Mindset on being an Expat – Part I

Joe and I were sitting on the edge of a cliff teetering between holding fast or falling over.  Yes, this was the moment when we decided that living in the US was not what either one of us could do the long term.  We had it all a daughter almost finished with college, our health issues were manageable, the beautiful home of our dreams a 4 br 2 1.2 bath, two-story in a very prestigious neighborhood North of Atlanta. But we were still drowning in uncertainty about our future and what we should do.  Joe was not able to work any longer and I was working sometimes 12 hour days to just “get by”.

After many heart to heart conversations on our deck overlooking our beautiful back yard we started to crystallize what our hopes and dreams actually consisted of.  These conversations finally allowed us to see what each of us wanted in the way of our dream lifestyle.

I was more interested in finding things like more affordable fresh fruits and veggies, fresh meats and seafood and to be able to walk home from the market with my satchel of produce and bread for today’s meal, instead of relying on our gas guzzling automobiles. I was interested in being the at home wife, cooking, cleaning sort of like June Cleaver.  I was tired of the business world with all it’s sniping and false gods (money). That world had not made either of us happy.  We both wanted an outdoor type of lifestyle. That did not mean hiking mountains or trekking the jungle.  It meant a climate that would be conducive to our spending many hours out-of-doors, like sitting on a porch,  reading, listening to music, walking to a park. Joe was more pragmatic, he was looking to get us  out from under a mortgage that was strangling us, looking for a lifestyle that we could afford on his social security payments without me having to work. Allowing him to calm down and relax instead of being uptight and agitated.

That was the first step in making the transition to being an Expat living in a developing country.

Casa in Dolega, Panama


Traditional Clothing - Panama

Our first experience was living in Dolega, Panama. It was a very small a few thousand residents most who did not speak a word of English and a few Norteamericano’s scattered around the area. Our rented home was a 3 br 1 bath Panamanian style home, built of cinder blocks on a slab with a corrugated tin roof rent $180 per month. Very basic it came with nothing, no hot water, no kitchen appliances, nothing — We spend over three years in that house, in that neighborhood and loved almost every second of it. Our move to Ecuador was prompted by the increase in violent crime in the area, as one of the only expats around we felt that our time was coming to have something big and bad happen to us so our minds made up or suit cases packed we moved to Ecuador back in March 2010.

Next installment will discuss our thoughts and our personal guideline to making it work in a developing country.


14 thoughts on “Mindset on being an Expat – Part I

  1. I think we too, like yourselves, are tired of the rat race! We have money and cars and houses, but maintaining everything is taking all our energy and a whole lot of money. It all seems so pointless. We want to be having fun and enjoying life and the weather. Houston weather is far too hot for us – Summers are spent indoors – and they last about 5 months! Ecuador, although quite warm, is a lot more bearable for me. Shopping is a half a day affair here and the fruit and veggies are not nearly as good tasting as the real fresh deal as you get there! The prices of food have skyrocketed since we got back from our visit to Salinas – in just 2 weeks! I’m looking forward to your next installment!

    • Leigh, Prices will increase here I’m sure but they were low to start so it should not be as bad as back in the states. We had to made a decision either move someplace that I did not need to work a full time job or continue as we were, which was killing both of us. Between the house, the two cars, the insurances, the property taxes, the co-pay for medical and medicines we were working to maintain a lifestyle that we were not that thrilled about to begin with. To cut the cord, move and live on Joe’s social security was a very scary decision. I must say we have not looked back thinking that we made a mistake, our life is how we imagined it, sitting our our balcony reading or just watching the boats, walking to the mercado and picking out the fish and veggies for our meals, relaxing with good friends over a lunch for $2.50…we are content in our decision and happy with our new country!

  2. Pingback: Morning Update – Friday, May 6, 2011 « South of Zero

  3. Hi Nancy,

    I have enjoyed the last two articles which differ from your regular posts. I appreciated your legtting us know some of the unpleasant facts about Salinas with regards to gargabe, noise and unpleasant human undertakings. I thoroughly enjoyed the first installment about your reasons for leaving the USA and moving to Panama and then Exuador. Thanks for sharing and I look forward to the next installment…..

    • Hi Tom – thanks again for reading our blog. I am a very up-beat person and try very hard to see the good in everything, my fellow man, my surroundings and my own life as well. But the facts are the facts. Everything is not always perfect, even though I consider this my paradise it could be hell for others! I tend to ignore things that I know I cannot change, things like dog poop on the sidewalk so I just walk around it. That could be a deal breaker for someone else, I got used to it in our neighborhood in Georgia, and the sad fact was that those dogs were on a leash held by a “responsible thinking adult”…at least here it’s just dogs walking without a human to guide them, doing what dogs do!!!

  4. Hi Nancy,
    I see what you mean about the “imperfections” of Salinas. We have been here since Tues. May 3 and while things are not completely picture perfect it is beautiful and warm and the view just cannot be equaled. The people are so kind and never make fun of my attempts at their language (or at least I don’t know it) and make every attempt to figure out what I want. We were sitting on that same fence for the last year but a car accident involving my husband knocked us off the fence onto the ex-pat side. We can no longer work 12 hours a day just to maintain. You are right it is no longer worth it. I felt if I did not drag my husband away I could count on him taking it all to the grave with him and very soon. Soooo here we are and so glad of it, yes we have to go back to finalize a lot of things but we will be back to stay! In the meantime if you have any wisdom to share on a rental property with a water view, please share.
    Thank you…Victoria

    • Dear Victoria – Welcome to Salinas. I am so happy that you are finding our little slice of heaven just that, not actually perfect like heaven but pretty damn close… My suggestion is to speak to Amy Prisco or Jaime Franco – we find both of these folks to be honest and reliable. If you need more info let me know. Nancy & Joe

  5. Nan,

    Dolega, Panama was a small town. I am curious as to what you attribute to its increase in crime and violence during you and your husband’s over three year duration there? Looking forward to your next installment.

    • Hey Jim thanks for your comment and for reading our blog. I guess and it is only a guess, we felt that the conspicuous consumption that we saw in nearby Boquete was a major factor in the influx of crime, our area including Boquete was basically farming which developers sold off to those that constructed huge, expensive gated communities, it was a huge enticement to those with little. Gangs crossed the border from Costa Rica as well as from Panama City and well it was not pretty.

      • Nancy, there are big gated communities in Vilcabamba as well. I heard about a gang that was terrorizing folks here about a year ago and it was attributed to that as well. The area I live in is gated but it belongs to an Ecuadorian and the “gate” is an iron door that only looks at night. No guard. I’m very happy here but wary of the creeping conspicuous consumption I’m seeing here. I even hate taking my kindle to read in town.

        • Vickie – we learned a very valuable and costly lesson in Panama. We were only there for about 3 months when someone slit the window screen and slipped our brand new laptop computer out the window one night. It was someone who had been in our home, a worker, a delivery person, could have even been a “so-called” friend — we never found out. The police did nothing and so we became more wary of everyone. We were told to not let anyone in your home if you had someone over entertain them on your porch etc. It worked because we had no problems over the next 3 years. Like I said it was a costly lesson and one that we keep in mind while walking around any place in Central or South America – no expensive jewelry, I wear things I buy from the folks on the beach, no camera hanging around my neck, I keep my camera in a small pouch out of sight, no fancy big purse, I use one of those little Ecuadorian weaved bags, and never carry more than a few dollars while we are out. I would never take my netbook or a kindle around town with me, there are people always just looking. I don’t think everyone is a thief, I just think we need to be more aware that things will disappear if you are not watching out for yourself.

  6. Hi Nancy:
    I am planning a trip to Guayaquil/Salinas with my wife in mid-October. I have spent many hours on line getting info. on Ecuador. I am semi-retired but continue to make sales over the phone for a food company I represent in Montreal. I definitely need a good internet connection….skype. Could you recommend a hotel we could use while we are in Salinas? I would be coming with my wife and daughter and would like to stay in the area for about ten days. We would probably spend most of this time looking at various condos. If we like what we see we would come back and rent something for two to three months. If we are still happy we would like to find something to buy. Any advice (help) would be most appreciatred. We would be coming from Vancouver, British Columbia.
    Bob Bidner

    • Hi Bob,
      I just got internet a few hours ago with CNT the local phone company. It is not super fast — speed up to 600, right now it is running at 200 but what we had most days was between 40 and 60, so I am pleased. I will try my SKYPE over the next few days and let you know how I do. When we came here a year ago we stayed at two different hotels but we have not been to either one of them since, so I hesitate to recommend either. I can get a list together of a few hotels (are you interested in budget or higher end) and will get it to you when I give you a SKYPE update. I think you are doing the right thing, visiting and looking around to see if the area will fit what you, your wife and daughter are looking for. Then coming back if it meets your basic needs and taking more time to make a decision, rushing into purchasing something before you get a good feel for the area, people, shopping, food, etc is not something that I would recommend. But again it is up to you! We rent so I really do not have any advise for you when it comes to buying, except be cautious this is not Canada and things are done differently here. Let me know if I can answer any questions for you and if I can I will.

  7. Hi Nancy!

    I plan on moving with my wife and three kids, around Salinas or Villamil. My concerns are as follows :

    1. What is the cost of living, if I want a fairly comfortable life?
    2. How is the crime situation there? Is it ‘normal’ or creepy?
    3. Are there schools for children?
    4. How sunny is it? I hear stories about not much sun… (Except Villamil which seems to have a very good climate)
    5. What are your thoughts on starting a small business there (small café/bar/fast food)

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