Retirement from Canada to Panama Part 1

In October of 2011 my husband and I quit our jobs and began the search for a place in the sun to retire. I make it sound easy with that statement but it isn’t as simple as it sounds; where we started and where we ended up is very different.

My husband retired from the Canadian military in August of 2010 after 30 years of service. We knew as he was preparing to leave his lifetime career that we didn’t want to spend another 15+ years working and that we might have enough funds from his pension if we adjusted our living habits. In the meantime, three months after retiring it was obvious that my spouse was bored. He found a job doing something totally different than what he was used to as we worked towards our goal.

The First Steps

By July of 2011 we had sold our home, put the household goods that we hadn’t given away to our children or other family members in self-storage and moved ourselves into my mother’s condo. “Step outside the box” is somewhat cliché but how else do I get across that when we decided to retire to another country we really had to take a good look at what our comfort zone was? Chucking it all and moving away from friends, family, our jobs, our coffee place and everything we’d ever known was not a step taken lightly and was a serious emotional and financial commitment. We didn’t have buckets of money to waste and our goal was to live comfortably within our means. That meant trying to improve our life, not end up in financial ruin. Our story is about living a middle class life and making a plan. We started out with one country in mind but ended up with six possible places to consider!

We began by asking ourselves repeatedly; “Do we really want to do this?” This was something we did through the entire process. Part of that also meant that were we both on board and this was a team effort. If we had done a mental check in with each
other and if one of us were having second thoughts we would have put the brakes on the process regardless of where we were. Communication is very important through the process.

Our second step was research and keeping track of what we were learning. Our spreadsheet evolved from the realization that we shouldn’t get set on just one place. That maybe the first destination we had in mind wasn’t as perfect as it could be. Our research and spreadsheet showed that no one place is ever perfect and certainly Panama isn’t the place for everyone but it made our short list. Comparing the cost of living, immigration/residency regulations, ease of access to home, infrastructure etc. was what helped us build our list.

We did our research using the internet reading blogs of people who have gone before us, sites that provided information about retiring overseas such as this one and good old-fashioned books. The library, second-hand bookstores and Indigo/Chapters etc. are a good source of written material and most travel book companies carry “Living In ________” books. Surprisingly our first choice did not make the short list. Research really did pay off in our case.

Once we had narrowed it down to two places, Panama and Nicaragua we decided on a time line for a visit. After all anything can look good in pictures. We thought three weeks in each country would give us enough time to help us make our decision. Before we departed we had some idea of the areas in each country we wanted to visit.

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  1. Karen,
    Thank you for posting such an informative blog. I am also retired CF and looking to make a move to Panama in the near future with my new partner and our 3 boys…5,9,&11. I would love to connect with you to discuss further as I have many questions that you may be able to answer or at least point me in the right direction.

    Your fellow Canadian,

  2. I’ll make this one short since Im not sure if it will reach you.
    Ex-military myself, I’m looking to move to Panama this winter.
    One simple question for now.
    Where are all the Canadian expats in Panama?


    Josh Garon

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