Advice and Observations About Life In Another Country From Someone Who’s Been To Over 40 of Them

[Editor's note: When Jet Metier couldn’t conduct the interview of Robert Adams, Chuck Bolotin, the Vice President of Business Development at Best Places had to step in.  Luckily, Robert Adams (AKA, Bob Adams) saved the day.]
We visit with Bob as he gives us the benefit of his experiences and the very valuable and unique insights he gained from working or living in over 40 countries and talking with thousands of expats.
Chuck: Thank you, Bob, for agreeing to be interviewed.  You’ve been so helpful to people who are considering moving to Panama, that we’re honored that you’ve consented to share some of your thoughts, insights and experiences with us here today.
Robert Adams: I'm delighted to be of service.
Chuck: I'm not surprised at all by how you answered.  You seem to have spent a lifetime of being of service to others.
Robert Adams: I try.
Lake Bayano Panama shoreline with clouds – Best Places In The World To Retire – International LivingChuck: As we look at your activities and accomplishments, we see that a good portion of your life has been devoted to helping others, from working with non-profit and humanitarian agencies, to foreign aid programs, to your activities on aging and helping people moving to Panama.  What would you say is the main motivating factor in what you do?  Why do you do it?
Robert Adams: I was raised in a family with a tradition of community/public service.  I was never taught this; I simply followed the example of everyone else in the family.  It just is part of my life and always has been.
Chuck: Well, on behalf of everyone who has benefited from your work, thank you.
Robert Adams: With regards to what I do in Panama, that is because I found most commercial websites devoted strictly to Panama to be sometimes less than honest and always very, very short on detail.  That was in 2004 and shortly thereafter, I created Retirement Wave.
Chuck: Thanks. We'll get to Retirement Wave soon, but before that, let’s give our visitors a little more Lake Bayano, Panama, with palm tree in the foreground – Best Places In The World To Retire – International Livingcontext on you. Have you lived in other places or visited places other than Panama?
Robert Adams: I’ve worked or lived in about 45 nations.
Chuck: That's an incredibly rich background and experience set.
Please let us know what were some of the most important observations you made when visiting these 45 or so nations.  We know this is a topic that could fill a book, but if you could give us some of the essence of what you learned, we would all be appreciative.
Robert Adams: By the way, I would add that my time in these nations ranged from 3-week consultancies to 3 years of living in a nation, and everything in-between.
My primary concerns when judging any nation are two.  Are the nationals generally happy and optimistic?  Are they looking to the future, or buried in arguing about the past?  Everything starts from that base.  Of course, when hired, I did not get to choose the nation, but when I wanted to choose one to live in, it was criteria that had to be met.
Chuck: If the people are generally happy, optimistic, and looking to the future, what does that portend, as opposed to if they are focused on the past?
Robert Adams: It means they have a future and know it.  They don't focus on the past unless they are afraid of the future.
Chuck: Can the prevailing outlook of the nationals of a country change?
Robert Adams: Of course, but that's always the case.  Typically though, unless there is outside intervention as in a military attack, the mood remains quite stable in most nations and changes slowly enough to be easily noticed.  Even if things turn negative, it can be a few years before that is felt.  But you do your best to choose a nation where you don't feel the probability of something awful happening is high.  Panama fits that bill.
Chuck: What comes first?  The attitude of the people creating the situation, or the situation creating the attitude?
Robert Adams: Reality always leads perception/attitude.  Then attitude reinforces reality until something dramatic happens to make everyone stop and rethink everything.  The double bubbles in the US, stocks and real estate, served that purpose, unfortunately.
Chuck: That brings us to an interesting question, and one you can pass on, if you would like. How do you assess the perception / attitude of the US at this point in time?
Robert Adams: It's rather obvious to everyone else in the world, yes, of course.
Chuck: I'm sorry; I don't understand.

Robert Adams: There is no clear consensus in the US as to where they are going and how they want to get there.  This has led to a great deal of anger and strong emotions.  The rest of the world has to get on with its own business while the US determines its vision for the future and shares that with everyone else.  The shouting going on up north is totally obvious to everyone else.  You haven't noticed? :-)

Chuck: For people living in the US, it's many times hard to see the forest for the trees. There is a quote I'm going to mess up, but it goes something like "He knows nothing of Rome who has never left Rome".  Really botched.

Robert Adams: Not to worry, you're close, I'm sure.  Well, it is very easy to see and hear from outside the US and it is very evident in the words of the gringos who come down or write me.  There’s a lot of anger and frustration.  Anyhow, I am deeply sorry for that, but I live here and don't obsess on the situation in North America, or Europe, for that matter.  People will eventually work something out, I trust.

Chuck: OK. Let's move on to life outside the US.  Please let us know what experience you have in working with potential expats and expats.

Robert Adams: I've corresponded with perhaps 2 or 3 thousand in the last decade since setting up my site and met with perhaps 4-500 when they visit.

Chuck: If you can make some generalizations, what can you tell us about how different people go about making the move overseas and what makes them successful or not successful?

Robert Adams: I tell people to try and not be "leaving from" some place but rather to be "going to" some place.  In other words, when visiting or certainly when relocating, you should focus on the new "home" and give it all your attention.  But the most critical requirements are flexibility (the new nation will be different) and adaptability (learning to work within the new environment).  Some folks have a very, very specific idea of what life will be like in another nation without any experience to base it on. Not a good idea.  Be open to new things and to change.  You don't have to do anything you consider "wrong", but you do have to adapt to the new nation to the extent possible.  An entire nation does not adapt to a single person relocating.  It's always the other way around.

Here's a simple rule. Do what you would expect a foreigner to do if they were to relocate to your nation.  Call it “the Golden Rule of Relocation.”

Chuck: Very good.  Thanks.  That was great. What are the most common questions you get from potential expats?

Robert Adams: There are so many, but cost of living, weather, and things "they have read somewhere on the Internet" are among the most common ones.

Chuck: Going back to your answer on your advice for potential expats, we know from your answers on our site and your background that you’re an analyst, yet the advice you give (as well as how you assess whether a country is going in the right direction) is not data-driven; its more of a feeling or an attitude.

Robert Adams: My analysis is very data-driven and my Reports from Panama reflect that, but most people are not so data-driven.  Actually, most folks say that I offer more data than "feelings".  But in any case, it is necessary to share feelings and attitudes.  People like that.   I just try to see to it that mine flow out of my analysis.

Chuck: We believe that you’re interested in the eastern part of Panama, which is generally not as developed as the rest of Panama.  Please tell us what caused you to be interested in this part of Panama.

Map of Panama showing Lake Bayano – Best Places In The World To Retire – International LivingRobert Adams: It is not ready for re-locators yet as there are no housing developments or the like.  But it is home to Panama's second-largest lake, Lake Bayano, which is simply beautiful and only a little over an hour from Panama City.  Population has traditionally moved west of the city, but now is moving east, so the future is bright for the east, but as I say, not for re-locators at the moment, primarily for investors.  (The pictures and the map on this interview are all from Lake Bayano.)

Chuck: You’ve got a website on middle age and the aging process that’s received a lot of traffic.  Please tell us about that site.

Robert Adams: The "about" section provides more detail, but I have been studying the aging process for around 40 years.  I put up some observations at that non-profit site in 1997 and, with very little updating, it is the same today. It's there for anyone who finds it useful.  No newsletter or other activity is involved.  Just essays that apparently many people find useful.

Chuck: Would it be OK if I asked you about your interest in the aging process?

Lake Bayano, Panama, with bohio in the foreground – Best Places In The World To Retire – International LivingRobert Adams: Sure.  My father was 40 and my mother 38 when I was born in 1945.  That was "late" for those days.  So they retired when I was in my 20's and the process they went through was part of my life.  Seeing the challenges they faced and how they dealt with them, as well as their friends and others I spoke to (probably a hundred people over the years) led me to some conclusions of my own.  Most of my friends were much older when their parents retired and they weren't as interested in it as I was.  Aging is open to analysis too!  It's inevitable and anything that important and inevitable is a good candidate for analysis.

Chuck: ... and something we all experience…with any luck!

Robert Adams: Indeed.

Chuck: Let’s talk more about some of your activities in Panama.  In the beginning of our interview, you mentioned your site called Retirement Wave.  Please tell us about that site.

Robert Adams: It's just an information site on Panama for people interested in relocation. However, only about half of the membership is traditionally retired (not working for income).  The other half is either old enough but desires to remain working or is younger.  I have members of all ages.  Retirees are not the majority of people who relocate overseas.  The others look for info too and they seem to appreciate what I have to offer.  I just do what I can.  The numbers involved are not important.  I spend neither time nor money promoting the site and never have.  I get members by "word of mouse", as I put it, recommendations of others and search engines.

Chuck: You’re recently involved in a new venture.  Please tell us about it.

Robert Adams: I have had my own company here for eight years, Panama Wave S.A. (S.A. is like "Inc.”).  We are holding the first on-line, Internet conference on relocation and investment in Panama ever held.  Our purpose is to provide the presentations other services only provide to people who pay hundreds of dollars or more.  Their conferences involve travel costs, hotels, meals, etc., plus as much as $1000 an attendee.  We are charging $37.  Because it is something that could interest Retirement Wave members, I have shared it with them too.  That's the first time I've done that.  Otherwise, any other commercial activities I do are not promoted at Retirement Wave.  This is an exception for good reason.

Chuck: Thanks for struggling through the interview with me as opposed to Jet.

Robert Adams: My best wishes to Jet!

Chuck: Thanks, Bob, once again for all the wonderful, informative information you've provided, just to help out others.  You are an extremely welcome voice to the information that's out there.

Robert Adams: And thank you (and Jet!). Okay, over and out!

Next Watch What You Say, You May Be Taken Seriously

Best Places In The World To Retire