Back in August, 2014, when we started our one-year journey to "test drive" different countries in Central America, we had a plan. Our plan included staying about 4 months in 3 different countries. We knew we would start in Costa Rica and probably go to Panama from there. We weren't too sure where the 3rd country would be but Belize, Ecuador, and Columbia were all in the running (and yes, I know that Ecuador and Columbia are in South America - but close enough).
We spent 4 months in Costa Rica and we liked it there. We've been here in Panama since about the beginning of the year and we have been very impressed. In the Boquete area, where we live, there is a large and visible expat community. We see and meet fellow expats almost everywhere we go. New friendships are made easily and often. There is a real sense of community among the expat population, as well as a commitment to the community at large. There are more charitable organizations and causes than I can list here - from rescuing animals, to buying school uniforms for local kids, to providing equipment for the Fire Department, the Gringos (that's not a derogatory term) are consistently generous with their time and money.
We've made a lot of friends here and we are very involved in a local church: Boquete Bible Fellowship (BBF). It's a great congregation with a wonderful Pastor, with whom we've also become friends. God is definitely moving here in this area and BBF, although a very small church, is playing a significant role. This is a big factor for us because we want to be someplace where we are making a difference.
The weather here is wonderful, the landscape and scenery is beautiful, the availability of products (and the prices) facilitate a comfortable and very affordable lifestyle. There are LOTS of things to do and lots of places to explore here in Panama. The country is a stable democracy and the government, for the most part, is very welcoming to expats. Establishing residency, even though you still need a lawyer to get through all the red tape, is easier than in many other countries. Many expats we've spoken to have gotten residency in just a few months (it's not unusual in some other countries for it to take several years). Publications that rate such things almost unanimously agree that Panama has the best "pensionado" (retirement) program in the world - with many discounts and benefits.
All this to say that Tina and I have made the decision that we will not be moving on to explore another country - at least, not on this tour. We feel this is where we are supposed to be for now. We will be staying here in Boquete until we need to return to our home in Maui (currently being rented out) to tie up loose ends back there.
We definitely plan to explore other countries in the future and want to include international travel once we are living abroad on a more permanent basis. We know there are lots of wonderful and interesting places to live and experience - we look forward to finding some more of them.
Posted by Mark.