Why Panama?

Previously I wrote about that the idea of living south of the border grew from my experience of spending five months in Belize and Guatemala. To me it seemed like an almost perfect area in which to retire. The natural beauty of the countries, the relaxed lifestyle of a cruising sailor and how relatively inexpensive it would be to live there considering how little I would have in the way of retirement income. What could be more appealing than to live on the Rio Dulce with its easy access to the lower cayes and clear waters of Belize when one wanted a break from the rain forest.

I dove into the web and found out that while Belize has a program allowing resident status for retirees the requirements were beyond what I would be able to put together, but it was still possible to spend a good deal of time there without major hassles. Guatemala, though it didn’t have a system specifically geared to retirees, still made it easy to spend the majority of the year there. When I arrived in Livingston I was automatically given a three month visa both for myself and my boat. If you wanted to stay longer all that was necessary was to go to Guatemala City and you could get a nine month visa for the boat. You, on the other hand, had to leave the country for 72 hours and then could return for another three months. A bit of a hassle, but not excessively so…take a side trip to Copan to visit the Mayan ruins “et voila” as they say in Antibes.

I did extensive research with the idea of compiling an e-book about retirement in Mexico but with the amount I would be receiving from Social Security would barely meet the Mexican requirements for their visas allowing gringos to stay year-long. On the other hand, you can spend six months of the year there simply on a tourist visa without hassles but then you have to go somewhere else for the rest of the year.

El Salvador, Nicaragua and Honduras held no appeal and Costa Rica isn’t much less expensive than here in the US. But for some reason I didn’t even consider or look into Panama. That is, until I was talking to a friend about future vacation plans. I’ve spent much of my life on the water and it came to me that I’d like to go through the Panama Canal. I knew, from reading, that each yacht going through the Canal is required to have, in addition to the captain, four people to handle lines in the locks one on each corner fore and aft. In a lot of transits the line handlers come from other yachts waiting to make their passages for the experience when their turn comes. If the yacht owners can’t scrounge up free help then he must hire someone from between $50.00 to $100.00 each.

I thought it might be a fun vacation to fly down to Panama City and hang out at the Balboa Yacht Club with a tee shirt saying “I Can Handle Lines.” I’m sure I could connect with someone within a week to ten day vacation.

That, of course, led me to a Google search for line handlers and got hits like this: http://www.escapeartist.com/efam20/line_handling.html. When I worked as a freelance writer one of my favorite things was the research I’d get to do at the library. I absolutely loved thumbing through the card catalog. As my fingers would flip through those small pieces of stiff white card stock searching for some subject books and themes would jump out and grab my attention leading me down a completely different path precursors to URL links. ( A little sidebar: Cut and paste comes directly from the old days of being impaled on my own freelance. In order to keep a train of thought going when writing first drafts I bought rolls of newsroom teletype paper and run it through my typewriter. That way it wasn’t necessary to stop regularly to put a new sheet of paper in the machine. If a new idea leaped to the front of my mind I could simply keep on going after making a quick mark in the margin and keep pounding away. It made me more productive doing a 10-page draft by not having to stop nine times to put in a blank sheet. With that done I’d then sit down with a pair of scissors and a little jar of rubber cement and cut and paste away.)

It didn’t take long before I’d burrowed into “Retirement in Panama” and discovered the Pensionado Program. The fiscal requirements were minimal for a single person. Simply prove a minimum monthly income of just $500.00 a month, since increased to $1,000 a month. That meant I easily qualified. Through a mutual friend I was introduced to a couple who had recently purchased property in Panama and was fortunate enough to spend a day with them and gaining from their first-hand knowledge.
In just about every blog written by people who have successfully moved to a foreign country the writers recommend that those considering such a move spend at least six months in the country before moving there. Since I believe that’s excellent advice why am I considering going down sight unseen? I think that my approach to retirement is a bit different than most. I intend on buying a sailboat and living on it rather than going somewhere and renting a stationary house or apartment. The beauty of this sort of arrangement is that if you don’t like where you’re at, or simply want a different view of the world while you’re making your morning coffee you simply get up and move to a different location. In 1992 I left Fort Lauderdale and went to Mexico, Belize and Guatemala but I spent every night at home.

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