I’m a retired schoolteacher, and April is a retired accountant.
How did we end up at this stage of our lives living in a custom-built home of our own on one of the world’s most beautiful coastlines?
We refused to give up on our dream… that’s how!
We’d always wanted to retire to the beach. I grew up on Martha’s Vineyard in a house with a view of the ocean. For me, life on the water has always been as good as life gets.
However, when April and I did the math we realized we’d never be able to afford that lifestyle anywhere in the United States.
We were looking at retirement on a schoolteacher’s pension. With ever-escalating taxes, ridiculous rent, astronomical cost of health insurance, and all the other financial baggage of life in modern America, we were facing a pretty meager retirement existence Stateside.
We were worried how we’d afford to retire at all… much less how we’d retire to the beach.
That realization could have been the end of our beach retirement plan…
Had it not been for one fateful night at a cocktail party in Austin when a gentleman making small talk told me about expats he knew who’d moved to a waterfront community overseas.
I’d never heard the word “expat” before that night… and “overseas”? Who moved overseas?
The morning after the party I went online… where, with Google’s help, I was introduced to a world of possibility that had never before occurred to me.
Loads of people, I discovered—typical, average Americans like me—were reinventing their lives in exotic locales around the world.
These expats I read about online, with monthly retirement incomes not that different from ours, were living in beautiful waterfront homes serviced by full-time maids and enjoying meals out four or five times a week.
Retired in Texas, April and I were going to be doing good to make it to Chipotle once a week on our budget.
Eventually, my research led me to Kathleen Peddicord’s book, “How To Retire Overseas“… and that’s where I first read about Panama.
When most people, including, I admit, me at first, hear “Panama,” they think of canals, hats, and pineapple-faced dictators from the 1980s.
Yes, there is a canal, but Panama hats are actually from Ecuador and Manuel Noriega is dead.
Modern Panama, I came to learn in my research, is politically stable, a hub of international business and banking, and one of the fastest-growing economies on the planet. Its infrastructure, from roads to subways and internet speeds, is unparalleled in Central America.
Riding into Panama City from Tocumen International Airport (Latin America’s busiest hub), the skyline looks more like Singapore or Hong Kong than some third-world outpost.
And, once you get out of hectic Panama City, you find beautiful tropical islands fringed with soft white sand and coconut palms and mountain retreats where howler monkeys wake you up in the morning and migrating songbirds sing you to sleep at night.
Our families thought we were nuts, but, not long after I read about the charms and advantages of Panama, April and I hopped on a plane and put in motion a plan that would land us, frankly, in the retirement of our dreams.
We defaulted into the idea of retiring to another country out of desperation. We weren’t going to be able to retire at all in Texas. Anything seemed better than that.
Now, five years into our move to Panama, settled at Los Islotes on the western Azuero coast in a beautiful 2,500-square-foot home all our own with a dazzling view of the Pacific Ocean, I can tell you that the real upside of this has nothing to do with money.
The real upside is the experience itself. Retiring to Panama has been the adventure of our lifetimes… and we’re just getting started!