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Panama: Defying the Retirement Stereotype

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Written by Matt   
Monday, 20 July 2009 09:04
Panama RetirementPanama's been in the news lately for its increasingly popularity as a retirement haven amongst middle aged foreigners looking to fly the coop. Why? Because descending are the days of boring Florida retirements, capsule of gated golf cart communities and sterile old-age compounds built around the obligatory bingo parlor. People are relocating to Panama, in the face of a world economic crisis, less for retirement's preconceived characteristics and more for a new and challenging life outside the comfort zone. Tim Ferris, author of The Four-Hour Workweek and the consummate cheeseball, makes the following three-tiered argument to convince readers that the notion of retirement is inherently flawed:

1. Retirement is predicated on the assumption that you dislike what you are doing during the most physically capable years of your life, which is a nonstarter - nothing can justify that sacrifice.

2. Most people will never be able to retire and maintain even a hotdogs-for-dinner standard of living. Even one million is chump change in a world where traditional retirement could span 30 years and inflation lowers your purchasing power 2-4% per year. The math doesn't work. The golden years become lower-middle-class life revisited. A bittersweet ending.

3. If the math does work, it means that you are one ambitious, hardworking machine. If that's the case, guess what? One week into retirement, you'll be so damn bored that you'll want to stick bicycle spokes in your eyes. You'll probably opt to look for a new job or start another company. Kinda defeats the purpose of waiting, doesn't it?

The third reasoning is my favorite and, what I believe to be, the reason most people retire to Panama. Panama provides two important aspects of "retirement" that often go overlooked in the press: those being (1) the amount of market niches that are free for the taking and (2) the challenges that living abroad presents. You can rave about the boring stuff all you want (climate, taxes, lower cost of living, lower medical costs...etc) but it is these two characteristics that truly describe the retirees I know who have made it to Panama's shores.
Market Voids
Panama has always been a relatively simple country in terms of industry. Trade and banking were the breadwinners while agriculture, (and now) real estate and tourism introduced themselves as viable backup. As a result, Panama oozes with entrepreneurial niches - niches that are being seized by enthusiastic and professional retirees from other countries who, in reality, would get really bored under the traditional retirement pretense. How about the fact that Panama City, a cosmopolitan capital, has no more than ten yoga studios, health food stores, or Indian, Thai, Vietnamese restaurants...COMBINED! With the increasing flow of foreigners making The Great Panama Jump , retirees experience a jumpstartesque beginning: the chance to open business in a burgeoning country (Panama's one of only two countries in the region that continues to grow) with constantly imported fan base and an increasingly large number of cohorts.

If you've retired in Panama, and you don't fit into the category above, you almost certainly belong here. Life in the USA or Canada or Europe became dulled over the course of fifty-or-so years and Panama, as a contrast, breathes a hearty sense of change. If you're not exploring the challenges of Panama's forgotten Caribbean coast or scuba diving off Pedasi, if you're not being challenged by opening a coffee shop in Boquete or opening a B&B, then you simply default to the challenge that is life in Panama: things like language hurdles, cultural immersion, and adopting new perspectives. Things that make life interesting and new.

Is this to say Panama retirement doesn't include a number of less-savory challenges and obstacles to older people? Of course not. However that which ties everything together - that which transforms the uncomfortable into the stimulating, the complicated into the self-improving - is the attitude of almost all retirees I know in Panama. An attitude of acceptance and boldness in defying the retirement stereotype.


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Last Updated on Monday, 20 July 2009 09:06