This is a post that I published a while back but thought it was worth re-blogging. I notice that the most frequently asked question from those who don’t know us is “How did you choose Panama?” So for those of you who may have missed my answer to that very good question…..
As I’ve been discussing our plans to expatriate with clients, friends and family, there are naturally many questions that everyone has . How did you decide on Panama? How do you fly there? Is it safe? Do they have Internet ? Where is Panama in relation to other countries in Central and South America? Do you have to give up your U.S. citizenship ? Can you collect Social Security down the road? Do you still pay U.S. taxes? What is banking like there? What currency do they use? What s health care like there? Will you ship a vehicle out there?
I thought I’d write a series of posts to share the answers to some of those questions. They are questions Scott and I had to find the answers to during our research . And of course the first question on people’s minds seems to be,” How did you choose Boquete , Panama?”. Well…… It has been an evolution that began with lists. My list, Scott’s list and a collective list of what was important to us about where we live. The lists evolved as time went by. Here is the final list of our collective considerations of what’s important to us for our new home:
1. Climate- not extremely humid, no snow, not too hot, really no extreme weather at all.
2. Cost of living
3. Proximity to the U.S.- a place that will be easy enough for us to visit the states and for people to visit us
4. Crime rate- not excessive security on homes (Barbed wire and glass shards! No thanks!)
5. Not a big city, but close enough to a big city so that we have access to the amenities a larger city has to offer.
6. We would like the town to have at least a few decent restaurants for the occasional night out
7. Access to decent grocery stores or markets with quality foods and household necessities .
8. Healthcare – affordable and quality
9. Outdoor activities- we would like to be near enough to hiking, water sports , camping etc.
10. Welcoming expat community where we will have opportunity to get involved and make connections
11. Economical and political stability of the country should be comfortably stable
We realized early in our process as we first began considering other states in the U.S., that climate seemed to be the first consideration that would take a destination off the list. Too hot, SNOW!, (no way!) humidity, too wet, too dry. We faced the realization and we are officially embracing the fact ,that we are “Weather-Whimps!”. Yep! Learned something new , or just admitted it to ourselves! Being native Californians, we are spoiled when it comes to climate. So with that important bit established, our list of possible destinations to live here in the U.S. dwindled quickly . Another consideration that made the list shrink was the cost of living . The more affordable areas got taken off our list based on climate and the better climate areas seemed to have higher cost of living. This was about the time we began to consider other countries outside the U.S. If we decided to leave the States and essentially retired we realized our money needed to go further than it could here. Granted, just getting out of the silicon valley would greatly lower our living expenses . But leaving the states would greatly effect how much sooner we could implement our plan to retire.
So Latin American countries provide a much more economical cost of living than European or Asian countries and obviously , for us anyways, middle Eastern countries didn’t even make it on our list. Although, the majority of the South and Central American countries typically have a very tropical, humid climate. We initially didn’t think we would explore those areas because they are all very tropical, humid places that didn’t satisfy our climate considerations . With the exception of Uruguay. We learned that Uruguay is pretty much the same distance from the equator as we are here, so their climate is very similar to California. Soooooo off we went for five weeks of exploring Uruguay ! What a beautiful country! But…… It’s just too damn far away! And a bit isolating. So after that trip we had another consideration for our list,’ proximity to the States’. We want to be able to come to the States for visits easily and of course we want our friends and family to easily visit us as well. So with this in mind our search criteria would now include finding a destination that isn’t too difficult to get to from the U.S..
Then we began to discover some higher altitude locations in Latin America that provide the cooler, less humid climate we were looking for. So in Mexico, which provided the lower cost of living and great proximity to the U.S., we discovered a small village up in the mountains near Guadalajara where it’s nice and cool , called Ajijic, located on Lake Chapala. This area has a year round average temperature of about 72 degrees! It’s seldom unpleasantly hot or humid. And the cost of living in Mexico is also very appealing . This was a very nice area but we were not especially keen on all the high security around all the homes. Not just walls but major barbed wire and often glass shards as well. It didn’t give us an overly safe feeling and yet another important consideration made it onto our list, ‘crime rate’. Mexico, in our eyes and just at the moment seems a bit too lawless for our liking. I hope in the future they figure out how to get a grip on the violence there because it’s such a lovely country.And it’s so fast and easy to get to Mexico from the U.S. Back to the drawing board for us.
Now we had four very important criteria on our list of considerations for our future home. Cost of living, climate, proximity to the States, and crime rate. With each new consideration our list of possible locations was shrinking and at times we began to wonder if we would ever find the right place for us. In the early days of our research we came across a publication called International Living. It was very helpful in broadening our knowledge of popular location for expats. Although we very quickly realized that much of the articles and adds are pretty biased, based on the fact that many of the contributing authors are trying to sell you something. Either costly seminars about how to retire overseas or attempting to appeal to retirees by touting often unrealistically low cost of living in the areas where they just happen to have homes for sale in their gated mostly Gringo communities . So knowing this about the publication, we mainly would casually glance at it to see if there were any locations we might like to research on our own. This is how we discovered Boquete , Panama. And then an HGTV show called House Hunters International turned us on to Cuenca, Ecuador. Both are higher altitude locations which offer springlike conditions year round.
In 2010 we took our first trip to Panama. Spending ten days driving from Panama City all the way to Boquete . Stopping on the way to spend a few days exploring other higher elevation areas that we had read about and wanted to check out. That first trip we only spent two days in Boquete . It didn’t take us long to fall in love with the area. The weather, friendly people, the lush, green landscape , good restaurants, 35 minutes to a large city where there is a very good hospital, cost of living met our criteria, and getting there wasn’t terrible . We new we would go home and continue our research to be certain this was the right fit but I think we both felt pretty good about what we saw on those first two days there. Of course we would need to go back to spend longer than two days and see how it would feel to actually live there. So in October of 2011, off we went for a three week stay in Panama. We found a lovely house to rent from a couple of expats who had moved to Boquete about eight years ago from Bend Oregon . And boy did we hit the jackpot meeting Al and Sela! We really hit it off with them. Kindred spirits for sure! Al, like Scott, loves to cook and also enjoys wood working! And Sela is such a sweet lady, I noticed many familiar books in her enormous bookcase in her home! You all know how passionate I am about books! And I think I found my match in Sela! She even had one of my personal favorites, Diana Gabaldon, in her book collection! Yep, we hit it off right away! During our stay in their casita Al and Sela agreed to let us make them dinner and they came over and let us pick their brains! And we were Thorough!! Lol! Scott, with laptop in hand and spreadsheet at the ready began taking notes! They very generously went through their budget with us and shared ,with great detail, exactly what the living expenses were for them. This information was so incredibly valuable to us. Particularly since they seem to have a standard of living that we know would suit us. They live frugally but very comfortably . Another fantastic thing we felt so lucky to do while we were in Boquete was attend an event that Al and Sela had organized for the expats, an all you can eat Mexican buffet and Movie night! Again, right up our alley! I just love meeting new people. This was a nice evening and we got the opportunity to mix and mingle with many very nice folks who also were very generous with info about living there in Boquete . I especially got a lot of great feedback about healthcare ! A very important consideration. Not one negative word about the very personal, professional, caring doctors and hospitals. As a matter of fact the most common thing several different people kept repeating was how , when you leave the doctors office you are always given , by the doctor, his personal cell phone number with instructions to call anytime! Huh? Imagine that!
While staying in Boquete we made an effort to grocery shop and cook as much as possible. We wanted to make sure to test out the local Grocery stores and the availability of at least most of our familiar ingredients . And we were pleasantly surprised to find that we had no problem , did I say “we”? Lol! I meant to say, “Scott”, had no problem finding fresh, plentiful fruits, vegetables and meats to cook! I had no problem eating aforementioned fresh, plentiful fruits, vegetables and meats! Hah! So far, we had found that Boquete , Panama was satisfying most, if not all of our lists of criteria we had worked so hard at identifying ! Had we really found our new home? We were fairly confident but not quite ready to completely commit yet. We would go back home and spend more time talking, researching , thinking, dreaming, working, looking at our lists and talking some more.
Our most recent exploratory trip last month ,(June ) was to Cuenca, Ecuador . As you’ve probably already read about in my previous posts. Although the city and surrounding areas were incredibly beautiful, visiting Cuenca helped us solidify our decision to move to Boquete . Not because we didn’t like Cuenca, but because it helped us realize that in comparison , Boquete met virtually all of our criteria that we have been searching for in a new home. After all this time we have actually found a place that we think we will be able to make our home. It feels so good to have finally made a decision . The time we’ve invested in our decision making process has been time well spent. Especially since we managed to visit so many beautiful places and to meet so many really great people along the way. This may have been one of the biggest decisions I’ve made in my life. And I know beyond a doubt that all the time and effort and endless research we invested will pay off! We’ve certainly done our homework to the best of our ability. There will , of course be unexpected things that come up and challenges to face once we get there, because it’s impossible to predict what life may send our way. One thing I know for sure, no matter where we live, life is what you make it! And a positive attitude open mind and willingness to change will go a long way towards providing us with a happy life! Now for the next phase……. Orchestrating the actual move! I think the hardest part of this adventure is yet to come. But hey, Did I mention…. It’s an ADVENTURE!!!!! And I’m ready to dive in!