By Janet Sussman
So you have zeroed in on Panama as the perfect place for your dream retirement! That’s great! Me too!
What’s next? You take a tour of some well-known places as well as some you have never heard of in Panama, they fit your budget, and now you are in love with all of them, but you still have a million questions and, frankly, are scared! That’s normal.
What do you do?
Do you spend thousands and just pack up everything in a bunch of containers and move to that pretty little place you drove by on the bus?
Do you believe the “best place to move in Panama” according to all those Expat Facebook group members, will also be right for you?
Do you sell/give away everything and hop on a plane with just your carry-on?
Do you apply for your residency before you move because you are absolutely positive this will be “it” only to get here and find out you (and/OR your partner) hate it?
Well, I do have a great little “hack” for you if any of the above voices are hovering in your head.
I kind of came to Panama through the back door and by accident. I had no intentions of moving here until, after coming back and forth for 3 years for business (which I finally realized I was using as my excuse to return again and again), I finally realized that I was happy in Panama and miserable back in the states so I took what was supposed to be a one year leave of absence from my teaching job in Florida that turned into 2 and has since turned in 11.
Fast forward to about year 5. After deciding not to return to Florida, I retired early from that teaching position, then I worked for some International schools in Panama for several years.
Later, I started a language school of my own in Panama which I quickly decided was just not for me. Although the school definitely filled a need in Panama since the efforts of making this country officially bilingual during the US occupation of the Canal Zone never really got off the ground, I simply no longer wanted to work that hard. So, after turning the company over to my business partner, I was, once again, faced with the decision of:
“What do I want to be when I grow up….this time?”
I had been living in and near Panama City for about 5 years but, now was free to move anywhere. I knew I wanted to stay in Panama but, even though I had been fortunate enough to get to know a good bit of the country, I wasn’t sure where I wanted to settle.
(Here’s the “HACK” part.)
I had heard about house sitting and thought I might try that out for about 6 months in various areas to give me a better idea of where I wanted to rent or maybe even buy. After all, by house-sitting, I would be staying in the homes of people who had decided on that particular location for one reason or another and maybe one of them would be perfect for me too. The bonus was the fur baby cuddles! I have had all sorts of animals my entire life, including a farm at one point, so this seemed like the smartest (and most fun) way to make a clear decision.
Well, those 6 months have since turned into 5 years (see a pattern for me here? lol).
I have yet to rent or buy anything since starting my house-sitting adventure; in fact, after realizing that I was rarely in the city apartment for which I was paying rent, I let go of that, gave away, sold, and stored (for a very short time) the few things I had acquired in my time in Panama and just trusted fate. The rest I piled into my tiny Chevy Spark, and off I went for the experience of a lifetime. Every time I think about settling down, I get a phone call, the beautiful butterflies in my stomach return, and, nope! not ready just yet!
Since Janet pays no rent, she rarely spends more than $400 a month for food, health insurance, and her car.
Many of the families for whom I sit in Panama are animal lovers and have adopted strays; a huge issue here. Quite often, they come with physical and/or psychological issues and, once they see that I am as big an advocate, the repeats and referrals have come regularly and, so, my schedule is full. Whenever I do have a gap, I either use that time to go visit my family in Florida, go to the city to take care of things like car maintenance, medical checkups (Healthcare: another whole topic) or take the opportunity to visit friends and/or places I have yet to get to know here in Panama. I have also done a number of sits in Europe. I frequently search for Airbnb or hotel bargains for those in between times.
With Airbnb, in case you are not aware, there is a discount for a weekly stay and an even bigger discount for a month. If it is a new listing, there is usually an additional 20% off, for example. Considering the cleaning and Airbnb’s fees, it is rarely worth it for less than 2 or 3 days which is when I search for hotel deals.
Using things sites Trivago, I can still take advantage of my loyalty points on other sites with whom it might connect me such as Expedia.com, Hotels.com, and Bookings.com. Living this way costs me far less on average than any rent I could be paying. I budget my travel expenses to be within what I can afford for rent on my retirement and Social Security.
(I also teach English online as I travel….yet ANOTHER whole topic!).
I even went to Europe this past fall, walked a (short) Camino de Santiago, did a volunteer English program near Madrid (yes, yet ANOTHER travel hack topic!), went on 2 cruises (yep, you guessed it! more hacks), did a 3-week house sit near Alicante and I estimated my average “rent” expenses to be just over $400/month for all of 2022.
Now, this wanderlust lifestyle is not for everyone, especially not on a full-time basis, but a stab at it just might give you an insider’s view of what is out there, what is nearby the places you have already visited/heard of, tentatively decided on, and how you fit into the local picture as well as how it fits you!
How does one get started, you ask?
There are several websites where you can find house-sitting opportunities. I mostly use Trusted House Sitters. It does have the most expensive membership, but the benefits are well worth it, in my opinion. It seems to have the most listings (at least where I am interested: Panama, Florida, and Europe), and with a premium membership, it comes with things like 2 VIP airport lounge passes and also, insurance for both the homeowner and housesitter should something go wrong. This benefit is invaluable as far as I am concerned.
The next is Mind My House, with a very reasonable membership fee. Both have connected me with wonderful opportunities and with homeowners who have become dear friends. There are many more but I would recommend checking out the online magazine as well: House Sitting Magazine**.
Ian and Vanessa also have a Facebook page of devoted followers:
House Sitting, Pet Sitting, Travel Lifestyle Support
They have been house sitters themselves for years and have over 100 sits under their belts (they also lived in Panama for some time). The community there is, for the most part, made up of honest animal lovers who also love to travel and explore. It just amazes me what a wonderful, trusting, and trustworthy group of people they all seem to be.
House Sitting Magazine provides many stories of real-life sitters and homeowners as well as discounts for many other platforms not listed in this article.
See some links below, as well as a discount code for Trusted HouseSitters if you do decide to join. Please note that I am not trying to sell any of them over another; I am simply letting you know what I have done and what works for me.
If you are seriously considering moving to Panama, my suggestion is to visit several of your favorite places for an extended period and check out the other areas nearby as well some you might not have previously considered or even heard of.
A good way to check out several different areas in Panama and learn about the pros and cons of each is to take an all-inclusive 6-day, 7-night Panama Relocation Tour. It’s the easiest way to explore if Panama is a good fit for you. All you have to do is get to Panama, then Panama Relocation Tours takes care of everything else.
Talk to locals and other expats in that area but keep in might that the perfect place for them just might end up last on your own list of favorites.
I do suggest you at least try to learn some Spanish so as not to be limited or feel isolated unless that’s what you want.
Last but by no means least, be completely open-minded to what else is out there other than what you were absolutely sure was for you. There’s a saying: “We plan; God laughs!” (If I ever get a tattoo, this will be it!)
VIDEO BELOW of Janet talking about her move to Panama and getting started with house sitting.
In the meantime, “Trust Your Journey” and Buen Viajes
*Trustedhousesitters.com with discount code
*** House Sitting Magazine on Facebook
Here are a few more resources but a quick “house sitting” search will bring up plenty more:
House Sitting in Panama: This seems to be more people looking for house sits than homeowners looking for sitters, but it’s worth a shot.
House Sit Search
Diana Yates-Toman says
Great news! Very helpful not just for people looking to house sit but also for those wanting to buy. The home owner knows they can hire sitters easily?
That makes one feel secure.
Jackie Lange says
Diana, it is comforting to know that house sitters are readily available in Panama. You should get referrals for house sitters just like you would for a house keeper or gardener.
Carol Y Jerrow says
March 15, 2023, Hello Jackie: AM looking forward to hearing about Home Sitting. And hoping people will think I’m too old to do it. I am 85.
Here’s what I would find helpful. All your intros about Relocation have no date when you filmed them.
When introducing people to talk about their experience, I hear “we’ve been here about a year now” “we moved here two months ago”. Very few people give a date of moving. I, personally, would like to know what year of move, Year and month video was made. In my mind, it would be helpful to know that information. Would you please give that your consideration? Looking forward to what Home Sitter has to say. I wanna do it, too. Carol
Jackie Lange says
Hi Carol I’m glad you enjoy the videos. Every video has a date listed that it was uploaded. The video was always filmed a week or two before that date. As afar as house sitting, age is not the factor as much as your ability to do the job and to have transportation to get to the house sit job.