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An Expat Haven for Retirees in Boquete, Panama

Kathleen Peddicord

Panama offers tremendous benefits to retirees, including its dollarized economy (in which the dollar can go much further than it does in the United States) and its pensionado retirement visa program (which makes retirees eligible for discounts off the cost of almost everything and anything you buy, from restaurant dinners to prescription medications).

Panama also offers a unique benefit for retirees in search of a comfortable, nearly turn-key retirement experience overseas--namely, Boquete.

Boquete is a town of about 20,000 in Panama's Chiriqui Province highlands. I visited Boquete for the first time about 15 years ago. In the decade-and-a-half since, I've watched as this small mountain village has developed into one of the world's biggest and best-known overseas retirement communities.

One of the most important choices you must make as you think through options for launching a new life in a new country is whether to go local or relocate yourself to an established expatriate community, a place where the path has been well worn by others like you who've already established new lives for themselves.

Going local means learning the local language and embracing the local culture. If you find the thought of all that intimidating (as many would-be retirees overseas do), take the pressure off. Elect a lifestyle that's less exotic and more familiar in a place like Boquete, Panama.

More English per capita is spoken in Boquete than anywhere else in Panama, including the capital. Not all of the English speakers in Boquete are from the United States and Canada, and not all of them are from English-speaking countries. A mix of British, Irish, South African, Australian, but also Argentinian, Peruvian, Colombian and other Latin American expats have discovered Boquete. Most of the European Union is represented, and I know of at least one Egyptian.

Though you'll hear at least a half-dozen foreign languages in Boquete, English is the lingua franca of the expat community. Many locals, especially the younger set and those involved in tourism or service, are fluent in English. Knowing some Spanish would be helpful and appreciated by the native Spanish speakers, but it's not necessary for building a rich and full life here.

The second big appeal of Boquete for foreign retirees is the dynamic and like-minded community. Boquete's expat community is one the liveliest and most established not only in Panama, but also in the world. Expats here are energetic and engaged. From tourism and real estate to restaurants and pubs, from schools and charities to shops and services, Boquete retirees are actively involved in the local economy, all striving to improve their town and benefiting from the ever-improving quality of life as a result.

Social pursuits are an important pastime in Boquete and another appeal for the would-be retiree. The Lion's Club and Rotary Club have Boquete branches. Numerous common-interest groups meet regularly. Charities and volunteer organizations also bring people together.

Boquete's infrastructure is more advanced than that of the average town in Panama's interior. Internet, roads, banks, potable water, reliable electricity, cable and cell reception are all available and reliable. The town does lack a large, U.S.-style grocery store. However, while I'm sure some Boquetenos wouldn't mind seeing a big grocery chain move in, I suspect that most residents like things the way they are, especially as you'll find several large U.S.-style groceries, as well as a PriceSmart for bulk buying, just 45 minutes down the road in David, Panama's second-largest city and the capital of Chiriqui province.

Kathleen Peddicord is the founder of the Live and Invest Overseas publishing group. With more than 28 years experience covering this beat, Kathleen reports daily on current opportunities for living, retiring and investing overseas in her free e-letter. Her newest book, How To Buy Real Estate Overseas, published by Wiley & Sons, is the culmination of decades of personal experience living and investing around the world.

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