Scotland to Panama - Expat Interview With Jane

Published: 2 Dec at 11 AM
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Filed: Interviews,Panama
Jane Ellis, also known as Panamajama, moved out to the beautiful country of Panama in 2010 with her husband and three young children. They moved there as he was offered the chance to work on the Panama Canal expansion project. They both jumped at this opportunity to broaden their horizons and see a little more of the world. Jane was so overwhelmed by the beauty of Panama that she just had to start a blog to record some of the love she had for the place, particularly its staggering wildlife. Jane's blog is called Panamajama's Blog (see listing here)

Panamajama's Blog

Here's the interview with Jane...

Where are you originally from?
Glasgow, Scotland

In which country and city are you living now?
We now live in Panama, on the outskirts of Panama City, close to Miraflores Locks and also to the jungle.

How long have you lived here and how long are you planning to stay?
We have been here two and a half years, and plan to stay another two.

Why did you move and what do you do?
We moved because my husband was offered the chance to work on the Panama Canal expansion project. We just thought this was an opportunity not to be missed! Moving here has transformed my life. Since we arrived I have become a blogger, I have also become a certified French to English translator by distance learning and have done many translations for the citizen journalism website Global Voices Online

ChickenrubyDid you bring family with you?
Yes, our children were 7, 5 and 2 years old when we moved out. They have adapted really well to their new home and school, and feel lucky that they have many friends, both in Panama and back in Scotland.

How did you find the transition to living in a foreign country?
Pretty much OK, but I would recommend learning Spanish before coming here. A lot of information on the Internet gives the impression that many locals and shop workers speak fluent English - they don't.

Was it easy making friends and meeting people; do you mainly socialise with other expats?
Very easy, the Panamanians are super friendly, and the expats are friendly too. The expats here are from all over the world - not just the usual suspects such as the US, UK, Australia, but also India, Korea, Spain and many other interesting places. So there is an extremely interesting mix of different cultures here. Also, many Panamanian people are of American background, and were raised in the old Canal Zone. So, it is not just a simple matter of expats and locals. Locals can mean anything from ex-Canal Zone English speakers to indigenous Kuna people. It is, happily, not just a question of 'us' and 'them'. I think this must make Panama an easier place to move to than most.

What are the best things to do in the area; anything to recommend to future expats?
Swimming in the many outdoor pools, especially after dark, when bats swoop down over the water, like swallows in the daytime. Amador causeway is a great place to hang out, with a Smithsonian nature reserve, Punta Culebra, where you are guaranteed seeing a sloth or iguana. Amador also has many fantastic family restaurants, lots of bicycle hire shops and you can even feed blue and yellow striped tropical fish from the dock.

ChickenrubyWhat do you enjoy most about living here?
Definitely the beautiful warm weather and the utterly amazing wildlife.

How does the cost of living compare to home?
Buying groceries etc, is not all that different from back home in Scotland, actually. That is another myth about Panama - that is a cheap place to live. It isn't. I'm sure this used to be true, but in the last couple of years, prices have risen a lot. However, petrol/gas is much much cheaper than back home, but as it is insanely overpriced in the UK, that's not surprising, is it?

What negatives, if any, are there to living here?
A small negative for me is lack of Art Galleries and Museums. As I am from Glasgow I have been spoiled in this respect. But I make up for this by cramming as many trips to Art Galleries in as
I can when we go home to visit. Also, very few films that I like come over here. I am big fan of French films, so the Glasgow Film Theatre is something else that I miss. However, I can wait to catch these films on DVD. Obviously, the most difficult thing really is being away from your nearest and dearest, but Skype is a marvellous invention.

ChickenrubyIf you could pick one piece of advice to anyone moving here, what would it be?
Don't expect things to move at the frenetic pace of life in Britain or the US. Be prepared to chill out a little bit...

What has been the hardest aspect to your expat experience so far?
Paying bills! There is no way to pay by direct debit here, so all monthly bills must be paid by queuing and paying, in cash, at paypoints. It took us several months to work out what to do, and our electricity was nearly cut off three or four times. (When I say nearly, I mean the men were there with their clippers, about to cut through the supply wire to our meter!). So this side of things is needlessly stressful, especially when you first arrive. Nobody tells you this - other expats don't tell you, your relocation company doesn't tell you, and it is all so hard to deal with when you are new and just starting to learn the language,

When you finally return home, how do you think you'll cope with repatriation?
I don't want to think about leaving Panama forever. I will always be connected to this place. Maybe we will come back to live here when we are going to retire.
That aside though, it will be easy for us to fit back in, we have so many friends and family in Glasgow, and when we go back to visit, it is always as if we have never been away. But, I am worried about being freezing cold all the time. The warmth here makes everything so easy, and it is very easy to motivate yourself to keep fit, and not to give up...

ChickenrubyWhat are your top 5 expat tips for anyone following in your footsteps?
  1. Learn Spanish - preferably before you move out here.
  2. Make the most of all the wildlife and go walking in the rainforest. Each time I do this, I see something different and incredible. On my walks I have seen everything from trogons, capuchins, howler monkeys, coati mundis, capybaras and even an anteater.
  3. If you have come out here with your other half, but are not in paid employment yourself, make sure you have something constructive to do with your time. Is there any training you have always wanted to do, that you could do distance learning - something you can lose yourself in? For your self-esteem, and for your sanity.
  4. Do not drive along the Cinta Costera at 6pm on a Friday night! It will take you one and a half hours to travel one mile!
  5. Don't complain, don't grumble that this beautiful country is not like your home country, or the country you were last in. This will not make you popular with anyone!
  6. You will get times when it is hard to be so far away from home, you will get through these times if this is the right lifestyle choice for you. But, although it is impossible for me to relate to this attitude, some people really don't like adventure and leaving the familiar, so these people should think long and hard before committing to expat life.

Ok, that was 6 tips, one free!

Tell us a bit about your own expat blog.
I just fell in love with Panama, before the plane even touched down. As soon as I saw the red earth and fronds of green leaves, I knew we were going to just love it here. After we had been here a few weeks, I couldn't keep this feeling to myself any longer, so I just had to start blogging. My blog is a way of recording all the amazing wildlife we have seen and experiences we have had in this tropical paradise with added skyscrapers.

How can you be contacted for further advice to future expats coming to your area?
People can contact me through my blog, or through my twitter account, @panamajama

Jane blogs at which we recommend a quick visit if you haven't been already. Panamajama's Blog has an listing here so add a review if you like! If you appreciated this interview with Jane, please also drop her a quick comment below.
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Comments » There is 1 comment

Kris wrote 10 years ago:

"I just fell in love with Panama, before the plane even touched down." Yes, me too! I felt the same way. I loved your interview and am so glad you are happy here. Best wishes to you and your family.

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