What if Moving to Panama Sucks?

What if Moving to Panama Sucks?If you’re a regular follower of my blog, you know we’re moving to Panama in 2020 – Boquete, Panama to be specific.

I’ll be quitting my job at the end of 2019 and then getting everything prepared and ready to go while my daughter finishes her fourth-grade year of school.

To say we’re excited would be an understatement.  In the blink of an eye, everything’s changing.  We’ll have vast new territory to explore and no 9-5 jobs getting in the way of making it happen.

I have that perfect vision in my head about us all having breakfast together in the morning before my daughter heads off to school.  Then my wife and I spend some time taking a nice walk around town.

We go back to the house and work in the garden for a little bit.  Then I spend a few hours working on my blog or other projects I want to do.

That means that after school, I can be there 100% for my daughter for as much as she wants.

With no formal job during the daytime, I can get all the rest of the less important stuff out of the way during that time (paying bills, side hustles, hobbies, etc.).  The stress of trying to balance those tasks with family time during the evenings and weekends will now be gone.

When she’s not in school, we’ll be able to go to the beach, do some nature hikes, explore the country, and go on a cruise or two a year.

I’m also looking forward to trying a lot of the Panamanian restaurants there.  All the places we tried when we were there were fantastic and at a fraction of the cost that you’d find here.

Sounds great, right?


Ruh-Roh Raggy

What if Moving to Panama Sucks? - Ruh-Roh Raggy
Well, gang – I guess that wraps up this mystery!

Nevertheless, that’s all a fantasy.  I do think we’ll be able to make a good portion of my dreams a reality.  Like I said, though, this is a lot of change happening to us at the same time.

Think about that.

Suddenly, I’ll be quitting a job that I’ll have worked at for 20 years.  Then shortly thereafter, we’ll be uprooting and moving to a country we’ve only spent a short amount of time visiting.

Our daughter will be starting at a school not just in a new city, but a completely different country – at an age where change can be hard for a kid.

Small changes at one time can make it easier to predict an outcome, but it’s a little more difficult when everything’s changing.

So what if our new life turns out not to be everything we expected?  What if ends badly?

What if moving to Panama just plain sucks?

Maybe the problems are big such as just missing our family and friends much more than we expect.  Or perhaps we simply hate the slow-moving pace of Panama too much.  Or the schools aren’t good for our daughter for whatever reason.

It’s also possible that there’s just a bunch of small problems that drive us nuts.  Maybe the water pressure sucks there and makes every shower horrible.  Or dealing with mold in the house becomes a nightmare due to the high humidity that Panama presents.

We’ll never know until we’re actually living there.  So what can we do to prepare for this possibility?


The fallback plan

What if Moving to Panama Sucks? - The fallback plan
If I had a hat like this I could probably map things out much better…

Obviously, there’ll be a number of things in Panama that are going to be different from our expectations.  However, if it just turns out not to be a good fit for us, we want to be prepared to move.

Although we’re expecting the cost to be almost half of what it is here in Ohio (which already boggles my mind!), we’re not going to use that as our cost basis.

First off, we don’t know the area 100%, which also means I don’t know exactly what expenses will be for our personal cost of living.

Yes, we read a lot and see what the numbers should be like.  I broke down some of these numbers in my “The Cost of Living in Panama… Geoarbitrage at Work!” post.  We also know that if we live like an American while there it’s going to cost us a lot more than if we live like locals.

But in all actuality, we’ll never really know how much it’s going to cost us until we make moving to Panama a reality.

And second, what if we decide not to stay for whatever reason that might be?  If we’ve only planned on having extremely low expenses, we might be fine while living in Panama.  However, we’ll have trapped ourselves with needing to get jobs if we come back due to the higher cost of living.

The solution’s actually simple…

We’re padding what we think our expenses will be.  In fact, we’re planning on our numbers being very similar to what they would be if we retired here.

Therefore, if our costs are higher than expected, we’ll have some breathing room.  And if not, boy, this will be a nice bonus and give us a little more breathing room for some fun!

And, of course, if we decide to move back, we’ll be more prepared.

The good news is that this isn’t really costing us more time for saving up than it would have otherwise.  One of the screw-ups I made in my past few years of saving was pouring everything we had into our pre-tax accounts.  The crazy match I get from my 401(k) makes pushing to the federal max a no-brainer and the same goes for our HSA.

Unfortunately, that meant that I haven’t built up our taxable dollars to where they need to be yet.  So that’s been our focus and will continue to be until I quit my job at the end of 2019 and it would have been regardless of if we stay or go.


So what if moving to Panama ends badly?

If moving to Panama doesn’t go the way we expect it to, so be it.  We’re planning on living there forever – or least a really long time – but you just don’t know.

There’s no way to foresee every detail on what to expect before we get there.  Some things are going to go the way we want and some things won’t.

All we can do is prepare for the possibility that we might need to move back if it ever comes to down to that.  Then, if needed, we won’t be stuck in a bad position on trying to figure out what to do.

I don’t think moving to Panama will end with us coming back, but better safe than sorry!

What do you think – does that makes sense?


Thanks for reading!!

— Jim

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30 thoughts on “What if Moving to Panama Sucks?”

  1. Hope for the best, plan for the worst. Sounds like you have both covered. I might create an exit limit for panama. Something that would trigger you to leave. That way the emotions at the start don’t cause you to do something rashly. Then again that might just be me.

    1. That’s a smart idea, FTF! I could see how we might try to make it work just because we want it to work. I’ll be taking this idea to the boss (Mrs. R2R!) for some discussion!

      — Jim

  2. Hey, that makes sense! It’s natural to feel hesitation when making a big life change. Our minds race to the “what ifs” as a way to deal with the unknowns. But hey, if Panama sucks, you’ve got a plan in place to deal. 🙂

    1. There’s definitely a lot of “what ifs” since it’s such a big change, but it’s probably a good thing in this instance. I’d rather be somewhat prepared ahead of time if possible. Let me know when you’re coming to visit! 😉

      — Jim

  3. Jim, always good to have a contingency plan, and your “spending hedge” seems a solid approach. Interesting that you mention having too much before-tax, a common problem among early retirees who need the liquidity to bridge them to the age at which they can access their retirement funds. You’re not the first face that reality, and given that you have 2 years to build up the after-tax, I’m sure you’ll be in good shape. Exciting dreams, I look forward to watching it unfold….

    1. Thanks, Fritz! Yeah, if I can’t accumulate enough savings to help cover our first five years for the Roth IRA Conversion Ladder, then we might have to use Rule 72(t) instead. I don’t like that it doesn’t give the same flexibility as the ladder, but it’s not a bad option either.

      — Jim

  4. Having a backup plan is good. If it doesn’t work out, you can always move back. A lot of people let the fear of the unknown stops them from trying something new. I think it’s great that you’re being more adventurous. Panama will be great.

    1. That about nails it… people are scared of the unknown and end up just repeating the motions everyday. We’ll give it a shot and hopefully have a blast whether we decide to stay or not.

      — Jim

  5. First, I am an Ohioan too, so hello neighbor. Second, I like FTF’s comment on creating an exit limit for Panama. Smart! Sounds like you are cautiously optimistic and that is a fine plan. I will be eager to read about your adventures.

  6. Stay flexible and enjoy the heck out of it! Your opinions and that or the family will change, embrace and act accordingly. You’d be fine!
    Been trying to convince Mrs. CF to do something like this, but to no avail (unfortunately).

    1. I think Mrs. R2R was in a similar situation where this idea was all just fantasy… until we took the vacation there. That opened her up to the idea and made her wonder if it was really a possibility.

      — Jim

  7. Having a backup plan is a good idea Jim…. but this post got me thinking…

    Part of moving to a new place is committing to it. Learning to love its little quirks and making do with what’s there. It makes me thinking that if you plan too much for “suckitude” any little minor imperfection could send you back to Ohio.

    Rome wasn’t built on smiles and high-fives afterall…. but blood, sweat, and tears.

    1. I love it!! Don’t worry though, we have no plans to come back – you’ll be rid of us for good! 😉 I’m actually excited about some of the quirks and other differences we come upon while there. That said, putting ourselves in a position where we don’t have options even though we have the ability to do so doesn’t seem like the right move. Plus those extra funds will give us enough so we can afford to take you out for a night on the town when you come to visit!

      — Jim

        1. I understand why you would think that, but you have to remember that I’m still a cheap #$% regardless so you’ll have to accept your one night on the town as extremely gracious for a guy like me! 😉

          — Jim

  8. I definitely still harbor a bit of the fear of the unknown, so I love it when people make these leaps. They’re motivating for me to get off my duff and try to stretch outside of my comfort zone 🙂 and even if it doesn’t achieve much, it’s fun reading about the adventures.

    An exit strategy just sounds like prudence, the same way a pre-nup can be, and puts you in the practical mindset. I think it’s actually better to do that before you’re emotionally involved in wanting to stay or leave, and then you’ll have a clear, rational plan in case you ever need it!

    But I hope it all works well and you absolutely love it there.

    1. Thanks so much, Revanche – I do hope it’s inspiring to other folks for exactly that reason. If you never leave your comfort zone, there’s almost sure to be something that bothers you later that you wish you tried. Good luck to you!

      — Jim

    1. Hi Jason – we’ll definitely rent for at least 6 months to a year to get familiar with everything. After that, we’ll work on deciding what we want to do. There’s even a possibility we’ll continue to rent after that as well depending on what seems to make the most sense.

      — Jim

  9. I like your plan and your attitude! Stay flexible and light on your feet, just in case, but what an exciting plan! My husband I have talked about spending some time in Panama so I can’t wait to hear how it goes for you!

  10. Sounds like you and your family have a sound “moving to Panama” plan in place, Jim. When I moved to Nicaragua in 2010, with my then 8 year old daughter, my plan B was: “If we really don’t like it, we go back to Germany (my home country) after 3 months time and test-drive another country.”

    Not quite sophisticated a plan as you have. 😉

    I had researched a lot about Nicaragua and other possible countries to live (and eventually retire) in, but I had not visited Nicaragua before. So it was quite a leap of faith. The fact that we now go into our 8th year here shows that it was the right leap for us. I wish you the same. I am pretty sure you’ll love Panama. It was very high on my list of countries too.

      1. Thanks Jim! No, it wasn’t a hard transition for my daughter at all. She easily found friends at her new school here and – of course – she learned Spanish much much faster than I did. We both didn’t speak Spanish when we moved here.

        Your daughter is already a bit older… so it might be harder for her to leave her current circle of friends behind.

        What helped us a lot was that we made contact with a family from the U.S. via the Internet before we came to Nicaragua. They had two daughters about the same age as mine. The mom was just wonderful! She helped us find a place to rent (we still live in that same house) and introduced us to the Girl Scouts group in Managua.

        1. Good to hear Margit – sounds like you set yourselves up to make it a little easier from the start! The good news is that our daughter’s usually pretty sociable so I hope that carries over to her school down there.

          We’ve started practicing Spanish through a couple apps and, similar to you, our daughter’s picking it up faster than my wife (I did a few years of it in high school so it’s not fair to compare her to me). 🙂

          — Jim

  11. Van Halen seemed to like it there. And as I’ve said from day one: if it’s good enough for David Lee Roth, it’s good enough for me.

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