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The Pros and Cons of Retiring to Central America

by Bill Ness on 4 Comments

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Though the climate and landscape varies from one country to the next, all of Central America is considered to have a tropical climate. There is essentially no winter season, and temperatures stay relatively constant year-round.

Advancements in travel and communication technology has made it easier than ever for retirees to relocate while still staying close with family and friends. For many Baby Boomers, this opens the door toward a more exotic — yet affordable — retirement outside of the country in regions such as Central America.

Retiring abroad is appealing for many reasons, and Central America certainly has a lot to recommend it. By plane, the region is not far from the United States, and many Central American countries have growing enclaves of international retirees. This makes it easy for expatriates to gather together, learn from each other and easily transition into life in a new country.

The region boasts several tropical countries: Belize, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama. Each country has its own distinct culture, climate and lifestyle, so it may help to visit several locations before choosing a Central American country to call home. Different countries and cities have been popular with retirees over the years, but the current trend seems to have Costa Rica, Panama and Nicaragua emerging as international retiree hot spots.

Though the climate and landscape varies from one country to the next, all of Central America is considered to have a tropical climate. There is essentially no winter season, and temperatures stay relatively constant year-round. Though some areas, such as Costa Rica, have distinct wet and dry seasons. Depending on the region, average daytime temperatures may be in the low 80s or up to the high 80s and low 90s.

Choosing a home in Central America doesn’t necessarily mean living on a beach or beside a lush jungle. There are plenty of cities where retirees can enjoy a more urban retirement while still being in close proximity to the region’s more exotic offerings. This diversity gives relocating retirees many options for building the lifestyle they desire.

Of course, affordable living is one of the main reasons why Americans choose to retire to Central America. The cost of living can vary widely from one country to the next, but there are many locations where retirees can live quite comfortably for a fraction of the cost of staying in the United States. In addition to having affordable housing and daily living expenses, other necessities like quality healthcare are also comfortably priced.

Yet retiring to Central America is not for everyone. As with any retirement location, there are certain drawbacks that should always be considered before making the move. In Central America, crime is a common concern and in some places that fear is justified. Street gangs and drug trade are a problem in certain areas, so it is important to understand the risks before choosing a retirement destination.

There are many cultural differences which may not appeal to some Americans. English is the official language in Belize, and it is understood in many other Central American countries, but Spanish and a variety of native languages are spoken more commonly throughout the region. Learning a second language may be a fun part of the adventure for some, but it may leave other retirees feeling homesick.

Though Central America is developing, it does not yet have many of the conveniences that Americans are used to having in the United States. For example, public bathrooms are not always readily available and when they are, there’s often a fee to use one. Relocating retirees should also be aware of the risks of contaminated drinking water or contracting diseases such as malaria while in Central America.

While affordable living is an attractive benefit of Central America, the cost of living in many popular areas is on the rise. As the countries in this region continue to develop and attract new residents and businesses, it will only become more expensive to live in the area.

As with choosing any retirement destination, it’s important to find out as much as possible before relocating. Visit an area during different times of the year and talk to others who have moved to the region to get a wider perspective. Central America may be a retirement paradise to some, while others would prefer to just visit.

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4 comments

  1. Bill wrote an overall excellent article on the pros and cons of living in Central America but he did leave a couple of things out.

    Nearly everyone in C.A. has maids and helpers in their homes for cooking, gardening, handyman work, etc. and it usually costs very little to hire these people. That is a nice perk.

    However, one BIG aspect that he did not mention is the often UNBEARABLE humidity!!! I know this from experience since I have relatives in Panama and this type of humidity is MUCH worse than the humidity in this country!!! Something to consider, also, when it comes to weather.

    Like Bill wisely said, do your research, visit areas in different times of the year, and talk to Americans who already live there.

    I do have many concerns about the crime problems, especially when it comes to drugs. All of us know how dangerous Mexico is when it comes to the drug cartels and the violent deaths happening daily. Do NOT think that other countries are free from all this and my guess is that all this will get worse before getting better. Another very important thing to consider.

    In conclusion, I will pay more for living in this country and the USA does have pros and cons (but all countries do!). However, I feel more secure in many ways living here and you cannot put a price on that.

  2. Most reports and most articles about living in Panama are 100% false and misleading. These false and misleading reports were all written by senile, dimwitted brain dead people, & real estate agents.
    The Panama people are generally very friendly! The Super Huge Big Negatives to living in Panama are:
    Panama is SUPER Small, SUPER Boring & Very ugly every where and very Non Scenic in 90% of all Panama locations. The mountain valleys are scenic, but are way out in no where, where no one speakes English and there is exactly nothing to do in those high mountain valleys, unless you are into growing bananas or sweet potatoes! The Pacific coastal towns all have Super Ugly beaches with RIP Tides! Only a senile, dimwitted, brain dead fool would retire to Panama and attempt to live. Bouquet offers exactly nothing to see or do and offers no fun or enjoyable daily or weekly activities! Just a 100% boring little city way out in no where land! Panama city is super expensive and super boring, unless you love heat and humidity and mosquitos with malaria! Panama now requires all foreign residents to qualify for a Panama bank account and follow their Panama bank SCAM requirements that dropped down out of a Panama water buffalos rectal cavity. Also it is 100% impossible to socialize in any latin country unless you speak Spanish fluently! Belize is a latin public sewer rat country with public sewer rat laws, with the second highest murder rate/crime rate in all of latin America! Avoid Belize as you would avoid a latin bus station public toilet, unless you like to toss your used toilet paper into a trash can next to the public toilet with all the other used toilet paper. Most sewer lines in latin America were designed and built by complete latin American brain dead morons and that is why the public sewers don’t accept toilet paper and most rivers and lakes are full of raw sewage since there are no Ecology laws in most of latin America! Yes! Avoid living any where in latin America today, like you would avoid a bus station public toilet in latin America!
    Be a Tourist in latin America , here today and gone tomorrow!

    1. Hi Mary Jane,

      I’m sorry you had a bad experience in Panama. I’ve been living here more than SIX years and have had the exact opposite experience. Maybe it is because I live in Boquete. Or maybe it is just because I enjoy living in a country with incredible natural beauty which does not tax and regulate you to death like the United States.

      It’s true that Panama is a small country with only about 4,000,000 people. I see that as a positive not a negative.
      Boquete, in the mountains, and Coronado, at the beach, each have about 4,000 to 5,000 expats living there. For this reason, English is widely spoken in both of these areas. At the bank, restaurants, tour guides, etc. all speak English. There are 100,000s of expats in Panama City.

      Even though I have lived here more than 6 years, I’m just not good at learning foreign languages so I know very little Spanish but I get by just find because English is spoken in many places. Even tech support for most services has an English option. The Panamanian people are so friendly, they will bend over backwards to help with communications.

      As for things to do, this week in Boquete the choices are:
      Hiking on many trails
      Golf at 3 different courses
      Tennis at 2 different locations
      Card games – from bridge to poker – there are 6 different card games
      Cooking classes
      white water rafting
      Chocolate making classes
      painting classes ( 3 different kind of painting classes)
      art show at the library
      classical music concert
      horse back riding
      Dancing on Thursday, Friday and Saturday to LIVE music at 5 places
      yoga classes
      Thai Chi classes
      Pilattes
      5 gyms in town
      multiple charites to get involved in
      whale watching and island tours
      1 hour drive from my house to Pacific ocean for a day trip
      3 hour drive from my house to Caribbean Sea/Bocas for weekend
      the list goes on and on

      Maybe that is not enough stuff to entertain you Mary Jane, but for most people their calendar would be FULL every day.
      You are WRONG about the requirement to open a bank account. ONLY if you get the Friendly Nations visa are you required to open a bank account with $5000 in it. The day you get your visa, you can close the account and spend the money. Note that with the Friendly Nations Visa you do not have to prove any income like the Pensionado Visa and you also get a lot of discounts like 25% off airfare, 50% off entertainment like movie theater or sports events, 25% off utility costs, 20% off restaurants, etc etc etc.

      A savings account at a bank in Panama earns 1.5 to 2.5% – with no CD. Much better than banks in the US

      If you get a Pensionado Visa, or any of the 15 other visas, you are NOT required to open a bank account. You do have to prove a $1000 lifetime income (like Social Security) for the pensionado visa.

      You can live in Panama as a tourist and NOT get a Visa but you will need to leave the country for 3 days every 6 months. Most people drive the 1-2 hours to Costa Rica during that time. (it’s a tough life)

      One of the things I like best about living in Boquete Panama is that I do not need an air conditioner because it is 75-78 every day. I can have my windows open for FRESH CLEAN AIR. This was impossible in the United States. The water is Panama is chemical free – also impossible in the United States.

      I have access to fresh organic fruits and vegetables at really reasonable prices in Panama. This certainly makes for a healthier lifestyle.

      I save a lot of money living in Panama compared to what it cost to live in Texas

      It is true that some hotels or restaurants request that you do not flush your toilet paper. (I do it anyway). The reason is not because the sewers cannot handle it. The reason is because most places have a septic tank and they have to get it cleaned out more often when everyone flushes a lot of paper products. Luckily, the Panama government is in the process of installing sewer lines throughout the country so the need for septic tanks will soon go away.

      The only area that I think is unscenic is the Azuero peninsula… it is ugly in my opinion .. but some people love living there. The rest of the country is amazingly beautiful. See this video

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JLATT3oJCt4

      Looks darn good to me. But Panama and it’s natural beauty is not for everyone. Some people, I’m guessing Mary Jane, would prefer to live in a crowded congested city in the United States.

      Expats who live in Panama are some of the smartest people I have ever met. This video is an interview with some

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IugRHHOgUZk

      Panama is not for everyone but it is attracting the RIGHT people who appreciate the lifestyle, beauty and laid back lifestyle.

      1. Hi Jackie, can you tell me if there is any kind of dog or cat or animal rescue group in Boquete? I want to do volunteer work in a shelter when I retire and I am considering Panama. thanks, Luann

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