The New Chapter in Our Life – Why Panama?

A New Chapter in Our Life - Why Panama

We are pleased to call Panama City our new home and received our permanent resident cards and “Cedulas” in late January.  Our home (condominium) is of high quality and we are very happy with it. The building and grounds are very nice, as is the historic UNESCO heritage community of Casco Viejo (circa 1673) that we live in.  Our building was reconstructed from a one-time school, monastery and other uses since the 1800’s.  It has been completely restored (the front half where we are, from the ground up) to its original Spanish period character on the exterior as required by law and the interior is like any new modern building in Ottawa or Miami on the inside. 

We have met a number of new people who have become friends.  There are even a good number of Canadians in the building we live in. Others are Panamanian’s, Europeans and of course some Americans.  We have met good neighbours and share a close connection with other friends developed during former visits and of course the cross-country tour we did a couple years ago. We have attended several community events and several social ones. I meet with local business acquaintances for lunch now and then to stay abreast of opportunities. It’s a global community here and the country holds its spot as a top ranked destination to visit in 2024 (CNN) and continues to be ranked in the top three countries in which to retire.  I will provide some links at the end to both third party publications and photos for you all to investigate further if desired.

I had been reading and investigating the features and benefits of living abroad for years.  Location will differ depending on what your objectives are in regards to climate, currency, taxation, time zones, infrastructure, distance to family and why you are even contemplating such a move in the first place.  It is indeed a big decision, and while we love Canada, Audrey and I came to the decision to enter a new chapter and travel and explore new countries that offered most or all of the above.  In 2021 we decided to investigate in earnest and contracted with a foreign firm to assist in the worldwide search for the right location for us and in the right way.

Through thorough due diligence and a number of meetings, we were presented a number of options to consider including Portugal and Malta, Andorra, Switzerland, Costa Rica, Panama and the BVI’s. While many Caribbean islands offer tax advantages and warmth, we passed on those as being two small an area without the breadth of landscape and diversity.  Hurricanes are not a benefit either.  However, in the final analysis, two stood out; Portugal and Panama.  Both offered zero tax on foreign income, although Portugal’s timed out after 10 years. Both had great geography, sufficient land mass and different climates within each country.  Both had good infrastructure, great medical care and both offered a high value on life, but after a lot of homework and visits, we decided on a written plan for permanent residency in Panama.

Panama had easy and frequent access to Canada and the USA when needed.  It’s about a 5 ½ hour direct flight from Panama City or Rio Hato to Toronto.  One can choose coastal areas on both the Pacific Ocean or the Caribbean or interior highlands with cooler weather.  The currency is American dollars.  Spanish is easier to learn than Portuguese and Spanish is spoken in other places we travel to; like Spain, Mexico and Costa Rica.  In addition, the time zone is the same as Ottawa.  Since we bought into a re-development within the Casco Viejo UNESCO community, our property tax is also waived for 20 years.

The cost of living is less and the Panama Canal pours a lot of money into education, medical care and infrastructure.  There is a “path of progress” here that emphasises public transportation. VAT (HST) is also much lower at 7% here than in Canada or Europe.

New highways are being developed and the transit system is great.  The last several years has seen continual expansion of modern light rail, subway and bus routes.  Clean, safe and reliable, it costs just 35 cents at ticket.  If you get back on a subway or bus within 50 minutes – you don’t need to repay.  Casco Viejo is very walkable and anything we need is within a seven-minute walk. Any trips into the main city for a modern mall or other wants are via Uber which costs a fraction of what it does in Ottawa; we do not need a car here. There are other benefits, such as retirees (women over 55 and men over 60) receive 25% off all airfare, bus and rail.  30% off ferries.  25% off all restaurant meals (main course), movies theatres, prescriptions, electricity etc.

Speaking of medicine. Excellent medical/dental care in Panama are far less costly than north America. Panama has two streams; public and private.  Both are very good with private ones linked to John Hopkins as one example and often featuring American physicians without any language barrier.  Top drawer health care without long waits is available in both streams. The difference is private ones have nice private rooms instead of a large ward.  Thus, private health insurance is inexpensive for expats who reside full timehere.  Public health care is free as long as you are a permanent resident.  All Panamanians have access to quality health care at no cost.  However, in our case, since we travel to Spain, Mexico and reside on the NY side of the 1000 islands in the summer months, we need private global health care.  We no longer qualify for Ontario health benefits and premier comprehensive world-wide coverage is not cheap. It costs just shy of $10,000 annually for the two us. Some of you may gasp at that cost. However, once you analyze all factors, including reduced taxes, lower cost of living, access, peace of mind etc., you look at the annual premium differently.  Personally, I find the global health care premium a deal when all factors considered.  Now we have access to world class facilities 24/7 in any country anytime.

We feel safe here.  Of course, crime exists, but seemingly not around us. We walk in the streets after dark as many others do.  There is police presence but I have yet to see any in action. People are friendly and helpful.  I attend Spanish classes three times a week and am gaining ground.  Luckily Audrey is pretty proficient so she and online courses will replace my “professora” until we return in October. We joined a local gym and generally keep active/busy.

I look forward to writing as a contributor in the future in Adam’s quarterly newsletter.   

Best wishes always.  Maybe we’ll see you at the June Family Movie Day😊 Hasta luego, Michael Prittie

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