The Great Slow Down—A.K.A. Life in Panama

"Life Has Never Been Better”

Names: Steve and Kari KruseFrom: Hampshire, ILLiving in: Pedasí, Panama

It’s been eight years since I read an article, just like this one, that changed our lives forever.

Kari and I came to Pedasí, gambling on the chance that the good things I had read about the place were true. They were. We loved it so much that we continued to return here every winter for five years straight, staying at the sports club just down the street from a popular expat hangout called Smileys.

Every time, we returned to the States to a fast-paced agenda with very little quality time. So we decided to take a chance. When we retired, we opted for the expat adventure in Panama, even as our friends called us crazy and said we’d be back soon.

It’s been three years since we moved, and we’re now full-time, official cédula carrying residents of Panama. It’s the best decision we ever made. Life has never been better. No stress, great weather, tons of friends, tasty, inexpensive beer, and plenty of time to enjoy it all.

The local Panamanian folks living here are incredibly friendly. It’s like traveling back in time to the 1960s, in that everyone greets you with a smile and a hug. That is something that really took us by surprise when we arrived in Panama the first time. We are learning Spanish, because we feel we are missing out if we can’t talk to people. For the moment, we’re getting by with the help of Google Translate and lot of hand gestures.

The expats here (there are about 350 of us) are always busy. Some of us play ’60s and ’70s rock and roll in our band, Switchback. Otherwise, we’re hanging at one of the beaches, swimming, fishing, whalewatching, jungle walking...We get 12 hours of sun every day, all year.It’s not hard to lose track of time. We always remember Mondays, though, as that’s the day we all head out to CouCou Crazy, a local bar and restaurant. Dennis, the owner, is from Belgium and is famous for his pastry, food, and most of all, his beer. We meet with folks from all over the world while drinking and listening to live music. It doesn’t matter about your age, your color, your size, or your politics.

A local vendor brings fresh produce to our house on Tuesday and Friday mornings—all we can carry for $6 to $8. Right behind him comes the fish man with fresh shrimp, fish, and sometimes lobster in the trunk of his car.

There are lots of artists here, doing all kinds of interesting projects. Kari has learned how to make jewelry from worn glass we find on the beaches, which she sells to a French woman, Carolina, who runs a little store in town. We have stained glass makers, painters, basket makers, wood workers, and more. Nearby, we have Phil, who carves incredible works of art using driftwood from the ocean. He also teaches others, including myself, the art of carving.

Plants grow amazingly fast here. The two-foot lime tree we planted in our first year is now over six feet, with oodles of ripening limes. Winter is our favorite time, as it is beautiful every day with a gentle wind out of the north that keeps things fresh. The sun rises at 6 a.m. or so, and sets about the same time in the evening, so we get 12 hours of sun every day, all year. The evenings are very comfortable with very few insects.

We do sometimes miss the kids, and travel back to the States to see them a couple times a year. They understand our situation and are happy to see us when we are in town. It’s nice to see and spend time with them…but we are always happy to return to the tropics and the slower pace of life.—Steve Kruse

“Everyone Here Is So Welcoming”

Names: Dean and Lisa DeLucaFrom: Ontario, CanadaLiving in: Playa La Barqueta, Panama

After working high-stress jobs for over 20 years, Dean and Lisa DeLuca felt it was time to find an affordable place that they could semi-retire to and ditch the stress. Considering their options, Panama stood out as the location that fit their needs perfectly. So much so, that they’ve recently started building a house on the beach in Playa La Barqueta, located on Panama’s Pacific Coast, about an hour's drive from the city of David.

Since they aim to continue working (at their own pace), Dean and Lisa came to Panama on a program called the Friendly Nation Visa. (They continue to operate their Canadian corporation, which they split into two companies: and They have staff in Canada who processe and ship the orders.)

One requirement of the visa is a minimum investment of $200,000. This obligation can be fulfilled by purchasing a property, and so the idea of the beach house was born.

Their first challenge in Panama was to find a builder. Dean and Lisa’s beach house is designed in a simple and functional bungalow style with a pool. After months of planning with the architect, they developed a blueprint that they were pleased with. Their plan is to stick to their overall budget of around $230,000.

Although they were familiar with the building process in Canada, Dean and Lisa realized very early they could not bring that same expectation to Panama as this would only lead to frustrations. They also had to consider the language barrier. “We have found many times when people don’t understand what we are asking, we get the reply ‘yes.’ We believe they are agreeing, only to find this may not be the case,” Dean says.The climate is ideal for sitting outside.Moving their two dogs from Canada was slightly complicated. To their surprise, Dean and Lisa discovered that their Shih Tzu mixes were just outside the weight limits for traveling inside the cabin, so they had to travel in cargo. That meant hiring the services of a freight forwarding company, and lots of administration. The whole process took a bit of time and effort, but ultimately, it was worth it, they say.

Dean and Lisa enjoy living in their beach community. They find the climate ideal for sitting outside, around 85 F to 90 F. In the “winter” season, the rain generally holds off until late afternoon or evening, and leaves everything refreshed after a dramatic downpour. They love seeing the landscape and scenery reflecting off the ocean behind the house, and the deep green mountain views from the front. Each day, they experience the sun coming up on the mountainside, then setting over the coast and ocean in the evening. “

In our first two weeks, we watched a baby turtle make its way down the beach to the ocean and watched a pod of dolphins playing behind the house,” says Dean. The beach community—with many expats from Canada and the United States—not only makes it easy to speak and communicate with one another, but provides a vast wealth of knowledge that they have drawn upon many times to learn about life in Panama. Their Panamanian neighbors are also amiable and welcoming.

Dean and Lisa love it here and say they made a good decision to make their home in Panama.—Fred Fleet

Living in Panama: Check out The Pros and Cons of Living in Panama here.

“I Get to Wake Up in Paradise”

Names: Sue and Ed McLellanFrom: British Columbia, CanadaLiving in: Bocas del Toro, Panama

When Sue McLellan saw footage of Panama’s Caribbean islands on television, she was a goner. Her now husband Ed was asleep on the couch—totally unaware of how his life was about to change. “I decided right then that I wanted to move to Bocas del Toro,” Sue says.

She didn’t say a word to Ed until she’d done some research. Then one day, she turned to him and asked how married he was to their life in British Columbia. “Why?” he said. She told him she’d been dreaming of moving to Panama. “Panama City, Florida?” he asked. “No,” she said. “I’m talking about the Panama in Central America!”

Ed wasn’t too fazed. The Air Force veteran grew up in a logging town in Canada. “When the lumber mills were shut down, there was nothing to do but hang around in bars all afternoon. I didn’t want to do that, so I got out at 18.” He was game for an adventure.

Two years after Sue first saw that footage on TV, the couple were on a plane, Panama-bound. When they got to the Caribbean region of Bocas del Toro, they sought out a real estate agent. They wanted at least 10 acres, with flat areas to house aquaponic greenhouses.

Finding the right piece of land wasn’t easy. And Bocas is home to a lot of untitled or Right of Possession (ROP) property, which is risky to buy. Sue was determined, however. “I had no doubts about the place,” she says.

I believe her. We’re sitting at JJ’s, a popular restaurant with an overwater deck. The beer is cold and cheap, and my ceviche is delicious. (Just $6.50 for a generous portion.) The water is sparkling in the bright Caribbean sunshine. It’s a sapphire and turquoise world.

It looks expensive. But Sue and Ed tell me they are far from independently wealthy. They came to Bocas with a modest budget. After looking at a range of different properties, they found the one.

“We paid $40,000 for just under 12 acres,” says Sue. “And our property is currently still ROP.” They’re building a home and living onsite—they put in a bed and moved in as soon as the kitchen was completed. But they want to spend most of their time outside.The water is sparkling in the Caribbean sun.“We have goats, dogs, and free-roaming chickens that sleep in trees and lay eggs in our flowerpots,” laughs Ed. They spend only $400 to $500 a month on groceries, and that includes the food for all their animals.

Bocas del Toro is a little-known culinary haven. You can get great curry, pasta, pizza, seafood—you name it. “And yet, between the two of us, we’ve lost over 100 pounds. You just sweat it out,” jokes Ed, as he enjoys his Cuban sandwich and beer.

But the best thing about Bocas is its raw natural beauty. Ed loves the way the rising sun filters into their bedroom windows. Sue loves seeing lightning streak across the sky on stormy nights. “And, every morning,” she adds, “I get to wake up in paradise.”—Jessica Ramesch

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