#OPERATIONEXPAT: Once Upon an American Expat | PanamaExpatInfo.com

Once upon a time, there were two crazy Americans — one formerly naïve and fearful at-home mom turned wiser small business owner and one 53 year old animal whispering large animal trainer. What was crazier was that out of all the gazillion dreams humans can have, they happened to share the one about being an American expat.

We are putting out our (long) story on this blog in the hopes of inspiring and helping others to make their own expat dream come true. (Also, because I’m a website designer who loves her “job” way too much.)

Life is like a dot-to-dot.

Just after signing the purchase agreements for two vacant lots in Panama, two thoughts hit me:

1) Oh…my…GOD, what have I gone and done??? 😳

Followed pretty quickly by…

2) Funny. Life is kinda like those dot-to-dots I did as a kid. 🤔

Remember those? At some point in your life, your teacher handed you a sheet of paper or you turned the page of your coloring book and you found yourself looking at a bunch of lines, dots and numbers—and it was up to you to make sense of them all.

At first, you didn’t see the big picture…but, you knew there was a cool surprise to be revealed. All you had to do was put your crayon on #1 and drag it to #2, then #3, then #4…you were really just focused on finding the next number.

But, at some point, you started to see something emerge — a picture of something and it got a bit easier to find the next number. But, every so often a number wasn’t where you expected it and you got stuck searching for it or you got a little over confident went too quickly in the wrong direction and had to turn back, leaving un-erasable evidence of your goof.

Then, you really saw it and you knew exactly where you were going and what you needed to do to get there. It was just a matter of getting it done so you could stand back and admire your work of art.

I really saw my big picture when I stepped onto my future vacant lots.

North Park Sign in San Diego | PANAMAEXPATINFO.COM

From San Diego to Playa Venao to be an American expat.

Ken and I currently call San Diego, California, home. Our community is one of the most popular in the region—once ranked by Forbes as one of the “hippest” places to live in the U.S. A place that would be the end goal for most people.

But, we can’t wait to leave.

Although many people probably think we’re nuts for leaving what they see as Paradise, we’ve never been more sure that what we’re doing is the absolute right thing for both of us.

After my divorce almost a decade ago, I vowed to live the rest of my life in a way that will have me hitting the rocking chair without regrets and hooting,“Well, THAT was a fucking blast!” (This would be an appropriate time to warn you that I have a vocabulary worthy of a seasoned sailor and no longer constrain myself for the sake of others. 😏)

Here are my main reasons for choosing to live the next chapter of my life as an American expat:

  1. To keep my vow of no regrets. Once the idea of being an expat took hold, I knew it was an integral part of my destiny.
  2. To escape the traditional American life. The work/eat/sleep/occasionally wander/repeat cycle was suffocating my soul. I’ve always needed more.
  3. To conserve my retirement money. After my divorce, I had half the assets, a fraction of the income, and a fervent desire to make it stretch as far as possible.
  4. To experience a different culture. I’ve never totally meshed with the priorities and passions of the American culture, so I’m curious to see if another one fits me better.
  5. To afford an ocean view and a sunset. I can’t afford this in the United States, so I have to cross the border to get it.
  6. To make a long-time dream come true. For awhile now, I’ve been pulled to take all that I have learned about life and travel on my wanders and use it to make the world a teensy bit better. It’s a stretch, but in Panamá, I’m able to afford building my dream — to be known as Vista Cañas Nature & Book Retreat.
  7. To sit in the trees and hang with monkeys. I’m craving trees and strangely connected to monkeys.

Here are just some of my dots that have led me to my future American expat life:

…a father who packed up his family, walked away from his aeronautical engineer career and made his dream come true on a guest ranch nestled in the hills of Northern California.

…that moment on my honeymoon when I watched (and envied) the girl who danced with abandon on the island of Moorea, Tahiti.

…a chronic case of restlessness the entire time I lived in suburbia that only subsided when I wandered the world.

…a first child who has fought to be unconventional since the day he was born.

…my mad crush on the passion of a rainforest guide on Costa Rica’s Osa Peninsula.

…the Costa Rican man who implored me to go to Panama because it was “absolutely wonderful.”

…each of five “therapy” trips to the North Shore of Kauai that set the real me free.

…a passionate love affair with a German air force officer that revealed my strength and my desire to be an American expat.

…a solo dinner in a tiny bohemian restaurant in Cabo where the dream to build a peaceful destination was born.

…a post-divorce career that enables me to work from anywhere on the planet and will save me thousands of dollars in web design & marketing.

…meeting and falling in love with Ken, who had a pre-existing desire to be an American expat — just like me.

It only took me 50+ years to see my big picture 🤦‍♀️. But, that’s okay. Now, I’m really excited because I know exactly where I’m going next, who I’m going with, and how to get there!

I am happily delaying the move until January 2021, when my youngest child graduates from university. But, I’m not sitting still while I wait!

After purchasing the property, I started envisioning, planning, and designing Vista Cañas (which will double as our home).

Here are Ken’s two cents about the whole American expat thing:

I’ve always been an adventurer and traveler at heart, but life circumstances over the last decade or two have really limited my ability to travel.

“Expatting” to Panama will allow me to:

  • Retire earlier
  • Live better (cheaper cost of living)
  • Scratch my adventure/travel itch (and Central America is a great jumping-off point for many other nearby travel adventures)
  • Share an awesome adventure with my partner


Some food for thought.

The surer you feel about something, the easier it will be to take the leap AND push through the gazillion doubts and fears that WILL come up.

Years ago, I watched Star Trek (under duress) and I’ve never forgotten the Borg—an alien species whose singular goal was to assimilate other species, eradicate all individuality and forbid escape. Guess what? They’re real, so be prepared to battle them once they find out your goal is to be an American expat (or Canadian expat, or South African expat, or                                   expat!)

Your best weapons are books and blogs, Facebook expat groups, other expats, and a strong will.

Read, ask, talk, and search! Ask yourself lots of questions and be brutally honest in your answers. Here’s some food for thought:

  • What is at the heart of your desire to be an expat—are you running or seeking?
  • Are you discontent living in your home country? Why?
  • How do you feel about learning a new language?
  • Are you willing to accept and, most importantly, embrace the imperfections of a new country?
  • How badly will you miss your family and friends?
  • Do you think you’ll regret not taking the chance to be an expat? If your answer is “Yes,” you’re stuck, my friend. It is simply NOT an option to die with such a major regret.

Here are a couple book suggestions:

Here are a couple helpful Panama expat Facebook groups that are incredibly helpful (remember to use the SEARCH function first!):

Let’s stay connected.

This blog will be a diary of our expat journey that hopefully serves as a resource for your own. Unlike glossy expat publications or people who stand to financially gain from you, it’s not our intention to steer you anywhere in particular or sugar coat a thing.

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In the next blog, we share all the factors we considered in choosing our expat country. Click below to read it now:


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