We have an elderly friend, 90 years old, who recently left Puerto Armuelles.
He is an expat who lived for many years in Costa Rica and then many years in Panama.
He left Puerto Armuelles to spend what he thinks are his final years living with a close friend in Costa Rica. This woman is half his age, very kind, and she has the resources to provide for all of his needs.
This situation, and the fact that Betsy and I have 2 elderly parents currently in assisted living in the U.S., has prompted me to do a bit of thinking and researching on the subject of aging.
This article is aimed at readers who are thinking about retiring in Panama.
I hope you find it useful. Please send in comments, since we hope to continue writing about this very important topic.
The “When We Get Really Old” Conversation
On those very rare times when Betsy and I actually talk about “when we get truly old” or aging (other than to complain about aching shoulders, hips, fingers, you name it), it seems that Betsy is inclined to want to be in Seattle, or living with or near one of our daughters, wherever that may be, when she gets to be truly old.
I, on the other hand, though I will miss my friends and family from the north, imagine that a life in a warmer climate, would be optimal, at least most of the year. Fortunately, in our case, I am probably willing to acquiesce to Betsy’s preferences. Her wisdom in such matters is generally correct. Our family always benefits when we follow Betsy’s intuitions. (Of course, she could also change her mind.)
Why Be Old In Panama
Having admitted all this, I still think that there is a good place in our retirement plans for Panama, particularly in our early retirement.
But why would a person choose to arrive at his/her final years, and final days in a foreign country, far from family? What are the potential advantages/disadvantages? Is this a valid option for retirees to consider?
There is lots of hype on the internet about the advantages of retiring overseas, in the tropics, even in Panama itself. But what would it be like for you? (What would it be like for me? I’m 56. Betsy is 54.)
First of all, we both agree that we feel younger in the warmth of Panama than we do in the cold and damp of Seattle (That is, except during the peak of the dry season in Panama, which is too hot for us. And during summer in Seattle, which is the most ideal weather on Earth, we think.)
Affordable Home Health Aides
If it were merely about the money, then yes, Panama is much cheaper than the U.S. (I do not know enough to make a verdict about Canada).
I just wrote another article about healthcare in Panama. In it, I mentioned that one of the biggest differences in the cost for healthcare in the U.S. vs. Panama is the vast difference in labor costs for basic, unskilled, or semi-skilled nursing care.
A large factor in health care costs for the elderly is the need for more and more hours of home health care and nursing care. The elderly expat living in Panama will have huge saving potential on such aid,
In Puerto Armuelles, it is possible to find a live-in domestic helper for as little as $400/month. In David, this cost would be somewhat higher. In Panama City, you might pay as much as $2000/month for a fully licensed professional nurse through an agency.
With careful research, checking references, you can find an excellent helper. Some expats have reported that their own domestic aid has become more like a part of their family than a hired helper. Some expats even include this person in their will as a beneficiary.
Conversely, with poor planning, or just bad luck, you might end up hiring someone who is a terrible worker, or even steals from you. (Unfortunately, this last detail can occur anywhere. I remember my well-to-do grandmother, who was blind and lived to be 97, was routinely robbed at her expensive retirement home in Washington D.C. So, you can have a bad experience of this sort anywhere).
Our Parents As Examples
Betsy’s mom is in a great retirement home in Seattle, about 2 miles from our Seattle home. My father is in a retirement home in Washington D.C., close to my sister’s home. Both of our parents rely upon and cherish visits from their adult children and their grandchildren.
Panama not good choice for Betsy’s Mom
In the case of Betsy’s mom, she would not fare well in Panama. She has a lot of trouble “focusing” and, though she is a wonderful woman, she has trouble making real friends, because she has trouble following conversations with other adults. It is only with loving one-on-one chats with her children (including me) that she feels that emotional bond that she so craves.
Panama would have been a good choice for My Dad
In the case of my father, he has spent much of his adult life living abroad. And much of that time in the tropics (my sisters were born in Cuba). He would be very comfortable with the idea of retirement in Panama. He even speaks pretty good Spanish.
Other than my older sister, he does not see many family members on a regular basis. However, he is quite content to go to the dining hall or social hall, and strike up a conversation with just about anyone.
In truth, he says that he would have loved to retire in the tropics. In his wistful moments, he sometimes asks himself why he didn’t stay in the tropics to retire. However, at 90 years of age, it seems too late for him to make the move down to Panama. He is in a safe, happy environment and most days he seems to do pretty well. It is only on his bad days that he wishes he were somewhere else — A lot like everyone.
Early & Late Retirement in Panama
Since I am now “pushing” 60 myself, I think I can relate with many of the expats who are considering a move down to Panama for their retirement.
A lot of the folks who are closer to my age, on the younger side of retirement, would like to semi-retire early, and continue to do some sort of work in Panama.
That is what we have done, by investing and land developing in Puerto Armuelles. We effectively bought a small retirement business. This works well for both of us, since we have never viewed retirement as those years after 65 when one has earned the right to do absolutely nothing. We plan to stay active always, or at least as long as we possibly can.
Is Your Plan To “Go Back Home”?
Some retirees who choose to move to Panama at 55, 60, 65, or 70 may have in mind to return “back home” to be close to family and loved ones, when they finally arrive at their advanced old age. This desire is quite common. There seems to be something in each one of us that longs for the familiar, as our world grows smaller and smaller, and we prepare for our own death.
Plan Ahead to Age in Panama
There is a growing number of single retirees in the U.S., who either never married, or are divorced, or whose spouse has died. Some of these retirees may not have anyone in the U.S. to return to in their last years.
For such folks, it is probably advisable to come to Panama early enough in their retirement, so that they can become familiar with their new home, make friends, and prepare a late retirement environment that suits them. They will probably want to have a close friend or family member, at the very least, to supervise their caregivers and pay their bills, when they are no longer able to so. Even in the States, an elderly person needs someone to be their advocate, to make sure that they are well cared for, and listened to (this is a big one).
No matter what form your late old age takes, or where that event takes place, there is a tremendous amount of “letting go” that one must do in order to make the transition from healthy retirement, to a state of being very old, chronically weak, or sick, and eventually dying.
I know that my own father is still resentful that the keys to his car were finally taken away a couple of years ago. Betsy’s mom has had similar problems letting go of her independence, especially letting go of her car.
There are those who think that having the North American elderly loose on the roadways of Panama would not hurt the general quality of driving here in Panama…that is a subjective opinion.
I am not trying to come to any conclusions here. The idea is to inspire thinking and a dialogue about what each of us envisions as our own best scenario for our final years.
Clearly, one can live more comfortably in Panama, on less money. This, in itself, might be the answer, if you are not able to afford to retire, or be old or sick, in the U.S. (or wherever your “home” is.) However, for those who have options, the conclusion might be different.
Maybe Panama is the right choice for one’s early retirement years, as a new adventure, or chapter of your life. Maybe Panama allows you to enjoy your retirement, as well as allow you to bank all the saving that Panama offers. Because when, and if, you move back to the U.S. (or other place) to be closer to family, your living and health costs will be much high.