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Al McCullough, Panama

Who are you?

Hi there, I’m Al McCullough, also known as…the Panama Dude.

Where, when and why did you move abroad?

My wife, Shelly, and I moved to Pedasi, Panama in August of 2014. We always had desk jobs back home in Canada, and neither of us were keen on spending any more time at work than necessary. So we quit our jobs, sold all our stuff, and moved to Panama to figure out what we want to be when we grow up.What challenges did you face during the move?

We rented our house back in Canada just before we left. A month after we got to Panama, the renters left and our house sat empty for several months. Oh, and we lost a piece of luggage, but the airline got it back to us.

Are there many other expats in your area?

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Yeah, a whole bunch. Pedasi is a pretty popular and sometimes transient expat destination.

What do you like about life where you are?

My life is pretty laid back now – not that life was overly complex back in Canada. It’s less about how much money and stuff you have here, which is awesome. There’s no keeping up with the Jones’ and worrying about having the latest and greatest TV or tablet or fancy car. Heck, many of the expats don’t even have smart phones!

What do you dislike about your expat life?

Negative people. Make the best of your situation, folks. And if it gets to the point where you start complaining every day…time to move on, hombre. Sure, we have bad days, and I do my share of complaining, but I always try to find the brighter side of things. That’s why my blog is a weekly sitcom of my life here.

What is the biggest cultural difference you have experienced between your new country and life back home?

Everyone here speaks another language – WTF? Kidding. I can’t say there’s been one thing that’s been tremendously different. I mean, people complain about the service in restaurants a lot, and sure, it kind of sucks, but I’ve had bad experiences back in Canada too. And the driving here is kind of crazy, but there’s no road rage. In Panama, the heat can sometimes be overwhelming, but in Canada it can unbearably cold in the winter. Things become a trade-off, you just have to change your perspective. But if there was one thing I’d say has been hard getting used to, it’s probably the impromptu fireworks being set off at all hours of the day and night. Still don’t get that…probably never will.

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

Don’t pack much. Seriously. Travel light. All those dresses you ladies thought you’d wear…you won’t. And guys – those dress shirts, suits, etc…donate them. Panama is pretty hot. Even in the highlands you might only need pants and a sweater at night occasionally…unless you have some blood flow problems and your hands and feet get cold a lot, then if so, bring socks and mittens, and maybe a toque. I’d also say rent for a year before you buy. Real estate agents probably hate to hear that (and me for saying it), but I’ve seen a few people go all-in here and they’ve regretted it. It’s not that Pedasi and Panama aren’t great places, they are, just hold off on putting all those eggs in that one basket until you’ve spent a year here.

What are your plans for the future?

Not sure yet. We’ve started house and pet sitting quite a bit, so travelling around some more might be in the plans. Just as long as the temperature’s above 10 degrees Celsius I’m happy.

Al shares more information about life in Panama through his blog, panamadude.com.

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