Disclaimer: If you book a tour with Jackie through a link on this page, I may receive a commission at no extra cost to you.
Sure, you can explore Panama on your own. But what if you had someone organize it all for you? You’d see the best places. You’d meet expats to hear first hand about the pros and cons of living in this country.
Meet Jackie Lange, the owner of Panama Relocation Tours. “The worst thing you can do is make a decision to move to a foreign country without visiting it first,” she says. Jackie lived in 4 countries, visited 26, and relocated 22 times in her life. So she knows a lot about relocating.
We spoke to her about her Panama retirement & relocation tours, and what differentiates them from other tour providers.
Can you tell us a little bit about yourself, Jackie? Where you are from, your background, and why and how Panama Relocation Tours was born.
Prior to moving to Panama, I was a real estate investor in Dallas Texas for more than 20 years. I also have rental properties and do online training for real estate investors at CashFlowDepot.com
In 2008, we had three months straight of 100+ degree weather at my lake house in East Texas. Even at midnight it was over 100 degrees. The air conditioner was running non-stop. That combined with the direction the US government was heading in, I knew I needed to find a better place to live where I’d never need an air condition again.
So my search began. I researched a lot of different countries, visited 10, and finally decided on Panama as the best place to move to.
When I told my real estate investor friends that I was moving to Panama they were curious. Many of them said the next time I went to Panama they wanted to go with me. Within a week of my announcement that I was moving I had 8 people who wanted go to Panama. So I arranged for a bus and driver than mapped out a tour destination. We had a blast.
I thought that was it. But a few weeks after that first tour I started getting calls from other real estate investor friends or their neighbors asking when I would be doing another tour of Panama.
So I did another tour.
Then I started getting calls from people who said their brother or neighbor went in my “Panama tour” and asked when the next one was.
I had no plans to start a tour business in Panama. But I saw the need so I went with it.
I had to change my Visa to one that allowed a work permit. Then I built a web site… and the rest is history.
What makes Panama a great country for retirement?
There are many reasons that Panama is a great country for retirement. It has the world’s best retiree visa program, called the Pensionado visa. This visa is very easy to get if you can prove a lifetime income of $1000 for one person or $1200 for a couple.
Once you get the visa, you are entitled to 25% off all airfare and cruises, 25% off restaurants, 15% off fast food places, 50% off movie theaters (only $2 for first run movies in English), plus discounts on prescriptions and much more.
Panama is close to the United States. It is only a 3 hour flight to Houston or Miami. There are non-stop flights to the US, Canada, Europe, South America, and soon the UAE.
There are already a lot of expats in Panama. So it will be easy to find other retirees from your home country.
Want to learn more about retiring and living in Panama? Get Jackie’s FREE 8-Part email series. It covers everything from the Top 10 reasons for living in Panama to 13 negative facts no one else will tell you.
You can live better for less money in Panama.
If you do buy a property, you will have no property taxes for the first 15-20 years depending on the price range.
A water bill is $60 a year for unlimited water use – it is not metered. And that includes trash collection.
My electric bill is rarely over $25 a month. Banks pay 2.5% on regular savings accounts. The Panamanian people are just SO nice.
Health care and health insurance are very good and super affordable. A routine doctor visit is only $10 without insurance. I have international health insurance, at 62, it only cost me $2100 a year and I’m covered at any doctor or hospital in the world. You can also get only Panamanian health insurance for about $100 a month.
I’ve had two eye surgeries in Panama. The doctor’s office filed the paperwork and insurance paid 100% of the costs. The care I got was top rate.
Because Panama is such a small country, you can be in a completely different climate with only a 1 hour drive, sometimes less. I live in Boquete where it is spring like weather year round. The town is surrounded by majestic mountains.
But I can drive an hour south and be at the Pacific Ocean beaches. Or drive less than 3 hours north to be at the Caribbean Sea. The diversity in scenery and climate means that Panama has something for everyone.
Panama has the strongest economy in the western hemisphere. GDP averages about 7%.
The Panama Canal only accounts for about 5% of their revenue. They are well diversified with multiple income sources, including the second largest free trade zone in the world.
When the Panama Canal expansion project opens in the summer of 2016, revenue from the Canal will triple overnight.
The Panama economy just gets better and better. You can see new construction projects all over the country.
The Panamanian government is a democracy. The president gets one 5 year term… period. There are no life-long politicians.
There is no central bank.
The list goes on and on for why Panama is a great country for retirees.
No country has only upsides. What are potential downsides for a Panama retirement?
The sidewalks are terrible in Panama. You really need to be careful where you are walking at all times. Luckily, most roads are excellent.
Panama is a Spanish speaking country. In some areas of Panama, English is widely spoken at restaurants, banks and hotels. But in most government offices only Spanish is spoken. If you don’t know Spanish, you will need to take an interpreter with you or get an App on your phone that can help with translations.
A little Spanish and a smile go a long way in Panama. Even if you just learn one word a week, it will help.
What are the top 3 to 5 questions you hear from your tour participants?
These are the four questions that we hear most often from our tour participants:
- Can you drink the water?
- What is the crime like?
- What is the average monthly cost to live in Panama?
- Can I get the prescription drugs I take in Panama?
You advise your readers not to go on a Panama real estate tour. What makes Panama Relocation Tours different from real estate and other Panama tour providers?
The purpose of a real estate tour is to sell you real estate. The tour operators use high pressure sales tactics to try to convince you to buy.
When you move to a foreign country, it is better to rent for at least 6-12 months to make sure you like the area and Panama before you decide to buy property.
There is such a difference in weather and temperature just a 30 minute drive away. It is really important not to buy in any area until you have tested it first.
Depending on your age, it may make more sense to just rent the whole time you live in Panama. It’s hard to think about it, but if you die in Panama, you will leave an estate in a foreign country for your heirs to deal with. That could really put a burden on your children or other heirs.
How many tours per year do you offer? Is there a best time of the year to take the tour?
I do 11 tours a years. There is no tour in November because that is the rainiest month in Panama. It is windy in January and February.
UPDATE 2019: Jackie’s tours are so popular that she has almost doubled the number of tours she offers per year. Still, her tours sell out fast. So if you want to get in, contact her team now to reserve your spot.
You’ve got a lot of personal and professional experience with relocating to another country. What’s your top advice for someone considering retiring abroad, in Panama or elsewhere?
My advice for anyone considering retiring in another country is to do a lot of research about the countries on your short list. Don’t just rely on the sugar-coated international publications. Dig a little deeper to find blogs written by people who live in that country.
Join a Yahoo or Facebook Group with expats who live in the country you are considering. This will give you a general idea of how the expats interact and whether there is a sense of community.
Then you need to visit the 2 or 3 top choices to see if it feels right. Even if you have it narrowed down to one town, you should visit more of the country. Talk to as many expats as you can find. Ask how long they have lived there and what they like and don’t like.
If you like tennis, is tennis available there? If you like to play card games, is that available there?
Check out rental options while you are there. Keep in mind that just because your budget might allow a $1500 rental, it does not mean you need to spend that much. Look at properties with more affordable prices too. You may be pleasantly surprised to find just what you are looking for at half the price.
That happened to me. I was out looking at rental properties before I moved to Boquete. I had a monthly budget of $1200 to $1500. But I found a great 2 bedroom house for $600 a month, fully furnished, all bills paid on an acre of land with amazing views. I would have never found that property if I only looked in the $1200 to $1500 price range.
Some important considerations in country selection are the stability of the government and the economy.
Some countries get almost all their revenue from oil. With oil prices down, those countries are really hurting financially. Ecuador and Venezuela are good examples.
Other countries get most of their revenue from tourism. With the global recession, less people travel and those countries really took a hit in their revenue. Belize even defaulted on their debt.
The worst thing you can do is make a decision to move to a foreign country without visiting it first. Whatever you read online or in magazines will be very different than an up close and personal experience.
Ready to explore Panama in a safe, enjoyable way where you learn more about the country in 6 days than others in 6 months? Lock in your spot for the next Panama Relocation Tour here.
Want to do more online exploring first? Check out Jackie’s Ultimate Guide to Living in Panama.