I have been in Panama for twelve days and my physical and mental health has improved so much it is alarming. It is amazing what being around good friends can do. Being in a place where I feel I have opportunities is freeing and relieves much stress. Living in the US is bogged down by so much bureaucracy and negativity that it permeates everything. It is so prevalent that it seems normal, when in fact, it is unhealthy in my opinion. In California in particular, the cost of doing anything is so high that it is prohibitive. The sense of adventure is gone. It is a nanny state that regulates every aspect of life and calls it freedom. Some might like living there and that’s great, but it is not for me. There is a sterile kind of safety in living in California and in much of the US I have experienced. The houses are cookie cutter dollhouses. The people are going the same direction. The media rules the mental landscape with images of unattainable crap that people nonetheless spend their lives striving to obtain. The cost of buying a house is so high it is painful. You could work toward it for years and years and still not succeed. If you are lucky, you can get the house, the two kids and the mailbox painted bright red with a rooster on it and still have enough money left over for a week long vacation once a year. Saving money for a comfortable retirement is out of reach for most Americans. That’s why we have “mother in law cottages” in the back yard. You work your ass off for 40+ years and end up living in your kid’s back yard. As an American expat living in Panama, I have a unique situation, and really my situation is unique even among expats.
I am not retired. I run a business of my own and so does my husband. We both work from “home” which really means that we can work anywhere in the world as long as we have high speed internet access for downloads and uploads. Our “office” is portable. We have lived in Prague & Budapest, and traveled often while working. We make good money – comfortable middle class America money. Our clients are based in the US, Canada, UK, and Western Europe, all countries that pay premium costs for work. High wage countries. In my opinion the smart financial thing to do is work for expensive countries and live in the more affordable places. In the US, I found that we were working our asses off with little to show for it. It was work just to work more; a tiresome cycle that felt like a hamster wheel.
Cost of living was so high that there was not much savings, or not as much as we would like. If we wanted to start a small business with a storefront, the cost and risk analysis showed it was not worth it. Most small businesses in the US are barely scraping by and at the end of the month don’t show enough profit to really make much difference. People stay stagnate and don’t have a chance to grow at what I consider a good rate. If you do own a small business in the US, you have to worry about frivolous lawsuits from employees (which are contagious- one person sues for bullshit reasons and more follow suit if they think they can get away with it), overregulation from the government and most of all a fucking Walmart moving in next door and killing your business overnight. I tried to open a small juice stand at a farmer’s market in California (a farmers market!) and was told I needed multiple permits, inspections, a taco truck style regulated kitchen (it had to be in a taco truck style vehicle – several thousand dollars) and a business license. A juice stand. Hey, here’s a cup of juice… juice stand. Nope. Not possible. Kids can’t run lemonade stands anymore. Seriously, police have shut down lemonade stands run by ten year olds. I am not saying I want to live in the wild west with no regulations, but I do want to live in a place where the overzealous regulation harpies are not actively working against the idea of people making a living. If you are out of work and need to make a living, you should be able to do what you can to make a living without some lifeless, dead eyed government drone in your face holding a stack of obstacles. Just now, as I wrote this, a friend who is reading it said,
“Yes, but the government has to make sure everyone is not poisoning the population with the lemonade stands.”
“With all due respect, bullpucky. McDonalds can put formaldehyde in our cheeseburgers and the government doesn’t give a crap. It’s about money and squeezing every wheezy shart of money out people’s pockets and sustaining useless government committees to employ useless people.
Living as an expat in Panama (which is a different paradigm than being a local, certainly) gives me the lower cost of living so that I can save money and do something with it. Open a business, travel, take a vacation, invest in something or someone, give more to charity, help out friends and family when they need it and have something for retirement. It means that if I have a business here in Panama I can afford to pay employees really well and have lots of extras and bonuses, job perks and overall, a more pleasant experience for the employees and myself. It means I can own a house, or two houses and rent one out, which I do. There are rules and regulations, of course, and I follow them and respect them, but here, for the most part, things are practical and make sense. There are some whackadoo things, for sure, but far less than the endless labyrinth of obstacles in the US. I will be honest with you though, the traffic is a nightmare, it is uncomfortably hot and humid, the sidewalks are pock marked with holes and pitfalls and Panama has it’s hefty share of problems, but the freedom I have here with my unique situation makes up for all of that, or at least most of it. Living here has helped me get in touch with the truly important things. I can connect with deeper things. I have time. Not just money. Living here buys me time that is precious.
Yes, I am ranting. No, I am not sorry. Ok, a little sorry. But sort of not sorry at all. Rant. Rant rant rant, but you gotta admit, I’m onto something.