I was in my favorite grocery store the other day buying fresh chicken at the butcher counter, and it made me think about a recent food scare in the U.S. One of the mega-conglomerate producers had recalled thousands of pounds of chicken, due to possible contamination. Then over coffee the next morning I read a story online about health insurance companies raising their "affordable" premiums by 20 percent to 40 percent next year. And I realized how relieved I am that those things don't concern me here in Chiriquí Province, Panama.
One of the major benefits of living in Panama -- aside from the fantastic weather, highly affordable lifestyle, and great healthcare -- is intangible. It's simply not having to worry about things that might stress me out up north.
I don't worry about being able to pay my utility bills. No matter where you live in Panama, you'll never have to pay a heating bill. That could represent huge savings for North Americans, almost all of whom have to pay for fuel oil, natural gas, electricity, wood, coal, or something else to heat their homes for several months of every year. You may see a ﬁreplace in the highlands of Panama here and there, and they are cozy on a chilly night, but they're mostly just for show.
In fact, I don't even use air conditioning in my home. Sure, it gets hot some days, especially in March and April before rainy season returns. And I can't say I recommend doing without air conditioning in any of the lowland areas of Panama. But we manage with fans, and my electric bill runs about $36 a month.
As long as we're talking about weather, I don't have any worries there, either. Panama is outside the hurricane zone, so we don't get any. Nor do we have tornadoes. Thunderstorms are fairly common, but they don't last long. I never give a thought to my plumbing pipes freezing, or thawing out my car in the morning. We feel an occasional earthquake, and I'm thankful for the little ones that prevent the big ones. Other than that, my only gripe is too much sunshine.
I don't worry about going to the doctor or the dentist. Even before the current healthcare mandates in the U.S., it was a hassle for me to get an appointment with my doctor in Florida. He was one of many in a large physicians' group, and even getting through to talk to a person and schedule an appointment was a challenge. And that was just the beginning, if I needed any kind of diagnostic tests or follow-up.
Now I go to Hospital Chiriquí, near my home in David, for all my medical needs. I can go to any doctor I want to, without a referral, an authorization, or an appointment, and pay $20 to $40 for a consultation. If I need any kind of tests -- blood work, X-rays, ultrasound, etc. -- it's no problem. I just go to the hospital when it's convenient for me, pay the bill ($30 for a mammogram, $5 for most blood tests, for instance), wait my turn, and get what I need. No hassle at all.
I don't worry about being shot, robbed, or hurt. Of course Panama has crime -- every place does. But overall, Panama is a very safe country, and crimes tend to be non-violent thefts, as opposed to school, shopping mall, or movie-theater massacres. At my home in the city of David, I leave my windows wide open all the time, unless my husband Al and I leave overnight.
I don't worry about the food I eat. While I don't have my own garden, most of what I eat is grown or produced locally. That's one of the reasons why I chose Chiriquí Province as my home here in Panama. Fruits and vegetables are fresh, readily available, and inexpensive. Once I complained about finding slugs in some lettuce at my favorite produce stand, and the owner shrugged and said to me, "Well, at least you know it's not loaded with chemicals." She's right!
The other day I went to a meat market here in David that friends had raved about. It was spotlessly clean, smelled good, and had nice posters on the wall of the various cuts of meat. The owners were very welcoming, and I could see half a hog hanging in the adjoining room. The butcher told me it was raised locally, and showed me some lamb from a rancher in nearby Caldera. I bought some hand-cut pork chops for $2.53 per pound, and they were tender and delicious for supper that night. You just can't beat that.
There are things I do worry about here, to be sure -- such as whether or not my favorite grocery store will run out of my favorite butter or my Melitta coffee filters. It annoys me that they can't keep their inventory stocked. It's difficult where I live to find good tradesmen, so I worry about getting a good plumber. And I worry about avoiding traffic. We actually have three rush-hours: morning, evening, and midday, when everyone goes to lunch or takes their kids home from school.
Occasionally I have far greater anxieties, such as deciding whether to spend a beach day at Playa Las Lajas or Las Olas Resort! I worry that my friends may be upset if I don't join them for a musical performance at the community theater in Boquete. It may stress me a bit to choose between visiting the archaeological site in the highland town of Volcán, versus going to the canyon swimming hole in Gualaca.
But these social concerns and minor inconveniences are insignificant when I consider the most amazing beneﬁt to me of living overseas ... freedom from worry.