Along the Gringo Trail

  • Along the Gringo Trail
Blog of the month
Published 2012-01-01 00:00
We are Clyde and Terry Coles who took an early retirement and moved our lives to the country of Panama. Being able to retire at age 57 had been Clyde's dream for a long time, and even though I was just 51, I was willing to check out of the working world to join my husband on the adventure of a lifet

We are Clyde and Terry Coles who took an early retirement and moved our lives to the country of Panama. Being able to retire at age 57 had been Clyde's dream for a long time, and even though I was just 51, I was willing to check out of the working world to join my husband on the adventure of a lifetime.

When and how did you decide to move to Panama? Is it complicated to settle down there?

Being a firefighter was the best job in the world according to my husband Clyde.  But after 26 years with the Corpus Christi, TX Fire Department, he decided to take an early retirement.  But could we afford to live on his pension?  When we decided no, our options were to keep on working or find a place with a lower cost of living. 

The little town of Capira, Panama is located just 45 minutes from Panama City.  It's nestled in the foothills of the Campana Mountains with both beaches and hiking trails nearby.  We choose to live in a Panamanian neighborhood where no one speaks English so it would force us to learn more Spanish. Currently we are renting a lovely three bedroom, two bathroom house for $300 a month.

Panama has one of the best retirement programs in the world to encourage foreigners to move here. It offers discounts on healthcare, hotels, airfare, medicine, restaurant meals, utility bills and so much more. The government of Panama offers a "Pensionado Visa" to anyone that qualifies. All we had to do was prove that we have a monthly income from a pension or social security to apply for permanent residency. The process does require a lawyer who took us by the hand to make it as painless as possible. Although we just made the move on September 3, 2011, we feel like we've been here so much longer and are comfortable calling Panama home.

Have you ever lived abroad before? How many countries have you visited?

Since neither Clyde nor I have ever lived abroad before, the concept of moving to another country shocked our family and friends. There was no one in our circle of family or friends that even visited other countries, except those in the military. Since South Texas is only a few hours from Mexico, we've visited the border towns of Mexico several times. Before getting married to Clyde I lived in the northeast for many years and occasionally traveled into Canada. 

What do you like the most about Panama?

Panama has a perfect year round temperature of 75 to 85 degrees, the only difference being at higher elevations where it's a bit cooler. The terrain is lush and green with tropical rainforest, mountains, and beaches located nearby a world class cosmopolitan city. 

How is/was the cultural shock? What are the main differences with the United States, your home country?



The first time we visited Panama the culture shock was all around us. It shocked us spoiled Americans to see such a poor but happy nation of people. Many Panamanians can't afford cars so they either walk, take buses, ride bikes, horses, or take taxis. Yet because of that they are thinner and fitter than many Americans. They eat fresh fruits and vegetables and not processed foods that come in a box. The grocery stores carry only a few packaged foods for the expats since the locals can't afford them.

In moving to a foreign country we had to give up total control. We don't understand the culture, the language, how they think or do things. We had to learn things all over again just like a newborn baby would. Every day here is a learning process and will be for a long time to come. 

Do you miss anything from your homeland?

Aside from our beloved family and friends we really haven't missed too much from the U.S. yet, but perhaps as time goes on we will. We approached this move with an open mind, fully understanding that we would have to make changes. Our favorite shampoo, spices, and restaurants all have stepped aside to new experiences in our new country.

Any 'memories of an expat' you would like to share with us? Your best souvenir? Or maybe your worst experience?

Our worst experience so far started the first day we arrived in Panama. After a long day of travel we stopped for the night in a local hotel. Since we stayed at this hotel last year while here on vacation it was a safe harbor, or so we thought. Too tired to go out to dinner we opted to walk to a nearby grocery store for some snacks to take back to the room. Somewhere between the hotel lobby and grocery store Clyde lost his passport. When checking into the hotel he was asked to show it to the clerk and we were sure it got dropped there. The clerk looked but it was nowhere to be found. The grocery store security guards also helped us look but no success there either. Fortunately for us, we did have a copy of his passport. The following Monday we went straight to the U.S. Embassy in Panama City to apply for a new passport. We also had to file a police report and after a few weeks and $150 he had new one. 

What can you tell us about the local traditions to celebrate the new year?

LOVE

to party and Christmas is a big holiday for them with some traditions not typically done in the U.S. Lately we have noticed that all of our neighbors are painting the outside of their houses. We recently learned that Panamanians like to paint their houses right before the holidays so they look nice when company comes. Another tradition is they create the likeness of people using old clothes and stuffing them with old newspapers or hay. These "dummies" called "muñecos" are burned for the New Year to ward off evil spirits.

When did you start your blog? For what reasons?

One day my husband suggested that I start writing a blog so that our friends and family back in the states could follow our adventures. The experience has been rewarding for me since I've always enjoyed writing but never had time when I was working full time. The comments on the blog have been wonderful and people tell me that they feel as if they're right by our side, traveling with us.

Did you make new friends with your blog?

There are hundreds of people following the blog and we have made email friendships with people that are planning a move to Panama to become "real" friends. 

Why did you register on https://www.expat.com and what do you think of the website?

We registered with "Expat Blog" when we discovered it on a search engine and thought it would be a great way to expand our audience. Expat Blog is a valuable tool for people interested in moving, working, or retiring abroad. Just like those that contribute to Expat Blog, we enjoy sharing our experiences of life abroad and hope to help people with the monumental task of moving their lives to another country. 

Which advice would you give to the other Expat blog members who would like to settle in Panama?

NOT

for everyone! Anyone interested in relocating to Panama should take this leap with an open mind, open heart and a willingness to embrace all that the country has to offer. Our advice would be first and foremost........learn to speak Spanish!  All of the problems we've had along the way have been due to our lack of understanding the language fully. And besides that we would love to be able to get to know the locals more, but still lack the language skills at this point. 

Secondly, pack a few suitcases and sell your other stuff prior to moving. It's too expensive and takes about two months to ship stuff to Panama. And part of the fun of living in a new country is to buy furniture made from the local materials in a style that fits into the lifestyle. 

And our third piece of advice is that moving anywherecosts money. The cost of living is less than the U.S. but it did cost money to apply for the "pensionado visa" and takes about six months to get the permanent card. Add to that the cost of buying new stuff. And we also suggest renting at first to see if you like Panama and to decide where you want to live here. You may want to try living in Panama City for a while, then move to the beach, then the mountains.

Clyde and I are still in the early stages of our new life in Panama and hope you come along with us as two crazy gringo's travel along the gringo trail. 

Along the Gringo Trail