Affordable Retirement on the Beach

A waterfront property in this South American city costs just a few hundred dollars per month.

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If your lifelong dream has been to retire on the beach, here’s my strong recommendation to you right now: Take a look at Las Tablas, Panama.

Las Tablas is an unassuming town situated about midway down the eastern Pacific coast of Panama’s Azuero Peninsula. This stretch is emerging as a gold coast of sorts. But, right now, development is thin and prices are tempting.

[See 10 Places to Reinvent Your Life in Retirement .]

The cost of living in Las Tablas is low in general. Your total monthly cost of living could be as little as $1,400 to $1,600. Prices are affordable for a retired couple living a modest but comfortable life, including full-time help around the house and dinners out a couple of times a week, in a safe, charming, welcoming town by the beach. But what makes Las Tablas even more interesting is the cost of housing. In Las Tablas you can rent a quaint two-bedroom house by the water for as little as $300 to $500 monthly. That’s far more affordable than Panama City, which lies a few hours east and where a decent rental apartment will cost you $800 to $1,200 per month. Here’s a sample monthly budget to give you an idea:

  • Food: $300
  • Gas (for cooking): $5
  • Electricity: $100
  • Telephone: $30
  • Internet: $25
  • Cable TV: $30
  • Water: $10
  • Transportation: $150
  • Health Insurance: $150 (depending on your age)
  • Household Help (if you want it): $150
  • Entertainment: $100
  • Rent: $300 to $500
  • What makes the idea of retiring to Las Tablas almost irresistibly appealing is when you take a step back and remember the bigger picture. Panama is convenient to get to and from and just a few hours away from key points in the United States. It’s a travel hub for the Americas in general.

    Panama is also a tax haven. It is possible, depending on your personal circumstances, to reside in Panama and pay no taxes— not in Panama and not in your home country — without breaking any laws. But to do this you will need to get reliable help reviewing your tax situation. Panama uses the U.S. dollar as its currency. So, Americans have no exchange-rate concerns. Plus, the country offers a program of special benefits for senior residents, including discounts off everything from restaurant tabs to closing costs on the purchase of real estate.

    [Visit the U.S. News Retirement site for more planning ideas and advice.]

    Panama boasts the most developed infrastructure in the region. The U.S. military had a strong presence in this country for decades. While they were here they built highways, bridges, playgrounds, and gymnasiums. When they left, Panamanians expanded and improved upon them. The result is that Panama City is a locale without peer in Central America, in terms of infrastructure, shopping, services, amenities, and health care. There’s even a Johns Hopkins-affiliated hospital downtown.

    Panama enjoyed fast-tracked economic growth for several years leading up to the global recession. Over the past 24 months, while much of the rest of the world has been struggling, Panama’s growth has continued. The country recently enjoyed investment-status upgrades from Moody’s, Standard and Poor’s, and Fitch. Panama Canal revenues are up this year and the country’s economy continues to expand overall.

    [See 7 Affordable Places to Retire Abroad.]

    But those concerns will be far from your mind out on the beach in Las Tablas. The Pacific surf is crashing against the rocky coast, local boat captains are heading out for a day’s fishing, and a growing community of expats is settling in to savor the pleasures of super-affordable beach life, Panama-style.

    Kathleen Peddicord is the founder of the Live and Invest Overseas publishing group. With more than 25 years experience covering this beat, Kathleen reports daily on current opportunities for living, retiring, and investing overseas in her free e-letter. Her book, How To Retire Overseas—Everything You Need To Know To Live Well Abroad For Less, was recently released by Penguin Books.