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Retire in Panama Primer

retire in panamaSo, with our upcoming trip to Panama, I thought it might be a good idea to do some basic research into Panama.

If we are going to choose a country to spend the latter half of our lives in, I want to make sure we’re making an informed decision, right?

I’ll start with some basic information about the country and population along with some interpretations of that data from my point of view. Then I’ll focus on three retirement-specific aspects of Panama that are making it attractive to us as a retirement destination:

  • Pensionado Visas
  • Medical Care
  • Cost of Living

This will be quick overviews as I want to do a deep dive into each one in the near future but you’ll get the “50,000 foot view”. I know there’s much more I could cover (and will in future posts) but let’s stick with those topics for now.

Basic Information

  • Population: 3,460,462
  • Density: 120.6 per square mile
  • Total Area: 29,120 sq. mi.
  • Language: Spanish (Official), English
  • Government: Republic
  • Head of Government: Pres. Ricardo Martinelli Berrocal
  • Industry: Tourism, Construction, Brewing, Cement, Sugar Milling
  • Crops: Bananas, Rice, Corn, Coffee, Sugar, Pineapples, Watermelons
  • Tourism: $1.7Bil/Year
  • Labor Force: Agricultural – 17.6%, Industrial – 8.8%, Service – 73.6%
  • Education: Compulsory, Literacy Rate – 93.6%
  • Life Expectancy: M – 75, F – 80.6

I’ll bet by now, you’re thinking… “OK, Tim, why are you reciting all of these factoids? How does this help me retire in Panama?

Good question. The answer is three-fold.

First, I think it’s simply rude to not have some knowledge of a country before you adopt it. One of the things that always disappoints me when I go to another country is the “Ugly American” stereotype. Don’t get me wrong, as a population we’ve earned it by expecting everyone else to bend to our culture and language but I don’t want to be one of those “Ugly Americans”. Neither does Joanna. So, I recommend reading about Panama, here is a good book to start with:The Gringo Guide to Panama – What to Know Before You Go Besides, I just feel it’s respectful to have at least a primary school level of knowledge about the countries we’re considering spending the next 40-50 years living in.

Second, it sets perspective and makes it easier for us to orient ourselves. For example, from the population figure I can tell that the entire country of Panama has fewer people than Los Angeles or Berlin but they’re spread over an area about the size of South Carolina (Or the Czech Republic if you’re from Europe). The life expectancy numbers are almost identical to the US numbers. This tells me that either the medical care is on par with the US, the culture/climate in Panama promotes long life, or a combination of both.

Third, it gives us opportunities to build a better life in Panama, especially if we decide to open a business. For example, from the Labor Force numbers, I can tell Panama has a mainly service economy and we’ll bet that $1.7Bil./Yr. tourism figure has a lot to do with that. That’s important to know if/when we open a business. It looks like something to do with tourism would be the way to go.

The data is all there, we just have to mine it. If you want to start your own research, you can find a lot more information here: CIA World Factbook.

Retire in Panama: Pensionado Visas

One of the really attractive things about Panama as a retirement destination is the ease with which retirees (with pensions) can get Visas. The short version is that if you can prove that you have a pension of at least $1000/month and can pass some basic screening, they will grant you permanent residency status.

Retire in Panama: Medical Care

Panama medical care is often delivered by U.S.-trained doctors at about half what it costs in the U.S. – although my understanding is that in order to practice a doctor must be a Panamanian citizen. There’s access to world-class hospitals and most medications. You might need to take a trip to Panama City if you need something specialized or exotic but so long as you’re near a fair-sized town, the basics should be available to you quite conveniently.

Retire in Panama: Cost of Living

The cost of living in Panama is *mostly* favorable in comparison to the US or Canada. This is especially true if you aren’t right in the middle of Panama City.

Below are some sample costs for every day living. I made them into tables so it’s it a bit easier to compare the differences. The results were a bit surprising to me in a few cases.

Going Out




Inexpensive Meal



Mid-Range Meal (Nice place)



Beer (Gotta have a cerveza)







Milk (1qt / 1l)



Bread (loaf)



Eggs (Dozen)



Rice (2.2 pounds / 1kg)



Chicken Breast (2.2 pounds / 1kg)










Internet (6mb/s)



Renting an Apartment




1 Bedroom Apartment in City



1 Bedroom Apartment not in City



3 Bedroom Apartment in City



3 Bedroom Apartment not in City



From these numbers, you can see that many things are much cheaper in Panama (such as a small apartment outside of the city), while some things are surprisingly more expensive (such as the cost of a big apartment in the city). The cost of rice surprised me as it’s one of Panama’s home-grown crops, I’d expect it to be cheaper. Some follow up research revealed that Panama’s production does not meet the demand and there is a regular rice shortage right before harvest season. Now the price makes more sense.

As these numbers are from the internet, we’re planning on comparing them to what we actually find when we go down there on our upcoming recon trip. Hopefully, we’ll find the internet numbers are a bit inflated.

If you want to do your own cost of living comparison, visit the good folks at Numbeo and compare where you live to cities in Panama.

I hope you find this information helpful if you want to retire in Panama. I know it was helpful for us when we started putting together the data and we’re looking forward to comparing it to reality in November.



About Tim

is a professional geek. He is a founding partner of JTR Tech and enjoys all things technology. He and his wife Joanna started AbroadDreams.com to help them plan and solidify their dream of moving abroad. After two years in Puerto Rico and Europe, Tim and Joanna are now back in the USA and exploring the American Southwest.

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  1. Hola Tim y Joanna !
    Just curious if you’re planning to visit the Chiriqui Province this trip. For me, after years of living in Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Panama City and visiting all of Central America, I’ve chosen this area for SO many reasons. But, just F.Y.I., it’s the easily-accessible geographical diversity that really turns me on. Not to mention the pace of life and the cost of living !
    Kevin Reilly
    Coconut Beach Community

    • Hola Kevin,

      We’d like to visit Chirqui Province and we even reserved a couple of days but, we haven’t been able to find an inexpensive place to stay with some local flair. Any suggestions?

      Tim & Joanna