Who are you?
I’m Kris, wife of Joel, and we are retired and living in Panama. I was a nurse, and Joel did home repairs and remodeling by day, and played music by night. He retired from the day job and is thrilled to have all the time he wants to play music now.Where, when and why did you move abroad?
We are in David, Panama, not far from the Costa Rica border, and we moved here in Oct. 2012. Our move was prompted by financial concerns. We thought even if we worked until we were 70 it would be hard to make it on our retirement income. Here life is much more affordable, but we have found that this is only one of many benefits of living here.
What challenges did you face during the move?
There is the challenge of wrapping up your old life, selling the house, dealing with the stuff, but that would happen no matter where you moved. Other than that, the move was surprisingly easy. We kept it as simple as possible by renting a house and bringing a minimum of stuff with us.
Are there many other expats in your area?
Boquete is 40 minutes up the mountain from us and there are many expats there. Here in David there are other expats but they are much more integrated into the community and don’t tend to group together much.
What do you like about life where you are?
I love the people the most. They are friendly, respectful, and very welcoming. I feel very accepted and very much a part of the community. The country is really beautiful and has both mountains and beaches. It doesn’t have winter though, or hurricanes, or other unpleasant weather issues. Life is much more relaxed and priorities are different. It’s all about family, friends, and enjoying life. People aren’t in a hurry and hanging out in a hammock is encouraged. Some expats find this frustrating when trying to get things done, but we have found a lot of the tensions melt away since coming here.
What do you dislike about your expat life?
The language barrier was a challenge and still is at times, but after four years my Spanish is much better thanks to a great teacher and friends who don’t speak English. That’s not even a dislike though, just something that is and the locals have been very kind and helpful when I get stuck on something. I can’t think of anything I really dislike.
What is the biggest cultural difference you have experienced between your new country and life back home?
People are open and friendly. They greet each other on the street, on the bus, everywhere they meet with at least a hello and a smile even if they don’t know each other. Family and friends stay close and it’s not unusual for three generations to be living in the same house. Family members who aren’t nearby are likely to call every day and/or use social media to keep in close touch. There is a very strong sense of family and community but you are welcomed on the basis of who you are, not your color, appearance, religion, financial status, etc. There is a very live and let live attitude. You can make noise, paint your house a crazy color, or have a cow in your yard and nobody cares. Life here feels very free.
What advice would you give to anyone following in your footsteps?
Be kind to everyone and make friends. This country runs on relationships so it’s helpful to have local friends. Be patient. A lot of things won’t make sense and you won’t understand a lot of things, especially at first. It will be much easier if you are OK with that. Embrace learning about new things, new customs, and new ideas.
What are your plans for the future?
This time is a wonderful gift. We no longer have to worry about earning a living but we’re still young enough to be active. I would like to travel and experience other countries and people, and continue to learn more about our adopted country. I have new interests like biking and painting that I appreciate having time for. Panama is home though and we plan to stay.