Aging Out of Place in Boquete, Panama


“I’m volunteering with the Boquete Community Playhouse, doing production and stage managing. There are lots of retired professionals here who used to work in TV and Hollywood.”

Chris Jones hadn’t planned on becoming a croupier, but he was living in Las Vegas and needed a job, so he ended up working in the casinos. Twenty-five years later, divorced and the father of two grown children who he had raised alone, Chris was looking at retirement. Determined to take his time and make a good choice, he took a tour of Panama geared to retirees who are looking for a new place to call home. The Panamanian government’s retiree benefits programs are considered among the best in the world. After visiting a variety of places—from Panama City’s country-club gated communities to little rural villages—he found Boquete.

Nestled in Panama’s mountain highlands about 60 miles from Costa Rica and known for its natural beauty, Boquete has a sleepy small-town feel with a cosmopolitan slant—it’s a favorite destination for American expats (it’s been dubbed “Gringolandia”) and is home to the annual Boquete Jazz & Blues Festival.

The town appealed to Chris, and at age 65 he made the move to a lush, green place with lots of rainbows and a glorious view of the mountains—a far cry from the desert he was leaving behind.

Chris spoke with Senior Planet by phone from his home in Boquete.

Chris Jones on his balcony in Boquete
What appeals to you about Panama?

I was looking for a place that was inexpensive, welcoming to Americans and easy to travel back and forth to from the US..

I’m not pleased with the U.S. government. I remember times when things were more democratic, not controlled by party politics. Panama has a stable government and a strong economy, and with the second canal open, it’s even better. The other factor is that my retirement funds are limited. I’m living on a fixed income with Social Security and a small pension, which isn’t stigmatized here like it is in the US. Panama is friendly to retirees—both locals and foreigners—and the government even has programs geared to seniors. Restaurants have mandated discounts for people age 55-plus.

The Panamanian people are friendly and polite. They’re not hostile because you’re white. They always say hello and goodbye. If you go to the grocery store, you greet each other before you do business, you don’t just blurt out a question. There are many indigenous people from a number of tribes; in fact, the largest indigenous tribe in Central America lives in Western Panama. They wear traditional dress and are dirt poor, but seem happy and not envious.

Why Boquete?

I picked it because of the climate. It’s in western Panama in the shadow of the Baru volcano, which at 11,401 feet is the highest point in Panama. There are around 20 microclimates here, and your local climate depends on where on the mountain you are. My side is a little less humid.  Any time of day or night I can go outside in a T-shirt and be comfortable. Everything is lush and green. They have a type of rain called the bajareque, which is a little denser than a mist, but it’s inconsequential and no one pays attention to it. A lot of people move to the coast, but that’s like Florida, way too hot and humid for me.

Besides the climate, there’s a well established expat community here. Boquete has amenities, and what you can’t get here you can get in David, the second largest city in Panama,  about 40 minutes away. David has stores like Target, Costco, Home Depot…

Tell us about life in Boquete.

I’m living in an apartment under the terrace of a big house, which is standard. A lot of people build western-style houses with terraces on the side of the mountain to enjoy the view, and under their terraces they create apartments. My apartment is about 1,000 square feet with one bedroom. The windows are all sliders that I can open, so my whole living room is a terrace. I have floor to ceiling windows, it’s beautiful. I often find myself spending my time just looking out the window or walking out onto the porch in front of my house to look at the mountains.

There’s an amazing range of available housing here, depending on what you’re willing to put up with in terms of native-style living or what you want in modern amenities. I have nice appliances, wifi TV, Netflix.

You do have to put up with a more primitive infrastructure here. TV and internet are satellite, not cable. Electricity is not as advanced, so it’s subject to outages much more often than in the US. It’s usually not a real concern, but if a power line gets knocked down by a tree or there’s a severe storm it takes a day or three or more to get the power repaired. Some people have generators.

Food is inexpensive and good—depending on your preferences. If you go into a standard Panamanian restaurant you can get a big lunch or dinner plate with chicken or pork and rice and beans and salad for $3.50. But if you want to eat gourmet style, we have those restaurants as well, and prices are like in the States. In the middle, there are a lot of places that do international cooking for moderate prices. You can get an Italian meal for $10. There are restaurants where you can get burgers or pizza for a reasonable price.

What do you and other retired expats do to keep busy in Boquete?

There are lots of volunteer groups in the community of Boquete, and not just among expats.  Many groups help the locals, who are poor. A couple of foundations help the handicapped. There are two or three different animal rescue clinics and a community theater.

There are plenty of other activities, too—quilting, birding, hiking, traveling. We have a photography club, a reading club, all kinds of things. There are Facebook pages for Boquete, and the website Boquete Ning posts info about club events, library schedules and other local resources.

I volunteer with an animal group, a spay-and-neuter clinic that brings in vets from Costa Rica. We do 175 to 200 animals a day. I’m also working with the Boquete Community Playhouse doing production and stage managing. We put on as many as six  productions a year. There are lots of retired professionals here who used to work in TV and Hollywood, and several with vast amounts of experience.

As far as outdoor activities, Boquete is in a volcanic valley with rifts and canyons, so there are lots of rivers for river rafting. Most of the rivers are small, but with waterfalls, so there are neat places to go for a picnic or a day trip. The area also has a couple of golf courses, plus there’s biking, or you can hike or rent ATVs and go off into the jungle.

How’s your social life?

Great! I’ve made more friends here in a few months than I did in my neighborhood in Las Vegas in 25 years.

Whereas in the States everyone’s busy doing their own thing, the expat community here is close-knit. In Boquete we have a Tuesday market, and most of the expat community shows up.  It’s easy to meet people, and we often get together for an activity or event—there are presentations of local interest; local bars have bands playing and DJs. When I first moved here my neighbors were hikers and birders, and they invited me to go places with them. Now I have friends from the animal group, and I’m meeting people from the theater group. It’s an ever expanding network. If you’re interested in something and make that interest known, there’s probably someone or two who will take you or show you.

Can you get along without speaking Spanish?

If you want to limit your circle to English speakers you can do that. You can live your entire life without speaking Spanish. But many Panamanians don’t speak English, so if want to get to know the community, you need basic Spanish.  I’m learning Spanish slowly. There are at least one or two Spanish schools and lots of individuals who offer Spanish lessons.

What are the cultural differences?

Too many people come here with preconceptions. You need to understand the culture before making the move. Our culture in the US is based on book learning, on written history. Latin American cultures were once colonies subjugated by Europeans. When the conquerors left, native cultures that survived were based on spoken history rather than a written history that was developed from the point of view of a foreign slave master. Immigrants came to America to be free from oppression, but Central American natives didn’t have that choice, so they’re less tied to personal advancement, they don’t have the drive to get everything done right now—their priority is family. If they say they’re going to be there, they may not show up on time but will show up eventually. It’s a tranquilo culture. You have to accept their point of view to get along.

What’s the best thing about living here?

I like being tranquilo. It’s laid back, there’s no pressure, I can do what I want to do when I want to do it.

What’s the worst?

I miss mail service—essentially, there isn’t any. Houses don’t have addresses and everything is general delivery. There are post offices, but you have to go there. If you buy something on Amazon it has to go to Miami first, and postage costs extra. Lots of things are available here, but they’re made in Europe and South America, so sometimes you just have to go to Amazon and pay extra to get what you want.

How do you stay in touch with your family?

I have two daughters and a granddaughter who live in Vegas, and we communicate by email.  There are direct flights to Vegas for $650 to $800 depending on time of year. My children haven’t come to visit me yet, but plans are afoot. I’ve been back twice since I moved here less than year ago. I do miss them, but we discussed this before I left, I didn’t just pick up and take off, they’re aware of my reasoning and desires.

How about healthcare?

Healthcare here is pretty good. You don’t have to fly back for major procedures. They have world class hospitals in Panama City, good hospitals in David and three or four clinics in Boquete. Unless you’re in a very remote place, most medical providers speak some English—my dentist speaks English. Doctors are knowledgeable and don’t charge very much.

I have no serious chronic health conditions, just high blood pressure and cholesterol, so I’ve chosen to not be insured in Panama. I pay the doctor $12 a visit and if I need lab work, an X-ray and blood work is $14. But there is a national insurance plan that covers everyone, including permanent residents, for treatment at public hospitals and clinics. There are also private Panamanian insurance plans from $400 that cover serious conditions. If I had serious health problems I’d stay here for treatment unless it was cheaper to fly back and use Medicare. Some people do that.

Tell us what “aging with attitude” mean to you.

Adopting an attitude that allows you to live a life where you age gracefully, enjoy yourself, adapt to and incorporate the environment and culture you live in.

The Bottom Line

Living Expenses: Moderate You can live comfortably if frugally on $2,000 a month.  Expenses run $400 to $500 in addition to rent, including gas, food, entertainment and car insurance. Rent varies widely from $200 a month in a rural village near Boquete to $1000 for a large, well equipped modern apartment in town. Home prices are similar to a moderate U.S. city: $200,000 to $300,000. This site has more information about home prices.

Climate: Pleasant Boquete has been called “the land of eternal springtime.” The low is rarely less than 65F, and the high rarely rises above 80F, depending on time of year.

Expat Community: Growing Panama is an international expatriate destination. International Living calls it the best place in world to retire, and Boquete the best place in Panama. Some 20% of Boquete’s population of 23,000 are expats from various countries.

Crime: Low There aren’t any gangs of pickpockets in Boquete, but there are burglaries. Violence is rare.

Visas: Easy As a retiree, getting a resident visa is relatively easy as long as you can show $1100 a month in income. But there is a lot of paperwork, and it’s a good idea to hire a Panamanian lawyer.  You can apply for a visa from outside Panama but must be in the country to finalize it. Here are more details.

Human Rights/civil rights: Comparable with the US Panama is a multiparty constitutional democracy with free elections. According to a US State Department report, the country has widespread low level corruption and harsh prison conditions. Laws protect women against violence and are generally upheld by the courts, and indigenous people  are well integrated into the mainstream.

Best place to stay Want to check the place out? Chris Jones recommends El Oasis ($70+). There’s also the more modern Downtown Suites ($70+) which is modern and also cheaper hostels with private rooms ($30+). AirBnB is also available.

Hotel Oasis, Boquete


Top photo: © CC Cali Hoff 


25 responses to “Aging Out of Place in Boquete, Panama

  1. I think that Panama is a place magnificent for retired persons.
    Of course in this moment due that I have losen the faith in the American justice and the fraudulent electiones this one year. This Cuban American want live the rest of my year in a country totally freedom. I will go to Panama at Boquete

  2. Chris Jones, thank you for your article! Alot of great info revealed from your experience.

    I’m looking to relocate there with my fiance and developmentally disabled daughter. She has adequate monthly income to pay her bills, but would require either – 24 hour care in our home, or else some form of institutional care (group home or nursing home).

    Do you have any knowledge of the Panama heath care system with a situation like the one I just described – or else, can you recommend any Panamanian agencies that I check with?

  3. Can anyone tell me what life would be like in Boquete for a legally blind woman? Would I have any handicap access or assistance? Retina specialists? Also I’ve read a lot about the low cost of food, but it all seems like cheap junk food for low cost meals. Fried chicken and pork with rice. I rarely eat like that as a diabetic. What are prices like for a nice steak or seafood meal? And lastly, so far, what I’ve read about cost of living is a little confusing. My husband and I would only have our social security, totaling around $2200/month. Is that doable with a yard for gardening? Thanks for any input you can give!!

  4. I’ve enjoyed Chris’s input. I have just recently changed my retirement plans to living in Panama. The climate in Boquete is exactly what I need and want.
    I’m joining this site now and hope to meet you in 2021 as a new neighbor.

  5. I moved to boquete in feb and after my car was put in impound because I drove on ladys day and finally getting my car out after I paid almost $1000 and moving back to texas here during virus lock down ladys get 3 days a week and men only get 2 days a week its like being in prison

      1. Hi Liz, having the different days out for men and women is a temporary measure that is being taken as a response to the coronavirus. I don’t know when it started and have no idea when it will end. They are also not allowing Americans into the country at this time.

  6. I’ve had the pleasure of driving throughout large parts of Panama during my three extended visits there. My last visit there was for six weeks. I stayed in a great, sleepy canal zone town of Gamboa, just a thirty minute drive to Panama City. It’s at the “end of the road”, so to speak and surrounded by lush tropical forest. Boquete has been a destination on two occasions. It’s wonderful in many ways. It’s a bit far from the capital where you will find great hospitals and that international flavor, but all things considered, it would be a top choice for me if I decide to spend winters there. After spending almost 20 years of winters in south Florida (Fort Lauderdale), I now wish that I had taken the leap for Panama sooner. I’m about to turn 62. P.S. driving outside of the capital is not so bad.

  7. I have a question that I have not seen yet. I would like to find out if there are any nice facilities where a retired expat couple could live, like a seniors complex or if needed an assisted living facility where a couple could reside? This of course is a ridiculous cost in the US or Canada. But I am wondering if it would be a reasonable idea for our future in Panama? Thank you for any assistance in this matter.

    1. Just a thought Brenda, I have not lived in Boquete so don’t have the local knowledge but have lived in Panama, Mexico, and Columbia. I would think that you could hire local help, semi-skilled at least to come in and live in your home/apartment for pretty much full time care. At a fairly reasonable cost. And Latinos are excellent caring people! Much more so than the states.
      Just a thought. And by the way, even it you don’t speak Spanish, you can buy simple translators that are amazing for a hundred or so. There is one for around $200 that doesn’t even require the internet!

  8. Nice article, very helpful. I’m living in Florida, hoping to be living in Boquete within a year (after my first visit, of course!). Chris (and others), do you know about the mail services available? All your U.S. mail is sent to the mail service address; they scan the envelopes and email the images to you. You can mark the ones you want them to open and they will scan the contents and email those to you. If you want, they’ll accumulate the ones you actually want the original hard copy, and mail those to you. It’s very very convenient. I used a well known one, St. Brendan’s Isle in Green Cove Springs, FL. Ran about $50/month for a combination of all the above services. Saves a lot of headaches (and they weed out junk mail!). Good luck.

  9. Has anyone retired in Panama and also lived or retired in Costa Rica, the Philippines or Thailand? If so how do these countries compare. Any input or scenario would be appreciated. Won’t be ready for 6-8 years but am doing research and definately will be on the move once retired. Feel the goose bumps already. I was previously married to a Filipina and also to a girl from Vietnam and have visited these countries many times along with many others but never long term. Never been to Panama or Ecuador but both on my bucket list to check out. I have also visited and like alot but again only visited, did not live long term. Thanks to everyone, Mike

    1. I lived in Philippines 6 years was great they are nicer there so I am getting ready to move out of this place where men can only go out 2 days a week but women can go out 3 days per week that’s not right

  10. Great article, thanks. My “hobby” of sorts the last couple of years has been researching the vest best countries to retire to. I’ve whittled it down to Ecuador and Panama. Panama tops my list for an array of reasons, so now it’s time to zero in on an area – and Boquete seems to be our favorite. Can’t wait to visit at some point.

    Like many, I’m fed up with US politics, the denigration of families, and disintegration of our very moral fabric. This is not the America I grew up in. Naturally I’d also like to stretch our retirement dollars as far as possible. The only downside I can see is the increase of prices, especially real estate, as the community continually grows as an expat haven. I like the small town charm, but am afraid it may simply be overrun in a few short years – which also means traffic, sprawl and even higher costs of living.

    For this reason, we’ll also have a look at Volcan – it’ll be interesting to see how things play out. (The only thing holding back at this point is that I’m caregiver to my 98 year old mom! Hoping to get her to 100!) We also have a couple of condo to sell…

    Any feedback would be welcome. Blessings to everyone!

    Gary Phillips, 65, Hendersonville, NC

  11. Interesting article. A couple of friends are moving to Boquete soon. They are very impressed by the costs and the financial advantages of living there as a senior.

    I am disabled and wheelchair dependent. Would I have difficult getting around for normal living circumstances? Would I have difficulty finding good medical care for more complicated medical care?

    Thanks for the insight as I, like so many, are becoming very disappointed in the politics in the US.


  12. I’m retired and have recently sold my home here in Florida. I will be “wheels up” this Sunday looking to settle into my new life in Boteque after completing a 5 day orientatoon with Jackie from Panama Tours.

    Like several comments above I’ve just read … I’m well over and disgusted with the divisive & morally bankrupt American political landscape. The cost of daily living financially and indifferent attitudes has taken it’s toll … it’s time to return to civility and a less stressful way of life.

    I found this post most informative & instructive.
    Thank you! Best, Ralph

  13. I enjoyed Chris’s perspective. I am looking at retirement there and would love to communicate with Chris about it. If you still have a contact for him could you please forward this email to him? I am 69 years old, single and currently live outside of Minneapolis, MN. I will also try to reach him through the Boquete Community Playhouse. My name is Mark Otto.

  14. I drank the cool aid, and I’,m coming to Boquete in late December.. Excited about the massive change in moving to Baquete. The lack street address’s no postal service is hard absorb. I’ve spent a years reading and seeing U-Tube shorts, and tring to convince myself that moving to Boquete is the right thing to do.

    Understannding the Banking system, and some of the hurdles trying to deal with the difficuties that come with dealing with the Boquete Banks. In a couple of months I’ll be able to join the Boquete Commuinity Players Group,and the hopefuly Expats have the right aswers.

    Enjoyed your article and candor about your life and experiences..Hope top meet you in January at one of the Expat meeting.

  15. Hi Chris,

    You did a very nice job with this article. Boquete is a very special place, with some amazing and interesting people for all over the world. An additional response to ‘how do expats keep busy,’ one can be involved as much or as little as one chooses.

    See you at the next Amigos de Animales Clinic,

  16. Chris,

    Thank you so much for sharing a lot of the inside details about living in Boquete. My wife and I are planning a visit in the near future to plan our final transition, and hopefully will sit down with you and find out even more. I hear that Shangri-La doesn’t exist, but I am looking for a place that Dorothy and I will be part of the community. One last note – I lived in Germany for five years, and since no “family” was around during holidays, we connected with others at a different level.

    Take care, and we hope to meet you soon.

    Tom and Dorothy

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