Plan B: Offshore Retreats, by Phil J.

Little has been written in SurvivalBlog about moving one’s wealth and family off shore in planning for a US currency collapse. I can share a few insights since my wife and I have done this as a backup plan. (Plan B).

The whole story is a little more complicated and too long for a blog post, but through a five year search and good fortune we ended up buying a ocean front Condo in Panama about 80 kilometers west of the canal.  We took the plunge in December 2005. We bought at “pre-construction”, and took possession of our place in October 2009.  We have spent the last two winter seasons there and love Panama. As a lifelong Prepper I had many questions about how this would work as a retreat location and safe haven for our family. If you have considered getting out while you can here is what we have learned so far. 


Panama was run by the USA for the better part of the last 100 years. For a Latin American country the roads, water and infrastructure all work and remain in good repair. If you are looking for a little USA away, it’s great place.

The drinking water in 90% of the country in good to excellent, no additional treatment required. Our area has abundant water as does most of the country. The canal is fed 100% by rain water (240 inches per year in the rain forest). The canal is also the second largest employer and revenue producer in the country after banking.

The country is about the same land mass as South Carolina and has a population for only 3.3 million, including all us ex-pats. The economy is growing at 6% and very stable.

Food: is abundant and amazingly inexpensive compared to US prices. We keep our budget under control by buying where the locals shop and eating what the locals eat. I bought Beef filet (mignon) for $3.25 per/pound last week. From the same hole in the wall butcher I get my Pollo (chicken) for .99 cent per pound. They grow everything and fresh fruit and veggies are available year round, cheap. As we tell our visitors, if you want to eat like you’re at home, it will cost about the same as home, if you eat local it will cost about a third. Our place is located in a small fishing village, and fresh fish and shrimp are available every morning. Most of the fish cost $1 a pound. For those that care, beer is cheaper that soft drinks (.40 cents) and good wines from Chile and Argentina run $4 to $7 per bottle. Food is a fraction of the cost and abundant. In the time we have been there we have seen food inflation start to show up but it’s more in the cost of imports than local foods.

Power/utilities: This season we had very few power outages, in 2010 we had several that lasted a day or so, this year it was not much of an issue. As far as I know all power is produced from fossil fuels imported from our friends in Venezuela. One would think that with all the rain Panama has that hydroelectric power would be huge, but all the water goes to powering the canal.

Electricity is more costly (at .42 cents per kilowatt-hour) if we use air conditioning a lot we can spend $250 a month. We pay $38 per month for cable television and Internet. The service for those has been excellent. We use Magic Jack to stay in touch, we love our Magic Jack and it is our primary phone number where ever we are. For $20 per year it is the best communication value going. We can call any phone in North America at no cost. Water cost runs $6 per month average.

Taxes: One of the big pluses for Panama is the tax situation, to attract Baby Boomers to retire here they forgive all property taxes for up to twenty years on the house or condo, the only tax paid is the land tax, $54 per year in our case. There is not an income tax in place at this time.

Health Care: This last year my wife and I joined a group health care plan through our church in Panama (non-denominational English speaking) for $1,200 per year. It is better coverage than the plan we have from my employer in the US. Also visitors to Panama all get free healthcare for any emergency service for thirty days while in country. Every Doctor we have met is US or Canadian trained, care is very good.

Banking: When we first learned of Panama we were glad that they use the US dollar, it was a big advantage to us when we bought and at the closing of our property in 2009. However now with the failure of the dollar just around the corner, I have many concerns and have questioned several insiders in Panama. They claim to have in place a plan to move to the Balboa, Panama’s trade currency. The banking system is very strict, and was one of the harder things for us to get established.

Goods & Services:  You can buy anything in Panama City, but there are stiff import tariffs on most home products, so expect to pay more for most consumer goods. We shipped all our goods in a 20 ft container in 2009. From Tennessee it cost us $4,700 USD. We moved in one day. Best money we spent.  You are allowed one container when you apply for the pensioner’s visa program in Panama. They allowed us to import these items with little or no duty. (Everything we sent down could have been bought in country).

Language: We were surprised to find that most of the people do not speak English. Even in Panama City. So that has been one of the biggest adjustments for us. We have learned enough to get by but it’s not pretty.

The things going for Panama go on and on, besides the best winter weather in the Northern Hemisphere, great people and a large conservative ex-pat community…..the people of Panama have been welcoming, helpful and friendly.

Transportation: Rental cars are a rip-off. They require third party liability insurance from everyone @$13 per day. Gas is very expensive. @$4.56  There is no rail system but one has been suggested for Panama City. Buses go everywhere country wide and 90% of the people rely on them for their daily commute. Cars are expensive, new or used. And insurance is high for full coverage. An 8 year old SUV will run $15,000 to $20,000. The roads are getting better every day but right now there are only two bridges over the canal to serve the entire southern end (Pacific Coast) of the country. Traffic, especially in the mornings is extremely heavy.

Housing: In a real collapse situation I would not feel safe living in a high rise anywhere. The view and amenities are great but without power it could be a trap with little or no defense. A single family home in a gated community would have major advantages here. There are several communities in our area better suited to a survival situation than our beachfront location.

Language: After two years in this community I don’t feel that a foreign country, even one as “user friendly” as Panama would be a safe bet for White Bread Ex-pats who don’t know the system or how to deal, barter or trade in the culture. If we possessed the proper language skills I would say we could make it….maybe.

Banking: If a currency collapse happens our income from the good old US of A is going to dry up and we won’t be as welcome as when we had greenbacks to spread around. I would feel stronger about Panama as a first choice if they were on their own currency.  

Weapons: It is legal to own long guns, and hand guns require a permit. Ammo is expensive compared to the US. There is not the system for tort liability in Panama. We have learned that Panamanians are responsible for their own safety and conduct, and injury related suits just don’t happen. The US had a large military presence for 70+ years and many nationals served in some arm of the US military so most of the national population is armed.

Security: It is difficult to tell where the Police and Army start and end. There are numerous road blocks and check points that seem to have neither rhyme nor reason. Only one time have I been asked for an ID or Passport (Last Week). At most “stops” the Anglos are waved through without question. Would this be the case in a TEOTWAWKI situation? I don’t want to find out. As a general rule we feel very safe, very low crime, and no violent crime to speak of against ex-pats.

With, health care, low cost of living and stabile Government I give Panama 8.5 out of 10, as a place to live and retire. Will it work in a SHTF situation? Yes, perhaps