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  • “The Lower Cost of a Retirement in Panama Drew Us Here”

    by Terri Marshall

    When John and Robyn Cole married in 1990 their 12-year age difference wasn’t a big deal. But as they started to age together, the difference became more apparent… and they started to think about the future.

    “I began to see what life would look like if I worked until age 65,” says Robyn. “John would be 77.”


    The benefits of life in Panama were quickly apparent to John and Robyn Cole.

    Robyn’s realization started things moving. “She said if she waited until retirement age all she would be able to do would be to push me around in a wheelchair,” laughs John. “We wanted time to travel together while we were both in very good health.”

    John and Robyn began a search for a new home—a good environment with affordable health care.

    “We looked at Las Vegas, Phoenix and Asheville and all were attractive,” explains Robyn. “But health care for me would cost us roughly $20,000 to $22,000 per year for the same insurance plan I had as a Marketing Director at Tustin Ranch Golf Club in Orange County, California.”

    Robyn would have to work just to pay for health care if they stayed Stateside—defeating the whole purpose of a move. “That cost drove us to look outside of the country.”

    And so she began a two-and-a-half-year search on the internet for various international locations. Boquete, Panama, seemed the right choice.

    They gave themselves a year to decide if it was right for them—and the soft landing Boquete provided for their first attempt at living abroad was persuasive. The benefits to life in Panama were quickly apparent.

    “The money system is the same here, it’s a democracy, the water is drinkable, the locals are used to expats, the electrical systems are the same, the driving is on the same side of the street, many doctors are U.S. educated and, as a Southern California girl, I learned Spanish in elementary and high school… that helps quite a bit,” Robyn explains.

    They’re members of a country club in Boquete where they can play all the golf they want, workout in the gym, enjoy the Olympic-sized swimming pool, sauna, steam bath, spa facilities and numerous restaurants.

    They rent a 1,100-square-foot, fully furnished, two-bedroom, two-bath apartment with a wrap-around patio and a killer valley view.

    “We live small, travel large,” Robyn says. “But we do have the best internet package available, one car in the family and we eat out pretty much whenever we want.” The budget for their very comfortable lifestyle runs from $3,000 to $3,500 a month and that includes rent, all utilities, all spending money, the country club membership… everything.

    Computer and Internet accessibility have made the transition easier for John and Robyn. “We have investments and property managed in the states that I like to keep track of (and can) on a daily basis, if necessary,” says John. “Email connections and social networking are very good. We can be close and far away at the same time.”

    Their pace of life has changed completely.

    Before retirement John worked as a baseball scout for several franchises including the Toronto Blue Jays, the Arizona Diamondbacks and the Florida Marlins. Today he enjoys a relaxed, unscheduled life. “I can golf with my friends twice a week at the country club and work out in the fitness center. I have time for reading, time for bridge… and time to just sit on my rear end and meditate!”

    For Robyn, the move to Panama has been rejuvenating. “Not having to bring in a paycheck is a daily gift to me,” she explains.” Getting off the work treadmill has allowed me to feel years younger.”

    It’s also given her the opportunity to indulge her passion: art. When she lived in Southern California she had a jam-packed schedule. “Now I have the time to pursue art,” she says. Robyn supplements the money needed to pursue her hobby by selling paintings and teaching encaustic (also known as hot wax) painting through workshops held in her home art studio.

    In Boquete, the couple has freedom—the freedom to create their days and nights as they want them. As Robyn puts it, “I used to have all the money in the world and no time to enjoy it. Now I have all the time in the world and just enough money to keep me out of trouble!”

    © 2014 International Living Publishing Ltd.