A couple of years ago I started to do some writing about Panama for Live and Invest Overseas. Although I was given editorial prerogative, I was encouraged to tell the truth and to make Panama and encouraged to make the locations I visited attractive. When I actually wrote a very negative piece, on Taboga Island, to the credit of the publisher, it was published and I continued to write for several more months. Later I was replaced by someone younger with a less jaded perspective. I am not criticizing Live and Invest Overseas, I think they provide a useful service to people exploring the possibilities of moving to various locations. The statement I wish to make is the obvious observation, Panama is not for everyone; no place on earth is perfect.
Over the last six years living here I have made many friends. Of the expats I met, many have come and gone in that time. I can compare that to my thirty eight years in Tucson Arizona where many friends came and left as jobs and opportunities moved. But this is “paradise” why would you leave paradise when you are no longer following a job.
For several months I have been asking readers questions in the poll on this site. The number of responses is low and not statistically relevant to anything except this subjective post.
The Face of Boquete, Where did you come from?
- USA (71%, 87 Votes)
- Canada (12%, 15 Votes)
- Other (7%, 8 Votes)
- United Kingdom (5%, 6 Votes)
- Netherlands (2%, 2 Votes)
- Native of Panama (2%, 2 Votes)
- Germany (1%, 1 Votes)
- Sweden (1%, 1 Votes)
- Switzerland (1%, 1 Votes)
- Costa Rica (0%, 0 Votes)
- South America (0%, 0 Votes)
Total Voters: 123
Of those who responded most, 83%, came from the US and Canada, both of which have a very different culture, language and legal system than Panama.
If you live here in Panama, how long have you lived here?
- more than 5 years (34%, 46 Votes)
- Less than a year (24%, 33 Votes)
- between two and three years (17%, 23 Votes)
- between one and two years (11%, 15 Votes)
- more than 10 years (9%, 12 Votes)
- my whole life (5%, 8 Votes)
- Total Voters: 137
About half of the respondents to the second question have been here five years or more, about half less.A pretty good spread of people who have been here both long and short term.
Do you own or do you rent? If you answer rent please read RENTERS ONLY, If you own a home please read OWNERS ONLY. You can answer the second question.
- I have lived in Panama for more than 5 years and own my home (34%, 40 Votes)
- I have lived in Panama for less than 5 years and own my home (25%, 30 Votes)
- I have lived in Panama for less than 5 years and rent my home (20%, 24 Votes)
- OWNERS ONLY: If you own, if you could sell your property would you leave Panama? (15%, 18 Votes)
- RENTERS ONLY: would you buy here if you could sell property in another country? (9%, 11 Votes)
- I have lived in Panama for more than 5 years and rent my home (8%, 9 Votes)
Total Voters: 119
The last group of questions was the one I want to ask, it was designed to elicit an idea of how many people who have been here past that five year pivot point would leave if they could sell their property. Eighteen of the the forty people who indicated they have been here more than five years and own their own homes responded that if they could sell they would move on. Eleven of the twenty four who rent said they would buy if they could sell their homes in the home country.
When I arrived here in 2006 most of the expats in Boquete had grey hair and were either retired or trying to turn a hobby into a new career. The exceptions were the real estate developers, they were here to make a killing, most of them left with their tails between their legs and a lot less than they had when they arrived.
As the economy up north began imploding I observed an increasing number of younger families with children arriving. They made the community richer and multidimensional. Recently most of those I know in that age group have left Panama. In addition several of the retirees have also pulled up stakes and left. I have no statistics but I do have anecdotal stories.
For the younger people the common thread is either the inability to provide good secondary educational opportunities for their children, the inability to earn sufficient income to stay or a combination of both. I have also heard of the pressures of distance from families. Some people I spoke to have discussed the difficulty of maintaining a marriage in an environment with so many “attractive latinas”; divorce is a big issue for new immigrants.
Those retirees I have spoke to who have left and are willing to discuss it ,almost always say the same thing, family and health. They miss their families and worry about receiving good healthcare in Boquete. Some more recently have added another dimension, they have said the people arriving from north now are different. Different in political views, different in economic means, just different.
Many of those who left the US during the Bush years left with some money and bought homes here, they made an investment in the community. Now in the Obama years we are seeing people leave despite the fact they cannot sell a home and need to rent when they arrive. Real estate is now more expensive here than in much of the USA, Panama is in an economic boom. Many of these people are forced into doing what is always suggested, rent six months before buying. From the responses made about half would buy if they could.
This re-enforces my observations attending many seminars for expats in Panama City. The people who came and spoke to me in the years I attended, the Obama years, were scared. They felt they needed to leave the US before they lost all their assets. Perception is reality, people believe what they find believable and these people are coming to Panama for the wrong reason, fear.
The obvious observation is that Panama or any other alien culture is not right for everyone. To be successful in a new society you need to be a pioneer, regardless of your age. You need to be open to new ideas, open to starting again in a new system, with a new language and in an economic system that wants your money but not your involvement in decision making.
I want to reiterate that I like it here, but just like in Tucson I have witnessed the churn. My intent is not to discourage people from moving to Boquete, my intent is that you not be blinded by the people selling Boquete as paradise. To many it is a wonderful place to live, to some it is not. You need to come and stay a while and see if the experience is for you before leaping from the frying pan into the fire; pretty obvious?