Panama: Retirement Haven

aaa 031Forbes has had some interesting articles on retiring abroad, and Panama is still one of the top ten destinations. As we’ve discovered recently there is no place in the world that is totally immune to nature’s occassional rampages, but Panama is still “paradise” for many of us.

Panama has almost everything: year-round sun, low taxes, massive discounts for seniors, first-world amenities, quality private hospitals, bird-filled rainforests, a dollar economy and easy flights from the U.S. Panama City is considered safest of all Central American cities, with worldly buzz because of the canal, and a World Heritage Site.

Here’s the article from Forbes by Richard C. Morais . . .

The 10 Best Retirement Havens
Forbes cannot promise retirees “paradise on $30 a day.” Quite the opposite. We promise seniors wishing to move out of the U.S. that they will not find paradise anywhere. Each country is unique–with assets and liabilities–and the key to successful retirement as an ex-pat is carefully matching your own personal priorities and finances to the country that has caught your eye.

To help matters along, Forbes has compiled its own list of the 10 best retirement havens, based on a wide variety of criteria ranging from safety to retiree-friendly visa requirements to decent medical care. The countries on our hit list: Austria, Thailand, Italy, Panama, Ireland, Australia, France, Malaysia, Spain and Canada.

No place is perfect. Some countries rank high in one area but lower in others. Australia is by one well-regarded rating, the Country Brand Index, the most livable place in the world. (For the Country Brand and other rankings, see “Retire At Home Or Abroad?”) But if you plan to return to the U.S. frequently, Australia makes for a long slog. Canada is No. 2 in the Country Brand ratings and certainly convenient for Americans, but its harsh winters are well-known. Italy scores high on quality of life, medical care, and even cost of living and climate for retirees residing in the Southern parts of the country. But its complicated taxes and bureaucracy require patience.

So, the key to any decision: Know yourself and do your homework.

If you’re a sun-worshiper determined to protect your assets from overreaching Western governments, consider countries like Panama or Malaysia.

If you are solidly middle-class with a taste for high culture, then there are pleasant surprises to be found in Europe. Who would have known, for example, that France is so friendly to American retirees? Or consider Ireland. Its top personal income tax rate is 43%. That’s not terribly appealing on the surface, but a couple over 65 is entirely exempt from Irish tax on any income below $59,000.

Are you eager to live abroad but totally tone-deaf to foreign languages? That’s a fine argument for Australia, Ireland or Canada. The key to lowering costs and receiving first-rate medical and other services in foreign countries is the ability to “work the system,” and to do that, you have to speak the local language passably well. Sheila Trifari, an American who had cancer while retired in Paris, says she received excellent medical care precisely because she was fluent in French and could work her way through the local medical establishment.

On the other hand, going totally native can bring on unexpected and powerful bouts of homesickness. Kathleen de Carbuccia, president of the Association of Americans Resident Overseas, recommends that prospective retirees seek out cities, towns or villages where there is an existing American or English-speaking ex-pat community. Fellow ex-pats will be of great help during those inevitable moments when cultures clash, and they’ll perhaps help you see the humor in the situation.

Decent and affordable medical care is a key issue for retirees, of course. Most nations, when a retiree applies for a visa at their consulates, require proof of income, such as private or public pension payments and bank account statements, as well as proof of private medical insurance. They don’t want seniors who haven’t paid into their health care systems to become a burden on the locals who have been paying into the system all their lives.

But listen to Donald Johnson, an 80-year-old American retiree in Paris, when he says, “the largest advantage we have is our health care [in France.] We are not sure we could afford to return to the U.S., where health care costs are completely out of control.” In short, factor the costs of medical care into your overall analysis, because in many cases even the costlier E.U. countries become attractive when the quality and cost of medical care is included in a retiree’s projected budget.

Look for the unexpected snafu in your plans: Most American retirees abroad receive their income in U.S. dollars; their expenses are in a foreign currency. Managing this currency risk is one of the most difficult elements of living abroad, and it is likely to be a growing issue, as we enter a period of prolonged dollar weakness.

So, be wise. If you calculate you’ll have to live month-to-month on your pension and Social Security payments while in a European city, then consider village life, or one of our lower-cost alternatives, like Thailand, where you’ll have enough income to maintain a cash reserve and a fine quality of life. No one, after all, wants to be forced home when the dollar drops 25%, as it can sometimes do in a period of just a couple of years.

Sept 28 111But there is a means, on our list, to eliminate even the currency risk, if that is your priority. Exotic Panama, that sunny nation in Central America, gateway between the Pacific and Atlantic oceans, has adopted the U.S. dollar as its official currency. Move there and your assets and liabilities are matched.

So, retire abroad, by all means, for it can be richly rewarding. But do so with eyes wide open.

4 thoughts on “Panama: Retirement Haven

  1. Richard, You are right about all the Forbes information and the great possibilities here. Not only is the eastern Azuero booming with real estate, but the Western Azuero Peninsula is a great choice as well. The land south of Mariato all the way to Quebro and Cascojilloso are great areas to invest and live. Investors would have beachfront, ocean view and mountain lots all within minutes of the main road. Also, world class fishing, waterfall tours, turtle sanctuaries and more provide ample natural adventures. People can drive from Panana City or fly into Santiago and drive south for these great opportunities. Free health care clinics are ample, top notch doctors in Santiago are available as well. Any visitors can stay in the Torio cabanas before looking up local landowners for purchasing land.
    Thanks for your information!!!!

  2. Richard: Informative and so well written. Thank you for this time and effort. Question: Where do you live in relationship to Valle Escondido?

    Hi Steve – Our original home in Boquete is IN Valle Escondido – Casa 56 overlooking the Valley and 9th hole – and is FOR SALE. We now live in a place we built on our farm, in a little place called Palmira, 10 minutes from Boquete. Regards, Richard

  3. I would like to solicit comment from retirees living in Panama for 7 years or more, covering general conditions over the past two years which may be of guidance to persons considering relocation from Africa to Panama.
    Tks & regards

  4. I would never retire in any of the 10 countries mentioned. Yes, I would travel to and from them, but never stay there forever. Among other faults, they are heavily taxed.
    I prefer a small island where I can make myself useful and where I shall get recognition one day …
    Retirement is not the last phase before I die, but the coronation of a life well spent …

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