How To Find The Overseas Haven That’s Right For You
On behalf of the entire Live and Invest Overseas staff and all the correspondents, speakers, friends, and experts we’ve invited to join us over the coming few days, I’d like to welcome you to Panama City.
Over these days together, this assembled team is going to introduce you to Panama, from end to end, every angle, and many points of view. For such a small country, Panama offers a tremendous diversity of opportunity and choice, geographically (with both Caribbean and Pacific coasts, highland retreats, and the cosmopolitan distractions of the most developed city in the region) and generally. Panama offers opportunity and advantages for the would-be retiree, expat adventurer, investor, and entrepreneur.
We’re going to introduce you to all these faces of Panama, and we’re going to do our best to help you identify just how you can take advantage of any and all opportunities that appeal.
Our objective is simple: To show you the real Panama. Not the Panama of marketing hype or rose-colored glasses. And to help you compare and contrast life in Panama with life in other key overseas havens.
No country is perfect, and there’s no such thing as a one-size-fits-all overseas haven. It’s a matter of your own priorities and of the pluses and minuses of any country you might be considering as a place to spend your time or your money.
In other words, it’s all relative. So, again, an important part of your research as you consider your options is making comparisons.
Lief and I made our first overseas move a dozen years ago. With the help of the international publishing company where I’d been working for more than 13 years at the time, I relocated with my family from Baltimore, Maryland, to Waterford, Ireland.
The morning we were to fly to Dublin to launch this grand adventure, my then 9-year-old daughter lay crying on her bed, holding her grandmother’s hand and begging to be left behind. Between sobs she’d mumble, “I’m an American. I belong in America.”
Ignoring her pleas, we loaded her into the SUV along with the 10 oversized suitcases wed packed with all the wordly possessions we wanted to have with us upon our arrival on the Emerald Isle.
We didn’t choose Ireland; it was chosen for us by my employer at the time who had an interest in establishing an EU office base.
Fast forward seven years, and we were moving again, this time for our own reasons. Our daughter (who, yes, did eventually adjust to life in Ireland) decided she wanted to spend a year studying in Paris. I made a half-hearted attempt to find a Parisian family for Kaitlin to board with for the year while, at the same time, working to persuade Lief that, really, the best option would be to use this as an opportunity for the entire family to spend time living in Paris.
Which we did.
Then, four years later, we moved from Paris to Panama City.
Paris to Panama City.
After we’d made the decision for this most recent move, and I began explaining our plans to family and friends, we were asked again and again…Paris to Panama City?
Why? Why would you leave Paris and move to Panama?
Paris is the world’s most beautiful, I’d say most interesting and engaging city, and life there is hard to beat. On the other hand, France is one of the least appealing jurisdictions anywhere in the world to consider launching or operating a business.
For us that was good and enough reason to make a plan to relocate to Panama City. Lief and I could be living anywhere at this point in our lives. About 2 ½ years ago, after I retired from International Living and decided I wanted to launch my own publishing group, we agreed to focus at this stage on this business objective. Having made that decision, the decision to leave France developed organically. We’d had enough experience trying to do business in that country to know that trying to build the Live and Invest Overseas enterprise in Paris would be stacking the deck against ourselves.
We looked around the world. We’ve seen a lot of it, spent time and done business in dozens of countries. When we got serious about prioritizing our current business agendas, it didn’t take us long to alight on Panama.
There are many reasons to think about moving to a new country. I’ve given you ours, these past 12 years, for relocating to Ireland then France and now Panama. Your current situation and own reasons for considering this kind of a move right now could be entirely different.
These are tough times, and retirees in the States right now face a serious dilemma. Many have lost much of their retirement savings as a result of market downturns. Investors, too, have taken a beating, not only in the States but in many markets worldwide.
The political climate, too, in the States, is changing. Personal freedoms are increasingly restricted. Those with assets are ever-more concerned about holding on to them.
All these things–a desire or even a need to reduce your cost of living in retirement, a desire to live safe and free, to generally improve the qualify of your life, a desire to pay less taxes, to enjoy better weather–these are all good reasons to think about moving to a new country.
The challenge as you prepare to launch a new life in a new country is to make sure that you’re moving for your own reasons and that you understand what these reasons are in your own mind. The most important thing as you consider your options is to be honest with yourself and, very important, with your significant other if you’re not moving alone.
I can cite business, financial, and tax reasons for why Lief and I decided to move abroad, first to Ireland, then to Paris, now to Panama. And, indeed, we’ve enjoyed serious financial advantages living in these places.
But these aren’t the real reasons we’ve pursued a life overseas. The truth is, we savor the adventure. We look forward to finding out where it leads us next. I suspect that you share this sense of wanderlust and adventure and that you, too, are looking to discover where next.
Should your next move–of your person, your household, your family, your income, your assets, your business undertakings–be to Panama?
That’s what we’re going to help you figure out over the coming few days. Panama qualifies right now as the world’s top overseas haven for reasons that the people you’re going to hear from here will outline in detail.
But is Panama for you?
Panama is not the world’s most affordable place to live or retire. We’ll spend time talking about both the cost of living and of real estate in this country. For quick reference right now, I’d say that you could live comfortably in Panama City on a budget of US$2,000 per month or in the interior (for example, in the charming beach town of Las Tablas on the east coast of the Azuero Peninsula) for US$1,000 or US$1,200 per month.
In both cases, you could live on less, though I wouldn’t recommend you try. I know people living in Panama City on, they swear to me, less than US$1,000 a month. I’d say that, rather than living comfortably, they’re getting by. If your budget is US$1,000 a month or less, I’d say you should take Panama City off your list. Elsewhere in the country could work, but, living in Panama City, your lifestyle would be seriously restricted.
Certainly, you could spend more, especially in Panama City, where the amenities and services are available to support what could qualify as a luxury lifestyle. You’re not going to buy that on US$2,000 a month…but for US$3,000 a month+, you could life very comfortably indeed in this town, with a maid, a driver, a gardener, dinners out in five-star restaurants, regular weekend escapes to the beach, etc.
There are some more affordable places to retire right now (Ecuador, for example, or Nicaragua) but perhaps none better. Again, others will expand on this point.
Definitely there is no better place to start an international business today.
Some of the world’s current top real estate investment opportunities are here in Panama.
This is an international banking hub and haven. A tax haven. A safe haven.
Panama is also home to top international schools (if you’re considering a move with school-age children). And boasts pleasant weather outside the capital city.
I’m not going to spend more time now listing out the pluses and minuses of Panama in general. You’re going to hear from many others with other experiences and other points of view who will do that for you.
Panama, indeed, has much to offer. But is it for you…
As you work to find an answer to that question, I’d like to share what I consider to be the two most important things I’ve learned after 12 years as an expat abroad.
First, you can’t spreadsheet a new life in paradise. Yes, as you consider your options, you want to review detailed budgets for the countries that interest you. You want to understand the local tax rates and the average temperatures by season. Certainly, this research and planning is important. But once you’ve carried it out, set it all aside. Let your heart take over.
A place will feel right…or it won’t. For reasons that you may not be able to plug into a formula in a spreadsheet. But these can be the reasons that matter most. How will you know where in the world you should think about spending your time and your money? You’ll just know.
Here’s the second most valuable thing I’ve learned in my years as an American abroad: You’ve got to show up. Woody Allen once said that this is 80% of life.
Do your research, make your plans, then take the leap. Don’t spend your best and healthiest years analyzing and planning. These are years of your life that you’ll never recover.
I’ve met many people over the years who’ve been thinking about living or retiring overseas for years. They can tell you how to get a visa, where to open a bank account, how much to budget for rent, and the per-square-foot price of buying a home in a dozen different countries. Still, they’re deliberating, weighing the options, not quiet sure that the time is right.
To these people, every one, over the years, and now today to you, I say: Just do it.
Maybe Panama is the place for you, maybe it isn’t. That’s not the point. The point is to pack your bags and go for it. What’s the worst that could happen?
There is no right time or right place. But there is a place that’s right for you right now.
And that’s just what you’ve done. By coming down here to Panama to join us for these few days, you’ve taken a great big step toward following your dreams and realizing your objectives.
Feel proud of that and excited. You’re on your way!