What is the culture like? Happy! People here are generally very laid back and love to have fun. Family and friends are very important. Men are very involved with child care and devoted to their families. People work very hard, often long hours, but seem less stressed at work than people in the US. There is not the feeling that a business tries to squeeze every last ounce of energy out of every employee. People are friendly and don’t think twice about helping others, even total strangers on the street. People like nice things, like anyone, but there is not the emphasis on money and things and status that we are accustomed to iin the US.
Is it hot? Yes. Of course, this is relative and a matter of opinion. We live in David which is considered hot but for us, having lived in Florida before, it’s usually more comfortable than Florida. Many expats live farther up in the mountains where it’s a lot cooler. For us, that’s too chilly. It does rain a lot though, so if you don’t like moisture and humidity you may not be happy in Panama.
When you are retired, what are you going to DO all day? This is definitely something you should think about seriously, wherever you plan to retire. What are your interests? What do you need to be happy? If you don’t have what you need on a daily basis, no matter how gorgeous your setting or whatever else you have, you are going to have a hard time being happy for the long term. Our daily life? – of course there are the daily chores of a household like cleaning, cooking, shopping, etc. We have some beautiful areas right in our neighborhood for exploring, hiking, photography, and relaxing. We enjoy riding our bicycles, spending time with friends and neighbors, and learning more about our new country. I read, study Spanish, photography, and work in the yard. Keeping busy has definitely not been a problem!
What are the biggest problems? The language has been a challenge. I have studied hard for a couple years and I am far from fluent, though I am thrilled that conversations go well more and more of the time. I think that when you are retirement age it’s harder to learn a new language. But it’s good brain exercise, and so exciting when it works and you can communicate!
There is no mail service as we know it, no home delivery. You can get mail at the post office downtown but it takes forever. Or you can use a mail service which you have to pay for, and still isn’t exactly fast (1-3 weeks to get something from the US).
Finding your way around town – there are no street signs a lot of the time, and no addresses as we know them. An official address is often something as odd as – behind the supermarket, two stores down from the real estate office on the corner.
What do you like best? The mindset, and the lower stress levels. Panamanians are very much live and let live and don’t sweat the small stuff. People do what they need to do, and everyone else just adjusts around them. There is a strong sense of community and everyone helping each other. When you get here you can almost feel the tensions melting off you. So many of the daily worries we had in the US just aren’t here.
I could go on until I have a list! The beauty of the country, the warm balmy climate, the birds, the wildlife, the plants and flowers, and most of all the people. Everyone greets everyone. People say hello on the street, when they enter a waiting room of people, in the line at the supermarket, everywhere. The smiles are genuine and light up their faces. Things may look messy by our orderly US standards, but there is so much life and color here, so much activity. There are chickens in the street. My neighbor has a cow in his yard. There is a cat sleeping on the potatoes at the vegetable shack down the street, but the produce is cheap and amazingly good. You feel like you are part of life here. We have more friends in a few months than we had in a few years in the US.
Panama, and an expat life in general doesn’t work for everyone. I know some people fall for the hype that is out there and don’t do their own homework, and then they are unpleasantly surprised when life here isn’t what they expected. But, with an open mind and sense of adventure, and knowing yourself and your needs well, living in Panama can be a wonderful experience. I’ve been here just about a year now and I am very happy. Even if money wasn’t a consideration, I would still want to live here! I feel like I have grown and changed and learned so much from this experience, and for us it’s a very happy life here in Panama.
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