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How One Texas Couple Saved Their Retirement

Kathleen Peddicord

Robert Coleby worked as a firefighter in Corpus Christie, Texas, for 26 years. Over the past few years, as retirement was drawing near, Coleby and his wife, Katherine, came to a realization that was a bit of a shock:

They wouldn't be able to retire on Coleby's pension. It would barely cover their basic expenses. And the home equity and investment accounts they'd figured would supplement the pension were going to amount, it became clear, to much less than they'd been counting on. To continue enjoying the standard of living they had now, one or both of them would have to keep on working.

Robert and Katherine met about eight years ago. Finding "the one" at this later stage of life was a surprise for both of them, and a gift that they didn't take for granted. As they explain it, once they'd found each other, they "went crazy," doing everything they could think of to embrace their new life together including sky diving, salsa dancing and rock climbing.

When the reality of their retirement prospects in Corpus Christie began to set in, they didn't hesitate. Robert and Katherine took action. They'd only just started their lives together. They weren't about to let something like a global recession get in the way of the future they had in mind. Rather than moaning and groaning about the challenges facing retirees in the U.S., they opted out of Corpus Christie and the U.S.

Last year, Robert and Katherine moved from Corpus Christie, Texas, to Capira, Panama, a small town about an hour outside Panama City. This puts them near enough to the big city but also near the beach and in a region where it's possible to live a full and interesting life on very little.

Robert and Katherine understood the choice they were making. Capira is not an expat community. Living here, they knew they'd be forced to learn to speak Spanish, and would be living among Panamanians. They've settled in an all-Panamanian development, where their rent is $300 a month for a small house with a garden.

Robert and Katherine arranged to have all their personal stuff shipped to them from Corpus Christie. Until it arrived, they made an adventure of starting over from nothing. They referred to themselves as "babies" during this getting-established stage. "We had to relearn everything all over again. It was like we're seeing the entire world for the first time," Katherine says. "Yes, it was a little intimidating, but, really, we had so much fun. It was the time of our lives."

Shortly after they'd arrived in Panama, Robert lost his passport. The couple panicked, thinking their visa paperwork would be stuck as a result. But they had a good lawyer who helped them to navigate that minor crisis and managed the process to obtain their pensionado visas for them.

With this visa status, Robert and Katherine are eligible for discounts off almost everything, from prescription medications and doctor's visits to restaurant meals and hotel nights. Their first month in Panama, the couple enrolled in a total-immersion Spanish-language program. They took advantage of their pensioner status to save 50 percent off the cost of staying Monday through Thursday at a downtown Panama City hotel while they were attending classes. Then, each Friday, they'd return to their new Capira rental home. "It was the best thing we could have done to help us prepare for our new lives in small town Panama," Katherine says.

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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