From USA to Panama - Expat Interview With Kris

Published: 19 Feb at 9 AM
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Filed: Interviews,Panama
Kris and her husband, nearing retirement age, were looking at options and researching the possibilities of living in another country. Panama seemed to have everything they needed. When they visited they loved it! After the third visit (with an enthusiastic OK from his mother, who moved with them) they accelerated the plans. Since the cost of living in Panama is so much less, they were able to begin a new life now instead of working 10+ more years. It has turned out to be everything they hoped and more, and they are all very happy to be in Panama. Kris's expat blog is called The Panama Adventure (see listing here)

Meet Kris - US expat in Panama
Meet Kris - US expat in Panama

Here's the interview with Kris...


Where are you originally from?
New York, but I've lived in other places (Arkansas Tennessee, Kansas). Before Panama, we lived in Sarasota, Florida for 15 years.

In which country and city are you living now?
Panama, David, Chiriqui Province

How long have you lived here and how long are you planning to stay?
I arrived in early October and the rest of the family arrived November 1st, 2012. We plan to make this our home.

Why did you move and what do you do?
We moved for many reasons - finances being the primary. Retirement in the US meant working until we were 70 and then barely getting by, especially in any locations we preferred. We were ready for something different, a new adventure. We are concerned about the state of health care in the US, the political system, and the sluggish economy. We were never hit by a hurricane but were tired of worrying about them. When we visited Panama we fell in love with the country, the beauty, the people, and the feeling. It also has a stable government, good infrastructure, warm climate, healthy economy, and everything else we think is important for our new home. We would want to live here even if money wasn't a consideration.

What do we do? Whatever we want to do! We are retired now. I was a nurse (home health case manager). My husband is a musician and worked in construction, home remodeling and repairs. His mother is a retired teacher and speech therapist. Now, besides getting settled and enjoying our new country, I am interested in photography, tennis, bicycling, hiking, cooking, sewing, reading (all those things I didn't have time for before). Perhaps I'll do some writing. Wait, I am writing. I have a blog that I enjoy a lot. It's so nice to be able to do what I want to do, rather than what I have to do to pay the bills.

Chillin at the Beach
Chillin at the Beach
Did you bring family with you?
Yes. I am here with my husband and his 93 yr old mother

How did you find the transition to living in a foreign country?
It was much easier than I expected. I was lucky to find a house and a car quickly, and the essentials I needed were readily available. My new neighbors have been wonderful, and everyone here has gone out of their way to be kind and help us get settled in. There are challenges in any move with learning your way around your new area, learning how things are done, etc. and my Spanish isn't fluent so the language barrier makes some things more difficult. I'm surprised though how quickly I have come to feel like this is my home.

Was it easy making friends and meeting people; do you mainly socialise with other expats?
It's so easy to make friends everywhere here! People you barely know treat you like family. Spend a few minutes talking with someone and you have a new friend. We don't socialize regularly with other expats but we know some in the area and on line.

A Photography Excursion
A Photography Excursion
What are the best things to do in the area; anything to recommend to future expats?
It all depends on what you like to do. We've only been here a short time but we've connected with a great group of tennis players. Some of them speak English which is nice for my husband who doesn't speak a lot of Spanish yet. We bought bicycles and are having fun with them. We've gone hiking in the woods near our house and swimming in the river. We make occasional trips to Boquete or the beach, or drive into the countryside on photography trips. There are shopping and errands, but these excursions are sometimes combined with walks downtown or other fun things. The rest of the time is spent at home on Spanish study, writing my blog, reading, studying photography, puttering in the garden, learning to cook with local foods, or relaxing. There are restaurants here, a casino, discos, corner bars with much music and laughter, an active bicycle club, a movie theater, and probably much more we have yet to discover. When we've been here longer I'm sure we'll know about even more things to do here.

What do you enjoy most about living here?
The people. These people are warm, friendly, loving, gentle, and such a pleasure. The country is beautiful, and we love the warm climate. We are city folks so we enjoy being in David which has everything we need close by. There is a sense of optimism and growth here. People are working, buildings are going up, and things are happening. Our experiences with the health care system here have been excellent. It cost us a bit to get set up here (moving expenses, buying furniture, etc) but once settled, cost of living is a fraction of what it was in the US.

How does the cost of living compare to home?
We have only been here a couple months so we can answer this more accurately in a few months. But from what I am seeing now, I think it will cost us about 1/3 of what it cost in the US. I don't feel like we are giving up anything we really need either. What would we have to do in the US to cut our expenses this much?

At the River with my Neighbor
At the River with my Neighbor
What negatives, if any, are there to living here?
There are no direct flights to the US so travel in and out of this area takes some time. There is talk of this changing soon though, so we shall see what happens. Everyone speaks Spanish so if you aren't fluent things are more difficult. But if you want to learn another language this may not be a negative. Dogs tend to live outside and bark, and roosters crow, and neighbors sometimes have music on. I think it adds to the life and color of the area but if these things bother you, they could be negatives. Mail and package deliver is slow, expensive, and difficult so you cannot buy things on line easily like you can in the US. Things sometimes take longer to accomplish, but if you just relax and enjoy the experience for what it is, there is no problem.

If you could pick one piece of advice to anyone moving here, what would it be?
Learn Spanish. Be flexible, open to new things, new ways of doing things, and different ways of living. OK, that's two, but I think they are both important.

What has been the hardest aspect to your expat experience so far? The language barrier. It's challenging learning my way around a new town, finding things, and understanding how something is done differently here. When everyone gives me help and directions in a different language and I have trouble understanding, it's harder.

When you finally return home, how do you think you'll cope with repatriation?
At this time, how things are now, I cannot imagine returning to the US to live.

Hiking in the Woods
Hiking in the Woods
What are your top 5 expat tips for anyone following in your footsteps?
  1. Learn the language! Everything is so much easier when you can communicate. You can make friends, ask questions, and get involved in your community. Even if your Spanish is very limited, people really appreciate that you are trying.
  2. Do your homework. Spend time in your new location before you make a final decision. When you are there think as a resident, not as a tourist. See if what you need is here - shopping, entertainment, sports, internet, whatever is required for you to be happy. Connect with other expats in the area and see how they are doing. Visit in different seasons and times of year if you can.
  3. Free yourself from your material "stuff"! With what it costs to move it, you can buy what you need here. And, you can't be sure exactly what you are going to want and need anyway. It is a lot easier when you don't have to worry about a lot of stuff.
  4. Know yourself! Do not fall for the hype of people trying to sell you a piece of paradise. This is real life, every day, warts and all, and you need to look realistically at who you are, what you need, what you can and cannot deal with, and what your intended country and culture will provide.
  5. Put fear aside. Be willing to risk it. Do your homework of course, but if everything looks right, at some point you have to take that leap of faith and go for it.


Tell us a bit about your own expat blog.
It started out as a way to communicate with friends and family. I came down alone, ahead of the family, and I was busy setting everything up. The blog was an easy way to stay in touch and keep everyone updated. I enjoy writing and photography, people seem to enjoy my blog, so I've kept up with it. I know many people are also considering their possibilities so maybe it will be helpful to others. And, if someone moving here finds useful information, so much the better.

How can you be contacted for further advice to future expats coming to your area?
You can contact me through my blog.

Kris blogs at http://thepanamaadventure.wordpress.com/ which we recommend a quick visit if you haven't been already. The Panama Adventure has an ExpatsBlog.com listing here so add a review if you like! If you appreciated this interview with Kris, please also drop her a quick comment below.

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Comments » There are 2 comments

Expatdreamers wrote 1 year ago:

I appreciate Kris' overview; it served as a beneficial reminder to step back and take inventory of our priorities as we prepare to relocate to Central America.

Cindy Prochnow wrote 1 year ago:

Hi Kris, fascinating interview. We are moving to Panama in the fall and have questions. Want to speak to an actual person, having trouble finding that format although David Dell on Yourpanama.com has been so helpful. Would like to correspond if you're available. thanks. Cindy

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