Travel Professor
by on September 8, 2022  in Retirement / Housing / Travel /
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In 2005, I was stressed out. I was working more than 70 hours a week, and I’d begun to hate my job. One day I woke up and decided I’d had enough. I didn’t just need a new career—I needed a new life.

I wanted to slow down and savor each day. I wanted to live in a cosmopolitan city like Miami—close to the beach, but with every modern comfort and amenity imaginable. I’d been to dozens of beautiful destinations in the Caribbean and beyond, but one place stood out above all the rest. And so I moved to Panama City.

It checked every single box on my list.

Great nightlife…check.
Warm weather…check.
Beautiful beaches…check.

I didn’t have to worry about exchange rates, because Panama has used the U.S. dollar for over a hundred years. I didn’t have to worry about hurricanes anymore, because Panama is completely outside the hurricane belt. And I didn’t have to work as hard, because Panama was (and still is) incredibly affordable.

Living Well for Less Than $3,000 a Month

Where else can you live the way I do on less than $3,000 a month? I’m talking year-round tropical weather, on the ocean, with great internet service and an active social life.

Don’t believe me? Here are my monthly expenses:


Total: $2,795.20. If you take out the $250 a month I put into my emergency fund/savings account every month—it is optional, after all—my expenses are just over $2,500 a month.

I’ve been keeping close track of what I spend for years. There’s no good-weather, beach-adjacent city in the U.S. where I’d be able to have all this.

From the City to the Beach

I lived in Panama City for 17 years…and I made sure to enjoy everything Panama’s cosmopolitan capital has to offer. Jazz nights in the city’s romantic colonial quarter…Indian food at Maharaja…biking along the Panama Bay at the Cinta Costera…the list goes on.

Every week there was something new…a new show at one of the city’s many theaters…an art exhibit at one of the city’s many museums…another great new restaurant. Panama City is the only world capital that can boast a rainforest within city limits. It’s a UNESCO-recognized “City of Gastronomy.” (UNESCO is the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.) And it’s sunny…nearly every single day of the year, I woke up to sunshine.

So why did I leave Panama City? Because in August of last year, I saw a gorgeous condo for sale in the beach town of Coronado, just an hour’s drive west. This is the view I wake up to now:

My condo is just over a thousand square feet—including one bedroom, 1.5 baths, and a small balcony—and it’s in a building with fantastic amenities. We have a gym, several pools and social areas, and we’re on a quiet, verdant golf course. I paid just $155,000 for my beautiful 12-year-old apartment. My property tax (included under “miscellaneous,” above) is just $22.50 a year. In 2029 it’ll go up to around $300 a year. What would you pay for similar luxury where you live now?

In Coronado we have a pristine beach and a dry forest with a walking trail…though I prefer hiking in the lush mountain towns of El Valle and Sorá, just a 45-minute drive from here.

I haven’t tried all the restaurants yet, but we have more than a few, including the ultra-popular expat hangout known as Picasso and a fantastic Peruvian restaurant called Nazca 21.

Panama Offers Amazing Benefits

And in case you were wondering, we have great healthcare, too. I just found a new dentist and for two appointments and a filling I paid just $100. He sat with me for a good 20 minutes before we got started, asking me about my life and any potential sources of stress (I couldn’t think of any). Imagine that. A doctor who wants to get to know his patients because it helps him be a better doctor.

Yes, okay, there’s one downside: our roads aren’t just bad, they’re terrible. This entire town is technically a private community, so our annual “gate fee” ($150 a year, also included under miscellaneous, above) pays for road repairs. Potholes do get patched up, but boy is it a bumpy ride to the beach.

Since I don’t have to drive to work every day—I mostly work from home, writing articles like this one—that was one tradeoff I was happy to make. I get so much in return, I’m laughing all the way to the bank.

Once I reach retirement age (55 for women, 60 for men), my expenses will go down. As a legal resident of Panama, I’ll become a pensionado, or “pensioner.” The country’s Pensionado Program includes government-mandated discounts of 10% to 50% on medication, restaurant meals, transportation, and more…you even get 25% off your power bill.

For me, life in Panama is all about value. I pay my mortgage and other monthly expenses with a smile, because I am getting so much. (And incidentally, overall value is why Panama consistently ranks at the top of International Living’s Annual Global Retirement Index.)

No matter where in the world you choose to live, it won’t be perfect. There will be more than one tradeoff. The point is to pick a place that makes you happy…and I am very happy spending my hard-earned dollars in Panama.

Editor’s Note : Jessica left stress behind for a richer, fuller life overseas. You don’t need to wait to do the same. You don’t need to spend years slogging away at work and saving every dollar. You can expand your lifestyle in retirement and live a richer, more international, more exciting, more rewarding life...without saving another dime. Let us show you how here.

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This information is republished with permission from International Living.



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Travel Professor
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