Mike: Panama For Beginners
Please tell us a little bit about yourself. Who you are, where you come from, when you moved to Panama, etc.
My name is Mike, and I’m a 28 year old American expat who has been living in Panama since February 2014. I moved here with my wife who is a dual Panamanian-American citizen and was born and raised in Panama. My wife and I were looking for something different out of life than we were finding in Tampa, FL, and moving to Panama gave us an opportunity for a new experience while also being closer to her mom and some of her family.
When and why did you decide to start blogging about your experiences?
I started blogging at the end of August, 2014. I had felt the desire for a while to write about my experience and to provide my truthful opinion (good and bad) about Panama. I honestly thought it was just an idea and I would never actually do it, but then I got an offer to guest blog on another site if I started my own blog. That gave me the kick I needed to get the blog started.
Do you have any favorite blog entries of yours?
I would say that my favorite pair of posts are probably 7 Reasons Why Panama Is the Place for Me and 5 Reasons Why Panama Doesn’t Work Out for Some Expats. They provide a nice contrast of positive and not so positive experiences that expats have in Panama.
I also try to use my blog to help expats learn some basic Spanish to overcome the language barrier, and 125 Spanish Words Every Expat Should Know has gotten a really positive response. My wife and I also use our blog to feature our pictures of Panama (my wife is a professional photographer), and one of my favorite photoblogs we did was Parque Metropolitano: Home to the Best Views in Panama City.
Tell us about the ways your new life in Panama differs from that back home. Did you have trouble getting used to the new circumstances? Did you experience culture shock?
Life in Panama is very different from back home. This is the first time I’ve ever lived in a walkable city. So ditching my car and trading it in for the bus and taxis has been a liberating but sometimes frustrating experience. Pace of life also moves very differently in Panama, most things slower, but some things much faster than life in the US. I definitely experienced some culture shock, and that’s what inspired me to write the blog, so that I could share my experience with others and help them prepare for what was awaiting them.
Do you think you were fully prepared for what awaited you in Panama? If you could, would you change some decisions/preparations you made?
Fully prepared? That’s impossible. I think I was better prepared than many expats who move here, because my wife is Panamanian and I had visited several times before the move. We had friends and family already on the ground when we got here, including an aunt who was a real estate agent and was able to land us a great, affordable apartment. However, even with all that, it was still an adjustment.
The one thing I would change in my preparation was I would’ve focused more on learning Spanish before my trip. My Spanish now is much better than when I moved, but a head start would’ve put me farther along in my journey.
Every expat knows that expat life comes with some hilarious anecdotes and funny experiences. Care to share one with us?
I always find my experiences with the language barrier to be funny. In Panama, it is not common for people in service positions (retail, restaurants, cabs, etc.) to speak any English at all. So I am used to having to use my broken Spanish to get by when I am trying to buy things. I was at the pet store shopping for a toy for my cat, and I had completely blanked on the Spanish word for toy (for the record, it’s juguete). So I meekly walked up to a sales person, and asked: Tiene “un toy” de gato? I made a big “toy” motion with my hands in the hopes that he would understand me. Without missing a beat, the sales guy responded back in perfect English “Okay. How old is your cat?”
Which three tips would you like to give future expats before they embark on their new life in Panama?
- Visit first – The more time you can spend here before you decide to move, the better chance you will have at determining if Panama is the place for you.
- Be flexible and laid back – Panama is an amazing place, but it is filled with little life annoyances that you probably didn’t experience back home. If you’re the type of person who lets life’s little annoyances turn into big annoyances, then a move to Panama probably is not the best choice for you.
- Utilize Facebook – Facebook is filled with many great Panama expat groups, including Expats in Panama and others, where thousands of expats are available to answer very specific questions you may have about your move. Facebook is how I was able to get connected with other expats before I even moved here.
How is the expat community in Panama? Did you have a hard time finding like-minded people or fellow expats?
One thing that surprised me about Panama City (in a good way) was its amazing and diverse expat community. I have met amazing people from all over the world, many of who I am now proud to call my friends. I owe most of those experiences to InterNations, but there are other expat groups as well that have helped me meet like-minded expats.
To be completely honest, the only expats who struggle to meet other expats are those who don’t try. We are everywhere, and are always more than willing to meet other expats, especially those who are struggling to fit in.
How would you summarize your expat life in Panama in a single, catchy sentence?
Life in Panama is many things, but boring is never one of them.