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Las Tablas, Panama: City by the Sea (Well…sort of.)

Las Tablas, Panama

Las Tablas, Panama is a tiny town in Central America that’s being touted by some as one of Panama’s up-and-coming areas. While it may be true that there is some opportunity to find a Central American getaway at an affordable price, there are a lot of important factors for you to consider.

As with any decision, the choice to relocate to or buy a property in a particular area of Latin America depends 100% on you and the things you value most. It’s important to weigh out all the pros and cons and find the area that best lines up with your lifestyle.

But it’s hard to do that when you’re thousands of miles away, trying to research dozens of options on a 17″ monitor.

There’s no substitute for checking out a city or a property firsthand, but here are some important attributes about Panama Real Estate in Las Tablas, and some of their possible implications for you. Hopefully this information will help you make an educated decision about whether it could be a viable option for your retirement.

1. Location, Location, Location

If you’ve ever bought a house, talked to a real estate agent, or even watched more than 5 minutes of one of those house-hunting television shows, then you probably know the 3 most important factors in real estate: location, location, location.

Where is Las Tablas?

Las Tablas, Panama, lies near the eastern Pacific coast of Panama’s Azuero Peninsula. Note, we said the city is “near” the coast. Not on the coast. That’s important to understand because many marketers are promoting the area as being a beachfront area.

It’s not.

It’s actually nestled into a rural area and surrounded by farms and ranches. In fact, the city serves as the hub where locals from the surrounding agricultural areas go into town to do business. It’s also the capital city of the Los Santos province.

What’s it like?

Since Las Tablas is close to the Pacific Ocean, it has a hot, tropical climate. However, because it’s surrounded by farmland instead of rainforests, it’s somewhat less humid than many of its coastal neighbors.

What’s it near?

Although Las Tablas, isn’t directly on the coast, there are some decent beaches nearby. Uverito is about 10 minutes away, and Pedasi, with its relatively untouched expanses of beach, is a 45-minute drive.

It is also strategically located near a few cooler mountainous areas. For instance Cerro Canajagua, which offers some really nice views of the Pacific Ocean and the entire peninsula, is about 35 minutes away.

One thing Las Tablas is not near, is a major city. Panama City is almost 4 hours away by car, although nearby Chitre does offer a flight to the capital city. After a 15 minute drive, the flight to Panama City is about 35 minutes.

In summary

While Las Tablas, Panama, does offer some great attractions (i.e. mountains and beaches) relatively nearby, the town itself doesn’t have a whole lot to offer in terms of scenery. This can be good or bad, depending on what you’re looking for.

Because Las Tablas is missing that immediate proximity to a must-see geographic feature, property prices are relatively low. You can get a bargain if you’re willing to drive a ways to get to the beach or mountains or some decent shopping.

If you’re looking for a short walk to the beach or the convenience of driving into the city for the afternoon, you might want to keep looking.

2. Uncharted Territory

Most would-be expats understand the need to settle some important questions before they start their property search overseas (e.g. urban vs. rural, mountain vs. beach, etc.). Another important aspect to consider is the level of development of a particular area, which often translates into how saturated it is with other expats.

Who lives in Las Tablas, Panama?

Las Tablas, Panama, has roughly 25,000 residents. But few of them are expats.  What this means is that the local businesses aren’t in the habit of bending over backwards for foreigners.

That doesn’t mean they aren’t friendly. Quite the contrary! The natives, called tablenos, are very courteous working-class people who take a lot of pride in their city. However, not a lot of them speak English, and you can expect all signs and menus to be in Spanish only.

How developed is it?

Las Tablas, Panama, is still off the radar of most foreigners. As a result, it isn’t overrun with new developments like many of the more popular destinations. For this reason, the city’s Spanish culture is all still completely intact. There’s a quaint town square, and all the buildings are Spanish-colonial style with red tile roofs and ornate ironwork.

The infrastructure is good, but not the best you’ll find. The town has a supermarket and a hardware store. There are Internet cafes and an adequate offering of banks, shops, and clinics. It’ll have what you need, but not all the same conveniences you might find in a place with a more established expat community.

And again, expect the doctors and other professionals to speak Spanish and be accustomed to dealing with Panamanians. You’ll also come up empty-handed when searching the supermarket for even the most common U.S. products.

What’s there to do?

Las Tablas, Panama, has restaurants and bars, and even a tiny casino (read: a few slot machines and a bar). But that’s about it. The real attraction in this Central American city is the authentic culture.

Most notable of all the native festivals the city celebrates is Carnival. Once a year the town comes alive with excitement as Calle Arriba (Uptown) and Calle Abajo (Downtown) compete to host the biggest and best celebration, complete with food, music, fireworks, games, and even a Carnival Queen.

In summary

Las Tablas, Panama, is the perfect destination for someone who wants to be close to tourist attractions, but not too close. Someone who wants a few modern conveniences, but not a McDonald’s on every corner.

If you’re fine with speaking predominantly Spanish and living like a local, then you should definitely look into relocating to Las Tablas, Panama. If you feel more comfortable living in a place where a lot of the people look and talk like you, then keep looking.

3. You Can’t Beat Panama

If there’s one really great thing that can be said about Las Tablas, it’s the fact that it’s located in Panama. From its pleasant climate to its stable, growing economy and favorable business and tax laws, this Central American nation consistently dominates every study done on the best places to retire.

The cost of living, the price of housing, the benefits to foreigners…it’s all good. Panama has a lot of really great destinations that offer a variety of different perks. This is just one of them.

What’s so great about Panama?

This Central American nation has made it very clear that they want expats to move there. Their list of visa and residency options is ever-expanding. Choices also include the Pensionado Visa, which offers discounts on everything from restaurants to airfare to medical procedures.

Speaking of health care, Panama’s is top notch. Many doctors, especially those in Panama City, are English-speaking and trained in the U.S. And health care costs are only a fraction of what you would pay in the States for the same services.

In fact, Panama is becoming a hub for medical tourism, as people are traveling from all over the world to have expensive, or even elective, procedures performed for far less money. This is made easy due to the fact that Panama is so easily accessible. Its location makes it convenient for travel throughout the Americas (although Las Tablas itself is a little further off the beaten path).

In addition to the quality of its health care, Panama boasts some excellent infrastructure. Its airports, roads, and utilities–while already good–are also in the process of receiving a $15 billion facelift over the next several years.

Panama also uses the U.S. dollar as its official form of currency, eliminating any exchange risk for foreigners. Its favorable tax laws enable expats to have the possibility of paying no taxes, in some situations.

Is this true throughout Panama?

So, Panama sounds great. But can you enjoy these same conditions throughout the country? In some cases, yes. In others, not so much. Obviously, things like visas and tax laws don’t vary from one city to the next. You’ll still get quality health care. But you might have longer waits and less options, especially if you’re at a public clinic. You’ll also have to travel to see most specialists.

Infrastructure is another place where you might see a difference in more remote areas. Roads and public transportation will be less prevalent and reliable. As will utilities and other conveniences.

What about the cost of living?

The cost of living in Panama is already good. The cost of living in Las Tablas, Panama, is really no better. You can enjoy a full lifestyle, including several nice dinners each week, for between $1400 and $1600 per month.

Rental rates, for a modest 3-bedroom/2-bath house (furnished), is between $300 and $500. For those wanting to buy a home, you can get the same size home for under $70,000. However, that will get you a typical Panamanian home with small, closed-off rooms. If you want a larger, more open-concept American-style home, expect to pay in excess of $100,000.

In summary

There’s a lot to love about Panama. And there’s a lot to love about Las Tablas, Panama. Just don’t assume they’re interchangeable. A lot of sources cite the benefits of living in Panama when they’re describing why you should move to Las Tablas. However, there are a lot of other options that have the same perks, but may offer more bang for your buck in terms of location, activities, infrastructure, etc.

The cost of living in Las Tablas is low. But it isn’t the lowest in Central America, or even in Panama. Property listings are cheap. But they’re not rock-bottom. If you’re going to sacrifice comfort and convenience, make sure you’re really getting a bargain.

Las Tablas, Panama, has a lot of things going for it, and it’s a great opportunity for the right would-be expat or investor. There are those who would love to call this quaint, undiscovered village home. If you think you might be one of them, explore your options to find the choice that’s best for you.

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One thought on “Las Tablas, Panama: City by the Sea (Well…sort of.)

  1. 1

    I love this website. I appreciate the quality of writers. And mostly the generally unbiased opinions. (Unlike some other international living sites).
    But here, you’ve outdone yourselves, so tastefully. I don’t think I’ve ever read or even conceived of such a good, positive way to say “This is not really a great place to consider living.”
    Furthermore, and I quote:
    “The cost of living, the price of housing, the benefits to foreigners…it’s all good. Panama has a lot of really great destinations that offer a variety of different perks. This is just one of them.”

    In other words, combined with my previous comment and from my personal experience of much of Central America, I conclude: Why are people even “promoting” LasTablas ? Once you’ve made such a very good points about the “livability”….maybe some people still won’t notice your other comment: “This is just one of them”.
    Gracias !
    P.S. I CAN comfortably take exception with ONE comment however: (and maybe this is just from years of living in Costa Rica) (Or maybe it’s because I live in Chiriqui?) “Roads and public transportation will be less prevalent and reliable.” Personally I have found EXCELLENT ROADS and services in even the smallest pueblitos !

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