Why We Left Costa Rica for Panama

By Cindy Peck

We sold our business in Costa Rica last year and started discussing our next move.  The negatives of living in Costa Rica started to outweigh the positives.  Taxes kept going up, the cost of living was skyrocketing, gas was over $5.00 a gallon, and there was a high duty to pay on all imported goods — all this added up to a desire to look elsewhere.  Friends who had lived in Costa Rica  for 20+ years were fed up and moving out.  It was time for change and all arrows pointed toward Panama.

The year before, we had gone on a driving tour through our neighboring country (Panama).  We crossed the border from Costa Rica into Panama at Paso Canoas and immediately noticed the change.  First off, there were two lanes of freshly paved highway with street lights and shoulders!  Before you knew it, we saw a McDonalds!  (Which made David very, very happy.)

panama usa europe real estate costa rica

Ocean view from Cindy’s new home in Panama

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Upon arriving in the first big city of David, we were knocked out by the selection in the local supermarket.  Along with the fresh veggies and fruit were Pepperidge Farm and the Pillsbury Dough Boy! And the prices where great, too. We made a left turn up to the world-renowned coffee-growing town of Boquete.  Here in the Chiriqui mountains, this sleepy, picturesque town produces some of the best coffee in the world. In fact, in 2007, a pound of their famous Geisha brand coffee beans sold for $300.   That part of Panama is so beautiful, but a little cool and damp for our tastes.

After a couple of days of exploring the local mountain byways by rental scooter, we packed the car up and headed over to the Caribbean coast and the island archipelago of Bocos del Toro.  Here, after a 45-minute boat ride, we stepped off onto the main island of Bocas del Toro, where it is always party time. Renting bicycles is the way to go here, and you can pedal around the island in less than two hours.  One of our favorite memories is the three-day charter on a catamaran sailboat that took us to the beautiful and desolate overnight destination of the Zapote Islands.

We worked our way east to Panama City. I can’t say the country is any more beautiful than Costa Rica, but the opportunities here were obvious at every turn.  Cranes everywhere, condo projects sold out, and new ones starting all up and down the Pacific Coast.  We decided we were going to give it a whirl.  The problem in Panama is not making a living, it’s deciding where best to focus your efforts. We have a lot of skills and have started several businesses we have sold and done well with in the United States and in Costa Rica.

We found a place to live at a small vacation rental on the beach in Playa Corona, about 13km from Coronado.  We agreed to co-manage the property with the owner who wanted to travel the world.  What a great set-up!  We still had lots of time on our hands to pursue other endeavors, and a free place to live.  We started to manage several properties in the area, and within a three-week period we were generating enough income to pay for all our living expenses.  Once you have a place to live, Panama is much more affordable than Costa Rica.  The price of food is at least 25% lower.  Gas is about 30% lower.

The availability of food items and the niceties from the States are  really nice side benefit, as well.  The prices of vechicles are a lot less than in Costa Rica, and here we drive a nice 2010 Hyundai Santa Fe diesel that we bought for $15,000.  In Costa Rica I bought a 1997 Montero Sport for $12,000; cars are very expensive in Costa Rica.

We also discovered that getting your Friendly Nations Visa in Panama is a very simple and relatively inexpensive process.  After you have your Visa you become a permanent resident after about a year.  You can work legally and are entitled to healthcare and other incentives that the Panamanian Government is putting in place to entice people from other countries to come and start businesses in Panama.

When we do go back to the States, I hear people complaining about the government, the president, the taxes and the overall state of our country.  I don’t think a lot of people realize that you do have a choice.  You do not have to live under the negativity being generated by the economy and government in the US.  I highly urge anyone contemplating a trip to Panama to “see what all the hoopla is about” — take the plunge, book your ticket and come on down.  The weather is great here and you will find out for yourself how easy it is to live in Panama.

Costa Rica – Panama Border / Frontera Costa Rica – Panama

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