|Originally from Canada, Rebecca now lives in Panama, where she runs a news and information website. Read her thoughts on what small-town expat life in Panama is like for her and learn from her tips about the local way of life, cost of living, and learning the language if you're considering moving to Panama.
-Where were you born?
I was born in Ontario, Canada.
-In which country and city are you living now?
Las Tablas, Panama. A small town on Panama's beautiful Azuero peninsula.
-Are you living alone or with your family?
I moved to Panama alone, but live with my Panamanian boyfriend.
-How long have you been living in Panama?
I have been living in Panama for more than 3 years.
-What is your age?28
-When did you come up with the idea of living in Panama?I first came to Panama on vacation with my mother. I immediately fell in love with the country and as soon as I returned to Canada from my vacation, I started looking for jobs in Panama. Two more visits in 2 months and I made the move.
-Was it hard to get a visa or a working permit?
In Panama there are a number of visa options for foreigners, but I don't fit in to any of the categories. Work visas are very hard to get, as the government doesn't want to take any jobs away from locals. Many expats living in Panama are "perpetual tourists." You can legally stay in Panama for 3 months, and then hop the border to Costa Rica for 3 days and the clock starts over again.
-Was it difficult for you to get medical insurance before you went there or when you first arrived?Private medical insurance can be purchased through a number of different companies in Panama. It's pretty affordable and easy to get. Prescription medications are way cheaper in Panama than in the US or Canada. Panama has some of the best doctors and dentists in the world. Far more affordable than in North America, yet many of these professionals were trained in the US.
-How do you make your living in Panama? Do you have any type of income generated?I originally moved to Panama to work in the real estate industry. I did that for a while but didn't really like it. I now run a news and information website about Panama. My background is in journalism so it seemed like a good fit.
-Do you speak Spanish and do you think it's important to speak the local language?Though English is taught in Panamanian schools, not very many people are fluent in English. It would be quite difficult to live in Panama without at least some knowledge of Spanish. I moved here with basically no Spanish, but I have a pretty good handle on the language now. Panamanians very much appreciate when foreigners at least attempt to speak Spanish.
-Do you miss home and family sometimes?
I do miss family and friends back home, but fortunately, the airfare between Panama and Canada is pretty reasonable so I go home as often as I can and people visit me in Panama as well.
One of my favourite activities in Panama is fishing. It's affordable, fun and a great way to enjoy Panama's natural beauty (whales, dolphins, turtles, etc).
-Do you have other plans for the future?Because Panama lies directly between Central and South America, it's a great place to explore other Latin American destinations. I hope to stay in Panama for a long while (maybe forever) as long as I remain happy here and can make a living.
-What about housing, have you bought, or are you renting a home? How much do you pay for it?My boyfriend and I currently rent a house in a medium-sized town. For a new 3 bedroom, 2 bathroom house it's not uncommon to pay about $200/month for rent.
-What is the cost of living in Panama?
The cost of living in Panama is cheaper than in North America and Europe. Some things are more expensive (electronics) but for the most part, it's cheaper to live here than in Canada. In the area of the country that I live, it is cheaper than in Panama City, the capital.
-What do you think about the Panamanians?
Panamanians as a whole are very proud, friendly, loving people. They are much more laid back than North Americans, so it can take a long time to get ANYTHING done. No one is ever in a rush (except for the expats!). If you befriend a Panamanian family, you have friends for life. They are very loyal and treat foreigners well. In Panama it is not uncommon for expats to be victims of petty crime. Expats are viewed as being "rich" by Panamanian standards and small time criminals sometimes take advantage of that.
-What are the positive and negative aspects of living in Panama?
One of the things I love the most about Panama is the people. They love life and always want to have a good time. They want everyone else to be happy as well. Panama has such a wonderful natural beauty and great weather, so it's the perfect location for outdoor activities.
Some of the negatives would be traffic in the capital city, corruption, and the slow pace at which everything gets done.
-Do you have any tips for our readers about living in Panama?
If someone is considering a move to Panama, it's important to visit as many times as you can before making the move. Panama is not for everyone. At the minimum, learn basic Spanish and your life here will be a lot easier. Panamanians have been living their lives the same way for many, many years. Expats cannot change what they don't like about Panama, though many try unsuccessfully. You just have to go with the flow!
-Do you have any favorite Web sites or blogs about Panama?
The best blog site about Panama would be mine (of course!)www.panamatravels.com
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