Panama is physically larger than Costa Rica with 75,420 square meters of land as opposed to Costa Rica’s 51,100 square meters, but they are both small countries. Costa Rica has more population with 4,755,234 people vs. Panama’s 3,608,431 which makes it a little more dense. Their main cities, San Jose in Costa Rica and Panama City in Panama, are close in population with 1.515 million residents in San Jose and 1.426 million in Panama City. Panama City is the business center of Central America and is much more developed than the capital of Costa Rica. Source
Panama's Unparalleled Pensioned Program
In 1987, Panama’s government introduced the Pensionado Program. To this day, it’s one of the world’s most popular retiree residence programs, with the most appealing benefits you’ll find anywhere in the world today. Not only does it allow pensioner expats to live in Panama for as long as they like (I heard on our recent trip that this recently changed to 90 days), but it also entitles members—or pensionados—to a wide range of money-saving discounts.
Pensionados in Panama get 10-50% off on everything from hospital visits to entertainment to travel…including flights back home from Panama! Even your restaurant meals are cheaper when you’re a member.
here's the rest of what you can get if you move to Panama
Costa Rica's Benefit Program:
In the past, the vast majority of tourists and persons seeking to retire in Costa Rica were much older than they are now. Back then, there was only the famous pensionado plan (now defunct) designed to attract retirees from the States. The requirements were minimal and had many benefits, including free car import provisions and even a special license plate for pensionados.
But then, beginning in the late 80’s, the typical tourist changed to include a somewhat younger and more energetic age group, many of which were looking for a residency situation that included investing in business ventures and more eventual retirement. These persons were true pioneers. They pushed forward the frontiers of tourism throughout Costa Rica, and especially in areas that were heretofore relatively undeveloped.
Now, of course, there is a great multiplicity of persons wanting to obtain residency here for a diversity of reasons, and for some the first question is how to make a living here. Others want to know about the best places to live in retirement. The answer for both: it depends.
For the former, it depends on their qualifying for legal residency. For the latter, usually persons with pensions qualifying them for residency, it depends on how big their pension — read “fixed income” — is. If it is more than $2,500 a month, they can lead a reasonably middle class existence in Costa Rica without counting pennies; if it is closer to the average Social Security pension of $1,000, then the big question becomes HOW and then WHERE to live. SourceSo, with that being said, we had a wonderful time in Panama and although the cost of living is significantly less than here in Costa Rica, we found one HUGE difference that made all the difference for us, and that was the PEOPLE! The Pura Vida spirit we have come to love was totally missing in Panama. It may not be that all the people in Panama are unfriendly but that is the impression we were left with. In the stores, the restaurants and even meeting people on the streets, there was not a feeling that anyone really wanted to help you or answer any questions. It was like you were intruding and unwelcome. On several occasions we asked questions and were met with blank stares and then an answer of "no", right after which, they quickly turned their backs on us and went back to what they were doing.
It's just the opposite here in Costa Rica. The people are friendly and welcoming. When we walk down the street everyone who drives by us waves. People have gone out of their way to help us by answering questions, finding people who spoke English (when we could not communicate in Spanish) and even physically taken us to places when we did not know how or where to go to find something. No kidding, this happens all the time!
I did not hear "con mucho gusto" one time in Panama (meaning "with pleasure" and a term I have gotten very used to hearing). In Costa Rica it is said a million times a day.
We'll stick with Costa Rica - because money isn't everything!