Real estate in Panama

I went to Central America partially just as a tourist, but also partially to see what it would be like to live and invest there. A retirement with a lower cost that Australia may well allow me to retire earlier or more comfortably.

I'll talk about Panama in this post.

I'll start by saying that I'm not fond of tropical humidity. So that makes many parts of the country of little interest to me, where that may be of interest to somebody else.

I visited four locations in Panama:
.David, a city towards the Pacific coast not far from the border with Costa Rica.
.Boquete, a town in the highlands to the north of David, about halfway to the Atlantic
.Bocas de Toro, a beach town to the north of Boquete
.Panama City

A couple of general things about Panama. The cost of living is not too bad. Unlike Costa Rica, which has a 40% tax on all imported goods, there's no tax on imports. They actively encourage retirees- it's easy to get a residency if you can prove an income, and there's all sorts of generous discounts available to residents over 60. Cars are apparently a bit more than the U.S., although the way people drive, some residents only want an older car. Petrol is about 88c per litre (US $ - I'm quoting everything in USD as it is used interchangeably with the local currency).

I only spent one night in David. There are nice areas, but as a coastal town with little of touristic value, I didn't see those. David is a shopping town for many surrounding districts - it has some big malls and good shopping. Being at low level, it does have the tropical humidity. I didn't investigate the real estate there.

Bocas del Toro (literally, Mouths of the Bull) is a small beach town with a Caribbean flavour. It's a nice little town, a bit of a party hangout for tourists. It's a good place to learn scuba diving and to go snorkelling, but the day I went out it was pouring down rain, making the water quite unsuitable for snorkelling. There were Dolphins in one area, that was really cool. But as a place to live, it is expensive. And of course the climate is humid and rainy for the wet.

Panama City is a big modern city. But there appears to be little economic value living there. Real estate can be expensive. It depends where you live of course. There's a huge amount of high rise residential in the centre, and large gated communities out of the centre a little. The climate I found oppressive. Although there's obviously air conditioning, this would add a lot to the cost of living; and apparently a shortage of power, due to low rainfall, meant that for a period last year, air conditioning was not allowed to be turned on anywhere between 11am and 3pm. Of course, as a tourist, the Panama Canal is of interest, as is Casco Viejo, an old and very interesting area which is becoming quite gentrified.

Which leaves Boquete, which does have more to offer. Being a higher altitude, the climate is quite pleasant. It does have the wet, but the temperatures are almost always in the pleasant range. In the dry, it does get very windy for three months- locals prefer the wet; many start their day early, get everything done by 3pm, and spend the hour or two of the wet back at home.

Boquete is a pleasant little town, and quite spread out, as many people with money choose places with views and a little isolation. There's a big US expat community there, retiring to take advantage of the weather.

I stayed in a house about 6km out of town, courtesy of Airbnb. It was a beautiful place. It had magnificent views- to the right was a volcano, straight ahead a tropical rainforest canyon, and to the left a view down to the plains, and sometimes, the Pacific. This place is for sale, with an initial asking price of $US250,000. The microclimate is excellent (and with the mountains around, there are a lot of microclimates. One part can have clear skies while another part may be continually overcast). The house is somewhat sheltered from the prevailing winds. There's about 200m2 of indoor living area, 3 BR, 2.5 bathrooms. There's further outdoor areas under roof, which often gets counted as the house area, but is not in this case. See

There are areas in Boquete with water supply issues.

Many people can have quite nice gardens by hiring a gardener for two days a week at $15 per day.

Quite often, when a house is sold, consideration may be given to including all furniture for an extra payment- this might even include a car.

The warning given by the owner is to rent in any place you would be considering before you buy. She and her husband decided to retire to Boquete, but her husband missed his family and friends back home. He's going back home, she's staying.

Rental yields can be reasonable. The above house could probably be rented for $1500 per month giving a gross yield of 7.2%. There's better yields available, especially with multiples - some listings had a unit or two on the same block with the main house, and the potential to build more.

See for an example. Possibly $1500pm for the house, $500 pm for each of the units, asking $345,000, about 8.5% gross yield. That's without looking too hard.

It's hard for people to find rentals, so the vacancy rate is low.

A real estate agent will charge a fee of one month's rent for finding a tenant and preparing a lease. Property management is done by a separate company and costs extra, possibly $90pm.

People recommend buying a house through a corporation rather than as an individual. This might cost $750-$1500 to set up and the same annually.
What about medical care and visits to the doctor? If you're going to retire there I'm assuming you would need to visit the GP or local hospital for any health issues.
Health care in Panama is superb - especially in Panama City and David. You can get an appointment with a specialist almost immediately, you don't have to go to a specialist.

Costs are quite reasonable- I think I remember about $25 for a GP visit but I'm not sure. They do house visits.

I asked about aged care. Apparently there's not a lot available in an institution, but it's possible to get full.time.nursing care, 24/7, for $400pm.
Although there's photos of the houses I mentioned in the links, I'll wait until I get back home in the new year to post photos, unless I get a good chance before.

I'm currently in Caye Caulker in Belize, a lovely little tropical island. I'll definitely have pictures from here and from other places.

I'll also try to do a similar type of post on Medellin, Colombia (if there's any interest).
Returned from Panama end of October. Pretty much agree with you:

David - the Pacific Coast is more densely inhabited, more popular with American tourists and generally more expensive. I spent a few nights at a surf camp in a tiny place on the coast.

Boquete definitely had a kinder climate, less humid, higher altitude. Seemed to be lots of expats there with some very nice neat properties and good coffee scene.

Bocas de Toro is on the Carribean side and the pace and attitude of the people reflects that. It's hot, humid and rains, but I personally love the Carribean towns on this coast. the culture, the music, the food. But it is very undeveloped compared to the Atlantic side.

Panama City I only spent a little time in. As big cities go it is one of the more attractive ones in Central America with lots of modern facilities and buildings, but it also has the delightful old section too which is charming. The Panama Canal has provided the funds for lots of infrastructure there.

I fell in love with Costa Rica though, and Puerto Viego on the Carribean Coast is possibly my favorite place of all. I could retire there no problem, perhaps get some land and grow some coffee. I love the fact that Costa Rica has no military and spends the funds on culture and education instead.

Beautiful properties around Medellin and it's nowhere as dangerous as it was in the 80s. (I spent an afternoon with Roberto Escobar, Pablo Escobar's brother - he tells some fascinating stories - talk about wealth building!) I found Columbia to be very sophisticated and even Bogota the capital was delightful. The Carribean coast around Tatanga is very hot and humid and personally I preferred Panama or Costa Rica on this side. Cartagena is a delightfully charming place, especially in the old city but property prices there are off the charts.

If you can't cope with humidity your options in Central America are quite limited though. Living in Cairns it wasn't so bad thought. Didn't get to Guatemala, Nicaragua, Honduras etc. but I gather they also have a lot to offer.

All up, yes, I will most definitely consider retiring in Central America, I absolutely love it there.
Thanks for that.

A small correction. The country is Colombia not Columbia.

I liked Costa Rica as well, especially Monteverde in the highlands. Apparently Atena is also a nice place. The cost of living is higher in Costa Rica due to the 40% import tax on every import.

Apparently Santa Fe and Anton Valley are nice places in the Panama highlands.

In Colombia, I only went to Medellin. I loved it there. I'll write up something at one stage.

My daughter met Pablo Escobar's brother. That's so cool. How did you arrange that?

I couldn't live in Guatemala. It's a much poorer country, and I really didn't get any sense that I would be comfortable there. Antigua is a lovely place, but impractical. The cobblestone streets would wreck a car quite quickly I would expect. I spent two weeks in San Pedro, a little village on the shores of the beautiful Lake Atitl?n. It's a stunning lake, but it would be very difficult to live. There's some places around the lake more suited to expats, but I couldn't.