Can You Live on Your Pension in Panama?
By Terry Coles
When my husband Clyde decided to retire after 26 years with the Corpus Christi, Texas Fire Department, he realized that his pension wouldn’t go too far. With the high cost of U.S. health care and an ex-wife getting a portion of his pension, could we afford to retire on what was left?
We could if we found a place with a lower cost of living and more affordable health care. Panama had all of this and more and even allowed us to retire in our 50s.
My partner-in-adventure and I checked out of the working world when I was just 51 and he was 57. A whole new world was waiting to be explored if we only had the courage to take the plunge. Some of our friends and family back in the States thought we were crazy. Others were jealous that we found a way to stop working and enjoy life now.
One of the major reasons that anyone retires to Panama is the Pensionado Program. Panama offers foreign retirees the same benefits that it offers to its own retirees. Discounts on everything from hotels, plane tickets, restaurant meals, utilities, medical costs and more are offered as incentive. When we travel within the country during the week we save 50% on the price of a hotel room. Every time we eat out we save 25% on our already inexpensive meals. We save 25% on airline tickets purchased here to visit the States. Pensionados pay no property taxes for 20 years on new home construction and are allowed to import up to $10,000 worth of household goods tax-free.
Here we take advantage of English-speaking doctors and dentists and pay only a fraction of the cost we paid in the U.S. Imagine seeing a doctor and paying only $6 for the office visit? I had a mammogram performed for only $25 on the same exact machine used in the States, but there it cost over $200. Here an MRI costs only $300 compared to thousands in the U.S. Our dentist speaks fluent English and went to school for six years just like dentists in the States. He performs cleanings himself at a cost of only $22.
Panama City has some of the finest hospitals and doctors in the world. The newest hospital, Punta Pacifica, is an affiliate of Johns Hopkins Hospital in Maryland. My husband Clyde had two cornea transplants in Houston, Texas and needed a doctor to follow up with here. He found a cornea specialist at Punta Pacifica who does the same type of surgery and charged only $50 for the office visit.
The climate in Panama is the same year-round and stays between 75 and 85 degrees. In the mountains temperatures are cooler but near the beaches it’s always hot and humid. The tropical breezes keep us cool enough for comfort and we rarely turn on the air conditioner. Our electric bill averages $30 a month since we use little electricity. We have a hot water heater, stove, and clothes dryer that all run on propane, at a cost of less than $5 a bottle.
Moving to another country is not for everyone, and does come with its challenges. But for those willing to take the plunge and embrace the newness of it all, it can be quite the adventure. Here we have expat friends from all over the world and Panamanian friends too. The locals are warm and gracious and welcome us into their country. All they ask is that we make an attempt to learn their language—and they are more than willing to help us along the way.