My husband Clyde and I have been fortunate enough to live in not one, but two of the best retirement destinations in the world. For five years, we have enjoyed life near Coronado, Panama. We bought a house, made lots of friends, and relished the warm, balmy air that surrounded us on a daily basis.
Then we started to travel and found out how big a world it was and realized that we wanted to experience expat life elsewhere. After visiting many countries in Europe, we decided to settle in Portugal. Our life in Portugal began on the Silver Coast near the town of Caldas da Rainha. Last summer we decided to try to move further south and now live in the Algarve region of Portugal.
Often people ask me why we left Panama and which country is the best. Comparing two totally different countries is like comparing night and day, but I will try to give a brief overview of each, in my opinion …
Portugal offers perfectly paved roads all over the country, making travel effortless. Many roads require chargeable tolls which can get expensive while providing a more direct route, ultimately making them the more cost effective choice. Panama has only one main road that runs through the whole country and during the tourist season it can get very congested.
Portugal has crystal clear drinking water which is in abundance all year round. Panama has a four month dry season without rain. Water sources dwindle during these times, forcing the government to restrict unlimited water use to the general public. When we lived there we had reserve water tanks to use during those dry periods. Our water in Portugal costs around $ 78 per month, while in Panama we paid less than $ 10 per month.
Electricity in Portugal is expensive but efficient and in our years of living here it has never been depleted. In Panama, power outages were common in some areas, although short-lived. Because electricity is also expensive in Panama, propane is used more as an alternative. Dryers, water heaters, and cooking appliances tend to run on propane for a more affordable price.
Our electricity bill in Portugal is about $ 80 per month, but in Panama it was only $ 30, but that was five years ago. A propane tank in Panama costs $ 5 or less, but here in Portugal costs around $ 36.
Panama is hot and humid all year round which we loved, with temperatures hovering around 80 ° F most of the time. Its eight-month rainy season brings sunny mornings with sometimes heavy rains in the afternoon. Most of the people who live in Panama prefer the rainy season like we did.
Portugal offers four seasons with a variety of weather conditions to accommodate almost anyone. Winters bring wet and cold weather to the northern and central regions with less rain in the south. Summers tend to be hotter in the south and cooler in the north.
During our stay in Panama, we used private health care because it was very affordable. All over the country there are clinics, offering medical and dental services, often by English speaking professionals. The Coronado area, with its large expat population, is full of clinics, but the nearest large hospitals are a 90-minute drive away in Panama City.
While living in Panama I had surgery in a private hospital and my experience was wonderful. It cost $ 3,100, which included three days in the hospital. In Panama, doctors usually give patients their private cell phone number to use when needed.
Portugal offers private and public healthcare to foreigners living here and we have used both, but prefer to use the private system to avoid long waiting times. Here we can see an English speaking doctor for around $ 35 without insurance at nearby clinics. As in Panama, the doctors here are in no hurry and take their time to treat the whole patient. When we lived in central Portugal my husband had a cardiologist who we saw at the gym every morning. He always stopped to chat.
In Panama, we had health insurance with a high deductible because paying out of pocket was very affordable. Here in Portugal, we pay $ 350 per month for health insurance with no deductible, which pays 90% when the doctor is on the network and 80% when he is not.
Discounts for retirees
Panama wins the award for having the best retiree benefits in the world, another thing that I miss living there. Once established as pensionados we received a ton of perks on everything. We saved 50% on hotel rooms midweek and 30% on weekends; 25% reduction on plane tickets purchased on site; 25% reduction on restaurant meals; dental, medical, prescription drugs and more have all been cut.
In Portugal, discounts on museums, tourist attractions and transport are offered to people over 65, but nothing else.
Let’s face it, when we lived in Panama we stood out as ghosts among a nation of people with tanned skin and dark hair. In Portugal, since Europeans are of all skin and hair colors, we blend in well, until we open our mouths to speak. Portugal broadcasts films in their original language, usually in English with Portuguese subtitles. In Panama, we had the choice between a film dubbed in English or in Spanish. But movie prices in Panama cost about half of what they do in Portugal.
English is taught in schools here, so many Portuguese speak at least part of it, especially the younger generation. Although not recommended, it would be possible to live in Portugal and get by with little or no Portuguese. Large cities and the Algarve region have significantly more English-speaking Portuguese than in the north due to tourism and a strong presence of British expats.
During our five years in Panama, we found few Panamanians who spoke English. Apart from professionals like doctors, lawyers and real estate agents, every time we ventured into a store or a doctor’s office, we encountered the need to know Spanish. But having learned Spanish has helped us a lot with Portuguese, and for that we are grateful.
Cost of life
In Panama, we lived on about $ 2,000 a month after buying a house and a car. In Portugal, our monthly budget is between $ 2,400 and $ 3,000 per month, but that includes paying rent.
The truth is, there isn’t a truly perfect place to live in the world, and what’s right for one person may not be right for another. Having said that, we loved our time in Panama and we love our life in Portugal. You can’t ask for much more than that.
This story originally appeared on International Living.