I can tell by the increased number of emails I receive each week from people considering Panama as a retirement home that it is time to address some of my thoughts again.
I have written several pieces throughout the years on this subject, but I think it is too difficult for many people to find them. With the financial stress being placed on people around the world and Panama continually being ranked high on some survey about retirement places, it has to happen.
People want a quick answer and they only want reasons why Panama would be the perfect place for them. Many start as I did and search for every Yahoo group that is Panama related. After living here for over 9 years, I avoid the Yahoo groups almost as much as I would like to avoid watching U.S. news broadcasts.
That is not to say that there isn’t any worthwhile information on these sources, but sometimes I don’t need to be depressed and often those sources depress me.
The fact is that there will be only one source that can tell you whether you will like living in Panama and it is not International Living, House Hunters International, the Yahoo groups, various books on the subject…
The one source is …… Wait for it… Drum roll… Almost there… Ready for it…
That source is you.
I can’t tell you how many people I have met at the airport that tell me they are here for two weeks and want to buy their retirement home and live here the rest of their life. They have read about paradise in Panama and they want a part of it. I am not kidding. I don’t have enough digits on my hands and feet to count that high.
They have read in International Living that the economy is strong here, the people are the most friendly, the cost of living is much less that their country of origin, the climate is perfect year round, and the only downside is that you weren’t here sooner.
There is always enough truth in those statements to keep the authors from being absolute liars, but my problem is that they put all of the positive reasons in bold print, and the cautions in subdued print.
Experience is the only thing that is going to tell you if Panama will be right for you. You need that experience before you put your entire life savings into that perfect plot of land that you found by accident. How lucky you were to be sitting next to the fellow on the plane that just happened to have the land of your dreams for sale.
The fact that he had been trying to unload it for the last 15 years, just didn’t enter into the conversation, but you were at the right place at the right time for one of you. Whether the right one was the buyer or the seller remains to be seen.
OK, I will give some thoughts to consider again. These won’t be in a particular order, but they are things I think will help to prevent another disgruntled retiree from coming to Panama.
The first thing I will talk about is at the top of my list. It is something I think you have to drill into your head before you get on that plane to Panama. You have to tell it to yourself every morning when you get out of bed. If there is one thing that has a shot of keeping you from making a mistake, it will be this item.
Are you ready for it? Is your mind open? I am serious. You need to tattoo this on your forehead. The most important you should do on you initial trip to Panama is…
Do not buy anything before you have lived in Panama for a minimum of six months. I chose the number six because you need experience in both the rainy and the dry seasons. If you really think this is going to be your home for your retirement years, chose to rent in a place as close as you can to where you think your future home will be.
Pay your bills the same way you will if you own here. Stand in the same lines. Use the same services you will require to be happy. Find out the quality of the Internet. It will be your lifeline back to family in your country of origin.
Live as you would if you were retired here. You wouldn’t buy a pair of shoes without walking in them and moving here without trying it first can be much more painful than a pair of ill fitting shoes. Plus a mistake will be much more costly.
Now that we have agreed that you will try before you buy, what else should you do?
Do this. Record how you spend your life today. What makes up your day, your week, your month, your year? This is going to be difficult is you have worked all your life and you are planning on entering retirement cold turkey.
Start making a list of the things you need to be happy. Everyone has different requirements. Understanding your needs is extremely important. Understand the things you take for granted. Do you see your grandkids every week or month? Do you like going to the latest movies? Will it bother you if there are Spanish subtitles. Do you like to sit and listen to music and read a good book?
What is on your list? This is very important. When you get here, match that list with the possibility of it working here.
Next make another list of things that will ruin your happiness. What is on that list is just as important. If you didn’t have water for 14 days or more, would you care? If you only had enough water pressure to bathe between midnight and 4 AM in the morning, could you handle it? Would you mind only having cold showers? Would Internet speeds in the dial up range be OK? Do you mind having bars on your windows? Do you mind tons of fireworks going off whether it is a holiday or not. If you needed a part for your car and couldn’t get it for two months and that required ordering it over the Internet, would that annoy you?
I guarantee you that neither of those lists can be too complete. You are going to come here and say, “How could I forget how important xxxxxx was to me?”
Now you have a list of things that make you happy and one of things that make you unhappy. How about a list of absolute needs. Do you have a medicine you have to take to live? Don’t assume that it is available in Panama. Don’t assume that it will cost the same in Panama.
Do you have a health condition that requires constant observation such as a heart condition or diabetes? If so, then determining how that will be handled will be important to you. It may also affect the location of where you live. Something bad happening late at night in a location that requires an hour drive in pouring rain to get to a hospital that can treat the condition could be the difference between life and death.
Now let’s discuss some random thoughts. Can you make a cultural adjustment? This is a Latin American country. Spanish is the language of the population. Are you willing to learn and interested in learning it? I am going to teach you your first Spanish word. It is Mañana.
I am sure you have heard the word and I am sure you probably think you know what it means. I thought I knew what it meant when I came here. I thought mañana meant tomorrow. You did too didn’t you?
Well I have learned in Panama that it means “not today”. If someone says they will call you mañana, it could be in a week a month or never. If someone is coming to fix your broken refrigerator mañana, it could be tomorrow, next week or never. The only thing certain is that mañana is not today!
If a meeting is to begin at 6PM, then people may arrive at 7:30 PM and be early. A type “A” personality is a kiss of death in Panama. You will drive yourself nuts. If you can’t adapt to the mañana lifestyle, you are going to live in contestant frustration.
If the tone of this post comes across negative, I don’t intend it to. My intention is to tell you that life is going to be difficult if your expectations are not aligned with reality.
There is much to like about Panama. I like the fact that people always greet you when they enter a waiting room. I am not talking about friends of yours, I am talking about absolute strangers.
I like the fact that I can have fresh fruit year round at a reasonable price. I like that I can see the stars at night in the middle of the city. I like that my mornings are serenaded by birds sharing their happiness with me. I like that my life is slower paced and I am happy to get up every morning. I like that my monthly electric bill is rarely higher than $60. I like that I can be in the mountains or on a beach with an hours drive. I like that I can make a difference in others lives by giving some of my time.
So is Panama the place you should retire? I don’t know and if you have not spent six months here you don’t know either. What is heaven to some is hell for others. The trick is to determine which it is for you.