spent approximately $80,000 to build a new 1,000-square-
foot guest house and restore the original 2,000-square-foot
house,” Lipner says. “We’re living comfortably on our com-
bined Social Security and teachers’ retirement. We’ve begun
a new and wondrous chapter in our lives.”
Oh, about those discounts and benefits we mentioned
earlier? They include 20 to 50 percent discounts on air, bus,
and train fares, movies, concerts, restaurants, hospital bills,
medical consultations, and more. (One older gentleman in
Boquete living on Social Security proudly announced he got
a 50-cent discount on a McDonald’s hamburger.) As Ruben
Blades, the international salsa singer who also served a term
as Panama’s minister of tourism, once said: “People don’t
come to Panama to die. They come here to live.”
Cost of living: One can live comfortably on $20,000 a year.
Domestic and garden help: about $15 daily. Dinner out:
$30 for two.
Housing costs: In Boquete, a small house goes for
$175,000; in a gated community, $250,000 and up. Rentals:
about $600 a month for a two-bedroom house.
Health care: Good, with private clinics available. For serious medical matters, residents travel to hospitals in David,
45 minutes away, or to Panama City. Hospital Punta Pacifica
in Panama City is affiliated with Johns Hopkins Medicine
International and has U.S- trained doctors.
Culture and leisure: Rain-forest hiking, river rafting,
bird-watching, and coffee-plantation tours.
Access to the U.S.: Fair. A one-hour flight to Panama City,
then a three-hour flight to Miami.
Climate: Temperate with two
distinct seasons, wet (April to
November) and dry (December
to March). Much cooler than
the lowlands and beaches.
Expat community: An estimated several thousand.
With its castles, wines, ancient ruins, and cobblestoned
streets that make you feel, in the words of expat writer
Holly Raible Blades, “like you’ve fallen through a crack in
time,” one wonders why Portugal has long been overlooked
by American retirees. That’s changing. A plenitude of golf,
beaches, resorts, and trendy café life makes Portugal one of
Europe’s most pleasant surprises. Costs are lower than in
other parts of Western Europe, and Portugal prides itself on
having a quieter, more civilized pace of life than its neighbor,
Spain. The Portuguese are reserved but friendly; even their
bullfights are polite (they spare the bull).
Lisbon is a grande old dame of a city, where traditional
mournful fados are still sung in candlelit taverns; but most
expats gravitate to the postcard-pretty resort towns of
Estoril and Cascais on the Atlantic coast, 15 miles west of the
capital. Though expensive by Portuguese standards, both
towns have seen prices drop in the last year—and expats
are reaping the benefits. Pat Westheimer, 67, a teacher from
Baltimore, moved to Portugal in 1991 and lives in Cascais with
husband Don David Price, 69. She recently rented a large
office/apartment with a pool for $1,000 a month. A nice home
in Cascais, she reports, currently sells for about $250,000.
Among the town’s many attractions, says Westheimer, are
“traditional Portuguese crafts and wares, wonderful simple
food highlighted by grilled fish, and the kindest people
you’ll ever meet. They welcome foreigners, speak a good level of English, and
like Americans!” The small Cascais expat
community itself, she adds, “is casual and
unpretentious, based on mutual interests
such as sports, games, books, and fun.”
Meanwhile, services are “abundant and
inexpensive, too. It’s easy to get around
ASWEET DEAL Pat Westheimer, far left,
recently rented a large apartment in
picturesque Cascais for $1,000 a month.