Healthcare Is Cheaper in Panama – REALLY?

You will often see statements such as “YOU CAN LIVE BETTER FOR LESS IN PANAMA!” and “Healthcare is cheaper in Panama”. I just saw one of these statements in another blog I read.

I know that statements like those will be a huge incentives for many to take the leap and move to Panama.

I will examine both of those statements from my perspective. For “You can live better for less” to be true, you have to identify what “living better” means to you. It is a very subjective thing and the more money you have the more likely the statement is true. If I had enough money, I could enjoy living almost anywhere.

Living in Panama has provided Lilliam and I the opportunity to take several cruises, visit more places in Europe than I had visited prior to moving here, and splurge on some technology that I might not have been able to buy had I been living in the U.S.

However, does that mean I I am living better for less in Panama? Some of the real enjoyment came from being outside of Panama! Some of my technology doesn’t work to its fullest in Panama because the the technology infrastructure in Panama is not always reliable.

It is cheaper to have maids, gardeners, and general service help. However, I have had maids break items that were family keepsakes that cannot be replaced. I have had workmen steal more than what I paid them for their work. I have known many people to go through several maids before they found a good one. If you have a maid leave that was unhappy, you may find yourself talking to the local office of the Ministry of Labor.

Maids are also one of the best sources of thefts. They have boyfriends and husbands and friends and if they talk about what you have in your house, the word will eventually get to those that might want to relieve you of your belongings.

You should also know when you have a person come to repair something they most likely won’t have the tools to do the job. If the job requires a ladder, you better have a ladder. If it requires a drill, you better have a drill.

If your gardner uses your mower, you better hope he has experience with mowers and not just machetes.

I do not know anyplace in Panama that does not suffer water or electricity outages. Some places it’s excessive. You will not be warned by the individual selling the property. Some places may only have water pressure a few time a week, or early in the morning. Having a reserve tank is almost a requirement in many places in Panama.

It may not be due to a lack of water but to poor maintenance of the PVC tubes bringing water from the source. If a line is broke it may be days, weeks or months to get repaired. When we lived in the third floor apartment, it would sometimes take an extra day for water to reach our floor following an outage just to get sufficient pressure.

Since most water is heated using instant heaters, if you don’t have sufficient water pressure, you will not get hot water. This may be another reason to have a reserves tank and a pressure pump for your residence.

Depending on where you live, power and water outages may be longer than in other areas.

You can go to a movie in David for around $1.80 as a retiree. A bargain. However, you cannot compare the quality of the theater in David to one in Dallas. I have better sound in my house than in any theater in David and no longer go to movies. It was a source of great entertainment in the U.S.

However, it is much cheaper than the U.S., so if measure your enjoyment by the price and not the poor sound quality, then you will think it is great.

These are just a few examples. I could write many more pages of comparisons, but the bottom line is that whether you feel you are living better for less will be based on your view of the world. Not the author of some book.

Lets switch to healthcare being cheaper. If you have a new Yugo and a new Buick priced in front of you, I can guarantee that the Yugo would be cheaper. Would that make it better? That probably isn’t a fair comparison, but I want to get your attention.

If I have a minor cold or infection, I can get treatment for a $6 walk-in cost. I coudnn’t do that in the U.S. Office visits to a specialist will be from $40-$50. Still a bargain.

I think drugs are a little more expensive in Panama, even taking my 20% Jubilado discount into consideration. Then there is the fact that many medicines are not available in Panama. If you are dependent on some specific drugs, you better check the availability before moving.

I think it is a bad idea to move to Panama without an insurance plan.

I am not saying there are no qualified doctors or in Panama. There are. However, whether they fit your needs depends on whether you can pay for them. If your insurance runs out you may be shipped to the public hospital. If you don’t have insurance to start with, you may have to go to the public hospital to start with. Before you say you have no problem going to the public hospital, go visit one.

They do a great job with the staffing they have and what they have to work with, but it is your opinion of your needs that is important. If you don’t use part of your time checking out Panama to visit the hospitals, you will not be as informed as you should be.

The fellow I look after, who is living in Hogar Santa Catalina, gets outstanding care and it could not be matched in similar places I have seen in the U.S. for the price. He has a 24 hour nursing care and doctors that visit. I would say, he probably pays about a 1/3 what he would in the U.S.

However, I have been told by Panamanians that places like Hogar Santa Catalina are few and far between and that nothing in Panama City can touch it.

So I can point to some things that are better and cheaper and some that are not. Any healthcare is good if it takes care of the problem and you can pay for it. The differences in cost are relative and if you get well, and have money left, then that may be all that matters.

I will say that I have gone to doctors in Panama and they have spent a large amount of time with me, never rushing the visit for the next patient. That has been much better than my experience in the U.S.

Some things can’t be done in Panama. I have a good friend that was diagnosed for a tumor behind his eye. The Panama doctor said he would be better off going to Colombia to have it checked. He did and the tumor was removed in Colombia without the loss of his eye, to which he had resigned himself. He raves about the hospital care in Colombia and said it was orders of magnitude cheaper and better than had he gone to the U.S.

Healthcare is something that the individual has to plan on doing his own research to verify that the best treatment is given for the money. The days of trusting your doctor’s opinion on what to do are past.

Of all the things that may affect your enjoying Panama or not, your health will be the most influential. If you feel well, you can put up with most things that are less than perfect. If you don’t, you won’t. Do not move to Panama if you are in bad health or haven’t had a recent physical evaluation.

Beware of all absolute statements implying Panama is the best. Best, Better, Worse, Worst are all relative. Again I say, only your opinion counts.

20 thoughts on “Healthcare Is Cheaper in Panama – REALLY?

  1. It’s cheaper for me in the US. I have Medicare and Tricare for Life, neither of which work in Panama, so I have to pay additional premiums for coverage in Panama. I am fortunate in having AXA coverage, but in the US I wouldn’t pay for most care and medicines. Here I have a co-pay in addition to the monthly premiums.

  2. I find the healthcare here to be great. We decided NOT to get health insurance and so far it has paid off. We have been here for 8 years. Insurance would have cost us over $8000 by this time. I had a stroke and have a brain tumor now. I stayed in Chiriqui Hospital with the ultimate care, with a cardiologist and neurologist that checked on me at least twice a day. The nurses were great. I was in for a week for $3200. No way would I have had the care or compassion that I had here in the US. I have an inoperable brain tumor between my eyes. My neurologist confided in surgeons from, Brazil, John Hopkins and Europe. All looked at my MRI and said not to operate… far so good. When the time comes I will get radiation. But, until then…I have the utmost faith in all my doctors.

  3. I forgot to say that I am on a lot of medication and the cost here is much less than my co-pays were in the states,

  4. Thanks for taking the time to leave a comment Karen. Unfortunately I have had all to many experiences dealing with gringos that have been sent to the Regional Hospital after running out of money in Hospital Chiriqui.Like I said, all healthcare is good if it keeps you alive and you still have money afterwards. Like most things, all milage may vary,

  5. Don, in reality all of the stories are anecdotal. Each person has their own experiences, you have seen more than most because of your role as warden. My experiences in Panama have be excellent including in the Social Security Clinic in Boquete.

    If someone ends up in Regional you are the person who said they need a Spanish speaking Angel, no question about that. The very fact that there is a very low cost option like Regional makes Panama better than what an uninsured person might get in the US.

    I do agree people here are smarter to have some insurance if they can afford it, if not the options are there and most Panamanians who are on Seguro Social use those same facilities.

    As to living here, I have been here only 8 years and the only thing that would drag be back north is if I do need to use Medicare for a major medical expense.

  6. Don Ray hit the nail on the head when talking about services. Labor is cheaper, but you have to find people you can trust or risk getting ripped off. Another thing to remember, is that Panamanian standards of doing things don’t always match up with American stantards, e.g.; construction work, automotive service.

  7. Honestly, money is not everything. I picked Panama because the healthcare is available, the exchange rate is 1 to 1, and for the most part you can drink the water (depending where you live.) I decided to stay in Panama because I love the scenery, the people, the weather in Boquete, and because I am not thrilled with the USA any longer. After everything is said, who wants to live in a country with a dictator who is communist and is busy destroying the country. Not me.

  8. We are from Europe and find daily cost of living, compared with Germany, much more expensive here in Panama. But the sun is free and warm here. People are friendly etc etc. All in all, we prefer Panama and we donot even consider returning to the crisis-area called Europe.

  9. Medicare is a cost that costs everyone. The best thing is to stay healthy.
    With the many fruits and medicinal plants, it helps to know what plant is
    for what ailment and so far in the 18yrs that I have been in Panama I have
    been to a clinic only 3 times, with each visit costing 5dlrs.

    Yes everyone is different, and will correspond to the medical needs that
    are necessary.

    I am here in Panama to stay and with me having learned the language
    It has certainly has helped me a lot .

    OK I cheated as my wife is Panamanian.

  10. I spent 26 years moving around the world while I was in the US Air Force. In all my travels, I always found good things in any given country were always countered with the bad or ugly things. Life is what YOU make it. There will always be those things you absolutely love about the place as well as the negatives. Enjoy the good, adapt and overcome on the rest. Enjoy life, breathe the air and have fun……it´s a one trip and there is NO going back to re-live your life.

  11. This is a very good post, Don Ray, in my opinion. Most people who say they are happy with the cost of healthcare here have not experienced a major illness or injury. It can add up quickly in those situations. I feel that good medical insurance is a must.

  12. I’m not certain what a major injury is, but I took a bad fall and broke my hip. It required a total hip replacement. It was done here at Mae Lewis in David. The cost was 1/5th of the cost of just the hospital alone for 5 days in FL and that was for EVERYTHING including surgeons, all surgical personnel, 2 trips in the ambulance, x-rays, medications, hospital double room. I couldn’t have asked for anything better except maybe the food. lol

  13. Don, an excellent post- remember the ability to get back to the US for extreme care is only a few hundred bucks and 3.5 hours into Houston- in my case the wife had a kidney transplant here in Texas- cost? 270,000, of which I paid zero…thanks AETNA. The Texas transplant clinic in San Antonio Texas is world renown and sees quiet a few Panamanians and Columbians…my wife is 20 feels years younger- jazzercise twice a day – but like you said depending on your situation – Panama medical care fits great for certain issues and not others- we suggest you keep all options that are affordable open! Dave

  14. You are a very wise man, Don Ray. From my Panamanian viewpoint, I agree with everything you said. Jaime

  15. This is a great post, especially for those you are considering retiring there, like us 🙂

    I agree, for those who have never lived out of the country the best thing to do is go with the flow. What we have always found is that in any place outside the US you will always find things that are not done as well or as efficiently as in the US, but you will also find many things which are done better.

    We spent 3 months last year in Thailand (which is aaaaamazing) and there where so many many things that initially struck us as odd but you very quickly adapt and it all seem normal and wonderful 🙂 Then as you really settle in you find yourself saying ” How come we don’t do it like this in the US.

    Like many, for us healthcare is the big issue. We are not on Medicare yet but do have Obamacare which works great. Our plan is to use our daughters address in the US as our primary residence and get our us health insurance through Obamacare and then BCBS for Panama. The reality is we will get most of our medical care in Panama but have coverage in the US for anything really major

  16. I read LOTS of blogs about Panama. My bride was born there and we have lived in the USA and visited family in Panama for 44 years together. We love visiting Panama but living there full time does not interest my bride. Now that we have grandkids living close, they are our focus.

    I read comments from folks who have lived around the world while working for some organization. Those experiences are valuable but not the same as retiring to a foreign location. While working, you always have some lifeline. When retiring, your lifelines are very limited which explains the popularity of places like Boquete and other expat concentrations in Mexico, Costa Rica, etc. IF you need lifelines, those are good choices but you will be surrounded by fellow expats and insulated from the best that the country has to offer. And as the adage says, “misery loves company”, so the reports you get from those areas will probably be biased.

    Of all the blogs I read, I value Don Ray’s postings above all others. He is the only US warden I know of who actually provides a service to expats. He has zero agenda in his postings: no real estate to sell, no revenue from ad space, no kickbacks from butcher/baker/candle-stick-makers, no subscription charges.

    jim and nena
    fort worth, tx

  17. Thanks for your excellent article and for promoting the benefit for Howard Hill. Although healthcare is often less expensive for our family in the U.S., we are much healthier in Panamá, so it more than evens out. We’ve received nothing less than EXCELLENT care here, in David and Boquete, over the past 17 years. One thing’s for sure: you must proactively network to successfully live in Latin America. Also, attitude REALLY matters.

  18. Love this post. First off, yes health care can and will be an issue at some time. For minor things, Panama cannot be beat in Price, $5.00 vs $60.00 plus in the states. My doctors here have all been trained in the states, New England Medical and Harvard, so I really have no issues with that. But you do have to shop around for a doctor that fits your needs. If something requires extensive medical, well either insurance, a good thing to have, or you can always fly back to the states for treatment.

    Now as far as carpentry, mechanical, electrical, Don you are so right. lol But I have learned you just go with the flow and learn how to change that bulb in the toilet or drill your own hole in the Wall. Just the way it is.

    I have been here 12 years now and cant ever imagine moving back to the states. The advantages are numerous, if you can deal with the lack of quickness, the mañana mentality, which I have. Life is good here, it is what you make of it. Loving life in Panama

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