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Someone recently asked me if I would ever retire to Panama and I said, conclusively, that I would not. To serve as preeminent defense, I am aware that “if I don’t want to retire here, I can just go somewhere else.” This is important. But below are also my feelings on what Panama inherently lacks to truly make it an international retirement destination and not just some fly-by-night trend.
This article is a cultural criticism with a difference...you know that I am a member in good standing of the very culture I criticize.
When competing with the already-established retirement destinations of the world, there are of course major differences to take into account. Below, I’ve attempted to set apart the ones that would, for me, eliminate Panama from my list of choices. Rising costs: The original draw to Panama for retirees was that it was inexpensive: that you could hire help and buy food and travel for considerably less than at home, thus improving the overall quality of living. Everything in Panama, with the exception of a few creature comforts, has gone up in price diluting this once-legit selling feature. It would not be uncommon for a retiree here in Panama to spend the same, if not more, on a basket of goods, than would someone in Florida. Work ethic: You are the company you keep and when I retire, I want to surround myself in some part of the world with prompt and hard working individuals, traits which simply are not engrained in Panamanian culture. Not only is it difficult to get things done relying on a lazy person, but the laziness has a tendency of seeping into you via Panamanian osmosis. I want to get sharper over my retirement years, not more dull. Food: Good food is an integral part of my life and I could not see myself retiring to anywhere the dining scene or the accessibility to high-end products is anything below spectacular. Innovative chefs, gourmet delivery services, access to new ethnic foods are all lacking in Panama. While it is, comparatively speaking, significantly better than any of the surrounding countries, the food in Panama’s capital (the best the country offers) still leaves a lot to be desired to a true foodie like myself. Amenities: If I were to retire tomorrow, I would want to live roughly 1-2 hours outside a cosmopolitan city but I would still ostentatiously demand all the amenities one would expect with comfortable living: gourmet supermarkets, golf courses, airports, hospitals…etc: none of which are really up to speed in Panama’s interior. Granted, development takes time. But for those considering retiring today, the infrastructure isn’t there yet. Convenience: Panama is inherently an inconvenient country in many ways. When I retire, I don’t want to have to worry about overly-suspicious bank tellers, traffic debacles, non-electronic immigration departments, bad customer service, juega vivo: which is to say, things that cause discomfort and waste my time. The majority of things I do in Panama today are inconvenient and I consider myself a pretty patient and sensible person. In short, when I retire, I don’t want to spend my last days waiting, like we did last night, twenty-five minutes for a BigMac with no ketchup.Authenticity: For some time, I have been haunted by the contemporariness and the drive for modernity that has emerged in Panama over my experimental time here. I have found myself under the suspicion that the things I’d want in retirement – the comforts, the challenges, the company, and the values – aren’t necessarily a perfect fit for Panama, no matter where in the country I’d choose to live. If I was to overlook all the superficialities, I would search for, above anything else, a sense of authenticity, which is simultaneously something I feel Panama, in its rush for development, is losing on a daily basis. A common counter-argument, in fact one that I’ve made before, would be to say that the aforementioned challenges are what makes retirement in Panama so…fulfilling. As a young person, I don’t find them harsh enough to turn me away, but that is not to say, however, that when I am older and ready to retire, that I’ll be nearly as forgiving. This article is a cultural criticism with a difference. You know full well that I invest, form lifelong relationships, and cherish Panama with a special part of my heart. You also know that I am a member in good standing of the very culture I criticize. I have attempted to explain a trend – retirement to Panama – by digesting what such a move would mean to me. I would say that I’m not alone in wanting many of these things when I retire. It is a universal longing to desire the genuine and the comfortable, perfection and pleasure. Panama is a tremendous country in so many ways (business, vacation, investment). It’s just that, for me, retirement wouldn’t happen to be one of them.
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