1. Once upon an American Expat

Are you ready for an interesting story about an American expat in Panama?

I won’t bore you with the prologue—let’s just say I’ve come FAR from the fearful and naïve former at-home mom I used to be. Today, I’m 51 and hard at work on my upcoming exodus to Panamá with my partner and best friend, Ken. I’m sharing our story in the hopes of inspiring and helping others do the same.

So, let’s get started.

Once upon an American Expat…

Just after signing the purchase agreements for our property in Panama, two thoughts hit me:

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


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

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

In the beginning, you didn’t really see the big picture…the fun was in the surprise. You just put your crayon on #1 and dragged it to #2, then #3, then #4…not seeing much past the next number.

At some point, you started to see a picture emerge and it got a bit easier to make your next move. But every so often a number wasn’t where you expected it to be and you either got stuck searching for it or you headed off in the wrong direction and had to turn back, leaving evidence of your goof.

Eventually, you saw it. Now the excitement really kicked in because 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.

As I signed the purchase contracts, I totally saw my big picture.

In the past 33 years, I’ve gone from fearful and naïve college student to harried and repressed (and still fearful) at-home mom to passionate and authentic woman.

In three more, I’ll be an American expat living in Playa Venao, Panama.


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

Ken and I currently call San Diego, California, home. Our community is one of the most popular in the region—once ranked by Forbes magazine 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 believe to be Paradise, I’ve never been more sure that what I’m doing is the absolute right thing for both of us.

Many years 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 fricking blast!”

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 had no choice but to do it.
  2. To escape the traditional American life. Work, eat, sleep, occasionally wander, repeat was suffocating my soul. I’ve always needed more—and time is flying.
  3. To conserve my retirement money. After my divorce, I had half the assets, a fraction of the income and a semi-desperate 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 even come close to it in the United States, so I had no choice but to cross the border.
  6. To make a long-time dream come true. For a long time now, I’ve been pulled to take all that I have learned about life and travel on my wanders and create a sanctuary to share with friends, family and strangers. Not only did I find it in Panamá, but I can afford it—it will be called Vista Cañas Nature Retreat.
  7. To hang with monkeys. I feel weirdly connected to them. Must be a DNA thing.

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

…a father who packed up his family, walked away from his 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.

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

…my mad crush on the passion of a rainforest guide.

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

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

…a passionate love affair with a German officer that forced me to be strong and unearthed my desire to be an American expat.

…that solo dinner in a tiny bohemian restaurant in Cabo where the dream to create a sanctuary began.

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

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

…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 connect all the dots 🤦‍♀️. 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 mid-2021, when my youngest child graduates from university. But, I’ve never been able to sit still while I wait.

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

We’ve purchased the property, solidified the vision, and started designing our home and the casitas. We look forward to hosting you there some day!

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

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

In our next post, we’ll share the issues, challenges, questions and decisions that came up for us after we made the decision to be expats.

Get started…

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 going expat.

Your weapons are books and blogs, Facebook expat groups, other expats, and your own soul. Read, ask, talk, and search! Ask yourself lots of questions and be brutally honest in your answers.

  • 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 some helpful expat groups on Facebook:

This blog will be a diary of our expat journey that you can use as a rough draft for your own. Unlike some of the glossy expat publications, you’ll get the straight scoop here. We’re positive and flexible people, but we won’t be sugar coating reality!

If you want to get notified when we publish a new post, please subscribe to our email list on the Home page. (Don’t worry…we will guard your privacy fiercely and we’re way too busy to spam you!)

You can also EMAIL US any time.

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

2. A Checklist for Living Abroad

Janet Doré

A wandering ex-housewife who found herself while wandering the world. After her divorce, Janet fled the burbs and committed to hitting her twilight years without regrets and with an abundance of fascinating stories. She is in the process of designing and building the Vista Cañas Nature & Book Retreat in Playa Venao, Panamá, with her partner, former SeaWorld trainer Ken Williamson.

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