Retiring to Panama – Part II: Safety in Panama, Education & More

Panama bocas del toro
Houses on water in a typical Caribbean setting; Bocas del Toro, Panama.

Education & Schools * Safety * Real Estate

When you consider retiring to Panama, you will find our tips about safety, schools and how to find the best Panama real estate deals come in handy.

Panama Education & Schools

Education in Panama is free and compulsory for children between 6 and 15 years. However, most expats will want to send their kids to private schools to ensure bilingual education at international standards.

There is a good number of private schools in Panama City. Some of them have a web site where you can learn more about their location, curriculum, application process and costs. As soon as you look outside the capital, getting information about bilingual or international schools becomes tougher. You will need local contacts, as there is no information on the net.

Here are some of the international schools in Panama City with a web presence:

The International School of Panama (ISP): American curriculum, excellent academical level, but also most expensive school, tuition fees between $5,000 and $10,000 for 2009/10.

Balboa Academy: American curriculum, located in former Canal Zone, more laid back than ISP and slightly cheaper, tuition fees between $4,500 and $8,500 for 2009/10.

Oxford International School: American and Panamanian curriculum, speaking Spanish is essential, tuition fees not disclosed on their site, but according to much cheaper than ISP and Balboa Academy.

Oxford School: follows the National Curriculum of England, started as an English language school in 1983, offers now education at an international level to more than 900 students, no information about tuition fees online.

Safety in Panama

Panama, a constitutional democracy since its independence from Colombia in 1904, is considered one of the safest countries in Central America.  With its new president, US educated conservative tycoon Ricardo Martinelli, hopes are high for a boost both in economy and efficiency of its government.

According to Panama Legal, S.A., Panama as a nation has much less violent crime in a year (a mere fraction) than what New York City has in one day … making Panama  far safer a place to live than many cities in North America. There’s a certain amount of petty crime, such as car radio and home appliances theft, but violent crime is relatively unheard of.

When I explored Casco Viejo (the historic and only partly restored town center of Panama City) and the vast city park “Parque Natural Metropolitano” on my own, I felt perfectly safe all the time. However, on the taxi ride from one place to the other, we came through some rough looking areas where I would not want to be out in the streets, not even in bright day light.

In Panama City, you might notice friendly police offers in khaki uniforms, patrolling key areas of the city either by car, bike or foot. They are part of the Tourism Police Force, which was founded in 1992 with the specific goal to help and guide tourists in Panama’s capital.

Real Estate

As a foreigner you can own property in Panama just like a national – with one exception: foreigners can not buy property within 6.2 miles from the borders to either Columbia or Costa Rica.  Even islands can now be purchased by non Panamanians – if they have the necessary cash, that is!

Speaking of cash, which is “king” in most of Latin America, it is fairly easy to obtain a mortgage for purchasing real estate in Panama. Some banks offer fixed-rate mortgages on residential property for up to 80% of the selling price. For raw land, you can get financing for up to 70%.

Property taxes are on a staggered, combined scale, and increase with the value of the property:

  • Below $30,000: no taxes
  • $30,000 – $50,000: 1.75%
  • $50,000 – $75,000: 1.95%
  • Above $75,000: 2.10%

In other words, if you buy an apartment for $80,000, you would pay no taxes for the first $30,000, 1.75% for the next $20,000, 1.95% for the next $25,000, and 2.10% for the remaining $5,000 of the purchase price.

Houses or apartments for residential use get a 20 year property tax exemption from the date of their completion , provided this is before 31st December 2011. The land on which the property sits continues to pay property taxes, if its value is above $30,000.

What about property prices? Isn’t Panama real estate too expensive nowadays? Yes and no. Many of the new apartments in the shiny high-rise buildings around Punta Pacifica or Punta Paitilla are way out of most people’s financial reach. But if you search in the less trendy neighbourhoods like Bethania or Hato Pintado, you can still find 3 bedroom apartments for less than $80,000.

How do you find those bargains? The best resources, albeit in Spanish language are:

  • BuscaFacil.comThe new search portal for classifieds section of “La Prensa”, Panama’s main newspaper.
  • has a great search function, features even a loan calculator and is partly in English language (the ads themselves are in Spanish though).
  • you can either specify a search, or browse through the many categories listed.

Retire in Panama – Part I

Before retiring to Panama, learn about Cost of Living * Climate * Infrastructure & Internet Access

Panama Retirement – Part III

Before retiring to Panama, get the facts about Visa & Benefits * Health Care * Culture & People