George Stumpp
George Stumpp recently moved permanently to Panama after 15 years of living there on and off.George Stumpp
  • George Stumpp, a retired bartender, lives comfortably in Panama after moving from New Mexico.
  • Stumpp rents two properties as Airbnbs, supplementing his income in a country with good healthcare.
  • He said Panama has robust infrastructure, a lower cost of living, and many of the same stores as the US.

George Stumpp, 65, worked as a bartender and bar supervisor in Long Island and New Mexico for decades. Realizing his retirement savings could go further in a different country, he settled in Panama.

In 2006, he and his wife bought a property on the outskirts of Panama City for $37,000 in cash, traveling back and forth until his retirement. After 15 years of going back and forth, he settled there permanently in 2021, renting out two casitas as Airbnbs to supplement his income. He's enjoying retirement in a country with a lower cost of living and high-quality healthcare, and he said he's enjoyed adapting to Panamanian culture.

"One of the reasons I chose Panama over other Central American countries is because we've got better infrastructure than anyplace else," Stumpp told Business Insider. "It's a thriving country, and a lot of that is based on income that they get from the Panama Canal."

George Stumpp and his lunch
George Stumpp said it's taken him time and effort to get acquainted with Panamanian cultureGeorge Stumpp

As the cost of living continues to increase, driven by elevated housing costs and still-high grocery bills, many American retirees are looking abroad for retirement. Some recent retirees previously told BI they're living much more comfortably in places like Colombia, Thailand, and St. Maarten.

Leaving the US

Stumpp grew up in the Hamptons on Long Island and eventually worked as a bartender for 15 years. He worked at rock 'n' roll clubs in the 1970s then found work at more upscale bars and restaurants.

As Long Island got more expensive, he decided to relocate to Sante Fe, where he had a cousin at the time. In 1993, he moved to Santa Fe with his then-girlfriend and her two kids.

He got a job at a luxury hotel downtown, working his way up the ranks to bar supervisor. For years, he managed the bar, from creating schedules to ordering inventory. As his kids got older, he started to vacation in Central America, traveling to Costa Rica, Belize, and Panama.

His parents had retired to a lakefront cottage in Ontario, Canada, so he knew he wanted to retire abroad. In the mid-2000s, he started looking into purchasing a property in Belize, a predominantly English-speaking nation, although he and his wife ended up passing on it after noticing it wasn't as peaceful as they wanted it to be.

After reading more about Panama and seeing more Americans moving there, they took a lengthy trip searching for potential properties. He noticed he could get cheaper prices by calling the number on hand-painted signs outside homes instead of going through real estate websites, which would upcharge nonlocals.

Buying a home in Panama

He settled on a nearly half-acre property for $37,000 back in 2006 located three minutes from the beach, giving his Sante Fe home to his stepdaughter. The property had an old home that was falling apart, and he and his wife built a smaller house toward the back of the property with a bedroom, small kitchen, bathroom, and front porch. They split the old house in two as rental units. He owns his property outright with no mortgage, and his annual property tax is less than $100.

George Stumpp's home
George Stumpp purchased a nearly half-acre lot for $37,000.George Stumpp

"We literally just took it apart — it was wired with extension chords, and it was in sad shape," Stumpp said. "We took it apart, put it back together again, and turned it into these two cute little Airbnb rentals. I'm not making a million dollars, but it's supplemental income."

After moving back and forth between Panama and the US for work for several years, he finally decided to retire and put his Santa Fe house on the market in 2021, noticing his home increased over $100,000 in value from the year before. He sold his convertible and bought an SUV, drove around the US for four months visiting friends and seeing national parks, and then flew back to Panama with his dog.

Moving to Panama permanently

He said over the last two decades, Panama's infrastructure has become much more robust than many other Central American countries. He said the city has good healthcare, a thriving financial scene, and plenty of big-box retailers and large chains.

Within 15 minutes of his house, he said there are four grocery stores, a Home Depot-like retailer, and many restaurant chains similar to those in the US.

George Stumpp's beachfront
George Stumpp lives a short drive from the beach.George Stumpp

"Anything I can buy in the States I can buy here. You might pay a little bit more for certain things, but then again, there's always alternatives," Stumpp said. "I can buy Kellogg's cornflakes and pay a lot of money, or I can buy the local cornflakes for a lot less."

Because he's over 60, he gets discounts on his utilities, doctor visits, public transportation, flights, and even movie theaters.

He's seen many large condominium complexes built along the beach that sell for about $300,000 with monthly maintenance fees of between $150 and $250. In his area, which has fewer tourists and expats, home prices are much lower, though he said sometimes houses can stay on the market for years without buyers.

His electricity fees are about $50 a month, while WiFi is $40 a month. His water bill is a miniscule $5 a month, and he rarely uses air conditioning, which keeps costs down. Still, he estimates his grocery bills are comparable to what he spent in the US, though going out to eat is slightly less.

"As more and more North Americans come down, prices on certain things like services have gone up," Stumpp said. "When I first got here, a hand carwash was $2, but now it's $10."

He loves the weather and living by water, and he's enjoyed becoming integrated into Panamanian culture over the past few years. Still, he said he's noticed a lot of Americans moving down to Panama who don't adapt to the culture, noting that some have left recently citing cultural differences. He said Americans should understand that they're guests in Panama and respect their neighbors, even if it means having to listen to loud music during a party.

"If you come down here to retire, it's not going to be like back home, and you're going to have to be flexible," Stumpp said. "There's some other old-timers here, and those are the ones that can adapt to life here, but there's those that can't."

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Read the original article on Business Insider