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From Texas to Panama: Xpat Escape

02 February, 2012 09:48  Erin Erin

Xpat escape portrait I am MeanderingMiss of the Xpat Escape blog and Twitter.  I use this pseudonym everywhere.  We might even have run across each other in an expat forum or two, but you can call me Stephanie.

We moved to Churuquita Grande, Panama from Austin, Texas in January 2011.

Some of my favorite things are photography, travel, writing, and cooking.  Recently opening a Mexican Restaurant in La Chorrera, Panama generally occupies the rest of my free time!

1. Why did you move abroad?
The hubs and I wanted to live in a tropical climate and still have spare funds to invest in our future.  We chose Panama because it’s a quick flight back and forth but still worlds apart.

2. How do you make a living?
I contract transcription work and build websites.  We also opened a Mexican restaurant, Paco’s, in La Chorrera, Panama.  We hope to add other sources of income to diversify even more.  Cost of living here is very low compared to something similar in the states, so we don’t have to do much (something the hubs takes full advantage of).

3. How often do you communicate with home and how?
We are in constant contact through email, instant messengers, Skype, Facebook, smoke signals, courier pigeons, and even our prepaid cell phone.  Our prepaid mobile doesn’t charge extra to call home!  It’s great if we’re out and about and want to call the states and remind our friends and family of the tropical weather while they are freezing their patooties off.  

We even have a U.S. phone number that rings to our mobile for those that want to call us from home without the international rates.  Even though we don’t see all our friends and family regularly, we are up to date with everybody, so it’s easier to be in another country.

4. What's your favorite thing about being an expat in Panama?
There are so many things I love about Panama so a favorite is hard to choose.  I would say the tropical environment.

We have amazing public white sand beaches within minutes of us, a ton of tropical fruit trees to pick smoothies off of, and stable temperatures year round without the tsunamis and hurricanes!  We’ve even made great new friends, both locals and other expats.

5. What’s the worst thing about being an expat in Panama?
The world of lines that is Panama.  Just about everything you need to do requires that you stand in a line to get it done.  Got contract cellular service?  Want to sign up for automatic draft or pay the bill online?  Tough.  You need to stand in line, pay the bill in person, and depending on the location, they might only accept cash, but you won’t know until you get to the window to pay.  Don’t know which line you’re supposed to be in?  There’s a line for that.

6. What do you miss most?
We communicate with our friends and family way too much to miss them, so the ease of getting things done online (sorry family…well…not really).  This probably has to do with all the lines I’ve stood in for the past 11 months.  

Back home, you can take care of customer service issues, any type of shopping, pay bills, make dinner reservations, and basically anything else you can imagine online.  The only website that’s big here is Facebook.  Businesses have yet to see the importance of having a web presence, but I suspect that will change soon.  Panama never seems to be too far behind the states.  

7. What did you do to meet people and integrate in your new home?
I think we opened our restaurant to meet people.  Americans can sniff out Mexican food no matter which country they’re in.  Since opening, we have met amazing Panamanian and expat friends from all over the world which has really given us a social life again.  Before that, it was just the hubs and I against the jungle.

8. What custom/ habits do you find most strange about your adopted culture?

The average Panamanian makes about $350 - $400 per month, yet we always see the malls packed and the locals walking around with a ton of bags in tow full of their purchases.  Perplexing, I know.

9. What is a myth about your adopted country?
That the Panama hat comes from Panama.  Well, they are made here, but they’re originally from Ecuador.  To be honest, I don’t think anyone knows why these are called Panama hats.  I’ve Googled to no avail.

10. What advice would you give other expats?
Rent for at least 3 to 6 month before purchasing.  Buying before experiencing your new town as a resident might leave you disappointed and with a large amount of cash tied up into a property.  Rent in Panama is cheap too.  We come across single family homes (3 bedroom/2 bath) renting from $250 and up.  A lot are fully furnished too!  

Learn the language.  Just because people moved to the states and didn’t learn English doesn’t make it okay to return the favor.  Besides, you’re missing out on really experiencing your new environment with the language barrier.  Think about all the jokes you’ve laughed at that probably weren’t even funny.

And remember, you're not in Kansas anymore so don't compare everything to Kansas, especially if you’ve never been to Kansas.  You'll be much happier, I promise!

11. When and why did you start your blog?
I started my blog in February 2011, about a month after our move to Panama.  It shares our fun, and sometimes not so fun, experiences as expats that didn’t move for retirement or a job abroad.  I have even been known to post a useful thing or two.
xpat escape horse
12.  How has the blog been beneficial?
It’s another useful tool in keeping up with friends and family.  We have even been able to provide helpful information for those considering the move to Panama and to others that have already moved here.

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Stephanie's blog, Xpat Escape


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