Every day I get emails asking questions about making the move to international living. Following are a series of emails I received from a real estate investor friend in California plus some other questions I get asked often. You may have some of these same questions too so I thought I’d share the Q and A…
Q. We are are looking into the possibility of living overseas. I know you have raved about Panama and that is a country on our consideration list. As we are doing more research and due diligence, I am wondering what you did for your researh 6 years ago?
A. You will LOVE an expat life. I sure do. I live in the mountains in Panama where it is spring like weather year round. It looks like Aspen without the snow. You can learn more about Panama at my web site www.PanamaRelocationTours.com. Lots of articles.
Another accurate source is www.RetirementWave.com Bob Adams is the real deal. He has lived in Panama 10 years. His free reports about the economy and demographics are real eye openers!!!!
Also check out www.RichardDetrich.com He has also lived in Panama 10+ years. Richard wrote a great book called The New Escape to Paradise (available on Amazon) which includes his checklist for exploring other countries, why he picked Panama, and what his life has been like in Panama
When I was building my list of possible places to move to, I was primarily considering places in Central and South America because they are closer to the USA. My first round of investigation was how stable the government and economy are. Belize defaulted on their debt and has constant financial problems. Mexico still have serious drug problems so those places were quickly marked off the list.
Then I decided, if I’m going to move to another country I should pick a place that has the one thing I want the most.. which is Spring like weather so I never need an air conditioner or heater again. That also means a lower utility bill.
Things are getting crazier and crazier in the USA. I heard that they just outlawed BBQing in Texas because the neighbors have to smell the smoke. Good time to find a new home!
Q. Thanks for all the information, Jackie. I have looked over a great deal of it and feel better informed. I am now curious as to what has been your challenges in relocating. What do you miss? Did you end up buying a house? The rental for $600 seems like a fantasy and a dream come true at the same time! I like that you got property tax relief for so many years . Where else (counties) did you look to expat to? What was your second runner up? I am not saying there are not lots of positives to Panama just other choices.
Like you I would prefer to not run a heater or an AC at all. Spring like weather year round sounds very appealing to me. How is your internet/cable/electronics connections where you live? Eric and I would still like to continue some form of work and the internet is the way to go.
Truly appreciate your input and insight. Of course, we will have to figure out when to come for a tour. We just want the unvarnished truth – the good, the bad and the ugly. Nothing is perfect – we just want to know the potential challenges.
Here are the answers to your questions
Q. I am now curious as to what has been your challenges in relocating.
A. The challenge has been learning how to do things a different way. That’s one reason I started the tour business… to help people make the transition easier. My tour guests know exactly what to expect before they relocate so it takes the stress away.
Q. What do you miss?
A. I miss walmart and good mexican food. There are stores similar to walmart but it is not the same. I can order anything on Amazon and get it delivered in about a week. There are mexican food restaurants but it is not the same as good TexMex because Panamanians don’t like spicy food.
Q. Did you end up buying a house?
A. I bought the $600 a month rental property including a small coffee farm on about an acre for $125,000
No property taxes for 13 more years! YOU SHOULD SEE MY VIEWS!!!!!
Q, Where else (counties) did you look to expat to?
A. Over a 2 year period, I researched a lot of countries, visited Ecuador, Costa Rica, Belize, Honduras, Mexico, Argentina, Uruguay and Chile… and some of the Caribbean islands but ruled out anywhere that gets hurricanes. No hurricanes in Panama!
Many places got marked off the list before I visited them, like Guatamela, Colombia and Nicaragia.
I lived in Germany for 3 years as a teenager. I like Europe but I would never consider living there. It is too far away, too expensive, and the economy is a mess.
I could achieve my desire to live in a place that has no need for air conditioning or a heater in other countries but they all have economy and/or government problems.
Costa Rica has had 10% inflation for every year for 10 years. Lots of people from Costa Rica come to Panama to buy stuff because it is cheaper. In costa rica, you can live in the Central Valley, have no air conditioner or heater and still have a $300 utility bill because of their graduated billing system.
My last electric bill was $26.19!
A really strong economy and true democratic government were extremely important too. As was really good water sources, 365 day growing season, and fresh fish.
Q. What was your second runner up? I am not saying there are not lots of positives to Panama just other choices.
A. Honestly, no place came even close to all that Panama has to offer. I like Cuenca Ecuador but it is much colder because it is at 8500feet. Cotocachi is good too. But…The government is a mess in Ecuador. They charge 14% sale tax on everything. And the economy is tanking. The president of Ecuador keeps re-writing the rules to stay in office. It is as close to a dictatorship as you can get. I do go to Ecuador to buy stuff to resell on Amazon and Ebay. I like visting there.
Chile is very expensive. Their taxes are not friendly. The northern area is ugly. The southern area is beautiful but it gets really cold. Santiago is too big and has lots of smog.
Living in a country with the US dollar as their currency helps too. There is no exchange rate where you can lose buying power.. like Costa Rica, Chile, and many other countries
Q. What’s your average cost of living in Panama?
A. The answer to that depends on where you live and how you live. We spend about $1000 to $1500 a month now that we’re not renting. But I don’t live an expensive lifestyle or drive a fancy car. I do not buy processed or pre-packaged foods. I eat out as often as I want (fresh veggies and fish) and buy what ever I want. That price includes groceries, utilities, a data plan for my phone, health insurance, clothes, plants, things for the house, and car insurance. By the way, water is $60 a YEAR for unlimited water use. It is not even metered.
Some people live comfortable on much less. Others spend $5000 a month or more. Another investor friend lives near Coronado in a 3 bedroom condo facing the beach. He swims in the Pacific Ocean every morning. He spends about $2000 a month for rent, groceries, insurance, and entertainment.
Q. Thanks for all the information. I haven’t seen a utility bill that low since some time in the early 80’s but of course we thought that was expensive then! We regularly see about $300 a month here.
I would miss certain foods too but fresh veggies and fish is a big draw for us. As is the currency. A booming economy is very helpful too. What do you miss at Walmart? The convenience of lots of things in one place at a good price or …? Really good data on the government as well. I am sure you follow the news here and I keep seeing an expanded police presence everywhere amid these “threats” of violence and I am just a little sick of all the bureaucracy.
Would love to see your house and views. Send a photo next time you have your camera handy. Do you grow coffee and sell it or roast it or export it or ?? Tax break comes from the coffee plantation?
How is the internet connection and reliability?
Love hearing about the weather the most. I don’t like or want hot and humid without an ocean to jump into but Eric needs some humidity for his skin.
Is everything safe enough for us to be away from “home” for a while if we travel outside the country? Do neighbors watch out for each other?
Is banking easy to use? Do people have animals, like dogs and cats?
I would miss certain foods too but fresh veggies and fish is a big draw for us.
A. 99.9% of the foods you are familiar with are here. Even all the things to make good mexican food are here. But if you want good mexican food, you have to make it yourself. There are no rotel tomatoes but there is something similar. We have the best pineapples you’ve ever tasted. Just yesterday I bought 4 pineapples for $3. Papaya is excellent too. The list goes on and on of good veggies and fruits.
A booming economy is very helpful too. Yes. Very refreshing compared to the US
Q.What do you miss at Walmart? The convenience of lots of things in one place at a good price or …?
A. I miss the convenience of everything in one place… one stop shop. There is a store in Panama which is the similar to walmart but that store is not close to my house yet. Opening in 2016
Q. Really good data on the government as well. I am sure you follow the news here and I keep seeing an expanded police presence everywhere amid these “threats” of violence and I am just a little sick of all the bureaucracy.
A. I am SO glad I do not live in the USA. Things are really crazy. I don’t even watch the news anymore. It is too depressing.
Q. Would love to see your house and views. Send a photo next time you have your camera handy.
A. pictures do not even do it justice. you’ll just have to come see sometime. The house is small but it is all that I need with 2 bedrooms and 2 baths. We visit my house during the Panama Relocation Tours.
Q. Do you grow coffee and sell it or roast it or export it or ?? Tax break comes from the coffee plantation?
A. I grow a lot of coffee. Sell some, keep some, give some away to my gardener. No taxes.
Q. How is the internet connection and reliability?
A. Internet is excellent if you live in an area serviced by Cable Onda you can get 25Mg. Cable TV has 250+ channels many in English including movies, news, weekly series. If Cable Onda is not available, you pay a LOT for 3MG… like $125 a month.
Some rural areas have trouble getting reliable internet. So pick your location wisely. Ask who the ISP is before you rent or buy.
Q, Love hearing about the weather the most. I don’t like or want hot and humid without an ocean to jump into but Eric needs some humidity for his skin.
A. The Pacific ocean is an hour south from my house. The caribbean/Atlantic is 2 1/2 hours north. I’m in the mountains in the middle, so I have the best of both worlds. My average daytime temperature is about 76.
Q. Is everything safe enough for us to be away from “home” for a while if we travel outside the country? Do neighbors watch out for each other?
A. Very safe. I travel to other countries a lot because it is so cheap from here. With my pensionado discount it is $200 round trip to Ecuador and a 1 1/2 hour flight. Neighbors do watch out for each other. I’m going to Cuba later this year. If I am gone for more than 2 days I always get a pet sitter to take care of the house and my cats.
Q. Is banking easy to use?
A. banking is easy but different. Only a few banks will open an account for you if you do not have a residency visa. You need a bank reference letter from US. And they will interview you. So the whole process takes about an hour. Then it’s easy. Some banks even have online banking in English.
Banking is much easier if you get a residency visa. I have mine and can get a Panama passport soon.
Q. Why do some people fail at being an expat?
A. It’s not really that people fail at being an expat. Some people decide to move back to their home country because a grandchild is on the way or they may have serious health problems and want to be closer to family.
I’ve met some couples who come down right after retirement. He worked all the time. She worked all the time in the US and they rarely spent much time together. Then all the sudden, they are together 24/7 and realize they really don’t like each other anymore. So one of them or both of them move back.
Then there is the person who moves to a foreign country but instead of meeting new people and exploring their new country, they stay inside glued to English TV shows. They never even try to integrate.
Moving to a foreign country is a good time to re-invent yourself. Be social!
Q. What do you do when you are not doing a tour?
A. I enjoy working in my garden. Every weekend there is a plant sale in town. I go to find unique exotic plants then find just the right place in my yard. I also have a vegetable garden. 120 banana plants, avocado trees, and lots of fruit trees.
I enjoy meeting friends for lunch or dinner. In boquete, we have live music just about every night. I usually go to at least 1 live music event per week.
There are all kinds of social events like art shows, theater, card games, golf, tennis, hiking groups. garden groups, photography club, etc etc. And there are many volunteer and charity opportunities to participate in.
Q. Do people have animals, like dogs and cats?
A. Most people have pets. I brought my cat with me when I moved here. When my son moved to Amsterdam, he brought his cat to live with “grandma” There is an active animal adoption all the time.
Of course, I have time to answer a lot more questions and cover more terriroty during the 6-Day 5-Night All Inclusive PanamaRelocationTours.com Plus nothing beats a real boots-on-the-ground tour of Panama to determine if living in Panama is right for you!
Q. Thank you for your helpful information, Jackie! Like so many who write to you, my husband and I are seriously considering becoming ex-pats and Panama is on our “short list” of possible new homes. This Q & A covered most of the others that we are looking – the “usual suspects”.
In all of my research and reading so far, there is something that I have not seen discussed, although you hinted at it:
What do ex-pats do when nearing, or at, “end of life” – either from serious/terminal illness, or just advanced age, with accompanying issues of needing some care or assisted living? How does Panama care for its elderly? The quality/affordability of health care is often mentioned, but what about long-term care, hospice, “nursing homes”, etc? Or do most ex-pats return “home” to the US, to be cared for by adult children/other family members? If they’re returning to the US, do they need to keep “long term care” insurance in place while living away? And can they get Medicare/Medicaid when they return to US, even if they have been living out of the country for years or decades? I hope these questions make sense. Thank you again for your vital information!
A. Great question and one that Richard Detrich answers in his new FREE BOOK called Living and Retiring in Panama Q & A. You can get the book HERE
Some expats have international health insurance. I do. So they can get medical treatment in Panama, in the US, or anywhere else in the world. The international health insuarnce covers some home health care.
There are no English speaking assisted living or nursing homes in Panama… YET! Some are in the works.
But there is licensed home health care with English speaking caregivers. And it is very affordable I’ve been told with prices about 90% less than the USA.
BEAUTIFUL day today… lush green trees everywhere, flowers in every color, surrounded by mountains with clouds dancing on the top, exotic birds and hummers fluttering around my backyard. Life is good in Panama!
You have no idea what you are missing!
Living overseas can save you money and offer new experiences, but you must look at the whole package, not just how pretty the beaches or mountains are. Lower costs of living is important but a stable government and economy are more important even if you pay a little more.
These answers are based on my personal experience of living in Panama. Other people may have a different experience. Some people see the glass half full. Others see the glass half empty… and love to complain about every little thing. Panama is not the USA South. If you want everything to be just like the USA, it is best to stay in the USA. But if you want a new experience and a new adventure in an incredible country.. then Panama is right for you!