Retire on Social Security in the Highlands of Panama

The average Social Security check or pension is only $1543. Even if your house is paid for, that’s does not leave much to live on in North America.

With inflation increasing the cost of just about everything, it’s becoming harder and harder for a retired person to survive.

So, you have two choices, keep working f-o-r-e-v-e r —

or, to retire in Panama where the cost of living is considerably less and you can live well on just your Social Security or pension.

Here are some examples of prices:

Fresh fruits and vegetables are at least 50% less in Panama. You can buy a huge pineapple for $1, get two papaya for $1, twelve bananas cost $1, fresh tuna just caught today is only $4 a pound, sea bass (called corvina) in about $2 a pound in Panama.

A routine doctor visit, without insurance, is $15 or $2 if you go to a public hospital. You don’t need a doctor’s prescription for most medications so that saves money, and time, too!

You really can live better for less in Panama.

Many people live well on just their Social Security or pension in Panama!

farmers market el valle
In Panama, you cell phone service will be about $30 and includes free international calls and free roaming in the United States and Canada. Internet service cost less in Panama too. If you’re renting, it’s usually included in your rent.

More Ways to Save

Panama offers discounts for retirees to help you save even more. Once you get a visa, you can get:

* 20% off at restaurants
* 25% discount on utilities
* half price to go to a movie (costs about $2)
* 25% discount on airfare to anywhere in the world
* plus discounts at the pharmacy and many other places.

Panama rolls out the red carpet for retirees. You only need to show a lifetime income of $1000 per month to qualify the a Pensionado Visa. You’ll need an additional $250 a month lifetime income if you’re married.

Another Way to Reduce Costs of Living in Panama

If you live at the coast, you’ll probably need air conditioning. Your electric bill could be $80 to $300 per month depending on the size of your house and how often you use air conditioning.

But you can drastically reduce your cost of living by living in the highlands of Panama where you don’t need an air conditioner. My average electric bill is $25 a month. If you’re renting in the highlands, your electricity is usually included in your rent.

Not needing an air conditioner will not only save you an average of $200 USD/month in Panama, but it also gives you cleaner air to breathe. So, let’s take a look at some of the best highland cities to retire to in Panama.


Volcán is a town and corregimiento in Tierras Altas District, Chiriquí Province, Panama. It’s the place that many say reminds them of Boquete 15-20 years ago.

Volcan has an altitude of about 4000 feet, with pleasant daytime temperatures in the mid to upper 70s.

volcan panama

Volcan has an abundance of natural beauty with rolling vistas and mountain views in the distance.

Volcan is a more rural mountain town; though it is growing in popularity quickly as many retirees feel they’ve been priced out of Boquete.

The population is about 15,000 people with an estimate of 1000 expats.

Prices in Volcan are much more affordable than Boquete, another highland town. A friend is renting a furnished two bedroom house for $450 with all utilities included.

Plus there is a new 24 hour hospital with an emergency room in Volcan. Volcan has several very nice grocery stores, doctors, dentists, pharmacies, and many excellent restaurants.

Everything you need is available in Volcan.

In Volcan you won’t find any gated communities, golf or tennis courts. Volcan has a much slower pace of life. There are still plenty of social activities which tend to focus on outdoor activities like hiking.

Rentals Volcan Panama

Just north of Volcan is Paso Ancho and Bambito which offers a completely different micro climate and feel than Volcan. Bambito is lush and green all year.

Volcan has a Friday Farmer’s Market which is frequented by expats. It’s a good place to get your organic produce, aquaponic products, home-baked goods, and crafts. The Friday Market is also a good place to meet other expats and Panamanians.

Volcan has several well stocked grocery stores. Or, it’s a 40 minute drive to David where you can go to PriceSmart ( like Cosco) to buy in bulk.

A furnished one bedroom rental in Volcan starts at about $350 with all utilities included. Or, you can get a nice furnished three bedroom two path home on a large property for about $700 per month.

Volcan offers a peaceful, country lifestyle.


There is estimated 4000 to 5000 expats in Boquete which has a population of about 30,000 people in town and 60,000 in the district. Boquete is home to the largest expat community outside of Panama City.

It only takes one visit to understand why Boquete is an expat magnet. The high altitude of 3500 – 5000 feet, and pleasant year-round weather in the mid-70s are only a small part of the picture. No air conditioner is needed here!

The expat community is very active in this little mountain town known as “The little town with the big heart”.

boquete panama

There is a weekly Tuesday Market, where everyone has a chance to buy from local vendors and catch up on current events.

Because there is a large expat community there are a lot of social activities in Boquete. There is live music at multiple venues several days a week. In addition, you’ll find card games, golf, tennis, and pickle ball. Boquete has weekly bingo, trivia and card games like Mexican Train. There are also art classes, yoga, meditation groups, cooking classes and more. The Boquete Community Players hosts a play or theater event several times a year.

Your social calendar can be as full as you want it to be in Boquete.

Even though Boquete is a small town, there are more 50 restaurants, some are owned by Celebrity Chefs so your food choices are amazing in Boquete. You can buy a nice meal for $5 a plate at a Panamanian restaurant or enjoy special occasion meal at a high-end restaurant for $15-$20 a meal.

Rental prices range from $200 for a furnished one bedroom to more than $2500 per month for a furnished house in a gated community… and everything in between.

My videographer is renting a nice furnished one bedroom house for $200 a month!

A simple, furnished two bedroom house will usually be about $500 to $800 a month and include electric, internet, cable TV, water, trash collection and a weekly gardener. See this $695 furnished two-bedroom below:

boquete rental 695

Boquete also has several high-end gated communities that include golf, tennis and pools. Rents in these areas start at about $1200 – $2200 a month for a furnished two-bedroom.

If you live in the city center, also known as Bajo Boquete, you can experience the highs to be around 80 degrees and the lows to be mid-60s. However, if you live on one of the hills for example Volcancito or Jaramillo, you can expect the weather to change because of a higher elevation. For example, in Volcancito (a neighborhood up in the hills of Boquete) tends to have drier weather with highs in the mid-70s.

If that’s too cold for you, travel south about 15 minutes to several popular highland towns with weather a bit warmer. The town of Caldera is at 2000 feet. Just before the town of Caldera there is a gated community called Boquete Canyon Village. And a little further South, at 1800 feet, is another gated community called Los Molinas which has single family houses and condos.

You have a lot or choices about where to live in the Boquete area. It it’s too hot or too cold in one area, just change your elevation to experience completely different weather.

Santa Fe

There has been a lot of hype in recent years about this tiny mountain town, Santa Fe. Santa Fe is a one hour-thirty minute drive along a scenic winding road above Santiago. It’s a bit isolated so it’s not a good choice for some.

The population of Santa Fe is about 3500 people with an estimated 50 expats. You’ll need to brush up on your Spanish since there is a very small expat community here.

The climate and natural surroundings are idyllic in Santa Fe. There are beautiful mountain vistas, streams and waterfalls.

santa fe waterfalls

Because Santa Fe is at only 1400 feet elevation, daytime temperatures will be in the mid to high 80s.

Surrounded by the Santa Fe National Park on three sides (72.636 hectares), rolling hills, and valleys in every direction, this quaint mountain town is rich with outdoor activities.

If you are looking for a place to “get away from it all”, this may be that place!

Sante Fe Panama

You have access to the basic necessities in few small stores called an MS (Mini Super). Plus there are a few small restaurants in Santa Fe. You’ll need to drive to Santiago for most shopping doctors, dentists, and hospitals.

There is a small public clinic in Santa Fe with limited resources. For emergency services, you would need to drive to a large hospital in Santiago.

El Valle de Anton

El Valle is about a 2-hour driver from Panama City. So, it’s a popular place for wealthy Panamanian families to have a weekend home to get away from the heat of Panama City. It’s popular with expats who prefer to have quick access to Panama City.

El Valle has a population of about 8,000 with an estimated 200 expats.

The town of El Valle de Anton is in the crater of an extinct volcano, surrounded by mountains and cloud forest. It’s the largest inhabited volcano crater in the world! But the volcano is extinct so you don’t need to worry about an eruption.

It’s elevation is just under 2000 feet so daytime temperatures are in the mid to upper 80s. With a nice breeze, you will not need an air conditioner.

El Valle has a daily farmer’s market which offers a variety of fruits, vegetable and plants. There are several excellent restaurants in town. And, there’s a new North American style grocery store in El Valle so you can buy what ever you need without driving to Coronado.

For doctors, dentists, a hospital, or a movie theater you’ll need to drive about 40 minutes to Coronado.

You’re only a 45 minute drive to a nice Pacific Ocean beach too!

My daughter lived in El Valle for a while. She rented a furnished two-bedroom house with amazing views for $650 a month.

The natural beauty, abundant birds, and other wildlife make this area a nature lovers paradise.

It is one of the few homes of the endangered Golden Frog. There are numerous hiking trails and waterfalls where you can take a dip if you desire. There are even hot springs where you could replenish your soul.

If you’re like a cooler weather town that is still close to Panama City and Tocumen International Airport, El Valle de Anton could be ideal.

Live Better For Less in Panama!

By living in the highlands of Panama, you can reduce your cost of living because you won’t need an air conditioner so your electric bill will be very low.

With Panama’s lower food costs and lower medical costs, you can live well on just your Social Security!

Jackie Lange

Jackie Lange is the founder of Panama Relocation Tours and lives in the highlands of Boquete Panama. She has helped thousands of people relocate to Panama.

Reader Interactions


  1. Danny Thomas says

    Sounds great but do you have to wear a mask ?!!

  2. Alicia de Quesada says

    Great information Jackie. We were there in a March tour and planning to go back at the end of this year for a month or two. We want to visit Bocas, Jaramillo, Volcancito, so probably we will take some private tours to decide where we want to move to.

    • Jackie Lange says

      A Private Tour is a great way to learn more about an area! Enjoy!

  3. Susan Bickel says

    Hi Jackie,
    I hope you are totally recovered. And thank you for this post about the higher elevations in Panama. I was on one of your May tours this year, and am hoping to return again in early 2021. My plan is to try to get some house sitting opportunities, so I can visit different areas and decide where I want to land. Thank you for all the work you have done to make it possible for me and others to retire in Panama, and create a new life filled with peace, joy, love and freedom.
    Susan Bickel

    • Jackie Lange says

      HI Susan

      Thanks for being on the May tour. Be sure to check out our private facebook group- that’s where we post house sitting opportunities

  4. Eddie Vargas says

    I will be in Panama City for a little over 3 weeks starting Feb. 19, then Bocas for three weeks, then 9 days in Bajo Boquete. I am interested in someone local to give me one of your day tours in Boquete so I can learn all
    I would need to do and where to go to get rolling on a pensionado visa.

    • Jackie Lange says

      HI Eddie

      We have exactly what you need. The Complete Panama Relocation Guide has information about relocating to Panama including a list of reliable immigration lawyers, tips for getting your visa FASTER, things yo must do before you rent in Panama, and much more. The Guide also has a list of Private Tour Guides in all the areas you will be visiting. See details at

  5. Edward Sage says

    Thank You Jackie for the Highland post, highlighting those area’s gave me an enriched understanding of where I want to tour when I take your Panama relocation tour.

    • Jackie Lange says

      HI Edward

      I’m glad you enjoyed the highland article!

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *