The Downsides of Moving to Another Country

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The Downsides of Moving to Another Country

Although we’re ecstatic about this new adventure we’re embarking on, it’s worth noting that there are some downsides of moving to another country.

That’s right – in just a couple of months in August of 2019, we’ll finally be making our move to Panama.  It’s exhilarating and just a little scary at the same time.

We’ve been preparing for this for several years now, but wanted to reach FIRE before we made it happen.

It’s crazy to think that this big leap is right around the corner.  This is the last month on our short-term apartment lease before we’re “homeless.”

Then, about a month and a half later, we’ll be on a flight to Panama!  We’ll stay at a place we booked for a month on HomeAway while we find our long-term rental.

Obviously, we’re excited and I love to talk about some of the points of moving to another country that we’re looking forward to such as:

  • The cost of living in Boquete, Panama is about 40% cheaper than it is in Cleveland.  Cleveland is a pretty inexpensive place to live in general so that’s insane!  The ability to stretch our dollar that much further is incredible!
  • The weather in the mountains where we’ll be living is 75 degrees Fahrenheit during the day.  No, not just a few months out of the year, but every single day.  No heat or air conditioning needed.  I don’t want to live in air-conditioning and I hate the snow so this is a great scenario to allow us to be outside every day.
  • We’ll be just 45 minutes away from the beach.  And as we head down the mountains, the temperature will now be in the 90-degree range – perfect for swimming in the ocean.
  • The country’s landscape is so amazing.  Whether it’s the lush greenery, the mountainous landscape, or the country’s beaches, there is so much to explore and enjoy.
  • A lot of the complexities we have here in the U.S. just aren’t a problem in Panama.  That can be in regards to healthcare or the craziness with politics, for example.

Now, all of that is well and good.  However, I thought it would only be fair to talk about the downsides of moving to another country.  The grass is always greener on the other side, right?

The language barrier

Let’s start with the most obvious downside of moving to another country.  If you don’t know the language, it absolutely has the potential to make you feel like an outsider.

We’re all cracking down on learning Spanish individually here in between running around.  But there’s no way we’ll be even close to fluent when we arrive.

With as friendly as everyone was there the last time we visited, I don’t anticipate this being an end-all-be-all.  However, living in a place where everyone speaks your native tongue is something we take for granted.

When you’re in a grocery store looking for something here, it’s not a big deal to ask someone an employee where the apples are.  But in Panama, it takes a little more effort – not a lot, but still a little.

I believe the whole phrase would be:

Disculpe, ¿puede decirme dónde están las manzanas?

But I do think I could get by with:

Disculpe, ¿dónde es las manzanas?

We’re pretty open-minded so I don’t see the language barrier as too much of a downside (especially with the help of Google Translate!).  However, it does add to the complexity of some day-to-day activities.

Mañana mentality

The Downsides of Moving to Another Country - Mañana mentality
Mañana… get used to it!

In Spanish, the word “mañana” means “tomorrow.”

In Panama, the word “mañana” can sometimes mean “eventually.”  And by that, I mean that family comes first in Panama and work comes second (this is a good thing).

That’s not to say that Panamanians aren’t hard workers – far from it.  But rather, everything moves at a much slower pace there… much slower.

If you’re having work done on your house and the contractor tells you he’ll be back mañana, you might not see him for another week.  It’ll get done, just probably not at a pace you’re used to.

Service, in general, is slow in Panama and for a Type A personality, that can be a little trying.  Imagine going to a restaurant and no one comes by to even get your drink order for 20 minutes.

It’s not laziness, it’s just a big cultural difference.  And when moving to another country like Panama, it’s the norm.

This can be considered a downside if efficiency is important to you.   It’s going to be a huge adjustment, particularly for me.  I like to get things done right away and very efficiently and that ain’t happenin’ there!

I’m sure Lisa (Mrs. R2R) and Faith will be able to swing that much better than I will.  But I’ll adjust – I need to remember that that’s what I signed up for – a simpler lifestyle.  Plus, I’m retired now so why am I in a rush?!

Leaving friends and family

Huge downside here.  I don’t care if you’re the most sociable person in the world, it’s still hard to make new real friends.  Relationships take time to build and it’s hard to reminisce with folks who haven’t shared the same memories with you.

The same goes for family… in fact, it’s much harder to acquire a new family!  Haha, a little sarcastic, but you only get one family in most cases, right?  So leaving the one you have can be tough.

Sure, everyone and their brother will tell you that they’ll come visit.  But they won’t.  Ok, a couple might, but you can’t really expect everyone to drop what they’re doing and fly to another country to see you.

We already know that and we’re prepared, or at least trying to be.

Technology makes this somewhat easier.  No more international calls with high rates anymore.  We’ll use Google Voice to keep in touch with friends and family regularly and this setup should make it much more streamlined.

Then there’s always video chat functionality through Hangouts, WhatsApp, or whatever software app we decide to use.  That wasn’t something you used to be able to do (at least not efficiently) a decade ago.

But regardless, it’s still not the same as spending an evening out with friends or having dinner together with family.  So this one’s going to be tough.  It might be the toughest one for us to overcome.

Selling everything

I’m not going to dig too deep into this trainwreck again, but selling all your crap is a real pain in the @#$.  It takes time and energy and it gets old really quick.  On top of that, how do you decide what to keep?

Another option is to get the biggest storage unit you can and stuff everything in there, but that cost is a tough pill to swallow.

Or you can pay to ship everything you own.  It’s true.  You can ship it all, including your car, via a giant shipping container.  And for the low, low cost of only $10k-25k.  Um, yeah, not this guy, but go for it if you feel it’s a good fit for you, feel free.

It’s rejuvenating to get rid of most of your stuff, but it’s still a mammoth task when you’re moving to another country.

Is moving to another country the right thing to do for Faith?

So for us, this is the biggest downside.  It’s the feeling of questioning your decision.

Believe me, Lisa and I talk about this all the time.  This will be a great experience for our daughter.  Really it’s one that most kids will never get the opportunity to have.

And homeschooling?  The chance to ensure your kid gets a one-on-one teacher to student ratio?  This should be a fantastic chance to be able to expand our daughter’s education even further!

We’re not goofball parents (Ok, I’m a little goofy, but you already know that!) and Faith is an extremely bright kid.  This will likely be a wonderful experience for all of us.

Nevertheless, it’s not the norm.  Moving to another country plus homeschooling your kid?  This is highly irregular.

That doesn’t make it wrong.  In fact, I truly think this will be awesome and is the right thing to do.

But anytime you go against the grain of what others do, you question yourself.  There’s still that little nagging feeling of “is this the best thing for our daughter?” in our heads.  And we think it is the right thing, but only time will tell.

Faith is our top priority and always will be.

Will there be enough kids for her to befriend and live as a “normal” kid?  This is important to us – we’ll be keeping an honest stance on whether this is the best thing for Faith or if we’re being selfish.

So this little question mark in our heads will probably continue to be the source of an ongoing conversation.  That’s a good thing because we know we’ll adjust if needed, but it’s still something we’ll always have on our minds.

Moving to another country is going to be different

Personally, I think this is going to be a pro, but I’ll throw it in here just for discussion anyway.  Moving to another country like Panama is almost always going to be different.

If you plan on becoming an expat and expect it to be the same as it is in your home country, you’re probably going to be very disappointed.  Other cultures can be dramatically different and Panama is no exception.

We’ve been talking about this from the onset and we’re a little excited about this aspect.  We want to experience the differences.

We don’t plan to live like Americans there in a lot of ways.  You can find Americanized grocery stores and restaurants there, but you’ll pay a lot more for them.  And what’s the point of going to a completely different country if you don’t want to experience some of the ways the local people live.

I’m not saying a juicy burger from Mike’s Global Grill isn’t going to be on our agenda from time to time (best burger I’ve ever had!).  But for the most part, the cultural differences add to the experience and that’s what we want to be a part of.

And Panama’s much easier than a lot of places.  A lot of countries have different currencies (Panama’s Balboa is interchangeable with the dollar) and other factors that can make the transition even harder.

If Panama’s on your radar as a possible place to retire to, check out Retire in Panama Tours. It’s a first-rate way to see different parts of the country, learn about the pros and the cons of living here, meet other ex-pats living here, and gain a lot of the right resources to make the transition easier (immigration attorneys, for example).

Oscar, Rod, and Megan are great people, too. They have the knowledge to guide you through Panama, answer your questions, and ensure that Panama’s the right place for you. Check out Retire in Panama Tours for more info!

So those are the biggest downsides we’re finding on moving to Panama.  But as you can see, there’s nothing on this list that seems like a dealbreaker.  The way we see it, the upsides are even stronger for why we want to be there.

Would any of these points be a dealbreaker for you in considering moving to Panama?  It’s Ok to spill the beans – I know that what we’re doing isn’t something most folks would ever consider doing!

Thanks for reading!!

— Jim

You know you wanna share this!!

39 thoughts on “The Downsides of Moving to Another Country”

  1. Nope – none of the items you mentioned would deter my family and I from moving. We have the same concerns about moving to Mexico in a few years, so the downsides seem comparable. But – there are good and bad points about everything, and my wife and I feel that the potential upside outweighs the downside risks.

    The other important point to make is to have mitigation plans in place for the downsides that you think will be the worst. For example, you mentioned learning Spanish as a downside. The mitigation to this is simply to start learning now (like you are doing) and also potentially consider a tutor when you go down there. Of course, the ultimate mitigation is to maintain no permanent ties until you are sure the area is right for you – so you can bail and come back to the US if it doesn’t work out. This is the big mitigation that (like you) my family and I are keeping in our back pocket – the move doesn’t necessarily have to be permanent.

    By the way – thanks again for posting the article on using Google Voice internationally. I was able to get it to work on my phone, and am actually in Europe right now on business. It works great – just bought a 30-day prepaid SIM card at the airport for about $25 and got 20 GB of data (along with unlimited text & calls on a local phone number that I probably won’t use). Having GV made it very easy to text and call everyone back home while I’m over here without incurring additional charges. I will say that the GV app can be a bit wonky sometimes – sometimes it tends to forward all calls to voicemail for no reason, for example – and since my wife has 0% tolerance for computer glitches like this it probably isn’t for her. But I think it’s good enough for my purposes, and it should work fine for you as well when you get to Panama!

    1. Great perspective and points, Jim! Take it for what it is – a chance at something great. And if you love it, stay. If not, you come back (or move somewhere else) and be glad you gave it a shot. Good luck on your adventure!

      And awesome to hear that Google Voice is working well for you in Europe… I love fun finds like that!

  2. Cookie LaManna

    ” Moving to another country plus homeschooling your kid? This is highly irregular.” Yes, it is not the norm. But I will quote from your Grandpa “If everyone is running down the street, you better be running up the street, because everyone else is WRONG! I am sure his point was “norm” is not the only correct way. We will miss you, but we support you. Love, Mom

  3. Once the newness of the experience is gone, call it the honeymoon phase , will determine if you stay.

    We moved from Ohio to AZ for a couple years and had to move back to Ohio. Every day there felt like vacation, the mountains and sunshine didn’t get old. We look forward to moving back and it has been 15 years since we came back.

    Another thing that everyone knows is that time flies. Before you know it your daughter is graduating and planning for her future. Where will she want to go to college, etc. etc. will influence things, especially if she comes back to the states.

    With all that, take it a day at a time and enjoy the trip, wherever it takes you.

    1. I think that’s a great way to put it, Scott… one day at a time. If it works, great, but if not, no harm, no foul.

      Glad to hear that you’re going to move back to the place you loved. I’ve never been to Arizona, but I hear from friends how much they love it there. 🙂

  4. The new logo looks great! Nautical 🙂

    I want to live abroad for a year while our daughter’s in middle school since I’ve never left North America. My husband wants to stay put because of proximity to his parents. Our current compromise is that we travel wherever we want during the summer, currently doing US national park RV trips.

  5. Being away from family is a big deal – even though we really don’t see them that often. In fact, Panama would be closer to our east coast kids than SoCal is. When grandkids come that will become an even bigger issue.

    And you are right – they likely won’t visit.

    If we stay in SoCal long enough, a wildfire will eventually make downsizing so much simpler. Bride hates it when I say that.

  6. One thing that’s always sounded appealing about living remotely is opening a local tours company. Nothing in depth – just taking visitors to a few of your favorite places and showing them around. We did one in Panama with a guy from Minnesota who retired there which was the highlight of our trip. Now we look for those whenever we travel – whether it’s seeing sites, food, bars or whatever. It has the added bonus of being some social time with other English speaking people too!

    1. It’s funny that you say that, Adam – that’s exactly how Jackie started her Panama Relocation Tours that I was talking about. She had some family come down and asked her to show them around… then some friends, then more and more. That’s when she turned it into a business, which is now probably the most well-known in the country. Sounds like great fun to do!

  7. I think the manana mentality might also have the benefit of reducing stress over time. True that you might feel like you’re not getting things done, but life ain’t just about getting things done. It’s about living.

  8. I love the new logo, looks awesome!

    None of the ones you listed would deter us moving to another country. I suppose away from the family would be tough but both my wife and I have done that (all her family is in Denmark).

  9. Moving abroad is legitimately one of the most difficult things we have done, but also the most rewarding. Our kids have a perspective on the world and an ability to adapt that they’d never have otherwise. Just expect that it will be hard sometimes and you’ll be fine (also, getting those American groceries sometimes helps when you’re homesick for the US more than you’d think!).

    1. I love when you chime in Kathryn since you’ve “been there, done that”! 🙂 I hope our experience is as rewarding as yours has been. I get nervous about Faith sometimes, but I’m sure that’s just me overthinking everything.

      That’s a good tip on the American groceries – I can imagine how that can be a little consoling in a way.

      — Jim

  10. I’m so excited for you guys! I’ve still got a trip to Panama set aside for this upcoming January/February. Once you are settled we’ll reach out and plan the trip to visit!!! August will come fast. I can’t believe its already the middle of June!!!

    Also – I love getting rid of our stuff. If it were up to me, we would have very very little. I’m actually purging a lot of stuff in our minimalist apartment right now in order to get ready for our move to our house in August. There have been a bunch of stuff that I’ve kept just because it was in good working order and figured we would use it or need it or shouldn’t get rid of it. For me this is 300 piece puzzles, some clothes & shoes, some kitchen stuff, and decor. I decided to give myself permission to just say goodbye to this stuff. I knew that I was happy with less in our home. But I’ve kind of taken it to a new level and I’m finding I am less stressed not seeing a few piles of items that we were just holding onto.

    1. That’s awesome – we’d definitely love to see you guys!

      It’s funny how we seem to be ingrained with this idea that more stuff will make us happier. The more we’ve gotten rid of, the happier I’ve become. We’re down to the wire now and actually just got rid of our couches today. I’m sitting on a mattress in the living room typing this – how’s that for weird? 😉

  11. Thank you for the honest write up. I have experienced this first hand when I moved to the U.S. about 10-years ago. And oddly enough, might experience it again when we FIRE (probably back to our home country of Colombia). Though it will be easier since we grew up there, have family, and speak the language.

    I truly admire anyone who is willing to permanently move abroad. It is a really difficult thing to bring yourself to do. But often times the most difficult things are the most rewarding.

    I have only been to Panama City (not the one in Florida). Boquete sounds fantastic! I’ll be following your adventure and possibly adding Boquete to my list of FIRE paradises 🙂

    1. Hi, Juan – that’s cool that you’re from Colombia and may head back there after FIRE. I’m not sure what age you were when you moved to the U.S., but I’m guessing the differences would have made it a tough transition for you as well when you came here. When you mention rewarding, I think it’s eye-opening just to visit another country. Most folks never leave there home country even for a vacation and have pre-conceived notions about other countries. Those notions also can make you think about your home country in a way that may not be 100% accurate.

      I’m excited to spend time in Panama – immersing ourselves in a different culture should be worth the move alone. But the lower cost of living and great weather don’t hurt either! 😉

  12. Stepping to the beat of a different drummer is a good thing. You guys are going to be just fine. Yes, leaving family is going to hard, but it’s not going to be permanent. You’ll make new friends, I have no doubt about that.

    Ultimately you’re doing something that scares you… and long term that’s going to make you and your family stronger (and less fearful) people.

  13. I think you guys will do just fine. I’m looking forward to reading more about Panama.
    It’ll be a big adventure. I think the biggest problem for us would be moving our son. He won’t adjust well.
    A stable environment is better for him. He always gets into trouble when he goes into a new environment. He’ll need to learn to be flexible, but that can wait a bit. For now, we’ll stay put.

    BTW, this link doesn’t work – Panama Relocation Tours.

    1. I’m looking to reading more about your travels as well! I love to hear about countries I’ve never been to like Thailand – very cool!

      And thanks for the heads up on the link. Looks like there was a problem with the latest update of the link-shortening plugin I use. I rolled it back and we’re good to go now!

      — Jim

  14. I’m moving in July from California! My first trip was in November 2018 and then a 2nd trip in March to confirm I wasn’t crazy. Bought a condo in Gorgona and will have a whole new life adventure ahead of me and I can’t wait.
    Yes, there will be adjustments, but that’s what keeps us flexible and not stuck in our ways.
    Personally, I think your move will be a great thing for your daughter.
    I am determined to have my FIRE goals reached while I’m in Panama 🙂

  15. I’m new to your blog & really enjoying reading about your adventures! If you had to do it all over again, when would you have started selling all your stuff? 2 years prior to moving? 3 years? I only ask as my sister in law wants to retire to Belize or Panama in a few years & I thought I’d pass on your advice to her. I hope you plan on continuing your blog after you move?

    1. Hi Debbie and welcome! I think most of us could stand to start shedding some of the weight of our stuff in general whether moving or not. So, really she could start whenever she wants. We didn’t really get serious on it until about a year ago and it’s been a lot of work, but it seems to have worked out well. We’re just about wrapped up – 9 more days until we’re homeless for a while! 😉

        1. Although not required per the CDC, we paid a couple of visits to the country travel clinic and got the vaccines that were recommended.

          Some parts of the country do require other vaccines, but not the areas we planned to be in. The clinic was very good at working with us to determine everywhere we were going and determining what immunizations we’d need and what we didn’t need to worry about.

          We already had some immunizations from over the years so there were things we didn’t need to do again (particularly in our daughter’s case). So with these visits to the travel clinic, we all got vaccines for Typhoid, my wife got vaccinated for Hepatitis A, and I got the combo vaccinations for Hepatitis A and B.

  16. I’m enjoying reading your past postings. Thanx for sharing all your experiences which are so informative. Are you going to Tx. to establish residency when you become homeless next week? I think I read that you must maintain a USA residence to keep a Vanguard account.

    1. Thanks, Debbie – we’ll actually stay Ohio residents until we get to Texas at the beginning of August. Then we’ll establish residency there before we head off to Panama. I believe that is correct that a lot of financial institutions require you to have a U.S. address. We’ve already moved most of our accounts to a virtual mailbox in TX though we could change them to my brother’s address there if needed at some point down the line.

    1. Funny enough, I think English is supposed to be one of the hardest languages to learn. If that’s true, we’ve got the hard part out of the way – Spanish should be an easy hurdle to get over! 🙂

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