When I think of country living in Panama, I think of Volcan in Chiriqui Province. To me, it offers the ideal blend of rural lifestyle in a small-town setting.
Fun and Sun in Panama’s Most Convenient Beach Community
Most folks looking for their dream home have a good idea what they want…a mountain estate with panoramic vistas, or perhaps a country cottage with a colorful garden.
“I have always wanted to live abroad. In my family of four I’m the most adventurous one, yet I was the only one who had not made an international move,” Karen Walter says. “David in Panama’s Chiriqui Province is exactly what I was looking for.” “After 10 years I had grown tired of Arizona, and the time was right to end my career in social work and fostering challenged children,” she says. “I was fed up with the bureaucracy of the child welfare system, and I didn’t expect that to improve.
Slowly the walls rise above us, hemming us in as our vessel sinks into the depths. Barn-sized doors of riveted steel loom above us as valves open and siphon the water away. With a clank, the doors crack open, widening to reveal another chamber. We sail in, feeling as though we’re in a gigantic bathtub…
Lorelei Kusin lives on an island in Panama’s Bocas del Toro province, and in this part of the Caribbean, time seems to stand still. “Our small house is situated on a bay facing the ocean,” she says. After waking to the sound of chattering birds, Lorelei and her husband James enjoy a cup of freshly ground Panamanian coffee, followed by a smoothie using local fresh produce such as fresh coconut water, mango, pineapple, guanabana, and bananas. “Then I often swim or paddleboard before we head to town in our 22-foot boat.”
Where else can you wake up in the morning, put on shorts and a t-shirt, sit outside, and have breakfast from the fruit on your property with delicious, locally grown coffee? Our new lives are great,” says Sue Dickinson. Home for Sue and her husband Jim is the tiny fishing village of Boca Chica, on the coast of Panama’s Chiriquí province.
If you dream about a life where you have the freedom to “call the shots”…to pick up and head to a cottage on a sun-dappled beach and “retire” in the tropics…or rent a little getaway in a history-rich colonial town for the winter…or take an apartment for a few months a year in Paris or Buenos Aires…but you need the flexibility that would allow you to leave…and an income that could make it happen…
The road leading to the town of Santa Fe de Veraguas climbs gently and steadily up the slopes of the Continental Divide, winding past cattle ranches, jungled hillsides and gurgling rivers. The bright blue roof of the Catholic church in the middle of town is one of the first sights you see. This church marks the center of town. Around it you’ll find a soccer pitch, a shaded plaza with benches and a gazebo, and small stores and businesses along the main street.
First, let’s set the scene: Common legal grounds enabling someone to acquire a second passport include marriage to a foreign citizen or birth in a foreign nation. In some countries like Ireland and Greece blood ancestry is a basis. Then there’s formal naturalization, meaning you apply and qualify for citizenship status.
Neither Yvonne nor Michael Bauche qualiﬁed for a pension in Canada. And so the adventurous duo decided to embark on a round-the-world trip that has seen them visit Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, Portugal, Italy, France, and the Caribbean. “We cut our expenses in half,” says Yvonne of their new life on the road. “Running two cars, paying for electricity, gas, phone, cell phone, internet, food, and eating out used to cost us almost $4,000 a month. Our average expenditure is now about $2,000, and we live and play very well on that.”
“We were drawn to Panama by the size of the country and all it has to offer…large cities with great shopping…the number of expats, and the friendly, relatively easy visa process,” says Kimberly Call. Kimberly and her husband, Dale, and their family were living in Texas when they decided it was time for a lifestyle change. Dale had spent over 40 years in the grocery business and was ready to leave it behind him. He feels that Panama is a good place for him to start a new business.
Much of Panama’s pacific coast consists of unspoiled beaches and little communities where you’ll find friendly people and small towns offering a taste of the past. Here authentic Panamanian culture still exists and people treat visitors like welcome guests. One such community is the surf town of Santa Catalina. It’s located in the province of Veraguas, about two-and-a-half hours southwest of the city of Santiago.
There are many countries around the world that offer you the right to residence without having to be physically there. The biggest benefit of having residence in another country is the ability to avail of offshore and financial protection strategies that would otherwise be unavailable to you as an America citizen.
It’s amazing how moving abroad can open your eyes to opportunities. My wife, Shelly, and I moved to Panama in August 2014 and settled in the small beach town of Pedasí. I had some ideas for income but they were long-term. So we were dipping into our savings. Shelly, however, found a gap in the market. It came through her voluntary work at a spay/neuter clinic.
The global rise in demand for craft beer from microbreweries has given birth to thousands of small businesses—brewing, serving, and distributing. In a backlash against mass production, the world wants its beer made in small quantities with great care. It has become a business where manufacturer and consumer are chasing discerning production…and the small operator has a great chance of succeeding.
A decade after leaving the corporate world and moving to Mexico, the word that best sums up my move is “freedom.” These days I’m visiting five to seven countries a year. I have the freedom to set my own schedule…decide what days are workdays…enjoy lunch at the beach with my feet in the warm sand…or park myself in a coffee shop in an easy-going colonial city.
If you’ve been researching places around the world to retire, you may have noticed that Panama keeps showing up in lists of top spots. And with good reason. I’ve been living in Chiriquí Province in western Panama for the past six years. So I can tell you, there are plenty of reasons why Panama keeps taking those high honors.
Halong Bay is one of Vietnam’s most spectacular wonders. This 580-square-mile natural cove contains some 2,000 limestone islands—occupied only by trees, ferns, birds, and monkeys. Small ﬂoating villages and isolated sandy beaches also entice. The best—and perhaps the only—way to see Halong Bay in its entirety is by boat, or more speciﬁcally, by junk. A junk is an ancient Chinese sailing-ship design, and many junks still sail Halong Bay.
Though Panama boasts two coasts and hundreds of islands, there’s a region on the Pacific that really stands out in terms of climate. Known as the Arco Seco, or Dry Arc, the Coronado region gets more sunshine than nearly any other place in the country.
At home, prices are rising. It costs more to put gas in the car, buy groceries, and pay for health insurance. At the same time, retirement savings eroded in the market downturn. If you’re looking overseas for a low-cost alternative to an uncertain retirement at home, there’s good news. You can ﬁnd it in places that offer not just “cheap” living, but a whole basketful of beneﬁts, too—places where a mild spring-like climate is yours all year round…beaches are of powder-white sand…snow-capped mountains soar above colonial towns…and your costs could be as low as $1,000 a month.
The town of Las Tablas on Panama’s Pacific Coast, is renowned for everything from colorful Carnival celebrations to artisanal textiles, pottery, and leatherwork. And beaches. Life in this sunny region of Panama is good , say the expats who, in increasing numbers, have begun to settle there. “Las Tablas is graced with more sunny days and less humidity than any other part of the country,” says InternationalLiving.com Panama editor Jessica Ramesch. “And the cost of living is the lowest in Panama. Here, a couple can easily live on $1,000 a month, including rent.”
For too many of us, daily life means paying mounting bills, commuting to work, staying there far longer than is healthy, and worrying about…well…everything. It’s what folks call the rat race. The futile grind. It’s stressful, it’s bad for your health, and it feels like it will never end. But freeing yourself from it is easier than you think. In this issue of International Living we hear from expats who have already escaped and taken advantage of low costs overseas to free themselves. They are living in beautiful locations around the world, enjoying lives that are a far cry from their experiences back in the States.
“Congestion, noise, and frenetic energy.” That’s how Maureen LoBue describes her former life in San Diego. Her new life in Panama couldn’t be more different. Here, her days consist of salsa dancing, swimming, and plenty of happy hours. “I rent a three-bedroom house with three porches and a huge yard—in the beach town of San Carlos—for just $800 a month,” says Maureen. Panama City is just over an hour away. She goes often, adding that a bus to the vast Albrook Mall and National Bus Terminal is just $2.50. And she’s about 10 minutes by car from a hub town bustling with supermarkets, shops, a clinic, and more.
Jennifer Blackstone’s newfound tropical lifestyle is a far cry from her childhood in Wisconsin. In fact, it’s a life she didn’t think she could ever have. “Several things fell into place and conspired to get me to Panama,” says Jennifer, who fell in love with the tropics several years ago. “I visited Costa Rica and I loved the tropical feel…the colorful ﬂowers and the warm ocean,” she says. “But the thought of living there…it was a fantasy.
Peter Roberts and his wife, Sally, were never really intending to move to Panama. They had even less inkling that they would buy a property—specifically a working farm. Two bird enthusiasts, Peter and Sally visited the mountain region of Boquete to take a bird-watching tour.
I don’t like any weather that requires a jacket. My solution is to escape to warmer climates. This past fall and winter, I spent more than three months living in Italy and Spain. Last year I spent almost two months in Thailand and other parts of Southeast Asia. I spent my weekends exploring Cinque Terre and small Tuscan towns like Siena, Lucca, and Cortona. I enjoyed soaking up the Italian history and culture by wandering through cobbled streets, climbing up old towers, and eating more pizzas than I can count.
Something strange happens when you’re buying property overseas. It happens to cautious folks, wary folks, even savvy folks that are seasoned pros when it comes to buying real estate. It’s something you need to watch out for. It’s getting caught up in the fine details of your contract…and, in doing so, losing sight of the forest for the trees.
I get a couple of emails a month like this from International Living readers: “I’ve been doing my research as you suggest. I know I want to make my move abroad, but no matter how many likely destinations I cross off my list, I still have too many to choose from. Where should I go?”
People come from all over the world to enjoy life among the paradise islands of Bocas del Toro on the Caribbean coast of Panama. They come for the surfing…for the deserted islands…and for the turquoise sea. Justine and Jeff Catalano also came for the sense of community. “Our favorite thing about living in Bocas is […]
Santa Fe is a lovely rural village in the highlands of Veraguas Province of central Panama. With a population of around 3,200, it truly has a small town feel and charm. With an elevation of around 1,500 feet, is also boasts a near-perfect climate. The daytime high temperature ranges from 75° F to 85° F and at night it cools down to 65° F to 70° F. These traits attract Panamanians seeking relief from the heat of the lowlands and foreigners seeking a slower pace of life in a mountain setting.
Lying in the Arco Seco, little Las Tablas is Panama at its best. This town of under 30,000 people lies on the Azuero Peninsula, a region renowned for everything from colorful Carnival celebrations to artisanal textiles, pottery, and leatherwork. Life in this region of Panama is good. It is graced with more sunny days and less humidity than any other part of the country. And the cost of living is the lowest in Panama: Here, a couple can easily live on $1,000 a month, including rent, as expats Joyclyn and Armand Brodeur have found out. Originally from St. Louis, the Brodeurs came to Las Tablas in August 2014 to test-drive their Panama retirement, so to speak. Armand, 66, and Joyclyn, 59, long yearned for a tropical, beach lifestyle. At the same time, they wanted to choose a place where it was possible to live on a social security check.
Spectacular mountains, a towering volcano, azure waters, and verdant rainforests with a wealth of wildlife: Chiriquí province is Panama’s natural treasure trove. It’s also the place I—and about 20,000 other expats—call home, and it’s Panama’s most popular tourist destination. Whether you live in Chiriquí, plan to retire here, or just come on vacation, here are seven of my favorite daytrips that Chiriquí has to offer. Mysteries of Panama’s Distant Past. One of Panama’s most intact archaeological sites, Sitio Barriles was a center of the native Barriles culture, which thrived in the area until around 800 AD.
If you’ve made up your mind to live the international lifestyle—and even done your homework—but you’re still afraid to actually take the leap, I have good news for you. The fact that you’re scared means that somewhere inside of you, you believe it’s actually possible to do the thing you want to do. That alone is huge. Think about it. If you didn’t think it was possible you’d never even get to fear. When you allow yourself to get to the fear stage, you’re one step closer to achieving your dream.
For a tiny country, Panama offers a lot of choice—city living, mountain hamlets, and more beaches that you might realize. Despite having both a Pacific and Caribbean coast, a host of affordable flights from the U.S., and stellar infrastructure, Panama’s beaches aren’t overrun by big resorts. Each little beach town has its own personality, so no matter your taste or budget, you’ll find a beach town to suit you. Just an hour’s drive west of the nation’s capital, on the Pacific Coast, you’ll find the beach town that’s favored by expa
There are plenty of reasons to retire to Panama, and several reasons I love being a retiree in Chiriqui Province. What are they? Well, there’s the weather and the natural surroundings, the variety of fun things to do, and to top it all off, the low cost of living. In the city of David, where I live, a couple can live very comfortably on just $1,500 a month—including rent. The quality of life you get for that amount is hard to beat.
When Bob and Irma Caragol started looking for their new retirement home, they knew what they wanted. “We were looking for a warm climate at a high elevation, enough land for a garden with a good water source, a safe way to diversify our assets, and an affordable cost of living,” recalls Bob. They found all this and more in Santa Fe, Panama. “We are so impressed by the people of Santa Fe,” Bob says. “They are so friendly and helpful and we feel welcome here. There’s no sense of class distinction as in other places, and almost no crime. The environment is unspoiled, with clean rivers and no pollution.”
If you fancy the rural lifestyle—unbothered by traffic and hurry—but with all of the conveniences of a city close by, there’s a location in Panama that should be on your radar. In the highlands of the Veraguas Province in west-central Panama, you’ll find Santa Fe. It’s a small town that offers all the beauty and comfort of the rainforest, fresh produce from the fertile volcanic soils, and an easygoing lifestyle of bygone days in the States. Nearby, in the lowlands, you’ll find the city of Santiago—and all the convenience and variety of a small city. That includes plenty of shopping and all the options for entertainment and indulgence you could crave. Though only about an hour apart by road, these two are worlds apart in character.
“Florida was nice but boring,” Maryann Risley says of her retirement to Orlando with husband, Steve. After all, “you can only visit Disney World so many times.” The couple craved some excitement and some new adventure, so they began to research retirement abroad. “I found IL magazine and started to read about the benefits of retiring in Panama,” Maryann says.
Turquoise blue water, white sand, palms swaying in the breeze, and a cold drink in hand…it’s the setting for a new life on one of Central America’s picture perfect Caribbean islands. In a place like this, the cares of the world melt away and you are very much on island time.