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Stephanie Angulo, Churuquita Grande

I am MeanderingMiss of the Xpat Escape blog and Twitter. Some of my favorite things are photography, travel, writing, and cooking. Recently opening a Mexican Restaurant in La Chorrera, Panama generally occupies the rest of my free time!

We moved to Churuquita Grande, Panama from Austin, Texas in January 2011 because we wanted to live in a tropical climate and still have spare funds to invest in bettering our new community.
What challenges did you face during the move?
Since we decided to move via airplane, we didn’t have any furniture to worry about. The biggest challenges were picking which items we really wanted to take in our allotted suitcases without going over the weight limit and getting our dog, Tuaca, safely to Panama.How did you find somewhere to live? (e.g. how did you locate a suitable property? what was the buying/renting process like?)

We looked online every single day for properties. Fortunately, my in-laws moved to Panama 8 months before us and were able to scout out locations too. It made it easier to trust what they said about a property than a stranger.

Are there many other expats in your area?

Surprisingly, there are a lot more expats than we realized. It took opening our restaurant to draw them out, but then again, an American can sniff out Mexican food no matter where they go. We have since befriended many expats from all over the world. The funniest part, just about all of them live within 30 minutes of us!

What is your relationship like with the locals?

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We have a phenomenal relationship with the locals. We are working to better our local community and have given 16 Panamanians jobs that didn’t have one before we opened the restaurant. They are grateful to us and we enjoy seeing them taking pride in their work.

What do you like about life where you are?

Where do I begin? I love the view from my patio when I’m working on my laptop. I love the weather, even during rainy season! I know I moved from Texas, but contrary to popular belief, it gets really cold there. I’ll take rain over cold any day of the week. I love the laid back life style. I love being close to a beautiful white sand public beach that no one uses during the week. I love the huge waterfall that’s a 20 minute walk from my house. I love being able to spend more time with the hubs since we’re no longer on two different work schedules. This list could probably go on forever…

What do you dislike about your expat life?

The world of lines that is Panama. Just about everything you need to do requires that you stand in a line to get it done. Got contract cellular service? Want to sign up for automatic draft or pay the bill online? Tough. You need to stand in line, pay the bill in person, and depending on the location, they might only accept cash.

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

Socializing in front of your house. In the U.S. we socialize privately in our backyards. Panamanians socialize with everybody while sitting at their front patio. Most backyards in Panama are used for hanging clothes to dry and not backyard barbecues. I guess you could call them front yard barbecues.

How does shopping (for food/clothes/household items etc.) differ compared to back home?

I used to be an avid “couponer.” I miss couponing. It was also one of the ways I helped us to save up so quickly for our move to Panama. That’s probably why I liked it so much. Grocery prices are the same here as in the U.S. so we do like the locals do and head to the farmers’ markets and the public market for fresh food on the cheap. We only head to the grocery store when we want packaged food now.
I’ve never been much of a shopper, but I do notice how much cheaper the clothes are in Panama. Yes, that’s a double entendre.

What I have bought here doesn’t last as long so I am willing to pay higher prices for quality.

What do you think of the food in your new country? What are your particular likes or dislikes?

Panamanians tend to eat a lot of fried food. It’s like the standard American’s diet on steroids which makes it difficult to find a variety of fruits and vegetables. After asking a local farmer, he said they all used to grow a larger variety of both but now, no one buys it so they stopped growing it. One thing I can say, Panamanians make a mean roasted chicken. Any restaurant or fonda you go to will have their own secret recipe!

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

Rent for at least 3 to 6 month before purchasing. Buying before experiencing your new town as a resident might leave you disappointed and with a large amount of cash tied up into a property. Rent in Panama is cheap too. We come across single family homes (3 bedroom/2 bath) renting from $250 and up. A lot are fully furnished too! And remember, you’re not in Kansas anymore so don’t compare everything to Kansas. You’ll be much happier if you don’t, I promise!

What are your plans for the future?

We plan to start renovating homes that are affordable for the locals, exploring everything Panama has to offer, and travelling to other countries for extended vacations to really get to know the areas.

Stephanie shares more information about expat life in Panama through her blog www.xpatescape.com and on Twitter @XpatEscape.

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