Holly in Boquete: "There's a very well developed, and extremely welcoming community of expats"

Expat interviews
  • Holly in Boquete
Published on 2013-10-24 at 02:00 by Expat.com team
Californian expat, Holly moved to Boquete a few months ago. She researched with her husband the ideal place to settle for 7 years. They enjoy their new environment, spending a lot of time learning Spanish and making new friends.

Why did you decide to move to Boquete?

We spent about seven years researching many different places to begin our new life. For us, the conversation began when thinking about and discussing our plans and options for our fu-ture. Retirement? When should we retire? How will that work for us? We visited many other countries but in the end, Boquete, Panama checked off nearly all of our boxes of important things. Panama is not too hard to get to from California. Health care is very good and of course much more affordable than the U.S. Cost of living is low enough for us to survive very comfortably and be able to be retired.

How was your moving process?

For us it was a very long process to prepare our exit from our life in California. We had to prepare our home to sell, minimize our material possessions. Preparing our family was also one aspect of our move that was very bittersweet. We decided to ship a forty foot container of our belongings to Panama. My husband is a woodworker and has many very large, expensive tools that are much more expensive to replace than to just bring them along. So that was a big reason why we chose to go through the hassle and expense of shipping a container. We also brought a few essentials that other expats living in Boquete had suggested we may want to bring, like a good bed and high quality linens which are hard to find here. We decided to further complicate our move by bringing our two cats along (I know, crazy, but, hey, they love us!). The whole move went very well and we are indeed glad to have done it the way that we did.

Which formalities did you have to go through in order to be able to settle in Panama?

We are in the process of applying for our Permanent residency visa. There are several different visa's to choose from and we chose the Pensionado, it is geared towards retirees and it offers several financial benefits. One such benefit is a one-time exemption on import taxes on one container from your country of origin. This import tax could end up costing quite a bit so it's a very beneficial perk for us. Other benefits include discounts on restaurants here in Panama, discounts on public transportation, and health care benefits as well. Panama really wants to encourage foreigners to retire here and bring their money here. Our application for the Pensionado visa is currently in process so we have opted not to ship our container until we can benefit from the import tax exception. Some people begin the application process before moving but we just started it after we got here. At the moment we are here on a tourist visa. A tourist visa is valid for 190 days and the tricky part for us is that our foreign driver's license is only valid for 90 days. This means that until our permanent visa is approved we are required to leave the country for 24 hours every 90days. Other formalities we have dealt with so far in order to settle in here in Panama are buying two cars, getting car insurance, applying for private health insurance through one of the local hospitals and finding a furnished house to rent. So far getting these things done have been relatively straight forward but the fact that Boquete has such a well-developed https://www.expat.community we have been fortunate to have gotten lots of advice on who to deal with and where to go for these things. I have found, so far, on this adventure of ours, that expats in general are incredibly generous with advice and support to the newbies like us. I've felt so welcomed here and it's great to make friends and build community with people in our new home town.

Did you face some difficulties to adapt to your host country (language, culture, do's and don'ts)?

I have found the people here to be very kind and friendly for the most part. What I'm recently feeling is hard to describe and not especially shocking or unexpected. It's a rather mild (I think) case of culture shock which is actually beginning to subside since I've talked to others about it and received lots of very supportive encouragement. I'm usually a very social, out-going, friendly person and I really enjoy meeting new people and consider myself a 'people' person. But lately I've noticed that I've become extremely nervous and almost paranoid when I'm in town at the market or just running errands. I think part of my reaction to 'culture-shock' comes from a complete lack of anything familiar and an inability to pick up on social cues from the people around me when I'm out in busy public areas. I don't really know exactly how I'm expected to respond to those around me and my inability to speak the language is a big contributor to my feelings. I've been studying Spanish at a local Spanish school and I'm making concerted efforts to practice speaking and learning to communicate. Things are very different here in Panama, most of the differences that I have so far noticed, I absolutely love, others, not so much. Some things that drive me nuts have to do with the inefficiency of how they do many things, the burocracy is often very hard to understand and I just gotta laugh because if I don't laugh I will scream! :) It's really quite humorous at times. A sense of humor is a must! The thing I'm told by nearly every expat here is that to survive the "crazy" you must adapt a "TRANQUILO" mindset! And take a lot of deep breaths!

What surprised you the most in Boquete?

We had made several trips here before we committed ourselves to relocating in an effort to spend as much time as possible getting to know Boquete. We already knew that petty crime is pretty common here, so bars on windows and locked doors as well as exercising common sense when it comes to protecting your personal property is a necessary way of life here. This is a big change for us because before we moved we really never even locked our front door.
A little thing that surprises me has to do with driving here in Panama. Pedestrians don't have the right of way. So when you're driving you don't let people cross the street most of the time and often if you do decide to try to be nice you could actually get hit from behind because other drivers don't expect to see you stop. Something to keep in mind when you're a pedestrian as well!

Is it easy to make friends in Boquete?

It's been my experience that making friends in Boquete is very easy. There's a very well developed, and extremely welcoming community of expats here. This is one of the aspects of this area that really attracted me to Boquete. I wanted to find a place where I would be able to find ways to get involved in the community and there are many different groups to get involved in. There are book clubs, bird watchers, the library, a community theatre, hiking groups, as well as organizations that provide opportunities to work with children, and there is volunteer group for hospice. Every Tuesday there is a Farmers Market type gathering: this is a good place to meet and greet and many of the expats look forward to Tuesdays as a day to socialize. It's nice to have friends who speak English and who I have a lot in common with but I don't want to isolate myself from my new neighbors exclusively befriending expats. It's really important to me to get to know Panamanians and make friends who are native to my new country. I recently began a new friendship with a Panamanian woman who is learning to speak English. We are getting together at her house every week to practice our new languages. Making new friends is one of the most important things to me and is what will really help me feel as though I'm home.

Could you please share with us something you like about Boquete and something you don't like?

I'll start with the "don't' likes because at this time, that list is very short. I think the thing that bothers me most is the Bars on the windows in the homes and the necessity to safeguard our home for possible burglaries. As I said before, this aspect of living here is just a fact of life that locals as well as expats just seem to accept as a way of life. It's a bit disconcerting at first but the fact that petty crime is more prevalent than violent crime. I am adjusting and just learning to keep my house locked up at night or when I'm not home. I also don't like bugs and we are living in the tropics so there are bugs here in abundance. I haven't experienced scorpions in my house yet but am told by my new friends that they have had them in their houses and I will eventually have to deal with that myself, yikes!
My list of likes is too long to tell you all so here are a couple of my favorite things... The landscape of Boquete is what stands out for me the most. Everywhere you look it's green and lush and flowers are incredibly abundant and the air is crisp and clean. I'll never tire of the vast beauty surrounding me in my new home. The Panamanian people are very friendly and welcoming. We enjoy walking into town and from where we live it's about an hour walk. While we are walking I'm constantly surprised by the greetings we receive from people we pass, they all, without exception, make eye contact and say Buenos Dias! My list of things I like about Boquete would be a book so I'll stop there!

What do you miss the most from the US, your home country?

Without a doubt I would tell you that I miss the people, my friends and family. Having Skype and FaceTime has been such a wonderful thing. I will likely miss (I haven't been gone long enough to miss it quite yet) the easy access to certain material things that I'm accustomed to being able to easily buy. And the only other thing I can think of that I miss is the diversity of the cuisine's in California. We are foodies and we always enjoyed eating different types of food and although there are some decent restaurants here in Boquete, we will miss the availability of good Chinese, Mexican, Thai, Vietnamese, Japanese, Italian, German, Cajun, Spanish Tapa's, etc. Luckily my husband enjoys cooking so we've been attempting to find as many of the ingredients he's accustomed to using to prepare all the dishes we love.

What are the main differences between USA and Panama?

Well the first thing that pops into my mind is the general inefficiency of how they do many things here and the lack of much customer service. We are rather spoiled in the States with regard to customer service and it's just not something that is held in very high regard here. If you aren't able to adjust to this aspect of Central American culture you will definitely be in-credibly frustrated and angry much of the time. Also, on a positive note, the family dynamic here in Panama is noticeably strong and vastly more important than what we know of families in general in the U.S. The fathers take a very active role in parenting and are always with their kids. Also, siblings are very loving and caring towards each other. We notice older children walking to school in the morning often hand in hand with their younger sibling or arm in arm, it's just very touching to witness such affection and care between young ones. Yes, we have observed that the family culture here is very different and seemingly much more loving, and closer than many of the families (not all, of course) in the States. It's a lovely thing to see and always brings a smile to my face.

Which advice would you give to people wishing to settle in Panama?

I think we would have been smarter to have begun our application for our residency visa before we had moved. Especially the Fingerprints for the FBI background check. It seems as though here in Panama they don't manage to do fingerprints that are acceptable to the FBI and we hear stories from many of our friends, of the FBI sending the prints back saying they are unacceptable and then they have to have them done over again, very frustrating. And most important to me is to be prepared to adapt to their way of doing things here. Things take much longer than they should and they hardly ever show up when they say they will and they often don't do things to the standard that you may be accustomed to. If you are considering becoming an expatriate you must be prepared to adapt and change many of your ways and let go of most of your expectations. But if a slower, more casual lifestyle appeals to you and you are looking for a total change of almost everything you know, then this life is for you! An expat here in Boquete has coined a phrase that I just love, he says...."We're all "here" because we're not all THERE!" :) That about sums it up!

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