A certain segment of the American population has long had second homes abroad and/or retired there – especially people of means and/or with personal or family connections to attractive overseas venues. But the number of them considering such a possibility has begun to expand rapidly over recent years due to a combination of both push and pull factors.
With Baby Boomers now reaching retirement age, the sheer volume of retirees is mushrooming year after year. And, because of their better health and longer life-expectancy, this generation tends to see retirement not as a short-term proposition – but, rather, as a new and exciting chapter in their lives that will last for decades. But they face a far different constellation of challenges and opportunities than did their parents and grandparents.
On one hand, the savings and investments of many of them have been hard hit by the economic downturn of recent years. And, in particular, the value of their homes has suffered – while the formerly common practice of moving to the sunny south of the United States because it was comparatively much cheaper is no longer possible. At the same time, income from Social Security – never fully adequate to provide for a comfortable retirement – now faces the prospect of constraint. And, less likely than their parents to have worked for a single employer over their whole life-times, fewer of the present generation of retirees enjoy benefits from private pension plans (many of which are also facing the prospect of insolvency). And longer life expectancy means that they will have to sustain themselves in retirement for a far longer period of time.
On the other hand, members of the present generation of retirees have probably traveled abroad more frequently and certainly been more exposed to other cultures (especially those of Latin America) than their forbears. And, in an age of galloping globalization, many parts of the world now offer a standard of living which is quite comparable to that of the United States.
Retirement overseas may not be for everyone. And each individual considering that possibility will have his or her own preferences, concerns and an increasingly wide range of opportunities from which to choose. Security, attractiveness, affordability, accessibility, availability of good health care and receptivity to Americans would probably figure highly on almost everyone’s list of factors to consider. But, individual situations and tastes will vary.
The circum-Caribbean Basin would come quickly to any American’s mind because it combines the benefits of proximity to the United States and a mild climate year-round. And, while there is no reason to disparage other possible venues in this region, Panama offers a number of particular – and, in some cases, unique – advantages.
Panama has enjoyed uninterrupted political stability and democratic government under the rule of law for a quarter of a century and these are now firmly entrenched. In this context is enshrined the fundamental principle that property rights – both of Panamanian citizens and foreign residents, equally and alike – are strongly protected. Meanwhile, a dynamic economic trajectory – with GNP growth averaging more than 10 percent during recent years – has catapulted its infrastructure and society toward international competiveness. Low unemployment numbers and living standards substantially above those of most of its regional neighbors have reinforced social stability and contributed to a high order of public security. World-class goods and services have become increasingly available and, yet, the cost of living remains relatively low, particularly when compared to the United States. And this most emphatically applies to the availability of world-class medical services and infrastructure at relatively low cost – including close links of Panamanian doctors and hospitals, through training and cooperative arrangements, with their best possible counterparts in the United States.
Moreover, Panama is a physically attractive country that offers a wide variety of individual locales and sub-climates with appeal to all tastes – from its Atlantic and Pacific coasts and islands to the jungles and mountains in between. Moreover, it enjoys an agreeable climate year round and a fortuitous geographical location outside the hurricane belt and where there is no seismic activity. In addition, Panama City has become the most modern and dynamic metropolis between Mexico City and Sao Paulo. Its location is also strategically central within the Western Hemisphere and globally – boasting truly excellent air, maritime (including, of course, the newly expanding Panama Canal), banking, and communications connections.
Within its varied landscape, Panama offers an extremely wide range of leisure-time options – including all manner of restaurants and night life, legal gambling, a vibrant music and cultural scene, surfing and other beach-oriented activities, sailing and world class salt and fresh water fishing, shopping (from the most of modern malls and the Colón Free Trade Zone to artisanal crafts), kayaking and other water sports, nature-watching by land and sea and other ecological pursuits.
By virtue of its location and a key global crossroads, Panamanian society has always been a uniquely cosmopolitan one that is friendly and receptive to all manner of foreigners. And, in particular, it has enjoyed close ties with the United States -- both as a country and a culture – and, indeed, with many Americans as residents since the time of the construction of the Canal over a century ago. As a consequence, the use of the English language is quite wide-spread – from the highest circles of business and government to the man in the street or the lady across the store counter.
On top of all these natural advantages, successive Panamanian governments have put in place an integrated package of policies aimed at making the country an even more attractive venue for foreign tourists and retirees. Residence requirements are easy and taxes are low. And seniors, in general, enjoy benefits that include generous discounts on a wide range of items – from hotel accommodations, at restaurants and various other forms of entertainment, through dental and eye care and medical prescriptions – to transportation and closing costs on real estate purchases. Indeed, tourists (2.2 million of whom visited Panama last year) are offered free medical insurance for the duration of their stay (up to a month). In addition, the country has forged a very business-friendly environment that – combined with long-standing use of the US dollar as Panama’s local currency and one of the most dynamic, best located economies in the world – facilitate the participation of resident foreigners in entrepreneurial and/or investment activities, locally and world-wide, should they choose to do so. As a result, Panama has been recognized by an increasingly long list of prestigious international publications – including the New York Times, International Living and AARP The Magazine– as one of the world’s very best places to visit or retire.
In summary, both the world and Panama have evolved dramatically over the course of recent decades. And these changes have significantly affected the way that Americans are coming to think about their retirement years. We at the Panama Tourist Authority believe that one very strong trend already in evidence will be an ever more significant number of Americans coming to the conclusion that they should seriously explore overseas retirement options. And it is our intention to make certain that Panama merits their most favorable consideration.
About the author
Mr. Orillac is the Vice Minister of Tourism of Panama. With over twelve years experience in the tourism sector, his main purpose at the Tourism Board is to increase Panama’s economic development through tourism management.
He is the Former Director of the Panama Chamber of Commerce and Industry, as well as the President of Panama’s Tour Operators Association. He is also a Former Director of Panama Tourism Chamber and the Conventions and Visitors Bureau.
Providing leadership in services to ensure the sustainability of tourism in different regions of Panama, as well as implementing pathways to promote excellency in tourism activities, Vice Minister Ernesto Orillac outstands as one of the leading actors in Panama’s tourism industry.