“I came to Panama 10 years ago on vacation and never left,” says Carl Conway.
“I was drawn in by the sunshine and blue skies…the warm water and sandy beaches…the palm trees and bright flowers…it was a tropical paradise.”
Now age 43, Carl enjoys a rich and laidback life in the rural town of Santa Fe in Veraguas Province of central Panama.
“I’ve bought some land in the mountains in El Alto and I’ll build a house there. It’s a nice property with spectacular views and a good road.”
Santa Fe is an agricultural community in the highlands, where farmers grow coffee and oranges and ranchers raise cattle and ride their horses through town. A large church with a striking blue roof is the focal point of the town, and residents gather every Sunday to attend Mass, visit with friends, and do their weekly shopping. Narrow streets wind through town, past modest homes and family-owned businesses and up into the mountains, revealing stunning views of the valleys and peaks.
“Of all the places I visited in Panama, I like Santa Fe the most for the friendly people and easy-going way of life. I feel very much at home here,” Carl says. “Life is not rushed, and we take time for family and friends. I can relax with a morning cup of coffee at home, or have a leisurely lunch.”
Carl is one of a growing number of expats who now call Santa Fe home. Many began their adventures in other parts of Panama before discovering Santa Fe…just like Carl…
When he first came he spent several years teaching English in Casco Viejo, the old colonial section of Panama City that juts into Panama Bay. Strolling the cobblestone streets you’ll find stone churches with ornate altars, a baroque-style theater and museum, and pastel-colored residences with ornate wrought-iron balconies. It’s a trendy spot where you can eat in upmarket restaurants or explore galleries of exotic indigenous art.
“Teaching English is a great way to earn a living in a new country,” says Carl, “and you don’t have to speak the language of the host country to get started. You’ll have clients before you know it, and learn a lot about your new home.”
While teaching English in the city, Carl explored the country and that was when he discovered Santa Fe—and the wealth of opportunities Panama offers any entrepreneurial spirit…
Carl moved to Santa Fe two years ago, and as interest in the area has grown recently, he has seen a gap in the market for services for expats. “Expats come here and buy land planning to build in the future. I offer property management services to look after farms and land for absentee owners. I make sure the grass is mowed, the fences are in good repair, that sort of thing,” he explains. “I also provide contracting services for repairs, renovations, or new construction to renters and property owners.”
Carl is able to support himself with his earnings, and appreciates the low cost of living in the province.
“My monthly expenses run around $760,” he estimates. “That includes $70 for phone, internet, and utilities, $130 for fuel and miscellaneous expenses for my truck, and $400 for groceries. On average I make two trips a month to Santiago (the provincial capital about an hour away) and eat out a few times at local cafés, and that adds another $160.”
“Life is good!” Carl says. “And it will only get better!”
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