If you have ever dreamed of escaping the 9 to 5 and following your dreams and then doubted that you could, remember others have already! Allow us to introduce you to more of our fellow “Escapee’s”.
Many people when considering early retirement overseas, focus on the climate, the amenities and the cost of living. What we have discovered is that the community you live in is also extremely important.
One couple we met recently epitomizes the sense of community spirit. For them their new home is not just the location but also the community around them.
Robert and Cynthia West–both from Hawaii–have lived and worked the majority of their adult lives in California. His work has taken him all over the world, allowing them to explore many potential retirement places. They loved Tahiti and France, however both were too expensive and Tahiti was too hot as well.
They had been visiting Panama since 2003 and had decided this was to be their retirement home. They were “looking for a warmer climate, with a swimming pool” and adds Robert ”somewhere that the climate suits our clothes, shorts, tank top and flip-flops”. They bought their large, sunny three-bedroom condominium with glorious views of the Pacific Ocean and the sparkling sands of Playa Blanca, on the Azureo peninsula in 2005.
They decided on this location because of its closeness to Panama City and the new Scarlett Martinez airport in nearby Rio Hato. The goal was to be able to split their time between the beach and a home in the mountains. The first piece of land they bought became a nightmare, rather than a dream, due to Panama’s somewhat convoluted land ownership titles. Undaunted, they later purchased a beautiful ocean view lot high in the mountains.
Plans to move to Panama permanently halted after the crash of 2008. With a much smaller 401(k), retirement would have to wait. Robert went back to doing some part time consulting and Cynthia soldiered on at her high stress 10-hour-a-day job in Silicon Valley. They visited their little slice of paradise as often as they could and dreamed of the day when they could move permanently to Panama.
It was late 2012 when Cynthia (59) bounced through the door vibrating with her news. Her company’s plan to inject some younger blood into the workforce meant a very tempting early retirement package for her. Robert (62) listened with mounting glee as this “avenue of escape” gave them the opportunity to retire permanently.
They moved to Playa Blanca in February 2013, and have really become part of the community here.
Sitting in the shade of their balcony Cynthia explained. “We have our own pool and yard, with none of the work; we are friends with the staff and have a busier social life than back home”. With their positive upbeat attitude, it is no wonder that they have such a huge network of friends.
Cynthia often leads the thrice-weekly water aerobics class and Robert is always willing to step in and help as needed. This is often translating for those still in the “Tarzan” Spanish stage or providing a ride into town to pick up groceries.
We were witness to the unstinting and ongoing help they provided during a recent medical emergency. Their help was invaluable; Roberts EMT background and quick response meant timely attention. They also provided transport to and from Doctors and Hospitals and translated as needed. Without their assistance, this traumatic event could have been much worse for everyone involved.
To them community is not just their expat neighbors, it is the entire local community. They get huge satisfaction from sponsoring two local school children, “knowing that they are helping them get a higher education and a brighter future for only $30 a month is priceless” says Robert. One of their sponsored kids is a ‘grade A’ student, they are very proud of her accomplishments. When they found out she needed a computer at her new school, they stepped in to support her and her parents.
It is this sense of community that has made them decide that the beach is where they want to be. They are selling their San Francisco Bay home and their mountain lot.
Many of their family and friends, inspired by their new lifestyle, have visited and some are seriously considering retiring here too. They advise people to “live here for at least six months, do your research in advance and commit to being part of the community”.
Instead of spending their days tracking projects, costs and man-hours in the corporate world. They still have busy and full days. Interests include stargazing from the rooftop terrace, hunting for shells on the beach or visiting local restaurants. Cynthia has taken up painting once again and her artwork decorates the walls, as does her stunning photography.
Playa Blanca is a great base for them to explore from. Day trips to the picturesque town of El Vale and La Pintada are easy to do. They visit all the local festivals and events and happily share the day with newfound friends.