For those of us who love cruising and are ship buffs, the refloating of COSTA CONCORDIA and her final trip to the scrap yard is an amazing engineering story and an end to the chapter of a horrible tragedy.

According to REUTERS’ Paola Balsomini

The wrecked Costa Concordia cruise liner limped into its last port on Sunday, when it was towed to the northern Italian city of Genoa to be broken up for scrap, two-and-a-half years after running aground and sinking with the loss of 32 lives.

After a four-day journey from the Tuscan island of Giglio, where it sank on Jan. 13, 2012, the 114,500-tonne hulk was manoeuvered into place and secured at the conclusion of one of the largest and most complex maritime salvages ever attempted …

After hours of preparation, dockworkers fixed the wreck in place in the industrial port of Voltri, just outside the main harbour in Genoa … It will be dismantled by a consortium led by Italian engineering group Saipem and Genoa-based San Giorgio del Porto in an operation expected to cost 100 million euros and take up to two years.

The overall salvage effort is expected to cost Carnival Corp , owner of the ship’s operator, Costa Cruises and its insurers more than 1.5 billion euros ($2.14 billion).

The Costa Concordia, as long as three football pitches laid end to end with 13 passenger decks, was carrying some 4,000 passengers and crew when it went down shortly after the start of a Mediterranean cruise …

The wrecked COSTA CONCORDIA as seen from space before being refloated and moved to the wrecking yard.

How safe is Panama? Part I

How safe?

I received this comment from a reader …

Can you please comment on Stig Larsen and generally on violence against ex pats and on drug violence in Panama. These issues have a lot of influence on our decision to retire in your new home country. Kat

A few years ago some of the folks that make a living off promoting Panama and other places as perfect retirement destinations proclaimed Panama to be the “safest” retirement destination. I searched but never could find the study that supposedly anointed Panama “safest.” Like any country there are some areas that are safer than others. We live in a tiny hamlet outside of Boquete: very safe. There are wonderful areas in Panama City that are safe, and like any big capital city some areas which are kinda sketchy, and others where you want to steer clear.


I’ll share more about the murder of Stig Larsen next time, and our own personal experience and assessment in another blog, but this comment did cause me to do some reseach and pondering. I am currently in Seattle, Washington visiting my family. When I am in Panama I get my news online from a variety of sources and we don’t have TV. What? Well we haven’t had traditional TV for 20 years … and I don’t miss it. When I’m in hotels I like to channel surf just to remind myself of what I’m not missing. But last night I watched the news. Local news on KINGTV and ABC national news. I was impressed with the steady flow of murder and mayhem in Seattle, in the US, and around the world. If all you did was sit and home and watch TV news you’d never want to go out the front door!

The big news!

The big news … in case you missed reading the book of Genesis … the original, not the movie version … we live in a violence-prone world.

State-sponsored violence and terrorism of course tops the list. Whether it’s Israel bombing Palestine or vice versa, tribal violence in Africa or Syria, so called “religious” extremism in the Middle East, or ethnic violence in “Russia” … it’s everywhere.

There is no safe haven. Life is what it is. So it’s a matter of navigating your way through the violence, depending somewhat on a combination of street savvy, faith, and good luck.

So, back to Panama, a few years ago touted as the “safest place to retire.”

I don’t think so

If you just look at the national murder rates per 100,000 residents [UNODC 2012] …

Panama 17.2
United States 4.7
Canada 1.6
Belize 44.7
Costa Rica 8.5
Mexico 21.5
Nicaragua 11.3
St Kitts & Nevis 25.6
Ecuador 12.4
Brazil 25.2
France 1.1
Italy 0.9
Thailand 5.0 [2011]
Malaysia 2.3
Singapore 0.2

Now there are a lot of factors that play into those statistics. Maybe “hot blooded” Latins do commit more crimes of passion. Or is it the influence of drug gangs serving the insatiable US demand for illegal drugs? Poor little St. Kitts & Nevis only has a population of around and Belize only 331,900 . Does size matter? Or is it the rate of poor people, or the disparity in wealth?

Where you live makes a difference


And where you are in those countries, makes a big difference. For example the number of murders in 2012 in US cities ..

Miami, FL 16.7
Ft Lauderdale, FL 9.4
Vero Beach, FL 0.0
New York, NY 5.1
New Orleans, LA 53.2
San Francisco, CA 8.4
Los Angeles, CA 7.8
Oxnard, CA 4.5
Ventura, CA 0.9
Thousand Oaks, CA 0.0
Grand Rapids, MI 8.4
Detroit, MI 54.6
Grand Rapids, MI 8.4
Seattle, WA 3.7
Sequim, WA 0.0
Chicago, IL 18.5
Wheaton, IL 1.9

But if it’s you, or your loved one who is killed, what difference does it make?

Wikipedia has this paragraph included with some of these statistics, which is good to keep in mind: “The FBI web site recommends against using its data for ranking because these rankings lead to simplistic and/or incomplete analyses that often create misleading perceptions adversely affecting cities and counties, along with their residents. The FBI web site also recommends against using its data to judge how effective law enforcement agencies are, since there are many factors that influence crime rates other than law enforcement.”

Sometimes folks who make a living off promoting Panama, or folks with starry-eyed dreams of Panama or expat lifestyles in other parts of the world, gloss over uncomfortable realities like crime, health care, getting insurance, etc. The more you know and the more you get the straight scoop, the better your chance of making the decision that is right for you.

Some people get this great dream of finding the perfect place to live, travel maybe halfway around the world, spend hundreds of thousands of dollars, only to realize that they already had found “paradise” and just didn’t know it!  In one of the chapters of my book, THE NEW ESCAPE TO PARADISE: OUR EXPERIENCE LIVING AND RETIRING IN PANAMA, I show you how to figure out what you really want, how we compared countries, and the importance of including where you live right now in that comparison.  In that regard this is one of my favorite clips … check it out!




Climate Change Forcing Evacuation of Kuna Islanders

PLANS ARE well advanced for the evacuation of Garti Sugdup, one of the largest and most populous islands of the Guna Yala comarca, The move of over 1,000 people to a mainland location is because of the rising sea level, one of the consequences of climate change and global warming which also poses a threat to Panamanian coastal towns.

Scientists and environmental organizations have launched several alerts on key areas impacted by the threat problem, such as: Azuero, Veraguas, Chiriquí and Colón, reports La Prensa.
In several of the areas authorities have been obliged to prepare evacuation plans, because in the coming years marine waters will eventually cover their homes.
For Garti Sugdup, infrastructure and basic facilities such as a health center and a school are already being prepared at a mainland site says Atencio López, president of the Institute for Research and Development of Guna Yala
“We are starting to clear the ground for the move. The date is not known, but when the site is fully viable, the community will start moving, “he said.
Some residents were reluctant to leave, but because of the situation they will have no other choice.
López said was a spate of events in January and February with trade winds. “That does not happen in winter time, so it is clear that climate change is hitting us, but it is difficult to tell older generations that overnight they must leave their homes,”
Besides Garti Sugdup, plans are being prepared “for the future” for the transfer of other communities in the area as Ustupo, Playon Chico and Nula Tupe, which are subject to flooding.
For the residents the situation is viewed with concern, for the sea, one of his allies for years, is becoming a hazard.
This year MarViva presented a study on the areas in the Pacific “vulnerable” to the effects of climate change. The scientific research focused on the provinces of Chiriqui and Veraguas.
The study, prepared with financial support from the Government of Canada and the cooperation of the National Environmental Authority (ANAM), raises the “urgent” need to implement adaptation measures to prevent degradation and loss of wetlands, estuaries and beaches along the costs of both provinces.
According Antonio Clemente, r MarViva geographein Panama, during the investigation the elevation above sea level in the area under study are mapped and levels of vulnerability were defined.
The data indicatesthat the coast of Chiriqui and Veraguas hosts 40% of the country’s mangroves and 30% of these are located on lands identified as “vulnerable to sea level rise.”
He said that “the risk of flooding of large areas of mangrove represents a particularly alarming loss, since most of the land adjacent to this habitat are occupied for other uses such as agriculture.”
The manager of MarViva Sciences, Juan Posada, said the study highlights the risks posed by the rise of sea level in the Gulf of Chiriquí and calls for high technology to strengthen the governance of the state.
According to Posada, with advanced technology and data from this research can address the processes linked to climate change with the increased air and surface water temperature, and a change in rainfall patterns.
It would help “reduce the vulnerability of marine habitats and coastal communities” of the Republic in the event of future disasters and weather-related incidents, he said.
Alida Spadafora, environmentalist and former director of the National Association for the Conservation of Nature, said that Panama cannot wait for the impacts of climate change to affect our society and economy. “Little has been done to plan for this problem, much less in marine coastal areas, she said.
She used as an example the area of Azuero, which she says have lost about 200 meters from beaches in recent decades by the mismanagement of natural resources.
Spadafora said the loss of islands and coasts as well as being linked to climate change is also directly linked with the little respect he has for the environment and conservation.
Stanley Heckadon Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, scientist, has conducted research from
The Punta Galeta laboratory in Colon Heckadon has conducted research and written extensively on the subject.
According to research estimates, the population of Colon, Cristóbal, Arco Iris, France Field y Coco Solo is built on coral reefs and mangroves, which means they are just above the sea level. Although several of these areas and are disrupted by flooding rains and high tides.
“If projected increases in sea level are correct, over the next 50 years many of these developments will be flooded so often that will have to be abandoned or protected by a system of levees and water pumps. In 100 years is very likely to be under the sea. ”  [NEWSROOM PANAMA]

Telling It Like It Is vs. Hype

There is a lot of hype about moving to Panama.

Yes, Panama is a great country for expats and retirees, depending on where you are coming from and what you are seeking.  But it’s not for everyone.  How do you know if it is right for you?  Well you have to invest the time, effort, and money in studying, reading everything you can get your hands on but taking it all with a grain of salt, and talking to as many people as possible seeking out folks who will tell it like it is and give you the straight scoop.

That’s what I try to do on this blog and in my book THE NEW ESCAPE TO PARADISE: OUR EXPERIENCE LIVING AND RETIRING IN PANAMA.  First, it’s our experience.  Talk to a dozen different retirees and/or expats living in Panama and you will likely get a dozen different stories.  Some of those who “package” Panama and make a living off selling the expat lifestyle have a tendency to gloss over some of the realities in order to paint a rosy picture.  Panama hasn’t been perfect for us, but it has been fantastic.  Nikki and I are both mature enough to realize that there is no “perfect” place, but for us Panama, with all of its frustrations, has been wonderful.

When I get comments on Amazon, like this from Keith Dick, I’m delighted!

“No rose-colored glasses here – Panama is not for everyone. If you’ve never lived outside the US before, particularly in a developing country like Panama – don’t even think about making a move without thorough research. Richard’s book is one of the best. Extremely valuable advice – take it to heart!”

Or this from Daniel Bridges …

“An outstanding, insightful book about the author’s experiences in Panama. It is a very sobering look at his and his family’s experiences, both the good and the not so good. The reader can tell they’ve landed in their paradise. My wife and I are considering relocating to Panama and we’re using Richards book as one of our primary sources of information for an anticipated visit to the country next year. Because Richard does not sugar coat life in Panama, rather he tells it like it is, we feel like we have a more realistic expectation of what life is like in Panama. He most definitely has us studying up on the many aspects to be considered.”

Or this from Dorothy …

“No bunnies and rainbows here, both sides of the coin are exposed. Like any country, Panama has it’s issues and beauty and Richard gives insight to the reader/expat on both so we don’t arrive and end up shocked to find bugs in our paradise. Good job.”

I’m even happy when I get a comment like this one from Ida Freer, a writer who actually helped edit the book …

“You provide a lot of useful information. Overall it led me to decide against Panama, except maybe as a tourist for a month or two. Too bad! I had high hopes.”

Just think, I saved Ida several hundred thousand dollars plus a whole lot of hassle! What if she had moved to Panama and THEN discovered it wasn’t for her?

So in that vein, I want to respond to this comment from Ophelia Robinson …

I am so confused??? I just happened across this blog and I was really shocked to hear that the pensionada program is NOT what I thought it to be. I have been dreaming about relocating to Panama and primarily because of all the positive things I have read via Kathleen Pedicore’s (excuse misspelled last name) newsletters. This is the first time I have read that the Pesionada program may not be all that Kathleen taut it to be. I’m sure you know about the expensive seminars she regularly holds around the country, and even in some of the Latin American countries. I have planned on going to at least one of them, but now I am not sure whether I would be wasting my money. Do you think it is best that I just visit Panama and see for myself what it is like, then schedule one of the these seminars with Kathleen afterwards if I am still interested? After all, she brings in all the experts—in banking, attorneys, relocation, currency, language, those that actually live or who have lived there, etc., etc., etc…. Supposedly, she introduces you to all of the experts who can answer all the questions you have about relocating…what do you think???

First, about Panama’s much-touted Pensionado program.

“Pensionado” refers to a retired person living on a pension. There are many retired folks in Panama, Panamanians, who live as Panamanians on pensions of $150-300 a month. With the inflation in Panama it is a struggle, but they do it. However they have a lifestyle that’s considerably different than most expats would appreciate. The Pensionado discount program was supposedly created to benefit these folks, although I doubt that those at the lower end stay in fancy hotels or take international flights. Panama has generously extended this concept to foreigners who have pensions and want to move to Panama.

The Pensionado visa is a very attractive option for expats who don’t want to work or expect to work in Panama.

I think it is important to realize that the Pensionado discount program was created for Panamanian retirees, not for gringos, but Panama has generously extended these benefits to expats. I sometimes encounter expats who think that the whole world revolves around them, or at least it should, and the Pensionado program was created for them and it is their right. The Pensionado discounts are a wonderful thing, particularly when it comes to drugs, and sometimes restaurants. Hotels like to play games with the discounts, often setting up an artificial “rack” rate (which nobody pays) and then taking the discount off the rack rate. Of course hotels have always done this all over the world. Whether the airline discount helps you or not depends on your age. If you are 65 the airline senior discount, when offered, is the same as the Pensionado discount. If you are under 65 and are a Panamanian resident you can get the airline senior rate so its a good deal for you. In restaurants I used the Pensionado discount judiciously. If it’s a local, small, typical Panamanian restaurant, often family run, with fair prices, I’d never ask for the discount. If it’s a large, expensive restaurant, then I’ll ask for the discount. If I see they’ve jacked up the prices anticipating folks using the discount, I’ll ask for it. Interestingly many of the gringo-owned and operated restaurants flout the law by listing prices “with the discount already included” or “offering the discount to everyone.”

Yes, the banks often have two lines and a special line for Pensionados. If there is a line of ordinary, working Panamanians, I’m not going to go stand in the Pensionado line where there may not be anyone. Why? Just good manners and realizing I’m a guest. But if there are two lines, each with a good number of folks, and the Pensionado line has Panamanian retirees in it already, I’ll go stand in the Pensionado line. OK, it’s me. I know some gringos who take the attitude, “I’m here. I’m entitled. I deserve it.” Different folks, different strokes.

OK, now Kathleen Peddicord, Live And Invest Overseas …

I don’t know Kathleen, have never met her but I’d like to since I am familiar with her news releases and admire her advertising and promotional efforts. As I understand it, she was much of the original force behind International Living before leaving and launching her own brand, Live and Invest Overseas. I’ve never been to her seminars or those of International Living. I suspect that Kathleen would be the first to tell you that she does not “answer all the questions you have about relocating” nor does International Living or Jackie Lange’s Panama Relocation Tours. In my opinion there is nothing better than getting out and into the real Panama and experiencing and seeing for yourself what life here is all about. You can’t experience that in a fancy hotel room in Panama City. These companies are in the business of selling Panama. And that’s OK, as long as you realize what it is. We know many folks who’ve ended up in Panama because of International Living and are delighted to be here. 37% of the folks who’ve taken Jackie Lange’s Panama Relocation Tours over the past four years are already living in Panama.

So here’s my advice …

1. Get my book THE NEW ESCAPE TO PARADISE: OUR EXPERIENCE LIVING AND RETIRING IN PANAMA. Read it. I’ll show you how to decide what it is you’re looking for and how to evaluate and compare different countries. I don’t sugar coat it. Panama is not for everyone, but it may be the perfect place for you.

2. Scour the Internet and get all the information you can, but take what you read with a grain of salt. Sort through and try to separate hype from fact. Start following the various Internet boards that gringos in Panama post on. You’ll find almost as many opinions about everything as there are expats in Panama. No one, including me, has a lock on everything!

3. Carefully study the offerings and promises of the companies offering tours and seminars. Study the recommendations. Search out the company names on line and see what folks have to say. Weigh the cost and benefits. Anyone who promises to tell you “everything you need to know” is clearly blowing smoke.  You want to meet as many expats along the way as possible and have opportunity to learn from them and listen to their unfiltered comments.  Tour organizers tend to feature expats whose stories are in tune with the story the tour company is trying to tell.  Take everything with a grain of salt.  Some tours are built around selling one thing or another, which is not always made clear up front.  There are real estate tours, carefully designed to allow time for you to see only the developments and properties where they’re getting a commission.  For those of my readers who’ve taken any of these tours, I’d welcome your comments and recommendations for others.

Avoid ones where you are just going to sit and listen.  You need to have your boots on the ground.  If you’re unfamiliar with a place, these may be the way to get started and feel comfortable exploring on your own. Whatever seminar or tour you choose, come early to experience and explore Panama City doing some of the tourist things like seeing the Canal or taking the Hop On Hop Off bus. And set up your return flight so you have time, a week if possible, to visit and explore in depth areas that you think might be possibilities for you. In Panama we pretty much have everything in a tiny country. Big city life, small town living, or life in the country. Mountains or beaches Lowland hot or mountain cool.

4. Once you go back home and sort through your experiences and impressions plan to come back to Panama for an extended stay of several weeks to explore further both as a tourist but also as someone considering living here.  Again talk to as many expats as possible.  You are the visitor so take the initiative: “Pardon me, we’re just visiting here and thinking of maybe moving to Panama.  It sounds like you’ve been here a while.  Can I buy you another cup of coffee (or drink!) and ask you a few questions?”   Most expats are going to be happy to share.

5. If you then still are excited about an expat lifestyle in Panama, arrange to come down for 3 to 6 months, rent a place, and actually experience day-to-day life in the area you like best.

Then, when you are convinced this is the right move, pack up and move here, either renting or buying the home of your dreams.


157 New Cars Every Day in Panama City

If you think traffic in Panama City is a zoo now, just you wait.  A part of the price of a booming economy is more cars and more traffic.

If you are a Panama City driver facing increasing frustration as the traffic jams worsen, as the city rushes towards First World Status with round the year clogged roadways and rush hour gridlock, learn to hold your breath. It’s going to get a lot worse before it gets better, with experts predicting a long haul of at least a decade before there is an adequate public transit system, and the culture changes from showing off the latest SUV acquisition to actually sharing the system with those who don’t own a car.

Meanwhile, according to figures provided by Panama’s Automobile Dealers Association (ADAP), the path to total gridlock is being fueled with ever increasing vehicle sales. Between January and June this year sales increased by 5.6% compared to the same period in 2013. If is compared with 2012, the increase was 21%; with 2011, 28%; and 2010, 61.6%.

In terms of annual sales in just three years the segment grew by almost 50%. 37,458 vehicles sold in 2010 rose to 56,147 in 2013.

The average monthly vehicle sales figure in 2013 was 4679. So far in 2014 the monthly average is 4,730, putting sales on the road 60,000 thousand shiny new road blockers by year end

This, according to economist Raul Moreira, goes hand in hand with sustained economic growth that the country has registered in the last seven years.

“There is a situation of economic welfare for a large sector of the population, and that translates into a higher level of purchase, in this case cars,” he told La Prensa.

In the first six months of the year, 28,381 new cars have been added to the streets of the capital city. With average monthly sales of 4,730 vehicles, that means 157 new cars appearing on the streets every day,helping to guarantee rush our crawls, late appointments and the other joys shard by major cities across the world.
In the race to get rubber on the road, Toyota, 7,003 overtook Hyundai, 4,984 as the preferred purchase in the first six months.

Toyota sales increased 24% compared to 2013; Hyundai , fell by 13%.
Kia, came in third with 4,383 a 25% jump over last year’s3,509
Nissan and Suzuki were the other two brands that lost customers. The first sold 13% less, and the second 8%.

Lack of urban planning, and parking facilities add to the traffic chaos.

Urban planner Alvaro Uribe says it is “an inherited problem of an urban structure based on isolated sets of housing, which only work with a car.”

He warns that the Panama city model is obsolete and needs new road easements and a planned network of streets to give “alternative access to everywhere via different routes,” plus extended public transit reaching hard to get-to places. [LA PRENSA PANAMA]

Of course THAT is Panama City. It’s not like that everywhere in Panama, although even now in Boquete you have to often look for a parking space in town. But there are many places in Panama outside Panama City where the only traffic jam you might encounter looks like this …


Check Your Expectations

“Soup” Campbell looks just like you’d expect any Alaskan frontiersman to look, only he now lives in Volcan, Panama.  Volcan is on the opposite side of Volcan Baru from Boquete.  Soup gave up winters in the North Pole [Really!  It's a little town north of Fairbanks, Alaska just in case you thought there was no place colder in the US than Fairbanks.] to move to Panama and he and his wife love it!  Soup’s advice to folks considering moving to Panama is “Check your expectations at the border.”   This is not the US, UK, Canada or wherever else you presently call home.  This is particularly true when it comes to the legal system and the way in which it operates in Panama.

This is often a rude awakening to folks who come from countries where the legal system is based on English common law and case precedent.  That is why when I updated my book, THE NEW ESCAPE TO PANAMA: OUR EXPERIENCE LIVING AND RETIRING IN PANAMA, I included a new chapter called “The Devil You Know.”  Many of us like to grouse around about the inequities of the legal systems in our home countries, but sometimes “the devil you know is better than the devil you don’t know.”

It would be hard to top this anywhere in the world …  How The Brawl Over A Florida Millionaire’s Will Taints Panama’s Image: How Panama Cut Poor Kids Out Of A Florida Millionaire’s Will.  You gotta read it and you will be shaking your head!  Anyone in “the industry” looking for a series to pitch which would be better than “House of Cards”?  Take a look!

And a special word of thanks to Squirrelmom for this great review of THE NEW ESCAPE TO PANAMA: OUR EXPERIENCE LIVING AND RETIRING IN PANAMA …

Once again, Richard, thank you for your sage advice. i read your book two years ago (need to get the new one!) and came to Panama to check it our ourselves. We have been to Panama twice and spent extended time there actually house sitting. We love Boquete and there was much about Panama we liked but other than Panama City (which was not much to our liking), we decide we were too young to settle down there for now. We might revisit it again in 5-10 years from now, though mindful that there will probably be major changes between now and then. But as you say only with ‘boots on the ground” and visiting actual areas and trying to “live” and not just be tourist for while, do you learn whether you really could and would live there. Until you try grocery shopping, getting parts for a car, doing laundry, getting your hair cut, trying to find good coffee (not a problem in Boquete or Panama City but a bit of a struggle elsewhere – at least for now), and visiting a doctor and a hospital for treatment (all things we did!) you really don’t know what it’s like. To all of your skeptics out there LISTEN TO RICHARD!

On The Road Again

If you’re thinking about moving or retiring abroad, nothing beats the first-hand experience of boots on the ground and actually experiencing the country. Sitting in a ballroom in an expensive Panama City hotel, or reading newsletters and publications of outfits who make their money spinning dreams, or hearing carefully prepped stories from expats, can’t come near the value of actually experiencing things for yourself and talking to real expats who share their unfiltered experiences of life in a foreign country.

Whenever I can I tag along on the Panama Relocation Tours to share first-hand some of the things I talk about in my book THE NEW ESCAPE TO PARADISE: OUR EXPERIENCE LIVING AND RETIRING IN PANAMA. It’s fun to meet people from all over, to make knew friends and to share. This time my wife, Nikki, also came along.

Due to an acute water problem in one of the areas the tour usually visits, this time we went to Sante Fe, a VERY tiny and remote town about 1 hour 45 minutes by bus from the Pan American Highway and major shopping and services. I had never been to this town and was very curious since International Living and some of the other businesses that promote expat living have hyped this town. In November of last year International Living called it one of “the top five places to live in Panama.” International Living has continually pushed Sante Fe and dubbed it “Panama’s Most Beautiful Town” and also anointed it one of “the five best-value retirement destinations outside the U.S.” saying “The secluded getaway of Santa Fe de Veraguas, 200 miles from Panama City, Panama also made it into the top five. The low-cost of accommodation, food and high-end health care meant its budget for a retired couple was estimated at $800 per month.”

So of course I was interested! Although sometimes compared to Boquete, other than being in the mountains … at a much lower and warmer elevation … Boquete it is not. Undeniably Sante Fe is beautiful. But there isn’t much of a “town” that could be considered “Panama’s Most Beautiful Town”. It’s about 1 hour 45 minutes from the Pan American Highway and even farther to Santiago which would be the nearest place for a hospital, physicians, grocery shopping, etc. Sure, you can buy a very simple, inexpensive style Panamanian house for $45,000 if you looked hard enough, but a gringo family of two living on $800 a month … I don’t think so. Sure, of course you COULD do so … but would you WANT to?

Kathleen Peddicord [Live and Invest Overseas] is a little bit more realistic … “A couple could retire to Santa Fe, for example, in the highlands of Panama, on as little as $1,000 per month.” Of course she also says, “You could rent a house in Santa Fe for just $200 a month and live on a budget of $800 a month or less. One important reason why you don’t need much money to live in Santa Fe is because there’s not much in Santa Fe to spend your money on. Life here could best be described as back to basics, simple, and safe.” $800 … $1,000?  But there not being much in Sante Fe to spend your money on is absolutely accurate.

It makes great copy … and great dreaming material!

I loved Sante Fe but it’s not as cool as I like and it’s too far … from everything. The expat community here numbers around 50 people that, depending on what you want, can be seen as either an advantage or disadvantage.

I’m not particularly picking on Sante Fe, International Living, or Kathleen Peddicord, but I do want to make the point that you shouldn’t set your dreams based only on what you read. You need to actually visit the places you read about, have a boots on the ground experience, and talk to as many real expats as possible.

Expat living can be wonderful as it has been for us. If you’re just looking for cheap there are many places in Panama and the rest of the world where you can find cheap. But is that what you really want? If cheap is all you can afford, fine. But I sometimes see people who can certainly afford a better quality of life and all they are concerned about is cheap, cheap, cheap. If you’re considering an expat life style for retiring, remember, you’ve worked all your life for this. Why not enjoy it? Sure, you may be able to live cheaper in Panama, depending on where you are coming from, but, more importantly you can live BETTER for less.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.