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Life’s not all a bed of roses here in Boquete. I thought today that I’d share some reasons not to live in Panama.
So far, living here has been a wonderful experience for me and my family. It definitely was an adjustment (and still is occasionally), but just being a part of a life that’s so different than we’re accustomed to is both interesting and amazing.
A couple of weeks ago, I talked about The 7 Reasons I Love Living in Panama as an Expat. Between the perfect temperature (at least for me!) in Boquete where we’re living, the mountain scenery, the cost of living, and more, we’ve been very happy.
But there’s no perfect place and I thought I’d give it a go in sharing some of the downsides of living here as well. Some of this focuses specifically on the city of Boquete where we live and some on the country as a whole.
I’m gonna be honest (why do people say that?!), it was a much harder mission to come up with reasons not to live in Panama. Not that there aren’t legitimate reasons, but the list might seem kind of petty.
And that’s really the point. Except for one major one, life here is pretty awesome.
As a side note, you might think that I’d have the mañana attitude listed here. That’s when things are more lackadaisical overall. Maybe you have someone coming to do some work on your house and he/she tells you they’ll be back mañana.
Oh, tomorrow? That’s not so bad. Nope, that might mean a few days, a week, or whatever.
That also sometimes applies to the idea of slow service in general.
But, believe it or not, we really haven’t experienced that (yet!) so I didn’t feel like that should make my list of reasons not to live in Panama.
Instead, I wanted to focus on the things that have made our new home a little tougher for us personally living here.
1) Leaving family and friends – the biggest of the reasons not to live in Panama
I’m starting with the most obvious of the reasons not to live in Panama. When you move to another country, you’re going to be leaving all the bonds that you’ve had in place for a long time, possibly many decades. That’s hard to do!
This is the hardest one for us. It’s also probably the only thing that could get us to move back at some point down the line.
Sure, we’ll develop new friendships over time, but it takes time and you start from scratch on new memories. That’s tough… really tough.
In the meantime, we’ll continue to drink as much beer with other folks as we can in the effort to cultivate these new relationships. Sheesh, the things we do for friendships!
And, it goes without saying that you only have one family. Leaving the people you’ve known since you were born is a strange feeling in and of itself.
The good news is that technology makes this world a little smaller. Between Google Hangouts and Google Voice, we’re able to keep in touch with everyone regularly. And visiting at least a couple of times a year helps ease the burden a little, too.
Just remember though, this isn’t something that affects only expats. Moving to another state or even just a city that’s far enough out can slowly erode the closeness you have with your loved ones.
So we can’t really blame Panama specifically for that, but either way, for us, it’s absolutely the hardest part of being here.
2) ¿Habla usted Inglés?
This should be obvious, but if you don’t speak Spanish here, life can be a little frustrating.
Although most expats speak English and you’ll find some Panamanians who are bilingual, it’ll seem few and far between when you’re out shopping or at a restaurant.
And guess what – that’s the way it should be. Yes, it makes life easier when you bump into a taxi driver or waitress who speaks English, but that’s not their problem – it’s yours.
Spanish is the official language here and as such, you should learn it if you want a better experience here.
That said, we’re still learning. I took two or three semesters of Spanish back in high school (it’s been so long I can’t even remember how many I took!). And I’ve been studying every day for almost the past year using three different apps. I haven’t missed a day yet!
Lisa and Faith have been practicing with a couple of the apps as well and starting last week, they now go to a tutor every week. It’ll be a race to see how long before they’re more fluent than I am (of which I’m far from!).
So in the meantime, that language barrier can sometimes be tough. A lot of the foods at the grocery stores are written only in Spanish so it takes some time with Google Translate to figure out the details.
Asking for help while shopping also requires Spanish as well. Google Translate is important for that one. The good news is that folks are so friendly and, as long as you’re giving it a shot, they’re more than willing to try to help you out.
Last week, I made a doctor’s appointment over the phone… that was interesting. I muddled my way through it based on the Spanish that I do know, but it was a struggle. Without knowing what I do know, that mission would have been a complete failure. I’ll let you know after my appointment if I did it right!
If you would be frustrated with the language barriers, this could absolutely top your reasons not to live in Panama!
3) Cash society
This isn’t too bad, but it’s tough to get used to. When you’re used to using credit cards all the time, you become a little spoiled.
Here in Boquete, you can still use credit cards at some grocery stores and some restaurants, but it’s all depends on the place. Cash is still the main way to pay for things here. And if you do get to pay with a credit card, you best be using a card with no foreign transaction fees! I have some in my list of recommended credit cards.
We purposely opened a Schwab Bank High Yield Investor Checking Account for this purpose before we got here and that’s been working well. No foreign transaction fees and they reimburse for all ATM fees worldwide. It’s debit card/Visa, but it fits the bill well here.
And then some odd things make it seem like we’ve gone back a few decades. For instance, we’ll more than likely have to go to the grocery store to pay our electric bill in cash every month once we get it.
The cash society hurts in a couple of ways:
1) We need to remember to always have cash on us. That also means we need to remember to go and get money from the ATM.
Right now, we don’t have a Panamanian bank account either. That means we also need to make multiple visits to the ATM just to get enough money to pay our rent. The daily max withdrawal seems to be $500 at all the ATMs we’ve been to.
UPDATE: My friend, Jason, who lives in David, Panama gave me some new information. I talked to Schwab and we have a max of $1,000 per day set… per card. In other words, we could do two $500 transactions for my card and then the same for my wife’s if we wanted for a total of $2,000. The fee is usually about $5.25 for each transaction, but Schwab reimburses for this.
It would probably be a rare occurrence that I would pull that much money out because I don’t want to walk around carrying a lot of cash. Regardless, it’s nice to know we have that option if we need it! Thanks, Jason!
Here’s my pile of cash ready to go for rent this month…
Oh, did I forget to mention that they like to deal with 20 dollar bills or lower? After I went to the ATM, I went into the bank to “color up” and they only had one 1 hundred dollar bill there. That’s like McDonald’s not keeping beef in on-hand figuring that they have plenty of chicken people could eat instead.
2) It’s harder to keep track of where your money’s going when you can’t tie it all into a free service like Empower (formerly Personal Capital).
That was exactly the service I was using (and still am) and it threw me off quite a bit trying to get a handle on my expenses. It took me a little bit of adjusting, but I added in Mint for our day-to-day transactions and now use Empower (formerly Personal Capital) just to keep track of our investments.
Toss in my awesome recurring expenses spreadsheet to look at periodically and life is good again!
3) Your credit cards could be closed for lack of activity. That hurts your credit score because it brings down your total available credit line, which moves up your total credit utilization (a big part of your score).
We’ve just been rotating our cards for online purchases we’re making (like Amazon, NordVPN, etc.). Additionally, when we head back to the U.S. next month for a visit, we’ll be sure to rotate through all our cards to get some activity on them.
So is a cash society justifiable as one of the reasons not to live in Panama? It depends on if you’re fine with ATM runs or bank visits regularly and a little bit of extra work managing your finances and credit cards.
4) It rains… a lot
It normally rains a couple of hours late in the day or early in the evening and that’s about the extent of it… almost a scheduled rain to a point. And when it rains, it pours!
You adjust life accordingly. You ensure your shopping and other chores are done in the morning or early afternoon and know that it’s going to rain shortly thereafter… no big deal.
But we’re now coming up on the peak of the rainy season. And that means it rains a lot more… like a lot more. We never, ever leave the apartment without our umbrellas because you just never know.
And you can’t rely on weather apps here because of all the microclimates, so you just walk around prepared. That’s especially true for us because we don’t have a car here. Sometimes we take a cab back, but usually, we’re hoofing it because we like being outside.
After a while though, you’re sitting at home in the morning just rolling your eyes because it’s raining again. It’s depressing when you want to be outside enjoying how wonderful it is here. If you’re looking for reasons not to live in Panama, this might be high on your list.
Then again, it’s only about a month or two of these heavy rains before it’s back to normal. And we’re coming from Cleveland – an area where it seemed like it snowed for 11 months out of the year (it didn’t)! I’ll take a little water from the skies over that any day!
5) With rain, comes high humidity!
In my opinion, high humidity really only makes a difference when there’s high heat (feel free to argue that in the comments below). When your temperature is 75 degrees Fahrenheit almost daily and there’s usually a good amount of cloud cover, humidity ain’t nuthin’!
Ok, maybe it doesn’t bother me, but it might be one of your reasons not to live in Panama.
But really, it isn’t being out in the humidity that affects me… rather, it’s how the humidity can affect my stuff.
Boquete has what I consider the best temperature (as noted in my The 7 Reasons I Love Living in Panama as an Expat post). No heat or no A/C needed.
However, that also means no forced air throughout. And with high humidity, that’s a problem.
Though we keep the ceiling fans running almost all the time, life’s not perfect. One of the problems we noticed when we visited in 2017 was still prevalent when we moved here in August… damp sheets.
Ok, “damp” isn’t the right word because it’s less than that. I just can’t figure out the right word to use… “moist”? But it’s not even that – you can’t feel any moisture in them, but can just tell they’re not completely dry. Clammy?
Who knows… does that even make sense?
It’s sometimes a strange feeling pulling the sheets up, but it’s not like you’re going to get wet from them.
Anyway, we should have a dehumidifier by the time you read this. And if that isn’t enough, we’ll look at DampRid to help mitigate it – though I think the dehumidifier will suffice.
Regardless, I’m told that the humidity will shorten the life of electronics here quite a bit. Unfortunately, that isn’t something that we’ll probably actually see happening, but it’s important to be aware that my Home Theater PC I built probably isn’t going to last 9 years like it did in the States.
Here’s something you might not have known… every place in the world gets roughly the same amount of daylight over a given year. They each receive the sunlight differently, however.
For instance, we had more daylight living in Ohio during the summer, but the days were much shorter in the winter.
Then there are places like parts of Alaska or closer to the poles where there’s 24 hours of daylight for parts of the year and 0 hours during other parts.
Overall, though, they add up to about the same amount of daylight over a given year (give or take).
What’s interesting is that here in Panama (close to the equator), the daylight is pretty consistent throughout the year. There’s no Daylight Savings Time and the sun rises every day around 6:00-6:30 am and sets around 6:00-6:30 pm.
So we’ll be enjoying longer days than we’re used to in what we’d normally know as the winter months. And we’ll have shorter days than we’re accustomed to in the summer months.
Ok, that’s fair. But the adjustment for us is actually that the sun is setting so early every day while it’s nice out (almost all the time here!). If you want to make the most of the day, the ideal move is to wake up earlier and go to bed earlier.
Easier said than done especially because I’m more of a night owl. But that’s the reality of it and we’re slowly trying to adjust our sleep accordingly.
8) Alone time for Mom and Dad
Ok, this isn’t going to apply to everyone. But a tough hurdle we have is that we’re in a foreign country with our 9-year-old daughter.
While we love it here in Boquete, it’s not a place filled with young kids (expat-wise). And just like any new place, it takes time to make new friends. But in a city where the scales are tilted to an older crowd, it makes it even more difficult.
That means “play dates” (I hate that phrase) or even sleepovers are much harder to come by.
We’re all starting to make some friends, but it’s slow going. And we’re Ok with that – we love our time together! And somehow we’ve managed not to kill each other spending every waking minute together since we moved here.
But while we’re slowly making friends, it means we’re joined at the hip. That also means no alone time for Lisa and I. I’m not talking about hanky-panky – I’m talking about being able to sit together, relax, have a beer, and watch a movie that’s not rated PG.
I’m sure eventually that’ll change. We’ll make friends and take turns watching each other’s kids. We’ll feel comfortable enough to get a babysitter while we go out to dinner ourselves for a night. Or maybe we’ll be confident enough to leave Faith at the apartment while we walk over to the Cantina in our community for a beer (or seven!).
Really, this would apply to any foreign place, but since it’s where we’re at in life, it’s worth sharing for those with kids. If you’re a parent, it’s possible that something like this could make your own list of reasons not to live in Panama (or any foreign country).
9) Not all the same standards or rules
Some rules are stricter here while some are looser or non-existent. I mentioned that Faith is easily able to help with volunteer work here because nobody cares about her age.
On the other side of things, when we first visited in 2017, we learned that car seats aren’t really much of a thing here. In fact, it took us a lot of searching over a few days just to find a place that sold any at all.
While not thrilled with the idea, it is what it is. But then we’ve also been in taxis with no seatbelts in the backseat… what the what?!
I’m told that the building code for electrical is more stringent here in Panama than in the U.S. That surprised me for sure!
How about this one? Drinking and driving here just isn’t tolerated. The legal blood alcohol level for drivers is 0.0% (yup, zero!) with some stiff penalties for failing a breathalyzer – fines, your car being impounded, and/or jail time. This is another good reason I’m happy we don’t have a car here.
Maybe some of the rules or standards will drive you nuts or maybe they won’t. Overall, it’s just different and it takes some time to learn and adjust.
10) The itsy bitsy spider…
People tend to think that this place is crawling with bugs everywhere. It’s one of the most common things people back in the States ask us about.
It’s also not something that’s been too noticeable to us. Yes, there are bugs here, but here in Boquete where it’s cooler, there doesn’t seem to be that many. I’d actually go so far as to say there are fewer bugs around than we had in Cleveland.
That said, the bugs aren’t all the same so we’re always intrigued checking them out. Here’s a snippet showing off leafcutter ants we recorded on a hike recently for Faith’s YouTube channel…
I’m going to push my luck and say there are more than the 200 there that Faith is saying, but you get the picture. If you want to see more videos on our adventure here, check out her YouTube channel, Fun with Faith. And if you really want to make her day, consider clicking the “Subscribe” button on the top right of that page.
The insects here don’t seem to “bug” us that much (see what I did there?!). But it does seem like one of us always has at least one bug or spider bite on us. I couldn’t tell you where they come from, but considering we spend most of our days outside walking around or hiking on the trails periodically, it doesn’t surprise me.
We had thought that they were coming from some creepy crawlies climbing into bed with us. The more I think about it though, I do think it’s from while we’re outside because other than some occasional ants, it’s rare that we see anything inside.
Does that bug you (see, I did it again!)? If so, that could be one of the reasons not to live in Panama.
You might have noticed that the list of reasons I love living here is longer than this list of reasons not to live in Panama. But really, this list seems like a stretch on just some minor nuisances more than anything. Seriously, I feel like I was reaching trying to build a good list of items.
UPDATE: An astute reader pointed out that I don’t even have 10 reasons here. There’s no #7!!! So really, I could only come up with nine reasons not to live here (so far!).
Maybe these reasons not to live in Panama have deterred you, but they definitely wouldn’t have swayed me.
It’s got its challenges for sure and I’m sure deciding not to get a car for now and homeschooling our kid doesn’t make it any easier. But, with the exception of leaving friends and family, if you’re comfortable with a simpler lifestyle and a few adjustments in life, Boquete Panama is such a wonderful place to live!
If Panama’s on your radar as a possible place to retire to, check out Retire in Panama Tours. It’s a first-rate way to see different parts of the country, learn about the pros and the cons of living here, meet other ex-pats living here, and gain a lot of the right resources to make the transition easier (immigration attorneys, for example).
Oscar, Rod, and Megan are great people, too. They have the knowledge to guide you through Panama, answer your questions, and ensure that Panama’s the right place for you. Check out Retire in Panama Tours for more info!
I can’t promise a perfect life and I don’t want to build it up too much, but I do love living here in Boquete, Panama!
Do my reasons not to live in Panama bring down any enthusiasm about living as an expat here?
Thanks for reading!!
52 thoughts on “10 Reasons Not to Live in Panama”
Your list of reasons not to live in Panama doesn’t seem much different from what would be applicable to life here in Florida. Bugs, Rain, Humidity, in Florida…Check. There are many people here speaking in Spanish. No, it’s not the national language, but when you hear people speaking it to one another, you might tend to feel paranoid. For me, High School Spanish was forty plus years ago.
Anyway, based initially on your recommendation, and reading or watching many reviews since then, I will be taking Jackie’s Panama Relocation Tour the first week in November. I am really looking forward to it. I am sure that many of your suggestions, as well as hers, will come in handy if I decide to relocate to Panama.
That’s true, Mike – very similar to Panama in that regard. I’d say that the biggest differences would be that it’s a much simpler lifestyle here (that could be good or bad depending on what you’re looking for) and that you can choose the temperature you like based on elevation. If you love the heat like Florida, plenty of locations here and you can even get beachfront for a slice of what it would be in the U.S. If you don’t come on up the mountain to Boquete where it’s a nice 75 degrees almost daily.
I hope you enjoy the tour, Mike – she really knows her stuff and you’ll have a good idea of whether or not it’s the right place for you by the time it’s done.
We couldn’t handle the constant humidity. A drier desert climate is better for us. But for now we will enjoy today’s 56 degree and rainy day in NE Ohio (not really). The days are getting shorter and weather is turning. Chance of snow showers around Halloween. Maybe I would get used to the humidity…
Haha, I won’t miss that!! We’re actually heading back in November for a few weeks. We’re excited, but I have a feeling that the cold weather’s going to make me want to head back to Panama in short order! 😉
What’s Thanksgiving if it isn’t 40 degrees and dreary? Get to watch the Lions and all the other football and eat lots of Turkey! It’s tradition!
When we lived in AZ it was 75 and sunny on Thanksgiving, weird when you aren’t used to it. But in a good way.
Yuck, I’d take the AZ 75 and sunny any day! 😉
Hi Jim! Nice post – appreciate you being honest about the issues you deal with there, even though (as you admit) they can be pretty minor. I subscribe to a number of expat blogs, in which many (ie nearly all?) of them share only the highlights. That can start to sound like propaganda after awhile, so again – appreciate you not going that route!
I’m doing a lot of international travel now, and yeah – Google Translate kicks some serious a**! The camera mode is awesome, didn’t even know it existed until someone showed me how to do it.
We are looking to relocate outside of the US when we early retire in a few years, and the impact of separating from our families scares us a bit too. It may affect us a bit less, since I’ve relocated several times for work in my career so have have lots of experience with adapting to new environments. But yeah, something to watch out for to be sure.
That’s really the important thing is being able to sift through the hype and try to figure out what it’s really like in another country. I’ll always be straight up because that’s what I would want when reading these kinds of blogs.
It’s tough to separate from family and friends, but if you can convince them to make it a vacation spot, that could help! 🙂 One of the plusses of not having residency is that we’re forced to head back to the U.S. periodically. Our first visit is next month and it’ll be nice… though it’ll be cold there and we’ll probably be antsy to head back to the nice weather!
Yeah – um, a grasshopper the size of a RAV4 is enough to send me back home PDQ! 😀
I don’t do bugs well at all.
Haha, that’s fair, but it’s a grasshopper not a wolverine! 😉 I’d say that the bugs are similar in quantity to what we’re used to in Ohio… just a little different!
Hey Jim! Glad to see you and fam are doing well in Panama. The weather there is similar to the Philippines where I am planning to Geoarbitrage. I miss that rain man! It seldom rains here in AZ. Your post gives me more push towards that goal/wish man. Thank you. Enjoy life!
Make it happen, Lem! Although it’s been raining a lot here, realizing that’s what makes everything so lush and green here makes it worth it!
Bug bites overnight? When Panama Canal was being built, they placed the legs of hospital beds into pans of water to keep ants away. Of course, that enabled mosquitos to breed and helped spread malaria and dengue fever. As Rosanna Rosannadanna said, it’s always something.
I will note that air travel to Panama from eastern US is relatively short flight time. It is 6 hours from Newark to San Diego – longer than our flights to Costa Rica. And you remain in the central time zone, I believe. This makes family connection time easier to arrange than many think.
Wow, that’s an interesting piece of trivia! It’s like that other saying goes… “you can’t win for losing!”
You’re right on the traveling – it’s not too bad. We can do 3 hours from Cleveland to a layover in Miami and then another 3 hours to Panama City. The harder part is actually the flight from Panama City to David. There are really only two flights a day and if you don’t schedule it right, you can end up in Panama City airport waiting around for 4 hours (which we did when we moved here). That can make for a long day! 🙂
That was done only in the jungle area where the canal was being built after the French had built about 60% of the canal they went broke and US took over . The cities in Panama itself did not have to dot hat
Thanks for the clarification, Ricardo. Regardless, that’s something I never learned about in school. I think I may find a good book to read on the building of the Canal – it’s such an astounding feat!
Way to keep it real, my man!
We aren’t making a permanent move, but plan to spend a lot of time in different countries, many of them Spanish speaking.
By keeping a home base in the states and spending late spring to early fall there, we can mitigate some, but not all of your concerns. We can avoid the rainy seasons, see family fairly regularly, and won’t have the challenge of paying bills. Airbnb takes credit cards. 🙂
On the other hand, what we’re doing costs more, and we still have the issues that you have by traveling with not one, but two grade-school aged kids. Of course, they do make it a lot more fun, too. It’s interesting to view our new surrounding every month or two through their eyes.
What three apps are you using for español?
Thanks, brother! You’ve got a good plan going – maybe we can just stay with you guys wherever you go? 😉
Kids do make it more of an adventure, both good and bad! But in the long run, it’ll be well worth it because they’ll have some great memories to hold onto.
I’m using Drops, Duolingo, and Memrise right now. But stay tuned – I stumbled across something pretty awesome recently that you’ll appreciate. I don’t want to spoil it so you’ll just have to wait and see (post to be written very soon)! 🙂
Great post. You do a fantastic job of outlining pro and con. Actually I live in Florida ?, we have all the negatives, except our temps are much higher ?. When I first moved here they called the biggest roaches I had ever seen “palmetto bugs”. ?. A roach by any other name is still a Giant Roach!
We have some friends who want to retire to Portugal (Porto I think) do you know of any website where they could find a relocation expert like you used in Panama, for Portugal?
Thanks, and keep up the great posts ?
Thanks, Kathy – it’s important to lay out the good and the bad in case anyone wants to consider this as a place to live.
Haha, I punched in “palmetto bug” into Google and the first result was a video titled “Is a Palmetto Bug Really Just a Cockroach?” So I guess you’re not the only one thinking that! 🙂
I don’t know of a relocation expert in Portugal. However, Lisa and I just got done with a guest appearance on the “What’s Up Next?” podcast and there was another couple on there who I was unfamiliar with. Amon and Christina moved to Portugal and have a huge following (100k subscribers!) on their YouTube channel, Our Rich Journey. They talk quite a bit about different facets of living there and it may be a good source of info for them.
Thanks so much Jim. I’ve passed along the resource to our friends. That was so kind of you ?
No problem, Kathy – hope it’s helpful!
Interesting points. I’m sure you’ll overcome most of them in time.
One good thing about winter here is fewer bugs. We all got bitten pretty frequently here. Not sure where from either. Oh well.
Yeah, bugs suck. I’ll stick with them over winter any day though! 😉
Great post! Growing up everyone from (NYC) wanted to retire in Florida, now we are seeing more and more people retiring outside of the USA.
Thanks! It’s still not the norm to retire out of the country, but it does seem to be a little more prevalent in today’s age. Having the ability to talk to friends and family via video chat so easily nowadays probably makes it a little bit of an easier break for folks to make the transition and give it a shot.
Great post. Sounds like we did and learned a lot of the same things. When we retired early to Boquete – I remember telling my wife’s mom – Boquete is like International Relocation on training wheels. And it was. A lot of fun. A lot of Adventures (especially if you learn to look at it that way). We spent 2 years there and have now moved on to more international travel/part time living but still have many friends there.
Love me a Balboa! Or of course an Abuelo and Coca Cola Lite. I like your Google Voice discussion. I find myself explaining that over and over again to expats everywhere. I have been rocking the same phone number for over 20 years now thanks to that trick… Took my home number to my cell in ’98 and then my cell to GV in 2016…
Charles Schwab – another pro tip! Readers: If you are thinking of Moving or even just Traveling outside the US – get one of these accounts today. Hard to beat. Plus – never again shy away from that $10 fee at the ATM in the airport in Chicago or anywhere – Schwab gives it back to you.
Anyway – Let me know if you ever find your way towards Medellin Colombia. A lot of the same pros with 1/2 as much rain (which is still a lot of rain) and CHEAPER too. We can meet for a Balboa or two (called Aguila here…)
Oh geez… I forgot to mention. Love your rental location. We stayed 90 deg. out from your patio looking at the same fountain. What a great place to be. Love the fountain. I still remember having the window open at night and falling asleep to the gentle waterfall like sounds.
Anyway – Take care.
Wow, small world, Jake! Valle Escondido was a good stepping stone for us for this first-year transition. If we stay in Boquete after this year, we’ll probably find a house a little more in the mix.
I like your take on Boquete being international relocation on training wheels. That was part of the reason why we chose it – Panama still carries a lot in common with the US (including the even exchange with the dollar) so it made this stepping stone a little easier for all of us.
I’ll definitely take you up on that offer to meet for beers if we make our way to Medellin, Jake! 🙂
Thanx to your guidance, my husband & his sister are going on Jackie’s tour in early Jan. I moved from my family 25 years ago so I’m used to seeing them just 1-2 times a year but talk alot on the phone. Having lived in the South many years, I’m used to the bugs/humidity. The language barrier & cash society will be the biggest adjustments. We use credit cards for 99% of our purchases (love the cash back!) . Will depend on Google Translate until we learn Spanish. Like you, hubby took it in high school but doesn’t remember much. Just had a Spanish guy here cleaning our heat pump. I asked him how to say “how much does this cost” in Spanish. Now that is a priority in any language, LOL Thanx, Jim, for sharing your “downs” as well as “ups” living in Boquete. It sounds like you’re making the best of it & I’m sure you’ll make friends before you know it. It takes time wherever you live so hang in there. Kudos to Faith for her YouTube adventure!!!
It’s possible to live here without knowing Spanish, but it definitely makes life soooo much easier if you can learn it. Even just the small amount that we’re able to use so far has brought down frustration another notch. No need to wait – start learning a little bit using free apps like Drops, Duolingo, and Memrise (there are plenty of others as well!). I’ve been spending only about 20 minutes a day using all three for the past 224 days in a row now (thanks for the info, Drops!). In other words, I started long before we moved here and it’s made a big difference.
Sounds like a pretty tough existence Jim! Although I think most parents can relate to having “No Alone Time for Mom & Dad”….
But right now I’d kill for some more daylight! We’re getting into the “dark” part of the year here and it’s starting to get cold dark and wet. Not a lot of fun. 😉
I’ll live vicariously through you Jim and your “tough existence”. 🙂
I hated that dreariness of the short days as the winter creeps in… your couch is waiting for you on your visit! 😉
Jim, I have just come across your blog. My husband and I are frequent visitors to Panama, as he is a native with family still in the country, and plan to move full time soon. We have traveled extensively through the country trying to determune where to put our roots fown. (For family reasons and ease of travel we ultimately chose Panama City, which can be as expensive or inexpensive as you want to make it, depending on neighborhood.) I am curious about your choice of Boquete as it is known for older North Americans retiring there. It seems like another community could provide you many if the positives without some of your negatives- for example more families with school age children. I also found in my travels that Boquete was the dampest of all of the places we visited.
Thanks for sharing your journey,
Hi Andrea, glad to have you as a new reader – welcome to the party! 🙂
One of the biggest reasons we chose Boquete is because of the climate. I have to admit, I’m a freeze-baby if it’s too cold, but a whiner when it’s too hot as well. Boquete has a perfect temperature year-round for us to be able to comfortably be out and about. And that’s a big thing for us – we love walking around town, hiking, etc. So it definitely fits the bill. Plus, being an hour or so from the beach where you have some hot weather for swimming works out well.
You’re right in that it’s more of an older crowd on the expat side of things. We don’t mind it on our side of things, but we do want to ensure that our daughter finds some friends as well. The good news is that she’s starting to do just that. There definitely aren’t as many kids here, but we’re slowly starting to find them and I think we’ll be good-to-go there.
Assuming we decide to stay, we may find another area around here that puts us closer to other kids, but I think it’ll still be somewhere in Boquete – we all really love it here!
Have a great New Year’s!
Thanks Jim, it sounds like you are really settling in and I am definitely benefitting from your willingness to share the practical side of your move (state of domicile, etc). I can understand feeling that is the perfect temperature as I loved many years in Seattle where anything above 75 was too hot! Will keep reading and wishing your family well!
Thanks, Andrea – glad to have you as a new reader! 🙂
Great post. I am considering relocating from Canada to Central or South America for retirement, but most of my research was focussed on Costa Rica.
Are you able to give me a bit of a comparison between CR and Panama and why you ended up choosing Panama? If you don’t have time, that’s cool. Just thought I’d ask
Hi Fringe Doc – I actually know very little about Costa Rica. I chose Panama for a number of reasons (I mentioned some in this post), but what was a big draw for me were actually the ties to U.S. Moving out of the country was a big step for our family and so I liked that Panama was kind of a baby step in a way. Although the dollar isn’t the Panamanian currency, you can use it here because it’s interchangeable with the dollar – no exchange needed. In fact, the ATM’s here spit out 20 dollar bills. The U.S. has a vested interest in the country (the Canal) so if the country is ever attacked, the U.S. is the Panamanian military. Also, because of the Canal, the locals are used to expats being here and aren’t really looked at as outcasts.
One another note, we sold all of our stuff before we made the move here. One of the biggest surprises was just how liberating that is. We came here with two suitcases each. As scary as that might sound, it’s also wonderful. Since places here are furnished, the commitment becomes much less. We’re currently renting and then if we don’t like it after a year, we can pack up our suitcases and find a new place like nothing (no selling a house or moving/selling furniture). In other words, don’t worry too much about the place you choose because it doesn’t have to necessarily be the place you live for the rest of your life.
Best of luck to you!!
I’m a Canadian resident and as you might know, leaving in Canada (Quebec) right now is very frustrating, COVID19 is the reason for political decisions such as : confinement, working at home, curfew and many other disadvantages. I will retire in a year or two and I would like to move somewhere else. My first tough was Costa Rica but I found out that Panama seems to be a great place for retirees and that the country offers many advantages for retirees. I went through your blog and found it very interesting. I have couple of questions for you. 1) Regardless the 9 reasons of not living in Panama, would you have moved to Panama anyway? or would you have chosen another country instead and if so which ones and why? 3) How much do a couple needs in their investments to go living in Panama? And, what is the average monthly income do a couple needs to have a nice living style in Panama? Should I buy a house or rent an apartment?…..Thank you in advance for taking the time to answer me……..regards…….Guy…..PS what is the situation in Panama right now with the COVID19?
Hi Berrouard, I’ll do my best to answer your questions:
Panama really is a wonderful place. I try to hit on both sides of the coin though because no place is perfect. Although I wrote this post, I also wrote “The 7 Reasons I Love Living in Panama as an Expat”, which talks about some of the great things. I think Panama was the right choice without a doubt and no, I wouldn’t have chosen another country. That said, we’re discussing if we’ll move back in the fall at the two-year mark (Making Plans for the Future – Stay or Go?). We’re not sure, but just trying to make sure we’re doing the right thing for our daughter. If we do move back, there’s a good chance we’d move back to Boquete once she’s grown up.
It’s hard to say how much money you’d need to live here because it depends on how you want to live. I talked about our expenses for our family of three in “Uh-Oh… Our Retirement Expenses Are Higher than Expected” and “4 Lessons Learned After Two Years of Early Retirement”. Be aware that things have been quite different during these times in COVID. There were times we spent a lot more money and times we spent less. Essentially, we would probably spend about $42-45k here in Boquete for us three, and we’re living a really nice life. That said, we spent more last year because we also bought a car. But it all depends on where you’re living, what you’re eating, and what you’re doing for entertainment.
We’re renting a condo in Valle Escondido, which is a gated community with a ton of amenities, but it’s also more expensive than living in a lot of other places. We had the pleasure of appearing in an episode of House Hunters International, so if you can find that, you can get a better feel for our place. I also did an interview for Modern Aging where I talked more about the details of living in Boquete… “Reasons to Retire in Panama – My Interview on YouTube”.
Panama was one of the strictest countries when the pandemic hit (Random Thoughts in These Unusual Times). In fact, we finally bailed in June (This Is a Horrible Idea… We’re Doing It Anyway!) for a few months. Things are struggling in places like Panama City and the surrounding areas, but here in Boquete, our active cases are basically nil. You wear a mask in public, they take your temperature and give you a squirt of hand sanitizer before going into places, and there’s a 7 pm curfew… easy-peasy – no complaints here.
Hope that helps!
I have seen the YouTube video you did on Boquete and read most of you blogs.. Well done on becoming financially secure and independent. I just wanted to find out a few things if you dont mind assisting. We are thinking of relocating to Boquete in 2022 as we want to save and buy property rather than rent, would you say it’s a good area for buying and raising our boy? He is currently 3 years old and I would like to put him in a english speaking school if possible. I don’t mind him learning Spannish as second language. I know you said there isn’t alot of kids around but is there schools available in this town? I also read that there is alot of power cuts? Reason for us to move is we originally from South Africa and currently living and hubby is working in Finland on a project and it ends in 2022 and with South Africa’s bad crime, communism and corruption and Finlands extremely high tax and freezing dark weather, we thought of Panama as a good cheaper option that would suit our pocket.We also want to visit Panama just to experience it for ourself. While in this waiting working period in Finland, besides saving and learning the langauge, we also have a few furniture and personal items we would like ship in a LCL container to Panama, what else would you recommend or suggest us do before moving there. Thank you in advance for your assistance and if we do decide to move there it would be great to meet up and have a lunch together with your family?.
Hi Rentia – that’s a hard question to answer on raising kids here because that can probably raise different opinions based on the child, the family, and what you’re trying to get out of things. There are some people who love that their expat kids have been raised here and some that move back to their home country because they want something different.
As a side note, it’s not there aren’t a lot of kids here in Boquete but that there aren’t a lot of expat kids here. If you’re able to integrate more into the Panamanian culture, there are plenty of other kids here. I think that would be easier if you know (or learn) Spanish and have your son in one of the schools here.
There are power outages here but most are pretty brief. We probably get 2-3 outages at night per week for just a couple of minutes. Periodically, though, we’ll get one that lasts a few hours. We have a UPS to cover the small outages, but if the long outages are a big deal, you can always purchase a generator to have in place.
Very smart move to come here and visit and check it out. Every place has its pros and cons and so it becomes a to each his/her own on likes. Worst case scenario, you’ll have a nice vacation out of it! 🙂
I’ve heard from others on both sides of shipping a container here – some folks say they wished that they had never done it while others are so glad that they did. We sold almost everything we owned and came here with just two suitcases each… so happy with that decision. It’s so liberating to not be weighed down by stuff anymore and it makes moving around much easier (most places here are already fully furnished). We decided that we’re moving back to the U.S. in May of 2022 so not having the cost and hassle of shipping things back is a nice bonus.
One thought I mentioned in the post is to consider doing one of Jackie’s Panama Relocation Tours for your visit. You’ll know whether or not Panama’s the place for you once you do one of those.
Hope this helps!
I lived all my life in panama, and you miss the worst thing about panama, political corruption, bad politicians, and stupid presidents
In a way, our not knowing Spanish (though we’re learning) might be a good thing. Because of the language barrier, we don’t watch the news here. That’s a good thing in that we don’t see any political mayhem going on. Regardless, the funny thing is that the majority of countries could probably share that same gripe! 🙂
Regarding Schwab, I know I can use their card in my new country of Costa Rica and pay no fees when I use an ATM here. My question is, what about exchange rates?
When I signed up for Social Security they provided a Direct Express ATM card where they place my benefit payment every month. When I use that card in Costa Rica to withdraw the local currency – Colones – they charge a $3 fee each time. The local bank here charges no fee.
With a little arithmetic I discovered that, as of a few days ago, Direct Express debits my account by $1 for every 665 Colones I withdraw. On the other hand, Social Security will do a direct deposit to my bank here in Costa Rica, where I have an account in US Dollars and they will debit my account $1 for every 680 Colones I withdraw.
The fees are pretty much the same, but the local bank here will give me 680 Colones per dollar, whereas Direct Express will give me only 665.
People on Facebook like to tout the Schwab card – no fees! Apparently there is no monthly charge for the Schwab checking account, no fee to use the card at an ATM in Costa Rica, and if the local bank in Costa Rica charges an ATM fee Schwab will reimburse you for that fee.
If that’s all there is to it, Schwab would be losing money.
If people get a certain amount of Colones at the ATM, I bet Schwab buys those Colones at a good price and then marks up the exchange rate when they debit US dollars from the customer’s account. That’s what Direct Express does and I bet Schwab does it too.
After running the numbers, I’ve decided to stop having my Social Security benefit sent by direct deposit to Direct Express, and instead have the benefit sent by direct deposit to my bank here in Costa Rica because I’ll end up getting more Colones to spend.
Do you have any idea what exchange rate Schwab offers and how that compares to the rate someone could get from a bank in Panama or Costa Rica?
Hi Greg – this article was about Panama which is important because their currency is tied to the US dollar (so no exchange rate). Once you throw in a different country that doesn’t do that, it changes some things. You can still use the Schwab card to avoid foreign transaction fees. However, I don’t know what the exchange rate would be – you might need to talk to Schwab or look it up on their website to find out.
As a side note, my understanding from some financial articles I’ve read in the past is that all these fees we’re talking about really only cost the banks a penny or two. Assuming that’s the case, they’re not losing much if anything on the ATM reimbursements.
Since Costa Rica uses Colones, your best bet would probably be to check with Schwab on the exchange rate.
Best of luck and I hope you’re loving your new country!!
Your article on Google Voice showed me how to change a setting and now it works for me in Costa Rica. That was a great article. Thanks!
If you use Schwab to avoid fees, is the Schwab checking account free? Every checking account I’ve had in the US had a monthly charge so I’m wondering if that’s true for Schwab too. Thanks.
Yes, the Schwab checking account is free. Even though we’re back from Panama, we’ll probably just keep this account since it’s worked so well for us.
I was thinking about that word you were looking for. At first I thought, “semimoist”, but then I thought “in-arid”, if that was a word might be more fitting. “Semi-arid” just seemed to miss the point. “Sultry”?
Thanks for the article.
That might be the word! Of course, anytime I hear the word “sultry”, I think of the movie “Throw Momma from the Train.” That was a funny scene revolving around that in the movie if you haven’t seen it before. 🙂
I remember! lol, hahaha! Have a great year!!