Things to Consider When Moving Abroad – Panama Real Estate

By Larke Newell

Since pulling up stakes and semi-retiring to Panama from Canada I thought it prudent to impart to like-minded people my new found knowledge in order to assist you in your decision. So I compiled the following list of “heads up” items that hopefully will pave the way for you, as well as helping you to avoid pitfalls.  At first this momentous decision seems daunting but my advice is to just take one step at a time, do your research thoroughly, and all will fall into place.  Needless to say, the first item on the agenda is to decide where you would like to live.  Panama has very diverse weather in different areas so choices are many!

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1.  The weather factor.  If you abhor snow, freezing temperatures, and chill winds and live in this type of climate, it is time to move on. There are countless warm, snuggly places to live, at retirement or even before.  I caution, however: Go for a long fact finding vacation there first.  Some places are warm (or stifling hot) but dry, others are hot and sweat-dripping-off-the-end-of-your-nose humid.  And there is everything in between. Lovely beach towns like Coronado or surfing mecca Pedasi are lovely hot weather areas. You must discover the climate in which you are the most comfortable before making the huge decision to put down new roots.

Basking in the hot sun is a lovely, relaxing pastime while on vacation but, to some people, it is a horse of another color when you live it day after day forever and ever.  Maybe a cooler, more temperate climate such as Boquete or Volcan would be for you.

2.  The language issue.  Does it bother you to dwell in a place where it is necessary for you to indulge in a mini game of charades each time you require a certain food item, size of screw nail or piece of sandpaper, or need your internet hooked up?  Or does it represent a challenge and an opportunity to learn a new language?  If the former, stick to a new location where your language is their language.  If the latter, embrace it and hit the books.

There are so very many excellent and comprehensive online language learning sites out there now, as well as books, and one on one lessons.  Some folks opt to go the complete immersion route and actually live with a family in order to absorb their language.  Often they become lifelong friends, which is an added bonus.  It has been my experience, at least in Panama, that people are patient and kind and always willing to play that game of charades with you while helping you with their language.  And they unfailingly do it with a huge smile on their faces and twinkles in their eyes.  Often they appreciate it if you attempt to teach them your language in return.

3.  Cost of living. Is it feasible to you and your income level?  Hint:  Most of the less cosmopolitan countries such as Panama, Ecuador, and Nicaragua are considerably less expensive than Canada, the US, or those similar.  It is a very pleasant surprise to discover how well, yet cheaply, you can live in these countries.

It has been our experience that local items are a great deal cheaper than back home, although products that are imported from the United States or elsewhere are sometimes quite expensive, due to the shipping factor.  For the most part we have found that fresh local produce, meat, and seafood are way less expensive than back home (not to mention fresher and healthier) as are car insurance and other insurances, building products, repair services, doctor, dentist, eye care, and gasoline.  The cost of domestic help is crazy cheap.

4.  Attitude and customs.  Is your personality such that you can patiently deal with the “manana” syndrome?  Great for your health but if you have a type A personality you will only find these laid back people stressful and frustrating.  Slow down…breathe deeply…remind yourself that this is their country and thus their way of  life and they are not about to change.  Either “get with the program” or move on.  They are happy, friendly, accommodating people but do things on their own time and will not change that for anybody.  There is a reason why there are less heart attacks, strokes, and nervous breakdowns in those countries.

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5.  Government.  Is it stable?  Do they practise democracy or a reasonable facsimile?  Are they a dictatorship?  Check that out thoroughly but let’s face it, no government is perfect and above reproach. Panama has worked very hard at improving their government, as well as reducing crime and graft.

6.  Currency.  Do you find it easy to adapt to a different currency or are you at least adept at converting quickly in your head?  If not, choose a destination that utilizes the same money as that which you are used to.  Also check out their banking procedures and all related factors.

7.  Children still at home.  An excellent education system must be a top priority.  Check it out thoroughly.  It has been my experience that almost all of the Central American countries have wonderful schools, including international ones.  Sports and cultural activities are prevalent which is not surprising as children are most important and families do everything as a unit.

8.  Medical insurance.  This is a biggy.  Do your homework on this one, whether you are bringing a family over or are of retirement age.  Panama, I know firsthand, has excellent health care and relatively inexpensive medical insurance plans, depending of course on where you are arriving from.  Be sure to research this area thoroughly and read the fine print.  Also, especially if you are a senior, educate yourself on all those nasty details including out of country wills, powers of attorney, hospice care, and all related distasteful but necessary subjects.

9.  Infrastructure. Are the roads adequate and well maintained?  What about necessities like electricity,    water supply, and internet?  All of these necessities vary from country to country so here again, due diligence is key.  If you don’t mind being “off the grid” that is your choice but if you absolutely cannot live without air conditioning, electrical appliances, the internet, and love touring around the highways and byways of your new adopted home, then take the time to research all of them. It has been said that Panama has the best highway system in Central America.

10.  Last but not least, the distance and ease of travel from your loved ones back home to your new country. Trust me, this is huge.  In all your excitement and enthusiasm for a new adventure it might not seem so but, after being gone for awhile, the importance acquires a much greater significance. Parents, siblings, grandchildren, and best friends are no longer within reach.  Yes, there is Skype, Face Time, and emails but it just is not the same.  Absence definitely does make the heart grow fonder.  How long and how accessible are flights?  How expensive? Would it be easy to return if there was an emergency with a loved one back home?  Or, perish the thought, you were to have an accident or medical emergency and need someone from back home to get to you?

All of these things considered, my husband and I have never looked back and do not regret our decision to relocate to Panama for one moment. It can be exciting, exhilarating, and life changing, but has the potential to become your worst nightmare if not researched and rationally thought out.  Do your due diligence.  I strongly suggest extended vacations in order to thoroughly check out your choices prior to making that huge commitment.  Another strong suggestion – rent a home for awhile before taking the plunge to purchase property.  This allows you to be absolutely sure of the country, and area of your chosen country, before tying up your hard earned money in a home.  Then be prepared for the experience of a lifetime.

In the words of Mark Twain:  “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did.  So throw off the bowlines.  Sail away from the safe harbor.  Catch the trade winds in your sails.  Explore.  Dream.  Discover.”

More about Panama here! and here!


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