Rose Colored Glasses

If you are reading this blog or other Panama blogs to get a better understanding about living in Panama, take off your Rose Colored Glasses.

I think many people read into any blog post what they want it to say to justify their decision to move, if Panama is under consideration as a retirement location. You certainly would not want to move someplace worse than where you currently are.

If you read many of the newer blogs, it may be hard to find any post that doesn’t portray what a great time the blogger is having. I am not saying they are not writing how they feel, but when you are experiencing something new, then it is exciting. Fun things will be amplified and not so fun things will be downplayed. It is human nature.

I have said it numerous time and will repeat it again here, the only way to see if Panama fits your retirement plans, is to live here 6 months to a year, prior to making a permanent move.

If you were going to buy a pair of shoes, you would try them on and walk in before spending any money.

If you were going to buy a new car, would you pay for it prior to driving it? No Way!

The same is true in evaluating living in a Latin American country.

I pick 6 to 12 months so that you can live in both the dry and the rainy season. One or the other may not suit you. You need to experience all aspects of Panama life before you can evaluate it from your perspective, which is the only perspective that matters.

You need to pay bills. You need to experience healthcare services. You need to visit hospitals. You need to understand crime and crime prevention. You need to drive on the country roads. You need to experience water and electricity outages. You need to experience Panama television and Internet availability. You need to experience customer service.

That experience will be much more valuable than anything you may read or think you read (ROSE COLORED GLASSES), in any blog, Yahoo group, or book.

You may think that the tone of this post is intended to convince retirees not to come to Panama. To the contrary. If Panama is what you want and will be good for you, then come. If I didn’t like it here, I would not have stayed for 12+ years.

I just don’t want people to move, be unhappy and complain in 10 months because they were wearing Rose Colored Glasses.

22 thoughts on “Rose Colored Glasses

  1. I agree 100%. There is no substitute for being in a place and experiencing the whole package. Vacations are not the same thing at all. The other thing I would add –know how you are going to entertain yourself for the first two years, after that something will present itself, but you may be bored silly by the TV, run out of books and get really tired of dealing with the different expats you meet. There is no Michaels, or Hobby Lobby, or Home Depot 5 minutes away. It takes time and a good deal of effort to go to the movies, out to dinner, or shopping. And if you are retired, you probably will be home very soon after dark. So you need activities, other than drinking, to fill your hours when it is pouring rain, too dark to drive, and you are lonely.

  2. totally true….and it goes for other places too…..after I moved to Texas in 1969 from Sweden , I moved back to Sweden after 6 years…my rose colored glasses were on while in Texas and remembering Sweden…it took only one winter and paying the taxes to remember why I left in the first place…moved back to Texas in 79….been here ever since…I would not move anywhere without visiting several times first ,then stay at LEAST 6 months…but as you say 12 might be better to get a feel for a full years worth of climate…I think that goes for anywhere in the world

  3. One of the problems in researching any new place to live is the abundance of information from those who have something to gain if you follow their information.

    Panama may be the leader in these types of people since IL listed Panama as the number one retirement location in 2000. Panama, on paper, has a lot going for it: US currency, the same power grid as the USA (when it is working), a US presence for over 100 years (although Panamanians weren’t welcome in the Canal Zone), a better health care system than most other countries, etc. All of those pluses can’t cover all the warts, however.

    The problem arises when “folks just like me” start generating income based on getting other “folks just like me” to visit their websites, buy their books, and pay for their advice. BoqueteNing is one example; a supposed community website offering a forum for expats, it is loaded with advertising to generate revenue for the owner.

    Another popular site is The author there is involved in Panama Relocation Tours, has speaking engagements many months out of the year on cruise ships, and has his books available for sale there as well. He spends a good portion of his time in Panama on cruise ships lecturing travelers about living in Panama.
    When he is actually on land in Panama, he spends the time either in his Boquete Mountain Estate or his Waterfront Property in Boca Chica, both of which are for sale, and he has a casita for rent. (His blog says that he is is willing to take a trade for his Boquete property for one of equal value in Sonoma County, CA. , so maybe he is considering Escaping FROM Paradise. That could be his next book title?

    There are LOTS of other websites just like these and the most important question to ask is, “What is the author hoping to gain from ME by posting”?

    I love Panama, warts and all, because it gave me my most valuable treasure, my bride of 44 years. We visit every year (since 1970s) and it is a great escape from the rushed feeling of living in the USA for a few weeks while we visit family all over the country.


  4. Well said Don, thanks for this article and all that you do to research, inform, and caution readers interested or already here in Panama. This “rose colored glasses” or more formally described as “framing the facts” is all too present in tourist and retirement publications like International Living (Lying) magazine that embellish stories about tropical paradise retirement locations around the world – not at all in balance reporting the downside of these countries stricken with poverty, crime, garbage and corruption.

  5. Jim, I am anxious to read Richard’s next book. Maybe it will give me clues as to how I can live a life of luxury too.

    I will try to help him sell his property.

    If you want a mountain resort here is his link.

    If you are wanting waterfront property here is his link.

    If you want both you are going to have to come up with $1,154,000 (current asking price).

  6. The biggest obstacles in living in Panama, and for that matter, much the rest of Latin America, and other countries similar, is not a language barrier or some cultural adjustments, or some people who may look different or have different features or different dress.

    It is the anomie that exists in these countries that are touted as havens.

    Few Ex-pats realize this until it is too late and they have made the move, spent considerable sums of money, and taken the plunge. They then realize that they are, perhaps, little more than a target to those possessed with few moral guidelines, whether they are the native population or other fellow expatriates, with even fewer scruples.

    As a result, there is always an underlying and pervasive social instability in Panama and much of Latin America, with so little support and peer pressure to maintain or enhance moral standards, basic honesty, and moral values, necessary to avoid societal breakdowns and growing disorder.

    The respective governments of these afflicted nations are no examples of moral leadership and instead feature a culture of corruption and greed in creating an uneven playing field for those struggling to economically survive and make ends meet. Such a culture of corruption involve undisclosed and illegal payments, kickbacks, and bribes, which become a way of life and “doing business” by the elite classes that rule these countries.

    This sort of corruption, which I have now witnessed for eight years in Panama, but is also rife elsewhere in the Southern Hemisphere, is rampant, systemic, and deeply rooted by officials who have severely abused their positions of trust to obtain millions of dollars in illicit activities.

    Until this anomie is identified and corrected, Latin America will never be more than what it presently is: third world countries and economies that have little opportunity for its citizens aspiring to live improved lives, control of their destinies, and any real hope for their children.

  7. Very elegantly put Don.

    There are other considerations to moving out of the US. There is no comparison to many cities and towns in America, but all of that comes at a price in cost of living, civil liberties, and divergent political ideologues.

    My adult children and many friends cannot see giving up the lifestyle they enjoy in the US to live in a third world country. The issues I cite are not important to them.

    Different strokes for different folks.

    Cliff Strait

  8. Don, have been following yours post for a few months, and after reading your comment and the comments that followed today, I cannot help but have to say a few things about your Panama experience. It sounds as though you and many of the expats there have very little good to say about where you have chosen to land, which Im sure is quite confusing to those who follow your blog. You talk of of rose colored glasses and wanting to tell it like it is….well, I am just wondering what your underlying reason really is for staying?? I suspect, in spite of your warnings to not move there, especially for financial reasons, that may be the underlying reason after all. Lets face it,your pension and others would not go near as far here in the states, you are taxed much less there than probably most places in the world. Yes, you have a certain instability that you live with daily,there is crime, bribery, secondary infrastructure, and a constant influx of those moving there with “all the wrong reasons” I do appreciate honesty, but cant help thinking of one of my favorite quotes “People do things for 2 reasons, a good reason and the real reason”, J. Paul Getty.
    I have lived in many places , have found none that are perfect, including the US. I am single and have always been adventuresome, I am not financially well off as many are, I lead a quiet life, yes, read a lot of books, get lonely, feel scared and out of place at times. But….the glorious thing about it is, that it is my choice, good, bad or indifferent. I guess my point is..if your Panamanian experience is that ugly, quit whining and do something about it! It sounds as though you do some good things there and are of service to others…which I applaud, and sounds as though you have found a great partner to share your life with as well. So as much as I can appreciate your pragmatic sense of the Panama experience, give people a break, choices are such a personal thing, sharing all the negative can never be productive in any sense, no matter where you are. I operate from a very positive standpoint, it is the best way for me to live the life I choose, Its just so disappointing to listen to such a group of people who have little or nothing good to say about their choices.

  9. Hi Don, My husband and i packed up and left Canada in 1988 for the Dominican Republic. In 1999 we moved to Costa Rica and in 2012 to Panama. We have never lived in Canada again. The Rose Coloured glasses were certainly on in the Dominican Rep and we had a couple of good fun years …. then reality set in. If you want a country with no electricity for days on end, (which means no water unless you get a bucket and fish it out of the cistern…No shopping, no rules, a Nepoleonic legal system guilty till proven innocent, then the Dominican could be the place for you! The Rum is the best thing there! And you need it to keep on going!! We learned a lot in that country and are thank full for the opportunity to have lived there, even though we spent 10 years without a residency. When we went to Costa Rica i would go to the grocery store just to walk around and look at all the fresh vegies and all the food that i had not seen in years!! Electricity stayed on there was a shopping mall!!! But with out a doubt Costa Rica is expensive and it seemed to upgrade our life style it would cost us, on the good side we did gain 2 beautiful Grandchildren! However again…. no residency was forthcoming. Then, just before i retired, the company sent me to Panama for a year. A year spent in Panama City, which is a terrific city, (you should see San Jose C.R.) shopping, restaurants, relatively safe and so so clean. The best part was the cost of living!! Very very reasonable compared to the other 2 places we had lived so despite the fact that we have several properties in Costa Rica we decided to move here to Retire.WithIn 6 months we had permanent residency! Wow seemed like they wanted us here!! it was like a big welcome sign. All these discounts for pensioners!! All the shopping! All the restaurants and good food!! Needless to say we are happy to have found our spot. When i hear people complaining i feel sorry for them. i want to say, if you dont like it go home. This is not my Country, this is not my culture, but i am very happy that they let me live here where it is warm and different, viva la differance!!!

  10. Hi Sandie, thank you for taking the time to leave a comment. It is always good to hear from readers who are about to become ex-readers.

    As I said, people read into material what the want to read. I have lived here over 12 1/2 years. When I moved to Panama, I moved to Boquete. It was a wonderful little Panamanian town. This was just at the boom of paid advertising to convince foreigners to move to Valle Escondido and live in Paradise.

    Of course that paradise was not Panama. Entering Valle Escondido was almost like visiting a Disney park. It was a private community that most Panamanians could never hope to enjoy. The effect by that developer and others to follow him have moved the price of land in many areas of Chiriquí completely out of the range of the average Panamanian.

    When I moved here I spoke with many Panamanians that were saving to buy as little as 1,000 meters of land to own their own home. In a short period of time land where they were planning on buying went from $1 a meter to $30 a meter. Their dream had disappeared because of the dreams of foreign developers who were coming to make their fortune off of other foreigners.

    As long as you want to live in only English speaking areas you may not hear, understand or even care about these changes.

    Many that accepted the dream and moved into Valle Escondido are now unhappy with management and would like to get out, but real estate agents don’t want to sell property there. Owners are at the mercy of the developer for its infrastructure and pay enormous fees for its upkeep. Such is the price for wanting to move into one of the gated community developments.

    So Panamanians are not happy because these developments have taken away their possibility of owning their home in the future and those that are there are now held captive by their investment.

    Along with all of those who are well healed coming to Panama are those escaping whatever they think they are escaping to come to a country where they think their money will go farther.

    Those are the one that really cause problems for the country. This is something Panama really needs to address. The first thing I would do is to change the rules for border hoppers. Those are the people who move here and have to leave every 180 days and then return for another 180 days.

    If you can’t afford $1,500 to obtain a pensionado visa or don’t qualify for one, then I think you potentially have more of a negative effect on Panama than a positive one. An easy change would be to require a 6 month wait after they have made their first border hop. They could live in Panama effectively a year and then they would have an extended wait before they could return.

    The fee to get a pensionado as well as the raised income requirements has helped to keep out some to the foreigners that put a drain on the national healthcare system. It was only $500 when I came and I paid around $400 to get my pensionado visa. I have since changed it for an E Cedula.

    Most of the U.S. Citizens I have dealt with have left the Regional Hospital (either dead or alive) have left the hospital with a large debt. That debt lowers the healthcare availability for the Panamanians the system is intended to support.

    The biggest gripe I have about so many of the people that are now moving to Panama is that they expect Panama to speak English instead of taking on the responsibility of learning Spanish. There is absolutely no way they can assimilate themselves into into a Panamanian community speaking only English. They are the targets for all of the “gated communities”. I have never lived in an area that spoke English since I moved here. While my Spanish is poor, it is better then the small numbers of words I spoke when I moved here.

    If I go to a doctor, I don’t have to check to see if he or she speaks English. I can tell them where it hurts. I can call a gall bladder or kidney by its name in Spanish. If you can’t do that, good luck if you are in a car or bus accident.

    You are right that I have underlying reasons for discouraging those that are moving here (primarily from the U.S.) for the wrong reasons. These are usually the ones that I wind up having to help or listen to complain when they are in trouble.

    They are either in the hospital and can’t speak Spanish and don’t like the way the nurses are treating them or they are wanting to know if the Embassy can help them because their real estate purchase was sold to multiple and they need a lawyer. The Embassy does not recommend lawyers. They will provide you a list of lawyers, but that means nothing.

    The only taxation that would be less for me in Panama, than in he U.S., is property tax. The fact that I own no property in Panama helps too. It is nice to marry a woman with money and live as a kept man. Many have 20 year exemptions on their property taxes and at the end of 20 years, they probably don’t plan on being here after the tax exemption runs out.

    I still pay income tax in the U.S. Many Panamanians would like to have the taxes I paid last year as an annual income. I can and do live well here.

    I currently pay $850 a month for health insurance which may or may not be less in the U.S. I still pay for Medicare even though I can’t use it here. If I were to move back, I would have to pay for Part B at a penalized rate for never having carried it.

    My gasoline bill is less here that it would be in the U.S. even though the price for a gallon is substantially more.. That is primarily because I choose to live in David and am close to everything. Living outside of David would increase that expense somewhat.

    Food definitely costs more here than in the U.S., but I probably eat healthier here and have fresher local products. The quantity of food in a restaurant is less and that is a good thing.

    The real cost advantage and my main reason for living here (other than Lilliam) is the climate. It is fantastic. My utility bills average $60+- a month. I have one season of clothes. I have to consider when I will visit the U.S. to either pack right or buy clothes.

    The climate does require a little study. Unless you live in an area for a substantial amount of time, you won’t know if that micro climate is right for you. I love having just two seasons.

    The rain can have negative effects in some areas of Panama and flooding can be a real danger. Buying some property may look great in the dry season and may be a death trap in the rainy season. You won’t find that out on a two week house hunting trip to tour, and you won’t hear of any problems from real estate agents.

    So Sandie, if you can get past seeing only the negative in my posts and ask yourself what, if any, applies to you, then you will most likely make the correct decision for you.

    My primary objective in continuing to produce this blog is to force people to set reasonable expectations. If your expectations are consistent with what you find after a move, or if you are lucky and your expectations are exceeded, then you will have made a good move and be happy here.

  11. Karen all good points. Certainly Panama is the best of all Latin American countries to live in, in my opinion. An economy based on the U.S. dollar helps a lot. The fluctuation of Colones to Dollars in Costa Rica is a real nuisance when many things have to be paid for in dollars.

    One thing you mentioned is worth discussing more. You mentioned the retiree incentives. I thought that too when I read about them and moved here. Some of them I take advantage of. 20% discount on medicine and doctors and discounts on travel to Panama City and lodging. The discount on telephone bill and electricity bill are beneficial and should be used.

    What I don’t universally use are discounts on restaurants. I always take advantage of the discount in all franchise restaurants such as TGIF, KFC, Pizza Hut, etc. The discount is built into their business model.

    However I don’t take it in small mom and pop restaurants.

    I believe one of the larges reasons for restaurant prices going up since I have been here is all of the foreigners that have moved here taking advantage of this discount. The business owner is not given credit for giving the discount and therefore it is a direct effect on the profit of that business. There is no free ride, so if they are to survive, they have to raise prices.

    I can’t tell you the number of restaurants I have see that have started with reasonable prices and had to escalate their prices to make a profit and many found they couldn’t make it and went out of business.

    I do use it restaurants that have adjusted their prices to include the discount. I would be a fool not to.

    When I moved here I had a friend that would ask for the discount on a $2.50 Panamanian tipica plate. How embarrassing it was to eat with him. The poor restaurant owner was just getting by as it was and my friend wanted to lower his cost by fifty cents.

    The reason for this comment is to make you consider the business before you unconditionally ask for the discount.

  12. I think Karen and Tom are onto something here? Before trying Panama on for size, live some place like the Dominican Republic, or Liberia, or Nicaragua for a year. If you survive one of those places, then Panama should be a cakewalk. Your appreciation for what Panama can offer will be much greater than it would be by reading all the IL, and other hype on the web.

    I am amazed by the money folks spend on guided tours showing the “real truth” about Panama. They claim to let you meet folks who live here to get the inside story on what it is like living there.

  13. I Agree with you, Don Ray, as a Panamanian . You are objective, you tell it like it is, you are integrated into the society and have not kept yourself isolated from the locals. Continue doing so, please.

  14. Don, I think some of your frustrations might be alleviated if you look at some things in more of a business way. Panama is trying to attract foreigners with their monthly pensions here. This is a huge boost to their economy. I’ve seen various figures for how many foreigners are here in the residency program. Let’s just say for the sake of an example, it is around 25,000 which I would suspect is a very low estimate. Let’s say they are each spending $1,000 a month. That’s 25 million dollars a month being pumped into the economy. So occasionally the hospital gets stuck with a bill. The benefits far outweigh the hospital bill and Panama knows this. Same for the perpetual tourists. Why would they stop that? That’s millions more per month into the economy. If Panama were so distraught over the hospital bills, there is an easy fix. They could require the foreign residents to pay each month into the healthcare program like countries such as Costa Rica do.

  15. Ignoring “confirmation bias” will avoid the dangers of rose colored glasses perspective. This can really throw you a life changing curve. I welcome negative comments about retirement places, to balance the hype. Recently this paid off for me in a major way. For years I had considered Thailand and the vast majority reports I heard were good. I regularly read a blog from an expat in thailand. Recently his tone changed and exposed a cultural attitude to foreigners that I never knew existed. That attitude put Thailand on my no go list. It takes several years anywhere to really understand the culture from the locals perspective.

    Re: tourist visa restrictions. I will stay on a tourist visa for some time to avoid starting SS to prove income. Why? I get 8 percent more a year by waiting. I think you are being shortsighted on this.

  16. Sheila, My concern is more for the effect on the people rather than the effect on the economy. Of course the government would like to see more money flow into the country. It puts more money into the wealthy land and business owners of the country.

    The handling of healthcare financials by foreigners has had a huge effect on everyone. When I moved here it was easy to be admitted into Hospital Chiriqui or Hospital Mae Lewis and be treated. Now, neither of those will allow you to be admitted without proof of capability to pay. I do not blame the hospitals for wanting to be paid.

    If you think it is fine to not pay hospital bills and expect a government to subsidize and or to correct the situation, then you and I have different philosophies and expectations.

  17. Don, I didn’t say it is fine to not pay hospital bills. I said Panama is aware of this outcome because that is how they have it set up. They are fully aware that there are going to be unpaid hospital bills. They are the ones putting themselves in the position of subsidizing foreigners healthcare. But obviously to them the benefits out weigh the unpaid bills.They can change the system if they want to. Requiring foreigners to pay into the system would eliminate the problem, but to them they might not see it as a problem and don’t want to change it. Also I disagree that the flow of money into the economy is only benefiting the wealthy. Obviously many jobs have been created for the people,

  18. Sheila, I have a slightly different view on Panamanians benefiting from expats. Most of the time, I would say that the expats that got established here first, purchased land and houses, set up various business ventures are the ones benefiting most from the newly arrived expat spending. Property sales, rentals, used car sales, and service jobs are going to expats, not locals. And if it is a service provided by an expat, the cost will certainly be higher than if a local is doing the job.

    Places of concentrated resident tourists gringos, like Boquete, have dozens of expats renting out houses, selling land or completed homes. Don Ray has already posted two links to the guy selling property who makes a living in Panama by selling books about how great it is to live in Panama. There are dozens of others. or

    Even the expats who have no under-the-radar businesses will paint a rosy picture if only to get more folks like them to come settle in Panama and hoping that enough expats will somehow transform Panama into where they left. People “selling” Boquete always claim that learning Spanish isn’t important because almost everyone there speaks some English. Since the locals can’t afford to live there any longer, this is becoming a true statement.

    Panama’s government needs to wake up and follow Costa Rica’s lead in pay to play laws.


  19. It is not obvious to me that the government has adequate accounting to identify the loss or effect of many of their practices. It took over an hour and a half to get the bill for the last patient and then it was brought back in hand written scraps of paper and totaled up on a hand calculator.

    I have seen the files of criminal cases where a case could be a couple feet tall – again all in paper. It is hard to do statistical analysis when each time you want the data you have to search and total by hand.

    I know many many Panamanians with college degrees that say there is no work available. I know there have been many minimum wage jobs created. More maids and gardeners are needed for newly built houses in Boquete.

    Of course the ability of of the average Panamanian to purchase land that they could have 12 years ago has disappeared.

    Sometimes it is interesting to listen to the local Panamanians and hear their point of view. It may not be the government’s point of view, but it will be the view will be the view of your neighbors unless you live in a gated community.

  20. Hello, I have been reading all the posts and we do get International Living. However, we have never attended any conference by them. My thought is we may not get a realistic view of the country. We prefer to live somewhere for awhile before making any judgments. My question … where do we REALLY begin? Do we fly into Panama rent a car and travel the country for a few weeks. Where are the rentals listed? We are very well traveled people – so adventure and some uncertainty is OK with us. Bev & Pat

  21. We would be interested in something in Chiriqui province. We want to be near the mountains and a short distance to the sea.
    A small 1 bedroom would suit us fine. We just left Sweden where we lived in a small room in a hostel. It was wonderful. Bev

Leave a Reply