Can I Live in Panama on my $1,059-a-month Social Security Check?


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An eternal optimist, Liu-Yue built two social enterprises to help make the world a better place. Liu-Yue co-founded Oxstones Investment Club a searchable content platform and business tools for knowledge sharing and financial education. also provides investors with direct access to U.S. commercial real estate opportunities and other alternative investments. In addition, Liu-Yue also co-founded Cute Brands a cause-oriented character brand management and brand licensing company that creates social awareness on global issues and societal challenges through character creations. Prior to his entrepreneurial endeavors, Liu-Yue worked as an Executive Associate at M&T Bank in the Structured Real Estate Finance Group where he worked with senior management on multiple bank-wide risk management projects. He also had a dual role as a commercial banker advising UHNWIs and family offices on investments, credit, and banking needs while focused on residential CRE, infrastructure development, and affordable housing projects. Prior to M&T, he held a number of positions in Latin American equities and bonds investment groups at SBC Warburg Dillon Read (Swiss Bank), OFFITBANK (the wealth management division of Wachovia Bank), and in small cap equities at Steinberg Priest Capital Management (family office). Liu-Yue has an MBA specializing in investment management and strategy from Georgetown University and a Bachelor of Science in Finance and Marketing from Stern School of Business at NYU. He also completed graduate studies in international management at the University of Oxford, Trinity College.

By Jessica Ramesch, International Living

To me $0.69 is a reasonable price for a pound of potatoes, but my dad has a different idea. “They’re half that at the market,” he says, “we’ll get the produce there.” He knows all about Panama’s best markets, where he can buy a rainbow assortment of fresh fruit and vegetables straight from the farmers.

Today the air at the market is heavy with the fragrant scent of mango. At $0.35 cents a pound, the colossal papayos are a steal. Another variety that’s much smaller and great for juicing is being sold in bags of 10 for $1…that’s only $0.10 each! The produce markets aren’t obscure or “secret” by any means…every local knows this is a smart way to save. The growing expat population is learning how inexpensive it is to live like a local, too.

I hear expats practicing Spanish at the city’s many bargain department stores…satiny couch cushions for $0.99 and groovy beaded lamps for $5.99 are hard to turn down. I see expats of all ages taking advantage of the super-inexpensive movies…$4 for regular tickets, half price for pensionados (retirees). And movies aren’t all pensionados pay less for. The retirees you meet here will tell you that they get 25% off their power bills, 20% off medical consults (even at the swankiest of hospitals), and much, much more.

In a recent e-mail, a U.S. reader asked me: “Can I live in Panama on my $1,059 a month social security check? I plan to buy a home so as not to pay rent, and I don’t need anyone to clean for me…I can do that myself.” The answer is yes. And I’m not talking about just eking by. I’m talking about living well, without having to sacrifice the things you love.

Maybe you want to join a gym…the Panama University gym charges $1 for each weight training session and $2 for aerobics classes. You can play 18 holes at Summit Golf & Resort for half what you’d pay in Miami…and here you’re not obligated to pay a membership fee. Swim at the Albrook pool for $2.50 or take a $10 round-trip ferry to Taboga Island (just 12 miles off the coast) for a day of snorkeling. I frequently attend movie festivals for as little as $4 and this week I saw a dance troupe from Moscow perform classical ballet on ice for just $15.

As for the cost of property in Panama, you’ll be impressed with the variety and value available here. I found a two-bedroom apartment in the convenient 12 de Octubre area of Panama City, on offer for just $60,000. It comes with a 14-year property tax exemption. Another two-bedroom apartment is listed for $61,000 on La Transistmica, one of the city’s main arteries.

And these apartments aren’t one-off lucky finds. I can’t guarantee these particular properties will be available when you’re reading this. But the point is that every month I find similar ads in the local papers or through my local contacts and resources.

And it’s not just in Panama City where you can live comfortably for less. If you’re a beach-lover, for instance, you’ve got plenty of options in this country. Coronado, on the Pacific, is the most popular with expats. It’s about an hour and a half by car from Panama City and its beach goes on for miles. You’ll find every convenience here, from supermarkets to restaurants to beach clubs. And there’s a new, state-of-the-art medical clinic as well.

But you can enjoy all those amenities—and pay much less—if you go about 20 minutes along the coast to Gorgona. A $70,000 home is for sale three minutes from the Gorgona beach. The eight-year-old home is just over 1,000 square feet and sits on a lot of about 6,500 square feet. If you’re not interested in buying, you can rent a fancy U.S.-style home with an ocean view for $1,600 a month…but why not go local? A Panamanian-style home—with a large patio that seems custom-made for hammocks—comes furnished for just $450 a month.

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