Chris Cunningham never expected to live in Panama. When her husband, Joel, began talking about retiring to Central America, “I thought he had lost his mind.” He did not have a passport and he was never abroad.
But after nine years in David, a town of 83,000 people near the Pacific Ocean and on the Costa Rican border, “we’re very happy here,” said the 69-year-old. “It worked beyond my biggest expectations.”
She learned Spanish, taught herself to play bass guitar, and joined her husband’s rock band Monkey Nerve when the bass player moved to Colombia. He seems to have had conversations with everyone, riding bikes from home across Costa Rica to Nicaragua and blogging about his life.
A decade back. Cunningham was working as a visiting nurse in Florida, burned in the fire but knew she and her husband, already retired from her home remodeling work, could not afford to stay in Sarasota without a paycheck or her Social Security check. And even a reduction check was a few years away.
“We were just working to keep our heads above water,” he recalled when he counted the days when he couldn’t claim social security at age 62.
At her husband’s request, they decided to check out Costa Rica and Panama. Costa Rica prices were high. Panama City didn’t fit well – too many cities. Boquete, in the hills, is an expatriate enclave and has appealed. But David felt right – not too big, friendly and alienated with the community rather than being isolated. “It’s very free here, so comfortable, so not alone,” she says.
They run numbers and thought they could avoid savings until his social security check started.
He took Spanish classes before leaving Florida, but his friends in Panama could not speak English. So he learned, though, that the first four years meant relying on dictionaries.
In Florida, the couple was spending $ 3,000 a month just for the basics, not to mention clothes and restaurant food. To David, it’s between $ 1,100 and 1,200. Additional costs are minimal; They don’t go to big restaurants, so it’s basically a flight back to the US
They rent a house – 3 bedrooms, 2 baths across 900 square feet and a yard full of fruit trees – in a nice middle-class neighborhood for $ 385 a month, including water and garbage collection. In Panama, it is a norm that an unoccupied house means you provide a refrigerator, stove and washing machine.
The kitchen stove runs on the same gas canister as the American gas grill – typical for Panama – and costs $ 5.12 for a refill, usually monthly. Internet and cable television together for $ 46 a month.
Insurance for their cars – liability coverage only because they are more than a decade old – about $ 300 a year.
A basic, good Panamanian lunch costs around $ 4, he said, while a nearby fancy Italian restaurant can cost $ 40 per person. The price of their favorite restaurant is no more than $ 10 per. He said the $ 45 he recently paid for three hamburgers, chicken nuggets and a meal to drink in the United States would cost half or less in Panama.
“We’re not living badly here, we’re living very comfortably.”
Cunningham and her husband have chosen to pay for health care out of pocket, saying they are healthy and not on medication, and have set aside money for emergencies.
It costs 40 to $ 50 to visit a doctor, he said, and he pays $ 30 to clean his teeth.
When a stain on his teeth turned into a large cavity, gum surgery, a root canal and a crown, operated by three dentists, “it was less than $ 900 for the whole Shebang,” he recalls.
You need a visa to live in Panama
Panama’s rules have changed since Cunningham arrived. You can stay in the country as a tourist for 180 days but you cannot stay in the country as a tourist, he said.
Panama requires that individuals register a verifiable income of $ 1,000 per month and an additional $ 250 for each dependent, he says. It could be a social security check or a public or private-sector pension. Here is what the Panamanian embassy has listed as a requirement.
Visas for retirees including flights come with various discounts.
If the standard retirement visa does not work for you, consult a lawyer about other options. You can also contact your nearest Panamanian consulate with your visa questions.
Cunningham reluctantly admits there will be disappointment. Workers may not come when you expect and the meeting may start late. It will be even more noisy – higher music that runs late, rooster that crows, dogs that run on the street. Depending on where you live, you may be able to cope with regular outages of electricity, internet, and even water.
Then there are more worldly differences. Favorite brands may be unavailable. Finding suitable clothing and shoes can be difficult because Panamanians tend to be shorter and thinner than Americans.
David’s weather is hot but, he says, more comfortable than Florida, which has also become colder.
Many Americans choose to live in the mountains in Boke, where there is no shortage of events in English and the workers speak English. Still, he saw a lot of people come and go. Some get annoyed at what they see as incompetence or bureaucracy, or they miss grandchildren or they want U.S. healthcare. (Medicare cannot be used abroad.)
“Sometimes I think they wanted their lives in the state but cheap,” he says.
His advice? Kite. Adapt to the culture and do better to get what you want.
“To do this, you need to know that it will not be like living in the United States,” he added. “You just have to realize you’re jumping on the bandwagon of the unknown, and you just have to go with it.”
Interested in Boquete? ‘Insanity in the United States’: Why the 63-year-old teacher left Massachusetts to retire to the highlands of Panama
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