PANAMA CITY – Sandra Snyder first arrived in Panama City 12 years ago, when she and her husband, David Wilson, got into their sailboat and sailed south from San Francisco, California, to cross the canal and head up the eastern coast.
Panama wasn’t their final destination, rather a means to get there. They had lived in Mexico for a while, and Wilson was interested in looking at Guatemala.
“At that time, I had no idea where Panama was,” Snyder admits.
But what the couple found here intrigued them. In addition to being a transit country cut in half by a canal, Snyder and Wilson discovered Panama to be an international crossroads of cultures, a lively and thriving city that Snyder qualifies as “the most social place in the world.”
So the two threw anchor, rented a highrise apartment overlooking PanamaBay, and decided to call this southernmost Central American country their new home.
In the decade that followed, Snyder has become a bit of an expert on living and retiring in Panama. She served for several years as president of the newcomers association, has helped numerous corporate families relocate to Panama over the years, and has become a regular speaker and consultant at newcomer-events held by the U.S. Embassy.
Snyder also shares her expertise on Panama in her newly rewritten second edition of her relocation and retirement guide, “Living in Panama,” released earlier this month.
Her book, a 360-page self-published guide, is full of handy information for any retiree or snowbird who is looking to Panama as a potential place for relocation or investment. In addition to good general overview information, the guide also details Panama’s very generous retirement benefits, such as 25% off restaurants, 25% off airline tickets, 30-50% off hotels, 25% off utilities and further discounts on medical visits and prescription drugs.
“For much of its 101-year history, Panama has attracted immigrants, workers and visitors from all over the world, so it is no surprise that it is becoming a retirement destination,” Snyder writes. “While Panama is a delightful place to live the year-round, many people spend only a part of the year here, perhaps the dry season, and the rest of the year in another location. The availability of apartments in secure high-rises in all sizes and types makes Panama ideal for this kind of retirement situation.”
But the country’s massive development and growth boom in past years has been a double-edge sword for Panama – something that Snyder is quick to point out.
Standing on her balcony overlooking the city and the Bay of Panama, Snyder can count five new high-rise buildings under construction.
“That is the destruction of the city coming up with all those cranes,” she says. “If you look out my back window, you can see just as many buildings going up there.”
And though real estate values have increased substantially here in recent years, the shear volume of new apartment buildings that are being built has many people wondering if their will be enough buyers to fill all those rooms. Empresas Bern, the city’s largest developer, has built 7,000 high-rise apartment units in the last 28 years, with several additional buildings under way.
According to Century 21 Semusa Realty in Panama City, 100 new high-rise apartment projects – including the tallest building ever to be constructed in Latin America – have already been approved in pre-construction.
The development frenzy has folks like Snyder worried that a lack of urban planning is already starting to put serious strains on the city’s water and sewage infrastructure.
“The reality here is superficial,” she says. “It looks like a modern city, but without infrastructure and with no zoning.”
She adds, “This doesn’t feel like a place to invest. Traditionally, Panama apartments don’t have much resale value.”
Even realtors in Panama City admit that the property-price bubble won’t last long, and that appreciating real estate costs shouldn’t be the number one reason to lure foreigners to Panama.
So then why live in Panama? Easy, Snyder says. Panama City is a lively and vibrant cosmopolitan city, with great restaurants, lots of art galleries, museums, theaters and social clubs. It’s also got some great natural attractions, such as beaches and mountains, many less than a day’s drive from the city.
Another major attraction is the country’s world-class banking and health-care services, its dollarized economy and the relatively affordable cost of living. It’s also got some of the best shopping in the region, making Panama the new Miami for weekend shopping trips.
Oh yeah, and there’s the canal, which guarantees the country will continue to draw tons of money and investment in the years to come, especially now that the 12-year, $5.2 billion canal expansion project has been approved.
“Panama is a nice place; it’s a fun place to live,” Snyder said. “But it’s not for everybody. I always tell people to come and spend some time here before moving here. It’s a place where you will experience some of the most extreme highs and extreme lows of your life, and often in the same day.”
“Living in Panama” is available through Amazon.com, at select locations in Panama or by visiting www.liveinpanama.net.