The drive from my hometown of David west to the town of Volcan in Chiriquí Province is one of my favorite scenic routes in all of Panama. I pass cattle pastures, dairy farms, horse stables, and chicken farms framed by rolling green hills. At certain vantage points I look out over the landscape and can see all the way to the Pacific coast. Colorful flowers and a surprising variety of trees and foliage decorate the roadway as I wind my way up the slope of the mountain.
After enduring too many cold winters I decided it was time to move overseas. Shoveling snow just to get to work and more shoveling to get back into the garage at night was exhausting. It was adding more time to my work day, meaning less time for relaxing at home. Plus I hated how the cold dictated how and when I did everything. It would take twice as long to get anywhere. And my cost of living was going up and up and my heat bills just kept rising. Then there was the worry about the wear and tear on the car due to the freezing temperatures, frozen pipes, downed power lines, and power outages.
Toward the southern end of Belize, you’ll find a 17-mile-long peninsula that has become a center of expat activity and tourism in recent years. Developments and homes can be found up and down its length, as can beautiful beaches and views of the blue Caribbean. But Placencia Village, the walkable community at the peninsula’s far southern tip, is where Paul Petit and his wife Gail decided to settle.
Most expats who have settled either part-time or full-time in this country will attest to the large number of readily available doctors, dentists, and opticians, combined with accessible, well-equipped, modern public and private hospitals. These institutions employ highly trained doctors and use cutting-edge technology and modern medical equipment that rival anything available in Western countries.
Financial struggles weren’t the only thing motivating our retirement abroad, but I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that’s what got us looking for an out-of-the-box solution to begin with. Like a lot of people during the financial crisis, my husband, Donald, and I took a big hit. Here we were nearing the end of our working years, and our financial security had evaporated in a seeming instant. My husband had his second heart attack in three years, and then lost his job—along with his medical insurance. We were tired, vulnerable, and drowning in stress. I remember my husband declaring that he felt as if he’d, “been running a marathon for 60 years.” We both worked regular jobs, and even started a couple of small businesses on the side to claw our way back. But it would be years before we could hope to retire, and we were spending all our time and energy just to hold on.
In 2008, when my husband Paul and I first started talking about the possibility of retiring overseas, we really only considered two countries: Mexico and Costa Rica. I often wonder why we didn't consider more countries at the time; there are so many great options. At the time, though, we only thought of countries where we'd had some personal experience. First up was Mexico. Paul lived and went to college there in the '70s and has always had a love for both the country and its culture, so it was natural that Mexico was on our short list. I had visited Costa Rica on a business trip in the '90s and remembered it as a beautiful country that I always wanted to visit again.
Ah yes, another warm, sunny day in Panama is drawing to a close. It's been just one of many afternoons spent reclining lazily on our terrace watching the iguanas, birds, and squirrels cavorting in our yard. Unfortunately the day did not start out that way. My poor husband suffers periodically from allergies and, after completing some vigorous yard work he had irritated, sore eyes and itchy skin. But after a quick trip to our local farmacia (pharmacy) he was symptom-free.
Though we moved to picturesque colonial city of Cuenca, Ecuador in 2010, we left again two years ago. That's right...we left our retirement paradise to try out life on the Central Coast of California in San Luis Obispo where we spent our honeymoon 40 years ago. We were 20 minutes from the Pacific Ocean with its spectacular fireball sunsets and enjoyed some of California's best beaches, including Pismo, Morro Bay, and Avila. It was our good fortune, to find a 1,200-square-foot apartment on Craigslist—fully furnished—for $895 a month (with utilities and internet it came to $960). It was a bargain.
It’s no surprise that many people considering a move to France are eager to know more about France’s universal health care program. The World Health Organization has recognized France as having the best overall health care system in the world. Health care costs are low, the quality of care is high, and nobody can be rejected for a pre-existing medical condition. What’s not to like? Expats usually gain eligibility for insurance benefits from the national health care system (known as Couverture Maladie Universelle or “CMU”) in either of two ways. First, you can become eligible by paying into the French social security system.
My healthcare experiences here range from routine lab tests to extended hospital stays. Panama, like most other Central American countries, has a dual healthcare system, with both private and public options...