An interview with Jackie Lange, owner Panama Relocation Tours, January 29, 2015
I met Elizabeth Ballard the first time I went to Big Daddy’s in Boquete. They have the best fish tacos and margaritas!
Elizabeth moved to Panama about 7 years ago with her husband and 9 year old son. As a Mom, one of her biggest concerns was how to get a good education for her son and how to help him thrive in a foreign country where, initially, he did not even speak Spanish. With Elizabeth’s help her son William made a smooth transition, is fully bi-lingual, and has both expat and Panamanian friends.
We have monthly internet marketing meeting in Boquete and I made a presentation about writing books for Kindle to make extra money. I encouraged Elizabeth to write a book about how to move overseas with kids and how to get a good education. PanamaRelocationTours.com gets emails often from people who are considering moving overseas with kids so I knew there would be a big demand for the book.
Elizabeth’s book Kids Helping Expat Kids survive Thrive is NOW available at Amazon Kindle. Click on the link for instant access to order. If you don’t have a Kindle.. no problem… because Amazon has free software you can download to your computer to read the book. The book tells the story of how one Mom helped her son not just survive but Thrive in overseas.
Even if you don’t have kids, it is a good book to read about expat life in Panama.
Here is one of the reviews: “Wow, I am so incredibly thrilled I came across this book. As a mom who is considering an extended stay in Latin America, I really needed the guidance and assurance that I wasn’t making a terrible decision for my kids. I had been going back and forth wondering if our family was making the right choice, and after reading this book, we are going to do it! Elizabeth Ballard’s book provided me with invaluable advice that put me at ease. Her family survived, no THRIVED and ours will too! THANK YOU for this terrific book!”
See the Elizabeth’s interview below.
I’m encouraging her to write her next book about starting and selling a business in Panama.
When did you move to Panama?
I moved to Panama in February, 2008, so I’m coming up on seven years
Where did you move from?
We moved from Sarasota, Florida.
Where do you live in Panama and why did you pick that area?
I live in Boquete, a small but thriving town in the Chiriqui Highlands. I moved here in 2008 with my husband and our youngest son, who was nine.
I think sometime in 2005 we had taken a family trip to Boquete, visiting some neighbors who had already moved there with their daughter. And we were charmed. So before we left, we purchased a lot and over the next few years, built a house on it, from afar.
Tell us about your business and how you got started.
Well, initially my husband moved to retire from the restaurant business. I retained a part-time job online, with an insurance agency. But that year the housing market in the USA crashed and then the stock market took that terrible dive. So all our plans went down the tubes, along with that sweet part-time job.
We ended up selling our dream home in exchange for a modest, Panamanian fixer-upper. After about a year, we realized we needed to start funding our life. And since we really understood the restaurant business, we thought that is what we would do.
Also, my husband had been paying attention to the food industry here and noticed that fish was an item not easily acquired in our mountain village. We started a restaurant that specialized in the freshest fish. (Big Daddy’s)
Was it difficult to set up your business in Panama?
Well, “tricky” is the better word. First, we were not fluent in Spanish and also we were not well-versed in the laws around the restaurant industry. So it was important to have good, solid legal advice and also a good, local accountant.
We took our time and proceeded at the pace dictated by the paperwork. This could be frustrating because there were times when we had all our ducks in a row, but were stalled, awaiting a certain official to give us the required stamp of approval.
Do you have a web site or blog?
Well, that is no longer relevant as we sold the restaurant recently, in August, 2014. However, rather than maintain a blog, I primarily marketed our business via word-of-mouth, which today translates to Online. (the older blog is active: www.mypanamalife.com).
I was very active on Facebook, regularly, keeping copy and specials fresh, photos, etc. I was also active on Trip Advisor, which is an important site for helping to put your business on the map. A lot of business are frustrated with this site, but I got to know it and made it my business to monitor and reply to comments. I think this really gave us a great presence. Also, it was one way to note suggestions and take feedback into account.
If you could relocate to Panama all over again, what things would you do differently?
Knowing what I know now about how the restaurant industry works here, I would probably open a food business that was geared more toward take-away items and also required fewer employees.
But I wouldn’t trade in what we did or what I learned for all the tea in China.
What are your favorite things about living in Panama?
If you see beyond the gated communities, Boquete remains a small town, a farming town. I love that. I love raising our son in that environment. It feels like the 60s to me in many ways. And I love the climate we have here in the mountains, the extreme beauty,
What do you like least about living in Panama?
As a mom of a school-age kid, and I tend to view life through that lens. I definitely feel the absence of organized sports programs, a skate park, a teen center, and activities for kids in the summer. And better, much better schools. Also, I dislike the public littering, the garbage.
As an adult, I miss being able to visit museums or go to really good theater. Panama has all this, but in the larger cities. So those things have to be planned for.
Do you have any tips for someone considering relocating to Panama?
Yes, of course. Come visit and rent. Don’t rush into purchasing property until you have had a real taste of all Panama has to offers. In our town alone, there are so many micro-climates, depending on your neighborhood. I’ve seen people come here, spend big bucks on a home, and then come to the conclusion they can’t stand the rainy season. There are so many wonderful towns, villages, beach towns, mountain areas, and there is Panama City. I think it is definitely best to rent and travel before you buy.
When we first arrived, I thought we’d stay about a year. Now, I can’t imagine living elsewhere and I don’t want to go back, except to visit family. I love my Panama life. I’m presently finishing up a book for parents who are considering moving overseas with kids. You can keep up with my progress by googling www.mypanamalife.com.