Moving to another country can be stressful. But here are ways to make it easy, such as using reliable in-country contacts to support and advise you. However, if you are like me, then you may be relentlessly worrying about the unknowns. Will I be able to communicate? What’s the food like? Is the government stable? What is considered appropriate clothing? Will the people be welcoming? Will I feel safe? And so on…
Before moving to Panama, I had never visited the country before, so I did not know what to expect.
I researched online about what to bring and how to prepare, but there was a slew of contradictory information out there on blogs, forums, and Facebook groups. It was impossible to know which advice was valid. Each expat had a different opinion on what they would have done differently before the move.
You would want to discuss important matters like residency lawyers, banking, and insurance should with professionals, but as for the less critical matters, my best advice is to think about what is important to you. Many people think their life will do a complete 180-degree change when they move abroad, but realistically, you will continue to pursue your favorite hobbies, eat your preferred foods, and wear the clothes you feel comfortable in.
I spent the months prior to my big move reading stacks of books and articles about Panamanian history, government, and culture. While it is useful to know about these things, there is no need to stress yourself out. I would suggest reading Panama’s constitution and reviewing the history of the country, especially Panama’s history with the U.S. if you are from there. They go back some time, which I surely was not taught in my high school history class.
One of the biggest concerns for expats is the language barrier. I was pulling my hair out, trying to learn the entire Spanish language. I studied Spanish in school, so I was reviewing my textbooks, using Duolingo, and watching Spanish television. However, none of this could have compared to the hands-on learning I received just by living in Panama and interacting with locals. Also, if you move to a large expat community, like Panama City or Boquete, it is possible to get by with little knowledge of Spanish.
Expat Life in Panama City
Many expats regret spending money that they could have saved had they only known better before moving. I spent money buying the “perfect” dry-fit wardrobe meant for the tropics.
This was pointless, as I still wear my beloved cotton t-shirts and jeans every day. Some expats spend a ton of money shipping all of their stuff here. But you can find most things you need in Panama.
I remember worrying that I wouldn’t be able to make friends. This is highly unlikely as an expat in Panama. The expat community here is so welcoming and friendly. Soon, you’ll be turning
down invitations to gatherings and events, not to mention the fun loving locals.
Is Panama Safe For Expats?
Safety and security was another concern for me as a single, young, red-headed female.
I stick out like a sore thumb in Latin-America. Yet, I have never felt unsafe in Panama. Needless to say, you should always be smart.
I stay away from the “red zones,” where there is more crime and I rarely go out at night by myself. I have traveled all over the country alone and with friends on public transport, and though we received many inquisitive looks, we are never hassled for money or left feeling unsafe.
On the contrary, most Panamanians are happy to help foreigners find their way.
Once I landed in Panama, all of my worries slowly faded away. The best way to learn is to get boots on the ground and just do it.
A certain amount of preparation before making the move will be very helpful, but don’t stress out over the little things. You will figure it out with time and a little help from us, your in-country Expat Alliance.
by: Megan Thompson