Golf Tournaments, Carnivals and Low-Cost Living

The original plan was to try out retirement abroad—a short test-drive.

But after just a few months on Panama’s Pacific coast, Rex, 77, and Colleen Swanson, 68, were ready to stay for at least two years. So, they signed another lease on their rental home in a small, well-landscaped, waterfront community about 20 minutes’ drive from Pedasí, a small fishing and farming community popular with expats.

Head the other way on a winding country road and you end up in Playa Venao, a tiny beach community that has seaside restaurants and beach bars—it’s popular with surfers. This region, the Azuero Peninsula, is quickly becoming more and more popular with retirees and other expats.

“We like the complex. It has a tropical feel. It’s quiet and there’s not a lot of traffic. And we’re close enough to Pedasí that we can enjoy those benefits,” says Colleen, referring to the restaurants, cafes, shops and grocery stores in town. “We love the community here. People are very friendly and not just the expats. They go out of their way to help you.”

“Whatever we need is very accessible,” says Rex. “It’s a very agreeable community…with a small-town feel.”

The couple, who’ve been retired for two years, have applied for the pensionado (pensioner) visa, which will give them discounts for airline tickets, utility bills and more everyday expenses.

Like anywhere in the tropics, there is a rainy season (here it’s from May to November). But it’s not a deal-breaker for the couple, especially in this region, which is known to be the driest in the country.

“Even in the rainy season, it’s not always cloudy. There’s always some sun each day. It lifts your spirits,” says Colleen. “The nights year-round get to 23 C, which is perfect sleeping weather.”

They’ve also found the healthcare to be excellent. “Dental here is as good as back home and they’re so compassionate. I’m impressed with their skills and it’s affordable,” says Colleen. “I had to get new glasses—it was a quarter of the price here for the same pair of glasses I had back home.”

And it’s not just medical care that’s affordable. They pay $1,600 a month—including internet and water—to rent a large, fully furnished, two-bedroom home within walking distance of the beach. Their electric bill runs about $60 per month.

They found their first rental home online, but once in town they were able to find their current place by speaking with local property managers. They say word-of-mouth and local contacts give you more choices and lower prices.

“Living here is more economic in many respects,” says Rex. “I can take my girl out for $25.”

“We get more for our money here. Being in Panama allows us to live our lives more fully and do more things,” adds Colleen.

Recently, the couple were in Santa Catalina, a seaside town farther west on the Pacific coast, for a snorkelling trip. And they also travelled to Panama City, about four-and-a-half hours to the north, to watch a golf tournament. There are also plenty of things to do in Pedasí: live music, a variety of restaurants and fishing. At the end of February, Carnival is a highlight of the year. Rex and Colleen went for the first time this year.

“It was very family-friendly. We went three nights and one day and loved every minute of it. On Tuesday night, it was more local…neighbourhoods and families celebrating. They were in native costumes, singing and dancing. Seeing those things make you feel good about being part of the community,” says Colleen.

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