America’s ‘ugliness and divisiveness’ pushed this couple to retire abroad

America has at all times been divided, however in recent times this has been accompanied by a nasty, off the charts intolerance that every facet appears to have for the opposite. Some Individuals who can afford to take action are getting out. 

Which is why Cheryl Smelson (a retired journalist) and her husband David (a gross sales supervisor who will work remotely) are kicking up their heels in Panama, the place they moved on Sept. 1.

Cheryl, a former member of the White Home press corps (we frequently sat collectively within the briefing room) tells me “the ugliness and divisiveness among the many American folks is a hazard to democracy. We felt leaving the U.S. for a extra peaceable surroundings was in our greatest pursuits.” 

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Why Panama? 

Panama, described on one retirement website as “one of the top retirement destinations in the world,” boasting an “reasonably priced price of dwelling and excessive lifestyle,” rapidly attracted their consideration. “We needed to stay fairly near Maryland, the place our son is attending faculty,” Cheryl says. “That just about dominated out Europe and Asia. We want hotter climates over colder, in order that narrowed the sphere to Central America. We had vacationed in Costa Rica a number of years in the past, however our analysis led us to Panama (which borders Costa Rica) as the higher alternative for us. There’s a giant group of expat Individuals lively on social media who gave us a lot of details about life on the bottom.” 

The standard of life for expats is sweet. “Panama presently has a decrease Covid fee than the U.S.; a low crime fee; per capita earnings is excessive in contrast with different Latin American nations; and the federal government is steady,” Cheryl says. Panama additionally makes use of American forex, so there’s no want to vary cash or work out what issues price. 

Housing prices

Within the capital of Panama Metropolis, dotted with skyscrapers, high-end purchasing and considerable nightlife, a pair can stay fairly comfortably on $1,500 to $2,000 a month. When you and your partner had nothing however the average-size Social Safety test ($1,543 in 2021), you can do fairly effectively. The Smelsons can afford to spend extra—$2,500 to lease a luxurious condo with attractive views—however you can get by on much less.  

In contrast with most main American cities, these prices appear cheap.

However Panama Metropolis can be blazing sizzling and dripping in humidity, and might have American-style site visitors jams. Some retirees go for close by seashore cities like Coronado, that are buffeted by cool breezes and quiet.    

The Smelsons, who’re renting on a short-term foundation whereas they home hunt, are drawn to close by mountain cities that are a lot cooler. Two are Santa Fe and Boquete, which might have California-like climate, however rents that may common—get this—about $500 per thirty days. Boquete has tons of expats, lots of them child boomer retirees lured there by the cooler temperatures and low price of dwelling. Cheryl advises, nevertheless that

“Your common American possible will expertise increased [than $500] prices as a result of they’ll have increased requirements (like hot-water in each faucet, dependable electrical energy, store in costlier grocery shops),” Cheryl advises. 


U.S. healthcare is superb—in the event you can afford it. Constancy, the Boston-based funding large, estimates that the typical American couple retiring at age 65 might want to spend a whopping $300,000 to cowl healthcare bills over the rest of their lives. Panama provides socialized drugs to all for fundamental care, and in line with the Smelsons, who cite feedback made by different expats, “docs in Panama are extremely certified, accessible, and prices are exponentially decrease than within the U.S.”

However expats are nonetheless inspired to have their very own medical health insurance for complete care.

Read: What it’s really like to retire on a Caribbean island — on $3,000 a month

Planning and preparation

Shifting overseas is clearly an enormous deal and entails loads of “planning, planning, and extra planning,” says Cheryl. “Get recommendation from the individuals who have been there earlier than you, however actually perceive your personal circumstances. The definition of ‘low-cost’ means various things to totally different folks. And be reasonable about your priorities.”

The Smelsons additionally spent a 12 months decluttering, eliminating nearly all the pieces they owned.

“It was executed painstakingly, just a little every day,” Cheryl says, and after they arrived in Panama, they have been down to 2 giant checked suitcases and a carry-on bag every. That’s it. There’s actually nothing that may’t be purchased in Panama anyway, she provides.

The Smelsons additionally arrange a digital mail service within the U.S., which is able to solely ahead important items of mail. What’s “virtual mail?” Listed below are a number of corporations that provide quite a lot of companies.


The slimmed-down possessions Cheryl and David took with them to Panama.


One disadvantage: It’s tougher to open a neighborhood checking account in Panama than within the U.S., Smelson says. The Panamanian legislation agency they employed to course of their residency visas helped minimize by crimson tape, and now they’re good to go. Wire transfers are frequent and so is money — in comparison with the more and more cashless and digital U.S. “We’ve discovered money is used extra generally, though most eating places within the (Panama) metropolis take bank cards.”

It’s essential so as to add that anybody searching for to apply for a everlasting residency visa in Panama is required to retain a Panamanian legislation agency, Cheryl says. “Our legislation agency was amongst these beneficial by the group that makes a speciality of serving to Individuals relocate to Panama. It’s an additional service to have the legislation agency assist arrange a checking account, however very effectively value it for my part.”

She provides: “Our Spanish isn’t good (they’re studying) and authorities and banking officers largely don’t communicate English, so a bilingual legislation agency is extraordinarily useful.” 

What about you?

Have you ever retired overseas? Are you fascinated with it? Inform me the place you’re—or the place you’re contemplating shifting—and why? Assist me share your recommendation with others. Write to me at — and thanks. 

Read: We want a $250,000 home an hour from the mountains or the ocean. Where should we retire?

Read: We want to retire to a warm-weather lake town with lots of cultural offerings — where should we go?

Read: I’ll retire with a military pension and want to move to a bicycle-friendly, beer-loving place — where should I go? | America’s ‘ugliness and divisiveness’ pushed this couple to retire overseas


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