Boquete: Why Some Leave and Others Stay

By: Phyllis McNaughton


 The average time an expat lives in Boquete is four years. At least, that

is what I have been told. I suspect the number four was pulled out of thin air and presented as fact by someone.

Why do people who come to live here decide to head back home? After four months, four years, or fourteen years?

For younger expats who are not ready to retire and who have children, a friend of mine summed up their reasons for leaving quite succinctly: "Friends of mine have left because of their kids as they felt this was not a great spot to receive a cutting edge education. Or they couldn't figure out a way to earn money here."

Yep. That's right.

The Panamanian educational system is ranked 112 out of 144 countries (2013, Global Competitiveness Index, World Economic Forum). That's not too good. Not good at all. And if you want to make a living here, an entrepreneurial spirit and skill set is needed.

For expats who are retirement age, a friend says: I have heard people give all kinds of reasons for leaving Boquete, mostly it has to do with personal health and/or family health.  Some have left for more cultural stimulation; concerts, restaurants,  architecture, museums, etc. 

People who have health problems, especially chronic or life threatening ones, and are on Medicare (US) or the Canadian health care system often return to their native countries for quality health care that is covered in varying degrees by the government. Or they may feel they will get better care in a medical system that they are familiar with and whose medical staff speak their language.

Being near to families is a big concern whether you are healthy or not. Many people move back to be with their children, grandchildren, siblings or other extended family.

None of us are terribly fond of the power outages which occur on a regular yet random basis, but some of us can shrug it off with candles and a glass of wine; and others can't. Some crave more to do: more restaurants, more activities, more concerts and quality theater.

Others are content with the limited culture that Boquete offers as long as they can savor a cup of Boquete coffee and the company of good friend. Although it will never offer cultural events like a larger Northern Amercian city, we do okay here. We have BCP, a film club, a photography club, art exhibitions, high quality musical bands or duos (my favorite is Yella and Tom), and cool fundraisers put on by charities.

Acclimating yourself to a new culture can be hard. It takes perseverance, acceptance of the idiosyncrasies of your new life, and a huge sense of humor. For some couples, one person likes it here in Panama while the other doesn't. This sometimes leads them to say "adios" to Boquete --or to each other.

Why do people stay?

Here's one explanation:

"I stay because this is my home base.

Natural beauty.

Spanish language immersion.

Clean, mountain water no fluoride added."

And more reasons from a friend:

"The reason I have stayed is natural beauty, climate, and community.  You really cannot top those three anywhere outside Boquete in my opinion."

Another perspective:

"I like being at a distance fom the overstimulating, demanding the culture of the North. I like the freedom I have here to make my choices and take whatever consequences these bring."

As I sit writing this, I am drinking coffee grown at our finca. I'm watching hummingbirds eat at our feeder or sip from tropical flowers in my garden. The wind is blowing origami sun catchers that I made to prevent brightly colored birds doing the whole kamikaze thing against my windows.

I had dinner with friends the other night which was simply lovely.

Simply lovely. For me, that about sums it up. Why I stay.

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