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.
The landscape is bucolic and peaceful, with tremendous views of forested river valleys, green-covered hills and mountains, with the red rooftops of villages in the distance. It’s not a bad place to retire…to reinvent yourself in a new country.
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.
Crackle! Pop! Fizz! It isn't my morning cereal talking to me. It's midnight on February 14, and the sound of fireworks has us all running to the balcony. Over Panama Bay, we watch flower and star-shaped formations explode into the night sky, then cascade into the Pacific. Back in the States, Valentine's Day would hardly be cause for such jubilation, but in Panama it is Carnival season. The dates change every year, so festivities can take place during the four days preceding Catholic Lent. One might say that Panamanians mark their calendars religiously, but Carnival is not about being good or saintly. Quite the opposite, in fact.
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.
My wife and I have lived in Cuenca, Ecuador for years and continue to be amazed at how far we can stretch our dollars while enjoying a high quality of life. Let’s break down some of those costs so you can compare your current budget with what you might expect to pay in Cuenca, beginning with activities that are free. How much does it cost to attend the symphony and museums where you live? Guess what—there is no charge for either in Cuenca. How about your gym membership? The city offers free Zumba classes in parks all over town several times each week.
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 health care experiences here range from routine lab tests to extended hospital stays. Panama, like most other Central American countries, has a dual health care system, with both private and public options. Anyone may use either system, but the public system aims to provide medical services to citizens and residents who are enrolled in the Caja de Seguro Social (social security program). Tourists and expats (including my husband Al and me) primarily use the private system. You'll find it better equipped and staffed, as well as more comparable to North American standards.