We are very interested in retiring to Panama, based on what we've read.
Can anyone tell us a very cheap way to spend some time there exploring
various locations? Any travel tips? We don't want to spend all our
moving money on our first visit.
Chris: Stay away from high priced hotels, even in
the city you can stay a night for around $25 with a/c and cable. if you
dont mind riding, taking the bus around the country is alot cheaper and
well if you see something you like you can always get off the bus and
just take another. boquete is a good climate, volcan has about the same
and things are a bit cheaper there. isla grande is a nice place,
its an island with out cars, ppl are nice there.
You can eat a filling meal in the local fondas (everywhere) for under
$3 with water or maybe a soft drink. There are hostals in
places like Bocas, David and Panama City at least, and other cheap
basic hotels. El Valle even has a place where you can pitch
a tent for a few days if you like.
Like Chris said, bus service is everywhere and very
inexpensive. Buy a couple or three guide books to Panama
(search Amazon.com for Panama and you'll see quite a few).
They are a good guide to local hotels and eateries by region/city and
will really help you decide where you want to visit. If you
do your homework before you come (maybe you already have), you can make
much more efficient use of your time and money.
Chuck: Good suggestions however I might not
recommend $25/night hotel room in Panama City for your first trip -
unless you are the backpacking type.
I have found the best inexpensive hotels to be:
Hotel California - about $45/night on Via Espana in Bella
Hotel Milan - in cangrejo - around $65/night
Torres De Alba - a block from Milan - $90/night
There are several B&B's located in Balboa area, a little harder to
walk from there to anywhere = you will need a taxi.
Busses are OK but taxis are cheap in PC.
It sounds like you are on a tight budget - if that is the case PC
probably not a good choice for retirement - check out the David area.
For hotel recommendations - www.tripadvisor.com has a good Panama
section with reviews written by fellow travelers.
Monique: Hotel Marbella in the Crangero section of PC is also very
good, cheap and well situated.
Mary: If you can't afford La Estancia, then DO
consider Hotel Santana, on the edge of Casco Viejo for $39 a night.
(Cross-check this recommendation on Trip Advisor and you'll see mostly
favorable reviews. http://www.hotelsantana.com.pa/
If you really want to go "budget" (hostel-type accomodation), then Luna's Castle, in the heart of Casco Viejo, is a great
place to bunk down. $13 for a share; $30 for a private double room. http://www.lunascastlehostel.com/
pretty decent hostal in casco Vieo as well: hospedaje
casco viejo http://www.hospedajecascoviejo.com/
certainly second that. It's on Calle 8 near Avenida A Casa 8-31,
next to the church with the golden altar. I lived there for 2
years in a room that has since been converted to the women's dormitory
which sleeps 6. Ricardo Graces, the owner who speaks perfect
English, is a very gracious host and being Colombiano he understands
cleanliness and good service. Ricardo also has an apartment
building a few blocks away on Avenida A at Calle 13 with one and two
bedroom furnished apartments that are available for short term
rentals. The telephone number is 211-2027. Anyone staying
there please say hello to Ricardo and the staff for me.
Monique: The Panama Moon Guide (Bill Friar) is the best Panama Travel book,
as far as updated. There should be a new issue coming out this month if
not out already. Lonely Planet is hopelessly outdated.
Richard: The best rental prices won't be found on
the internet, but by walking around and talking to lots of people once
you zoom in on a location. Someone will have a cousin who knows a
Instead of hiring a driver to tour you around the country, you might
collect names of local drivers in the areas you'd like to visit, and
take the bus between them.
Public transportation is pretty good. The buses run almost
everywhere, as that's the primary form of transportation for many
people here. The long-distance buses are usually better than the
local buses as far as creature comforts. The diablo rojos in PC
(old school buses imported from the US) will be replaced maybe
soon. They will be missed, if only for their colorful
artwork and lights. But I've seen some of them running at 4
in the morning without a single light showing on the old highway to
Colon, so they're not always in the best of shape mechanically.
Taxis in the bigger cities are numerous and quite inexpensive as well,
compared to US prices. Meters may be installed soon, so
some of the gringo pricing will be reduced.
think that rentals advertised on the internet are typical. Most
Panamanians never advertise their rentals on line. I live in Boquete
and it has the reputation as an expensive place to live yet I have a
friend who rents a small apartment for $100/month and lots of folks who
rent for under $500/month. You just come here, rent a $15/night hostal
room, and start looking.
Even if the cost of living were twice as much in Boquete, what we have
here is worth it (in my opinion and I'm frugal).
Gail: Someone else just told
me that the inexpensive rentals probably do not include hot water or
more than one electrical outlet per room. Are there apartments
there, and what can one expect to pay for a decent rental with hot
water and enough electricity for a few more things than one per
room. We don't need a lot.
Also, are there laundromats there? Otherwise, we would have to
have washer and dryer hookups.
I like your style. We are really thinking of just going there and
renting a hostel room and doing just what you said. We need to
bone up on our Spanish a bit and finish with the placement of our
three foster babies before we can do much more than ask a lot of
We really think we need to get by on one of our Social Security checks
and bank the other one. We don't really have a nest egg. So
we will have to live "carefully".
Penny: I know of several small houses or apartments
within walking distance of downtown Boquete that have two bedrooms and
either one or two bathrooms and electrical outlets and hot water. They
rent in the $450 range. Of course these aren't always available just
when you want them. You really have to be here and ask questions, read
the bulletin boards, and pound the pavement. You can also search the
rentals on www.boqueteforums.org. I am hearing that right now there is
a shortage of rentals in Boquete so you will really have to do your
There are several laundromats in Boquete. Don't worry about that.
Connie. How long does it take to get from Boquete to
David? Are there any less expensive mountain communities in
Gail: Thanks so much! We are
thinking that Chiriqui Province in the mountains will suit us best, but
perhaps there are more affordable mountain areas that we should
explore. It sounds like hostels are the way to go for us.
If anyone lives or knows any areas that have a moderate
climate, affordable rental housing, please let us know. The
ads I see for rentals and real estate purchases sound a bit higher than
we want. If we can even sell our 4-year-old mobile
home, it will be at a loss. We think we would like to rent
permanently, but at least for awhile.
about an hour. Volcan is a little cheaper and you might look at
Portrerillos. Also, Alto Boquete is a bit cheaper than some of the
other areas of Boquete. If you look around you can find rentals in
Boquete at about $400, so not everything is as high as some think.
Still, there are cheaper areas. The
lowlands are cheaper, but when you factor in air conditioning, if you
can't take the heat, it could make some of the cheaper rentals in
Boquete not seem so unreasonable.
Richard: Volcan is less expensive than Boquete when
purchasing properties but Boquete does have some great rental prices
from time to time. The hydroelectric projects in Caisan and
elsewhere increased the demand in Volcan, it seems.
Potrerillos and Boqueron are very quiet places to live, and still
cooler than David.
From here, it sounds like the only really good
medical care is in PC, but we are hoping to live in the
Also, can you really hire a driver to tour you around the
country? Or are there other good ways to explore the
country. Don't want to even own a car there. How is the
public transportation? I hear good and bad about it.
I am reading more and more about crime. Is there a growing
anti-American attitude? Or are there just isolated
out the medical care in David. Many expats in Chiriqui are happy with
Penny: I spent 6 days in Chiriqui Hospital in July. I'm not an expert since this was my
first ever hospitalization (except for giving birth many years ago) but
my opinion is that the care was excellent. The nursing staff was
responsive, the facilities were spotless, and it just seemed like a
caring facility. It helps to know some Spanish -- at least "necessito ir al baño"
Richard: The same goes for Hospital Mae Lewis in David.
David has good medical care ..., but not as many choices as Panama
City, of course.
Susan: There is one issue that needs to be planned
if you are planning to move to a foreign country with no savings and
live on your social security month to month:
How will you pay for health care, in case of serious medical event? Routine
preventive care and care for minor stuff is cheap in Panama but
treatment for serious illness or injury is not, even though its far
less costly than in the USA. You are aware that medicare cannot be used
in Panama, right? And that the cost of returning to the USA to use
medicare, whether its a regular flight or "medical evacuation"
(expensive) is not covered either? Decent health insurance is very hard
to qualify for if you are over 60 or are in less than perfect health
when you first try to get it, unless you are a military or US
government retiree. You can buy "sole provider" policies that cover for
a few thousand dollars fairly cheaply but you won't be covered for most
stuff for the first two years of paying premiums for most of these
policies. You need to think those things out, investigate and plan
before you make a move like that.
Good point! I guess the other Social Security check would
have to come into play in the case of a medical emergency. We
expect to be able to save over $100,000 within five years, but we could
always use it for medical care if necessary.
We are just hoping that the one Soc Sec check would cover ordinary
Thanks for the info. We had been led to believe that we could buy
health insurance rather inexpensively. In fact,
that was included in our "living on one check" plan. Really good
are young and healthy, you can. If you are collecting social security
either because you are over 62 or are medically disabled (which
presumes some kind of "pre existing condition"),not so much.
Pattie: Gail, You and your husband can get the
medical insurance through Chiriqui hospital, which I was told could be approx. $900 a
year with a cancer policy. Would that be do-able in your
plan? Unless you have medical issues, you would probably not need
any additional insurance, especially if you could use your savings for
emergencies. There are some international insurances you can get
that are pretty reasonable to supplement if you wanted to.
HNS: Small point but the insurance is through MS
Panama, S.A. and not the hospital.
MS Panama has an agreement with both Hospital Chiriqui and San Fernando
in Panama City.
a year is definitely doable. Is that for one of us, or
both of us? Where is Chiriqui Hospital? In
David? How does one deal with any type of emergency in Panama? In the US we dial
911. Is there any type of program like that in Panama?
there is no 911 per se, Alto al Crimen has established an emergency
hotline for the reporting of crimes and emergencies with a bilingual
responder who, once you call, will place the appropriate emergency
telephone call for you.
See http://www.volunteerboquete.org/?page_id=411 for more information. The
hotline number is 6477-6662/
plan for my husband and me is a little over $1200 per year. There were
exclusions, but they had a pretty lenient interpretation of them. For
instance, my husband has high blood pressure. Treatment for high blood
pressure was excluded for two years, but they said that if he had a
heart attack or stroke or organ failure caused by the high blood
pressure, he would be covered. Thank goodness, we didn't have a chance
to test that promise. No 911 in Chiriqui.
Penny: There supposedly is a 911 number in Panama
City but I've heard it is non-functioning. Actually, Boquete has the
only 911-type service which is funded by donations. Your call is
answered 24/7 by a bi-lingual person who then dispatches the police,
the ambulance, the fire department or road service. It works really
Hunter: Hospital Chiriqui is in David.
EMS is handled differently depending in where you live. 911 is in PC
and expanding slowly outwards into the Interior.
David is the only other city with what you would consider quality care
-- meaning equipment, doctors, and training to take care of many of the
more common needs.
Any other area of the country is served by smaller hospitals and
clinics. Many of which are either understaffed, little to no equipment,
and no working ambulance if they have one at all.
The bottom line is one has to clearly think about their current health
condition and if it is in need of a specialist or uncommon medicine,
diagnostic equipment etc., then living near PC is the smarter choice.
Our website has information for residents of Panama. In the lower right
hand corner of the home page, you will find a link for resident
Susan: Connie, did they put the "they said" part
in writing? Because if they didn't, you are very fortunate that you
didn't have to test it. If its not in writing, it is not binding, as
quite a few folks have discovered to their dismay. This is not aimed at
Hospital Chiriqui per se, its aimed at ANY situation in which any
entity acting as an insurer or an insurer's representative (whether its
a hospital selling you a "sole provider" policy or an actual insurance
company or an insurance agent or broker) makes a verbal representation
that appears to conflict, explicitly or impliedly, with what is in the
Connie: The basic plan covers everything but
cancer. There is a separate plan that you purchase for cancer. The
total of the two plans is a little over $1200 per year. I can't
remember the exact figure because the price went up slightly this year.
Both plans are purchased at the same office in Hospital Chiriqui. Do
check out the pre-existing qualification on blood pressure. We were
satisfied for our needs, but as Susan pointed out we didn't have it in
writing. We just figured that if the insurance didn't pay for it and
something happened before the qualification went away, we would pay out
of pocket. That is not a luxury everybody has, even though our doctor
told us four years ago that open heart surgery was less than $15,000.
I'm sure it has gone up a little since then.