Michael, 55, and Julie Rhoda, 52, traded in full-time jobs, a home in Colorado, a car, and the usual creature comforts for a new life in Santa Fe, Panama.
“We moved here on New Year’s Day 2014, so we’ve celebrated one year down here,” Michael says. “We love the slow pace and the locals.”
But what really attracted the couple and other expats to the area is its natural scenic beauty and cool highland climate.
“After a year here, we’ve yet to wish for air conditioning or a heater,” says Michael. “When we first visited we liked what we saw, especially the year-round spring-like climate. Although we love Colorado, I’d grown tired of the snow, particularly as it piled up on my driveway and sidewalks.”
Santa Fe is a rural town in the mountains of Veraguas Province in central Panama. It’s a simple place; there are a few stores that sell groceries and other necessities, a bus terminal, a produce and artisan’s market, some nice eateries, and small hotels.
“We bought a small piece of property on the outskirts of the village with plans to build there,” says Michael.
“We love the swimming holes and waterfalls in the area, which are a great place to mingle with the locals. One time, Julie and I showed up at a popular swimming hole where a bunch of boys were jumping off a rock into the water. I went over, did a back flip off the rock, and instantly made a bunch of friends decades younger than myself.”
Michael is a writer and illustrator with 20 years’ experience working in the greeting card industry.
“Now I’m a freelancer and the company I used to work for is my best client,” he says. “I’m building up my freelance business, taking advantage of the tax breaks that living in Panama gives you.”
Michael does all his work via the internet. Investment is minimal (computer and software), and the only monthly expense is internet service.
The Rhodas estimate their monthly budget for routine expenses at $700 per month.
“We’re living in a little casita on a friend’s property in exchange for housesitting their place during the half year they are away from Panama,” explains Michael. “We’ll do this until we’re ready to build. So far, it seems to be a win-win situation.”
The Rhodas don’t bother running a car. Instead, they walk in town or use public buses to go to Santiago for periodic shopping and business trips.
“One of our favorite things to do in Santa Fe is to simply walk the streets of the village and greet people. The children, in particular, are delightful to talk to,” Michael says. “When there are baseball or soccer games going on in the field behind the church, we will grab a treat from the closest tienda and sit down to watch for a while.”
A small group of self-reliant expats have made their homes in and around Santa Fe and there’s a great sense of camaraderie as they help one another out.
“While I might speak better Spanish than some expats here, I am nowhere near as handy with a tool,” says Michael. “Chances are that I’ll lean on them as much as they might on me. I also have a little more computer knowledge than most of the expats here so I get called on for favors in that area. It all balances out.”
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