How We Found Our Perfect Paradise in Panama - IL Panama Conference

With costs such as healthcare constantly on the rise in the U.S. and our retirement approaching, in 2016 my husband Dan and I started casting about for a new country to call home. Being avid readers of International Living, many lands sprang to mind but one stood out—Panama.

With an internal compass that always draws us to the water we were particularly intrigued by Panama's geographical diversity. Connected by the famous Panama Canal, two very different coastlines—one sporting jungle canopies stretching along the Caribbean Sea and one with rolling surf crashing along the Pacific Ocean—we knew this was a country we had to explore.

So, we registered for International Living's February 2017 Fast Track Panama Conference. We decided to arrive a few days early to get our bearings and we were totally taken by this vibrant, diverse and cosmopolitan city.

Having never attended an International Living conference before, nothing prepared us for the jam-packed days of Panama experts providing valuable, in-depth knowledge and expats from every corner of the country sharing their personal boots-on-the-ground experiences. In addition, the Networking Hall allowed us to mingle with all the expert speakers and exhibitors and chat with them directly to get personal guidance.

By the end of the conference, we felt like we had been totally immersed in all things Panama and had made many in-country connections that we could draw upon as we began our residency process. We also made friends from around the world that we are still in touch with today. Some settled in Panama, and some chose other retirement destinations, but International Living's Fast Track Panama Conference opened the doors to these lifelong friendships.

After the conference we built in another week of travel to experience other areas of Panama. We flew to David, where we rented a car and drove to Bocas del Toro over stunning mountain scenery. After being dazzled by the Caribbean coast, we retraced our steps and explored beautiful Boquete, Volcan coffee country and bustling David before heading home to Florida.

We didn't find our perfect paradise on that initial trip to Panama but rather on a subsequent trip when we returned to secure our temporary residency. During this visit we decided to explore picturesque Pedasi.

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Located on the southern tip of Panama's Azuero Peninsula (approximately five hours driving time from Panama City), Pedasi is home to vibrant Spanish colonial architecture, beautiful beaches, fantastic fishing and friendly locals and expats.

We also ventured half an hour farther down the road to Playa Venao, a laid-back beach gem where lush, rolling hills spill down to a stunning horseshoe shaped bay ringed with black and golden sand. We immediately felt drawn to this area and the bohemian vibe created by a colorful cluster of toes-in-the-sand restaurants and beach bars, boutique resorts, charming hostels, and busy surf shops.

After returning to Florida from that trip, we started keeping an eye on Pedasi/Playa Venao real estate listings and local social media postings. And in December 2018 we bought a charming home about seven minutes driving time from Playa Venao, near the tiny fishing village of El Ciruelo.

Since then, we have been enjoying the many perks and pleasures of living here. Located in a region known as the "Arco Seco" (Dry Arc), the Azuero Peninsula offers some of the best weather in Panama so outdoor activities can be enjoyed year-round here. We get to stroll expansive, uncrowded beaches, hike to cascading waterfalls and horseback ride through the hills, and take surfing lessons or go fishing along Pedasi's Tuna Coast. And that's just for starters!

This active lifestyle is further enhanced with an abundance of fresh produce. The veggie truck rumbles down our driveway every Monday and Thursday, filled with locally grown fresh fruits and vegetables. The seafood truck comes by with fresh tuna, corvina, jumbo prawns and more, depending on the season. The stores are also stocked with locally grown produce and the restaurants feature fresh local fare, so staying healthy is easy.

Despite this we have had several occasions to test the healthcare system (due to pre-existing conditions). Our experiences have been excellent and affordable, with the added benefit of many doctors, nurses and dentists speaking English, having trained in the U.S.

We also find that prescription drugs cost a fraction of what you pay in the U.S. Panamanian residency entitles us to substantial jubilado (pensioner) discounts on everything from drugs, x-rays, lab work and doctor and dental visits to restaurants, hotels, flights and much more.

The jubilado is in addition to an already very affordable cost of living.

International Living's Fast Track Panama Conference provided us with an invaluable, immersive experience that led us to securing our permanent Panamanian residency and finding our perfect paradise.

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