2. Why Panama?

Many people ask us why we decided to live in another country. Why did we want to move? How did we choose Panama, and why this part of Panama?  Everyone has to make their own decisions for their own reasons. These happen to be ours.

My husband had been thinking of moving to central America for quite a few years. I was not so enthusiastic but I had minimal international travel experience. He had a lot. Then, I went to Italy and changed my mind. I learned that other countries aren’t that scary. Sure, there were differences but ultimately, it was just people living their lives.

We started looking more seriously at retirement with the resources we have. The economy in the US wasn’t doing well. Home values were going down and expenses were going up. We realized we would have to work until we were 70, or more, and even then it would be hard. As my husband says, Plan B became Plan A.

Why did we want to move?

  1. Cost – we were getting priced out of the US
  2. We wanted a change. Florida was great but we were no longer tied there. We were ready for a new adventure, a new experience.
  3. Secondary factors – concerns about our ailing health care system and political system, questionable food supplies (GMO’s Monsanto, etc), attitudes towards elderly people, no more hurricanes

Why did we decide on David, Panama? Our requirements -

  1. Communication / good internet
  2. warm climate, access to water and beaches
  3. affordable living
  4. close enough to the US to visit family
  5. good infrastructure and stable, peaceful government
  6. decent health care

Panama seemed to fit all of our requirements the best, so we decided to visit.

We started with a 5 day visit to Panama City (Jan 2011), 2 travel days and three full days in the city. I looked out the window of the plane and saw those beautiful, lush, green mountains and I was sold! We rented a car, drove around the city, went to the canal, a rainforest park, drove west for an hour so we could see a beach, and walked around the city. We loved it! The climate was perfect. We felt comfortable. We liked the people. We were amazed at the number of upscale buildings and construction cranes. This felt like a prosperous, happening, upbeat place! What a difference from the depressed US. But, it’s definitely a city with the traffic, the high energy, the constant activity, and higher cost of living.  At our age, we weren’t sure if it was a lifestyle that was right for us. We were definitely heading in the right direction though.

After a bit more research, we decided to look at David. It’s the next largest city but in the western, agricultural part of the country. There are beaches to the south, and mountains to the north. We came in June 2011 for 5 days thinking we would see it at its worst, in the hot, muggy, rainy season. We knew very quickly that we had found our place. The city is big enough to provide everything we need, and probably almost everything we would want. The traffic wasn’t nearly as crazy. The area, the countryside, the beaches, and the mountains are all so beautiful! The people are wonderful, warm and friendly. We felt very comfortable. Even the dreaded rainy season wasn’t a problem. It felt just like Florida in summer, only not as hot.  At this point, the plan was to move in 2014 (after I was old enough for social security), so we went back to Florida and the hamster wheel of work and bills.

My husband’s mother also lives in Florida, and she’s at an age where she needs some help. Maybe she would consider coming with us? She had traveled extensively, lived and worked in Guam, Hawaii, and California among other places and we thought she might like Panama. We came back in February 2012 for a week. She loved it as much as we did. We felt even more comfortable, and now we also had some friends from our previous visit and from correspondence on the internet.

We went home and started talking seriously. Do we really have to wait until 2014? Could we make it on the resources we have until I’m eligible for social security? As you know (since I am now blogging from Panama) we decided that we could make it, and we are making it. But, it did not work out as we hoped for Joel’s mother and she has returned to the US. We learned as much from that as from our success here though, so as time allows we will be sharing more information on our website.

The rest of our story is unfolding in this blog at the moment. “Follow” and share this experience with us!

If you are thinking about making such a move yourself, everyone will give you this good advice - do your homework. This doesn’t work out for everyone. Take a long hard look at who you are, and what you want, and why you want to move. What is important to you? What do you need to be happy? What do you like to do? What is on your “must have” list? What can you not tolerate? There is a lot of information on the internet. There are many helpful people who will be happy to share experiences and advice. Come and visit, and then visit again. Rent a place and try it out. Do not buy a place until you have lived here for at least 6-12 months. Living here is a very different experience from being a tourist. There are adjustments to be made. But, if you can be flexible, accept those things that are different, and appreciate life in this country as it is, you could have a very full and happy life here.  This blog is only our experiences. Your story? That is up to you!

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52 Responses to 2. Why Panama?

  1. greenandclean says:

    I love this! What an adventure, I’m happy to follow you and live vicariously for awhile.

  2. Oh Boy! I’m so excited that you found my blog and left a comment! Your adventure is at the very beginning ! I just love making new friends and I’m thrilled that your documenting your new life. It sounds like its going great and your attitude of acceptance for all the differences of life in another country will add to your success. Cheers to you my friend !

  3. Debbie Curtis says:

    Just found your blog through Don’s Chiriqui Chatter. Since my husband and I are seriously considering moving down there from NJ (who wouldn’t want to leave NJ?) I am very glad I found your blog and will read it everyday. We visited last year for 3 weeks and fell in love with the country!

    • kristc99 says:

      How exciting! We did the same thing, fell in love on the first visit. We’ve been here over three months now and it’s worked out even better than we expected. NJ? Aren’t you up to your ears in snow at the moment? I will try and send some warm breezes up your way.

  4. I’ve been reading your blog awhile now, but hadn’t gotten to this page yet. Very interesting saga!
    Have you run across any completely single middle aged women who have made successful long distance moves/transitions to foreign countries? Would you have done it alone?

    • Kris says:

      Yes, I have met some here who seem to be doing very well. Boquete is not far from here and has a lot of expats from the US and Canada. The locals here in David are so friendly you’d probably feel at home faster than many places in the US. I think you’d have to speak enough Spanish to communicate though, or you would feel quite isolated and frustrated.
      Yes, I would have done it alone. We talked about that before we moved. If something happened to my husband I would have come anyway. I was here alone at first and did fine, and now that I have been here a while and know people, I would be very comfortable as a single woman.

  5. Dan says:

    Kris,
    Congratulations on your move. Found your site while searching for more western Panama info. My wife and I spent a year (2006-2007) in Ajijic, MX and enjoyed but got tired of cranky old people and came back to the ZI. She had a stroke 2009 and is bed ridden, can’t walk,can’t speak. We have considered immigrating to David or near. Are there any agencies that would have a live in lady/girl to assist me in her care? Really enjoy y’all s photos, especially the banana hunt across the road.

  6. pattisj says:

    I’m glad you stopped by my blog, so I could come here and “meet” you. We usually hear of the people trying to get into the U.S., not leaving. I’m glad you were able to work things out and enjoy your new homeland sooner.

  7. Jerry Moellenkamp says:

    Greetings Kris,
    We’re so happy we found your blog. We also stumbled upon Holly’s blog and the two of you have provided so much useful information. As you know there is so many “Expat sites” that reading them all would be a full time job. We quickly learned that a few sites, although providing some useful information, are mostly there to sell products. So, feeling rather overwhelmed, we chose to only get input from blogger’s such as you and Holly because you guys are there and are not trying to sell us anything. You just have a desire to help other ‘would be expats’ and also have a gift for writing. Although I have not read all of your posts, the one’s we did read were filled with useful information. A word about us: We are semi-retired, live in Niceville, Florida (panhandle). We have raised 7 biological children and then adopted two girls from Ukraine who are now 16 (Junior) and 18 (Senior) this coming year. Our goal is to move to Latin America in a little over a year – Panama (thanks to you guys blogs) is at the top of our list – other areas of interest are Costa Rica and Columbia and maybe a couple more, depending on research.. The reasons for retiring to your area mirror your own that you wrote about in your posts. I work for the Dept. of Health for the State of Florida and am the health care coordinator for all of North Florida. The thing that impresses us most and was so appealing about your blog is that you also, like Holly, put the cookies on the lower shelf and make the reader feel like they are along with you on your journey. I plan on making a trip to the area sometime around July 16 through the 20th. I want to see David, Boquete, and Volcan. I would love to correspond with you (via email) if you guys would be willing. At any rate, thank you so much for writing your blog. We read everyone of the more recent ones. Blessings, Jerry Moellenkamp jerrymo@centurylink.net

    • Kris says:

      Wow, thank you so much for you comment and I’m glad you like the blog. I will send you an email, and hopefully we can get together when you are in the area!

  8. John & Melody says:

    Great update. My wife and I have visited twice. The first time we spent a week in Panama City. Last year we spent a week in Bocas. This January we plan on a week near Playa Coronado. We will likely drive up the coast for a day or so to see the beach areas around David.

    Our plan is to come down for an extended stay in late 2014. Ultimately we would like to live on the beach … just searching for the right beach.

    By the way, my wife and I are retired Navy. I’ve lived in Japan, Guam, Hawaii, and several places around the country.

    We really love Panama.

    John

    • Kris says:

      I’ll be interested to hear how you like Coronado. I haven’t been there. The beaches in this part of the country seem a bit remote from shopping and daily needs (at least for us city folk) but they sure are beautiful! There also seem to be quite a few people who love the Padasi area – Azuero Peninsula, so it might be worth a stop by there also.
      You and my husband would have a lot to talk about. He has also lived in Guam and Hawaii. He says Panama reminds him a lot of Guam.

  9. Nancy B says:

    Just found your blog and will follow along your adventure! Considering Panama for a second residence which may become primary. Am concerned about life in the States for all the reasons you mentioned and more. Just trying to narrow down an area to start our search in, considering we want:
    - live near expats
    - live near the ocean where beaches are beautiful (not mucky stuff we have seen online)
    - near a city large enough to provide almost any needs, especially healthcare, restaurants, entertainment
    - safety, where two woman would feel safe exploring, living
    - suitable for non spanish speakers, but people who would sure do their best to try basic skills
    - beautiful scenery, lush with variety… mountains and beaches with cool breezes
    What might you recommend for our first week long trip?

    • Kris says:

      I’m trying to think where might have everything you want. El Valle? Coronado area? We’re not familiar with Coronado, but there are beaches and expats. Is it close enough to Panama City for your needs?
      We’re in David which has healthcare, shopping, etc but the beaches are 30+ minutes away and there isn’t anything else out there. There is a large expat community in Boquete in the mountains, but that’s 45 min from David (with healthcare, etc) and even farther from the beaches.
      We feel very safe here. Of course you use common sense like anywhere, and there are certain places no one recommends going to after dark, but I think two women would be generally safer here than in many places in the US.
      If you don’t speak Spanish, Boquete, or Bocas del Toro come to mind (but Bocas isn’t close to anything except beaches).
      I think if you have only a week, I’d start in Panama City where you’re going to land anyway, spend a couple days. Maybe investigate Coronado area, El Valle, other places closer to the city. If you think the country is a good fit but you still need to explore more areas, perhaps on a future trip you could check out Chiriqui – David, Boquete, beaches, etc.
      http://thestayathomegringo.blogspot.com/ You might also check with Chris, author of this blog. He lives in Panama City and knows more about the eastern part of the country.
      http://indacampo.wordpress.com/ This lady lives in the Auzero Peninsula which is known for the beaches, but you might find it lacking in other areas. You could ask her for more info.

  10. Anonymous says:

    Hi Kris, I have a general question about David, I hope you don’t mind. I am also searching for a retirement place in central america and feel fortunate to have come across your blog. You break it down in real terms that I find very helpful. I have spent a lot of time in Costa Rica. I love the culture in CR but its just so darn expensive with all the tariffs on incoming goods, that I am making a trip to Panama in September. While I was in Costa Rica I met a woman who I am now crazy about and she will be traveling with me. We are taking the bus from San Jose to David where we hope to rent a car to continue on to Panama City. I am having limited luck via Google finding car rentals off airport in David. Can I realistically expect to arrive in David one evening and then successfully rent a car at a good price the next morning? I could pre book at National at the airport for $427 for the 10 days we will be in panama, but I have found that in Costa Rica I get much better deals just walking in off the street. Would your opinion be that this is the case also in David o Panama in general? Just picking your brain a little.. you and your husband are living an adventure and I highly respect the change you have made in your lives. We meet so many who only dream.. thank you for helping those of us who are still working towards ours. Michael in Pennsylvania!

    • Kris says:

      Hi Michael. No, of course I don’t mind questions. That’s one of the reason for the blog. There are a number of car rental agencies at the airport, Thrifty, Budget, seems like there are one or two more. But, it is expensive to rent a car because you are also required to get their insurance no matter what other insurance you may have elsewhere. If you just want to get to Panama City, I recommend taking the bus. It’s cheap ($15.25), big comfortable buses, and they worry about the driving. I also recommend that you don’t drive in Panama City. The traffic is a nightmare especially with all the construction going on right now. But, if you want to explore along the way I understand why you would want to rent a car. We rented with someone in town a couple years ago that was more affordable. Let me know if you want me to dig out the info. I don’t know if you would get a better deal just walking in off the street.
      Congrats on finding a great partner! Adventures are much more fun that way. I hope you find a place where you’re as happy as we are :)
      We haven’t been to Costa Rica yet but would like to visit soon. One day I may pick your brain a little on that :D

  11. Davd says:

    Hi my name is David and I too am weary of what is happening in the states ,, but only because I am of retirement age ,, I’m 62 and have been looking for a place to retire. I’ve been to the phillippines was there in Cebu for 3 weeks too much red tape and hoops you have to jump through just to live there, if you want to own land or a house or start a business you have to marry a phillipina,, to do that ,, but get this you don,t own the house or land you bought ,, your wife does because you as a foreigner cannot own property there . So I crossed that off my list. One day I was looking on a map of Central America because air far there is a lot cheaper than flying half way around the world,, so I’m looking on the map and I see panama , then I see my name DAVID,, now is that karma or what ???? I was looking for a place that I might want to retire to and there was my name… I guess it was telling me something,, well anyway after reading your blog and doing some research ,, I have decided to take my next vacation in panama ,, which will be in 2014 maybe in may. I understand they have a few programs for seniors wishing to retire there. True????would it be hard to rent a apartment or house for around 300.00 to 500.00 a month for a single guy like me. Where I don,t know yet,, so could you give me a few places I could go to and see for myself when I get there ?? The mountains sounds nice because its cooler there and I would not need the aircon. But being in the mountains ,,,,, would I be too far from markets and hospitals.????? I like the beach also but it’s never that far away,, so that is not a must. Your blog is heaven sent for guys like me ,, really for anyone ,, that needs a insiders point of view,, thank you soooooo much for doing this. DAVID

    • Kris says:

      Hi David

      Yes, there are discounts that go along with becoming a resident with retired (jubilado) status. http://www.panama-guide.com/article.php/2004120222005788
      Check the cost of living link on my blog. We pay $385/month for a house that is considered upscale and expensive by many people in David. Panama City is more expensive. Rural areas can be much cheaper. It all depends on what you want and need.
      Are you talking about places to see in David, or Panama in general? That all depends on what you want and how much time you have. You’ll probably land in Panama City so may as well see the canal and some of the sights. Then maybe Coronado, Pedasi/Azuero Peninsula area, El Valle de Anton, David, Boquete, Bocas del Toro? Those seem to be the places that come up most often, but certainly not the only options.
      Thanks for your comments, glad you enjoy the blog :)

  12. Anonymous says:

    Hi Kris. Lived in Panama 1998-1980 through the army. Loved it! Now that I’m creeping up on retirement age (59) the brain is whirring. Reading books, looking at maps. $385.00 a month? Are you guys renting or buying? I’ll be following your blog, thanks, David.

    • Yes, we are renting for $385/month. Many of the locals think that is expensive. It’s a good life here and I think it’s well worth considering for retirement. Thanks, glad you enjoy the blog :)

  13. It’s a shame that you can actually get priced out of your own country! In Norway they stuff all the elderly in homes, give them lousy food, they have one TV to share in the TV room, etc, etc.
    They seriously treat the criminals better than they treat the elderly in this country.
    You think I’m exaggerating?
    Here are some photos from our luxurious Halden Prison, where the inmates have flat screen TV in their cells: http://www.damncoolpictures.com/2010/05/norways-incredibly-luxurious-halden.html
    That’s not the only luxury prison we have. Here’s another one:
    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/home/moslive/article-1384308/Norways-controversial-cushy-prison-experiment–catch-UK.html

    Even on our “not so luxurious” main prison: Oslo Prison, the inmates have a recording studio, band room, gym, etc, etc.

    Lately there has been a lot of cases in the media about people that are fortunate enough to get to work until they’re 70 years. They write about how different employers arrange special programs for the elderly, so that they can continue working – instead of enjoying the autumn of their lives (like people used to do).
    It’s all because they’re preparing us to the fact that we’ll have to stay slaves (unless we wan’t to end up really poor) until our bodies can’t take it. Dying at work seems to be the new standard that we’re supposed to seek.
    Someone has to finance the criminals that are in the government, the criminals that are imprisoned, plus the social benefits we give to all the “asylum seekers” and immigrants that cross our border each year…

    • I don’t think it’s much different in the US. I was a visiting nurse so I spent a lot of time in old folks homes, and most people know they are going to work until they drop. We thought we would have to work until 70 to get the maximum social security money but even then it would have been hard. Many people older than that are still working just to make ends meet.
      There are good points to prison – free room and board, health care is covered, there are things to do… Our prisons aren’t quite like that but they are still better than the living conditions of a lot of people. I won’t even get started on the politics and government, etc.
      Panama is a good place to grow old. There is a respect for the older generation here that you don’t find in the US. Here, women are expected to retire at 57, and men at 62. You can also work after that (without losing any retirement benefits) but most people don’t.
      Actually it is not a shame that I was priced out of the US. If I wasn’t, I never would have had this experience of living here. There is a blog post brewing about that – the advantages of having less.

  14. Jerry says:

    YES, YES, YES!!! Can’t wait for the final blog. This is GREAT stuff — keep writing Kris. You put words together better than most of us. Love the ideas and thought provoking points. Living on less — ummmm, suppose that is possible?? :).

    • Final blog?? You know me, I like to talk, so if I stop talking/writing check me for a pulse.
      Yes it is possible to live on less. Remember, the average worker here gets $500-700/month (teacher, secretary, policeman, etc). Whole families live on that and less. The guy with the machete cutting the overgrown field makes $10/day.

  15. janand503 says:

    HI Kris, Can so relate to your blog, we moved from UK to Tenerife for the same reasons you did, that was 8 years ago and we love it. The cost of living here is much lower than the UK and we can live on less, because our lifestyle is so much more relaxed and less demanding.
    Thanks for the comment on my blog.

    • I looked up a bit of info on Tenerife and it looks just gorgeous! I’ll have to put it on my list of places I’d like to see sometime. I’m glad to hear that you are happy and life is good for you there. :)

  16. David and Kristy McMullin says:

    Kris, great job on your site, you got me interested! My name is David and my wife of 33 years and I are looking to move to Costa Rico, Belize (we lived there before) or Mexico but after reading your site I’ll have to run this by her as most woman I know she wants a lake or sea view and or access we are on a very low income she isn’t even at retirement age yet so the lower cost of living and internet access is most important to me I have read that there is low cost rentals in Costa Rico in the $300.00 a month range for 2 bed room but not sure on location yet, we have driven throw Mexico down the east coast and up the west cost twice as well as throw Belize (living there) and Guatemala so I am familiar with gringo pricing. I haven’t checked the air fare prices to Panama yet to the US but with kids there we too would like to return in summer LOL.

    • Hi and thanks for the good words, glad you enjoy the blog. Everyone I talk with agrees that Costa Rica is more expensive than Panama, and prices have risen badly in the last few years. As for here, Panama has tons of coast line so you have many options. But, I’m not sure if you could get something very low cost on the water. If it’s popular with tourists it’s more expensive, and if it’s not you might be a bit isolated. But it depends on what you want, so hopefully you can visit and see some areas for yourself. Air fair, I’m guessing $500-650 per person round trip depending on where you are and how lucky you are in getting a deal. That will get you to Panama City. http://www.panamaforreal.com/ This site might interest you too.

  17. Panama Pyrenees says:

    Congratulations on settling there & a great blog.

    Research done – check.
    Research done three more times – check.
    Multiple Visits done – check.
    One more visit before move – planned.
    Move to Panama & Ecuador (Yes both). – planned.
    Continually reading blogs, books, etc.

    Thank you for sharing it just confirms that I’ve made the right choice. Leaving the US for the very same reasons as you both. Look forward to possibly buying you a cup of coffee one day. Pura Vida!!!

  18. Trev Page says:

    My wife and I are about 20 years from retirement. I know that’s a long time on paper but in real life it goes by pretty fast. We’re dreaming of retiring in a place like Panama to get away from the dreadful Canadian winters. The US would be option if not the high cost of living and their costly health care. So a central American country should be a good option for us. We’ve heard all sorts of stories and would plan to visit before making a decision and staying at least a few months (renting) to get a feel for the place. Any thoughts you can give us in the meantime?

  19. Trev Page says:

    Thanks Kris. I’m fluent in French and I’ve been able to pick up Spanish fairly easily while on vacations due to their similarities. I’m very keen to learn so I can speak it fluently when the time comes. Rosetta Stone is wonderful!

  20. Anonymous says:

    My and my partner are considering moving to Panama frome Canada, we have done some research already. We are still young and parenting 2 young kids ages 6-9. We enjoyed our stay in Gorgona for 10 days, we rented a car and did lots of miles, we went to Cornado, El Valle for where whent to the zoo. We drove up to Caribbean side, as I like to say swam in the Caribbean and boogied board the Pacific all in the same day.

  21. Jessica kleimert says:

    Thank good i found your blog. i have been looking and looking on internet about *moving to panama* .
    hi, I’m a 24 year old girl that is moving to panama in 28 days, I’m moving alone from sweden. Im trying to find all the info i can get about the country because i have never been there. How much is it for ex food store and transport (bus, taxi) ? Do you have any good page that you have find your information from?

    Kind regards
    Jessica

    • A lot depends on where in Panama you decide to live. Panama City is more expensive than the rest of the country. Taxi’s and buses are everywhere and fairly cheap. Food – it depends on what you buy. Imported food is expensive. Local food is cheap (but we’re in David where it’s grown. I’m not sure about Panama City) http://www.permanentlypanama.com/ You might like this blog, a gal about your age who lives in Coronado. http://www.panamaforreal.com/ This is a young guy with a family who lives in Panama City and has a lot of information about various areas. Look for his “budget snapshot” for estimates on cost of living in different areas.

  22. Mary Smithersteen says:

    What do you know about living by the beach? Are many 1-2 bedroom apartments or houses that are furnished available? If so, what is the range of rent? Does David reach down to the coastland?

    • We’re out of town at the moment and only have by the minute internet (expensive). Feel free to poke around the blog, the website (www.thePanamaAdventure.com), google maps and google. I’ll get back in touch next week when we return and fill in any blanks that remain as best I can. Thanks!

    • Did you find any answers to your questions? There is also no substitute for coming to Panama to see it for yourself. There is a lot of coast line in Panama and various areas by a beach are different. Yes, there are furnished apartments and houses available but again, cost depends on where you want to live.

  23. Mary Smithersteen says:

    Thanks so much for the kind update. Looking forward to your feedback. I appreciate it.

  24. relocate says:

    I am so happy that you and your hubby are living the life there. I have been dreaming of Panama for six months now. I am working on tying all loose ends because I don’t want to come back to the USA at all. I am done, been done. I am priced out of here (among other things) just like your other reader mentioned. I am fluent in Spanish/English, so looking forward to settling and making friends. Any suggestions on how to do so while I am still here?
    So glad to hear that it is reasonably OK to be single down there. Also, what about running a very small business, 0-2 employees as a foreigner, is it possible, do the laws allow for that? I read somewhere that I just need to be sure to have a minimum of $5,000 in a local bank account…oh, owning a car/moped? Any input will be appreciated. Thanks for your time… want a new friend?

    • There are forums and Facebook groups wheee you can interact with others on line before you get here. Check my website for suggestions, and check back again in a couple weeks because I’m working onl updating the site. I haven’t looked into the legalities or feasibility of running a business here. It would be best to consult a lawyer about that. I know people have done it so it is certainly possible.

  25. relocate says:

    um.. .forgot to mention that I am a woman, so I am a single woman. it is encouraging to know that other singles have already done so and all seems to be well.

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