When you think about picking up and moving to a new country, what’s the first thing that comes to mind?
When I ask people this I get great answers – adventure, amazing travels, a never-ending journey of discovery. Living abroad does come with a certain amount of mystique and intrigue, and before I made my trip I was bubbling with excitement, looking forward to a change of pace and the chance to dive headfirst into a new culture.
Upon arrival in Panama, I realized that I was clueless about what was really in store for me.
Don’t get me wrong – every day was filled with adventure and excitement, with new sights and smells and a colorful new way of life. What I wasn’t prepared for, however, is that one day I woke up and my new land suddenly felt familiar and I had started to feel, well, at home.
Panama always feels “exciting,” and every so often my excitement bubbles over again in anticipation of a weekend trip or the opportunity to explore a neighborhood I haven’t been to. After a year of living abroad, I still get awe-induced goosebumps on a regular basis.
But I also enjoy a quieter sense of truly being in a place, thanks to the knowledge I’ve acquired that has been so helpful in navigating my day-to-day life in Panama. I now tread with more confidence and comfort in knowing where I am.
I’m sure everyone’s transition is different, but here are a few practical pearls of wisdom from my time getting acclimated to life in Panama:
- Prepare for a different pace of life – I know this gets brought up often, but I think it is one of the best pieces of advice you can get! Even if you’re moving abroad for relaxation and stress-reduction, you may find that the pace of life in your new home country takes some getting used to. In Panama, I learned quickly that life moves more slowly. Nationally-endorsed vacation days are plentiful, and deadlines are subject to subjective interpretation. Keep your timelines flexible and plan well in advance for repairs and projects, because things usually end up taking longer than you anticipated. You’ll be happier if you don’t try to swim against the current and enjoy the festivities and feast days as they come – you’ll return from the long weekend with renewed energy to tackle the task at hand.
- Join a forum, networking group, or club – Unless you already have an established network of friends or family in your new country, one of the most important steps you can take is to join a networking club or group. Panama has plenty, including Internations Panama – a great group for meeting other recent arrivals as well as old pros who have been living the expat lifestyle for years. Panama Forum is chock-full of sage advice and allows you to post your own questions to get answers from other members.
- Make a list of go-tos – Now that you’ve jumped into networking, ask your new friends to share their favorite local vendors, service providers, and name-drop their go-to people. Soon, you’ll have a pre-approved list of mechanics, repair men, child care providers, and other local experts and professionals. You’ll literally be prepared for anything, and more importantly, you’ll feel confident in your unfamiliar surroundings.
- Invest in an e-reader – Be it a Nook, iPad, or Kindle, an e-reader is a great investment if you’re moving abroad, and especially if it’s to Panama. You may have difficulty finding your favorite English-language books, titles by your favorite author, or the next installment of your favorite series. An e-reader saves you hours of (potentially fruitless) searching, and is great for all your cross-country travels as you explore Panama.
- Carry cash – While living in the US, I hardly ever carried cash. My debit card and I were inseparable. But living in Panama, I soon realized that the country definitely operates as a cash economy. Small bills are necessary to navigate daily life – taxi drivers, food cart vendors, and service providers all expect to be paid in cash.
Moving abroad is an amazing experience, but does require plenty of planning (the process of packing alone taught me some valuable lessons). If you’re making a big move, I’m sure you’ll generate your own list of tips and best practices! We’d love to hear them on The Ambler, so feel free to comment on this post to share your living abroad tips with other travelers.