When you move to Panama, you may feel some stress dealing with a brand-new culture. Faced with a completely different way of doing things and a different language, some ex-pats struggle to adapt or feel like it is too much work. A good example is something as simple as opening a bank account. In Panama, banks will require 1-2 bank reference letters, a personal reference letter, and a 1-2 hour interview, and even then it could take several days or weeks to open an account.
Frustrated or unsure where to start, some ex-pats stay locked in their house, and others spend all of their time hanging out with other ex-pats at the local bar. They never venture out to explore. These are often the same people who complain about locals and their way of life. You’ll often hear them say, “it’s not the way things were done back home.”
It does not need to be this way. Immersing yourself in your new life in Panama can be an exciting and enriching experience. You’ll feel more comfortable and adjust faster if you follow the 5 tips below:
Use the first few weeks after you arrive to observe the rhythm of daily life. A good place to do this is a park or outdoor coffee shop. During the rainy season, you’ll notice that most people try to get all their errands done before 2 p.m. so they can be home before the rains start. Take time to drive all the streets to discover where things are located. Get a taxi to drive you around if you don’t have a car. Then hit the pavement. Go into each store, pharmacy, and restaurant to see what’s available.. and where. If you don’t have a car, notice where locals catch a taxi. This will help you get familiar with your new home faster. This initial exploration will provide you with the basic information you need to settle into your new ex-pat life in Panama.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help, information, and recommendation. When you see other ex-pats, ask for their advice or help to find what you need or where to go. You’ll find that the ex-pat community is a close-knit group and very happy to share what they know to help you make the adjustment to an ex-pat lifestyle. Panamanians are glad to help too!
When we moved to Panama, I joined 5 different Facebook and Yahoo Groups where people exchange information about living in Panama. It helped me find things I needed, meet new friends, and also helped me avoid certain places too. I learned about hiking groups, internet marketing groups, whale-watching trips, photography clubs, and more. I also learned where to go for live music events. These forums are a great place to get answers to your questions.
Once you’ve settled in, begin to expand your understanding of Panama and the city you moved to. Visit museums, libraries, and musical events. Don’t limit yourself to ex-pat hangouts. Take a drive. Do day trips to beaches or mountain towns to learn more about Panama. Try a weekend in Bocas del Toro or Las Lasjas beach. Many hotels offer 50% off specials at www.OfertaSimple.com. Do a Google search for local newspapers, then subscribe to help you learn about what’s happening in Panama. Use Chrome to translate the newspaper into English. Reading the local newspapers will help you understand what’s happening in Panama. PanaTimes is an English-language newspaper with Panama news.
Always look for events, festivals, and new places to explore. Then go! You’ll meet new people and get a real appreciation for all that Panama has to offer.
TRY NEW THINGS
Push beyond your comfort zone. If you don’t speak Spanish, learn a few phrases and then use them whenever you are out. Even a Buenas Dias (good day) will go a long way. Try a local dish.. you’ll be pleasantly surprised. Try talking to Panamanians. Visit the farmer’s market, then buy fruits or vegetables you have never had before. Ride the bus. Join a gym or yoga class. Find out where locals and ex-pats hang out, then go there to meet people and make new friends.
When I make my grocery list, I look up the word in Spanish, too, and write it next to the English word. This helped me learn words in Spanish. It also helps when I can’t find something at the grocery store I can point to the word and get help finding any item on my list. Get Google Translate on your smartphone.
Don’t put too many things on your “to-do” list each day. This is a sure way to get frustrated. Instead, list things you need to do and then prioritize them. Start with the most important thing first. Get that accomplished, then move on to the next thing on your list. Understand that some things take longer in Panama. You can’t change the pace no matter how hard you try. Knowing this in advance will make your life easier. Recruit the help of a bi-lingual local when necessary. You should be able to get translator recommendations from other ex-pats. They will make your transition to living in Panama so much easier.
Every month plan a new excursion to explore more of Panama. You’ll learn to appreciate the natural beauty of this amazing country.
Join some of the local volunteer groups to help you meet friends much faster. Also, attend Panamanian events. The local library usually has art shows or other events where you can meet people. You can’t wait for someone to come knocking on your door. If there aren’t any ex-pat groups where you are… start one! Get on a Panama Facebook group, then invite everyone to meet at a local restaurant at a certain time. You’ll meet a lot of people. The last thing you want to do is stay home glued to the TV with news from home.
If you do these things, you’ll adjust to your new life in Panama faster. It’s important to get out of your house often. If you’re recently retired, now is your turn to do the things you’ve always wanted to do but didn’t have time to do before.