A retired boomer moved from Florida to Panama to start life anew after her husband and son died. Everything is cheaper, she said, and life has been much calmer.

    Janet Sussman moved from Florida to Panama over a decade ago.

    Janet Sussman

    Janet Sussman moved from the US to Panama after a series of personal tragedies.She found the cost of living in Panama much lower and the community more supportive.Her new life involves house-sitting and enjoying a simpler, healthier lifestyle.

    Janet Sussman had her eyes set on her dream home: a cabin in the woods of upstate New York. But after a series of catastrophes, she decided to move far from the US to the coast of Panama.

    In 2006, her son died in a construction accident, six months after her husband had a major stroke. Sussman scrambled to return to school, take up multiple jobs, and move so her husband could live out his last years peacefully. After years of stress, she decided to relocate to Panama in 2012.

    Living costs are much cheaper, people are much more respectful and less overworked, and the country’s nature is what she desired. After working as a teacher for a few years, she now house-sits full-time, traveling the country while making some money.

    “We all have tragedies in our lives, and we need those,” Sussman said. “If not, you don’t appreciate the good things, and that’s why I think I have such a child-like awe of my travels.”

    Moving to Panama

    Sussman grew up in Philadelphia, but she and her husband wanted to move away before her kids grew up. They settled in Tarpon Springs, Florida, and Sussman got a job in the catering department for several hotels. She worked her way up to regional catering director for five hotels.

    She opened a nonprofit organization that ran a catering company training at-risk youth to obtain food safety certification licenses.

    However, as her organization was growing, her husband had a major stroke. Six months later, her eldest son died in a construction accident in 2006. Her son had planned to help Sussman and her husband build a log cabin on five acres in upstate New York, their “dream house” where they would retire.

    Around this time, she applied for a teaching position in Florida, but her offer was canceled. She worked three jobs, went to school, traveled two hours to see her husband each weekend, and struggled to pay her mortgage.

    Her husband decided he wanted to live his last years on the property where they would have their dream home, and they put a manufactured home on the property. He died in 2010. The 2008 recession was not particularly friendly to their wallets, either.

    “It was just one thing after another, and I was beside myself, but I still had to function. My other two children had already found their significant other,” Sussman said. “I didn’t know who I was in this new role. I didn’t know where to go from there.”

    In 2009, she first decided to visit Panama, taking a $79 round-trip Spirit flight. She felt she had lived there in a past life, and she almost instantly knew she wanted to move there. After a few more years of stress and overwork, she moved to Panama in 2012, though she knew she had to keep working.

    Janet Sussman said life is much more peaceful and cheaper in Panama.

    Janet Sussman

    To stay afloat, she had started a shuttle service in Panama between the airport and hotels. She bought a van in the US and shipped it to Panama, along with spare parts that could not be found in the country.

    She traveled between the two countries for a few years, but she wasn’t happy in the US and still unable to make enough to keep her head above water.

    She got a job as a teacher at an international school in Panama, which she said she thought would be a one-year temporary gig, though she stayed for over four years. She then started a language school, which she sold because she didn’t want to work too hard as she approached retirement.

    She still needed some income, so she became a house sitter for ex-pats, traveling the country full-time while getting paid — which she does to this day. She sold her apartment and stayed at Airbnbs between house visits.

    Getting adjusted to Panama

    Sussman remembers her “a-ha” moment for moving to Panama. She was exploring Panama City with locals, who took her to one of the lowest-income neighborhoods. She was invited to a small two-room home where she said 10 people lived, and she was offered whatever food they had. Some didn’t have the money for a bus ride the next day, but she said they were willing to sacrifice any stability to be with each other.

    “My takeaway from that was, by United States standards, some people have less than nothing, but they’re happy and they’re generous. They share what they have,” Sussman said. “That’s what I needed at that time. I was feeling sorry for myself because I felt I had lost so much, but it was nothing in comparison to how they have to live every day in buildings that would be condemned in the US.”

    She said she saw simple acts of kindness all the time when she first moved, and she said the people were why she settled long-term.

    She said Panama City is getting much more expensive in the expat areas, particularly in more touristy beach locations. Many don’t want to learn the language, which has led some communities to feel isolated from the rest of the city. Learning Spanish helped her become much more immersed in local culture and better respect her neighbors, as well as pick up on certain gestures or traditions.

    “It’s our job to adapt, not them to us,” Sussman said.

    Cost of living in Panama

    For her 18th-floor apartment in Panama City, which had 24/7 security, she paid about $850 a month. Meanwhile, her daughter in Clearwater, Florida, was excited to find a $1,400-a-month apartment with few amenities. She paid $40 a month for her electric bill, while she said her daughter paid about $350 in Florida during the summer. She added Airbnbs are cheaper in Panama — she stayed at one for $455 a month in a beach town.

    Most of her daily expenses are much lower than in the US, though her costs are more variable now as she constantly moves. She often gets fresh produce from stands on the side of the road, which keeps costs down as she rarely buys imported products. She said she eats much healthier in Panama than in the US.

    She said she bought five pineapples a few weeks ago for $1, and often her produce is free if it falls from the tree. For chains like McDonald’s, she said prices are about half as much in Panama for the same order she gets in Florida when visiting.

    “A lot of people are saying that Panama is getting so expensive, but to me, if you want all your name-brand shampoos and all that other stuff, you’re going to pay for it,” Sussman said. “But then why move? If you’re going to complain, then why are you here?”

    Her health insurance is $71.50 a month with a $10 copay, and it was as low as $31.50 a month with a $3 copay until she turned 65. During the pandemic, she paid $26 for foot surgery. Her auto insurance is $179 a year for her 2017 Chevrolet Spark, while her phone bill is just $14 a month.

    Once women residents turn 55 and men turn 60 in Panama, they get 25% off at restaurants, 30% off transportation, 15% to 20% off doctor’s bills, and an import tax exemption of up to $10,000 for household goods. This has helped Sussman keep her finances down for daily expenses and lengthier travel.

    Some costs are a little more expensive in Panama, such as gas. But overall, she said she’s found her peace in Panama.

    “You don’t know about tomorrow, so you enjoy today,” Sussman said. “You might travel around if you’re looking to go someplace for a reason, but you know when you get there, and you just breathe in and say, this is it.”

    Have you recently left the United States for a new country? Reach out to this reporter at [email protected].

    Read the original article on Business Insider


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