Posted by: luisabaldwin | October 29, 2011


Rough day at the office!

Well, it was a hard day at the office; bossing the maid and the gardener around! No, just kidding, but you did want to know what life was like in Panama. So let me tell you.  For $10.00 a day (and $5.00 transportation depending on where you live) you can have a sparkly clean house and all your laundry done.  It will be neatly folded, ironed (well, this is considered separate work and will cost you all of $0.35 a garment), and put away.  We have ours come once a week and she’s become like a family member.  For $15.00 a day you can have everything you need done in your garden.  We do this twice a month for this house, even though the gardens are rather large.  However, there is the “15 minute rule” when it comes to gardeners, builders, handymen, and contractors.  The boss has to be on the watch, if you know what I mean.  We don’t have to do that with our gardener but he’s way above the average for this sort of labor, as is our maid.

Don't ask me how our gardener keeps this huge back yard looking so good.

Anyway, after a day of bossing the maid and the gardener around I was tired! I decided to give myself the treat of lying in the hammock with a good book.  What can be better than that?  The gentle cradle-like movement coupled with the soft breeze seduced me into a mesmerizing relaxation and I found my eyes drifting shut.  Slumber was just about seconds away.  Next to my hammock, which I bought to remind me not to work so hard, is a hibiscus hedge laced with jasmine.  Its flowers have the sweet aroma of Pikaki, a Hawaiian flower, and one of my favorites.  Oh, and did I tell you about the creek?

The little pond in the gated community of Los Molinos

Yes, its soft gurgling in the background brings a sense of well being to the ears.  We have a lot of birds here and one of the little ones sings for the sheer joy of the sound.  Its melody is akin to the best symphony nature has to offer.

The mountains of Boquete have beautiful melodic creeks everywhere.

These are the moments in life that you want to bookmark and never hit the delete key.  For in the tiniest house of time, true happiness arose – a feeling of completeness about life.  A little of this “Mana from Heaven” goes a long way but I didn’t want to spoil the timeless moment with thought.  I just gently rocked back and forth, smelled the exotic perfume, listened to the heavenly chirps and the babbling creek, and felt the gentle breeze on my face.  A timeless smile crossed my lips.

Our little frutarian Tanningers are a gentle joy to watch. They come in so many variety of color schemes it's hard to keep track.

Now, don’t you think that this is what retirement should be like?  Not a care in the world and fully relaxed?  Peace of mind, security, comfort, a higher standard of living, access to affordable health care and convenience are all within reach in Panama. We live life far from the maddening crowd here.  The economic troubles America is suffering only exist for most of us on the news or in our vote.

My Mom asked me if this was one of the parks in my community and I responded, "No Mom, this is my backyard!"

The economy of Panama is robust. Currently, huge infrastructure projects are underway.  Close by, we see the government busy and efficiently building a four-lane highway between the little town of Boquete, which is a mountain coffee-growing tourist destination for both locals and international travelers alike, and David, which is the closest commercial center in the area and the second largest city in Panama. The runway at the little David regional airport has already been extended to accommodate international jets.  They have only to build a new tower before they can accept the big birds in from international destinations.  An oil refinery is being built up by the Costa Rican border.  Even with all this expensive infrastructure development, the debt to GDP radio is still in proper proportions (30%), unlike the debt of our big neighbor to the north.

The grounds in Los Molinos

Infrastructure development, along with a sound and conservative banking system, and the cash cow named the Panama Canal makes the country relatively economically stable. The country isn’t caught up in needless business-hampering regulation so small business can thrive.  Yes, there’s inflation here.  It gets exported from the printing presses in the United States but it is still at a manageable level.  All of these pluses add up to peace of mind, security, and comfort.

Pretty, isn't it?

We live in a very attractive three bedroom two-bath custom home in a gated community.  This home has architectural merit with a large gourmet kitchen, stone work through-out the house, top of the line appliances, and lovely landscaping.  Can you accomplish this house on your Social Security?  Well, not quite on one. You would have to scrape on the rest of the budget too much.  But, believe it or not, you can accomplish this standard of living on one high-end Social Security and one low-end Social Security combined, with extra money to spare.  You could never achieve this standard of living anywhere in the United States on two Social Security incomes.  That’s the beauty of Panama.  Since your home is your castle, you get a whole lot of bang for your buck and that’s one of the reasons why people move here.  We’ve been able to cut our living expenses in half and raise our standard of living considerably since we moved here.

Do you remember that old 60’s song, “You can get anything you want at Alice’s Restaurant”?  Well the same holds true for Panama.  You can get just about everything you can get in the USA here.  Sometimes you have to work harder to source things but eventually you do find it.  The grocery stores have it all.  It’s just that you’ll pay the extra costs of getting it here if you buy American.  So, living in Panama is both comfortable and convenient.

Nice way to start your day

As to health care; well it’s a broad and complicated topic that I’ll save for another publication.  But to put it in a nutshell, Panama’s health care system is for everybody.  The doctors are well educated, and best of all, very caring and not in a hurry.  Health insurance is relatively inexpensive and, of course, highly variable.  But you can get fairly comprehensive coverage with a local hospital for about $75.00 a month.  Many choose to pay out of pocket for everyday services and only get major medical.  In any case, it’s accessible and affordable.  This is a major plus for those who have moved to Panama.  I know Americans here who are relatively well off and couldn’t afford insurance in the United States.  The health-care system has provided many ex-pats and Panamanians with a safety net they couldn’t have expected back in the USA.

Swing baby swing right into inspiration!

For those of you that feel stuck in the economic quagmire the U.S. finds itself in, the lyrics of the musician Meatloaf say it all, “Life is a bowl of lemons and I want my money back.” But I say, never give up on your optimism.  Keep looking everywhere for solutions.  Get in that hammock and swing baby swing.  Feel the soft breeze on your face and smell the sweet pikaki flowers until you find happiness.  From that place of wholeness you will find your inspiration.  Who knows?  Maybe it will be Panama!

Can't take your eyes off him, can you? Just beautiful.

So, I write this article to give you hope.  For those of you who are about to retire, I would like to encourage you to think out of the box.  When you do, the possibilities are endless. It’s a big world out there and a Shangri-La for everyone’s budget is waiting for you somewhere.  You just have to do a little investigation, come up with a plan, and make some changes.  In our case, we wanted to remain close to aging relatives and live in an economically stable and safe country with a solid banking system.  We needed to find quality and affordability in the medical health care system.  We found that too.  Panama, and more specifically Boquete, was our choice but there are many others.  We haven’t regretted a day since we took the big leap.  Hey, can you do this on your Social Security incomes?  Yes!  Go ahead – make lemonade out of lemons!

The mountains of Boquete are a bird lovers paradise.



  1. Do you live in Los Molinos, or Boquete?

    • Hello Meg,

      Los Molinos is about 20 minutes down the volcano from the little town of Boquete. Most ex-pats who live in Boquete live in the surrounding hills because living in downtown Boquete can get quite noise. Los Molinos is simply a gated residential community about half way between Boquete and David, the main town most use to access goods and services. It’s a good location. Also, the weather is a little dryer than Boquete where you would truly be up in the rain forest which is nice but extremely humid.

  2. Hello Luisa,
    I have thoroughly enjoyed reading about your life in Boquete and it is because of your blog that me & my husband want to visit there in October. We want to experience for ourselves the beautiful location you describe. We are Californians, live next to Los Gatos, CA and I work with John and Freddy Howell of the Los Gatos Birdwatcher (formerly Wild Bird Center). That is how I know about your blog! We are excited to have the opportunity to see the birds and wildlife of Panama. I just wanted to thank you for writing about your adventures. It makes our hopes of finding the perfect “retirement” location for us seem so much more possible. Perhaps we will run into you while we are in Boquete.

    • Hello Laura,
      Thank you for your lovely words. We spent many dollars in the Wild Bird Center of Los Gatos! And we have birds here in Panama like you wouldn’t believe. So, when you come to Boquete, let us know. We would love to meet you! Again, thank you for your kind thoughts. After three years, we’re still loving it!

      • Hello Luisa,
        Our vacation to Panama is almost here! We will be in Boquete from Thursday, 10/18 – Saturday, 10/20 perhaps we can meet one of those evenings? If you have an email address you would like to share with me, maybe we can decide on a day and time? Thank you so much.

      • HEllo Laura,
        I thought you were coming On Dec. 25 . Change of plans? Laura, I’m in Europe at the moment And my IPad won’t let me view your whole correspondence. Can you please repeat to my email? Thanks Laura. I’ll be there.

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