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I by no means anticipated to retire to Panama — however we live ‘very comfortably’ on $1,200 a month


Kris Cunningham by no means anticipated to be residing in Panama. When her husband, Joel, began speaking about retiring to Central America, “I believed he had misplaced his thoughts.” She didn’t have a passport and had by no means been overseas.

However after 9 years of residing in David, a metropolis of 83,000 close to the Pacific Ocean and near the border with Costa Rica, “we’re tremendous blissful right here,” the 69-year-old says. “It’s labored out past my wildest expectations.”

She realized Spanish, taught herself to play bass guitar and joined her husband’s rock band,  referred to as Monkey Nerve, when the bass participant moved to Colombia. She appears to fall into dialog with everybody, has biked from house throughout Costa Rica and into Nicaragua, and blogs about her life. 

Backtrack a decade. Cunningham was working in Florida as a visiting nurse, burned out however knew she and her husband, already retired from his home-remodeling job, couldn’t afford to remain in Sarasota with no paycheck or her Social Safety test. And even a diminished test was a couple of years away.

 “We had been simply working to maintain our heads above water” whereas she counted down the times till she may declare Social Safety at 62, she recalled.

At her husband’s urging, they determined to take a look at Costa Rica and Panama. Costa Rica was pricier. Panama Metropolis wasn’t a great match — an excessive amount of metropolis. Boquete, within the mountains, is an expat enclave and didn’t attraction. However David felt proper — not too giant, pleasant and foreigners are built-in into the neighborhood, moderately than residing aside. “It simply feels so free right here, so relaxed, so not alone,” she says.

They ran the numbers and figured they may reside off financial savings till her Social Safety test kicked in.

She took Spanish courses earlier than leaving Florida, however her buddies in Panama don’t communicate English. So she realized, although it meant counting on a dictionary for the primary 4 years.

The funds

In Florida, the couple was spending $3,000 a month on simply the fundamentals, by no means thoughts garments and restaurant meals. In David, it’s between $1,100 and $1,200. Further prices are minimal; they’re not large restaurant goers, so it’s primarily flights again to the U.S.

They lease a house — 3 bedrooms, 2 baths throughout 900 sq. toes plus a yard filled with fruit bushes — in a pleasant middle-class neighborhood for $385 a month, water and trash assortment included. In Panama, it’s the norm that an unfurnished home means you provide the fridge, the range and the washer.

Feeding the wildlife: an iguana claims a papaya peel

Courtesy Kris Cunningham

The kitchen range runs on a gasoline canister just like that for an American gasoline grill — typical for Panama — and prices $5.12 for a refill, normally wanted month-to-month. Web and cable tv collectively is $46 a month. 

Insurance coverage for his or her vehicles — legal responsibility protection solely as a result of they’re greater than a decade outdated — is almost $300 a 12 months.

A fundamental, good Panamanian lunch prices about $4, she says, whereas the close by fancy Italian restaurant might be $40 per individual. Their favourite restaurant prices not more than $10 apiece. The $45 she not too long ago paid within the U.S. for a meal for 4 of three hamburgers, hen nuggets and one thing to drink would value half that or much less in Panama, she mentioned.

“We’re not residing poorly right here, We’re residing very comfortably.”


Cunningham and her husband have opted to pay for healthcare out of pocket, saying they’re wholesome and never on any drugs, they usually put aside cash for emergencies.

A physician’s go to prices $40 to $50, she says, and he or she pays $30 to get her enamel cleaned.

When a spot on her tooth changed into an enormous cavity, gum surgical procedure, a root canal and a crown, dealt with by three dentists, “it ended up being lower than $900 for the entire shebang,” she recalled.

The mountains above David.

Courtesy Kris Cunningham

You want a visa to reside in Panama

Panama’s guidelines have modified since Cunningham arrived. When you can keep for 180 days as a vacationer, you may’t maintain residing within the nation as a vacationer, she says. 

Panama does require that people can doc $1,000 of verifiable revenue every month plus one other $250 for every dependent, she says. That might be a Social Safety test or a authorities or private-sector pension. Here’s what the Panamanian embassy lists as necessities.

The visa comes with varied reductions for retirees, together with for flights.
If the usual retiree visa doesn’t be just right for you, seek the advice of a lawyer about different choices. You may as well contact the closest Panamanian consulate along with your visa questions.


Cunningham freely admits there will probably be frustrations. Staff could not present up while you anticipate them, and conferences can begin late. Will probably be noisier, too — loud music that goes on late, roosters that crow, canines working down the road. Relying on the place you reside, you might be coping with common outages of energy, web, even water.

Then there are extra mundane variations. Favourite manufacturers could also be unavailable. Garments and footwear that match might be onerous to seek out as a result of Panamanians are usually shorter and thinner than People.

A swimming gap in Panama

Courtesy Kris Cunningham

The climate in David is sizzling however, she says, extra snug than in Florida, which additionally received chilly.

Many People go for mountain residing in Boquete, the place there’s no scarcity of happenings in English and the employees communicate English. Nonetheless, she’s seen many individuals come and go. Some go away fed up with what they understand as inefficiency or forms, or they miss the grandchildren, or they need U.S. healthcare. (Medicare can’t be used abroad.) 

“Typically I feel they needed the life that they had within the States however cheaper,” she says.

Her recommendation? Chill. Adapt to the tradition, and also you’ll do higher at getting what you need.

“To make this work, it’s a must to comprehend it’s not going to be the identical” as residing within the U.S., she provides. “You simply have to comprehend you’re taking  a leap of religion into the unknown, and also you simply should go together with it.” 

Considering Boquete? ‘It’s an act of madness to remain within the U.S.’: Why this 63-year-old instructor ditched Massachusetts to retire within the highlands of Panama

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