A Dream Oceanfront Business in Caribbean Panama

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Posted by The Savvy Retiree on August 27, 2020 in Live Better

Josh Acree always wanted to move to a Caribbean island, but he’d presumed this dream would have to wait until retirement. Then he and his partner, Chad Sorrow, were presented with the opportunity to buy a business in Bocas del Toro, Panama, and they decided to bring this dream to life…decades ahead of schedule. 

The pair first visited Panama in 2009. They instantly fell in love with the Central American country and returned regularly in the following years. The dream of making a permanent move crystalized during a 2013 visit to Bocas del Toro, a province of Panama that includes an archipelago of stunning Caribbean islands. 

Josh and Chad were in Bocas town, a popular snorkeling and beach destination for tourists from the U.S., Canada, and Europe. They were chatting about their Caribbean retirement dream when the owners of the seven-room bed-and-breakfast where they were staying overheard them. The owners, as it turns out, were eager to retire, so they offered to sell the business to Josh and Chad. “Almost a year later to the day, we moved here and bought the place,” says Josh.

Before buying the business, Josh and Chad both worked for an Atlanta area fire department. To prepare for their move, they quit their jobs as paramedics and firefighters, cashed in their retirement savings, and sold their belongings. In April 2014, they became the new owners of Lula’s B&B.

The two-story, wooden structure is on a street beside the ocean and has a generous front porch and balcony. “All our rooms have a Caribbean vibe but are basic. It’s nothing too fancy,” says Josh. 

In this regard, the hotel fits in perfectly with the local vibe. “A lot of people say Bocas is like Key West in the 70s,” says Josh. “There aren’t any chain hotels or restaurants. Most business is word of mouth. There’re no billboards. You can easily walk across town in 10 to 15 minutes.”

Business at the B&B has been restricted recently due to the pandemic. However, in normal times, the couple enjoy a relatively laidback routine. They have an early start, typically rising between 6:30 a.m. and 7 a.m. They then visit with the guests over breakfast from 7:30 a.m. to 9:30 a.m., before overseeing the day’s bookings and check-ins.

“Some guests come for two weeks. Some just stay the night to catch an early flight. One couple came from Costa Rica and planned to come for a couple of nights. They fell in love with Bocas and spent six nights here,” says Josh. 

Since arriving in Panama, they’ve invested in a power boat and a sailboat. They often take a break from work to go on lunchtime fishing expeditions. They also use the vessels to explore the other islands or go diving.

The couple moved to Panama on the Friendly Nations visa, which is open to citizens of about 50 countries including the U.S. and Canada. This visa allows you to live and work in Panama provided you meet certain financial and/or work requirements. 

Like many of the foreign residents in Panama, Josh and Chad were not only drawn by the beautiful climate and the chance to run their own business, but the remarkably affordable cost of living. Rents in Bocas run the gamut, “from a one-bedroom, one-bath for $500 to a three-bedroom house on the beach for $2,000 per month,” says Josh. “You could live on $1,500 per month comfortably, including rent and internet. Fruits and veggies are well-priced. Our internet is stable and costs $60 a month.”

While it initially took Josh and Chad a little time to adjust to their new environment, “now that I’m used to the laidback island time, I like it. The sun is shining and it’s beautiful and if we want to go out on the boat, we can,” says Josh. 

The couple suggests renting for six months or a year before committing to a permanent move. That way you can make sure you like it. “We kept our house in Atlanta for five years just in case,” says Josh. “We kept our certifications up for a while just in case. You have to be ready, to expect the unexpected. But we have no regrets.”

By Jen Phillips April