Enjoying a Car-Free, Vibrant Lifestyle in Panama City

Names: Deborah Jenkin and Ricardo Blank
Ages: 60 and 65
From: Wisconsin, U.S., and Chile
Living in: Panama City

In bustling Panama City, tropical heat and First-World comfort collide. Palm trees rustle in the ocean breeze. Gleaming towers and the warm Pacific make for a scintillating skyline. On every corner, outdoor seating beckons, as if to say, “Sit and enjoy the sunshine.”

Any cuisine, any cocktail…just ask and you’ll be pointed in the right direction. Deborah Jenkin, 60, and her husband Ricardo, 65, do just that. They chose the city because it suits their carefree, car-free lifestyle. And they love nothing better than exploring…

“We like not having a car and living in the center of town. We walk to restaurants, shopping malls, movies…we really enjoy the city life here,” they say.

“We looked for an apartment with a downtown address, so it would be easy to walk everywhere. We chose the San Francisco sector because it’s the heart of downtown. Panama’s centro isn’t too big…we’re close to everything that we need. We walk it every day and we stay in shape.”

Ricardo and Debbie walk to the Bodega Mi Amiga wine, beer, and spirits shop in two minutes…to the park in five minutes…and to the upscale Riba Smith supermarket in 12 minutes. When they need to go a bit farther, they use the metro—just 35 cents a ride—or ride-share apps like Uber.

Originally from Wisconsin, Debbie lived for many years with her husband Ricardo in Geneva. “I’m from Chile, though I left at age 18,” says Ricardo. “But my family is mostly in Europe, so it was important to find a place with easy flight connections.”

With non-stop flights to Frankfurt, Paris, Amsterdam, and more, Panama emerged as a major contender.

The couple moved in August 2017, and they haven’t looked back.

“In Panama we have met very nice people, some through the synagogue and others through Internations networking events. I’m taking a German course at the German cultural center, and I’ve also met people there. It’s all been fun,” Debbie says.

Another plus is Panama’s relatively low cost of living. “It’s a fraction, compared to the U.S.,” says Debbie. Her German classes—three hours a week—cost $80 a month. She and Ricardo have a maid who charges $30 for a full day of cleaning.

The couple rents a three-bedroom condo of over 2,700 square feet for $2,000 a month. The rental price includes utilities.

Additionally, they spend about $16 a month on a cell phone and $36 on high-speed internet. And though they eat out a lot, it’s rarely pricey…

“I’d say we have about 50 restaurants within walking distance,” says Ricardo. “We love Niko’s, a Greek-Panamanian chain.”

At Niko’s, Debbie gets roasted chicken and Ricardo opts for local fish dishes.

With vegetables, salad, and soft drinks, they pay a total of about $13. That’s thanks to government-mandated resident retiree discounts on everything from restaurant meals to travel, medical care, and entertainment.

Even weekend jaunts out of town are affordable. “We’ve been to the Caribbean region of Portobelo and are planning visits to the mountain town of El Valle and the Bijao beach resort just outside Coronado. With our retiree discounts, the bus rides will only cost us $3 to $4 per person,” they say. Inter-city buses are comfortable and air-conditioned.

And resident retirees in Panama are entitled to hotel room discounts of 30% to 50%.

“We are really looking forward to exploring more. There are so many things to do, so many places to go…we worked very hard to get here, and now we want to enjoy Panama.”