Names: Bonnie and Robert Durrance
Ages: 73 and 70
From: North Carolina
Living in: Gorgona, Panama
“What’s an ideal day like here? It’s pretty much the same every day. I look out at this view…all this greenery…the lovely blue water and the blue sky…and I think, ‘You couldn’t get this for $1,200 a month in the States…no way!’”
That’s what Bonnie Durrance, 73, and her husband Robert, 70, pay to rent their ocean-view apartment on Gorgona beach, about an hour’s drive from cosmopolitan Panama City.
“The unit is 1,500 square feet, including a big balcony, which was a big plus for me,” says Bonnie. She enjoys views of the Pacific from nearly every room. “You can sit in the living room…lay in bed… wherever you are, there’s this beautiful view.”
The couple’s $1,200 rental includes trash collection, water, maintenance…everything but cable/internet and electric.
“Our electric bill is $70 to $90 a month, depending on whether we use our big meat smoker,” says Bonnie. “We pay about $76 for cable and internet and we got a great cellphone package for just under $34,” she adds.
With a pool area and a new Italian restaurant, it’s the ideal gated complex for Bonnie and Robert. “It’s perfect for us,” says Bonnie. “We don’t spend a lot of time on the beach during the day, but we sure do love looking at it.”
The social scene is another reason they are happy in Gorgona. “Oh, my goodness, it is really easy to make friends,” says Bonnie. “We have a couple of good Panamanian friends who we met at our church here in Gorgona.”
The couple attended an International Living conference in Panama in 2013 and Bonnie was sold. “But it took about another year to convince my husband that we could really do this,” she laughs. “Then suddenly I came home from work one day and he said, ‘Alright, let’s go.’
“I said to myself, ‘Don’t ask questions, Bonnie…just start packing.’”
Before moving, Bonnie and Robert considered several countries, but Panama’s many benefits won them over. Proximity and good flights to the U.S. were a factor, as were modern infrastructure and Panama’s Pensionado program.
The program grants retiree residents access to discounts of 10% to 50% on a wide range of services, from medical consults to flights originating in Panama.
For foreigners with a pension income of at least $1,000 a month, the program also grants easy access to residence.
Gorgona is adjacent to the hub town of Coronado, which offers an increasing number of services and amenities. New conveniences include a clinic, upscale supermarkets, and shopping plazas. There are plenty of places to get a nice dinner or have drinks and mingle with expats, visitors, and locals.
The region is home to a large, active expat community…and hundreds of well-heeled locals own weekend homes. But the beaches are pristine and uncrowded. Along this coast you’ll find white sand intercut with glittering black grains. Most days you can walk along the shore and bump into only a few people.
Nights are quiet. Bonnie enjoys the tranquility…seeing the moon and stars…and the occasional fireworks display.
“Panamanians love fireworks,” she says.
“Any excuse will do…a little parade or a wedding. From our balcony we can sit and watch them explode over the water. It’s so great. Why would I want to live anywhere else?”