Relocating to Panama: My Husband and I Fell in Love with Panama and Her People

Chris DeRose chris@firsttravelca.com

Relocating to Panama. One day in the early 2000s, while exiting the Panama Canal on a cruise ship, we saw this beautiful skyline. We asked the cruise director “what is that?” He told us “it’s Panama City”. We were intrigued and right then and there decided we’d go check it out land based.

For many, many years we subscribed to International Living, and Panama was moving up on the list. Plus news and travel magazines kept mentioning Panama. It wasn’t easy for my husband to convince me, but once he did, we went to Panama in 2006. We both fell in love with the country and her people.
We purchased a condo in the city as an investment and visited many times. Every time we came, we explored another area. Boquete, David, Boca Chica, Bocas del Toro, Coronado. Once we saw Coronado, we knew we wanted to live here. We met a really nice couple on our “scouting trip” and they’ve been a tremendous help to us. They took us to where they were moving to, and we’re neighbors and friends now.
Since we are probably never going to retire, we thought “why wait”? In June we sold/donated everything we had, and packed up for our new life. We rented a condo on the water in Nuevo Gorgona and we are working from here.

Both of us work on the Internet all day long. My husband does marketing for a Consortium of 150 travel agencies. I run our Travel Agency, First Travel of California, with all of our agents being home based too. We specialize in luxury travel of all kinds. Very few people walk into a travel agency these days, so we closed our store front agency in 2010 and have been working from home successfully. Most of my communication with my clients is via email or telephone. Many phone calls start with “So where are you now?” They know me, I work 24/7 regardless if I’m in Panama, Hawaii, or on a cruise ship. My service is all I have to offer over the competition. Plus, I like to make people’s dreams come true.

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Our view EVERYDAY — isn’t it AWESOME?

Our day starts with a cup of coffee on the balcony and listening to the waves while wondering how “the other half” is living. Then we head to the “office”, which is a corner of the guest bedroom for me, and a desk in the living room for my husband. He has the ocean view, I have the mountain-view.  We have downsized considerably from our large home to a 2 bedroom condo, and that takes some getting used to. We rented an SUV locally for a month from Gold Coast and finally bought our own. A Hyundai Tucson. I don’t feel safe in a car here since drivers are a little unruly, to say the least. Stop signs and red lights seem to be a suggestion in their mind. Heavy traffic? Let’s pass everybody on the shoulder. Also, when it rains, the streets tend to flood and it’s better to have an SUV. Buying the car was easy. We were referred to Len at Panamauto. He’s from Florida, owns an auto shop and also sells cars. He handles all the paperwork for a minimal fee, and the insurance agent met us at his office, to get it insured. All very easy.
Being on the computer a lot, and sometimes spending time on hold with cruise lines or tour companies, I joined the Facebook Group “ExPats in Panama”. It’s a great resource for when you have questions. We also met several really nice people in that group in person and enjoy their friendship.
Magic Jack has been a life saver.  It allows free phone calls to the US and Canada from anywhere in the world. You can even port your number to them. My clients can reach me without problems, and so can our kids. It can be used as an app on your smart-phone or plugged into your router where it’ll work with a regular phone. You need wi fi to use it. So, as long as we have wi fi, we are happy. Buy the device before you come here.
Our weekends are spent relaxing by the pool, where we have a small snack bar that serves great burgers, wraps and awesome Margaritas. We talk to neighbors, their friends, and meet new people. It feels like we are on a permanent vacation.
There are some things that are hard to control.
Power dips. Not good for the computers. But you can get backup batteries with built in surge protectors at Office Depot. Yes, we have Office Depot.
Punctuality is unheard of. ExPats from the US, Canada and Europe have a really hard time with that. It’s something you have to get used to, or you’ll get an ulcer. Lately some ExPats have gotten into the service businesses and you want to look for them.
Follow-up is lacking. Let’s say you bought health insurance, paid your premium and want to know if you were approved. You will die of old age before you find out if you’re covered. Follow-up is up to you.
Not one store carries everything you need. Grocery shopping usually involves a couple of stops. We do have some PriceSmart locations and they are very similar to Costco.
US websites may block you. The best thing to do there, is to get a program that hides your Panamanian IP address. We did that, and have no problems.
So, if you’re thinking of moving to Panama, there are a lot of resources to check. Most importantly, come down here and visit all the different areas. Not one place is good for everybody.
Panama City is very cosmopolitan with lots of entertainment, restaurants and the traffic to go with it.
Like to golf? Coronado may be for you.
Want to get away from it all? You may like El Valle.
Like cool mountain breezes? Boquete, Panama could be your choice.
Check them all out, and spend a month or so, before you settle into your future home. Finally, if you decide to move here, rent for a year, then buy. In a year you’ll know if the area you’re in, is for you.

A bit more about Panama here!

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