If you consider retiring in Panama, it is important to do your research and have a solid plan before moving. There are several resources available to help you with your move, including government agencies, social media, and relocation experts.
These sites can be helpful in many cases, like visa requirements, how long you can stay, COVID restrictions, and things to see or do in Panama, but that is about it. The problem with government websites is that they are not continuously updated in a timely manner, and the information can be confusing. Currently, on the US Embassy website, pages left up in the Google search index are a year old, and the information here is wrong.Also, you will find government websites like CDC and State Department issuing excessive travel warnings.
Like the US State Department, some sites list Panama as a Level 4. "Do not travel because it is dangerous in some parts of Mosquito Gulf and Darién jungle", areas no tourist or expat would ever go to. Then you have the CDC issuing level 3 and 4 warnings in most countries because of COVID transmission. Most of these counties, including Panama, have transmission rates much lower than the US itself. From a COVID perspective, coming to Panama is safer than staying at home.
Getting relocation advice from social media is risky. Unless you know who you are talking to, it can be like stopping a stranger on the street, asking them specific advice about a topic. You don't know how knowledgeable they are, and which interests may influence their answers. There are people that fake to be knowledgeable while they aren't. Some post wrong information because they "read it on the internet" or "saw it on youtube" without verifying it. Don't trust information that is given without verifiable sources. There may also be people who had an exceptionably good or bad experience that they may want to generalize. You don't want to follow advice from a single unknown person blindly. But this does not mean that Social Media are useless.
There are groups of like-minded people who post about their experience, and if the group is well-moderated, those who post false or misleading information or spam, are eliminated fast. I any case, take advice from Social Media with a grain of salt and do your research through different channels. You will soon find out whose information is trustworthy and whose may be not. There is no need to say that people who do not claim to know it all and offer you verifiable sources, are the best help for your research.
Advice on immigration, health insurance, and real estate are significant decisions, and getting advice from a stranger who has done this thing once is just a small step in your research. Social media groups, like Facebook groups, are useful to get many opinions in one place, but not all recommendations may have the same value.
Trolls are a significant problem on social media. Panama’s immigration department recently announced a scam with people posing as lawyers on social media, getting referrals, and taking retainers from foreigners and disappearing.
Tens of thousands of dollars have been scammed from foreigners.
If you look for a lawyer or real estate agent, you will get recommendations, but keep in mind that some may come from friends or relatives of these persons, who have an interest to recommend them. In particular, you will probably never read publicly which lawyer is a crook, or which real estate agent has made someone lose money or offered a bad service. This is because of the Panamanian lible laws and the way the Panamanian justice system works. And it is also well known, that not all posters on Facebook or Twitter are who they claim to be. So, choose well where you look for reliable information. Always get a second opinion when a lawyer or agent asks you to advance a significant amount of money or before you sign a contract that may not be written with your best interest in mind.
It is a good sign when a lawyer or real estate agent is repeatedly mentioned in a positive manner by different members of a well-moderated group whose identity you can verify. In my opinion, the group I Go Panama: Expats & Tourism Info is such a group. It has strict rules against spamming, and is very informative.
As I already mentioned, the Highlands and especially Boquete are the right place for you if you like a climate that is warm enough to feel always well without warm clothings but does not require airconditioning to get comfortly through the days and nights. Our day temperatures vary between 21 and 27ºC (70 ... 80ºF), and the night temperatures go rarely below 18ºC (64ºF). We have basically only two different seasons, the "green season" between May and November, when it rains more often, mostly in the afternoons, and when nature flourishes abundantly, and the dry season (we also call it "summer", but it corresponds at least in part to the winter season in the northern hemisphere) from December to April when it rains very little, and we can in extreme cases even have poblems with the water supply.
Who writes this (Volker) comes from Central Europe, and this is the ideal climate for people like me. No freezing winter, no suffocating heat, almost like eternal spring.
Boquete is an excellent place to retire in Panama because, while not being on all accounts like the developed countries we come from, it offers most of the amenities that we are accustomed to. Boquete is big enough to have many shops, restaurants, pharmacies and medical services, but small enough to be a good place to make friends, to know your way around, and to avoid the stress of a big city. And it is a green and peaceful place with lots of friendly people.
If you want to try it out, we will be happy to have you as our guests, for a week or a couple of months, just as you like. Aparthotel Boquete is different from other hotels in many ways, particularly because we offer a family-like atmosphere in a green and quiet area just 5-6 minutes to walk to the first restaurants and 10 to 15 minutes to walk to the biggest supermarkets, and because we offer big discounts for longer stays, which make your experience affordable without having to forego the comfort that you like. You can take a virtual tour through one of our apartments, and if you like what you see, you can book directly online or with our assistance. There is no need to use online travel agencies like Airbnb which just increase the cost of the rental through their commissions. We are here to help you and offer you a soft landing for your experience and your plan to retire in Panama.
This is a short extract from Melinda Miles-Lindberg Oct.13, 2022 Newsletter "More Miles to Go". You can subscribe to read it all. It's free.
1) Do I have to learn Spanish?
The short answer is no. You don't have to. But you’ll be branded an ugly American. Whether you’re from the States or not. The long answer is why would you want to move here if you don't want to learn Spanish? And you only have to learn it, not master it. So start practicing now.
2) Is Panama safe?
If it is then why do all of the windows have bars? Panama is hands down safer than the United States. In 2019 15.6 people per 100,000 died of a gunshot wound in the United States. In Panama? 6 per 100,000. ....
3) Should I bring my car?
We were told to not bring our cars. I now regret heeding that advice. The reasons to not bring them makes sense. You will have a hard time finding parts for your US market car down here. Your mechanic may not have the needed tools . ....
4) Do I bring my pets?
If you aren't going to bring your family members with you, please don't come. Enough said.
5) Exactly where should I retire to within Panama?
You first must decide if you want to live in an expat enclave or not, and whether you want to live in the mountains or by the beach. The beach is hot. Really hot. To me, the mountains are cold. Really cold. ..... Panama has everything. Check it out.
6) Can I get my favorite brands there?
Sigh. Yes you can. But if you live in North America and want American brands, it might be easier to stay there. That being said, practically anything you want may be purchased in Panama City. David, Colon, and Santiago have almost as much. If you can't find it there you can buy it on Amazon and have it shipped. ...
Tripping through the stages Melinda Miles-Lindberg Oct 6,2022
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3. No pasa nada
In the next stage resolution sets in. Compromise in one’s brain. Everything before that led to anxiety and frustration now evokes ¨no pasa nada¨. It’s okay. I can see that I have shifted when I meet other ex-pats that are squarely in the frustration/homesickness phase. I say silently to them “let go”; you will not change the Panamanians, but you yourself will change. Laidbackness marks the Latino culture. Things take a while, and when you lean into it, it can be so relaxing. It is not up to me to fix how they do anything; it is up to me to adjust to their way of doing things. I need to leave if I want it to be a different way. So, instead, I let it go. If the ATM does not work, I will try the next time in town. As no one cares if there’s garbage around, I avert my eyes. And sometimes, the feeling that manana is soon enough can work in our favor. Our garbage bill was nine months in arrears and no one cared. No one quit picking up our garbage every Friday. They did shut off our electricity though. More than once. Now we know that three months in arrears on “luz” is the limit. Navigation becomes easier for everyone as new friends and communities of support is established. Just keep tripping through the stages.
4. Finally, Peace.
A complete understanding of the Latino culture isn’t necessary to function and thrive in Panama. During the last stage, the acceptance stage, ex-pats draw together the resources they need to feel at ease. The ex-pat realizes that the way the locals do it may never make sense. But it is how it is, which, to me, is fine and dandy. So to maintain that peace there are some things Ingrid and I avoid. That’s not necessarily a good thing. Yet we do it. As health nuts, we avoid local restaurants. As fans of minimalism, we don’t drive to Boquete or David for every American item missing from our refrigerator. We relax more. We know in time the new ex-pats will relax more too. And we know that in time they'll learn as we did to eventually re-navigate. Reframe it. Take the good and leave the bad. I no longer feel the need to stress or worry as much. This stage is critical not to drive yourself bonkers when you live abroad, anywhere. It is the stage of true bliss and enjoyment to witness yourself in moments of peace and serenity — the actual acceptance of yourself and the ability to change and adapt to any situation.
A fancy word for homesickness.
When one transitions to another type of life, anxiety sets in.
Snarkiness takes root. The disorientation of a new country can lead to the
worst in an ex-pat’s otherwise pleasant personality. Treatments for the condition are time, experiences, and
Let’s look at ex-pats tripping through the stages.
1. The bliss of infatuation
The difference between being a tourist and being a resident is that tourists stay in the first stage of culture shock and never leave it. It’s the bliss of infatuation, the honeymoon stage. Who doesn't love a honeymoon? The dopamine hits when you land in a new country. Everything smells new. Everything exudes adventure. The food, the people, the buildings, the mountains, the sea. Ingrid and I try to hide our smirks as new residents revel in situations that we now barely take note of. Like a short conversation on the beach in Spanish. Or the opening of a new restaurant. When you stay long enough the newness wears off. The resident stays. The tourist plans the next vacay to a different country.
2. Plain old homesickness
If the ex-pat stays long enough, the bliss of infatuation gives way to old-fashioned homesickness. Bouts of depression mark the next stage often referred to as the frustration stage. I started to feel helpless at so many mundane things; Why can’t the waiters come over without being flagged down? Why does the ATM run out of money all the time? Why can’t anyone understand my Spanish? Why won’t they feed their dogs? How can the garbage everywhere not bother them? Something’s gotta give. Luckily, something does. Keep reading.