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Where Should I Retire?

Jan. 1, 2022, 11:40 a.m. EST

I never expected to retire to Panama — but we are living ‘very comfortably’ on $1,200 a month

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By Silvia Ascarelli

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When a spot on her tooth turned into a big cavity, gum surgery, a root canal and a crown, handled by three dentists , “it ended up being less than $900 for the whole shebang,” she recalled.

You need a visa to live in Panama

Panama’s rules have changed since Cunningham arrived. While you can stay for 180 days as a tourist, you can’t keep living in the country as a tourist, she says. 

Panama does require that individuals can document $1,000 of verifiable income each month plus another $250 for each dependent, she says. That could be a Social Security check or a government or private-sector pension. Here is what the Panamanian embassy lists as requirements .

The visa comes with various discounts for retirees, including for flights.If the standard retiree visa doesn’t work for you, consult a lawyer about other options. You can also contact the nearest Panamanian consulate with your visa questions.


Cunningham freely admits there will be frustrations. Workers may not show up when you expect them, and meetings can start late. It will be noisier, too — loud music that goes on late, roosters that crow, dogs running down the street. Depending on where you live, you can be dealing with regular outages of power, internet, even water.

Then there are more mundane differences. Favorite brands may be unavailable. Clothes and shoes that fit can be hard to find because Panamanians tend to be shorter and thinner than Americans.

The weather in David is hot but, she says, more comfortable than in Florida, which also got cold.

Many Americans opt for mountain living in Boquete, where there’s no shortage of happenings in English and the workers speak English. Still, she’s seen many people come and go. Some leave fed up with what they perceive as inefficiency or bureaucracy, or they miss the grandchildren, or they want U.S. healthcare. (Medicare can’t be used overseas.) 

“Sometimes I think they wanted the life they had in the States but cheaper,” she says.

Her advice? Chill. Adapt to the culture, and you’ll do better at getting what you want.

“To make this work, you have to know it’s not going to be the same” as living in the U.S., she adds. “You just have to realize you’re taking  a leap of faith into the unknown, and you just have to go with it.” 

Interested in Boquete? ‘It is an act of insanity to stay in the U.S.’: Why this 63-year-old teacher ditched Massachusetts to retire in the highlands of Panama

More on retiring abroad

‘To hell with it’: She ditched Canada at 56 for Belize, where a couple can get ‘everything you could imagine’ for under $50,000 a year

We retired to Athens without speaking Greek — here’s how we got the easy travel and affordable life we wanted

The five most affordable Caribbean Islands to retire to — and two to avoid

Here are the 10 best places in the world to retire

Four critical factors that can determine if retiring abroad is right for you

Don’t let these myths ruin your dream of retiring abroad

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