ExPat Profile: How My Panama Retirement Led to a New Business
In 2007 I bought my dream home, a waterfront property on East Texas. I honestly thought I’d stay there until the day I died. A waterfront property was something I dreamed about for as long as I can remember. But Texas summers can be brutal. There were many days it was too hot to even go out on my boat. Most of the year we had the air conditioner running on high at our house and paid very high utility bills. We’d get in our air-conditioned car to go to the air-conditioned office or store. If the air conditioner was not on, we ran the heater in the winter. There were very few days you could have the windows open to get fresh air.
Then, in 2008, when the U.S. economy tanked and the direction of the United States government changed dramatically, I knew it was time to start looking for my next adventure… offshore somewhere!
My primary objective was to find a place where I’d never need air conditioning or heating again. Plus I also wanted to find a country with a stable economy, affordable living, and a democratic government. Ideally, it would be in an area with no hurricanes or tornadoes.
Central and South America appealed to me more than other areas I looked into. After visiting Costa Rica, Uruguay, Argentina, Chile, Honduras, and Mexico, I narrowed the search down to Panama. Panama ticked all my criteria boxes, so it was time for a visit!
My husband and I flew to Tocumen International Airport in Panama City. We took a one hour taxi ride to Albrook Airport for a short 45 minute flight to David ( Daa Veed) on the western side of Panama about 45 minutes from the Costa Rican border.
We arrived in February when Texas was cold and the vegetation was brown. In Panama City the weather was in the mid-80’s. Everywhere you looked there were 60 shades of green and flowers in every color. We were both instantly impressed with the modern roads and skyscrapers.
Our plan was to rent a car in David then spend a few weeks exploring various highland areas while driving back to Panama City.
On the fourth day of our excursion, we drove in to Boquete. We instantly fell in love with the beauty of the area. The town of Boquete is in a valley surrounded by lush green mountains. Flowers bloom year round. The temperature is between 70-80 degrees every day. It has a population of about 25,000 with an estimated 3,000 expats. Not too big. Not too small.
Anything you need is readily available in Boquete; including 3 grocery stores, 4 pharmacies, 50 restaurants, 6 banks, organic produce, and the nicest people (both Panamanians and expats). When we walked down the street people make eye contact, smile then said Buenos or Hola. We were hooked.
Our plan was to move to Boquete in 12 to 18 months. We needed time to sell our lake house, sell my other real estate investments and my husband planned to retire in a year.
But things don’t always work out the way you plan.
After our visit to Panama I told many of my real estate investor friends about the Shangri-la I found in Panama. They expressed an interest in coming with me to Panama the next time I came. These were people I’ve known for 10 years or more.
Within a few weeks I had 8 friends who wanted to come to Panama and I was anxious to go back myself. So, I found a driver with a large van and made plans for us to tour Panama for 7 days. This was only one month after my initial visit. My friends and I had a blast hanging out together while exploring Panama City, the mountain areas, and a few beach towns too.This second trip made me look forward to my move to Panama even more.
A month after that first “tour” I started getting calls from other friends asking when my next tour of Panama was. I told them that one tour was the only tour. But they wanted to see Panama and preferred to go with me. Once again, these were people I’ve known for many years and I was anxious to go back to Panama too. So I made arrangements for my second tour.
Three months after my first visit to Panama I was getting request from friends of friends asking when my next tour would be. The referrals started pouring in and a new business was born!
On that third tour, only 3 months after my first visit, I decided to stay an extra week to look at houses for sale and houses for rent. My objective was to get a feel for what was available in different price points and in different parts of town. Boquete has 21 micro-climates so it is important to learn which areas have more sunshine or more rain or more wind and which areas are in the clouds half of the day. This information would help me decide where we wanted to live when we finally moved to Boquete.
The day before I was scheduled to fly back to Texas, I found a two bedroom two bath fully furnished house for rent for $600. It was a small 1000sf house with vaulted ceilings and an open floor plan on a large private property with spectacular views of Jaramillo Mountain. The landscape includes hundreds of banana plants, orange trees, coffee plants, and exotic flowers everywhere. I said “I’ll take it! Though it was a small house, it was exactly the kind of property I was hoping to find. If I didn’t grab it, I knew someone else would.
What was I thinking? In my twenty year real estate investing business in Texas, I was used to making split second decisions about buying or selling houses. My husband has never been involved in my business so I never consulted with him when it came to real estate. This was different. I had to call my husband to break the news that I rented a house in Panama and we needed to move in two months. Keep in mind this was only three months after our initial visit. At first he said we needed to stick with the plan to wait for another year. But we both decided the time was right so he retired, we sold our lake house, sold our cars, got rid of a lot of things and put some things in storage.
Everything seemed to fall in to place so quickly and easily. We both feel our move to Panama was meant to be.
Two months later we arrived in Panama with four suitcases and our cat. Getting a cat out of the United States and in to Panama is a story in itself.
Originally I got a Pensionado visa. But as more requests came in for tours, I renounced my Pensionado visa and got The Friendly Nations Visa which allows me to have a business and work in Panama. I set up a Panama corporation, Panama Relocation Tours, Inc, got my work permit and started offering Panama Relocation Tours ten times a year to small groups of 12 people.
That was over four years ago. My only regret is that I did not find Panama sooner. Living in a place where I can have my windows and doors wide open getting fresh air 365 days a year is incredible. Every day, I feel thankful that I found such a beautiful and healthy place to live.
We save a lot of money living in Panama too!
Our international health insurance covers us in any country, any hospital or doctor for only $2400 per year per person. I recently had eye surgery in Panama City and paid zero put of pocket expense. Our water bill is $60 a YEAR and electricity is about $40 per month. Locally grown produce is substantially less expensive than what I paid in Texas. Even my cell phone costs 90% less than I paid in Texas.
In Boquete Panama, I found a better way of life.
One of the biggest surprises was a new business. I did not come to Panama planning to start another business but I’m glad I did. It’s fun to meet people from many different countries and backgrounds who are also considering relocating to Panama.
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By: Jackie Lange
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