After years of adventure and searching I have finally settled in the place that defines my Paradise. But at what cost? As they say in the movies, “Everything comes with a price.” What happens then if we look behind the curtain and sort through all the hype? What do we find scribbled on the back of the pretty postcard of the “perfect” paradise?
Let’s start by looking at the reality of economics. Living full-time in the islands of Bocas del Toro, Panama almost certainly makes a financial impact. On one hand, my husband and I can live here at a third of what it cost me to live in our condo in Boulder, Colorado. But on the other hand, the wage scale here is very low and unless you become a resident of Panama (I will discuss the relative simplicity of this in another article) you cannot legally be employed in Panama. However, this does not mean that your talents and skills are not needed and welcomed here. Fortunately for me, as an International Real Estate Consultant with my own business, I am able to live comfortably while I help others find their personal paradise. (Stay tuned for an interesting article on how to produce income in the Caribbean community of Bocas del Toro).
Rental rates for moderately furnished apartments (close to or on the sea) range from $400 to $1200 depending on the location and available amenities like cable TV, internet, utilities and furnishings. This is about a third to half of what a comparable unit would rent for in most US locations. House rental follows along the same lines for a slightly higher price tag. Utilities are amazingly cheap. Our total monthly utility bill for our 1 bedroom apartment is always less than $60 and often half that much. Most of that cost is electric and we run a fan in each room 24/7. We do this more to keep the humidity down than for cooling although we do have a modern, energy-efficient air conditioner that we usually run in our bedroom for 30 minutes or so right at bedtime.
This brings up the reality of climate. The region of Bocas del Toro is essentially a rain forest. That means that we get somewhere over 130 inches of rain per year. (That’s almost eleven feet of rainfall) That does not mean that it rains all day, every day. In fact there is a dry season where it may not rain or rain very little for weeks at a time. What it does mean is that the humidity is high from both the rainfall and the proximity to the sea. Keeping things from molding and/or rusting requires a constant vigilance and some preemptive efforts. On the other hand, my skin loves it and requires far less attention that when I am in the dry northern climates.
One of the other unexpected inconveniences I discovered in my Bocas Paradise was the difficulty in finding quality items of convenience. This runs the full range of every category from kitchenware to tools to electronics to appliances. What I discovered was that although many of the name brands I am used to are available here, (usually at a very reasonable price), they are manufactured strictly for sale outside of the United States and do not meet the standards required by the US consumer base. That is not to say that one cannot get by with what is available locally. It just means that you either need to get used to replacing on a regular basis or bring things you can’t live without from wherever you feel comfortable with the standards of quality.
There are always choices to be made and learning curves to absorb whenever moving to a new location, especially if it is overseas. To bring everything to your new location, including the kitchen sink, (which in some cases might not be a bad idea) it can become expensive and complicated. If something breaks that you import, it is almost always difficult to find parts or technicians that can service it. It’s a bit of a trade off and ultimately up to individual preferences. When we came down, I brought the bare minimum of things and have gradually filled in the blanks from there. We upgraded our kitchen with reasonably efficient and modern appliances bought here in Panama, brought new quality cookware and utensils a little at a time from US as part of our luggage and learned to do without a few creature comforts. All in all, a small price to pay.
In my next article I will go into more detail about some of the other aspects of life in Bocas del Toro and Panama like transportation, financial management and health care.
Article by: Anne Michelle Wand, United Country Bocas del Toro