Healthcare & Insurance in Panama

I’ve been reading a couple posts on Don Ray Williams’ site, Chiriqui Chatter recently about healthcare and hospitals in Panama, and they’ve been the cause of nightmares for someone who’s seriously considering retiring in Panama in the not too distant future.

Here’s a link to one of his posts : This deserves a special post.

About Don: he is the current Warden for David for the U.S. Embassy in Panama City, and his site is full of well-informed and useful information.

Quoting Don:

“A Warden is a private U.S. citizen who volunteers to assist the American Citizen Services section in communicating with Americans in Panama, preparing for disasters and alerting Americans to emergency situations. Warden Systems provide a reliable way to reach American citizens in the event of an emergency as well as facilitate the distribution of routine administrative information. Wardens provide updates on ongoing events to Americans in their district and organizations and assist in the enrollment of newcomers in the Department of State’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) program. In emergencies, Wardens may be called upon to help locate missing Americans, or visit an American citizen in a jail or hospital.”

Given Don’s knowledge and experience, I worry indeed that I’ve somehow managed to acquire the impression that healthcare in Panama is affordable, and of a reliably high quality – an impression that Don’s posts (and his readers comments) are briskly consigning to the dust heap of fanciful illusions perhaps.

This calls for more independent research on the subject of healthcare and insurance in Panama. Anyone out there reading this, with reliable information to share – I would be most grateful.



15 thoughts on “Healthcare & Insurance in Panama

  1. Hi Wendy,
    Just came over to see how the blog rolls and to wish you good luck in your search for a landing place.

    Nena and I were married in the Canal Zone 45 years ago. Nena was born in Boquete and was working in Panama City when I met her. I was serving in the military and stationed on the Pacific side of the zone. I left the service in ’71 and we started life together in the USA. We have been returning to Panama yearly to visit family there.

    When I retired in 2009, I asked Nena about living full-time in Panama and she said no. She was fine with visiting whenever she wanted but her life was in the US. Living in Panama would never provide the quality of life that she has in the US, plus we have 4 grand kids now that we see every week.

    Panama has a long way to go to provide the kind of 24/7 services that are taken for granted in the US. Electrical power outages, erratic internet, spotty cellphone service, frequent water disruptions, zero 911, or police response are all problems that Chiriqui province has on at least a weekly basis. Healthcare beyond routine injuries is seriously hit and miss even with great healthcare coverage. Many websites have hyped Boquete especially as a retirement mecca when it is in truth just an ordinary mountain farming town with an annual flower festival.

    I love Panama for its people. The scenery can be spectacular. The climate in the mountains is a welcome relief from the heat of the coast. It is a great vacation spot to escape the fast pace of the US. But, vacations and retirement are two very different existences.

    The US has a vast variety of locations and many offer a much better retirement experience than anywhere overseas. We still visit Panama; we still love living in the US.
    jim and nena
    Fort Worth, TX

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Jim and Nena,
      Thanks for stopping by my blog, and thanks even more so for your feedback and insights offered on retirement in Panama.
      I’m beginning to find out, slowly, that everything you describe here is ‘spot on’ as the saying goes.
      I guess I was initially swayed by claims that one could retire comfortably in Panama on Social Security alone. Elation immediately set in and I saw what I thought was light at the end of the tunnel that represents a state of eternal drudgery to make ends meet.
      Thanks for the voice of reason.
      I believe I might visit Panama for a holiday, but it looks like I should keep looking at alternatives right here in my own country. Don’s posts were a wake up (fast) call, and your insights here have truly helped.
      I’ll keep posting things as I discover useful information, probably – perhaps my blog will help others in some way.
      In the meantime, I’ve been making ‘virtual ‘ friends in Panama through their blogs, and I’d love to meet them if my holiday plans materialize, in December.
      If you happen to be there then, I’d like to meet you too.
      Best Regards,


  2. Hi Wendy,

    Love how your blog is coming along!

    The subject of healthcare in Panama is an important one, and not to be taken lightly when planning a move down here. I think the best takeaways from Don Ray’s excellent site is that healthcare is definitely less expensive here and the quality of care can be very good, but there’s no free ride. It’s really important to have a strategy and an idea how to pay, should you need medical attention.

    It might help you to see how we approached the insurance question a little over a year ago, described in this blog post:

    We have a few years to go until we qualify for Medicare. Until then, our best option is to continue paying for international health insurance that also covers us in the states. Of course, those premiums go up every year as we age. In the meantime, we’re trying to live healthy lifestyles and keep ourselves out of trouble!


    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Susan – thanks for the encouragement- as well as your feedback on health insurance. I’ve been working on a follow-up blog post on which I’d like to include both the information you provided in the comments section to Don Ray’s post, as well as a link to your blog post you mention. I hope you won’t mind? It’s all very useful information- both to save for myself and to share with others, I do believe.

      I qualify for Medicare in November this year – which makes me 65 – which also makes me hit the cutoff age to qualify for, from what I’ve read elsewhere, most health insurance policies in Panama. I’d have to already be living there with a pensionado visa and under 65 were I to apply for one.

      So I’m doing plenty of rethinking. Will reach out to the contacts you provided to see what else I can learn that would be applicable to my situation.

      Cheers- and thanks,


  3. Absolutely, feel free to re-blog our post. We’d be honored!
    Here’s some more excellent input from another fellow blogger, Richard Dietrich.

    I think Medicare is a big key to all of this if you qualify. If you’re in reasonably good health, one strategy is to get stablized here and then go home and take advantage of your medicare for more extensive treatment. I think that’s the way a lot of older folks here approach health situations.

    It’s certainly a very individual problem, and everyone has their own individual approach.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. I think it is important to mention that R. Dietrich is a profit oriented blog, he sells books and tours on Panama although he spends half his time on cruise ships to further his revenue. He also has both his properties for sale on his website so making Panama sound good is in his best interest.

        One of the hardest tasks in researching anything is determining the reason behind the person’s posted facts. Some blogs are just about people posting experience for the folks back home, others are blatant attempts to sway folks into believing what they are selling, still others are simply folks wanting others like them to take the same path as they have in a “misery loves company” approach to making their lives better.

        One of the most important points to consider is to remember that your choices should be made with the LONG term in mind. Lots of places are fine for a few months, or years. Thinking in terms of decades makes for better decisions.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Hi Jim – thanks for your feedback and perspectives. You are so right. I’m very quickly becoming adept at determining what the fine (and sometimes fuzzy) line is between genuine information intended to inform, and the for-profit kind. It takes a lot of reading, some intelligence, and the ability to nourish and depend on one’s intuition. I’m learning fast. (And yes I’ve taken a look at Dietrich’s site and realized what his intent is, for the most part).
        I find it hard to reconcile the first hand horror stories on healthcare described in Don Ray’s blog with claims (to be found in numerous sites) that the quality of healthcare is very good. I’m sure that it very likely is for routine matters, but not always for the catastrophic events Don Ray describes.
        Thanks again for weighing in.


      3. Don Ray has had far more personal contact with medical events than any other norteamericano in Chiriqui. I have been reading his blog since he moved to Panama 13 or 14 years ago. His voluntary work as warden for the embassy is unlike any other warden in Panama; he is involved with people needing the embassy’s help usually as the result of illness or injury (and one of attempted homicide). Routine medical procedures are handled well at the private hospitals but the prices have been rising as greater numbers of gringos arrive. Private insurance is good, but expensive and you will not know if your case is covered until you actually need it.

        Nena has extended family in Chiriqui and they do well with the government healthcare. I did however wait for 5 hours in the waiting room with her mom a few years back just to get a cast off her wrist. She was in her ’80’s, the waiting room was not air conditioned, it was in the hot, dry season in David, and it was miserable. Being Panamanian, Mima just sat quietly and waited. Gringos almost never have that kind of patience.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Jim – thanks again for taking the time and trouble to provide additional feedback and valuable insights, as well as personal anecdotes. I can picture Mima sitting patiently in the heat of the waiting room waiting for her cast to be removed. At the same time I can conjure up, in my imagination, an impatient and angry Gringo sitting in another chair in the same waiting room, complaining and cursing loudly, and angrily about his plight. It’s a rare few who display patience – generally ones who have either travelled extensively or lived abroad and assimilated with the local culture.

    I’ve just recently started following Don Ray’s blog and, as you say, am certainly finding his posts very well informed and enlightening. I’ve taken note of the high costs of medical care at private hospitals (deposits required before admission, ranging from $10,000 to $30,000?) – not encouraging.

    PS on R. Dietrich – I hadn’t noticed he’d advertised both his properties for sale on his site (I must have visited very briefly, and it’s been about three months since, at least). Thanks for pointing this little fact out. I do know he promotes his books – I was introduced to his site and his book (the first one) via a plug from the Panama Relocation Tours site – and I almost got myself talked into signing up for one of their tours, but common sense and the habit of being uninclined to make quick decisions without first being fully informed prevailed.


  5. For health care, we have some money put aside for emergencies, and we are both insured in the US so would go back there for anything major. I’ll be eligible for medicare next year so I need to figure out the details on that.

    I haven’t had anything but dental work here – way more affordable and excellent quality work. We arrived with Joel’s mom and took her to a number of doctors and I was very impressed with the quality of care, the personal attention, the cost, the communication between doctors, and the results. Yes, costs are going up. They are everywhere. But, try going to a doctor in the US for $40-50, getting all the time you need, and leaving with their cell phone number.

    I’m a nurse so I’ve seen the US healthcare system from the inside and a lot of it isn’t pretty. I wasn’t willing to take a full time job where they own you so i never had insurance, so I didn’t even have access to the health care system that employed me. (now that I’m not working I’m quite poor by US standards, and thanks to Obama care I can get insurance). I am so thankful to be here! No it’s not perfect but for me, I feel good about the healthcare that is available here. I also have a great quality of life here, a big factor in staying healthy IMO.

    But, I’m healthy, take no medications, have no problems I need to manage. Someone who does have health conditions should research carefully what care and medications are available here, and at what cost. Some things are a lot cheaper in Panama but medications isn’t one of them.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes I’ve also heard (read) good things about the quality of health care inPanama – and also horror stories (though I’m sure there are also horror stories about the USA in that vein).
      I’m eligible for Medicare in November this year – and I can say this much: it’s a frightening confusing nightmare trying to navigate what is a real maze.


      1. Thanks Kris – anything I uncover on the Medicare thing I will certainly share with you. My big problem is that I will still be getting health insurance from work- so I have to pick and choose for everything beyond the basic part A – and all is not as simple as it should be.

        Liked by 1 person

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