Settling in to your new country will be a different experience for everyone.
Everyone’s needs and expectations are different. I can only tell you of ours and what I assume to be the basics for most people who move to any country to be. Having only been in Panama a little over two weeks and only in a rental less than 1 of those weeks, I consider us to be much further ahead than I thought we would be. I have to say up until this point, things have gone smoothly. I am fairly certain as Kevin is, that this will not always be so. But for now, we consider ourselves lucky. Here are our basic needs:
Photo Courtesy of Ken Mayer at Flickr
Finding a rental- for short or long term.
This means finding an area to live in that you would like to “try on”. Therefore the rental does not need to be perfect and have everything you need to have in it for the rest of your life. It is still a temporary place to call home, to use to investigate the area. It can for us be a basic place, one to feel comfortable, safe and close to other needs such as groceries, doctors, transportation. For our purposes, we have listened to others who said “rent first.” Our inclination was to buy right away, but we decided that listening to those who had come before us would be a good idea. We found here in Boquete right now that it is a renters market anyway. Home sales are down here and those that are for sale are renting while they wait. Many places we found are fully furnished, right down to towels and kitchenware. This is great if you, number one did not pack those items with your shipment waiting in Miami or two, you just want to be able to move around without the burden of stuff. We found most rentals wanted a six month commitment, we found an ideal situation where our landlords only wanted three months.
This is a extremely important issue for most of us. Finding a inexpensive way to be able to communicate with people back home, contact banks and other financial institutions back home is a must. We decided before the move to add Skype to our communication family. It works great here for calls back to the states. We also purchased a local Panama SIM card for a unlocked cell phone we had.
Photo Courtesy of BFS Man at Flickr
We pay as we go with a refill card available at most grocery stores here. We are using this for all cell phone calls within the country. Finally and most important we got signed up for a cable package, which includes cable television and internet. We found for our location in Altos Dorado that we did not have as many choices for these services, as some companies did not service this area. So we could not get satellite service here. Because we have a cell phone we decided against getting a land line. This made sense for us considering that this area does have power outages and if needed for emergency, a landline would be useless. The television package through our supplier Onda gives us over 100 stations about 30 are in English This has been great to keep up on national news both local and in the states.
For now we are content with taking taxis around town to do local shopping. The cost is minimal. When we decide to venture further we will consider taking the bus which is cheap or perhaps renting a car. All of this may change. For now, not having the hassle of a car to pay gas for and maintain has been perfectly okay. Especially when you consider how inexpensive taxis are here and how convenient.
Every country’s bigger cities will offer bigger and more stocked grocery stores than the smaller cities and towns. When we were in Panama City and had a kitchen, we enjoyed going to EL Rey, which is one of the bigger grocery store chains. Basically, most things you could get in the states you could get at this store. It doesn’t mean you would pay the same though. Most imports were very expensive compared to locally made products. Case in point, a box of Honey Nut Cherrios would set you back over five dollars. The nice thing about these larger stores again is that they are more visited and therefore most of the produce and meat is fresher.
Photo Courtesy of Rich Young at Flickr
Here in Boquete, there are about three or four mom and pop grocery stores. They are of good size, but can not offer the same items that the larger chains carry. If you are making a list and decide you need celery or a certain cut of meat, you might find that the grocery stores here do not have that item in stock currently. Here, we have found that most people go to several different stores for different items. There are several good fresh fruit and vegetable vendors that sell nothing but daily fresh picked items. We have discovered these places have far better quality and prices than the grocery stores have. Some groceries sell good quality cuts of meat that others don’t. It is kind of fun to find out who has what. We like the diversity here. Some may not and would rather have a one stop shopping experience.
We are having fun purchasing local fresh foods and finding creative ways to make new inexpensive dishes. Kevin looks forward to knowing his vegetable/fruit dealers on a personal basis as well as the butcher and bread supplier. We are keeping track of our spending to let you know what we are spending for food.
Entertainment and socialization
We can’t comment too much on this subject yet. I can only tell you that, again every one is different regarding their own needs. We have never been social butterflies, but we also realize that to live in another country, it would be wise to get to know people. These people can give you advice and help when you may need it. We have not attended yet, but do plan on attending the “Tuesday morning” get together that has been organized for a couple of years for expats who want to get to know each other. There is usually a farmers market followed by a speaker who talks from 10:30 until noon every Tuesday.
Here in Boquete, with so many expats from all over there are many, many organizations you can join as well as volunteer organizations and social “happenings.”
For entertainment, here most expats visit the local expat restaurants and occasionally venture into David or go to the beach. We decided that our budget will only allow occasional outings for meals and we want to as much as we can visit the local restaurants, (who have local prices) that way we can eat out more. That isn’t to say we won’t take in a meal or two of steak or shrimp. Some expats make it an every day thing to meet for breakfast or lunch at certain restaurants. We won’t be doing that.
This is on the list for next week, along with letting the movers know where we are.