Work Less and Play More in Panama
I probably work 30% less than I did in the States,” says Jesse Schoberg. “It’s not that I’m getting less done, I’m just more efficient. Besides, there’s more to life here.” When Jesse and his wife Laura moved to Panama City they were looking for a warm climate, a lower cost of living and the adventure of a new culture.
As owners of a web development company, LJ Host, they realized that they could work from anywhere in the world as long as they had a phone line and an Internet connection.
“We had been living in Madison, Wisconsin (we’re from Elkhorn) for eight years, and while it’s a great town, we wanted a change. We were bored,” says Jesse. “We first visited Panama in 2005 and joked about moving there. But the more we thought about it the more we realized it ticked all our boxes.
“In 2008 we spent a month trying out life in Panama City, and we liked it so much we bought an apartment in the San Francisco neighborhood. That’s the city center. It is a 1,840-square-foot three-bedroom place with floor-to-ceiling windows, granite countertops, a maid’s quarters and a balcony. And it costs just $255,000,” Jesse explains.
Living in a city with a lower cost of living increases the couple’s relative income. Electricity runs them $100 per month, Internet and mobile phone costs range from $40 to $170 a month depending on the speed, provider and plan.
One of the luxuries of living in Panama for Jesse and Laura is having a full-time maid. “She’s the main reason that we’re able to work more efficiently. She is amazing, more like a house manager and she makes our lives much more pleasurable. She cleans the entire house daily, does the laundry, washes the sheets three times a week, does all the dishes, cooks fresh breakfasts every morning and as many other meals as we like. She keeps fresh lemonade in the fridge, does all the grocery shopping and runs any errands we require.
“Outsourcing these types of tasks is a huge timesaver and allows us to stay focused on our work. I don’t ever want to be without a maid again. You have to be rich to have a maid in the States, but for $300 to $400 a month in Panama it’s the norm,” says Jesse.
The proximity of Panama to the U.S. makes it convenient to travel home to visit family and friends and being in the Eastern Time zone is a bonus for business. And business is good. Starting out with just a computer and a dream Jesse and Laura have built up a global team of web designers and clients.
“When we lived in Madison we positioned ourselves as a web-based company that doesn’t usually meet its clients in person. So moving the business to Panama was easy. We run our business primarily via email with the occasional Skype call mixed in. Many of our clients didn’t even know we had relocated,” Jesse explains. “We’re transparent about our location, though. We let our clients know that our top team members are based in (but not necessarily working from) not only Panama, but the Ukraine, U.S. and beyond.
“When we first relocated to Panama it did raise some eyebrows, but once clients saw everything was business as usual there were no complaints. We noticed that our clients were mostly just intrigued about the lifestyle here.”
Doing business from Panama makes enjoying life easy. “It’s not uncommon to have an extended lunch with a buddy over a few beers, or call a few friends to play hooky at the pool any random weekday,” says Jesse.
The couple’s free time is spent hanging out poolside, catching a football game, hitting the movies, and meeting friends for dinner or a few drinks. Among their favorite restaurants are Segundo Muelle in the San Francisco district for great Peruvian food with an upscale-casual atmosphere costing $40 to $50, and Super Gourmet in Casco Viejo, a great lunch spot with WiFi, tasty sandwiches and daily specials for $10 to $20.
For drinks they love the laid back atmosphere at Mojitos sin Mojitos. It’s cheap, has a vibe like a beach bar and lots of fun people. And there’s a lot to see outside of the city as well.
“Anytime we can, we head out to the beaches on the Pacific coast. There are a lot of good spots within one- to two-hour’s drive that are great for weekend getaways. We can also head to the mountains in El Valle (two hours) or Boquete (six hours) for some refreshing cool air and a different ambience. Finally, for a completely different feel we can fly across to Bocos del Toro for a Caribbean island style feeling.
“Panama’s biggest gem is the San Blas islands. This group of tiny islands on the Caribbean side is a two-hour drive from the city and is absolutely stunning. We can stay there in huts with the indigenous people for $30 per night inclusive or sail on a boat,” explains Jesse.
If you’re planning a move to Panama, Jesse and Laura have some advice for you. “Visit for a while first. Consider the weather and the culture. Learn to relax and have patience…lots and lots of it. Understand that people are late, sometimes very late. The first six months were hard and after that we got in a groove and never looked back. Our only regret is that we didn’t do it sooner.”
Editor’s Note: Warning! If you want us to help you secure a new life in Panama in 2013, you have to act now. Our team will be on the ground in Panama this coming April giving you the knowledge and contacts necessary to make your move happen with confidence at the International Living Fast-Track Panama: Lifestyle and Opportunity Conference. This is the only IL event that will be held in Panama in 2013…and places are selling fast. Read more about what’s on offer, here.