If full-fledged city living is what you're looking for in retirement, Panama City is the only place in Central America that qualifies. It's the only true cosmopolitan choice in the region. Compact as it is, however, Panama City is not one choice, but many.
This is a city of diverse neighborhoods, each offering a different lifestyle. Historic Casco Viejo, with its brick-lined streets and colonial architecture, appeals to the romantic. Punta Pacifica is a brand new enclave of waterfront high-rise towers that could as easily be in Miami. San Francisco is the established home of Panama City's most established families. Clayton and Costa del Este are appealing "suburban" choices, each situated just outside Panama City proper.
However, the most appealing neighborhood in Panama City for would-be retirees is in the heart of downtown: El Cangrejo. This is home to a fast-growing community of expats and foreign retirees who recognize and appreciate the unique quality of life on offer on what is arguably the most comfortable, convenient and affordable downtown Panama City experience.
In El Cangrejo, almost everything you need for day-to-day living is within walking distance, including a big U.S.-style grocery store, Pricesmart (Central America's Costco) and a weekend farmers' market across from the Iglesia del Carmen. In addition, this neighborhood is home to Panama City's best selection of restaurants, cafes and bars, as well as the Clinica Einstein, where top-notch health care is available six days a week, no appointment required. Panama City's Johns Hopkins-affiliated Hospital Punta Pacifica is also a 10-minute taxi ride away.
And El Cangrejo is about to become even more convenient, thanks to the new metro that Panama City is investing in. Two of this city's 16 metro stations will be in El Cangrejo. New apartment towers just steps from these new metro stations are coming online, and new residents attracted to the increasingly convenient urban lifestyle of the neighborhood are already filling them up. Entrepreneurs of all descriptions including franchisers and restaurateurs are also moving in to tap into the expanding marketplace.
El Cangrejo is a multicultural neighborhood with an eclectic population. Your neighbor might be a Chilean artist, a Spanish musician, a Serbian entrepreneur, a corporate transplant from Canada, a young Panamanian bucking the tradition of living with his parents through his 20s or another nice retired couple from the United States.
The cost of living in Panama City is not as low as in other parts of Panama. It is possible to live in some small beach and mountain towns in this country on $1,200 per month or less. That was true in Panama City even five years ago, but it is not true today. Likewise, El Cangrejo is not the most affordable place to base yourself in Panama City. However, El Cangrejo is the best Panama City lifestyle you can buy for your retirement dollars. The quality of life you can enjoy here is comparable to the best of "city neighborhood" living anywhere in the U.S. The lifestyle is akin in many ways to living in some neighborhoods of New York City, but costs nothing like it would cost to live in any similarly appointed or culturally rich U.S. city.
At the high end of the scale, you could rent a three-bedroom apartment in a new building with a swimming pool, a full-time doorman, fantastic city views and U.S.-standard finishings and fixtures for about $1,300 per month. Or you could rent in an older building with less modern finishings and modest building amenities for as little as $800 per month. Compare that with the cost of renting even a very basic apartment in any interesting, bohemian neighborhood in Manhattan.
Kathleen Peddicord is the founder of the Live and Invest Overseas publishing group. With more than 28 years experience covering this beat, Kathleen reports daily on current opportunities for living, retiring, and investing overseas in her free e-letter. Her newest book, How To Buy Real Estate Overseas, published by Wiley & Sons, is the culmination of decades of personal experience living and investing around the world.