Business and Finance

I never expected to retire to Panama — but we are living ‘very comfortably’ on $1,200 a month

Kris Cunningham never expected to be living in Panama. When her husband, Joel, began speaking about retiring to Central America, “I thought he had lost his mind.” She didn’t have a passport and had never been overseas.

But after 9 years of living in David, a metropolis of 83,000 close to the Pacific Ocean and shut to the border with Costa Rica, “we are super happy here,” the 69-year-old says. “It’s worked out beyond my wildest expectations.”

She discovered 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 residence 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 but knew she and her husband, already retired from his home-remodeling job, couldn’t afford to keep in Sarasota with out a paycheck or her Social Security test. And even a diminished test was a few years away.

 “We were just working to keep our heads above water” whereas she counted down the times till she might declare Social Security 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 City wasn’t a good match — an excessive amount of metropolis. Boquete, within the mountains, is an expat enclave and didn’t enchantment. But David felt proper — not too giant, pleasant and foreigners are built-in into the group, reasonably than living aside. “It just feels so free here, so relaxed, so not alone,” she says.

They ran the numbers and figured they might stay off financial savings till her Social Security test kicked in.

She took Spanish courses earlier than leaving Florida, but her associates in Panama don’t communicate English. So she discovered, though it meant relying on a dictionary for the primary 4 years.

The price range

In Florida, the couple was spending $3,000 a month on simply the fundamentals, never thoughts garments and restaurant meals. In David, it’s between $1,100 and $1,200. Extra prices are minimal; they’re not massive restaurant goers, so it’s primarily flights again to the U.S.

They hire a residence — 3 bedrooms, 2 baths throughout 900 sq. ft plus a yard stuffed with fruit bushes — in a good 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.

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Feeding the wildlife: an iguana claims a papaya peel

Courtesy Kris Cunningham

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

Insurance for his or her vehicles — legal responsibility protection solely as a result of they are greater than a decade outdated — is sort of $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 just lately paid within the U.S. for a meal for 4 of three hamburgers, rooster nuggets and one thing to drink would value half that or much less in Panama, she mentioned.

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


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

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

When a spot on her tooth become a big cavity, gum surgery, a root canal and a crown, handled by three dentists, “it ended up being less than $900 for the whole shebang,” she recalled.

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The mountains above David.

Courtesy Kris Cunningham

You want a visa to stay in Panama

Panama’s guidelines have modified since Cunningham arrived. While you’ll be able to keep for 180 days as a vacationer, you’ll be able to’t hold living within the nation as a vacationer, she says. 

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

The visa comes with numerous reductions for retirees, together with for flights.
If the usual retiree visa doesn’t give you the results you want, seek the advice of a lawyer about different choices. You may also contact the closest Panamanian consulate along with your visa questions.


Cunningham freely admits there can be frustrations. Workers might not present up if you anticipate them, and conferences can begin late. It can be noisier, too — loud music that goes on late, roosters that crow, canine operating down the road. Depending on the place you reside, you will be coping with common outages of energy, web, even water.

Then there are extra mundane variations. Favorite manufacturers could also be unavailable. Clothes and footwear that match will be onerous to discover as a result of Panamanians have a tendency to be shorter and thinner than Americans.

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A swimming gap in Panama

Courtesy Kris Cunningham

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

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

“Sometimes I think they wanted the life they had in the States but 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, you have to know it’s not going to be the same” as living within the U.S., she provides. “You just have to realize you’re taking  a leap of faith into the unknown, and you just have to go with it.” 

Interested in Boquete? ‘It is an act of insanity to stay in the U.S.’: Why this 63-year-old teacher ditched Massachusetts to retire in the highlands of Panama

More on retiring overseas

‘To hell with it’: She ditched Canada at 56 for Belize, where a couple can get ‘everything you could imagine’ for under $50,000 a year

We retired to Athens without speaking Greek — here’s how we got the easy travel and affordable life we wanted

The five most affordable Caribbean Islands to retire to — and two to avoid

Here are the 10 best places in the world to retire

Four critical factors that can determine if retiring abroad is right for you

Don’t let these myths ruin your dream of retiring abroad

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