Whenever my husband Gary and I need a break from sitting on our terrace watching the iguanas, or doing a myriad of other activities in and around our neighborhood, in Panama, we love to hop in our car and go exploring. That's not to say we don't love where we live in Panama's highlands. We decided a few years back to spend part of the year in the province of Chiriquí, in Panama's southwest corner—we're snowbirds, escaping cold winters back home in Canada. We chose Panama as our half-time home because it has the greatest program in the world for retirees, the pensionado.
“We spent about five years researching good retirement destinations before actually moving to Panama,” says Bill Hamilton who moved with his wife Mieke to the country’s capital city. “I’m the type of person to look up every single thing…crime rates, politics, cost of living, real estate, health care…and Panama City kept popping up in my research as the best option across the board.” Though in their 60s and already retired from previous careers, the Hamiltons made the decision to move in order to take a stab at running the Balboa Inn, a nine-room B&B in Panama City.
To live the big city life for less and enjoy a world-class retirement look no farther than the San Francisco neighborhood of Panama City. I chose to live in San Francisco because of its walkability, its amenities, and just how close it is to the kind of action that makes for a great city life...and from gourmet delis to evenings at the opera, I enjoyed every minute.
I realized years ago that, by and large, happiness is a choice. I'll admit that there have been times when maintaining that choice has required significant, conscious effort. But, the choice is easier now that I'm retired and living on Mexico's Riviera Maya. Here it would take considerable, deliberate effort to be anything but happy.
I’m in no way an expert on the subject of health. What I’m about to tell you is simply based on our experiences and those of folks we’ve talked to here in Ecuador. But we are happy with how things have worked out. With good food, more exercise, fresh air, and the relaxing sounds of the waves in the background, there is no doubt that we are living a healthier lifestyle in Ecuador.
As International Living's Panama Editor, I travel several times a year to speak at conferences. Often the image people have is of a country with pretty beaches, plenty of palm trees...and not much else. One of the questions I get most is: "Will I be bored there?" If you're expecting to take it easy and have a quiet retirement, you may want to think again. Bluntly speaking, it's nearly impossible to be bored or even inactive here.
I still remember the first time I went to the feria, or farmers' market, in Grecia, the Central Valley town I call home here in Costa Rica. It was a bit embarrassing. I was buying some carrots and potatoes and had dutifully handed over my filled-to-the-brim bags to be weighed. The vendor read out the total, and I handed over a 10,000 colones note (about $20). Still adjusting to the exchange rate, it took me a second to realize I owed him only about $1.50—and I was taking all his change for the day! I quickly counted out some coins and handed those over to the grateful vendor instead.
Uruguay is a nation of immigrants—which means that if you're looking to retire overseas, you'll fit right in. This unique country's citizens are descended from all corners of the world; about 90% of Uruguayans have ancestors from Western European, with the highest percentages from Spain, Italy, and France. And, because most Uruguayans are descendants of immigrants (and many know and can tell you their family's relocation story) newcomers are generally treated warmly.
Before moving to South America in 2008, I worked independently and couldn’t afford health insurance. Here in Colombia, where health care costs are low, I used to pay out of pocket for medications and basic services, such as a dental checkup, which costs around $25. Even so, I often went without the care I needed to avoid extra expenses.
Do you have any regrets? That's a question I often ask my friends who are living overseas. And I'd venture that 99.9 percent of the time I get the same answer. "I wish I'd done it sooner," they say. "If I'd only known back then what I know now..."