If you’ve read Chapter 1, you already have a general idea why my family and I were compelled to leave Canada in pursuit of a better quality of life. And while I could opine endlessly about living this one precious life we’ve been given in a way that stirs your soul and your senses, I’ll let my unsentimental and rather practical husband sum it up in one succinct sentence:
“You only live once and if we wait until we retire we could be dead.”
This statement strikes a deeply personal chord within me. You see, I grew up listening to my mother talk about what she was going to do when she retired at age 65. She was going to travel more, spend more time with her young grandson, go on a hot air balloon ride…
She developed breast cancer and passed away at 66.
Our decision is starting to make sense, right? But the logical follow-up question to “Why are you going?” would be “Why Panama?”
Frankly, we started considering a life abroad with Costa Rica in mind – we had gone there on vacation last year and loved it.
But in our research, we discovered the realities of moving to Costa Rica. Real estate was too expensive. The international schools were crazy expensive. We heard numerous crime horror stories. A friend of a friend who had lived there for three years said: “It’s not a matter of if you get robbed, it’s a matter of when.”
Although we realized some of what we were hearing was hyperbolic, we decided to look at the alternatives. We liked the idea of Central America because it’s a short, direct plane ride from Canada. So we next considered Belize – I had visited many years ago and remembered it being gorgeous, idyllic really, and English-speaking to boot. But with a population of only 300,000 in the entire country, we decided it was just too small to be our full-time living destination.
Then my husband discovered Panama. I say ‘discovered’ because we really didn’t know a whole heck of a lot about it. And we’ve since found out that few people do (in Canada, anyway). To most people we’ve spoken to, the word Panama conjures a single image: the Canal. But as we’ve spoken with other travelers, expatriates, and read about this incredible country, we’ve come to know that Panama is so much more than just the home of an iconic canal – oh, sooo much more.
It has the gorgeous beaches, tropical climate and rainforests of Costa Rica and Belize, with many added bonuses:
It’s affordable – We can buy lunch and drinks for two for $10. We estimate our living expenses will be a half to one-quarter of what they are now in Canada. (Canada is a very expensive place to live – Americans may find their savings to be less, but they’ll still save)
It has modern infrastructure – Good roads, quality housing and clean drinking water in most parts of the country. What more could you ask for?
It has affordable, high-quality international schools – Our son’s Panama school costs $2,500 per year, compared to $8,000 to $10,000 for schools we looked at in Costa Rica. And we are not sacrificing quality education in any way – the International School in Gorgona has an excellent reputation and is run by Americans and Canadians.
Panama City – If ever you need to indulge your urban sensibilities, this booming metropolis has everything you need from arts and culture to high-end duty-free shopping. And, of course, the world-famous Canal.
It doesn’t get hurricanes – They all turn north before they get to Panama. Panama doesn’t need to board up and move inland for tropical storms – not ever.
It has very little crime – Yes, tourists can be victims of crime in any country. But Panama has the lowest crime rate in Central America and, in fact, of almost any Latin American country.
It has beaches on both coasts and rainforests throughout – Panama is fortunate to have beautiful beaches on both the Pacific and Caribbean sides. And, in some cases, it’s just a couple of hours’ drive from one side to the other – you can experience both oceans on the same day! And along the way, you can tour the jungle. Panama definitely fulfills anyone’s sense of adventure!
Fellow travelers and aspiring expatriates: let me know if I missed anything! I’m still in the process of getting ready for the move, and answering any lingering questions you have could help me better prepare. And I’m curious about some of the other considerations people have to take into account when making a move abroad.