Thank you Akaisha and Billy Kaderli of www.RetireEarlyLifestyle.com for publishing an interview with Jackie Lange of PanamaRelocationTours.com
On our visit to Boquete, Panama, we met up with Jackie Lange of Panama Relocation Tours. Jackie was generous with both her time and her knowledge of Panama and we knew instantly that we wanted to do an interview with her to share her view of Panama with our Readers. If you ever thought of moving to Panama, you will enjoy this informative interview.
Jackie in the garden of her home outside Boquete, Panama
Can you tell us a little about yourself?
Prior to moving to Panama, I was a successful real estate investor for 20 years. I also do online training for real estate investors and I’ve written several books about real estate investing. In Panama, quite by accident, I started a relocation tour company. I live just outside of Boquete, Panama on a small organic coffee farm. I like to stay busy (and diversified), so I dabble in a few other ventures too.
When did you move to Boquete, and why?
I moved to Boquete 5 years ago because I was fed up with the heat and cold in Texas — and high utility bills that go with Texas weather. I was looking for a place where I would never need an air conditioner or heater again. The fresh air is amazing in Boquete. And it is a breath of fresh air to get away from all the political tension in the US. I moved to Panama with 2 suitcases and a cat.
Jackie’s tour bus and a sample tour group
We understand that you do Panama Relocation Tours, the name of your company. What do you focus on with your clients? What makes your tours different than others?
After my first visit to Panama, I knew this was where I wanted to move. I told my real estate investor friends that I was moving to Panama, and within a few weeks I had 8 people who said they wanted to come to Panama with me the next time I came so they could check it out too. So, I arranged for a bus and a driver and planned a 7-day tour of Panama. A few weeks after that tour, I started getting calls or emails from others who wanted to take my Panama tour. Little did I know that that first tour with friends would turn in to Panama Relocation Tours company which does monthly tours for those who are considering retiring in Panama.
Panama Relocation Tours focuses on educating people about how to make the transition to an expat lifestyle with ease. During the tour, we travel to 10-12 towns where I discuss the pros and cons of each area. We also meet with expats who live in each location. We visit grocery stores, hospitals, pharmacies, check out furniture stores, PriceSmart (like a Costco), and see rental properties. I educate people about how to get a visa, driver’s license, how to bring household goods and pets in to the country, buy a car, find rentals, and much more. Panama is a small country but it has a lot of diversity so it is important to see more than just one area before picking a place to move.
Most tours of Panama are focused on selling real estate. I do not do that. In fact, I encourage all my tour clients to rent for at least a year before they even think about buying. For most retirees, it makes no sense to buy anything. You have much more flexibility to travel if you do not own a house. It can be very liberating to downsize and not own a house.
Panoramic view of Boquete nestled in the mountains
Why move to Panama? Boquete? What benefits or options does Panama offer that one cannot get in another foreign country?
I actually spent almost two years researching and visiting other countries before I picked Panama. Panama has a stable government and economy which was especially appealing considering what’s going on in the United States. Panama has very little debt and no military. Panama has many different income sources so they do not tax residents on a lot of things. The Panamanian people are the nicest I have met in any country.
Some other major benefits to living in Panama are that it is close to the United States so my friends and family can fly to Panama in about 3-4 hours.
Panama offers the best retiree benefits of any country. Some examples are 25% off airfare, even internationally. 20% off meals at a restaurant, 15% off meals at a fast food restaurant, 50% off entertainment like movies, 10% off prescriptions, etc. There is even a special line at the bank for retirees.
Even without the retiree discounts, most things are much more affordable in Panama. My electric bill is about $25 a month. My water bill is $60 a year… yes year and that includes trash collection! My house insurance is only $147 a year. Tuna caught this morning is only $3.50 a pound. The list of savings goes on and on.
If you do buy a house or condo, most come with 15-20 year property tax exemption. No taxes!
Panama has a 365 day growing season so there are always fresh fruits and vegetables and fresh fish from two Oceans. Panama is much more affordable than living in Texas.
Boquete is at 3500 feet where the weather is much cooler than the coast. Thousands of expats live in the Boquete District. There are a many social activities including live music 3-4 nights a week. Boquete is in a valley surrounded by mountains. The scenery is just spectacular. Many people tell me Boquete reminds them of Aspen without the snow.
Can one obtain a Panama passport and still retain their U.S. Citizenship? And what are the qualifications to apply?
Yes, you can obtain a Panama passport and to qualify for a Panama passport, you must have a Permanent Resident Visa for at least 5 years. This can be a Pensionado visa, Friendly Nations Visa or any of the other Visa’s offered by Panama. Once you meet the 5 year test, you fill out an application to apply for citizenship and a passport. You will need to take a test about Panama’s history.
I know many expats who have proudly obtained their Panama passport and citizenship.
Panama does not require that you give up other passports once you obtain a Panama passport.
What are the benefits of having a second passport?
When you have a second passport, you can use it to travel to other countries. You can also renounce your US citizenship so you don’t have to report your worldwide income or report offshore bank accounts to the US government.
One of the many gardens at a restaurant in town
What is the medical care like in Boquete? In the rest of Panama?
In Boquete, we have some excellent doctors who charge $10 for a routine doctor visit. There is also a small hospital. You can walk in to any laboratory to order your own blood tests without a doctor’s prescription.
There are many specialist and large hospitals in David which is about 30 minutes South of Boquete. For major medical problems, most people go to Panama City where the Johns Hopkins affiliate hospital Punta Pacifica is located. I’ve had two eye surgeries in Panama and was very pleased with the quality of the hospital and the doctor. Luckily, my international health insurance paid for the surgeries.
Dental care is also excellent in Panama. The dentist does the cleaning, not an assistant. It is $25 to $40 to get your teeth cleaned, and the work is very thorough. The equipment is top of the line and their offices are spotless.
Panama doctors spend time getting to know their patients. There is more of a personal touch.
Being a US resident living out of the country, the Affordable Care Act creates some issues. What do you do about health insurance?
There are many health insurance options in Panama. Some insurance only covers you in Panama. You can also get international health insurance which covers you at any hospital or doctor in the world. I have international health insurance. I pay $2100 a year and have a $1000 deductible for any services done outside of Panama. In Panama, I have no deductible. My insurance is through United Healthcare. To qualify for international health insurance, you must live outside of your home country at least 6 months of the year.
Retired or disabled Veterans from the US military get free medical care in Panama and free prescriptions.
We understand that there is no door-to-door mail service in Panama. How does one receive their mail? What about Amazon deliveries?
It is true that there is no door-to-door mail delivery service in Panama, but there is a post office in every town with post office boxes. You can have mail sent “general delivery” to any of the post offices. Or, you can use a mail forwarding company who will give you a mailing address in Florida. All Amazon orders or other mail is shipped to Florida then flown to Panama. When my mail arrives, I get an email to pick up at the mail forwarder office. The great benefit of no door-to-door mail delivery is no junk mail.
For in-country mail, there are several private courier services. I can mail a letter to my attorney in Panama City for 50 cents, and it will be there the next day. She has to go to the courier’s office to pick it up.
Can a person be car-free in Boquete, or must one own a car to live there?
If you live close to a city, you can easily be car free. A taxi or bus is readily available and affordable. A bus from Boquete to David, about 30 minutes south, is only $1.75. An 8 hour bus ride from far western Panama to Panama City is only $15. In Panama City, Uber.com is also available or you can take the subway.
If you live 5 miles outside of town, like I do, then you really need a car. A used car will cost about the same in Panama as the United States. Car insurance is very affordable. I pay $245 a year for car insurance.
The Caldera River runs through Boquete
What would a comfortable, 1200 sq. ft. house for two cost?
I highly recommend that people rent for at least a year before they even consider buying property. There are many different microclimates in Panama so you need to make sure you like living in Panama and the weather in a particular location before making a purchase.
You may want to try one place in Panama for 3-6 months then try a different location for a while. Renting will give you the flexibility to move.
I paid $127,000 for my 1100sf house on about an acre just outside of Boquete. A friend recently purchased a 1200sf house on a residential lot closer to Boquete for $65,000. In the Coronado or Panama City area, you’ll pay two to three times that price. In other areas, the prices would be much cheaper.
The prices vary greatly depending on where you live in Panama.
Is Panama a stable place to relocate? Is crime an issue?
It is impossible to move somewhere that has no crime. There is crime in Panama but mostly in Panama City, Colon or David, the 3 largest cities. Much of the crime that happens in other areas would be considered petty crime or crime of opportunity. If you leave your purse in the front seat of your car with the window rolled down, then go in to a restaurant to pick up a to-go order, the chances are that your purse will not be there when you return.
Occasionally a house is broken in to and valuables are stolen. This is usually traced back to a new maid who saw pretty things while working in your house. You need to put cameras, jewelry and other valuables away when a maid is in your house. And always get a lot of recommendations for maids before hiring one.
Could someone live in Panama on their Social Security payments of about $1200 per person?
Yes, many people live in Panama on $1200 a month Social Security. The minimum requirement to get a Pensionado visa is $1000 a month for one person and $1250 for two people. A lady from my January tour moved to Boquete in February. Her Social Security check is only $1200 a month. She is renting a very nice 1 bedroom house in a gated community for $425. She walks or takes a taxi instead of owning a car. She buys her produce at the farmer’s market where she can get 2 large bags of fresh vegetables for about $5. She even has money left over at the end of the month. She lives a very good life in Panama on less than $1200 per month.
Do you have connections with respectable lawyers and accountants in Boquete in case new residents need them?
There are good lawyers in Boquete but I really recommend working with an attorney in Panama City because most everything has to go to a government office in Panama City anyway. The Boquete attorney will charge extra for the trip to Panama City. There are excellent accountants in Boquete, David and Panama City. I have reliable connections for lawyers and accountants.
What type of person would you say is the best fit to relocate to Panama or Boquete?
If someone wants Panama to be just like the United States, Canada or Europe, then they will be sorely disappointed. The person who adjusts best to an expat lifestyle in Panama is someone who is willing to accept Panama for what it is and who can embrace change by experiencing a new culture and new environment. Be willing to ask questions. Get involved in local activities and charities so you can meet people and feel like part of the community. Be an adventurer. Explore.
The person who will not make it in Panama is the person who stays home glued to TV with news from back home. You need to be able to leave that all behind you. You can’t do anything about it anyway.
If someone wants to contact you for a tour or to ask you questions, how would they get a hold of you? Do you have a website or email address?
My tour company website is www.PanamaRelocationTours.com. You can contact me on my website.
Thanks for the opportunity to do the interview. I really enjoyed meeting you while you were in Boquete.
We at Retire Early Lifestyle would like to thank Jackie for taking her time to share her expertise about Panama with our Readers. We encourage you to contact Jackie if you have any questions about Panama or if you are interested in relocating to this country for your retirement destination.
Thank you Jackie!
For more stories, photos and information about Panama, click here