Belize vs Panama Real Estate: Which Location is Right for You?

in March 14, 2019

Many North American retirees are increasing buying real estate in Central America with the goal of living in a tropical paradise with a lower cost of living than the United States. With their close proximity to the U.S, rise in modern amenities, affordable real estate, safety, and cultural diversity, Belize and Panama are quickly becoming the top choices for expat retirees to call home. When exploring the benefits and cons of Belize vs Panama real estate, both countries are desirable destinations, but their differences come down to personal preference while figuring out which is the better fit for you.

What to Consider When Buying International Real Estate

Buying a home in a foreign country is vastly different than buying real estate in the U.S. Not only are the laws different, there are so many more factors to consider before you commit to a real estate investment in another country.

For starters, there’s the language barrier. Learning and speaking a second language can become a huge burden for most people. Also, the cost of living is an important consideration because you’ll want to live somewhere that you can not only comfortably afford the lifestyle you’re used to, but you’ll want to assure that your monthly income will take you further ahead, not behind. Your lifestyle also plays a significant role in your buying decision, considering if you’d like to have beachfront property, live in a high-rise building in an urban city, or escape to a home in a rural area. Also, a country’s healthcare system and shopping options can likely affect your real estate choices as well.

Living in Panama vs Belize

When choosing between Belize vs Panama real estate, both have their advantages and challenges. With both countries, you can enjoy ideal year-round weather, easy accessibility with many direct flights to major U.S. cities, governments which welcome foreign money, and attractive retirement programs for its residents. Let’s take a more in-depth look at Belize and Panama and compare what each has to offer American retirees and expats.

As Belize was previously under British rule, it kept English as its national language when it received independence in 1981. This makes Belize a more natural transition than Panama, as all Belizeans are fluent in English, and all street signs, restaurant menus, and official documents are in English. Although many people in Panama have a good command of the English language, the country’s official language is Spanish, and outside of Panama City, you’ll find that fewer people speak English.

Another similarity between Belize and Panama is that they both accept US dollars. Therefore, you don’t have to exchange currencies while in either country. Belize and Panama both have their own currencies – called the Belize dollar and the Balboa, respectively. However, the Belize dollar is valued at half that of the US dollar, and the Balboa is the same value as the US dollar.  Therefore, US dollars are widely accepted in both countries, but US coins are not accepted in Belize.

Panama is a well-developed country with many first-world offerings. At the same time, you can live well in Panama for much less than most other first-world countries. Panama’s capital, Panama City, is a cosmopolitan city where rent for a small ocean-view condo starts at $1,500 a month and real estate costs are quickly appreciating. Development is strong along the Pacific Coast with a number of high-end hotels and residential projects continuing to pop up.

When it comes to lifestyle, Belize offers a more affordable, physically beautiful location without the over-developed feel. You can eat for less if you like the local foods. Also, if you’re interested in making a difference, there are many opportunities for giving back by getting involved with causes from saving the coral reef to children’s education. In comparing Belize vs Panama real estate, Belize is undoubtedly the better place to “get away from it all.”

The people of Belize are known for being friendly, welcoming and very relaxed. Belize has a much slower pace than Panama, and many expats embrace that when living here.  While Belize’s cost of living isn’t the lowest in Latin America, it is still very reasonable.  Many expats and retirees can afford to own beachfront property, as opposed to the rising costs of living on the beach in Panama.

Panama has one of the lowest crime rates in Central America, making it one of the safest places for retirees and residents. Belize has a higher crime rate, but the majority of serious crimes are limited to Belize City. Outside of the city, expats and tourists typically feel very safe.

Panama has highly developed medical care and well-trained physicians. Belize has an adequate health care system with several private clinics which are well-equipped to handle minor issues. For more serious health concerns and procedures, many expats in choose to receive care in neighboring countries or fly back to the U.S.

You can find several American-type grocery stores in Panama. These stores offer many American imported brands. In Belize, your shopping is limited to small shops, but it’s incredibly easy to hop over the border to Mexico, where you can shop at large supermarkets and department stores there.

Belize vs Panama Retirement Programs

Belize offers an attractive incentive for Northern American retirees to move to its country, called the Qualified Retirement Program (QRP). To qualify, you need to be at least 45 years old and live in Belize at least one month per year. You’ll need to have a monthly income of at least $2,000 or a yearly income of $24,000 from a pension or annuity (including Social Security), and this allows you to bring $15,000 worth of personal goods to Belize tax-free, and pay no Belizean taxes on any foreign-earned income.

Panama’s retirement program, called Pensionado, requires that individuals have an income of $1,000 per month (slightly more for couples) for life, to receive discounts on movies, hotels, doctors’ visits, electric bills, restaurants, prescriptions, and more. After qualifying, you can import $10,000 worth of household goods tax-free along with one tax-free vehicle, every other year.

Why Belize Presents a Unique Opportunity for Home Buyers

When comparing Belize vs. Panama real estate, it’s clear that there are some very distinct differences. Therefore, it really comes down to your preferred way of living. Most retirees have worked hard, putting in long hours and leading a fast-paced life for decades.

When it’s time to retire, a slower pace and more relaxed lifestyle are certainly welcome. If laidback living in a spectacular paradise setting is what you’re looking for, then Belize would definitely be the better fit.

Its geographical location also makes Belize more desirable over Panama. Belize is much closer to the U.S., which means shorter flights and more accessibility when traveling back to the U.S. and having friends and family come to Belize to visit you.

Also, Belize borders Mexico, which is very appealing to Belize expats, who appreciate the easy convenience of going to Mexico for health care and shopping needs. Panama is much further south, bordering South America.

The Best Place to Buy a Home in Belize

After reviewing Belize vs Panama real estate, you can now see why Belize may be the better match for you. Now, you’re probably wondering where to buy a home in Belize.

If you are looking for luxury comforts and modern amenities combined with the tranquil paradise setting of Belize, then Orchid Bay would be your top choice. It’s located in Northern Belize on the Bay of Chetumal, which is a sheltered inlet on the Caribbean Sea’s clear blue waters. Homeowners at Orchid Bay take in sensational views, cooling breezes, and an endless array of activities to choose from.

Whether you want to live in Belize full-time or part-time and rent out your home to offset the cost of ownership, Orchid Bay is a secure real estate investment that can be enjoyed by you and your family for years to come, while creating lasting memories against the stunning backdrop of Belize.

Contact us today to explore all the benefits of home ownership at Orchid Bay.


By Chris Williams

CEO of Legacy Global Development, an international real estate development company that owns and operates Orchid Bay, Belize.