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8 Mistakes Expats Make When Moving to Panama (and How to Avoid Them)

expat community bocas del toro panama

As an expat, moving to Panama is a big step as well as a rewarding one. It’s so easy to just pack your bags and venture abroad. And yet, you should be aware that there are certain risks involved in settling overseas. Experts warn that there are a number of easy mistakes to make; here are some of the worst issues expats face when they first move abroad.

1. Expats Don’t Do Enough Visa Research

The first thing to consider when moving abroad is the rules of the country in which you’d like to live. Most countries require a visa for foreign nationals who wish to move there; check with the immigration department of the country for specific regulations. If you will be searching for a job upon arrival or working remotely for a company in your home country, you will likely need to enter on a tourist visa and apply for a more permanent visa when you are in country.

2. Expats Overlook the Little Things

Before you move, change your address with your bank and other financial institutions. If you will be moving frequently or if you need to keep a U.S. address, consider using a mail service, which will provide an address and receive your mail; some services will scan the envelopes and send you an email.

3. Expats Pack Too Much or Too Little

Depending on the length of your planned move abroad and your situation, you will need to pack differently. If you are planning to move for a long period of time, invest more in packing; you will need to ship your belongings. If you are moving abroad for a shorter period of time, consider packing less. Most necessities can be purchased abroad, and travel is easier when you are not burdened with piles of clothing and home accessories.

4. Expats Underestimate the Cost of Living

One of the biggest mistakes made in that first move abroad is to underestimate just how much it may cost to live in a new and unfamiliar country. The danger lies in the amounts that people tend to budget for food, utilities, and other essentials. Some countries are promoted as cheap alternatives to the U.S., but it’s not until the bills start coming in that the differences become apparent. The solution is to assume you will need far more than planned for in your original budget.

5. Expats Are Forgetful of Money Management

If you will be receiving pay when you are living abroad, you will need to open a local bank account. Check with your bank to make sure that your debit card will be usable overseas; if you have a PIN that is more than four digits, you may need to change it. Call your bank and credit card companies before you leave to alert them that you are moving so that unusual activity does not prompt an account freeze.

6. Expats Forget to Budget Moving Costs

When people first arrive in a new country, particularly if it is their first contract or posting abroad, the new and exciting surroundings often put them into ‘vacation mode’. For the first three to six months they want to absorb the culture and the bright lights of their new country of residence and they spend like they are on vacation.

7. Expats Are Sometimes Too Vulnerable

Research is essential, especially for self-made expats who have to figure out everything on their own. Not only do they have to struggle with red tape, but impostors may feel right at home among clueless strangers. Other people’s dreams of living abroad can turn into a lucrative business for con artists. One rule of thumb.

8. Expats Forget to Avoid Scams

Seek out the help of other expatriates, especially those who’ve spent a few years navigating the culture and bureaucracies. They have a wealth of knowledge that most are willing to part with to make your transition smoother.

The urge to spend your life sipping exotic drinks may be so strong that you are willing to do whatever it takes. However, if you use some common sense, you will eventually be able to enjoy your cocktail under a swaying palm tree after all.

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