Blowing Smoke About Panama … or Telling It Like It Is


Blowing Smoke

Tobaco was first discovered by Europeans when the visited Cuba and tobacco smoke, aside from being enjoyable, was also viewed as a medication used by European physicians for a wide range of ailments, but especially for cold, stomach pain, and even for resucitation of people who drowned.  The technique used was to use a kind of bellows to blow smoke up the rectum like an enema.  and drowsiness.  So called tobacco-enemas were also used to ease symptoms of hernias.  In the early 19th century people realized that nicotine was poisonous and the practice of blowing some for medical reasons ceased.  But some salesmen, promoters, and professional puffers of products and celebrities, continue the practice of “lowing smoke” up folks ass about the benefits of their products.  Even, believe it or not, blowing smoke about relocating to Panama!


The other day I had a guy on the ship come up to me with a tattered, glossy magazine that he’d obviously devoured all about moving to Panama. He asked me if it was all accurate or just hype.

Unfortunately, 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.

BookCoverPreviewThat’s something 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?

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!

But be cautious . . . just because something is in print, or on the Internet, doesn’t make it accurate or even true.  Last week I stumbled on a series of videos a young guy made about expat living and one entitled, “What Does It Cost to Live in Panama?”  Turns out he lives in, I think it was Colombia, and had only visited Panama once! But he’d researched everything on line!  What he came up with was dated and crazy!

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.


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.

Before you sell all and move to Panama, I’d advise you to come down and check it out for yourself.  Of all the Panama Tours, the best one that I know of is Jackie Lange’s Panama Relocation Tour.  That should give you a good idea if Panama is a possible choice for you.  Then, come down again, rent and stay for a few months and check the fit,  Panama has been a great choice for us and scores of other expats, but it’s not for everyone.  Get beyond the smoke and the hype, check it out, and see if it is right for you.

Retirement 2.0