Panamajama's Blog

  • Panamajama's Blog
Blog of the month
Published 8 years ago
I am Panamajama, I come from Glasgow in the West of Scotland, part of the United Kingdom. I moved to Panama as my Civil Engineer husband was offered a job working on the Panama Canal Expansion project.
Jane17

Jane17

Recently moved to Panama from Scotland with my husband and three young children. My husband is working on the project to expand the Panama Canal. How could we turn down the chance to live out here in paradise for a few years?

I am Panamajama, also known as Jane Ellis. I come from Glasgow in the West of Scotland, part of the United Kingdom.

When did you decide to move to Panama ?

Is it complicated to settle down in Panama City ?

I moved to Panama as my Civil Engineer husband was offered a job working on the Panama Canal Expansion project. How could we say no to a chance to live in this tropical paradise with added skyscrapers? We moved out here with our three young children in May of this year.

We have been here almost 6 months now, and, although my husband is settled in his job and the children are happy at their new American school, there is still a lot to sort out.

The first of many complications – there is no postal service, incredibly, in Panama. Unfortunately our relocation company neglected to tell us this until we had been here 2 months, by which time many things sent by relatives from home had been lost forever, including presents for our sons 8th birthday!

The language barrier is tough to overcome – before we moved out here we had been under the impression that staff in shops in the major malls such as Multiplaza would speak some English, as Panama has a wide range of English-speaking ex-pats. In truth, practically no Panamanians speak English, so if you want to be understood, you need to learn Spanish, no question.

We are still trying to get our Residential Visa after almost 6 months of residency. It has been a frustrating process dealing with all the bureaucracy here. We had to leave the country for 3 days to renew our tourist visa after 90 days residency otherwise we would have been classed as illegal immigrants, even though we are here for the Canal project!

Have you ever lived abroad before? 

We have never lived abroad before, so, although we were prepared for a major upheaval, it has been harder even than we envisaged. Things that you take for granted back home, like making purchases over the internet, are not possible here in Panama – you cannot buy anything over the internet as there is no postal service to deliver anything! Major purchases such as furniture or electrical goods are made differently. First you select what you want to buy then tell an assistant. They will ask for your name and ID then print out a piece of paper which you take to a desk to pay for your goods. Then you are sent to a separate delivery desk to arrange delivery. Making any kind of purchase here takes 10 times as long as it does in the UK – no-one is ever in a hurry here, and the process is so convoluted and complicated it is very difficult for a non-Panamanian with poor Spanish to negotiate.

What do you like the most about Panama ?

What I love the most about Panama is the wildlife – the abundance of incredible beasts, birds and plants is amazing to behold. In the river round the corner from our house I have spotted three crocodiles – there is almost always at least one sunning itself on the riverbank. The animals here are not shy of humans the way they are back home in Scotland. Seeing leafcutter ants anytime you go out for a walk, watching a pair of toucans from my garden, watching the parrots and hummingbirds on my birdfeeders. These all make Panama so special for me.

A close second would be the canal – I used to watch the boats going through the locks on the internet back when we lived in the UK, without once imagining that it would be part of my future. To be living just over a mile from Miraflores Locks is a dream come true for me.

What are the main differences with your home country ?

The biggest culture shocks have been the language barrier, the lack of a postal service, the lack of GPs (doctors), the armed police everywhere, and the infamous ‘mañana’ attitude, where everything will get done ‘tomorrow’, but tomorrow is always another day away…

Do you miss anything from your homeland ?

The main things I miss from Scotland are the fabulous museums such as Kelvingrove in the West End of Glasgow. An enormous Baroque-Spanish style palace to the Arts, this is a combined natural history museum and art gallery and a truly fantastic place to take the children on a rainy day.

We also greatly miss our friends and relatives, but Skype, facebook and email have helped us feel much closer to home.

Any 'memories of an expat' you would like to share with other expat blog members ? 

We had a particularly hair-raising ride in a taxi one night – it had no front window, no side mirror, huge cracks along the windscreen, and I got splashed with dirty water when the driver went through a huge puddle. As this was our first ‘grown-up’ night out without the children for 5 months, it was a bit unlucky!

When did you start your blog ?

I started my blog in June of this year. We were living in a glamorous high-rise block overlooking the Pacific while waiting to get a house. I was experiencing so many exciting things that my facebook page just didn’t seem like a sufficient outlet. I wanted to record what I saw and felt as a memento for our family and anyone else who was interested. Sometimes my photos are not as good as I would like, but they are mine!

Did you make new friends with your blog?

I have made several new friends through my blog. As it is still in its early stages, I have not met any of them in the flesh as yet.

When did you register on expat.com ? Any particular reasons?

I registered for Expat Blog as soon as I had the required 10 posts. I joined because I wanted to connect with people in a similar position to myself, and also because I wanted to expose my blog to a wider audience.

Which advice would you give to people who would like to live in Panama ?

Learn Spanish

Apply mosquito repellent if you are prone to bites.

Don’t expect your Panamanian relocation company to provide the level of service you would expect back home!

Be prepared to wait, wait, wait anytime you want something done. If a tradesman turns up 1 and a half hours late, this is considered on time here in Panama.

Smile, be friendly and approachable to the Panameños – they are lovely people and so friendly and open to foreign visitors.

Always carry your ID – passport, driver’s licence or residency Visa - in case you are stopped and questioned by the police – a regular occurrence. This happened to me one night as I returned from the swimming pool – I didn’t have any ID – I had just enough poor Spanish to explain that I lived here and had just been for a swim and had forgotten my passport. Fortunately the armed policeman was friendly and let me pass!

Panamajama's Blog