by guest blogger Larke Newell
These days the term used for those of us who are retired or semi-retired and divide our time between two or more countries is “snowbirds.” This very apt term describes Canadians, Americans, or folks from other cold-winter countries who refuse to spend their precious retirement years shovelling snow and huddling in front of their fireplaces every winter (if they are so lucky as to have a fireplace). Not to mention donning layers of clothing from top to toe just to venture outside for even the simplest of reasons. Block heaters. Snow shovels. Woollen hats, mittens, and scarves. Outrageous heating bills! Be gone!
And so each and every fall they pack up the necessities and head for warmer climes. Some prefer to go only as far as the warmer, more temperate areas of the southern US and either purchase a home or an RV there or move from place to place on an extended vacation.
And so, here we are in Panama. We love our new adopted country but, to be perfectly honest, as in everything, there are pros and cons to this lifestyle. Somehow in the excitement of making the decision to do this, it is hard to focus on the downside, even with all your research having been diligently done. So, once again, my advice is go slowly and consider all factors of this very big step.
It is expensive to travel back and forth each year. From the time we started this yearly odyssey to and from Panama to Canada five years ago flights and hotel rates have inevitably increased, not to forget the additional new charge for luggage. However, on the flip side, at least in our case, other related things have changed in our favour. Case in point: We now have an airline which flies from Canada to Panama, which was not available prior to this year. In addition, we can now fly from David to Panama City and on to our final destination on the same airline. This may seem like a trivial thing but it is huge to us. Previously we were forced to use the small local airline to fly from David to Panama City, stay a night in Panama City (hence a hotel room, meals, and taxi fare), and take a taxi across the city to the international airport the following day. Now we can use the same airline in David, on to Panama City, and on to our destination with no taxis, hotel rooms, or luggage hassles.
There are definite rules regarding the length of time we are allowed to stay out of Canada. It is well known that Panama has excellent and affordable health care and insurance. However, it is a bit expensive to get their insurance if one or the other of you has a pre-existing medical condition, as is the case with us. Consequently it is of the utmost importance that we continue our B.C. medical coverage. In order to do that they insist, and rightly so, that their members must not be absent from Canada for more than seven months at a time.
In addition, if you are reliant on Canadian government pensions to provide your income while in your new country, the same sort of rule applies. You cannot be absent from Canada for longer than six months. It is not necessary to remain in Canada for six consecutive months, but your passport must show that you indeed did return before the six months was up. Consequently it is not an option for us to cosy in and decide we just are not quite ready to return to Canada yet!
Next is the opportunity to immerse ourselves in an entirely new and different culture, learn a new language, visit exciting places, meet new people, and have exciting adventures. (Not to mention providing a vacation destination for friends and family who are less fortunate in that they have yet to retire…or maybe just love to visit Panama).
Speaking of friends and family, since we remain in Canada for six months each year, we have the advantage of spending plenty of time with them. Probably in some cases more than we did before retiring, when that pesky job and other responsibilities always found a way to interfere! We are also able to speak our native English, perhaps do a bit of work, and get caught up on local news and events.
This alternative living arrangement provides a terrific way for newbie snowbirds to decide whether they wish to settle into one new country, as we have, or to travel from destination to destination on an eternal vacation.
In conclusion, yes there are both pros and cons to this way of life but I can say in all honesty that my husband and I have never been happier and do not regret our decision for one single moment.