“I have always wanted to live abroad. In my family of four I’m the most adventurous one, yet I was the only one who had not made an international move,” Karen Walter says. “David in Panama’s Chiriqui Province is exactly what I was looking for.”
“After 10 years I had grown tired of Arizona, and the time was right to end my career in social work and fostering challenged children,” she says. “I was fed up with the bureaucracy of the child welfare system, and I didn’t expect that to improve. Plus the economy was bad, with people I know losing their jobs and their homes. It was very stressful. I wanted a simpler life where I didn’t feel like I was living on a hamster wheel.”
She didn’t make the move to Panama alone, however. Karen’s 79-year-old mother, Leonie, took the big step with her, along with their three dogs. “Mom and I have always been very close.” So when she decided to relocate, Leonie, a retired nurse, came along. Born and raised in the island nation of Antigua, Leonie feels right at home among the palm trees and colorful bougainvillea of tropical Panama.
Leonie is taking the challenges of relocation in her stride. “I’ve made some friends and our neighbors are very nice,” she says. “I’m not as adventurous as Karen, so I don’t go out on my own yet, but bit by bit I’m adjusting.”
Karen and Leonie rent a home in David and rely on buses and taxis for transportation. This has enabled them to become very familiar with the city and environs and meet many people in a short time.
“It’s very easy and affordable to get around David and there’s a wonderful expat community here that we both enjoy,” Karen states. “Establishing true friendships here has been easier than anywhere else I’ve lived. There’s a feeling of acceptance here—much more than in many states in the U.S. The people here are more genuine and our neighbors have been warm and willing to help whenever possible.”
As for their cost of living, Karen says their living expenses are much less than in the States. “It’s so affordable to live in David. We pay $480 a month for rent and about $150 for utilities, including air conditioning. We spend about $400 on groceries and household goods. Our total monthly expenses run around $1,000 to $1,200.”
Before making the move, Karen spent some time in Panama investigating places to live, the business environment, safety, health insurance and medical care options, which were her major concerns.
She was impressed with what she learned about David, and the pair recently used the services of one of the private hospitals. “Mom had some chest pains and we went to the ER. We were seen right away and the doctor spoke very good English,” Karen recalls. “They did some lab work and an EKG, and adjusted some of Mom’s medications. She’s fine, and we were really pleased with the whole experience. And the bill was less than $300.”
Now that she and her mom have settled in to their new home, Karen and Leonie are embracing their new culture and community. “In Panama, the overall goal is to live happy and enjoy life,” says Karen. “Chiriquí is very comfortable for me with lots of outdoor activities, which I love. It’s a perfect fit for me with my tourism interests. And I’m looking forward to learning Spanish.”
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