Is Our Retirement in Panama Unexpectedly Over?


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Is Our Retirement in Panama Unexpectedly Over?

We started our early retirement in Panama in the late summer of 2019. It was just me, my wife, Lisa, and our daughter, Faith, who was 9 at the time.

We moved there and found a condo close to town in Boquete that we really liked. We even got to be part of a House Hunters International episode along the way!

Things were moving along very well. The weather in the mountains of Boquete where our place resides is wonderful – 75° F every day! We spent so much time walking around and just enjoying the welcoming country and the new experiences.

We found a rhythm homeschooling Faith and taking her to horseback riding once or twice a week. I continued to spend time working on Route to Retire, learning Spanish, and working out. Lisa and Faith volunteered every month at a spay/neuter clinic called Amigos de Animales.

Relationships were forming with new friends (including Faith with other kids). Life was going pretty well and the plan was to take it year-by-year for as long as we enjoyed it… what could go wrong?

Yeah, about that. What are the odds of moving to a different country and having a once-in-a-century global pandemic hit during your first year there?!

So, things have changed and now our retirement in Panama may very well be over.

What happened?

The COVID-19 pandemic was nice enough to provide a twist in life for all of us. Some folks have had it rougher than others and I don’t ever forget just how fortunate we are. However, it’s still given us our own bit of trouble trying to enjoy our retirement in Panama.

Panama’s been very aggressive in their attempt to slow the spread of the virus since the beginning. Unfortunately, not everyone played by the rules, and the active cases have continued to grow in the country.

If you’ve been following along over the past few months, we had a tough decision to make. At the end of June, we decided to head back to the U.S. We made that decision even though we knew we might not be able to get back to our retirement in Panama anytime soon thereafter.

Is Our Retirement in Panama Unexpectedly Over? - Flying Back to the U.S.
Go Browns!

Sure enough, here we are in Ohio without any idea if we’ll be able to return. The Panamanian government hasn’t done a great job of laying out an actual timeline of when things will open back up in the country – including the borders and airports. And that makes it tough for us.

We’re “stuck” away from our home in Panama.

This past spring, the President of Panama (Laurentino “Nito” Cortizo) closed the airports and borders temporarily. Since that time, he’s continued to extend the suspension in 30-day increments. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it makes planning very difficult.

As of right now, the airport suspension is slated to be lifted around August 23. That would be easy enough, but in all likelihood, it’ll be extended another month… and possibly more after that.

But here’s the real clincher – when and if the borders do open, the chances of them allowing U.S. residents in is pretty slim right now. They’ll probably follow suit with so much of the world in blocking access to U.S. citizens where the virus has been spreading so severely. As a side note, we don’t have residency in Panama – otherwise, we’d more than likely be able to travel back there a little more promptly.

In other words, even if we’re able to get back to our retirement in Panama, I would guess that it’s not going to happen for at least the rest of this year. And remember that part where I mentioned we were taking this year-by-year?

Well, we were probably going to make this our last year (summer 2020 through summer 2021). The biggest reason is that this is probably the last year we’d feel comfortable homeschooling Faith. Once she’d be going into 6th grade in the fall of 2021, we were leaning toward putting her back in school.

That means that if we can’t get back to Panama this year, it probably won’t make a ton of sense to go back… at least until Faith gets older and moves out.

So now what?

First off, we do hope to go back in the next couple of months. However, we know that it’s probably not going to happen.

One of the good/bad things we have going on is that our rental lease for our place in Panama is set to expire in mid-September. If we don’t think we’ll get back there, there’s no sense in renewing it and continuing to pay rent for an unknown number of months. I’d also like to give our landlord 30 days’ notice which means I’ll need to let her know in the next couple of weeks.

I’m sure she’d probably be flexible enough to let us go month-to-month considering the circumstances. But not knowing how long this would be for, does it really make sense to pay for it to sit like a storage unit?

Speaking of storage, one of the best things about retirement in Panama is that almost all places are fully furnished. That means that we didn’t buy a lot of home furnishings or other stuff while living there.

But we still do have some of our stuff in the condo. That means we need to figure out what to do with those possessions. Luckily, most of it could be boiled down to two or three suitcases worth of our property that we’d like to hang onto.

My hope is that I could burden our neighbor to pack those things up in a few suitcases we still have there and ship everything to us. I’ll feel guilty asking her for help and It’s going to be crazy expensive, but I guess that’s the way to cookie crumbles.

If all goes well, I’ll be talking to my neighbor this week to let her know the plan and see if she’d be willing to help out. Then I’ll talk to the landlord and fill her in. And just like that, our retirement in Panama will be over.

I wish we were able to stay there longer, but that’s the way it goes, folks. Fortunately, we’re pretty good at adapting as needed and finding ways to enjoy life regardless.

If retirement in Panama is out, what’s the plan?

This question’s a little more difficult to answer. The short-term plans are pretty easy – we’re taking our road trip around the U.S. and leaving next week. When all is said and done, we’ll probably be back to Ohio sometime in September.

But the long-term plans are a little more complex.

During our road trip, we’re going to take a couple of days to check out some areas of Tennessee. We’re familiar with some areas between Nashville and Knoxville and thought that might be a cool place to live. It’s no retirement in Panama, but it might have to do!

Or maybe we’ll find another area during our travels that sucks us in. I doubt that’ll happen, but you never know.

Otherwise, there’s also the possibility that we’ll just move back to Ohio. We could get an apartment here and even send Faith back to her old school. I hate winter with a passion but maybe that’ll make sense at least for the time being.

We’ll see where life takes us!

One thing that would be an interesting twist though is that our living expenses will most likely take a jump. A lot of factors should remain similar, but healthcare is that fun dynamic that we’d have to consider.

I would guess that we’d go back to a health sharing ministry like Liberty HealthShare. I’ll talk more about that and how living in the U.S. affects our financials in a future post.

Thank God, we planned our retirement numbers around living in the U.S. in case we decided to come back from Panama. This wasn’t the way I anticipated it could ever happen, but I’m glad we prepared accordingly.

I also think that Lisa would likely go back to work – not full time, but some kind of part-time work. She misses having something routine like that in her days. Maybe I can convince her to write about her thoughts on this. More importantly, maybe I can convince her to get a job at a place like Starbucks or another company that offers health insurance for part-time workers! 😉

Not this guy though – maybe someday, but right now I’m loving that Route to Retire is my job. I still feel like I don’t have enough hours in the day, but once Faith is a little older, maybe that’ll change.


If you’re considering moving to Panama, I’d recommend that you check out the Panama Relocation Guide from Jackie’s Panama Relocation Tours. It’s chock-full of resources and contact information on everything you’d need to make a smooth transition to Panama such as:

  • The best residency Visa options
  • Exclusive immigration attorney contacts with special pricing
  • The best places to live in Panama – based on your lifestyle preference
  • Getting your pets to Panama
  • Saving 40-50% on health insurance
  • Tips for finding a rental property and what to watch out for
  • Buying real estate in Panama and how to get financing
  • How to buy a car in Panama and how to use public transportation
  • How to get mail in Panama including Amazon orders
  • International mover contacts for household goods and cars
  • The best cell phone company to use in Panama and essential apps for expats
  • Bi-lingual and international schools available throughout the country

So that’s it, folks. I loved our retirement in Panama and certainly wish we could go back, but it just seems like the stars aren’t going to align for that to happen in the near future. We’re still hoping that we can go back, but time’s running out quickly. I’ll keep you posted though as we make our final decisions on where life is taking us next.

Thanks for reading!!

— Jim

41 thoughts on “Is Our Retirement in Panama Unexpectedly Over?”

    1. Thanks, Lisa! I know you gave van life a shot before – I should be picking your brain on the good, bad, and ugly! We’re going to cheat and do a lot of tent camping mixed in with some hotels though. 🙂

  1. I hope you make it back to Panama for another year. If not, we will have a spare room and loft in our new Raleigh house. Rent will be cheap, especially if you know how to use a chainsaw or garden….

  2. Jim, I am so sorry that your adventure has taken such an unpredictable sharp turn. I certainly hope you get back to Panama but I think you may be right in considering otherwise.

    You and your wife clearly are fantastic planners. I am a decent planner myself. I think my takeaway from your current situation is that a person needs to remember that no amount of planning can cover all the possible curveballs that this crazy life can through at you.

    I remember a recent boss of mine telling me a story involving his special needs granddaughter. His granddaughter Is precious And so loved by the entire family but raising her is so very challenging for his son and daughter in law. One day, his daughter in law posted on Facebook that her life has become all about “Plan B”. You can plan for scenario “A“ but invariably life gets in the way and you need to adjust to “B” or “C” or “D”. With a special needs child that is an every day event.

    Best of luck with Plan B. I know you will land well!

    1. Wise words to always have a Plan B. We might be following suit on that advice with a Plan C and D soon! We’ll just have to figure out what the right path is for us… maybe this road trip will give us some time to help us realize what that’ll be.

  3. Hi Jim (and Lisa and Faith!)
    So sorry to hear your return to Panama has been diverted. 🙁
    As you know, we’re planning on moving to Valencia, Spain in about a month. I have to say that given what we’ve gone through to get our visa, reading about how Spain is handling the pandemic, reading what you guys have been going through, this all has given us a bit of pause to ask, “is this what we should be doing?” However, as you know, since you were actually able to get to Panama and “live” there, we’re going to press ahead. We may end up having to drastically change our plans as well, but fingers crossed.
    I’m sure you guys will noodle quite a bit, probably as you’re driving/camping around the country, about what your next adventure will look like and where it will be. I also know, from reading your blogs, that all three of you will bounce back where that final bounce back takes you. 🙂
    It reminds me of a saying my Aunt Nancy used when you were lost or uncertain. “It’s all part of the adventure.” You’re not lost, you’re just not sure where you are right now. You can’t make a wrong turn, because any turn will take you to -some- place, and if that place isn’t exactly where you want to be, well, that’s all part of the adventure. 🙂
    I’ll be following your posts closely to see where and how you guys decide to land for the next phase of your “adventure”.
    Cheers,
    Jim

    1. Aunt Nancy sounds like a very smart woman! I’m sure we’ll figure it out so I’m not worried, but you know that I’m a Type A kind of guy so that may change as time goes on. 😉

      I’m wishing you the best on your move to Spain. As long as you’re careful and flexible, I’m sure you guys will be just fine. It just figures that all this happens when you’re about to make such a major move… such is life though. Best of luck and enjoy!

    1. We did consider the possibility of moving to another country, but I don’t think that’s in the cards for us right now. Not that we would ever go this route, but I’m curious if we could buy citizenship in another country and then use that as our identity to fly back to Panama once they open up to non-U.S. citizens. That would be a clever hack if you could!

      1. That is a key advantage of a second passport, the ability to travel without visas in different countries than you might be able to as a US citizen. A second passport (like one in rhe EU) would also allow you to work (yeahhh, riiiight) or buy land in some places.

  4. I’m sad and disappointed for you. Life throws crazy curveballs sometimes, but you, Lisa and Faith are pros at navigating surprises.

    Even if your time in Panama is over, the most important thing is you did it. Not for as long or in quite the way you’d been hoping, but you got there and were living the life you’d planned.

    That’s a huge accomplishment, and one that all three of you can remember for the rest of your lives. I wish you all the best in your next adventures, and look forward to continuing to follow your story!

  5. Sorry to hear that. At least you guys got to experience Panama for about a year.
    It sounds like it’d be best to stay in the US for now. Luckily, you’re flexible and can adapt.
    Good luck with the future plan.

  6. What a bummer! But I guess this global pandemic is throwing everyone for a loop. I’m glad you got to experience Panama for a year, and I suppose you’re better prepared to embark on your next adventure.

    Enjoy your road trip, and I’ll be excited to see where you end up.

    1. Thanks, Aaron – good point about being better prepared for a future adventure, especially if we decide to move to another country one day. As scary as that sounded to so many people, it was awesome to actually do it and realize there’s really nothing scary about it. Great experience for sure!

  7. So is Panama out of your system now? Even another year was short lived. But what an experience, eh?

    Great to hear Faith will be back in school and your wife to find a routine to get into that brings a measure of satisfaction. Part time work offers that! If it provider health care benefits that would be super cool!

    Enjoy your summer touring. A lot of beautiful places in the USA. It could take a lifetime to explore.

  8. Thank you for your candid sharing. I’ll be watching your situation closely as our retirement plan B in Costa Rica is on hold too. Borders are closed there, and while we had never moved there permanently, it was a backup plan which we really can’t rely on anymore.
    I think even road tripping in the US will be tricky with different states having different restrictions. We have to drop off our youngest to college in OH, and OH has a 14-day quarantine so we’ll have to figure out how to drive there, stay outside of OH, drop her off and unpack the car, then get back to a no-quarantine state so we can leave. But we have a few weeks yet and states on the quarantine list still might change.
    Good luck!

    1. Ugh, what a mess! I’ve heard that it’s very possible that a number of colleges may suddenly change their minds last minute and do things remotely for the semester. I can’t say if that’ll actually happen, but I can see that just adding to the confusion.

      Hang in there – I wish you the best, Caroline!

  9. YES, have the wife (Sugar Mama) work! That is what we’ve done for the past year since I was let go from my job a year ago. My wife’s job is flexible and she works from home 80% of the time. Maybe your wife could find something of the sort (try Progressive Insurance). What’s great is that my wife makes enough to cover all the yearly expenses and we even still save a little. This makes sure we have health insurance and can let our nest egg grow instead of drawing it down. The longer we can do it the better.

    Tennessee is really nice. Nashville has gotten crazy popular and expensive but I think Knoxville area is still very reasonable. It is an option for us if we don’t move back out west. Chattanooga wasn’t bad either for the short visit we had there. Enjoy your trip!

    1. That’s really awesome that your wife’s making enough to cover the whole lot of your expenses and gets you health insurance to boot! If Lisa goes back to work, it’ll probably be at a school. I just told her to consider a university where we can possibly get a discount on tuition for Faith. 🙂

      Thanks for the info on cost-of-living in Nashville vs Knoxville. I haven’t dug into any of that yet but I’ll absolutely need to if we get serious about moving elsewhere.

      1. Working at a school is a good idea. We have a friend that works in the cafeteria and has benefits. She could always drive a bus! 🙂 I hear they always need people for that!

  10. Sorry about leaving your ER paradise! This virus is ruining so many well laid plans. Kids schooling does change the priorities for sure. We made some decisions for the betterment of the children’s education as well.

    1. I can only imagine the stress of schooling decisions right now. I’m thankful that we’d planned to homeschool another year so that’s one thing that’s not on our own list of headaches. Hope your related decisions weren’t too much of a mess. Best of luck!

  11. Thanks for sharing your experiences and best of luck – sorry that you had to move to Plan B but it’s also encouraging to see that one can be flexible in retirement if they’ve planned well. Out of curiosity, how was the House Hunters experience? I’ve always wondered whether they actually help find you a place and whether you get paid to do the show

    1. Thanks, B.C. – I’ve heard a lot of great feedback about how wonderful Colombia is (particularly Medellín) and can understand why you’d miss it a lot. Fingers crossed we don’t have to throw in the towel on Panama just yet, but the odds aren’t looking great right now.

  12. I hope you guys make it back to Panama eventually. It’s hard to figure out plans in the midst of a global pandemic that’s for sure. For now it’s probably a good idea to continue home school.

    1. Thanks, Bob – you’re not kidding on trying to plan right now! Yeah, I’m happy that just continuing the homeschooling seemed to really work in our favor. I feel bad for so many other parents who are having a hard time in sending their kids back to school because they don’t have a choice. Hope things are going well for you and the family!

  13. Don’t feel obligated to put your daughter back in school if you still want to travel. We have two kids who have been home schooled for five years now, starting the sixth year with one beginning ninth grade. We have given the kids the choice the last two years, they wanted to keep home schooling. Between being military and moving every few years along with the freedom to travel any time of the year, it has worked out well for us. It is not for everyone though.

    1. The flexibility and freedom that homeschooling gives you are definitely one of our favorite aspects of homeschooling. That’s interesting that the kids have chosen to keep homeschooling – sounds like they love what you’re doing!

  14. I know exactly what you mean Jim. I’m just taking life day by day. My plans are in disarray. I didn’t plan my retirement years as being a full-time nanny and a “home school” teacher, but that’s where we are right now.

    Kids in our area won’t be going back to school, and from the look of the pandemic it’s going to be a very long time before life gets back to “normal”.

    It’s kind of depressing actually. Life has a way of taking your plans, throwing them in the dumpster, and then lighting them on fire. And not the good kind of FIRE.

    It’s disappointing to say the least.

    1. Haha, the good news is that you’re doing a great job as a nanny and teacher! Most everyone’s lives got upended in one way or another but I do count our blessings. And based on your posts, you seem to be making the most of things just like us! 😀

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