In a world of increasing air travel and fluid borders, retiring to one of the many developing countries with year-round pleasant weather and a burgeoning economy is becoming a popular trend, and Panama is at the forefront of the phenomenon.
Best of Both Worlds
The emergence of ‘Second-World’ countries is relatively new, an effect of global trade and commerce and an array of new technologies aimed at rural and under-developed areas. Access to modern telecommunications has fueled the rapid expansion of previously depressed economies, bringing advanced technologies to pristine natural environments.
This has created a unique setting: unspoilt beauty with access to first-world amenities.
Panama City in particular boasts modern infrastructure, excellent health care services and a dollar-based economy, allowing for an easy transition and comfortable lifestyle for expatriates. But just minutes from the convenience of the city, serene white-sanded beaches flank lush rainforests, thriving with wildlife.
Best in the World
With its low cost of living, a simplified immigration process and an impressive incentives package, Panama has consistently ranked among the best places in the world to live and retire, securing top marks from the American Association of Retired Persons and such magazines as International Living, Conde Nast Traveler and Modern Maturity.
So how does one go about settling in this tiny, tropical haven?
Retirees can apply for residency in Panama as pensionados, or pensioners. In order to be eligible for a pensioned tourist visa, applicants of any age must show proof of a $500 monthly pension (plus $100 for each dependent) from a foreign government, international organization or private company.
With an assured monthly income, pensioners are granted tax exemptions on the import of their belongings, up to $10,000, which can be a significant advantage over many other countries which tax foreign imports heavily. Most notably, residents with pensionado status can important a motor vehicle tax-free every two years.
Residents are not required to pay taxes on any foreign-earned income, including proceeds from business transactions, pensions or Social Security, and new homeowners are exempted from property taxes for 20 years.
Age Knows Best
Even without the pensioned tourist visa, seniority is a plus. Women over the age of 55 and men over 60 can take advantage of an array of discounts, including:
- 25% off airfare
- 30% off all public transportation (including bus, boat and train)
- 20% off medical consultations and surgeries
- 15% off hospitals (in the absence of insurance)
- 15% off dental and eye exams
- 10% off prescription medication
- 50%off closing costs for home loans
- a 1% reduction on personal home mortgages
- 15 % off personal loans
- 20% off professional and technical services (including lawyers, architects, nurses, physical therapists, etc.)
- 25% off utility bills
- 50% off all entertainment (including arts, recreation, cultural, sporting events, etc.)
- 50% off hotel accommodation Monday-Thursday, and 30% off Friday-Sunday
- 25% off eat-in restaurants and 15% off fast-food restaurants
Best Bang for your Buck
In addition to a wealth of incentives for settlers, Panama’s economy is strong and growing. The average growth rate of the GDP over the past three years is 5.1%, much of it fueled by a boom in the construction sector. Property values, while very low by North American standards, are appreciating steadily, and investment in real estate is proving very lucrative.
Foreigners are allowed (with few exceptions, such as near borders) to own any of the three kinds property (titled, possession rights and concession) in Panama, and share all the same property rights as nationals, as guaranteed by Law 54 on protecting foreign investment in Panama.
The diversity of properties available is staggering, suiting all tastes and budgets. Whether you are looking for a tranquil, mountain retreat, an ocean-view condominium in the bustling metropolis of Panama City, or the languor of seaside life along this tiny country’s extensive coasts, retirement has never looked so good.
With the boom of so-called ‘second-world’ countries, the mass migration among those of retirement age to places like Central America has reached an all-time high. The warm, tropical weather, affordable land prices and political stability of countries like Panama, Costa Rica and Belize have lured growing numbers of middle-class to affluent baby boomers, eager to stake claim on their piece of paradise -- at a fraction of first-world costs.