Neil and I often get asked "Why Panama?" Our customers are curious as to what motivated us to move to Panama.
Neil and I, before we met in 2009, had both been looking at other countries to live in. I guess we both have a bit of a sense of adventure. Neil had been to Panama a few years earlier and loved the warmth, the sunshine and the laid back style of living. He knew that one day he wanted to live here.
I had checked out Domincan Republic in 2007 as my first option but I was uncomfortable off the resort areas with the crime, the tension with the Haitians, and with blatant prejudices based on colour of skin. I had looked in the US but wasn't really interested in living there so I next ventured to check out France, England and Scotland. All are beautiful countries but nothing really held my interest.
Neil and I came to Panama for 2 weeks in November 2010 for a vacation and to feel it out as a possiblity for our next home. We had put in hours and hours of research on the internet looking for information about moving to Panama. How much money would we need? What would it take to become a resident? Could we take Lucy, my beloved chihuahua? What tax implications were there on leaving Canada? How much income would we need to be comfortable? What were housing prices like? We came across tons and tons of information, but unfortunately, not all of it is accurate.
When we landed at Tocumen, Panama's international airport it was about midnight. We had been up since 3:30 a.m. We got our rental car without any problems and drove about 30 feet before we were stopped by the police. The officer didn't speak a word of English; we didn't speak a word of Spanish. After about 10 minutes of looking at a map and trying to figure out what he wanted, Neil went in and got the bilingual car rental attendant who explained the policia did not want us to venture into the city at night by ourselves.
I tried to explain to the policia that we were booked into the Radisson Summit and they had told me there were right next to the airport. It turns out the Radisson summit is all the way across the city and north into the Gamboa rainforest. The policia insisted on accompanying us.
We followed the police car onto a freeway which was dark and there was not another soul. I was getting worried - we had heard all the horror stories about corrupt police in Mexico and Canadians going missing - was this going to happen to us in Panama? When we didn't reach our hotel within 30 minutes and we turned onto a darker road heading into the jungle I was very concerned - until we came to a sign that said "Radisson Summit" a few minutes later. The policia rolled down his window, waved and left us at the sign.
I was quite impressed - we never would have found the hotel on our own. My fears that night about the polica were for nothing.
The first few days we stayed at the Radisson Summit and explored the city in our rental car. Panama has crazy traffic, horns honking all the time and is a very busy city. We did look at some houses in the Clayton area which is part of the old canal zone but I didn't really care for the city. Neil and I decided to head out to Coronado to check out the beaches.
We spent a few days in Coronado which is located in the dry arc and gets relatively little rain compared to the rest of Panama. November is the rainy season and we had several blue sky days in Coronado. We met with a realtor and saw several houses. We never looked at condos.
From Coronado we headed to Pedasi which is on the peninsula, about 4 hours from Coronado. It was a very scenic drive but on rough roads! Pedasi is a very small community without many services. We stayed at a B and B there and the first night sat on the deck and watched fireflies. We met a Canadian developer at dinner one night and went to look at the houses he was building there. Impressive homes on great lots but the lots were about $300,000 without a house on them! We decided Pedasi was too remote for us. I couldn't see having to drive that far to the city for a Costco (Price Mart here) run!
We headed back to Coronado and ran into a Canadian from Toronto who we got talking to and told us we could stay in a house he had for sale for $25 a night! Great, we said. He had a beautiful home not far from the beach and it was very peaceful there. We looked at a few more houses with a realtor and then, suddenly, our two weeks were almost up. We decided to visit the black sand beach one more time and I looked at Neil and said to him that I never wanted to go back to Canada. I knew in my heart this was the place for me.
We got on the plane back to Calgary the next morning armed with paper, pen and so many questions and ideas going through our heads that we could hardly keep up with them. I jokingly told Neil the only way we could afford to move to Panama was if he went up north to Fort McMurray for the winter and worked in the oil fields. A couple of weeks later Neil was offered just that! He started as a mechanic on the rigs on December 26 and was there until March 11 2011.
When he went to Fort Mac to the cold (some days was minus 70 Celsius) I hopped on a plane to Maui with my girlfriends for two weeks. For some reason, Neil didn't think this was quite right! We talked every night for hours on the phone and after many long discussions I got on the phone with the Panama Realtor to put an offer in on the house we liked. Unfortunately, that one had sold but our #2 choice was available. Neil and I decided to buy that one.
Transferring a $50,000 deposit to a lawyer we had never met based on the recommendation of a realtor we had met for 2 days was one of the scariest things I have ever done in my life. We had borrowed on the house for this and all I could think about was the "what if" questions that went through my head. We really had placed a lot of faith in this realtor.
I got back from Hawaii the owner of a Panamanian home. My two friends said "don't tell anyone at work" but I felt honesty was the best policy. I told my boss on the Monday morning and Tuesday morning I got downsized....guess I should have listened but in hindsight it was the best thing that could have happened to me. I got a great package and bonus and this gave me time to plan a wedding and a move to another country.
Neil and I got married on March 13, 2011 and went down to Vegas for "Mopars on the Strip" for our honeymoon and drove up the Oregon coast to Vancouver to say goodbye to my family before our big move. It was a bit hectic planning a wedding, organizing a move and giving away everything we owned except our beloved Mopars!
Our goal was to pack everything we wanted into 10 pieces of luggage. This was major downsizing! How does one decide what to give up and what to take? After struggling to get 10 pieces at 70 pounds or less, we called my long time friend Brenda to see if she was interested in a free trip to Panama. The catch - she would have to take 5 pieces of our luggage with her.
We brought my sewing machine, Neil's key cutter and locksmith tools, pots, pans and silverware with us. We also chose to bring higher quality sheets and towels. I limited myself to 10 books (the other 600 went to Salvation army) and a few clothes. Neil left jeans behind in order to bring my snorkel equipment! I was so thrilled to see it when we unpacked. What a nice surprise.
We arrived in Panama May 2011 with 15 rubbermaid bins/suitcases and 3 carry ons. We rented a van and drove out to Coronado where our realtor and her husband met us at nearly midnight and helped carry all this luggage into our new home. She had been kind enough to put milk, bread and some fruit in the house so we had breakfast.
We have not looked back. Panama has been good to us. The weather is consistent, the people are amazing and the country is now home!