“I’m glad we didn’t have enough money to retire in the U.S.” says Kris Cunningham, who moved to Panama with her husband Joel in 2012. “If we had, we would have missed out on our wonderful life here.”
Today, the Florida natives hang their hats in the warm-weather city of David in Panama‘s Chiriqui province—and they couldn’t be happier with their decision to move here. Despite being a large city with well-kept, modern infrastructure, David still has that small-town feel.
Kris likes to keep active, and spends her time exploring David enjoying her hobbies. “For exercise, I ride my bike all over David,” says Kris. “I also enjoy gardening so I’ve planted a lot of flowers around our house and I take care of the yard. I write a blog about our life here in David and I’m a bit of a shutter bug, so I take lots of photos. More recently, I’ve taken up painting. There’s a small art school nearby where a two-hour lesson costs just $15.”
Joel has been a musician and guitarist his entire life. He played some gigs back in Florida, but the music business was highly competitive and didn’t pay much. He discovered a vibrant music scene in David and a group of musicians he performs with regularly. “He’s having the time of his life,” says Kris. “He loves the people he plays music with and they get along great. He gets paid for his gigs and whatever he makes goes into buying new gear or replacing equipment.”
Kris reports that their monthly budget is much lower than in Florida. They pay $385 monthly rent for their home and about $140 for utilities and phones. They own two cars and pay about $50 a month for insurance. Kris estimates they spend a total of $1,200 a month—excluding any travel, medical and dental expenses, or any other once-off expenses.
Kris has studied Spanish and she feels it’s well worth your while to learn at least the basics. “It’s easy to make new friends if you can speak some Spanish,” says Kris. “One of my local neighbors is my best friend and we share so much. We swap recipes and food dishes, we get invited to family events, and we enjoy each other’s company.”
For others considering a move to Panama, Kris suggests a little patience as you get used to the local customs. “You have to be open to the way they do things here and go with the flow,” she says. “Don’t allow yourself to be frustrated by the silly little things that go wrong, because it will all work out. Be courteous, friendly, and kind and you’ll be treated the same way. Whatever you give you will get back ten times over.
“Our lives are full here. We spend our time doing what we really enjoy. Sometimes I wonder how I ever had time to work back in Florida. Now we live in a beautiful place with no hurricanes and no snow. Honestly, we don’t lack for anything.”