“Travel opens up other worlds,” says Chuck High. Having worked for the royal family in Saudi Arabia for 10 years as an occupational therapist, Chuck is no stranger to foreign countries. While working in the Middle East he got to explore Egypt, Nepal, Tibet, France, and many other places.
So when Chuck and his wife Jeanne retired, it was no surprise that they looked overseas for a new home. They wanted to find a new, cooler, and less stressful environment than the northern Phoenix suburb where they had lived for 10 years.
After some research, Chuck and Jeanne chose Boquete in Panama. “It was an easy choice because we could check off all our boxes here,” says Chuck. “The low cost of living, a more comfortable climate, and the ability to meet and associate with a variety of people from different backgrounds.”
They paid a visit to Panama before their move, something that Chuck recommends doing. “Go there first,” he says. “Visit at least once, more if possible. Living abroad isn’t for everyone. A lot of people have a romanticized notion about the countries they are attracted to. Go there and experience it before you move.”
The little mountain town of Boquete is an expat favorite. Surrounded by lush green hills, it offers a temperate climate and has a lively local cultural and arts scene.
The Highs rent a two-bedroom apartment for just $700 a month. Chuck’s favorite place is their balcony which overlooks several huge trees. One of his pleasures is to sit on the balcony in the morning and watch and listen to a variety of birds that commute through the trees. “You can sit on our balcony and watch the storms coming in down the valley,” Chuck says.
There are many things that make Panama wonderful to Chuck: the absence of all the things that made him crazy at home, the fact that things are not “regular”, which Chuck says “keeps you mindful and grateful,” and the fresh foods available for a fraction of the cost in the U.S.
Chuck and Jeanne budget around $3,000 a month for their living expenses—which comes from their combined Social Security and a State of Arizona pension for Chuck—but they live comfortably on less than that.
They don’t eat out much, but they do have a favorite place for the local set menu—soup, main dish, and a drink—for $3 or $4 each and once a month they go to their favorite restaurant where they can eat a nice meal with wine or beer for between $20 and $25 for the two of them.
And Chuck says they don’t keep a car, because it’s too expensive and not necessary. He and Jeanne use taxis and ride the bus that runs regularly from Boquete to the nearby city of David. He also does a lot of walking.
The healthcare here is a big plus for the Highs. Because of several existing conditions, getting health insurance was problematic for the couple, so they simply pay out-of-pocket for their medical expenses and it’s affordable for them to do so. When Jeanne had to have her ankle fused, a three-day stay in the hospital cost just $7,000.
“We pay just $12 for an appointment with a highly-skilled physician, who still has a personality and who talks to you,” Chuck says.
In their spare time, Jeanne is a passionate artist and Chuck is involved in an organization that helps locals with special needs. He lends his occupational therapy experience and this is something that gives Chuck a great deal of joy and satisfaction. Although, he has helped people all his life in his chosen profession, with this work he feels he’s truly needed.
The Highs have found a new life in Boquete, with many benefits. Chuck says, “We love being involved with the locals. We’re living comfortably within our budget and have a lifestyle that fits with the travel we experienced before.”
He and Jeanne have both found happiness in Boquete. “I didn’t know what to expect from being retired,” says Chuck. “Living in Panama, I’m happy doing something purposeful and something different with my life and not following a well-worn path.”
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