Without a doubt, the most popular retirement destinations in the tropics are Mexico and Central America; many Caribbean Islands and several areas of South American are also superb tropical retirement centers.
Panama and Costa Rica follow Mexico as the most sought-after tropical retirement retreats. Because of the similarities between the two, they are often compared with each other: gorgeous, rigorous rainforests; trekking, bird watching, surfing, diving, snorkeling, kayaking, and other chances for adventure; congenial Hispanic people. Most places in either country are no more than an hour from both the Caribbean Sea and the Pacific Ocean. Neither of the two next-door neighbor countries has a military, both relying on the national and local police for safety and enforcement.
There are also abundant differences between the two. Costa Rica has both a lower poverty level as well as less unemployment. It also has a more varied economy, with a stable growth pattern in tourism and technology. Panama’s wealth is based mostly on agricultural and construction, reaping interest also as an up-and-coming international business center. The enlargement of the Canal required an enormous investment, but it is expected to provide ample income for the decades ahead. The expected completion date is for 2014. Historically, Panama’s geology is quite unique in that volcanic activity is more-or-less non-existent and earthquakes are rare. Several of Costa Rica’s 100 volcanoes are still active, although only occasionally violent. Costa Rica is more concerned with problems in the environment and is endeavoring to become the first carbon-neutral country in the world. Panama has preserved extended internal watersheds on either side of the canal, basically for economic reasons, including providing fresh water, all-important for operating the canal lock system. Costa Rica’s political stability is of longer-standing and has the first elected female head of state in the area. It can be rebutted that Panama has a greater possibility growth and opportunity, since it has recently begun to enjoy a period of political stability and a variety of economic situations.
Other retirement possibilities include: Besides Mexico, Costa Rica, and Panama, it’s possible to choose from Roatan (Honduras), Nicaragua, Guatemala, Venezuela, or one of the Caribbean Islands. In choosing your destination, you really need to have a good comprehension of what you will be confronting when moving to a tropical foreign country. Regardless of the country you are considering retiring to, the differences in culture and difficulties you run into could influence your decision to retire in a tropical country. It may come as a surprise to many Americans, Canadians and Europeans, but the other countries are not an overgrown amusement park for their pleasure or a continuation of our culture and values. Too frequently we expect these countries and their inhabitants to be exact reproductions of the life in resorts. A good rule of thumb for those retiring abroad is: “It’s their country; leave your North American ideals and notions at home.” A second rule might be: “If you want the same conditions you had at home, stay there.” A great deal of the people who leave their retirement homes in tropical Latin America leave because they can’t, or won’t, find a middle ground or accept the rules required for living in another culture. Health and family are other common causes for leaving.
Customer service: We expect customer service to be prompt and efficient. However, customer service in these countries is founded on politeness, deference and attention to the job at hand. In those countries where jobs are difficult to come by, employment is worth a lot and not to be underestimated. Americans can sometimes find being helped by several people at the same time a bit negative: one to fold clothing, another to gather purchases together for the cashier, another yet to total up the prices, and a fourth to put everything into a bag. While we consider it a waste of time, they consider it giving work to more people. Working quickly and efficiently, could mean a lack of work for another person. Something else that could be bothersome is the employee that follows you everywhere like a shadow, responding to your every need. Central American store clerks have been trained to serve the customers, as in the past only wealthy people could afford to go shopping. Unfortunately, these services are disappearing, especially in the more modern shopping areas in the cities, although the mind-set remains.
Promptness: We’ve all heard references to “island time”. People living in the tropics have a less complicated look toward time than we have; this laissez faire attitude is all but forgotten by most Europeans and North Americans, but tropical Latin Americans are among the nicest and friendliest people. They are perhaps living a happier and saner life-style than ours, and their lack of urgency in their dealings could indeed cause a “culture shock” for some. So, don’t get upset if someone says “I’ll do that right away” and you have to wait a week or even a month. There, time is not of the essence, and you need to get used to it.
Language: It’s commonly thought that “English is spoken everywhere,” but this isn’t necessarily true. Even in countries that are predominantly English-speaking (because of a colonial history), almost all of them also speak regional dialects such as Creole, with local twists like slang and accents. Therefore, if you plan on shopping anywhere besides the hotel or real estate agent, then learning the language would be a good idea. Learning the language, it will much easier to mingle with the people and live more easily with the customs, helping you to adjust to the life-style of your new home.
Laws: The only thing that can be said is the laws of the land in which you live must be obeyed. Violations that to us could seem unimportant could have serious penalties; it’s as important to know their laws as it is to know our own. Don’t expect the protection provided by the laws in another country to be as comprehensive as the ones in your native country. Disclosure laws may also be lacking in these countries, so it is important to use the services of a lawyer who speaks your language when making important investments or purchases.
Customs: In North America and Europe, it quite all right to wear casual clothing in many situations. On the other hand, tropical Latin America countries are somewhat more conservative in their styles. For example, men in Panama City wear trousers, shirts with collars and even dress jackets while working or spending the night out in company, while women usually wear a dress. Bathing suits are considered appropriate only for the beach in those countries. Only North American tourists would dare be seen wearing flowery tropical shirts in public in Panama City or San Jose. Assuming the same styles as the local citizens will also help you to reduce the chance of becoming attacked by criminals who tend to prey on tourists. Politeness and courtesy are a way of life here. A lack of respect towards others or failure to respond to greetings is considered rude and out of the norm.
Infrastructure and Utilities: Functioning electricity is a given in our country. It is much less dependable in tropical Latin America and the Caribbean, including frequent blackouts. It’s nothing to get upset or worry about. Unfortunately, the water supply is not endless and it runs out sometimes. Although most of the water in Panama and Costa Rica is potable, it’s better to inquire elsewhere. In case of doubt, use filtered or bottled water. The idea of recycling hasn’t arrived in these countries yet, and trash collection is haphazard, because of equipment problems. Sewage systems work well only in the large, modern cities. Roads aren’t very good, except in the areas with heavy tourism. However, this will vary from country to country and region to region.
In conclusion, enjoy the great beauties and blessings in your tropical retirement home. Don’t expect it to be the same as the country you’ve left, but come to love and know it as it is, with its people, culture, language, customs, laws and way of life. Be glad you’ve left the rat-race at home and RELAX!