Monday, November 30, 2020


by Gary Stamper 

The sun illuminates "rainshine" falling on the mainland through a hole in the clouds

It's been almost a month since I've posted here since I've been posting snippets of my journey on my Facebook page. FB's perfect for snippets, but here's a blog on a bigger subject (Note: I'll also repost this on my FB page with a redirect here).

I've been inspired to write about this because of the FB response to those snippets and photos. So many of you have asked how I did this and how envious they were that I seem to have found my own personal paradise, so let me start this off by saying:

If I can do this, anyone can do this.

If you want something like what I've done, you have to want it bad enough to make it happen and not let anything get in your way, including naysayers, money, and self-doubt.

The rewards can be immense, but there's a cost, too!

When thinking about how bad you want it, one of the first considerations is how will you feel about leaving your family, loved ones. friends... and grandkids? Are you OK with not seeing them very often?

What about your partner if you have one? If they're not on board, what will that mean to you? Will you need a job or will you be retiring or are you self-employed with the ability to work from anywhere as a digital nomad? 

Yesterday, I met Lora from Colorado who has been in Panama for two months, now. She applied online from Colorado and wrangled a job related to real estate sales at one of the larger resorts on one of the other islands. Like me, she speaks little Spanish. She's married and she and her husband are working out how they maintain two residences and time apart, both traveling back and forth.

The process of just figuring out what works for you and what doesn't will be a tremendous growth opportunity for you and the people in your life whether you decide to go or stay. Whatever you decide, you will know yourself better.

What's my dream?

If you've traveled, you're at an advantage over someone who hasn't. I'm not what I would call a world traveler. I've been to Scotland twice, traveling through Heathrow and Amsterdam airports. I've also traveled half of Canada, been to Hawaii twice, Costa Rica, and made numerous trips to Mexico on both coasts and led a tour of Mayan Sacred Sites in the Yucatan. I have, however, traveled extensively throughout the Caribbean, which played a major role in my choice of Bocas Del Toro, Panama.

That choice, though, was not made lightly. I spent a year researching locations before I arrived in Panama.

I had initially chosen Cuenca, Ecuador, as my destination. Why? There were several reasons. First, I knew and very much liked and respected someone who had ex-patriated there. Cuenca also had a large ex-pat community and the cost of living was rated as one of the lowest in the world, meaning my money would go a lot further there... an important consideration.

Cuenca, Ecuador

However, the deeper I dived into Cuenka, I began to question some aspects of retiring there, the biggest being that it was located at 8,000 feet above sea level in the Andes mountains and that meant cold winters and snow... uh, a major drawback for me, low cost of living or not! |

So I began looking at the Ecuadorean Pacific coast, particularly 7-8 beach towns, but eventually came to realize those weren't the beaches I was looking for.

What I realized then was these were not the white sand and clear turquoise waters I was actually longing for, For that, I'd have to return to the Caribbean I loved so dearly.

I returned to the online website, International Living, and did a search on Caribbean  Beach Towns and immediately found what I was looking for: Bocas Del Toro, Panama!

Bocas Town Business District

Now, this is more like it! I immediately liked the laid-back colorful Jamaican vibe to the whole place! I spent another three months researching the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, and finally decided this was the place for me!

Just as I started to dive into scheduling a March exploratory 2-week trip to check it out... you guessed it... COVID 19 hit and I had to cancel my plans, thinking it would be October or November before I'd be able to get there for my exploratory journey. I was partially right.

Panama reopened to tourism on October 12th and I jumped on what might be a window and arrived in Panama on November 3rd. Good thing... the US was about to explode once again in COVID cases and I figured being locked down in Panama at the beach if it were to happen again would much better than being in the US, so I came to stay, not as an explorer, but as a resident and immediately obtained a temporary Resident Visa. There would be no going back.

Boca Town Sunset

Today, I'm safely ensconced in a very nice 1-bedroom furnished apartment in Bocas Del Toro and loving being here. It's costing me $500 a month and includes wi-fi, furniture, dishes, cable, and all utilities. My unit is on the 2nd floor right of the entry with a great balcony.

You could live very comfortably in Bocas on $1,000/mo. Two people with a $2,000 budget could live very well, indeed.

In Napa, where I was living before I got here, a single bedroom in a shared house started at $800/mo and generally averages between $1200-1600/mo.

I highly recommend International Living for research on your perfect Retirement or Get-out-of Dodge source, or if you'd just like to improve your quality of your life on the same funds you now have. They have a tendency to gloss some things over and paint a rosy picture, but you can find negativity in lots of places if you want to know about the downsides of ex-patriating. 

Panama also has some of the best retirement options of any country, including their world-renowned Pensionada Visa with its many benefits to entice foreign retirees!

Whatever you choose, invest some time in your future. Even if you decide to stay where you are, you'll have the peace of mind that comes from being informed.

Me? I'm absolutely delighted with my choice!

Gary Stamper, Chillin'

All photos copyright 2020 Gary Stamper

Tuesday, November 10, 2020


by Gary Stamper

During postings here and on Facebook, I'm often reminded by my wise friends that many things happen at a much slower pace here in Panama than they do in the U.S. and that when one door closes, another opens.

I've also come to realize on my own that "ma├▒ana" does not mean "tomorrow" as I'd been taught." It really means "not today!" 

So far there have been five holidays in the 8 days I've been here, three of which were pretty impromptu (well, we took that one off, might as well take another!).

Recent events here in my immigration process prompted me to post this on Facebook:

Panama City, Panama, Day 8:

"AH, HA!" vs "UH OH" moments:  The difference lies in your attitude.

My attorney's departure from my immigration team poses several new issues that impact my plans which I had so perfectly mapped out and now are in shambles.  I'll write more about it in my next blog.

Meanwhile, we're all going to find out if I know how how to make lemonade. More later.

This morning

Turns out I apparently make pretty good lemonade when life hands me lemons.

This morning I hired a new attorney with the recommendation of a new friend from Bocas el Toro that I've been talking with that I couldn't be happier with. She knew how to get things done and solved all of the problems that were plaguing me, the primary one being the covid-induced eight-week wait to get the FBI document we needed for immigration that used to take 4 days.

So instead of being delayed eight-weeks, not only am I back on track to getting a residency card, but it's apparently going to take even less time because I'm working with an attorney who really knows what she's doing. 

The bottom line here is I'll know Thursday when I can leave Panama City for my home in Bocas Del Toro on the Caribbean!

I think I'm gonna have a Marguerita instead of lemonade.

Sunday, November 08, 2020

The Spirituality of Living Abroad

I just stumbled across an intriguing Foreign Service Journal article. As a new - really new - ex-pat, the author expressed an aspect of ex-pat life better and with authority than I can. - Gary

by Douglas E. Morris

Life overseas has a reputation for being libidinous, debauched, and bacchanalian.

Certainly, it can be all of those things, and in my many years as an expatriate, I have pursued all those possibilities.

Path To Spiritual Enlightenment

However, life abroad can also be a path to spiritual enlightenment.

Being in another culture removes us from the familiar, expands our comfort zone, and pushes us toward our growing edge while offering a mirror in which to gaze upon our true selves.


Take the most basic experience: talking with someone. If you are in a country where English is not the official language, communication is an intense activity.

Your mind cannot wander; you cannot think about what you are going to say next or listen with half your brain and plan your day with the other. You have to focus intently on the person talking so that you can understand the accented English they are speaking or decipher their native language.

Active Listening

Active listening, the cornerstone of any spiritual practice, can get rather tiring, which is probably why we don’t do it as often as we should at home.

In our native tongue, it is easy to pick up the thread of the conversation and ease back into the flow. In fact, many of us have developed exterior manifestations of good listening skills — gazing intently into someone’s eyes, nodding our heads periodically, making appreciative noises, etc. — but in reality, we are somewhere else, not really listening at all.

Forced Mindfulness

Expatriates, however, without the help of gurus or swamis, spending months in retreat, bending themselves into pretzels on the yoga mat or sitting for hours in meditation — just by the process of living overseas — learn to listen in the present moment, intently aware of what is going on around them. They learn to be mindful.

Develop Patience

As they navigate the uncharted waters of a different culture, ex-pats also tend to acquire patience. For only by moving slowly, without expectations, can they achieve their goals.


Being humble is also a bedrock of most spiritual practices, and living overseas is a perfect way to acquire that discipline.

Everything is different there — unusual foods, unfamiliar ways to get from one place to another, diverse types of stores, and unfamiliar social mores, values, and cultural expressions.

Functionally Illiterate

Moreover, we suddenly find that we are functionally illiterate: people talk to us, but we do not understand them; we open our mouths, but no one can decipher what we are saying.

Vulnerable – Outside Your Comfort Zone

All of these new experiences push us beyond our comfort zone, knock us off whatever pedestal we created for ourselves, and bring us crashing back down to earth.

Immense strength can come from this position of vulnerability. It removes the defenses that have built up over the years, giving us the opportunity to view the world and ourselves from a different perspective, allowing us to develop the confidence to grow, evolve and change.

Letting Go

Living overseas is also about letting go. Being in another country can help us learn to accept what is and discard unrealistic expectations.

Being able to live contentedly in any country is about accepting whatever happens for what it is, and not judging it or getting frustrated with it for what it is not — in short, letting go of preconceived notions about how things should be done.

Open-Minded Spirituality Potential

Though a life overseas does not guarantee the development of an open-minded spirituality, the potential is infinitely increased simply by virtue of being in new and interesting places on a more frequent basis.

Managed properly, approached thoughtfully, explored meaningfully, living overseas is probably the most mind-expanding and soul-enriching experience to be found outside of an ashram.

Reprinted from the Foreign Service Journal, September 2009 (with added subheadings), The Spirituality of Living Abroad, by Douglas E. Morris
Mr. Morris is the author of Open Road’s Best of Italy and other books.