Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links and we may receive a referral fee (at no extra cost to you) if you sign up or purchase products or services mentioned.
Relocating to Panama has become a much bigger undertaking than we anticipated. In an earlier post, I discussed some of the tasks we’ve been working on as we get closer to the day of our move.
Today though, I thought I’d lighten things up and talk about some of the tools we’ve been using in preparation of the move.
My nerdy side loves to find useful new apps and websites and hopefully, you do, too. More importantly, I love to find FREE apps and websites, which most of these are!
Some of these are apps we’re using to help us in the preparation of the move. Others are tools that we have in place to make life easier once we actually get to Panama. And the remaining are apps that will come in handy when we come back to the U.S. to visit.
I bet you’ll find a few of these worthwhile in general for yourself whether you’re moving to another country or not.
First, the clean-up
Before the fun of relocating to Panama, we’re getting rid of our things. Here are a couple of apps helping us pull this off.
This one’s been a lifesaver for us. Similar to Craigslist, OfferUp lets you buy and sell your stuff to strangers around you. Unlike services like eBay though, you don’t lose a chunk of each sale to fees (which eBay’s getting ridiculous on).
Although you have the option to ship to buyers anywhere, we’ve been keeping it local and things are selling fast without adding that extra hassle.
If you don’t have a scanner (I don’t think we’ve owned a printer or scanner for 10 years), then PhotoScan is the app for you. It lets you use your phone to scan your photos.
What I like most about it is that it has you take four quick pictures and combines them to get rid of any glare. Then it does automatic cropping based on the photo’s edges (which you can override).
It’s a great app to help you get digitize your photos. Believe it or not, I actually got rid of all our print photos when I finished this process. All our photos are stored locally, but I keep a copy in Google Photos because of its awesomeness.
Most TVs are connected to the Internet in one way or another. Having the ability to see old photos pop up is wonderful. We’re currently using a Roku Streaming Stick, which is fantastic in itself.
But I recently added the PhotoView channel and set it as a screensaver, which makes the Roku now even better! When we pause a movie or show or have nothing going on, our photos from Google Photos randomly pop up on the screen bringing us down memory lane!
Relocating to Panama… start with some travel planning
Next up are some of the tools that I’ve been using for our travel plans both for in the U.S. and in Panama.
This is, by far, one of my favorite apps. It’s a fantastic search engine for finding and booking flights (or hotels, rental cars, or cruises) with excellent filters. I also appreciate that it’ll search for some hacker fares on flights. If a flight is cheaper to book as two different one-way tickets on different airlines, Kayak can let you know.
But there’s another aspect that I love even more. My favorite part of Kayak has to be its Trips feature.
Trips lets you store all your travel plans in one place – and you don’t even need to book them through Kayak. You can just forward your email confirmations directly to Kayak and -BOOM- your plans are automatically added. It parses the email for dates, addresses, reservation numbers, etc. and adds it to your trip.
Everything syncs automatically to the app and at any time, you can see exactly what makes up a trip from start to finish: flight in, rental car, hotel or vacation home, places you’re visiting, and flight out. You can modify details as needed, but that should be pretty minimal considering how slick it is.
And then, of course, it lets you share your trip(s) with others. Visiting friends while out-of-town? Send them a read-only link to your whole itinerary in a matter of seconds. They’ll now know all your flight details so they can pick you up at the airport!
Another cool thing that I like is that it alerts me on the app to changes faster than the airline apps. I seem to find out faster from Kayak if my gate changes, delayed flights, or what the baggage carousel will be than I do through other means.
There are other competitors out there such as TripIt, but Kayak doesn’t have “pay-only” features – it’s completely free. Google Trips is a big free competitor, but it didn’t give me enough control to adjust things as I wanted. So for now, I’m sticking with Kayak!
It lets you plug in your flight dates and then it’ll tell you whether you should book your flight now or keep waiting.
If you’re a little compulsive, this can actually drive you batty. You’ll want to book right away and can’t believe it’s still telling you to wait.
I know, because that’s me for sure. I hate waiting – it makes me uneasy and uncomfortable. I like to just get things done and crossed off the list.
But, things have changed. We now have a lot more flexibility. Since we’re retired and relocating to Panama, we now have the breathing room to adjust plans if the app should, heaven forbid, predict the time to book incorrectly.
If we’re planning a trip back to the U.S. and we need to book on a different day or week to get a better price… no big deal. Thank you, FIRE!
So Hopper will definitely come in handy to help us decide when to book our flights when we’re not using our frequent flier miles.
This is a gimme, but it’s very convenient to have the airline apps installed. I still generally print off boarding passes as a backup (technology does fail!), but being able to have the digital version available is very handy.
I like to screenshot the passes on my phone before I head to the airport. Then if I have problems with the airline app, I can just pull up the screenshots from my photo gallery to be scanned.
Because we’re relocating to Panama, Copa Airlines is the airline we’ll be flying most of the time between Panama City and David. So I have the Copa app installed.
Additionally, we’ve accumulated A LOT of miles across other airlines, so I also have the apps United, Southwest, and American installed.
As a side note, just this past month, we attained the coveted Southwest Companion Pass through 12/31/20… I believe I hear a choir of angels singing!
If you’re not familiar with HomeAway, it’s a site/app that lets you book stays at houses, condos, cabins, etc. for rentals in places across the globe. They don’t own the places, but rather act as the middleman to help facilitate the transaction with some rules between the owner and the traveler.
It’s most similar to VRBO, but that’s because HomeAway bought VRBO in 2006. It also carries a lot of similarities to Airbnb as well. In fact, they’re all viable alternatives to hotels, particularly for stays of longer than a few days.
Not only do they have the potential to save you some good money, but you’ll generally have a lot more space and privacy as well. I only have HomeAway installed because that’s where our current trips are, but I’m open to any of these that make cents for us (see what I did there?).
However, I don’t want to inconvenience them to sit on our mail or ask them to open this or shred that while we’re away. And that’s where a virtual mailbox comes into play.
We’re able to see scanned copies of every envelope that is addressed to us and can decide whether to have them open and scan it, trash it, shred it, or forward it to us. They can even hold mail for pickup and some locations will forward checks right to the bank to be deposited (for a price, of course!).
We decided on Anytime Mailbox and I love that I can check my mail right from my phone and decide what to do with it. I have two mailboxes with them – one for us and one for our businesses.
This isn’t a free service, but it’s well worth it for our purposes.
I talked about how I ported our phone numbers over to Google Voice to help make communication with friends and family pretty seamless once we leave the country.
To use it effectively, we have the Voice app installed. That allows us to make and receive phone calls and text messages over Wi-Fi/data instead of the traditional voice lines.
The app isn’t as feature-rich as a lot of texting apps, but Google’s been paying more attention to it so it continues to improve.
As a bonus, you can make and receive phone calls and text messages from your computer. This is extremely convenient for folks like me who spend a lot of time on their computer.
Most folks in the U.S. aren’t familiar with WhatsApp. However, it’s the most popular instant messaging app in the world.
Here in the U.S., we’re more keen on Facebook Messenger. The funny thing is that it doesn’t matter much because Facebook owns them both.
But with us relocating to Panama, we need to join the rest of the world! In Panama, folks don’t ask for your phone number, they ask for your WhatsApp.
The reason is that, unlike the U.S., cell providers make data cheap and voice/SMS pricier. In fact, it’s not uncommon for them to throw WhatsApp traffic in for free. And since you can use it to make phone calls, text, and video chat, why wouldn’t you use it?
I was in IT for almost 20 years before I retired at the end of 2018. But I moved from being a Systems Engineer in the field to a manager in 2005.
Does anyone care that I haven’t formally worked on computers in almost 15 years?
Nope. I’m the computer guy to friends and family.
For the most part, I’ve been able to break away from that role with most folks. But I still have to lend a quick hand every now and again.
Apparently, relocating to Panama doesn’t give me an out either. So I’ve been testing TeamViewer for a while to provide remote support. It’s free for personal use and has fit the bill pretty well.
I can run it from almost any computer (including my Chromebook) or even on my phone in a pinch. It lets me remote into the computer I need to and work on it if I was there. It even lets me do file transfers between my computer and the remote one… that’s a bonus.
Money, Money, Money!
As much as I loved Quicken and was a 20-year user, I wanted something I could use to manage my finances a little easier. I switched to Personal Capital earlier this year and I’m very happy with the change.
I love that I can pop open a browser on my computer or open the app on my phone in an instant and see how the money situation’s looking.
It’s doesn’t have all the bells and whistles of Quicken, but I love the simplicity. So far, it’s been fulfilling all my needs to manage my finances and the modern interface makes it very nice to work with.
On top of that, the included tools like the Retirement Fee Analyzer and Investment Checkup are great additions to help you see where you stand.
And the bonus… free. My favorite price!
However, that means we need to have a way to get to our money.
One option is to open a Panamanian bank account. That’s much easier to do once you have residency, but it’s my understanding that it’s still possible.
I’m not ready to jump through those hoops right off the rip though. And we’re not getting our residency until we know that we plan to stay there for the long haul (probably around a year) because it’s pricey to make that happen.
Instead, we’ll go with option 2 – stick with our U.S. bank account. We can still use our debit cards at ATMs there to get cash out.
The only downside… the foreign transaction fees. If only there were was a way to get around these fees?
Oh, wait, there is! You know I wouldn’t leave you hanging!
Schwab has an account that reimburses you for ATM fees worldwide. They also don’t charge you any foreign transaction fees. Not only that, but there are no account minimums or minimum balances.
This account fit the bill for us so we signed up for it for our banking needs. It’s the Schwab Bank High Yield Investor Checking Account and it should carry us well in our travels.
The phone app is very solid. Like most banking apps, it lets you check balances, pay bills, deposit checks, etc. A great solution for expat living.
Yeah, yeah, I know – this is a gimme. But it’s still the behemoth out there and does its job well. Plus, having offline maps is a big deal when you’re not sure when you’ll have Internet access.
Offline maps covering large areas are not Google’s specialty but it is possible to make it happen. It’s not great, but it works well once the maps are downloaded.
But more importantly, I love the location sharing feature…
My wife and I being able to see where the other is can be a huge advantage in the name of safety… particularly in another country. My brother can also check my location at any time as well, so we have a sort of backup here in the States if needed.
Did you just say offline maps? Why, yes, I did. And this is my backup app for that exact feature.
HERE WeGo might not be as well-known as some of the other mapping apps, but it works well. And more importantly, offline maps are so much easier to obtain than through Google Maps.
Instead of having to pick a small section of a map to download and try to piece together coverage where you need it, HERE WeGo makes life easy. Pick a state or country you want to download and you’re done.
Simplicity – love it. I have every state downloaded to cover our summer travels from Ohio to South Carolina and then from South Carolina to Texas. And, of course, I have Panama ready to work offline as well.
If you’re not using Waze for your daily life, you’re missing out. This crowd-sourced app keeps you on top of accidents, speed traps, and other problems along your drive.
Mrs. R2R and I had the app on during a regular drive we were on. It was just a 25-minute straight shot down the freeway. Suddenly, Waze told us to get off the highway. It seemed a little weird but we obliged.
As we got off the freeway, we noticed that just down the road there was a big accident. Traffic was at a standstill.
Waze easily directed us around the mess and right back on the freeway past the accident. Technology is amazing.
I can’t remember if Waze works in Panama or not, but this one’s essential, at least when we come back to the U.S.
Uber / Lyft
I know, no surprise here. And there shouldn’t be. For the time being, these apps provide more convenience than taxis in most situations at a generally cheaper price.
Believe it or not, Uber is available in part of Panama (Panama City). It’s not available in Boquete yet, but fingers crossed that day will come soon.
Lyft is currently not available in Panama, but I’m still keeping the app installed. We won’t have a car when we come back to the U.S. to visit. We’ll be floating around and, in some cases, we’ll get a rental car. In others, we might just use Uber or Lyft to get around.
And in my experience, we tend to find Lyft to be cheaper than Uber. Additionally, I was told by one of the drivers that they get a bigger cut than they do from Uber. I’m not sure if that’s legit or not, but still a good piece of info.
Productivity and Planning
Relocating to Panama has become much bigger than I originally thought it would be. Granted, we didn’t dive deep into it until we decided to make it a reality, but it wasn’t just a pack and go move to do it right.
All I have to say is that Trello is the app that has kept me from losing my mind… though Mrs. R2R might say that my mind’s been shot since she’s known me.
Trello is designed to help you organize and collaborate on projects. I have 228 list items (called cards) in Trello… that’s a lot of @#$% to get done. And I’d say we’re about halfway done with ’em.
Trello’s been my serenity during this busy transition we’re embarking on for sure.
Anytime I used to get a document in the mail at home that I wanted to save, I’d bring it to the office and scan it to a PDF. I keep everything organized and easy to find (now up in Google Drive).
Well, with me no longer working and refusing to get a printer/scanner, I needed a new way to get my docs to PDFs. The answer… Adobe Scan.
This is a free app that Adobe put out that lets you scan your documents, adjust the borders, and save them as PDFs. The biggest reason that I chose this one over a lot of the alternatives though is that it will OCR the documents as it saves them.
If you’re not familiar, OCR stands for Optical Character Recognition. Basically, when you scan a document, it’s an image file. Although there are words on it, they aren’t recognized as such. That means if you’re searching your files, it can’t see any of the words to get you results.
When you run OCR on the PDF image though, it figures out the words and adds a layer to the document so you can actually highlight the text in the document. It also makes it searchable, which is the most important detail for me.
After I use Adobe Scan to create a PDF, I rename it appropriately and send it over to the right folder in Google Drive. Then I shred the paper copy and call it a day… a dream for someone with some OCD tendencies!
Google Drive / Docs / Sheets
Since I left my job at the end of 2018, I gave up Windows for the most part. I got a Chromebook and moved everything to Google Drive. I wanted simplicity and I love it.
I use Google Docs instead of Microsoft Word, Sheets instead of Excel, and Google Drive instead of my local hard drive. There was a slight learning curve, but it’s awesome to be able to access everything on my cell phone as needed.
I wouldn’t write a full document on any phone app, but it’s great to be able to view or tweak on-the-fly as needed.
Relocating to Panama? Learn the language, buddy!
I don’t expect to become fluent in Spanish, but I do want to be able to carry on some small conversations as time goes on. Some call me cheap and some call me frugal, but for the time being, I’m using the free versions of multiple apps.
I use each of these first three apps every day and it’s been the perfect dose of sharpening up my Spanish skills!
This app teaches you new words and phrases with a more visual approach.
The free version gives you 5 minutes a day for free. That might not seem like a lot, but doing it daily and using it in conjunction with the other apps have made the freebie version acceptable for me.
Duolingo is probably one of the most popular apps to help learn a new language. It gives you “bite-size” fun lessons to help you learn a new language.
The best part is that Duolingo is free (though they do have some in-app purchases available).
Memrise is another freemium app that’s been helpful for me.
It seems harder on you than the others – that’s both good and bad. With us relocating to Panama, that’s important because I’ve learned from our last visit that the locals speak fast. I need some tough love from an app and this one fits the bill!
I like that all of these apps teach you a foreign language in different ways. That keeps it from getting too boring and it’s probably more effective that way, too.
Even though I’ve been practicing every day, I don’t plan to be proficient by the time we get to Panama. Google Translate has gotten better with each new version. I can type or say what I need and then show the Panamanian locals the translation in Spanish.
But now, it takes it a step further and lets you have a conversation back and forth and it acts as the go-between translator. It’s a relatively new feature called Conversation Mode. I haven’t gotten to test that yet, but I’m looking forward to it.
A valuable component of this app is that you can download languages to work offline in case you don’t have an Internet connection. This app will never be uninstalled from my phone!
We need a little entertainment…
I’m not going to bore you with the basics of Netflix and Amazon Prime Video. Hopefully, you’re already familiar with those. We canceled our Netflix subscription recently but decided to hang onto Amazon Prime for the time being.
Here’s what else we have going on though…
I absolutely love Plex. We’ve been using a Home Theater PC (HTPC) for the past 9 years, but Plex has made this so much simpler and better. I only started using it about a year ago, but there’s no turning back.
Plex is a piece of software that you run on a computer (preferably one that’s always one) to aggregate your media. You tell it where to look and it scans all your local music, movies, photos, TV shows, home videos, etc.
It then goes out and pulls any metadata it can so you have cover art, movie posters, trailers, descriptions, ratings, and more. Then it just presents you with everything in a beautiful interface. It’s like your own Netflix, but on steroids.
The pay version even lets us watch and record live TV on it from our digital antenna.
Because our computer’s so old (she’s lived a long life!), I’ll be stripping the SSD hard drives to take with us to Panama. We’ll then buy a new computer there to act as our Plex server. It’ll seem crazy fast compared to this old PC!
You then watch your media through the web, an app on your phone, computer apps, Roku or Apple TV apps, etc. The Plex app is fantastic and lets us listen to our music or podcasts on our phones while working out.
Our daughter can cache (download) some of her movies or shows onto her Kindle Fire to watch on the road. We’ll all be able to watch different movies while on the long flights coming up.
Awesome. And most of the functionality is completely free to boot!
If you don’t utilize your local library for books, movies, and magazines, you’re missing out.
A lot of libraries, including ours, let you borrow books online and send them right to your Kindle. If you don’t have an eReader, you’re missing out again. My Kindle Paperwhite is something you’d need to pry from my dead hands.
Carrying hundreds of books on a device that weighs about as much as one paperback is awesome. And don’t try to compare it to reading on a phone or tablet – it’s a completely different ballgame. E Ink is like reading a newspaper – no glare and much easier on your eyes. And the fact that the battery lasts for weeks at a time is mind-blowing.
I also borrow magazines digitally from the library and read them in the Zinio app. I mean, how can I miss out on Backpacker, Kiplinger’s, PC World, PC Magazine, and Popular Mechanics? I skim through each one every month and usually find a few good articles between the lot of ’em.
And did you know you can stream movies for free from many libraries, too? In our case, that’s through OverDrive, but it might be different depending on your library. I haven’t used this a lot, but it’s nice to know we have this option since we got rid of Netflix. And we can cast the movie from our phone/computer right to the TV. Technology… I love it. Oh, and I hate it.
You access these through your library website, but here are the links anyway.
So I could go on and on, but somehow this post when waaaaaay longer than I anticipated! At over 4,600 words, I think we should call it quits here.
Maybe you’re not planning on relocating to Panama, but I bet some of these apps you’ll still find useful.
Any other apps or websites that stand out for you that maybe we should all dig into?
Thanks for reading!!