Panama emerges as real estate hot spot

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 27 April, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 27 April, 2011, 12:00am

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The trouble with retirement, it's been said, is that you never get a day off. But imagine if every day were like a Sunday: no alarm clock, no deadlines, no daily commute.

Whether you dream of retiring early, late, or not at all, planning for it should at least factor into one's working career.

For some of us, the high cost of living in cities such as Hong Kong means moving abroad is worth considering. Where your money goes further, housing is cheaper and, preferably, the sun is shining.

Panama ticks those boxes, which is why the South American country ranks highly on the property hot-spot scale, particularly among retirees.

In '10 exotic retirement spots for 2011', the Australian website money.msn.com tempts readers.

'Central and South America offer the unbeatable combination of warm weather and inexpensive real estate,' it says, citing a United States news report. 'And for old world charm, you'll always have Paris.'

Panama misses out on the super affordable category attributed to places such as Chiang Mai, in Thailand, and Cuenca, in Ecuador, but at 'moderately affordable', it comes a close second. Specifically, the areas of Las Tablas, Boquete and Panama City are mentioned. 'Other places in the country can be affordable, but the cost of living and real estate prices in the capital and other more developed parts of the country have risen so much that I wouldn't include Panama on a list of bargain havens,' the report's author wrote.

However, it also noted that Panama City 'has the best infrastructure in all of Central America'.

Boomers Abroad, a site for post- second world war 'baby boomers' - the group now at or near retirement age - lists Panama as one of the best places in the world for retirees today.

'It has low-cost living and near perfect weather.' But there's more. 'Panama has the world's best discount programmes for retirees, with up to 30 per cent off everything, from public transportation to movies, mortgage rates, doctor's visits, electricity, restaurants and airfares,' it says.

The site claims newcomers who buy or build a new house 'won't owe any property taxes for 20 years'.

Also, 'residents pay no taxes on foreign earned income'. It adds that with its diverse climate, Panama offers 'something for every retiree'.

Modern Maturity magazine, with more than 20 million subscribers globally, once voted Boquete, Panama, as the fourth best retirement destination in the world. International Living has rated Panama even higher on its list at No1.

Officially, foreigners are welcomed. The government site businesspanama.com outlines a world of deep sea fishing, palm-fringed beaches, tropical rainforests and 'the friendliest people you could ever meet', before revealing its trump card.

'The best fact is that it is affordable. There are many financial incentives for retirement. If you are looking for a second home or retirement, then Panama should be at the top of your list.'

Panama offers retirees 10 per cent off prescription medicines, 20 per cent off doctor's visits and 15 per cent off dental and optometry services.

You also get 30 per cent off bus, boat and train fares, and 25 per cent off airfares and restaurants.

If economic fundamentals appeal more than cheap reading glasses, consider this report from internationalpropertydirectory.com. 'Panama is a renowned international business centre and a high traffic transit country - high levels of Panamanian trade are mainly from the Col?n Free Trade Zone, the largest free trade zone in the western hemisphere.'

It adds that Panama's strategic location, tax exemptions, low cost of living, tropical and highland climates and investment incentives have all added to the continuing interest in the Panamanian real estate market.

'Apart from existing demand, future developments may be helped by such factors as the planned extension of the Panama Canal: Panama Canal II.'

Clive Phillips, a British-based broker who sells property in Panama, says US$250,000 in Balboa currency, which is linked to the US dollar, gets you 'a great house in a fantastic area with lakes and wonderful views'. Located in Brisas de Los Lagos, it's five minutes from la Chorrera, 'which has everything anyone could need, is eight minutes from a major GBP100 million [HK$1.28 billion] hospital, 15 minutes from the coast, and 30 minutes from Panama City'.

Phillips, owner of the agency Property in Panama, is so enamoured he has bought there himself.