Retire to Panama: Who Would Ever Do That?

In 2005, when our friend told my wife and me that he had purchased beachfront property in Panama, I thought he was crazy. After several months of research, I decided that not only was he a genius, but I joined him as his next-door neighbor in the beach community of La Barqueta.

My wife and I lived in Pasadena, California. Our dream was to own beachfront property. But without millions of dollars, there was no way. And real estate agents were reluctant to talk to you if you were not a multi-millionaire.

Then our friend introduced us to La Barqueta. It’s a short 25-minute drive from David, Panama’s second-largest city, and an hour’s plane ride from Panama City. We purchased our oceanfront deeded lot for $65,000 in 2005. We realized we had found our paradise.

Our mortgage alone in Pasadena was $1,500 a month, and we were looking for a more economical place to retire. Panama fit that bill. Our house was built by two young engineers, at a cost of $55 per square foot. We sold our Pasadena home in 2006, right before the big real estate crash, and completed our 3,000-square-foot beachfront home in 2007. Now we can spend each day enjoying the sounds of the waves splashing against the sand, while we eat our breakfast and witness amazing sunrises and sunsets.

Living in Panama, our lifestyle has become healthier, too. For 34 years I’ve been a competitive weightlifter. SoSo, I know diet is everything. I have access to fresh farm produce from local farmers.

At the indoor and outdoor farmers’ markets in David, we return home with several bags full of fresh vegetables and fruit for less than $20. Roselin, who owns the local fish market, has a variety of fresh fish daily for $3, and filets under $6. We are adventurous. We found a papaya farmer selling bags of papayas for $1 on a side dirt road.

La Barqueta beach community has expats from several countries, including Canada, Germany, England, and the United States. We have made lifelong friends. Neighbors have formed a book club that meets once a month. We have a beer-brewing club where I brewed my first Czech Pilsner last year. Our big event has been Valentine’s Day, when all the men cook for the women. It’s a dress-up affair with gourmet-style meals. This year I made vegan shepherd’s pie for our vegan ladies. My wife enjoys it every year, telling me it’s the best Valentine’s meal ever.

When we are not tinkering around the house, we drive into the mountains. With a few of our neighbors, we have several hiking trails to choose from. We visited a thermal spring site. It cost $2. We carried our bathing suits, gave the caretaker the money, and sat in heated pools surrounded by trees, a river, and livestock.

Healthcare in Panama is amazingly reasonable. Our doctor, Rafael, costs $35 a visit. Our eye doctor, Mitzi, costs $40 a visit, and my skin doctor, Karen, costs $40. Because my wife and I are retirees (pensionados), we get 15% to 20% off doctor’s visits, medicine, restaurants, bus fares, airlines, and several other services.

Panama continues to offer exciting adventures for us. After a decade of living in Panama, we are convinced it was the smartest move we made.

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