Welcome to Panama!
If you've ever considered the ExPat life, you've likely considered Central American countries like Panama, Costa Rica, Ecuador, and Belize. My first visit to Panama City, Panama brought shocks, like physicians in Panama must be Panamanian born, as well as wondrous surprises. One lack at local hotels is a city map, gone since the pandemic. With an International Living conference to explain in specific detail all the things you need to know to move to Panama, came the opportunity to tour with realtors both the city and nearby beaches on the Pacific Coast.
Panama City Business District View From the Waldorf Astoria
During the city tour, you'll learn more about the various neighborhoods. From Casco Viejo, the Old Town, to San Francisco, a family community with large green space compared to New York City's Central Park, there's something for everyone in the city and the environs.
If beaches are your preference, it works well to take a guided tour out as far as Coronado, the furthest area people generally find comfortable commuting to the city on some form of a regular basis. You'll enter this gated community to find another gate in front of whichever neighborhood you choose. Then, if you choose a condo complex, you'll have one more gate to enter before you're home. It's very secure and helps keep tourists and others that don't belong from wandering across your property.
Coronado Panama Home
Coronado's known for its great variety of condo complexes, mostly built in the past ten years, shopping, entertainment, golf courses, and beaches. There's a small medical clinic within the community gate that can handle simple issues. More complex medical problems are transferred to one of the Panama City hospitals.
Within Coronado, you can find houses for sale or for rent, condos for sale or for rent, and a variety of lot sizes variable distances from the beach. Most of the entertainment and shopping is up on the main road coming from Panama City. Plenty of ExPat locations can be found on Facebook, the preferred method of communication and online community.
From Coronado, one highly sought-after resort nearby is the Royal Palm. Located in Playa Gorgona just 50 minutes outside Panama City, condos from one bedroom, and one bath for under $200k USD to condos over 100 m2 closer to $500k are available. The spacious social areas include (unheated) pools, a tennis court, an outside bar and even a small dog run.
Panama, a Central American country, maintains the US Dollar as its currency after the U.S. ceded control of the Panama Canal, as historically promised. As a sub-continent of North America, Central America utilizes the same electrical currency as the United States and so the same plugs without the need for an adapter or converter.
While Panamanian products can be less expensive than U.S. brand products, brand-specific items that require importation are understandably more costly.
Vista Mar Gulf and Beach Resort
Vista Mar Gulf and Beach Resort
The Vista Mar Gulf and Beach Resort provide options to choose luxury three- and four-bedroom condos with en suites or budget-friendly two-bedroom, two-bathroom units further from the community's amenities. Most of the buildings in this community have parking as a car is truly beneficial when you're this far from town (taxis are available but Uber is not allowed). Many people choose to own a "mule" as well, an ATV used to get themselves and all their belongings to the beach each day. It's important not to leave anything of value in the mule.
The high-rise towers in Vista Mar provide sweeping views of the golf course out to the ocean. The sand, a sparkly black and tan combination, leads to a bit of mud before being in water deep enough to swim in. The water is pristinely clean and clear making it deceptive to determine depth. When swimming, be very mindful of riptide currents and be sure you understand how to exit them prior to entering the water.
Squat buildings further from the main buildings include smaller, simpler, and less expensive condos. With decreased price comes a little less convenience. The swimming pool for one complex is across the parking lot from an apartment we were shown. Few of the units have a dishwasher. It's expected, even in those units without maid's quarters, that those services would be handled by hired help. In the city, you'll find maid quarters more readily available. These small, single bedrooms have space for a bed and a small wardrobe and are en suite with a compact three-piece bathroom. We saw no bathtubs in any of the condos (or hotels) in Panama. There was a bathtub in the home we visited in Coronado.
Resort Pool and Restaurant
Visiting the Rio Mar development, we explored a luxurious building with a stunning high floor view and a lovely lower floor view with two-bedroom, two-bathroom condos. The lower floor unit had an excellent side view of the pool with its colorful tangerine lounges in addition to the waters of the Pacific.
This development also contains a small restaurant where we stopped for lunch. No soggy burgers and fries were to be found in Panama during our trip, they served us grouper or chicken along with mashed potatoes or rice or plantains. They did offer French fries, but no one in our cohort expressed the slightest interest in them. Most everyone had a frozen fruit bar to finish the meal.
It's easy to see how simply one could slip into life in Panama. The condos and houses are available both furnished and unfurnished, depending on what the last owner has left behind. Rents are higher for furnished spaces and for higher floors and larger spaces. Taxes, if you choose to own, are based specifically on square footage (meters) so plan accordingly.
We're told repeatedly during our seminar to re-think how one thinks about the size of one's home. Mold is a real issue here in the humid tropics. If things are left in the closet unused, you are likely to find them molting even a month later. It's very common to have units under 100 m2 as the social areas are commonly used for parties, etc.
It's an outdoor lifestyle where less is definitely more.
Playa Corocal Beach
This is the area on the Chame peninsula where I'd purchased a two-bedroom, two-bathroom lock off in the closest beach town to Panama City. The deal was cancelled during the pandemic. Whilst here in Panama, the developers invited us out to see where the property now stands. Several buildings are under construction. One set of buildings is nearly done, with pools open and in use. There's a small convenience store and a rustic restaurant. The land for my deal stands vacant.
The sand here is striking in the tan and black sparkle pattern that we've suddenly become accustomed to in this section of the world. It's too hot to walk on barefoot for any length of time but there's plenty of coverage with palapa-style units along the beach and even a swing at the restaurant.
It's nice to see that the quad-homes, most two-bedroom, two-bath, with breezy lanais facing the ocean and the interior. The indoor/outdoor space expands your sense of home dramatically. Think of bringing just a few suitcases, you can pick up most anything else you need at the local PriceSmart (the Panama version of Costco).
If you're considering moving to live in Panama or another Central American country to save money before or during retirement, you're likely to benefit from improved health, less stress, and a higher quality of living, all at a lower cost if you've done your homework properly.
The experts we meet warn us, though. When you consider going to a new place, rent first. Do your due diligence. Hire the right attorney. Consider touring a variety of places within the country so you can confirm where you'd most like to be.
Panamanians love to go to the beach on the weekends. This means traffic is terrible. What may take you only 90 minutes to accomplish on a good day could take you four hours to return home during the Sunday night influx. If you're a digital nomad or retired, you might consider living at the beach during the week and being in town for the weekend. Some very creative people have done an apartment share – switching back and forth between the two places.
They also recommend spending some time in the city and doing tourist things. Visiting the Old Town, Casco Viejo, and strolling along the Cinta Costera is uniquely Panamanian. Take the day trip to Tabogo Island or visit the nearby canopied tree line and, of course, visit the Miraflores locks to understand how the Panama Canal has expanded in recent years to remain relevant despite the ever-increasing ship sizes.
Keep in mind when you're deciding where you want to live that it is quite hot in Panama City and along the beaches. It's typically in the 80sF and humid. By going up in elevation, towards the mountains, for example, may still allow great water views with a temperature more to your liking.