Is Panama a better retirement haven than Ecuador?
My search for the ideal beach home in Latin America continues (I'll have an update for you tomorrow). Meantime, I want to share with you my answer to the question above, which I'm often asked.
Spanish is the official language of both countries, but English is more widely spoken in Panama (in fact, Panama is much like the United States in many ways). English speakers in Ecuador are uncommon outside the tourist or international business areas.
Both countries have good medical care, but I'd say Panama has the edge, at least in Panama City and David.
Panama has superior infrastructure--better roads and First-World construction standards for its buildings. Many of Ecuador's roads are poorly maintained, and construction methods are inconsistent. (Panama is quite orderly and well regulated, while Ecuador is a bit like the "Wild West.")
Most expats in Ecuador live in the Sierra, and enjoy what I think is the world's best weather. You'll typically find temperatures of approximately 75 degrees Fahrenheit during the day, and in the low 60s at night, year-round. Humidity is low, the sun shines most every day, and homes do not need heat or air conditioning. Most of Panama, on the other hand, is hot and humid all year, with high rainfall. If you don't like heat and humidity, you need to consider the cost of air conditioning.
Another advantage Ecuador has is its diversity, both geographically and culturally. Ecuador has the Andean Sierra, the Pacific Coast, the Amazon Rainforest, and the Galapagos Islands. Plus, 28 indigenous groups are present in today's culture--you'll find plenty of colorful Indian markets.
Real estate prices are significantly lower in Ecuador than in Panama, as is the cost of living.
Most North Americans experience less culture shock in Panama than in Ecuador, so the transition to Panama is easier.
Why did I choose Ecuador? Number one has to be the weather, closely followed by the cost of living. Plus, on a more intangible level, I wasn't looking for a country similar to home, and preferred the distinct culture I found in Ecuador.