We’ve told a lot of people about our upcoming move to Panama and invariably get the same or similar questions. So here, in no particular order, are the most Frequently Asked Questions and our answers. Most of these will get their own posts with more info later.

Why are you moving to Panama?

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John and Susan in Panama City, Panama, March 2014

For John and me, travel is the salt of life. New experiences broaden our minds and help us appreciate all of people’s wonderful differences as well as the same-nesses we all share. And besides, travel’s fun! Panama will be the perfect base of operations for us to plan future adventures.

Mark Twain pretty much sums it up for us in Innocents Abroad:

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”

There’s also a large financial motivator. If we stay in the U.S. (especially in SoCal), John will have to work several more years for us to afford the lifestyle. In Panama, where the cost of living is so much lower, he’s able to retire at 59. We have friends who are living comfortably there on Social Security alone.

When and how did you decide to do this?

We’ve been talking about retiring outside the country for years, but the real catalyst was the two months we spent in Panama aboard our sailboat in 2004. There’s lots more to tell about that adventure (stay tuned!) but we fell in love with the wonderful people, breathtaking scenery, and lively culture of Panama. Since that initial voyage, we’ve made two other trips back (most recently, a year ago) to seal the deal.

Are you both retiring?

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Maggie and Rosie – soon to be Perros de Panama!

Nope, just John for now. I’m fortunate enough to have work I can do from anywhere as long as there’s Wi-Fi. I’ll keep at it for a few more years, at least until John’s eligible for Social Security (he’s promised to peel me grapes and give me regular foot massages!).

What about The Girls?

If you know us, you know that our pups, Maggie and Rosie, are our kids – so of course they’re coming with us! It’s one of the more complex aspects of this move, so stay tuned for more info about the ins and outs of taking animals to Panama and how our experience pans out.

What about healthcare?

This is a biggee and it’s usually one of the first things people ask. The short answer: healthcare in Panama is MUCH more affordable and generally on a quality par with the U.S. – in fact, many of the doctors speak English and have U.S. training. I could go on a very large rant here about the cost (and general state) of healthcare in the U.S. but I’ll save that for later. Let’s just say that by moving to Panama, we’ll be worrying much less about having to drain our life savings to pay medical bills.

Are you giving up your U.S. citizenship?

Heck, no! But we will apply for Panamanian residency visas as soon as we’re eligible. Panama offers a “pensionado” visa with a wealth of incentives and benefits for expats. Applying for and getting that visa will be a big blog topic in the future.

Where, exactly, will you live in Panama? Will you buy a house?

For the first two months we’re renting an apartment in beautiful Boquete town in the coffee highlands of Chiriqui Province. This will give us time to look for a longer-term rental and figure out where we want to settle. Buying a home in Panama is probably not in the cards, but who knows what the future might bring!

What about your “stuff?”

It AIN’T coming with us! When we get on that redeye flight from LAX to Panama City on April 29, we will have two big dog crates and eight or so pieces of checked luggage – and that’s it. Years of living and traveling on a sailboat changed our attitude about “stuff” and showed us just how little we need in order to live well. We’ll have a couple of garage sales and sell all of our furniture. Of course, we do have a few keepsakes that we can’t bring and we’re working out just how and where we’ll store those.

Will you learn Spanish?

Yes, this is going to be one of our top priorities once we’re settled. We did pick up a bit of Spanish while cruising in Mexico and Central America, but knowing the Spanish words for all the parts of a marine diesel engine probably isn’t going to serve us in the long run!


  1. Thank you so much, Holly 🙂 Couldn’t have done it without your encouragement and your excellent blog model to follow!

  2. oldsalt1942 Reply

    I’ve been looking forward to the start of your blog and I’ve bookmarked it.

    The question everyone who considers expatriating gets is “What if you get sick “down there?”

    While it’s a bit better here in Panama than when I was thinking about retiring and living “on the hook” in the Rio Dulce in Guatemala, my answer has always been, “You either get better, or you die.”

    Now, I know that seems flip, but really it’s not. Americans (and I use that term for people in the U.S.) have been brainwashed into believing that the States has the best health care in the entire world. It’s just not so. The average life expectancy in the U.S. was 78.6 yrs. (for women it’s 80.9) In Panama, average life expectancy is 76.8 (women 79.7) So they’re pretty close.

    The reality of health care in America is that unless you live IN or very close to a large metropolitan area your chances of surviving the results of a heart attack or a stroke drop significantly. Imagine you decide to visit, say, Mt. Rushmore. You rent a car and you’re boogying down the road and your heart goes ARRRRRRGH!!! The odds are you’re going to be worm food in the country with the “best health care in the world.”

    You can’t take life too seriously. Nobody’s getting out alive. And as the saying goes, rich or poor, when the game is over the king and the pawn go in the same box.

  3. Thanks, Richard – we couldn’t agree more. Per the Richard Bode quote (on our About page) – we’re all going to die. If we don’t spend that finite time doing things that give us joy, then what’s the point of having immediate access to the best healthcare in the world?

  4. Thanks! Hope we get to meet you someday. We LOVED touring Nicaragua when we were sailing and we look forward to getting back there.

  5. Welcome to blog world! You are off to a wonderful start and it’s going to be fun following your future posts, and of course your future adventures. I think all of us have had these questions and it’s interesting how our answers differ in some ways, but are similar in most ways.
    April 29th? It is now March so this is next month!!

  6. Oh boy, this is going to be a lot of fun for me to follow! I was born in the Panama Canal Zone – my father was a crane operator in the canal during WW2. I have not returned to Panama since childhood. Hope to return soon and visit John and Susan and the girls.

    You guys are off to a great start with this wonderful blog. Thank you so much for sharing!

  7. Susan, Love your blog and now have added it to my list of motivators. Since my move down date is not until approximately Dec. 2016 I have to keep focused and optimistic. So much to get done back here at home to make it all possible…all while still working full time! Keep on blogging, I’ll be following your adventure…
    your future neighbor-maxi

  8. Howard Green Reply

    i am so impressed that you got this blog going and you’re off to the races. Although we are new friends, I suspect we will be seeing a lot more of you and the girls once I get my three down there, too. looking forward to our next meeting, in Chiriqui country.

  9. I LOVE your blog!! I look forward to all your informational posts as we’re on the exact same path… we’ll be moving to Panama with a couple of suitcases and one precious dog crate! I’m interested to see the steps you end up taking to get your girls to Panama.

    We’ve also contemplated a sailing adventure, so we look forward to reading your posts on those as well, if you choose to write about them. Our house is for sale right now, and will be living in an RV until we reach the point of “retirement,” which is spring of next year :).

    Can’t wait to meet you in Panama!

    • THANK YOU, Rebecca! We love yours too. So much fun to see another couple in more or less the same decision trajectory that we’re in. I’m planning a future blog post about our sailing adventures, so stay tuned. And also, we’re beginning to get into the nitty gritty of getting the girls moved down safely, so I’ll do a full report in the hopes that it might make the process easy for you and others. It’s an exciting time! We look forward to meeting you too.

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