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I’ve been living in Panama as an expat for a little over a month and a half now. And what a truly awesome experience it’s been so far for me and my family.
The first couple of weeks were like a vacation. Most of our time was consumed with exploring and having fun. We spent our days eating out, shopping (ok, mostly just browsing!), and doing fun activities like whale watching.
Starting at the beginning of September, we began to scale back a little bit. It was time for us (mostly Lisa) to start Faith’s homeschooling. That had its ups and downs but seems to be working pretty well as of late. But it also has meant an earlier bedtime and losing some of our “playtime” out and about during the day.
Don’t think that’s a reason for concern though. Homeschooling has its pros and cons, but one big plus is the flexibility. We can slide the schedule around as needed to fit in some fun like our walk to the weekly Tuesday Market or to be able to enjoy any special activities that creep up.
But now I feel like we’re at a point where we’re starting to really settle in. Since we’ve moved into a more permanent place for at least a year, we’ve finally been able to make it more of a home. We had a smaller fridge at the place we were staying before so we couldn’t stock up on a lot of groceries that require refrigeration. We also didn’t want to buy all sorts of other canned foods and what-not that we’d be stuck moving into our new place.
We’re here now though and each of us is starting to make the place feel more like home than we had up until this point.
Not only that, but we’re finally getting a routine and starting to do our own things. Faith is now attending weekly horseback-riding lessons at the Boquete Equestrian Center. Lisa was introduced to a hairdresser and got her hair cut for the first time since we got here. And both Faith and Lisa are starting to do volunteer work (more on that later in this post).
As for me, I’ve been knocking off so many straggling items from my checklist that have been hanging out there for years. This was something that actually depressed me for a while when I first retired from my job because I couldn’t strike everything from my list right away. Checking these items off now has been such a liberating feeling.
Soon I’ll be able to put more time into this blog and start some other projects I want to do. I’d like to write a couple more books, learn a new programming language to build a phone app, revisit martial arts training, and tons of other fun.
I feel like I’m now really living in Panama as an expat and not just vacationing here anymore. And with that, I want to tell you some of the reasons I love living here in Boquete, Panama.
1) It’s gorgeous here!
I’ve got to start with this. It’s unreal to think that I’m actually living as an expat in Panama. Cleveland, Ohio was a great place to live and has some good scenery that we love like the Cleveland Metroparks and Kelleys Island, but holy cow, Boquete, Panama is beautiful!
The mountain views still mesmerize each of us with each passing day. Maybe that’ll become less majestic to us over time, but it’s hard to think so.
We seem to point out different scenic views every day while we’re out walking around. Not having a car gives us a great opportunity to “stop and smell the roses.” We’re able to take in the beauty and just look around in amazement as we walk to our destination.
Here’s the view that I wake up to in the morning (I took the picture while laying in bed)…
The master bedroom has a door out to the balcony with a view of palm trees and mountains as the backdrop. With the door open, we get a nice breeze at night and have a nice white noise from the fountain in the pond below… life is good!
To add to the beautiful bounty of nature surrounding us here, we’re basically in the middle of a tropical rainforest. That means a lot of rain and a lot of lush greenery as a result.
There are also awesome hiking trails with stunning views all around. And then there are cool animals that we normally would’ve had to go to the zoo to see. Lisa and Faith love watching the coatimundis!
I could go on and on talking about the 992 species of birds here in Panama well. It’s intriguing just to see and hear them in different places throughout the day.
2) The price is right!
Living as an expat in Panama is one thing, but living as a retired expat in Panama is another. Most of the jobs here don’t pay very much at all, but that falls in line with the pricing and cost of living here, too.
So being a retiree here is really a big benefit – the higher dollars we made in the U.S. are worth a lot more here.
I’ve talked about the cost of living in Boquete before, but it’s pretty nice to actually experience it. When it’s raining, we take a cab back from town and it runs us three bucks. Our last grocery shopping trip ran us $55 – that’s being careful and shopping for non-U.S. brands.
We’ve eaten at local Panamanian restaurants that cost us $13 total for the three of us. We’ve also gone to some mid-level places that total around $30.
And then sometimes we head to a “fancier” restaurant here. This isn’t the biggest upscale restaurant, but the Soul Kitchen has some fantastic food in a great setting.
On our first visit there, Lisa ordered the Caribbean-style octopus, Faith got lasagna, and I ordered the chicken pesto ciabatta. We also got a side of garlic mashed potatoes (we love mashed potatoes in this family!). Lisa and I each had a couple of beers and Faith had a Coke.
Total cost $54 plus a 13% tip (that’s actually generous here in Panama)… not too shabby.
Even the activities are cheaper. Faith had done a few horseback lessons back in Ohio over the years at $65/hour. We got her started with lessons here with Jess at the Boquete Equestrian Center. $25 for the hour is a much better deal!
It’s also vital to mention that we can buy a nice size ice cream cone for 60 cents or beer at the grocery store for about 40-45 cents each! Between my sweet tooth and love of beer, Panama satisfies!
3) My kind of temperature!
One of the things I was looking forward to the most about Boquete, Panama was the temperature. When you think of Panama, you might be thinking “hot”, but with Boquete being in the mountains at 1,200 meters (3,900 ft) above sea level, it’s anything but.
There are many microclimates here that can vary the temperature based on the specific area you’re in. However, where we’re at, it’s roughly 75 degrees Fahrenheit every day.
I’m not going to dwell on this one too much, but that’s what I was after. I wanted to be outside more and this makes it possible. We spend our days now without a car walking to town to do our shopping, go out to eat, or go hiking. It’s really wonderful – not too hot and not too cold.
And when we’re at the apartment, it’s been nice, too. No heat or A/C needed. We run the ceiling fans most of the day and night and it keeps the temperature comfortable.
The nights here can get cool (higher 50s and lower 60s). We’re still figuring this out, but for the most part, we go to bed with the bedroom door to the balcony partially open. It makes for a nice cool temp, but by morning we’re actually kind of chilly. We’ll probably start closing the door a little more or keeping an extra blanket handy.
4) Is everyone this friendly?
I’m very encouraged by how friendly everyone is that we talk to. Almost everyone waves and says “hi” or “hola” in passing.
What kind of surprised me though is how helpful people tend to be.
The expats that are here go out of there way to help you in whatever way they can. Because they’ve all “been there, done that”, they know what it’s like to be the new guy or gal here.
It seems as soon as you meet someone, you’re exchanging WhatsApp numbers (that’s what everyone here uses for calls/texting). And before you know it, this person you barely know is giving you great information on places to get this and that and what to check out and avoid.
Then there are the locals – the Panamanians. You’d think the language barrier would make people less apt to be accommodating to expats from all over the world.
Nope, most of the locals are very friendly and want to help you. Even with us knowing only bits and pieces of Spanish (we’re still learning every day!), we have good conversations and can smile and laugh together. It’s pretty incredible.
This small piece of friendliness from the locals and the expats has made living in Panama as an expat so much easier.
5) It’s a simpler lifestyle living in Panama as an expat
Boquete is a small town. I couldn’t find any official records, but Jackie from Panama Relocation Tours has a recent post stating that the population is about 30,000 with about 3,500 of those being expats.
Coming from Cleveland where the population is around 383,793, that’s well over a 12x difference.
And guess what – I love that. Things are simpler here. You might assume that without the conveniences of Uber, Walmart, or other familiar companies, it would be a terrible place to live.
You’d be wrong.
Yes, there are fewer choices for things like shopping, but you could always take a trip to David if you need something or order from Amazon.
But running into people you know throughout your day is kind of comforting.
Not hearing people yammering on about politics all the time is a welcome reprieve.
Instead, it’s just folks enjoying life in general. It also doesn’t hurt that people aren’t in a hurry, which can be nice as well (once you get used to it).
6) Volunteering abilities
Even though it’s a simpler life here, that comes with another big advantage – fewer rules and restrictions. Sure that can sometimes be problematic depending on what you’re trying to accomplish, but it can also be a great asset to someone living in Panama as an expat.
In our case, that means the volunteering ability for Faith. Faith and Lisa are hard-wired to do volunteer work. And right now, they want to provide help to organizations that focus on animal causes.
The biggest problem… Faith’s age. In the U.S., it becomes such a pain for someone her age (she’s currently nine) to be able to do volunteer work. She’s too young, what about the liability, blah, blah, blah.
I get it, but it’s stupid. If she wants to do it and we know the risks, then we’re overcomplicating something that should be simple and good for everyone.
Well, here, no one cares. If you’re helping, that’s A-Ok with folks here.
Lisa and Faith did their first round of volunteer work at Amigos de Animales de Boquete in Alto Boquete recently. Stray animals are a problem here because a lot of folks can’t afford the cost to get their pets spayed or neutered. Once a month, they have a bunch of veterinarians come in (nine in this instance).
The doctors get paid and there are a lot of volunteers there to make everything go smooth. They handled over 250 animals just on the day that Lisa and Faith were there to volunteer. Their job was to help comfort the animals as they came out of recovery.
Faith kicked @#$ and worked hard. She put in a full 7-hour day – that’s a long day for a kid! She enjoyed being a part of that and they might do this every month.
They’re also checking into the possibility of volunteering for DogCamp Boquete. This organization aims to rescue abandoned and abused dogs, rehabilitating them, and find them new homes.
7) Fresh fruit and veggies!
At first, we were buying fruits and vegetables from the grocery store… amateurs! Now that I’m living in Panama as an expat though, I’ve learned my lesson.
I know now that the fruits and vegetables at the stores are shipped in from other parts of Panama and other countries (just like we’re used to in the U.S.). The two problems with that are the costs and the chemicals they use for preservation.
But here in Boquete, Panama, we have a couple of other great options. There is a fantastic public market they have here where there are so many farmers selling fresher fruits and vegetables… at a fraction of the cost!
But then, some farmers sell fruits and veggies right out of the back of their trucks. These are even cheaper than the public market! You’d probably be raising an eyebrow if you saw that in most places in the U.S., but here, it’s normal and a great option.
I love that we’re able to eat more fresh fruits and vegetables as part of our regular diet and the ones here are really fresh!
So there you have it – the seven reasons I love living in Panama as an expat. Living here has been awesome thus far. Whether or not we decide to stay here for years to come, only time will tell. But regardless, I’m so glad we made this move to be able to have this experience and adventure.
As a reminder, if you’re interested in the possibility of moving to Panama to live as an expat, I highly recommend signing up for one of Jackie’s Panama Relocation Tours. You won’t find a better way to learn about all the ins and the outs of the country. Not only that, but she provides you with the right contacts for everything you need here – from opening a bank account to the attaining the right attorneys for obtaining residency.
Stay tuned for a future related post. Although we’re really enjoying it, it’s not all a bed of roses. I’ll have another post coming out in the next couple of weeks on the things that I don’t like about living here (though I think the number of reasons might be smaller!).
Thanks for reading!!