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Expat Experiences

Panama > Expat Experiences


Jane Ellis, Panama City

Wednesday November 30, 2011 (18:25:54)

I am Panamajama, also known as Jane, mother of three young children. I fill my time by looking after my children, taking photos, doing my blog and studying to become a translator (French to English – NOT Spanish to English!)

We all moved across to Panama from Scotland last year as my husband is working on the project to expand the canal.

What challenges did you face during the move?

We had to decide whether to bring our furniture with us (including our piano), then our travelling date was pushed back several times. When we arrived we lived in a furnished high-rise overlooking the Pacific while waiting for our furniture to travel over on a container ship. This was a lovely place to live, but there was no way of walking anywhere, and I did not fancy driving in the chaotic traffic of Panama City until I had been here long enough to get used to it. So I felt quite isolated initially.

How did you find somewhere to live?

Our relocation agents helped us. These were provided by the company my husband works for.

There have been many difficulties associated with relocation, not of least of which that Panama has no postal service as such – not like the kind UK or US citizens are used to. It took us 2 months to figure this out, during which time my son’s birthday presents and cards were lost in the post. Quite upsetting, and we were appalled that our Panamanian relocation company did not think this detail significant enough to mention.

Also, it has been difficult using our UK bank cards here in Panama. Even though I notified our banks we were moving to Panama, I have had several embarrassing occasions when my card has been turned down at the till. With a big queue of people behind me, and me not being able to explain myself properly in Spanish! The time that sticks in my mind is when my card was turned down when I had a trolley full of Christmas toys. That was mortifying – I had to put most of them back and pay for what I could with cash.

Relocation has been tougher to work through than we imagined – and we were prepared for it to be hard. However, the positive experiences of being in this wonderful country by far outweigh any struggles we have had on the way.

Are there many other expats in your area?

Where I live, on the outskirts of Panama City, near a set of canal locks, most of the other residents are expats – they are from all different backgrounds – some from Europe, South and Central America and a great deal from the US.

What is your relationship like with the locals?

The locals are extremely friendly and usually smile and say ‘Buenos Días’ to me – they tend to make expats feel pretty welcome most of the time.

What do you like about life where you are?

What I love most of all is the exotic wildlife – I frequently see toucans from my back garden and green parrots and hummingbirds visit our feeders constantly. I have seen 6 foot iguanas cross the road right in front of me, and crocodiles live in the river round the corner from my house. Geoffroy’s Tamarin, Howler monkeys, coati mundi, armadillos, pelicans, frigate birds, flying fish are among the creatures I have seen in the wild along with countless others. It really is paradise for an animal lover.

What do you dislike about your expat life?

Easy – the mosquitoes which bite me from morning til night, even when I am slathered in a disgusting chemical called ‘Off’! I am allergic to their bites so they are making things difficult for me.

It is extremely difficult to find information on services and companies using the internet in Panama. Also, there is no internet shopping, which is tough when you are used to tesco.com

What advice would you give to anyone following in your footsteps?

Learn Spanish before you come, as it is extremely difficult to find information on Spanish classes for English speakers here. There are lots of ads for English classes for Spanish speakers, but not so many the other way around.

Make setting up a MailBoxes etc account one of the first things you do when you arrive in Panama so you don’t lose any mail during the transition.

Oh, and bring a positive attitude! That is actually the most important thing of all.

What are your plans for the future?

To stay living here as long as possible, then the plan is to return to Scotland. We shall see.

Read more about life in Panama at www.panamajama.wordpress.com or follow Jane on Twitter twitter.com/Panamajama and Facebook www.facebook.com/people/Jane-Ellis

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