Plan B |
Feb. 9, 2009
Panama City, Panama
- Why Middle-Class Americans Are Fleeing In Record Numbers...
- The News From Ireland (It's Not All Bad)...
- My Husband And I Moved Overseas With Four Teenaged Daughters!...
Why You Don't Have to Worry About Outliving Your Nest Egg...
"All the doom and gloom in the news these days," writes Overseas
Retirement Letter Editor-in-chief Lynn Mulvihill from
Waterford, Ireland. "I can barely stand to
turn on the television. It's always more redundancies and companies
closing--everything from small video store chains to international
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Dear Overseas Opportunity Letter Reader,
The Center for an Urban Future has released a report bemoaning the
sorry state of affairs for middle-class folk in New York City. They're
fleeing by the tens of thousands, the report explains, because they flat
out can't afford to live in the Big Apple any longer.
A new economic survey from the AARP shows that more than one in four
Baby Boomers say they've had to postpone their retirement plans.
And nearly 25% of middle-aged Americans are taking money out of their
401(k)s and other retirement investment accounts prematurely.
Over the weekend, on the edge of nowhere, Panama, I spent time among a
small but expanding bunch of expats who are living Plan B.
They're not all Americans, and they're not all of "retirement" age.
Some are in this remote region of this country full-time...others come
and go, spending part of the year here and part of the year someplace
Not all of them have sought out new lives on the western coast of the
Azuero peninsula because they could no longer afford to live wherever it
was they came from. Some of them are here with the intention of
developing a piece of land (like my husband, for example).
Some are here to escape, even briefly, the real world.
And some are here looking for adventure.
"Back in Montana, it's nose to the grindstone," explained one American I
chatted with Saturday afternoon. "Back home, I've got all the toys. The
big house, the SUV, the gadgets. I'm connected at the hip to my
"I've been down here visiting my brother for three weeks. And I feel like
I'm finally starting to get this place. The other day, I found myself
driving along the dirt road, not another soul in sight, singing at the
top of my lungs and smiling. All alone and grinning like a fool.
"Back home, life is so predictable. Our biggest decision each day is where
to go for dinner. Down here, you never know what's going to happen. Each
day is a new opportunity for adventure.
"I'm heading back to the States this week, but I'll be back as soon as I
can work things out to return."
This gentleman's brother lives six months of the year in the little
beach town where we spent the weekend. He's building a boat. When it's
finished, he intends to open a charter fishing enterprise.
When he's not here, he's in Alaska, where he also operates a charter
You have two choices for accommodation in little Torio: the Cabanas de
Torio, owned by Robby...and Ludwig's cabanas across the road. We stayed
at Robby's place. Two of the 8 little cabins are air-conditioned. For
US$25 a night, you enjoy electricity and an en-suite bathroom but no hot
water. And, well, to be honest, you enjoy electricity unless it goes
out. Then you enjoy electricity if the generator is functioning.
Mostly, your 25 bucks a night buys you a lot of edge-of-nowhere
ambiance. The local girl running the little on-property restaurant for
Robby is standing by all day long to cook you up some fresh shrimp (or
fish or chicken...) and salsa or to serve you up a rum and Coke. Maybe
without ice...and sometimes without the Coke...but always with a big
Full American breakfast is US$2. Your lunch or dinner of fresh shrimp,
salsa, rice, and salad will set you back about US$5.
What would you do here?
If you're interested in buying, selling, or developing property, this
is one of the most interesting emerging markets in the world today.
You could start a business. Tourism to the region is growing at such a
noteworthy rate that a group of students from abroad is running around
researching and studying the phenomenon.
You could rent a small house for as little as US$120 a month and
settle in as part of the emerging expat community.
You could build a house of your own and pass your Sunday mornings
swinging in a hammock on your front porch, watching the sea and the surf
and the palm trees...
You could hike in the surrounding hills...maybe go to see the nearby
waterfalls and snorkeling holes...
You could watch the sun set over the ocean. This is the only
western-facing stretch of coast in Panama...
Could you live here forever?
I couldn't. But I feel fortunate that we're in a position right now to
be able to escape to this beautiful and unspoiled outpost of
civilization on a regular basis.
"As soon as I get back home to Montana," my new friend explained Saturday
afternoon, "I know what's going to happen. I'm going to begin
daydreaming about this place. I'm going to be preoccupied by the
thoughts of what I'd be doing if I were back here. I'll be counting the
days until I can return...
"I don't think I'd want to live here full-time. But as a kind of escape
hatch...you can't beat this place."
P.S. As I mentioned, not all the would-be expat "retirees" in this
part of the world are American. We enjoyed the company this weekend of a
French couple, also searching out Plan B at this stage of their lives.
The French have been coming to Panama's Azuero peninsula in growing
numbers for the past decade or so. The couple from Paris we met this
weekend spoke no Spanish. No problem, we assured them. Young Jackson,
along for our weekend at the beach, will be happy to translate for
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"The fate of Waterford Crystal is still big news here. My dad works in
finance there (he's been in the company nearly 35 years). He still has
a job, but he doesn't know for how much longer. The worst thing is
that the workers may not get the pensions they've been paying into for
Fortunately, Lynn has something to distract her from all the bad news.
Lynn gave birth last month to her second child, a boy, Eanna. I told
her she'll have to give me a lesson in the correct pronunciation of
her son's Gaelic name when next I see her...
Meantime, we send Lynn and her growing family all our best wishes.
"Kathleen, thanks for sharing your personal story about
moving abroad with kids. My husband and I decided to make
the move, too--when we had four teenaged daughters!
"I turned our experiences--including tips about great educational
options and stories from many other students--into a book that will be
published by Random House in the spring.
"All four daughters contributed their stories about the difficulties
and rewards of moving abroad, and you might be interested to know that
the one who most thought we'd Ruined Her Life is here with us in
Buenos Aires right now and has spent a month soaking up every minute
of it. She loves it here.
"She just graduated from college in Canada (at 19--another advantage
of the options I describe in the book) and leaves tonight to work as a
multilingual events coordinator for Norwegian Cruise Lines, doing the
Charleston to Bahamas run.
"The other three are all in New York--two working in NYC. The youngest
is an 18-year-old senior at a private liberal arts college in upstate
"Anyway, I salute you for your patience and continuous support. Giving
kids a chance to experience life abroad and to challenge themselves is
the greatest gift we can give them.
"Thanks for your good work!"
-- Maya F., United States
You can find out more about Maya's story (and her new book) at
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