Anyone would find it difficult to find a more beautiful place to live than this small town in western Panama. Fresh air, green, cool temperatures, picturesque mountains and a dormant volcano. It’s about an hour to the beach and less to ‘city’ shopping. In less than 2 hours by car, you can visit Costa Rica. A 45 minute plane ride brings you to an international airport and the rest of the world.
In the last 2 weeks, we have seen 2 different groups coming through Boquete on an organized sales tour. Their objective was to sell their
victims clients land in Boquete. If we saw two groups, there were probably several more that we did not see. We were at the same restaurant as one of the tour groups so we could overhear what the participants were being told. Long story short – America is going down hill fast, everyone speaks Spanish and Boquete is a cheap place to leave it all behind. What did the tour group organizers leave out?
Boquete isn’t the cheap oasis you hear about. Housing is expensive and buying is often more costly than a similar home in my hometown of Coral Springs, Florida. People will tell you that you can buy a two bedroom house for $50,000 and you can live very well on Social Security or less. You can, if you want:
to live in a Panamanian home**
to live far from an established town
A low cost typical Panamanian** home is small, maybe 500-600 sf. No king-sized bed. No couch/love seat/TV and tables in the living room. The kitchen will be one 4 foot counter that includes a two burner stove and dorm size refrigerator.
You will not have hot water in your sinks or screens on your windows. You will not have cable TV and probably not internet. This will run you about $200-300 mo. If you pay less, you may get a room with a shared toilet area. If you move up to the $400 range, you may get a suicide shower for hot water but not in the sinks. This electric attachment on your showerhead, provides immediate hot water. All of this is completely dependent on how close you are to town. More people are renting in Boquete so availability of properties and the costs are rising significantly.
Other rental units are available and can run up to the $2000+ range. For this you get a gated community and all the amenities you would expect in an exclusive area in the States. They have golf, nice restaurants, club houses and full-time gardeners.
Cars cost about the same as in the States but gas is more expensive, about $4.17 for regular. Gas prices are determined by the government and currently is $1.08 per liter. Car insurance is about half what we paid in Florida. Many people rely on the bus and taxis. Both are cheap and available unless you live on the outskirts where availability is not terrific.
Food is cheaper and you will save about 1/3 on your grocery bill. Thankfully, there are no “fast food” restaurants in town so your menu will be healthier. Eating out can be cheap or pricey depending where you go. I’ve previously written about this.
Another expense that is never talked about is entertainment. What will you do with your time? There’s an enormous selection of activities. Visitors to Boquete go rafting, zip lining, kayaking, and renting ATVs. They run about $75+ for each activity. Eighteen holes of golf run about $80 and less for the 9 hole course. There are clubs and organizations for every interest. Most are run by expats and are free to very inexpensive and they are very grateful for your volunteering hours. You must drive to David to go to the movies and, unless you are fluent in Spanish, your selections are limited to the ones that have Spanish subtitles and audio in English. It costs about $2.50 and first run movies do come through.
And then there’s health care. It is good and much cheaper than in the US BUT it is not free. If you end up in the hospital for a few days, it gets expensive. Medicare is not accepted here and prescriptions are costly. Don Ray Williams has lived in Panama for ten years and recently wrote about this topic. http://www.chiriquichatter.net/blog/2013/07/18/a-caution-before-moving-to-panama/ We are lucky to have Tricare as David is retired from the Navy. That is not the rule.
Internet and cable are dicey depending on the provider available in the area you may live. Close to town, it is good and affordable. Further up the mountains it is best to check as those services quickly become expensive and/or unreliable.
These for-profit companies are doing their clients a huge disservice. Pressure to buy after just a few days is reckless at best. But they continue to write articles and people continue to believe. There are cheaper places to live in the States where services are available and there’s no communication barrier. These companies should be promoting a change in lifestyle. That would be honest but not as profitable. Panama reminds me of growing up in S. Florida in the 1950s. Children walk in the rain and don’t rely on mom’s mini-van. Most Panamanian kids don’t have cell phones and are not attached to Gameboys or other electronics. People, including children, make eye contact, greet and speak to you.
What they should be saying: Things are slower here – tranquilo. Repairs are seldom perfect but they are “good enough”. Road hazards mean that you must pay attention and change lanes to avoid it or wait, as there won’t be a half a mile of orange warning cones and blinkers. Watch where you are walking. Learn Spanish. This isn’t the US or Canada. Don’t expect water and electricity all the time. Manana doesn’t mean tomorrow, it means ‘maybe sometime in the future’. Many people only live here a few months a year, not full time. You can no more change a culture than move a mountain with a teaspoon.
The most popular advice from people who have actually lived here is—-Rent at least 6-12 months before buying. We’ve only lived here permanently for 3 months and have already seen new ‘permanent residents’ come, find a place to live and now they have already left.
I’ve also heard more than once that “if you need a group tour to escort you to a foreign country, expatriating may not be for you.” I don’t know if that’s true but the typical expat here is an extremely well traveled. They have been to London, Paris and Rome but have also been to Turkey, China and India. They are independent and fearless travelers who love to experience different cultures. Panama is safer than most of the US, but if you act like you just fell off the turnip truck, you will be scammed. And the biggest scammer very well may be your tour director who told you that you will live like royalty on your Social Security check.