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Life is funny sometimes. We made plans for the future, retired early, sold everything we had, and then moved to Boquete, Panama in 2019.
What are the chances a once-in-century pandemic hits shortly thereafter and throws everything out of whack? The odds can’t be very high I would guess.
I’ll tell you what – it’s been one helluva ride so far.
The first six months were pretty awesome. We got settled in, had the opportunity to be on House Hunters International, found a place to live, and had fun learning the ins and outs of this beautiful country.
We barely took any time to rest during that first half a year. Sure, Faith was doing some homeschooling, but outside of that – busy as all get-out!
Some of the fun we had during those first months included:
- Exploring the town and learning the nuances of how things work here
- Going on a whale-watching excursion – simply amazing!
- Taking in the spectacular mountain views from some of the hikes we went on
- Enjoying some delicious meals at just a few of the 75-85 restaurants in this small community
- Figuring out the bus to the city of David about an hour away… only $1.75!
- Visiting a couple of animal sanctuaries (the girls even got to hold a sloth!)
- Making horseback riding lessons a weekly part of Faith’s routine
- Going on geological hikes to learn more about the volcano and its history (and future!)
- Taking Faith trick-or-treating thanks to a friend who got a group of neighbors on-board to make it happen (they don’t really celebrate Halloween here)
- Taking advantage of the pool, hot tub, gym, and racquetball court offered in our gated community
- “Getting away” for a couple of days at a beach resort
- Taking a 9-hour bus ride from San Jose, Costa Rica to David, Panama
- Taking in the Christmas parade that seemed to be endless (we left after 2 hours and it was still going strong!)
- Partying it up at Big Daddy’s Grill for Halloween and New Year’s Eve
- Just walking around, taking in the wondrous landscapes, and appreciating the beautiful weather
- Making some wonderful new friends – both adults and kids Faith’s age
And don’t forget, during those six months, we left for a little over a month to comply with tourism rules since we don’t have residency here. So that’s a heckuva lot of fun accomplished in such a little time.
Things were going well and we were getting a nice groove going. Who needs plans for the future when things are going so well? What could stop us now?!
Oh, yeah – that shitty pandemic, that’s what.
Even though we’re extremely blessed to be in the position we are, the pandemic really took its toll on us. Things got locked down hard here in Panama – some of the toughest restrictions in the world. Aside from some extremely short gender-separated windows of time to go to the store, bank, or pharmacy, we were all mandated to stay at home… inside.
We just made do much like anyone did and tried to appreciate how fortunate we are. But eventually, we made the decision to head back to the U.S., which ended up happening on July 1, 2020. The borders were closed and we took a humanitarian flight back knowing full well that we might not be able to get back to Panama once we left.
Still, it was good to be able to see family and friends again and the restrictions were still relatively loose there. But we were still being careful and that essentially meant we weren’t much better off than we were while in Panama.
So, we decided to buy a car and take a road trip across the country. Leg 1 took us from Ohio to Tennessee, Arkansas, and Texas. We then stayed at my brother and sister-in-law’s house for a few weeks in Texas before moving on. Leg 2 had us in El Paso, Tucson, and Las Vegas. Then, during the last part of the trip, we ended up sleeping in a Cracker Barrel parking lot in the cold before visiting the Grand Canyon. Finally, we made our way back to Ohio with stops in Arizona, Colorado, and Kansas.
It took exactly 40 days from the time we left Ohio until we got back. Although a lot was closed because of the pandemic, it gave us something fun to do to take our minds off things and bide some time during these weird times.
As we got closer and closer to accepting the idea that we would never get back to Panama, we started to realize we better make some plans for the future. Then Panama suddenly announced a slow re-opening of the borders starting on October 12. It was a pain-in-the-ass process, but we managed to make it happen and arrived back in Boquete on October 14.
So here we are a couple of months later and things should be good again, right?
But they’re not. Again, like much of the world, nothing is normal. There are still a lot of things I wish we could be doing right now. And honestly, even though we’re still doing the best we can, we’re back to spending a lot of time staring at the walls here.
Frankly, I don’t anticipate much changing until the vaccine becomes widespread enough for herd immunity to take place, which probably won’t be for another year. Looking back, that won’t seem like a long time in the span of things, but right now, a year is a long way away.
Although some things will loosen up over time, we sure picked a bad couple of years to make our move to Panama!
It is what it is though and we’ll continue to try to enjoy it for what it is. But now it’s time to start making plans for the future.
Why do we want to create new plans for the future?
We purposely designed our strategy to take everything one year at a time. We knew moving to a new country would be different and we weren’t sure if we’d like it or not.
The good news is that we do like it. Personally, Faith and I love it, and would be good to stay here for the foreseeable future. Lisa, on the other hand, has really enjoyed it as well but would prefer to be back in the U.S. at some point.
Regardless, I’d say having the flexibility to figure out what we want to do is nice. Making plans for the future is obviously much easier when neither one of us has a regular job we need to report to. Fortunately, we’re in a position where we can more or less decide our next steps without too much stopping us.
However, there are two big fat wrenches in the works that are weighing in on what our plans for the future will be:
- We need to ensure we’re always making Faith the priority.
- Being away from family and friends is tough.
Both of these points were at the top of our minds going down this path. However, we need to re-evaluate them periodically just to question if we’re still on the right track.
The Faith Factor
As far as Faith goes (who’s now 10 years old, by the way), moving to Panama has been an amazing opportunity for her that most kids might never get the chance to experience. Hell, this is the first time Lisa and I get to experience it as well.
Being able to experience another culture and to also realize that other areas in the world can actually be wonderful places to live has paid for itself a million times over. Faith knows there’s no reason to fear or have disdain for other people just because they were born in or live in a different country – something still way too common in US society. Different is good and I’m glad this has been a part of her life.
Despite that, Faith is almost halfway through her second year of homeschooling. COVID-19 has helped many parents to understand that homeschooling is not an easy endeavor. We absolutely had a rough time with it at first as well but it’s gotten better over time. It’s not perfect, but there’s a sort of swing to things now, which makes it flow a little easier.
But is homeschooling the right option for Faith for the long haul? I don’t have the answer to this. I think it’s different for every kid and every scenario. I also think that Faith is learning just as much as she would get from a regular school, if not more, while we’re doing this.
I also don’t think it’s affected her social abilities. She’s always been an outgoing person (sometimes too much!) and she’s made a few friends here in Boquete.
There are two problems though…
- There aren’t a lot of expat kids here in Boquete. That means she’s not able to just go outside and play with neighbor kids in the late afternoons, evenings, and weekends. There aren’t any kids nearby that I know of. So when she wants to get together with her friends, we need to arrange it with the other parents and figure out how to get them together. That means scheduling and driving to meet somewhere. Although that’s OK, it’s not very convenient and ends up not being something that happens as often as we’d like for her.
- The extracurricular activities here in Boquete for kids here are slim. We get to do enough activities together that I don’t feel she’s missing out on having fun in general. However, she loved gymnastics in the U.S. and that’s not available here. And now that horseback riding lessons closed up due in part to the pandemic, she’s got nothing. They do offer martial arts classes but Faith didn’t seem blown away by that option when I mentioned it to her.
In other words, we need to be sure that when we’re making plans for the future, we consider things like this.
The family and friends conundrum
This one is a mixed bag. Of course, you’re going to miss family and friends if you move somewhere else – it’s the nature of the beast and we knew this going in.
Right now, even if we were back in the States, we still wouldn’t be spending a ton of time with friends just because of the pandemic. And the fact that we’re not able to do as much here because of the pandemic is why we’re sitting here missing our friends even more than we would be. A funny little catch 22, right?
But either way, this one is something we need to at least keep in the back of our minds when creating our plans for the future. Sure, we’ve met some wonderful people here, but you can’t help but share a special bond with the friends you’ve known for decades. And we all know you can’t replace family.
New plans for the future?
I wish we had some cool device that would allow you to see the outcomes of different decisions you make in life. Unfortunately, I checked on Amazon and couldn’t find one. So now we’re stuck just trying to make the best decisions we can for ourselves.
There’s one thing we know so far – we’re staying here in Boquete until at least August of next year. We’re happy where we’re at and, although we didn’t sign a lease renewal, that’s the expectation we gave our landlord so we’ll stick to that.
Technically, this second year here at this condo would take us into September of 2021, but we’re still going with August as our date. The reason for this would be that if we decide to put Faith back in school, we’d need a little time to get her enrolled and prepared to go.
Again, we don’t know for sure if we’re heading back and we also don’t know if we’d put her back in a regular school if we do go back. But either way, if we’re serious about making plans for the future, we want to give ourselves as much breathing room on choices as we can.
Some of those options on the table include:
- Staying another year in Panama and continuing to do what we’re doing now.
- Going back to the “normal” way of living. Move back to Ohio to be closer to friends and family, put Faith back in school, and let her go back to gymnastics.
- Same as the above option except continuing to homeschool Faith.
- Move somewhere else in the U.S. where it’s not as cold throughout the year (i.e. Tennessee or maybe South Carolina?).
The pros and cons of any plans for the future
I think there are a handful of factors that come into play with whatever we decide:
This one’s an interesting one. Boquete, Panama is up in the mountains and has some pretty great weather. With little variance, it’s about 75 degrees every day. You don’t need heat and you don’t need A/C. You also can’t beat that for hiking and walking-around weather. There is a rainy season and sometimes that sucks but I’ll take that any day over snow.
Ohio can have years with wonderful summers and falls. But the rest of the year kind of sucks. I’m a freeze baby and hate the cold, snowy winters. And for some reason, spring tends to be a facade as well. It’s usually cold and rainy with a few nice days sprinkled in periodically until the end of the season.
South Carolina gives me that vision of beautiful warm days of going to the beach. But with the humidity there, it can make for some hot summers where you’re stuck living in A/C. Mild winters sound great, but what about hurricane season… I wouldn’t look forward to that at all!
Places like Tennessee don’t help you escape the cold completely but at least the winters there are usually much more tolerable. You can still get some crazy heat in the summer though and they do get a good number of tornadoes there.
So Boquete, Panama wins on the weather aspect hands down. The other places have their good and bad points but only in Boquete would we be able to comfortably enjoy walking around and enjoying the outdoors year-round.
Cost of living
One of the other reasons we moved to Panama in the first place was the cost of living. Although it’s not dirt cheap here in Boquete, it’s still less expensive than it would be in the U.S. – and we’re able to live it up more for less.
I talked quite a bit about how our money situation would be affected if we left Panama in my post, The Financial Impact of Moving Back to the U.S. In a nutshell, costs do go up if we move back.
We purposely planned our financial independence numbers on living in the U.S. just in case it didn’t work out in Panama. That said, we’re not going to be able to live it up so freely if we move back to the U.S.
On a brighter note, it would be easier to do some side hustling in the U.S. than it is to do that here in Panama. Without residency, there are limits as to what you can do for income here. For example, it’s fine for me to earn a little money from this blog. However, if I wanted to sell any goods or services directly to people here in Panama, that wouldn’t be allowed.
I also think Lisa would be happier going back to doing some part-time work but that’s just my opinion. She hasn’t told me that but I think she enjoyed working part-time and the time spent with coworkers.
To have some more breathing room and enjoy “some of the finer things in life” if we’re back in the U.S., a little more income would probably be worthwhile.
Activities for Faith
This one’s a gimme for the United States. Regardless of the choices of places we’d be looking at in the U.S., there would be a lot more for Faith to do than there is here in Boquete.
If we chose to live in Ohio near where we lived before, she’d also be able to hang around with old friends who she still keeps in touch with while here.
If we chose to move to a place like Tennessee or South Carolina, we’d be sure to move to an area where she’d be around other kids as well. She’s an outgoing, nice kid and I think she’d be able to make friends pretty easily.
If we stay here in Panama, she wouldn’t have a lot to choose from on the activities side of things. Maybe we’d find something for her to do though – and who knows, maybe she would want to try martial arts.
On the plus side, she’s made a few great friends here, and I can only assume those relationships would grow tighter over this next year.
Ohio wins this one, followed by other states like TN and SC. However, I don’t think this is a deal-breaker staying here in Panama if we put forth more effort into getting her together more with the kids she knows.
Distance to family and friends
Not much I can say on this. It’s pretty straightforward that going back to Ohio would easily be the winner on this. Being back in the Cleveland/Akron area would plop us right back in the vicinity of friends and family. Even moving a little further south like Columbus (about 2 hours south) would still be pretty reasonable.
As far as other states go though, I don’t see it as being too much different than living in Panama. Sure the distance is greater being in Panama, but once you’re out of the vicinity in general, it’s still a lot of planning to visit people in other states.
Tennessee would be less dramatic than South Carolina to visit Ohio but it would still not be convenient by any means.
Homeschool or regular school
We still go back and forth on this subject. They both have their pros and cons. We have so much more flexibility in what Faith learns which is wonderful (personal finance, anyone?). We also have flexibility on when we do the homeschooling and can even do it while traveling. Being able to have one-on-one interaction with your student is huge as well.
On the flip-side, it ain’t easy homeschooling a kid as a lot of you know. It’s hard to get that same respect that a teacher can get from his/her students. And a teacher is trained to hopefully be a little more versed in what they’re teaching. Lisa works with Faith for the majority of her schooling but Faith also does a good job moving forward on her own once she has some direction and knows what she’s supposed to be pursuing and learning.
A regular school also provides that opportunity to make new friends and create some lasting memories. She’s definitely making some great memories here in Panama, but they’re almost all with mom and dad. That’s not horrible but is she missing out because of this?
Currently, we’re residents of Texas living as tourists in Panama. Lucky for us, the homeschooling laws in Texas are extremely loose. It’s very easy to just do our thing when we don’t have to worry about what the state thinks.
But moving back to the U.S. does give us the option of doing either. We could homeschool Faith while being in any of those states or we can send her to a regular school. Here in Panama, we can homeschool or send her to an international school. I’ve heard mixed reviews about the international schools here (some great and some not so great) but at present, we’d most likely opt to continue homeschooling while here.
To try to wrap this up, I want to emphasize that we truly do love it here in Boquete and plan to be here until at least next fall. However, we just aren’t sure if it meets all of our needs to stay here for the long term.
Would going back to the U.S. completely satisfy all our needs? Absolutely not – that has its own problems (higher cost of living, winter weather, crazy political climate, etc.). Our job is to determine which route will meet most of the important factors we value as a family. After that, we can always adjust or move on as needed.
It should be an interesting decision. Although it’s still eight months away, it’s always important to make plans for the future so you don’t get stuck in a rut. And you know I’ll keep you posted with our thoughts along the way!
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Thanks for reading!!