Saturday, May 01, 2021

6 MONTHS IN PANAMA: Would I do it again?

 by Gary Stamper CPC, MSIP, DSPS

Today is May 3rd, 2021, and it's been exactly 6  months ago today that I arrived in Panama City on November 3rd, 2020. Who would have thought the next 6 months would fly by so quickly?  I suppose it's a combination of my advancing (thank God) age and the challenge and newness of everything in a foreign country in which I am about to become an official permanent resident.

The main reason I chose Panama, and particularly Bocas Del Toro, is that it's a "laid-back Caribbean beach town with a Jamaican vibe." The second is that I can live here quite comfortably on about a third of what it costs to live in the U.S.

The kicker for me was what has been hailed as "the word's best retirement plan," the Pensionado Visa.

Panama is a small country that prides itself on taking care of its seniors, citizens, and permanent residents alike. If you use the U.S. dollar, you’ll be happy to learn that the USD is pegged to the Panamanian currency, so Panama is like a US dollarized economy.

If you have a retirement program that pays you at least $1,000 a month (U.S. Social Security applies), you can qualify for a 
Pensionado Visa. Yes, you'll have to go through some red tape, and please don't try it without a local attorney. I had a great one that I will happily share should you be interested.

While the cost of general expenses, like rent, utilities, groceries, entertainment, cell phone service, etc., is definitely lower than what you’re used to, you’ll find great comfort knowing that you can actually receive special discounts for being a pensionado (a woman over 57 years old or a man over 62). You can also get by here fairly easily without a car, but you'll probably want a bicycle at the very least.

Did someone say discounts?

Special discounts. You’ll experience savings in many different ways in Panama, with it’s Pensionado Discounts, but some common ways to receive discounts include:

Discounts on the usage of public transportation and airlines that fly in and out of Panama. You’ll receive a discount when it comes time to eat at your favorite restaurant (and the cuisine in Panama is great and already affordable). Utilities tend to cost much less, especially with an additional 20% discount, and most forms of entertainment are discounted also. There are many more discounts available, see the full list below.

  • One time Duty tax exemption for household goods up to a total of $10,000
  • Duty exemption for importing a new car.
  • 50% off entertainment anywhere in the country (movies, concerts, sports)
  • 30% off bus, boat, and train fares
  • 25% off airline tickets
  • 50% off hotel stays from Monday through Thursday
  • 30% off hotel stays from Friday through Sunday
  • 25% off at restaurants
  • 15% off at fast-food restaurants
  • 15% off hospital bills (if no insurance applies)10% off prescription medicines
  • 20% off medical consultations
  • 15% off dental and eye exams
  • 20% off professional and technical services
  • 50% reduction in closing costs for home loans
  • 25% discounts on utility bills
  • 15% off loans made in your name
  • 1% less on home mortgages for homes used for personal residence

These discounts are for any citizen or permanent resident of Panama. If you retired early and are younger than the ages above, and you move here with the Pensionado Visa, you will receive these discounts right away.

What about healthcare?

Panama actually offers more affordable healthcare than most other nations. The cost of health insurance is lower in general and tends to cost around $200 per month for a private plan covering someone at the age of 60, in the private hospital system. That's less than what I was paying for Medicare parts A & B, and including the advantage program I was carrying in the U.S. that paid for my hip and knee replacements.

For most people from the U.S., that number is a fraction of the health insurance you are paying now. And it's 100% coverage with as little as $1000 annual deductible.

Also dental and eye care is a fraction of that in North America.

If these benefits are not enough, there are definitely more. Some other medical benefits of retiring in Panama are as follows:

You can obtain many medications without prescriptions. If you become a permanent resident of Panama, you’ll be able to get additional discounts on medications, healthcare, and other medical needs, once you have your Pensionado Visa or reach the ages talked about above. The care provided is actually comparable to that of North America.

Not in Bocas, however... Our "hospital" is actually more like a U.S. Urgent Care Center and the nearest "real" hospital is on the mainland, about an hour away by ferry and car.

So why Panama?

If you’re someone who is concerned about the cost of retirement, Panama is definitely an excellent option for you. The cost of living tends to be much lower, and you can live rather good for about $1,500 per month for a single, and $2,200 a month for a couple. Sounds pretty enticing right? If money is your concern, Panama definitely has you covered!

Panama is an excellent place to retire, and you’ll find that the lifestyle will keep you feeling younger. From a beachfront lifestyle to the mountain life, Panama has everything you need to retire the way you want. Plus, if you’re looking at the best bang for your buck without having to go to Asia, you’ll have a hard time finding anywhere that comes close to Panama.

Bocas Del Toro may not be your cup of tea, but it's working really well for me. Are there shortcomings? Of course. No place is perfect

But next time you’re thinking about taking a retirement tour, make sure that Panama makes your list of places to visit. There's so much here!

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