A retirement plan, a canal...
December 9, 2011 1:38 PM   Subscribe

My parents have decided to retire to Panama (apparently that's a popular thing right now). They don't speak Spanish, and have only been there once--for ten days. What should I be asking them, pointing out to them, etc.? All the info I can find online seems to be written by marketing people hired to convince me it's a great idea. I would love to hear from anyone who has done this, or knows people who have done this.

They won't have to give up their US citizenship, but will be getting rid of 95% of their possessions.
My concerns, aside from no more hour-long phone conversations with my dad while I run errands, are mostly about medical issues; I've been told that one of the most important things with elder care is having someone in the hospital advocating for the patient. If something horrible happens I won't be able to get to Panama quickly or stay there long.
I also wonder how they'll manage someplace where they don't speak the language and don't know a single person.

When I raise these concerns, they tell me I'm being horribly un-supportive and possibly xenophobic. So, bonus question: Am I? Do I need to just STFU and mind my own business?
posted by smoakes to Grab Bag (11 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
How old are your parents?
posted by dgeiser13 at 1:49 PM on December 9, 2011

I don't know anyone who has retired to Panama, but when I lived in Mexico as a early twenty-something, there was a huge ex-pat community of retirees who lived very nice lifestyles. There was a large social community, lots of culture, nice weather, and their money went a long way there. Drawbacks: community can be kind of insular, learning a new language would be challenging (but fun), and they'd be far from family.

I don't think you are necessarily being xenophobic, you are just concerned for your parents. That's normal, especially since they've only been there once. Would it be possible to take a trip there as a family to ease your concerns/help them figure out logistics before they actually make such a leap?
posted by Sal and Richard at 1:53 PM on December 9, 2011

I used to know a woman who lived in Panama. I said at one point that it must be very interesting to experience another culture, and she said that the American community there was so large and insular that it was not necessary to learn Spanish, and that in fact special effort had to be made to get outside the circle of neighborhoods and businesses that catered to the American community and find that other culture.

This was many years ago, so it could be very different now.
posted by not that girl at 2:07 PM on December 9, 2011

It depends on how old your parents are. If they have only just decided to retire and picked Panama then really in their 60's unless there is outstanding health problems it is there worry. Now if they are older with serious health problems I would be more concerned. The hospital concerns seem a little overly worried too assuming something happens to one of them the other one would be advocating for them, though I guess a freak accident could put them both in the hospital at once.

I've visited visited expat friends living in Indonesia (a retired Australian couple) and Spain (retired in his 50's gentleman) in both cases lack of language skills didn't seem too much of a problem as like Sal and Richard said they tend to hang out in a community of other ex-pats. Both were having a great time and both loved how much further their money went and how nice the climate was. None of them really new the language well, they just sort of muddled along in a sort of pigeon and seemed to do fine. The Aussies planned on moving back "home" when they got too old and their health became a concern but were having one last great adventure before they died and spending the kids inheritance as they put it and having a wonderful time doing so.

You have every right to be concerned, but your parents are adults. My mother is 72, legally blind and has been an insulin dependent diabetic for over 40 years and lives on the other side of the world from me, she travels internationally every year (sometimes twice a year) and has a great time. I worry about her continually but she is having a ball. You can't always keep your parents wrapped up in cotton wool, as much as we'd like to do it. It's when I hear she's been up in an ultralite or hot air ballooning I really start having heart palpitations. I swear she is doing it to get back at me for my teenage years.
posted by wwax at 2:09 PM on December 9, 2011 [4 favorites]

new = knew. Must learn to proof read.
posted by wwax at 2:10 PM on December 9, 2011

I think you should talk to them about why they are making this decision -- not because they shouldn't or you should try to talk them out of it -- but because it might help put your mind at ease to know better. Panama is a long way away but it's also considered a pretty safe bet as far as Central America goes. They're giving up 95% of their stuff and just going for it. Talk to them more about why the feel safe doing it -- not approaching it from a 'worst case scenario' but from a 'the rest of the time' scenario, and it might put you at ease.

A person or persons should plan certain aspects of their lives with care. But right now you seem focused on the 1% (probably even less) of the time that they have left when things are going to be super bad. But what about the 99% (probably much more) that they've got left that can be great in the place they want to be? Focus more on that part of the plan and hopefully you'll be able to see it from their POV.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 2:23 PM on December 9, 2011

Best answer: I have family who live in Panama (both Panamanian family and USians who moved there) - I was just there last year.

You and your parents can poke around on the "Americans Living In Panama" Yahoo! group and on Panama Forum - the questions and concerns you have are answered many times over in those places and I'm sure they would be helpful with information about any specific area you want to know about. It's a good idea for your parents to plug into the expat communities in Panama so they'll know people, there are always social activities and things to do where they can meet people.

Panama is full of expats and retirees. Panama is very big right now on pitching itself as a tourist and retirement destination - the living is cheaper, the weather is tropical, and they're already very used to accommodating English-speaking tourists/residents. It is possible to live there without knowing Spanish at all depending on where you choose to settle. The expat and retiree communities are large and inclusive if one makes a bit of effort to join them. There was an American military presence (the Canal Zone) in Panama for so long that honestly, not that girl is right, you can find plenty of businesses and clubs, activities and so on that cater just to expats.

You will be able to find lawyers that are happy to deal with English-speaking expats to get paperworks, visas, and all that in order for them. There are agencies if they would like to find maids/cleaning services, in-home nursing, translators, drivers... wages paid for these services are cheaper there than in the US.

In the capital city many expats have resettled the area that was formerly Fort Clayton (the US Army base). Also there's expats in Coronado, about an hour from the city, and there's a community out in Boquete, which is in Chiriqui Province up near the border with Costa Rica, where the weather is a bit cooler.

As for phone calls - my family went with VoIP (Vonage, on a cable interent link) and a local-area-code phone number so we can call each other whenever we want without paying crazy long-distance fees.

And as for hospitals - in the capital city the hospital I was in (Hospital Punta Pacifica) was very modern and had great quality of care. Everyone spoke English from the front desk to the doctors to the cashier. I am told that you can get very good care in general as long as your area has modern facilities (which they seem to in expat areas) and you can pay for it.

If you have any further questions, feel free to MeMail me and I'm happy to ask my family if I don't know the answers myself!
posted by flex at 4:12 PM on December 9, 2011

I'm 50 and I sold 99% of my possessions and moved to Mexico. I might not be as old as your parents, and Mexico isn't Panama, but I'd say you don't have to worry.

I've improved my standard of living while reducing my costs. Medical care in particular is one third the cost, as good quality as I got in the midwest, and far more pleasant and responsive.

My area isn't one of the expat hotspots yet, but there are plenty of English speaking retirees living here, and they seem to be doing fine. They have a lively social life at expat events, doing charity work, and having art and language classes.

I have a Skype online number that has a US area code, so people in that area code can call a "local" number to get me, and I pay cheap rates. If I'm not at the computer, Skype forwards the call to my local cell, which isn't so cheap but means I can always be reached with one easy call.

With that said, in any expat haven there are scam artists; here's it's usually other expats. The only concern I would have would be if your parents are eager to buy a place, especially a place that hasn't been built yet. I'd strongly recommend that they rent for the first year, get to know the area, and listen to the expat grapevine to find out if there are any real estate scams going on. Then if they decide to buy, they'll do it wisely.
posted by ceiba at 9:34 PM on December 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I know a couple people that retired(mid 50's) to Panama and work as part time scuba instructors.If I can get in touch with them-I will relay any info I can glean.

Meanwhile-if you search Panama on this site-there is a lot of feedback

posted by plumberonkarst at 10:32 PM on December 9, 2011

Best answer: I lived in Panama briefly in 1999, so some things may have changed since then, but the big things probably haven't. I've lived and traveled in a bunch of places in Central and South America, and Panama, at least at that time, was far more US-influenced than any other country I've been to. It's just a click or two less American than Miami. You can get ketchup and maple syrup in the grocery store, for example. Panama may seem remote, but then so is Hawaii. I can see why Panama would appeal to people looking for a nice tropical-but-not-too-foreign place to retire. I found it awfully insular and quickly found the lack of anonymity grating, but that's just the flip side to a welcoming and active expat community.

You say they have visited Panama once. What time of year did they visit? I would suggest that they go visit during the rainy season before they decide to move there permanently. The amount of rain that comes out of the sky is something to behold, but it can leave you feeling trapped inside for long periods of time.
posted by ambrosia at 10:37 AM on December 10, 2011

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