American Expat Living in Panama - Interview with Cindy

Published: 11 Jul at 9 AM
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Filed: Interviews,Panama
Cindy and David are world travelers and former high school teachers. They decided to retire in Panama after visiting there 4 years ago. They thought they had a few more years in the classroom before retiring but Panama kept pulling them so they retired early. After selling almost everything they owned, they moved to Boquete with their two cats, Alexander and Henry, and never looked back. Cindy's expat blog is called Chapter 3 - Retirement in Panama (see listing here)

Comedy at the Boquete Community Theater
Comedy at the Boquete Community Theater

Here's the interview with Cindy...

Where are you originally from?
I was born and raised in South Florida. My husband, David, is retired Navy and has lived in numerous places.

In which country and city are you living now?
We currently live in Boquete, Panama

How long have you lived in Panama and how long are you planning to stay?
We have lived here permanently just over one year. We are currently buying a house and plan to be here forever.

Ziplining in Boquete
Ziplining in Boquete
Why did you move to Panama and what do you do?
Boquete has the perfect climate and plenty to do. There are clubs and activities for every interest. We are involved with Amigos de Animales which spays and neuters animals, and the BCP, our community theater. Boquete is very social so much of our time is spent with many groups of friends. I love to garden and the richest soil is found here.

Did you bring family with you?
We brought our cats who are doing very well. My mother has visited once and my daughter has been here twice.

How did you find the transition to living in a foreign country?
We visited several times before making the decision to permanently move. Our last visit was for two months to make sure it was the right fit for us so our transition wasn't as drastic as many people. We also were from South Florida where Spanish is common. We began learning the language about a year before our move. The hardest transition for most people is the slow pace of life.

Was it easy making friends and meeting people; do you mainly socialise with other expats?
Making friends in Boquete is really easy since there are so many opportunities to meet people. Because we had visited so frequently, we already had many friends before we moved here. Almost all of my friends are expats, which makes it more difficult to learn Spanish.

Yes, it is this beautiful
Yes, it is this beautiful
What are the best things to do in the area; anything to recommend to future expats?
The setting is one of the most beautiful places on the planet. There are also thousands of expats already here who have organized groups for all interests. Outdoor activities are most common because of the wonderful climate. Get involved.

What do you enjoy most about living in Panama?
The climate is perfect and we have a huge number of friends. The majority of expats here are well educated and well traveled so they are interesting to talk to. The soil is extremely fertile so, as a gardener, this place is a dream. Outdoor activities are amazing - ziplining, hiking, riding on ATVs, white water rafting, biking and running are very convenient.

How does the cost of living in Panama compare to home?
Housing prices in Boquete are similar to my hometown of Coral Springs, Florida. Car prices and gasoline are also about the same. Rent is much cheaper. Food, cleaning and gardening services, internet and cell phone services are at least half the price as the States. After receiving a pensionado visa, you get discounts on medicine, hotels, restaurant tabs and bus/air travel. It is possible to live very comfortably in Boquete for $1500-2000 mo.

Our rental home
Our rental home
What negatives, if any, are there to living in Panama?
January and February are windy months. Really windy. Boquete is also far from PTY, Panama's international airport, which usually makes international travel a two-day trip each way.

If you could pick one piece of advice to anyone moving to Panama, what would it be?
Don't buy property until you have lived here at least one entire year. There's windy season and rainy season. Life is too slow for some. Manana does not mean tomorrow, it just means 'not today'. Health care and missing family in the States are common reasons people return. These things wear on a lot of people and then they have to sell property to move. Tours that show potential expats around Panama frequently urge people to buy immediately. Bad idea.

What has been the hardest aspect to your expat experience so far?
We are buying a house and the process is excruciatingly slow. We signed our initial papers over a month ago and it may be 2 months or more before we actually move.

When you finally return home, how do you think you'll cope with repatriation?
We don't plan to move back to the US. It's nice to visit Florida. On our last visit we noticed how much WE have changed. Strangers on US streets don't greet one another. I said hello to a police office at the Miami Airport and was ignored. People don't have the pressure to own many possessions in Panama. There's a huge push to buy, buy, buy more things in the States.

200+ lbs of luggage, carry-on bags and 2 cats.
200+ lbs of luggage, carry-on bags and 2 cats.
What are your top 5 expat tips for anyone following in your footsteps?
  1. Start a blog, keep a journal or write about your expat adventures in a diary. I love looking back at our expectations, things that made us nervous or just everyday events. It makes you realize how far you have come.
  2. Learn at least some Spanish before moving. Just 100 common words will make your life easier. Business is conducted in Spanish but you will find Panamanians much more helpful if you try to speak their language. It will also help you assimilate into the culture.
  3. Talk to the local expat community. They will tell it like it is where for-profit-tours may not be as honest. They will tell you where to get full cellphone service for $20 mo., where there are water/electric/internet problems, and who has the freshest vegetables.
  4. Lose your expectations and immerse yourself in the local culture. Trying to make Boquete just like the place you left is impossible and will leave you frustrated. Cars will park in the road so the driver can talk to friends, fireworks will explode for every occasion, nothing gets done in November, and you will see odd-looking but delicious fruits.
  5. Learn about Panamanian culture. Most Panamanians are more than helpful but will get very annoyed if you raise your voice. Independence Days are celebrated in November with drums. Drum practice begins in July at every school and is highly regarded. Drivers will cut you off and then wave at you with a smile. Everyone tells you Buena Dia on the street.
Tell us a bit about your own expat blog.
I began my blog while we were deciding if we would be actually moving to Boquete. I started writing to keep in frequent touch with friends and family instead of emailing news. I write about our trials and errors, cost of living, our trips and just daily life in Panama. I sometimes look back on the things we have accomplished in the last few years and smile. I've met many future expats through my blog, some who have actually made the move. Recently a few charity groups have asked me to publicize their works in my blog. It's always a work in progress.

How can you be contacted for further advice to future expats coming to your area?
I answer all questions on my blog.

About the author

Expat Blog ListingCindy is an American expat living in Panama. Blog description: You're Moving Where?? Two retired teachers sell everything in South Florida and move to Panama - much to the dismay of friends and family.
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