This is going to be like “a message in bottle”.
What I write here is my experience only and not someone else’s and it comes with a considered warning. Relocation is not everyone’s cup of tea but, if you are open, willing and need to start to enjoy life away from a lot of stress and strain, consider it. I did and I am glad I did.
Panama, a strange small country in Latin Central America forming a bridge between the North and South American continents has an unusual topographical orientation but is blessed with so very many natural attributes of nature.
I am an Englishman, proud of it, retired Police from the Greater Manchester area and not your typical male. For much of my life I spent in the service of The Queen and have seen and experienced unimaginable things both good and bad.
As a divorcee (twice), I remarried and my wife Diana and I used to live in Whitley Bay, Tyne and Wear in the northeast of the country up until a couple of years ago.
England will always be my home, but a place 2 ½ years ago that we decided we just could not afford to live if we wanted a decent lifestyle. It wasn’t just the money either, but the weather, the environment; even dare I say it, the atmosphere. England, as distinct from Scotland and Wales, is a very crowded place and became even more so when the EU opened its doors to the Eastern European workers. I am not against migrant workers but the numbers that were allowed to come and work was just, for me, too overwhelming. Britain’s Immigration Policy too, and this is just my personal opinion, has generated far too many problems for my liking and not on a racial level. Britain and England in particular, is not (in comparative terms) a big country but in actual fact a very small island and it’s filling up fast. All you need do is to look at the roads and traffic jams and repairs going on as just one indicator. You cannot move anywhere quickly and easily.
My work had taken me all over the country, until, finally, I settled in Northumberland. This truly, is a wonderful area and if there had been any possibility of staying there, we would. No, the cost of living, taxes and increasing costs of foods, petrol, clothing, utilities and everything, just made it too hard to battle through. Every month we dreaded the postman with the bills which we would have to meet, causing far too much stress in our lives. So much stress is unhealthy and can be debilitating. So, we discussed everything and chose to sit down and consider our options. We researched for a long time on the internet for alternatives and one thing kept recurring. Relocation. Living overseas. Retiring overseas to a lower cost of living.
We both have living family and many friends and the initial thought of leaving them all behind was quite disturbing. My mother, sister, brother (and the rest) still live in Oldham, Lancashire where I was born and raised. My wife’s two sons live in the London area. So we considered it, discussed it with our families, who matter most to us, and researched some more and eventually came to a decision. We would try it. We could after all, always return home. There should never be restricting permanence should there? So, having made the decision, where do we look to, where do we consider as a possible destination?
I have always been able to make friends easily so that wasn’t a concern. This is, I think, because of my socio-personality and emotional interaction with others that I developed during my Police career. I have also, throughout my life, travelled around the world so being in foreign lands isn’t new to me. My wife too is a wonderfully giving and an outgoing person and so making friends also comes easy to her.
So, what questions do we, did we need answering? What are our wants and needs? What do we require on a personal level in a new living environment?
Lists of questions were compiled and then the ‘real’ research started. The criteria was quite tight ~ low cost of living, warm climate, nature, wildlife, sun sea and sand (hopefully), safe environment, taxes? These were the main issues because all I had was my Police Pension to live on and so that was our main limiting factor.
After hours on the ‘net’ we enrolled on a Seminar in Panama. We had looked at and seriously considered Costa Rica but, looking at what Panama was offering by way of very attractive benefits for their Pensionado Visa Programme we decided to have a look at Panama instead. Check out this link and scroll down the page for details of the benefits you get ~ http://www.choosechiriqui.com/about.php ~ by the way, this website is a very good place to start finding out about the region and what is available.
So, having packed up, suitcases in hand, we set off for the sun for a holiday and fact finding mission.
What we found when we got here seemed idyllic to such an extent that we travelled all around the country soaking up the experience, meeting friendly people and seeing smiling faces, read all the information presented to us and came to the decision quite quickly that we would give it a go.
We found and made an offer on a small house just outside a pretty little town in the province of Chiriquí (pronounced cheery-key) which was on a large plot of land at a very, very affordable price. We bought a 3 bedroom, 2 bathroom Panamanian house sitting on ½ an acre of gardens with a further 2 acres of land. That’s like 2 soccer pitches end on end. Back in England this would have cost an absolute fortune and I mean “a fortune”, but here, in relative terms, property values are (even) still extremely low.
Two weeks later, we returned to our home land to prepare and pack and say our tearful but happy farewells. Not goodbyes because we will always have the ability to return home in very short time should the need arise.
Arriving back in Panama for the second time didn’t seem like the first time because our emotions were orientated differently. We now had our emotional orientation focussed on making a new life here. We faced living in rented accommodation until we could get in to our new home, buying a car, registering it and all the other imponderables. We needed help of course because we couldn’t communicate effectively but friends here rallied and helped us sort out the bureaucracy. It took us 4 months to get in to our home and get the vehicle of our choice.
The legal wrangling of getting our Pensionado Visa was to continue for another 8 months nearly. Every 90 days we had to present ourselves (with our Lawyer) to Immigration in the main City of David for a temporary extension until the ‘real’ Visa was granted. Bureaucracy and processes in a 3rd country require…..”plenty plenty patience”, as the old Chinese sage would say. Getting all the utilities re-registered is not a simple affair here either. Things do not “flow” in Panama, apart from the rain and rivers. The systems you are faced with are cumbersome, inefficient and largely ineffective. However, perseverance and good friends usually irons out the wrinkles..
Our vehicle is a big thirsty American V8 Dodge SUV and was something I had always wanted but could never, ever have afforded back home. Petrol, or gas as it’s called here, was at a level of $1.80 per gallon and with the exchange rate being $1.90+ at the time, driving around was very, very inexpensive. There is no road tax here, no MOT requirement (that’s a Test Certificate for you non-Brits) and our insurance was also very, very inexpensive in comparative terms. The cost of living was, and still is, quite remarkable.
Food is of good quality, fresh, plentiful and cheap. Clothing is inexpensive. And household goods a fraction of the price back home.
Let me give you some examples. Right now, this month (April 2009), my outgoings consist only of $25 per month for our electricity, $4.50 for cooking gas (and this lasts us about 2 to 3 months), and our water is $3 per month. We have wireless internet, our connection with the outside world and our chance to earn an extra groat or two, is $75 per month but this is only because we live out in the countryside and miles from the nearest city. Our friends typically pay around $25 to $30 per month for their internet. Food bills are very low and petrol very cheap as well. So, our monthly outgoings are around $105 without the foodstuffs etc. We have no taxes whatsoever. So, at today’s exchange rate it costs us about £75 (pounds) for the MONTH.
We are “Debt Free” and you know something, it’s a wonderful thing to say this. “We are Debt Free”. The low price of real estate and properties here meant that what little we had in capital we were able to buy everything outright ~ even the car. We have “zero” loans, zero credit cards and zero mortgages. We owe nothing to anyone. How many can say that?
Eating out here typically costs around $15 for the two of us and that’s with a bottle of wine. We live in one of the most beautiful areas of Panama called Chiriqui. Where we live we are 40 minutes pleasant drive from the Pacific Ocean beaches or 3 hours drive from the wonderful Caribbean Sea over at the world famous Bocas del Toro. The nature and wildlife here is stunning, just wonderful.
Even temperatures of around 80 degrees year round means that our aches and pains have diminished tremendously. Medical facilities here are as good as back home and if you want to see a Specialist, it’s almost the same day appointment. I had to have a consultation recently with a Specialist and it cost me $30 for about an hour. With the Pensionado discount of 20% I only paid $24. What’s more, he was excellent.
So, my present opinion of Panama and living here is ~ for all you readers back in the UK or the rest of Europe (and not forgetting our friend’s “across the pond” in the US and Canada), living here is an excellent alternative and well worth a thought or two.
Obviously there is a drastic change of environments and some things you have to learn to live without, like the corner fish and chip shop, a meat pie with good pastry, Branston Pickle or Marmite but these things you can do without (if you try hard enough). It is certainly, and dramatically, less stressful and far more affordable than anything we experienced back home. My recommendation is, think about it, consider it, try it.
And for you wealthier people, who may read this, please don’t make the mistake that more money means less stress. It doesn’t. Investment opportunities here are fantastic even during this global financial crisis. Land and property bargains can still be found but for investments, this is a wonderful time here to realise and have investments appreciate rather than depreciate. The economy here is STILL one of the most stable in the world and the political influences mostly neutral. All in all, I have to say, Panama is a wonderful place in which to invest ~ still. Let me tell you a little story to finish this article off.
Consider this; we have uprooted and transplanted ourselves in a new country and amid a new culture. We are making lots and lots of wonderful new friends; English, Welsh, Scots, American, Canadian, Belgian, Dutch, Panamanian, Argentinean and Columbian. We face new experiences everyday which would be impossible back home. Life here is such an eye-opener. Talk about the “WOW Factor”.
Recently, we have found ourselves walking a Pacific Ocean beach watching wild Red Backed Squirrel Monkeys playing in the Coconut Palms. We saw Howler Monkeys, Capuchins and Tamarins. We stroke wild cats like Ocelot, Oncilla and Margay.
We photograph snakes and birds and wonderful insects like the Golden Beetle (which really does look like a gold ornament). Life is just so different now. We have been on fishing trips out on the blue, blue Pacific Ocean, seen dolphins swimming underneath OUR boat which was spectacular; they were almost close enough to reach out and touch them. We have snorkelled on pristine coral reefs, all these things we only dreamed of or watched on the BBC and of which are now right on our doorstep.
Just after we got here, we had driven up to a high mountain town called Volcan. We had driven there to see a cultural Native Indian Festival and whilst there met two fantastic English people, Paul and Jenny Saban who became our fast friends and who own Paradise Gardens Wildlife Rescue Centre and Gardens ~ http://www.paradisegardenspanama,com/ . PG is situated above one of Chiriquí’s most popular tourist destinations, Boquete. PG is a wonderful place to see and visit but, the point of this short item is, we also met another couple there who originated from England but had travelled the world, Steve and Michele Walker.
We found out that Steve and Michele had bought a 40 acre lot of forest and wilderness in an area called Chorcha and were in the throes of moving house. Of course, being loyal to us Brits, I offered to help and over the next few days I drove to their home near to Boquete, loaded up the car and trundled off driving through nature filled countryside and up 4 x 4 tracks to their new abode. They were calling their place Alouatta Lodge ~ http://www.alouattalodge.com/ ~ which in Latin (Alouatta) means Howler Monkey. They are building an Eco resort which is quite simply…….. stunning.
Anyway, on my last loaded visit, I had emptied the car and was standing at the doorway of their new living area chatting to Steve whilst his wife Michele, Gareth his son and Rebecca his daughter, organised where their belongings were to go. Standing, leaning on the doorway, it was warm with a gentle breeze and then suddenly, something marvellous happened.
Imagine if you can, a man (me), 6’ 4” tall, an ex-hairy “a—-d” copper, standing there leaning with his left shoulder against the wall, my right hand hanging down whilst chatting to Steve when suddenly, and very, very gently, a small hand slipped in to mine. The hand was warm, very small and with soft skin. It gripped my fingers and I looked down to see two brown eyes looking up in to mine. Steve smiled and just said “oh that’s Yahoo, he likes tall people because he likes to climb up and sit on your shoulders so he can see all around.” Yahoo, is a young male Howler Monkey and had been raised as an orphan by Steve and Michele when he had been brought to them some months previously.
Anyway, this was first contact and Yahoo then proceeded to climbed up my clothing easier than climbing a tree. Incredible. There he perched, his tail around my neck for balance and his hands on top of my head holding on to my hair. It was such a surprise, such an experience. Never ever could I have had such an experience had I been back in Whitley Bay near Newcastle or wherever else. Such an emotional and spiritual connection. Trust even.
The benefits of living in Panama are many; financially it’s so much better, weather wise it is far, far better, environmentally it’s stunningly fantastic, for recreation and pastimes well, if you enjoy wildlife then this is the place for you. The Moon Guide calls Panama a ‘Paradise for wildlife”. It really is a wonderland if you like nature and activities.
My recommendation would be, consider it, seriously. Life is so much better without all that stress ~ truly. I don’t mind you getting in touch to ask any questions or to find help if you want ~ Michael@lambda-mi.com or have a look at www.choosechiriqui.com/ for more information on Panama,
About the Author
Born 1953 in Oldham, Lancashire in England of parents who worked in the Cotton Mills of the town, was educated within the Secondary Modern School system before serving an apprenticeship and qualifying as an Electrical Engineer.
Michael then joined Greater Manchester Police where he served with distinction and commendations focusing his career on Criminal Investigations (CID) and then Covert Operations with the National Drugs and Vice Unit seconded partly to the Customs & Excise. During his Police career, he obtained a Degree in Criminal Profiling.
Michael retired early from the Police having sustained serious injuries and dedicated himself to personal development, education and training. He studied and qualified in a number of business acumen skills. He was the first in the UK to write a fully accredited and nationally recognised Distance Learning programme covering Drugs Awareness which was carried by over a dozen Further and Higher Education Colleges and Universities throughout the UK. He formed Lambda Mi Training and Development which he manages to this day. www.lambda-mi.com
His focus is now being on EQ emotional intelligence which is a rapidly growing, non-fad serious subject increasingly being endorsed by education institutions all around the world and by a growing number of influential CEOs of some of the worlds largest organisations such as Coca Cola, Diners Club, Boeing, British Airways, American Express, Barclays Bank, HSBC Bank, Honda, to mention just a few.