Best US Cities for Retirees in 2024: Panama City Beach, FL

Best US Cities for Retirees in 2024: Panama City Beach, FL

Does owning an airy, tasteful beachfront condo with a stunning view of the ocean for less than $500,000 sound like a retirement dream? And yet, it’s what dozens of retirees are discovering is within their reach, in Panama City Beach, FL.

Google searches for retirement destinations and related topics (Spyfu SEO data)

It’s no coincidence that the city is the target of over 4,600 Google searches for retirement destinations and related topics (Spyfu SEO data, see map above). Not only that, recent IRS data show over 9,400 people actually made the move to Panama City Beach, FL, in just one year!

In contrast, only 60% as many people moved away from the city during the same year—a telling pattern, and one that you’d do well to pay attention to, as someone considering retirement.

IRS Migration Inflow data for Panama Beach City, FL

Of course, it’s going to take more than just that amount of evidence to convince you that a given city is your ideal retirement destination. So, does Panama City Beach, FL have what it takes?

We’ve long understood at PlayLouder that there’s nothing that tells the story more clearly than hard, cold facts. So we went after them. We looked at everything we could, from prices to pollen counts, in order to put together a comprehensive picture of life in the city.

Here it is, a crisp but detailed summary of what retiring to Panama City Beach is really like in 2024. 

Main Pros and Cons of Panama City Beach, FL for Retirees

If you’re one of those who likes to get a quick snapshot to mull over before you come back for the full picture, we’ve got you covered.

Pros

Panama City Beach, FL is a top relocation choice if your priorities include mild weather, plenty of outdoor activities and a lifestyle that balances fun with financial wisdom. Its combination of sparkling beaches, parks and hiking trails, as well as a lively sports, cultural and culinary scene are especially attractive to those seeking an active, out-and-about lifestyle.    

Cons

However, if you’re accustomed to leaving your front door and car unlocked, and value the freedom of moving around the city at all hours, a move to Panama City Beach will require radical and challenging changes to your mindset and lifestyle. The crowds of tourists drawn to the area during spring and summer months can be an added strain for those who prize peace and quiet. 

Cost of Living

Overview

Given its extraordinary attractions, including pristine beaches, year-round sunshine, mouthwatering seafood and a vibrant culture, the affordability of a comfortable lifestyle in Panama City Beach is undoubtedly the icing on the cake.

The cost of living in Panama City Beach, FL is on par with the US national average, and certainly well below the cost of other sought-after coastal destinations such as Miami, San Diego or Los Angeles.

If living a stone’s throw away from the beach has been your lifelong dream, Panama City Beach represents one of your best chances to turn that dream into a reality – on a budget.

Here’s a breakdown of what things cost in Panama City Beach, FL. 

Housing and Utilities

Analysts differ in their estimations of rental trends in Panama City Beach; some estimate that prices have gone up by 1% to 2% since last year, while others state that rents have decreased by as much as 6%.

Rent savings on smaller apartments are on the modest side. The average one-bedroom within the city comes at roughly 5% cheaper than elsewhere, though rents outside the city are on par with the country average.

However, the fact remains that, in 2024, Panama City Beach rents are significantly cheaper than country averages—the latest Numbeo data show that rent on a three-bedroom apartment in the city is nearly 23% cheaper than in other places, while a similar apartment outside city limits can save you a good 27% in rent.

Feeling a bit breathless? There’s more to come…

Real Estate Cost of Living Panama City Beach, FL

As I said earlier, expert estimates on rental trends vary – but one thing that they all agree upon is the fact that, when it comes to buying a house, Panama City Beach is a buyer’s market. What this means is that properties here are not only cheaper than comparable homes elsewhere, they’re generally sold for less than their listed price.

Needing to know what this looks like on the ground, I sourced median sale prices on houses in the area from a bunch of local realtors. And what I found was this:

  • On average, the sale price of a house in Panama City Beach comes to about $468,500. 
  • This figure is about 6% cheaper than the median cost of houses in the US estimated by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development ($495,100).
  • On the other hand, this price tag is nearly 10% higher than a 2024 Forbes survey estimate of US median home price ($426,000). 
Utilities Cost of Living Panama City Beach, FL

Utilities (heating and cooling, garbage disposal) tend to cost a bit more in this area than the country average (by about 5%). Cell-phone bills are also higher (figure above), but at nearly 45% lower than average, your monthly internet bills will more than make up for these differences. 

Food, Grocery and Apparel

Food Cost of Living Panama City Beach, FL

Unless you plan to live on lettuce and milk (or oranges and beer), you’ll likely save quite a few $$ on your weekly grocery bills in Panama City Beach. Whether you’re aiming for a home-cooked meal or dinner out, it’s easy to keep costs down in the area—even a three-course meal at a nice restaurant costs 13% less than it would in another city.

Clothing and accessories also cost less here (figure below). While a summer dress from a well-known brand might end up costing you a bit more than in another city, you’re looking at saving over 30% on the average pair of jeans or sneakers, and can get a pair of leather shoes at nearly 38% less than what you’d pay for them elsewhere.  

Clothing Cost of Living Panama City Beach, FL

Transportation and Fuel

For those with regular (and reasonably short) daily commutes, using public transit in Panama City Beach is a great way to kill the proverbial two birds – save on costs while cutting back on daily stress. 

The city bus system, BayWay (earlier known as the Bay Town Trolley), operates eight routes connecting the city to nearby suburbs and towns. With its reasonably-priced day and monthly passes ($4 and $35 respectively) and senior citizen discounts, taking the bus represents a great alternative to driving.  

Fuel, Transportation and Automobiles Cost of Living Panama City Beach, FL

Even driving around is cheaper than in other parts, since gas here costs about 13% less than the country average. Buying a car is likewise a bit cheaper here; you can expect to save roughly 6% on a mid-sized, entry-level sedan.

Local Economy and Part-Time Job Opportunities

As of March 2024, Florida’s economic growth continues to outstrip the national average. According to data from the St. Louis Federal Reserve (commonly known as FRED), over the 5-year period from 2018 to 2022, Panama City, FL alone has seen a cumulative 10.4% growth in city GDP

Employment Growth Rate in Panama City Beach, FL

Mirroring this, employment across the state has grown by 2.5% over the last year (figure above), while Florida’s Department of Commerce estimates that jobs will continue to grow at the rate of 2.2% (compare this against the national job growth rate of 0.8%).

Data from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics show that the top job creators in the Panama City area have been construction, education, healthcare and hospitality (figure below).

Economic Growth Rate in Panama City Beach, FL

Sustaining this trend, local sources confirm that major infrastructure projects worth over $346 million that are underway in the area are contributing to continued job growth. These include:

  • Panama City Beach Parkway (US 98) expansion – $185 million
  • Sand Dollar Inn Lodging (Tyndall Air Force Base) – $104.2 million
  • Marina & Sports Complex (Tyndall AFB) – $  38.2 million
  • Panama City Beach development (roads, drainage) – $  19 million

Job Prospects for Retirees

A 2023 survey by US News revealed that the five sectors that employed the largest numbers of older adults were healthcare, business, education, manufacturing and (surprisingly) construction. 

This finding may not fit in with the common stereotype of long hours and physically demanding work associated with most of these sectors. In reality, however, a lot of jobs in these sectors require just the types of skills and qualities that tend to be strong points for retirees:

  • Administrative experience (scheduling, record-keeping, coordination)
  • Interpersonal skills, including communication and empathy
  • Supervisory abilities (monitoring progress, providing feedback, course correction)
  • Handling repetitive tasks without frustration and boredom

For those considering retirement, the combination of strong economic growth as well as rising wages (figure below) represented by Panama City Beach makes it a particularly attractive choice of destination.

Weekly Wages by Sector in Panama City Beach, FL

Healthcare Facilities, Costs, and Quality

At present, Panama City Beach is served by two major hospitals – HCA Florida Gulf Coast Hospital and Ascension Sacred Heart Bay Hospital (aka Bay Medical Center). 

The 282-bed Gulf Coast Hospital has ER facilities, as well as being a primary stroke center. Bay Medical Center is a Level 2 Trauma Center, having the only open-heart surgery facilities in the area. The smaller Select Specialty Hospital that shares premises with the Bay Medical Center offers highly rated critical care recovery facilities. 

Besides these institutions, the Emerald Coast Behavioral Hospital caters to the mental health needs of the area. The facility provides care across the lifespan, from children to adolescents, adults and seniors, and also addresses the needs of military veterans.

With 80 family medicine practitioners and over 200 physicians, Panama City Beach has ample resources to meet your healthcare needs in a timely and satisfactory manner. Your beloved pets are also sure to get all the care they need, thanks to over 40 veterinarians practicing in the area.

Average Healthcare Cost in Panama City Beach, FL

Some quick research shows that the average cost of a doctor’s visit in this city is on par with the country average (figure above). The costs of dental (-28%) and eyecare (-10%), as well as pet care (-14%) work out significantly cheaper compared to the US average.   

Healthcare and assisted living for seniors

A steady influx of older adults into Panama City Beach, FL has also led the city to expand its healthcare infrastructure to cater to the needs of seniors. The area boasts some of the lowest cost assisted living facilities in the country, with monthly rates starting below $3,000.    

Some reputed facilities in the area that encourage independent but assisted living include Charter Senior Living, Superior Residences, Mathison Retirement Community, The Blake and Summer’s Landing. Other top-rated facilities that offer skilled nursing, rehabilitation and hospice care are Brookdale Panama City and St. Andrews Bay Skilled Nursing and Rehabilitation.

Safety and Accessibility

Crime and safety

Panama City Beach, FL’s crime rate is at 3,016 per 100K, which is about 1.3x the national average of 2,324 per 100K. But what does this mean for day-to-day living? (As someone recently remarked, there’s a big difference between taking basic precautions like locking your car doors versus having to install bulletproof windscreens.) I decided to find out.

As a rough index, I first pulled out crime and safety stats for a bunch of nine other cities across the US with similar-sized populations (see figure below).

Crime and Safety Comparison in Panama City Beach, FL

The first thing that jumped out at me was that five out of ten cities in my comparison had safety indices between 45 and 55, suggesting that these mid-range numbers are pretty typical of the safety stats for mid-sized American cities. In fact, only two cities had safety indices above 60 (Urbana, IL and Laramie, WY).

While this was reassuring, it wasn’t enough. We decided to ask current and former residents to share with us their impressions and experiences of crime and safety in Panama City Beach, FL.

Here is a summary of what those who are living or have lived there say about Panama City Beach:

  • People who’ve lived in multiple places across the US report that this city feels as safe as other places they’ve lived in.
  • Locals who’ve spent several years in Panama City Beach lament that crime and drug use have risen in recent years – an observation that holds true for the entire country.
  • Residents warn that crowded, touristy places are the most trouble-prone, as drinking and rowdy behavior can lead to untoward incidents.
  • The majority of crimes in the area involve acts of vandalism, followed by petty theft, aptly summarized by one of our local informants as “opportunistic crimes”.       

Based on the information and advice people shared with us, we decided to put together a list of basic safety precautions for living in and navigating around the city. 

Safe living tips from current and former residents of Panama City Beach, FL

  • Lock car doors on parking, and do not leave valuables in cars.
  • Ensure that doors and windows at home are locked, and install automated alarms.
  • Move around in well-lit areas at night, and ensure sufficient lighting around your home.
  • If out alone at night, carry mace or pepper spray.
  • Be vigilant in crowded areas, and do not leave belongings unattended.  

Safest neighborhoods

“Which areas of Panama City Beach, FL are the safest to live in?” In order to answer this, we compared what we’d learned from people with the professional assessments available on real estate websites and home security services websites. For good measure, we added in comparisons with comments and posts left on online discussion threads about the city.

The result is this unranked list of the best neighborhoods in which to make a safe home in Panama City Beach, FL:

  • For larger budgets, safe neighborhoods that are a short, convenient drive away from the main city include Rosemary Beach and Laguna Beach, as well as upscale properties in the Inlet Beach area.
  • On a smaller budget, the Upper and Lower Grand Lagoon areas, Lynn Haven as well as Pretty Bayou areas are safe and attractive.

Accessibility: Getting to Panama City Beach, FL

By road

Google Map getting to Panama City Beach, FL
  • Tallahassee, FL: Panama City Beach is a southwesterly drive of about 100 miles, that usually takes around 1 hour 45 minutes. Begin by taking FL-263 South from Tallahassee. After approximately 90 miles, merge onto US-98 West toward Panama City Beach. Continue on US-98 West for about 10 miles until you reach your destination.
  • Miami, FL: From the sunny shores of Miami to the beautiful beaches of Panama City, it's a roughly 570-mile journey northwest, taking around 8 hours. Start by taking I-95 North from Miami. In approximately 350 miles, merge onto I-10 West toward Tallahassee. From here, it’s about 200 miles along the I-10 West till you reach Panama City Beach.
  • Montgomery, AL: At approximately 130 miles southeast, the drive from Montgomery to Panama City Beach typically takes around 2 hours. Start by taking I-85 South. After about 35 miles, take exit 6 for US-231 South toward Troy. Continue on US-231 South for about 90 miles, all the way into Panama City Beach.
  • Atlanta, GA: It’s a roughly 4-hour drive (approximately 285 miles) south to Panama City Beach. Begin by taking I-75 South from Atlanta. In approximately 10 miles, merge onto I-85 South toward Montgomery. Continue on I-85 South for about 175 miles until you reach Montgomery, AL. From here, follow the Montgomery‒Panama City Beach directions (see above).
  • Mobile, AL: From the historic port city of Mobile, the 150-mile eastward drive to Panama City Beach takes about 2 hours 30 minutes. Start by taking I-10 East from Mobile. After about 135 miles, take exit 85 for FL-77 South toward Panama City. Continue along FL-77 South for roughly 10 miles until you reach your destination.

Taking a bus to Panama City Beach, FL is also an option for those who’d rather avoid driving. Both Greyhound and FlixBus operate regular services to the city from a host of other cities, those within Florida (Tallahassee, Tampa, Fort Lauderdale, Orlando) as well as major cities in neighboring states – Birmingham, Charleston, Atlanta, Jackson and New Orleans, among others.

By rail

Train travel is not really a viable option, since the closest train station to Panama City Beach is New Orleans, LA.      

By air

As a tourist hub, Panama City Beach is served by the Northwest Florida Beaches International Airport (ECP) located 19 miles, that is, a half-hour drive away from the city. Flights operated by American, Delta, Southwest and United Airlines, all connect the city to practically every other major city and a host of smaller ones. 

Climate

Nestled on the Gulf of Mexico, Panama City Beach’s subtropical climate makes it ideal for year-round outdoor enjoyment. The sunny summers are perfect for lazy beachside lounging as much as for vigorous pursuits like surfing and paddleboarding. 

Fall offers cooler temperatures and clear skies, the perfect backdrop for sunset strolls and cozy beach bonfires. Winter here is a distinct contrast to the harsher northern winters, with crisp air, overcast skies and deserted beaches that encourage you to walk off the slight chill in the air. 

Spring brings gentle rains and vibrant colors, beckoning you to explore the many nature parks and hiking trails in the area, such as the St. Andrews State Park and Gayle’s Trails. In short, the climate is tailor-made for relaxation and adventure, with something for everyone in every season.   

Annual Temperature Range in Panama City Beach, FL

Weather and water preparedness

Although snowfall is rare, Panama City Beach sees frequent thunderstorms in the spring and summer, with storm activity peaking in July and August. These typically develop in the afternoon and evening, between 2:00 p.m. and 10:00 p.m..

Additionally, from late March to late May, the area is susceptible to tornadoes. Residents and visitors alike need to stay informed about weather conditions, and tune in to severe weather advisories. It is advisable to avoid outdoor activities, particularly swimming, during severe weather events. 

While enjoying the beach, swimmers should be cautious of rip tides and strong currents, which can pose hazards in this area. Good precautions include staying within sight of lifeguard stations, heeding warning flags, and avoiding swimming alone or in areas with strong currents.

Environment quality

The healthful lifestyle promised by Panama City Beach, FL is fully backed by its clean and invigorating coastal air. The city’s Air Quality Index ranges from just below 10 to slightly above 70, typically staying far below the cutoff of 300 recognized as the danger mark for air pollution.  

Similarly, the particulate matter count for 2.5PM ranges from around 2 to 24, with the average staying below the EPA's annual cutoff of 12 μg/m³, and comfortably under the 24-hour danger threshold of 35 μg/m³ (figures below).  

Air Quality Index in Panama City Beach, FL
Particulate Matter Index in Panama City Beach, FL

The warm Florida weather means that residents of Panama City Beach have to contend with some degree of allergic reactions owing to tree, grass and weed pollens. Major tree species that contribute to springtime allergies include the Bluejack oak, Southern Bayberry (aka wax myrtle) and river birch that dot the landscape.  

Grasses that may trigger reactions include fescue, redtop, sweet vernal, Bermuda, Timothy, June and Johnson varieties. Both naturally growing grass varieties as well as lawn cultivars may induce reactions. Mid- to late September can be troublesome for those with ragweed allergy.

While the salt air and coastal breezes are recommended by many, including doctors, as a means of reducing pollen allergies, keep in mind that this remedy appears to work for some people, but not others.

Education and Learning

The educational scene in Panama City Beach, FL offers a comprehensive array of learning opportunities for individuals of all ages. From young learners starting their educational journey in kindergarten to senior citizens seeking personal enrichment, the city’s institutions cater to the diverse learning needs of its residents across the lifespan.

Traditional Academics

Barely 10 miles away from the city is the Panama City campus of the reputed Florida State University (FSU), which offers a slew of award-winning and highly rated undergraduate and graduate programs. In 2024, in-state, on-campus tuition for undergrad programs is $4,680.   

Adjacent to the FSU Panama City campus is the Gulf Coast State College (GCSC) campus, for those looking to complete programs that are geared towards short-term certifications and immediate absorption into the workforce. GCSC tuition and fees for 2024 amount to $2,963.  

Besides FSU and GCSC, Panama City Beach residents can avail the unique opportunity of studying and qualifying in aviation and aerospace-related subjects, thanks to the proximity of Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, located in nearby Tyndall Air Force Base (approximately 27 miles). 

Tyndall AFB likewise hosts the local campus of Troy University, which offers accredited degrees in business administration, computer science and technology-related subjects. 

Continued Learning

At both FSU and GCSC, those wishing to diversify their skills, upgrade their knowledge, or simply enjoy the challenge of learning something new can find a variety of continuing education programs. Programs on offer not only reflect the varied interests and requirements of the community, but also stay in step with evolving technological trends and social dynamics.

For adults over 50, FSU’s Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI) has a full complement of courses on diverse topics, ranging from Appalachian forest biology to wine tasting to yoga techniques for fall prevention among seniors to digital workspace management. 

OLLI membership (at an annual registration fee of $60) is a pre-requisite for taking these courses. Course fees range from $10 to $65, and many are completely free. 

GCSC’s continuing education program likewise caters to both professional and enrichment needs. The Education Encore initiative offers an array of programs without the stress of tests, grades or certification, with course fees ranging from $65 to $125. Example course topics include contract bridge, adult humor, watercolor painting and ukulele.

School Education

According to the latest NCES data, there are 49 public schools and 10 private schools in the Bay County area, in and around Panama City Beach, FL. These institutions span the spectrum from pre-kindergarten all the way through high school. 

Highly ranked and well-reputed schools in the area include Breakfast Point Academy Elementary and West Bay Elementary, Bay Haven Charter Middle School and Surfside Middle School, as well as A. Crawford Mosley High School and J. R. Arnold High School.

Demographics and Social Profile

Demographic Profile in Panama City Beach, FL

As per the 2022 census, Panama Beach City, FL has a population of approximately 19,000, of whom roughly 3,400 (18%) are seniors aged 65 and above. With youngsters (age 18 and below) making up nearly 20% of the population, the demographic of the city is well-balanced across the spectrum of age.

The city’s population is likewise well-balanced in gender, with nearly equal numbers of females (49.5%) to males. Racially, the distribution is skewed by a White/ Caucasian majority (almost 83%). Hispanic and African-American ethnicities represent the other largest groups of approximately 1,600 and 1,500 individuals respectively.  

People of Asian as well as Native American/ Alaskan origin make up less than 1% each of the local population. The city also has a large foreign-born population of over 2,200 (nearly 12%), with significant numbers of individuals from Haiti, Cuba and South America, among others.

Panama City Beach, FL has an uninterrupted history of returning a majority Republican vote since 2000. In the last presidential elections in 2020, a whopping 70.9% of the city’s vote favored the Republican candidate. While the Bay County area is generally viewed as rather conservative, the city itself has built up a more moderately conservative image.

Founder at Play Louder !

Joe DiSanto is the founder of Play Louder! He has built multi-million dollar businesses, produced critically acclaimed documentaries and an Emmy-winning TV show, invested millions in real estate, and semi-retired at age 43. Now, Joe serves as a Fractional CFO for several creative firms and is sharing a lifetime of fiscal know-how via Play Louder, an invaluable resource that helps individuals and business owners increase their net worth and plan better for their future.