Old Folks in Panama

A pleasant surprise about the culture in Panama was the respect given to the older folks.

I’m from the USA and my profession is health care,. I’ve taken care of countless seniors and I’ve seen the general attitude that they are old, full of problems, needy, and no longer useful. Even people in their 50’s and 60’s have a hard time finding jobs, and their considerable experience, wisdom, and work ethic isn’t always respected.

We arrived in Panama with Joel’s mom (92 at the time), and immediately saw the respect in people’s eyes for her, and for us for taking care of her. There were greetings, pats on the shoulder, offers of seats, and any sort of help that could be offered. Much of it couldn’t be put into words but it certainly could be felt.

Lately, we have had a bunch of errands. One was getting our drivers licenses renewed and since Joel is over 70, a doctor had to sign off that he is physically and mentally fit. We walked into Hospital Chiriquí, made our needs known to  security guard who directed us to an internal medicine doctor. We were seen immediately, and after a short exam and $45, we left with the required document.

We went back to the drivers license office, which was nuts! They had been closed on Saturday, so the guard thought that all the Saturday people had now come in on Monday, and it didn’t help that some of the staff was off on lunch break. After over an hour waiting in line we made it to the desk for the first step. Then, we waited maybe two minutes for Joel’s name to be called by two people, one for his picture and vision test, and the other for the hearing test. Why so fast, when there were obviously quite a few others ahead of us? Because he’s jubilado (retired, and apparently because he’s over 70 since that didn’t happen with me and I’m 67). The picture/vison test lady got him first, and then the hearing test lady did her thing. He didn’t hear any of the high frequencies in the test and thought he couldn’t possibly have passed, but she said he was fine.

Then, time to pay. $16! (mine was $36, and a non-retired person is $40.25) That took only a minute, and then his license was ready only a couple minutes later. So, even though the place was packed and the line was outside the door, once we got through the initial line the waiting time was almost nothing. And, while we were waiting a young guy got up and gave me his seat like it was the most normal thing in the world.

I also had to go to the bank, and it was also nuts with a line well out the door. The security guard at the door wasn’t letting people in but looked at me – jubilada? Si. OK, go in. The line for the tellers was very full but there was only one person ahead of me in the jubilao line and my business was done in no time, and with a smile from my new bank friend Madeline who has seen me each day I’ve come in.

Now all the pressing errands are now done, thank goodness. I figured we have been out 7 of the last 9 days for either errands or band gigs. I saw a joke on Facebook – What did you used to like to do that you no longer like to do?  – Leave the house. HA! Yes. I do not plan to leave the house tomorrow. We have a couple more things but they can wait a couple days.

Retired people also get many financial perks in Panama – discounts on health care, travel, restaurants, hotels, movies, etc. etc. A Google search will provide details if you’re interested. But, that’s a subject for another day. Today I’m grateful for the time not spent waiting in lines, and the feeling that my silver hair as earned me some respect. Thank you Panama.


About Kris Cunningham

We live in David, Chiriqui Provence, Republic of Panama! This blog is about some of our experiences in our new country.
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11 Responses to Old Folks in Panama

  1. Anonymous says:

    Also you will see that here there is not much home or hospices for older people. Families usually take care of their abuelitas and abuelitos. They stay at home and all the family help in the care of them. They are respected and loved by everybody in the family.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, this is very true. I’ve seen this with my friends, and I’ve even heard about a community coming together to take care of an elderly foreigner in her own home who didn’t have family. The expats in Boquete have formed a hospice but I believe it’s also to help with in home care.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Dennis says:

    Hi Kris! New to your blog, but have it on my RSS feed now, and have been looking at archived posts as well. Really great information!

    Question: Is anyone living in Panama on a “Pensioners” Visa (Pencianado?) considered “jubilada”? I would assume that would be reserved for those who have an a certain age status. My wife and I are planning on relocating our family to Panama late next year, and I plan to perhaps apply as a pensioner (though I will be only 48 at the time, but have a fixed income that meets the requirements). I wouldn’t think she or I would be considered “jubilada”!



    • Hi Dennis and welcome. Thanks for the kind words about my blog.
      Yes, if you have the income to qualify as “jubilado” you would have that status and those benefits. Double check with your lawyer to be sure this is correct but I believe it is, and you will have the card to prove it if questioned.


  3. Richard Philbrick says:

    The last time I went to renew my license in David (dah VEED) there was also a long line outside the license bureau. Being brought up in the Gringo Tradition I naturally took my position at the end of the line. That’s how it’s done, right? Well, the armed guard at the door wasn’t going to put up with that…He came up to me and asked me if I was “Jubilado.” I think he was a little surprised that I assured him, in Spanish, of course, that I was. “Vamanos,” (“Let’s go”) he said gently taking my elbow and guided me towards the door. HEAD OF THE LINE! And you know what I always found wonderful about stuff like that in banks, etc, in Panama. NOBODY gets upset that you do YOUR business before they do their’s. WHY? Because the day’s going to come when it’s THEIR TURN to go to the head of the line.

    It was also a common occurrence to have a young Panamanian teenager, boy or girl, get up and offer me their seat on a crowded bus, or offer to carry my heavy grocery bags in my neighborhood.

    When people, here, ask me what I liked best about Panama the answer is always “The people.”


    • Yes! Absolutely, the people. And you are right. I also sense no resentment that I go to the head of the line. It’s just how things are done here, just like being kind and helpful is how things are done.


    • Rick Shultz says:

      I couldn’t agree more. I’ve experienced the same compassion and courtesy myself (at 79) and it really warms my heart … and is so much appreciated. Panamanians are the greatest!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Anonymous says:

    This has absolutely been my experience here, as well. The kindness and consideration shown to us older folks has been remarkable. There is tenderness and compassion in their eyes when they offer their seat or hold a door. It is culture shock when I return to the States and encounter condescension and disregard. I am not looking for special treatment but truly appreciate the Panamanian culture for the respect that is offered unconditionally. No “okay, Boomer” here, just a kind regard. Thanks, Kris, for making note of the kindness you have observed.


  5. susie says:

    Great Blog Kris. Yes it seems to be getting worse here in the U.S. No respect for the older generation…We are so looking forward to when we can finally make our permanent home in Panama…..until then we “Baby Boomers” will continue to stand while the youngsters sit and wait at the back of the line for our turn….I still feel young enough to do those things but it sure would be nice if they offered up their seat out of respect.


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