-Where were you born?
Coudersport, Pennsylvania (population 2,500), USA
-In which country and city are you living now?
I split my time between Panama City, Panama and San Jose, Costa Rica
-Are you living alone or with your family?
I live alone.
-How long have you been living in Latin America?
In Costa Rica since 1998, in Panama since 2003
-What is your age?
-When did you come up with the idea of living in Panama and Costa Rica?
Nearing graduation from University I had some wild idea in my head to live and work in Costa Rica. I think I must have heard about it while studying abroad in San Sebastian, Spain. I attended college with several Panamanians who encouraged me to instead move to Panama. I ended up doing both!
-Was it hard to get a visa or a working permit?
Yes. As an entrepreneur, it's not easy at all. I had to invest heavily in Panama to obtain an investors visa and in Costa Rica had to work as a tourist for years since I was self-employed and not sponsored.
-Was it difficult for you to get medical insurance before you went there or when you first arrived?
I didn't have coverage for my first 5 years and am still not sure if it's better to have it. Costs for a visit are incredibly affordable and the quality of care is excellent in both Panama and Costa Rica. A Johns Hopkins hospital just opened in Panama City, their first outside the U.S. I went there recently and it was like a spaceship!
-How do you make your living? Do you have any type of income generated?
I started an online travel agency in Costa Rica that expanded to Panama and then spun off a real estate company. I had a background in marketing and worked for one year after college for a dot-com. It took me about 2 years to live quite comfortably although I had a great time when I was on a budget too.
-Do you speak Spanish and do you think it's important to speak the local language?
I do speak Spanish and think it's essential for the complete experience.
-Do you miss home and family sometimes?
I miss them a ton but they visit regularly and I get home at least once a year.
-Do you have other plans for the future?
I may be just crazy enough to expand to a third country and am doing some consulting work in other Latin countries to keep sharp. I travel to the U.S. on business frequently and travel in my spare time throughout Panama and Costa Rica.
-What about housing, have you bought, or are you renting a home? How much do you pay for it?
In Costa Rica I rent a modest apartment in Rohrmoser for $400 a month. In Panama I purchased a pre-construction condo and just moved in. I paid under $100,000 and my monthly payment is around $500. I'm giddy about this purchase.
-What is the cost of living in Panama and Costa Rica?
Both countries are very affordable. I think for quality of life, Panama is a little less expensive than Costa Rica although with air conditioning and privatized utilities, Panama monthly expenses can run a bit higher. I think one can be very comfortable in Panama or Costa Rica for around $2,000 per month.
-What do you think about the locals?
I really enjoy Panamanians. They have a fantastic sense of humor, a respect for their culture and seem to get along fine with gringos and other foreigners. Panama is such an international place of shipping, trade and business, the residents are very much a mixed bag and accustomed to living in harmony with expats, foreign business people and visitors.
-What are the positive and negative aspects of living there?
The biggest positive of life in Panama is that it's a new and exciting destination that's just becoming noticed to the world. There is a flurry of economic activity and pioneers who may have moved to Costa Rica 10 years ago are moving there now. It has such a raw sense of adventure and potential, I feel like I'm part of something very big that's about to happen.
The biggest negative would be the stifling heat of Panama City, the extreme poverty in some sections of town, the government's total lack of understanding of tourism and sustainable development and immigration and employment policies that are in my opinion, too restrictive.
-Do you have any tips for our readers about living there?
Make local friends. Panama is a tiny town and connections are everything. Explore the countryside. Get a second opinion before buying any real estate.
-Do you have any favorite Web sites or blogs about living there?
I love my friend Matt's blog: The Panama Report.com
My company's site is pretty darn informative as well: New World Real Estate