to others in the region.
  • I want a nation with a dynamic economy that grows at a rate in excess of its population growth. In other words, I want a nation whose economic "pie" is growing fast enough to allow as many of its citizens as possible to benefit. I did not want a nation whose economy was stagnant or declining in the face of an increasing population. That is a recipe for big socio-political trouble, the kind that I have personally and professionally encountered in too many nations, the kind I wanted to avoid in a place to live, not just work or visit temporarily.
Why did I not include "cost of living" or "cost of housing" in the above list? Because experience has taught me that, important though both are, I can find something affordable pretty much anywhere I go. Good heavens, I can find a cheap cost of living and housing in the US, if I wanted to! It is easier to find cheaper living in some nations than others and Panama is not the cheapest place to live in this region, but I often have found that the living is cheap because other factors are missing or are negative. Those "other factors" can really make life miserable if I do not consider them. So I focus on the other factors first, then I look for what I can afford. No one factor makes my decision for me. Every nation is a "package" of factors, so I do my best to look at all those that are important to me, not just one or two.
When all was said and done in February of 2004 when I set off on my search, I had already reduced my list to three nations: Mexico, Costa Rica, and Panama. For the reasons I wrote above, Mexico was barely on the list. It has one big advantage known to most northerners. You can get in a car and drive there more quickly, cheaply, and easily than to any other Latin American nation. It may be the single most important factor in attracting Americans and Canadians and I could not ignore it, plus I like Mexico. However, although the current drug war was not to break out until 2006 and I was making my decision in 2004, the cartel problem and the potential for major violence were evident to anyone carefully considering Mexico. It was on the list, but only as a "last choice", if Costa Rica and Panama did not work out.
If there had been no Panama, Costa Rica would have been my choice. It has much of what I was looking for, but not everything, and its attitude and treatment of northerners, retirees included, was less friendly than in the past, from what I heard. I will not take up a lot of space here with this as this is not a "Why I didn't move to Costa Rica" essay. Let it suffice to say that, in my mind, Costa Rica had "peaked" as a nation for relocation in the late 20th century and its past reputation still carried it in 2004, as it does to a lesser extent today. Despite the assumption made by many RW members for lack of information, Costa Rica and Panama are very different nations, historically, economically, politically and socially. Costa Rica was "okay", but it did not compete well with Panama in 2004 and even less so today, in my opinion. It was my #2 choice. Panama was my #1 choice and it was where I went to first visit. I ran Panama through my list of requirements. It passed with flying colors. I chose it and I am here today as a result. Using the above list, let me summarize Panama briefly, as I see it.
Panama has no local cartels. Yes, many drugs pass through here on their way north, but that is true of every nation, mainland or island, between Colombia and the US. If I had to find a nation totally unaffected by the drug trade, I would not only have had to ignore the entire region, I would have had to leave the US! Going to Canada would not solve the problem. The drug trade is ubiquitous, found everywhere. I cannot avoid the "trade", but I definitely wanted to avoid a nation with its own cartels. Panama has no civil war history. Panama is a free and democratic society, but its politics are not dominated by extremists of either the right or the left. Panama does have agricultural and touristic segments to its economy, but it does not depend on them for its economic growth. Above all, Panama has the Panama Canal, a very steady source of national employment and income, and the world's second-largest Free Trade Zone, also a wonderful source of employment and income that exists because the Canal exists. Trust me, there are plenty of other nations who would love nothing more than to trade their bananas, pineapples, tourists, even their oil, for the Panama Canal. Panama's economic growth has been very positive and it’s the only nation among those I considered that has not gone negative due to the global financial crisis that we are living through now. Even last year, when we had a slow-down due to the global crisis, our GDP growth exceeded our population growth. Our "pie" is growing faster than its consumers.
So, Bob, here it is, six years later. Do you still feel you made the right decision? Yes, absolutely. If anything, I feel more strongly positive today than I did six years ago, on the basis of my own chosen criteria. Is Panama "paradise"? Of course not. Are there things I do not like? Sure. Any really big ones? No. If you actually believe you can find paradise on this earth, you should read my essay in the public section of the site, Paradise is for Dead People.
What about the future? I feel very positive about Panama's future. If you know me, you know I do not make specific predictions, but I do make general forecasts, open to modification when facts, not opinions, require it. Once I have made the immediate decision of where to live and have settled down, my focus shifts to a three to five year period. That is why I am so interested in eastern Panama and Lake Bayano.
If one thing distresses me about many North Americans and Europeans, it is a piece of excess baggage they carry to Panama and, sometimes, hang onto for years. It is short-term thinking. The horrible financial mess that makes nations on both sides of the North Atlantic look foolish (and that is the nicest way to put it) is closely related to an excess of short-term thinking. It has been a problem for at least a couple decades and it is the source of a lot of pain.
If you read about Panama over time, you will read some very positive comments and some very negative comments. It is the same with every nation on earth. If you focus on each comment or anecdote or statistic and allow it to change your opinion of Panama, your opinion is going to resemble a yo-yo quickly. Avoid that, please. I do not know how you feel now, but I suspect that all or nearly all of you have lived in some nation for years happily. I can assure you that, at any point during your stay, an outsider could find stories, anecdotes, statistics or whatever that indicated that you lived in a dangerous or unstable nation. You may have read or heard them, but you dismissed them because you took a broader and longer-term view. You realized that they were just pieces of a much greater story. It is no different here.
I sometimes tell people that I can either be a hummingbird or an eagle. A hummingbird knows that flower he is drinking from in intricate detail, but it is the eagle that sees the whole area from thousands of feet above. Every morning I wake up in Panama, I know I have to be a hummingbird, dealing with whatever requires attention that day. But I also know that I have to be an eagle from time to time and get up in the air far enough to see the forest, not just today's flower.
Choosing the Right Box of Chocolates
As Mrs. Gump told Forrest, "Life's a box of chocolates, Forrest. You never know what you're gonna get." So true, but your "box of chocolates" is not a gift someone else chooses, you get to choose it. So choose a box that has as many of your favorite chocolates as possible, before you buy it.
I often mention here at the site that you should not choose a vacation home if you plan to live in that area. You should choose a home that fits your needs and desires for the day-to-day business of getting on with life. Yes, you want it to be as pleasant as possible, but do not choose a location primarily because the view is beautiful and you "fall in love" with it from first sight, unless it meets your other needs as well.
If you are a very social person who likes to go to movies, the theater, restaurants, and so forth on a regular basis and you know that is important to you, then only look at areas that provide those amenities. If isolation is important to you, then use that as a guide to choosing the area. If you have to have a super-fast Internet connection, than look for that first. If access to good hospitals or an international airport is really important, then start with that. You need to know yourself well enough to be able to identify those things that have nothing to do with your emotional desires, but which are critical for you to live happily for an extended period of years. Once you have identified areas that meet your critical needs, then look within them for those homes that satisfy your emotional needs.
So what did I want in my box of chocolates? When I looked for a location in early 2004, I wanted two things: 1) stable access to a high-speed Internet connection due to all the Web work I do and the importance of email to me professionally, as well as personally, and 2) easy access to Tocumen International Airport. For the first years I stayed here, I traveled to the US nearly every month for business reasons. I was not interested in driving two or three hours to get to the airport, always worrying that a traffic accident or some other obstacle awaited me down the road. Those were my two critical "chocolates", so I rented in Panama City where I live today. I would have preferred living elsewhere, but "elsewhere" did not meet those two basic requirements. There are always a few chocolates in every box that I do not care for, but that is life. I focus on the getting the box with the best selection for me.
Pick your box of chocolates carefully. Be sure it includes the pieces that are essential to successful living, not vacationing. One of the joys of Panama is that it is small and stretched out. It is very difficult to live much more than an hour and a half, if that, from the beach or from the mountains. In other words, from the areas most of us enjoy for recreation. But for living, Panama City met my needs best in 2004. What area of Panama meets your needs best in 2010 is for you to determine, but you really need to give it serious, non-emotional consideration before choosing your new home. That is the basic point. Most of us have to make a compromise of some sort in choosing our home, but we must be careful that we do not give up something we know we will truly need, once we live here.
So why did it take you so long to tell us, Bob?
In the last six years, family, friends, and Retirement Wave members have asked me, "Why did you choose Panama?" hundreds of times in emails and conversations. Each time, I winced. It is simply not possible to sum it all up in a couple paragraphs or a couple minutes of conversation. Writing it up was going to take a lot of time and, believe it or not, the above is a summary of my thinking.
The second reason was a very important one. The question asked is personal to me and my response is just as personal. I am absolutely not interested in "debating" or, worse yet, "arguing" with anybody on this topic. No one should waste their time on emails telling me that "Mexico is really very safe" or "Nicaragua is a beautiful country" or whatever. You ask me for my reasons and here they are. They are not recommendations, just my personal comments and they only relate to me. Now it is up to you.
You have full responsibility. You have to determine your list of factors. You have to decide their priority and importance to you. You have to make your decision for yourselves. You will have to live with your decision, not Bob. Honestly, I do not care where you relocate or even if you relocate. The only thing that matters to me is that you make the right decision for you and no one else.
As you continue your personal journey of discovery, I hope these comments are of some small use, but it is your journey, not mine. As we say in Spanish, "¡Buen viaje!" May it be a good journey!
Ingrid Lommers of Spanish at Locations – Best Places In The World To Retire User Account
Some of the best reasons to retire to Panama is that it has everything you need: low cost of living, friendly population, incentives to start a business, perfect climate and beautiful nature. 
Anne Gordon de Barrigón of Whale Watching Panama/Emberá Village Tours – Best Places In The World To Retire User Account
One of the best surprises about retiring abroad is that for Panama, most people comment on how they had no idea how much there is to see and do here.  There is something for everyone in Panama.  From a bustling cosmopolitan city, with world class banks, restaurants, hotels, casinos, theater, concerts, (some even free) historical sites, jazz festival, to one of the largest biodiversities in the world. Panama is the only place where the Smithsonian institute has a permanent tropical research facility.  Panama is rich in natural wonders, as well as man made wonders like the Panama canal and Lake Gatun.  The ease of using the US dollar, and many lawyers and doctors speak English are very helpful.  There are quaint mountain towns in eternal spring climates, miles and miles of beaches, three island archipelagos, virgin tropical and cloud rainforests and is a huge cultural melting pot with people from Spanish descent, Indigenous, Europeans, Chinese, Afro-Caribbean, Jewish, East Indian, Arab, US and Canada are all well represented here.  The Panamanian people are warm and always willing to help a stranger in need.
Lourdes Townshend of Multimodal  & Logistic Transports Magazine – Best Places In The World To Retire User Account
In retiring in Panamá, your biggest surprise will be the warmth of their people, as well as the contrast between the colonial look and the modern world.  Panama City is very cosmopolitan.  Small country, but a big heart. This combination will make your life a lot easier; the biodiversity of the environment, retirees benefits in airline tickets, restaurants, movies, and so many others like priority line in banks and public offices.   Fruits and veggies at a very low cost, and most probably planted in your back yard.  Modern facilities and technology around the country, yet living a country and quiet environment. Beaches and mountains at minutes of distance,  important resorts and small towns, combined to make you feel at home.  Just get the right people around you to make your transition. That is Panamá.  Welcome.

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