Panama City, Panama Report of what it's like to live there - 09/06/11

Personal Experiences from Panama City, Panama

Panama City, Panama 09/06/11

Background:

1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?

No, Western Europe, the Caucasus

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2. What is your home city/country? How long is the trip to post from there, with what connections? How easy/difficult is it to travel to this city/country?

California - around 9-10 hours minimum with connection in Houston, Los Angeles. Flight are also available via Atlanta and Miami with Delta and American respectively. Cheap flights with sometimes very discounted rates are available via Spirit airlines.

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3. How long have you lived here?

2009-2011

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4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, military, teaching, retirement, etc.)?

U.S. Government

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?

There are two options for the most par: apartments in the the Marbella/Patilla downtown area and single family houses near the Embassy. Near the embassy are gated communities that are far from services but are very quiet and you may be able to see some tropical birds in the morning. The commute is 5-10 minutes. The downtown area is farther away but you will not need to rely on your car as much when not commuting to work or going to further away neighborhoods. Some families with small children live in the downtown area and they seem happy. The commute is 15-40 minutes.

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2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?

The fruits and vegetables are quite good at speciality markets such as Minimax and Foodie at Bal Harbour in Paitilla. They ship in a lot from California due to humidity making it hard to grow everything here. Berries and other such items are pricey. Most items are reasonable to buy here.

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3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?

The DPO arrives quite fast so you can ship in what you want in about a week from Amazon.com

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4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?

Panama city has a wide variety of ethnic diversity due to the canal and families of the former laborers settling here. You can get excellent Chinese and Indian food. The sushi

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5. What kinds of organic, vegetarian and allergy-friendly foods are available, such as organic produce, gluten-free products, meat substitutes for vegetarians, etc?

Organic produce is more readily available in Boquete at their farmer's market. They have one service in the city, Culantro Rojo with limited organic items. You can also go to Organica for organic foods. Some items are available at supermarkets such as Riba Smith. Vegetarian and vegan products are much readily available here than other places in Central America. You can also find tofurky sausages there and vegan mayonnaise. You can buy rice, almond and oat milk here at a reasonable cost. Soy milk is almost everywhere. Gluten free is becoming more popular. I found gluten free cookies at a large supermarket in the middle of the country. You can buy wheat-free flours but it is cheaper if you buy it on Amazon in bulk and ship it to you.

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6. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?

There are mosquitos since it is the tropics. It is not really bad. I sometimes put on bug repellent at dusk in the city if I'll be outside. It is more necessary when you are in the countryside.

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Daily Life:

1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?

DPO and pouch. They do have mailbox services to receive things via Miami for those who are not with the embassy.

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2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?

We pay around $30 a week for a cleaning lady to come twice a week.

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3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?

There is a gym and a pool at the Embassy. There is also a wide variety of gyms throughout the city and pools.

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4. Are credit cards widely accepted and safe to use locally? Are ATMs common and do you recommend using them? Are they safe to use?

It is best to pay with cash unless the card is swiped in front of you to prevent fraud.

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5. What English-language religious services are available locally?

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6. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?

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7. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?

Panamanians speak English more than in other parts of Central America but basic Spanish will be helpful in supermarkets, taxis, etc.

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8. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?

Most people drive everywhere and the sidewalks aren't always the best. With the traffic and hectic drivers, it isn't always safe for pedestrians or bikers, even.

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Transportation:

1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?

The taxis are safe but often times they are picky about where they want to go. It is best to call a taxi.

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2. What kind of car do you recommend bringing to post, given the terrain, availability of parts, burglary/carjacking risks, etc.? What kind of car do you advise not to bring?

A vehicle with some clearance is best - it doesn't have to be an SUV, a Subaru with clearance will be fine.

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Phone & Internet:

1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?

Yes - we have quite fast internet - I believe it's $30-40 a month.

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2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?

No.

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Pets:

1. Are qualified veterinarians and/or good kennel services available? Do animals need to be quarantined upon entry to the country? Are there other considerations regarding pets that are particular to this country?

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2. Quality pet care available (vets & kennels)?

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Employment & Volunteer Opportunities:

1. What types of jobs do most expatriate spouses/partners have? Locally based or telecommuting? Full-time or part-time? Can you comment on local salary scales?

I'm not sure - it might be hard if you are not affiliated with an Embassy or organization for permissions.

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2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?

Men wear suits. Women wear skirts/trousers and a pretty top or dress. They also wear suits.

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Health & Safety:

1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.

There have been increased security issues with gangs but I walk outside during the day and at night and run by myself along the coast on a biking path.

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2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?

People come to Panama for health care. If you have money the facilities are top notch with many doctors trained in the states.

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3. What is the air quality like at post (good/moderate/bad)? Are there seasonal air quality issues? Does the air quality have an impact on health?

The air quality is very good. They do not allow smoking in restaurants, bars, or public places. The worst contamination comes from some of the older buses or trucks.

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4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?

The dry season is from December to March. Rainy season can have afternoon showers (you need a large umbrella and galoshes/flip flops)or torrential showers with 10 inches in an hour perhaps. The drainage system for water can often leave some areas flooded. A car with some degree of clearance is useful for that reason and for touring outside of the city.

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Schools & Children:

1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?

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2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?

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3. Are preschools available? Day care? Are these expensive? What has been your experience with them, if any? Do the schools provide before- and/or after-school care?

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4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?

Definitely - kids can even learn to kiteboard!

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Expat Life:

1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?

The UN is headquartered here for the Americas so there is a wide variety of expats.

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2. Morale among expats:

Pretty good. I think many are frustrated by Panamanians within the city.

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3. What are some typical ways to socialize, either with local people or with other expatriates? Are there groups or clubs that you can recommend?

There are many restaurants, bars, clubs, cultural events to choose from. Films arrive pretty close to when they come out in the states.

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4. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?

Panama offers something for everyone. The clubs are quite fun if you are single or a young couple. There are also multiple weekend getaway options. For families, it is good as well but you may need to be creative about entertainment options. There aren't a lot of museums but there are multitudes of sports or cultural activiites to participate in.

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5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?

You can see gay couples walking around the city in certain areas. I had several gay friends who said it was hard to meet potential partners but they were not discriminated against by Panamanians but it still is a sensitive subject especially among the men.

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6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?

Due to the diversity here, you can see women in the supermarket in islamic dress in chadors, burkas, the jewish community, Chinese populations speaking little Spanish, etc. There is additionally a large afro population. That being said, there is diversity, but still with some prejudice.

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7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?

I have visited most of the indigenous populations, snorkeled in various sites, surfed, enjoyed some of the restaurants. The highways are pretty good so you can drive to the Costa Rican border in a 3 day weekend - around 5 hours.

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8. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?

There is a endless amount of outdoors activities to do. Water sports of all kinds are the most popular. Ziplining and birdwatching are popular in the mountains of El Valle and Boquete. There are multiple street festivals of carnaval in the Azuero peninsula, remote virgin beaches to visit in Kuna Yala or the Bocas areas. Surfing is very popular. If you want to see how locals live you can befriend a Peace Corps volunteer and visit them or even stay with them

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9. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?

Handicrafts such as molas, embroidered indigenous tapestries, baskets, masks

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10. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?

Panama is truly spectacular with what it offers in natural beauty. If you like snorkeling/scuba, surfing, hiking, fishing, you will be in for a treat. There is a large focus on water sports, you can even learn kite surfing here out in Punta Chame in the dry season. Culture-wise the most interesting activities are visiting indigenous Embera and Wounaan villages such as Ella Drua or Embera Drua in the canal watershed. You can also visit them close to the Darien in Ipeti. The Kuna can be visited in Kuna Yala or San Blas, truly beautiful remote virgin islands for relaxation. The Kuna live on some of them and have a fascinating culture.

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11. Can you save money?

Potentially.

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Words of Wisdom:

1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?

Yes. It can be frustrating, but the pros outway the cons!

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2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:

Winter coat

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3. But don't forget your:

Infinite patience, sense of humor, rain gear

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4. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

The tailor of Panama

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5. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?

The Path between the Seas

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6. Do you have any other comments?

The traffic can be very bad in the city, but if take a zen view and not be attached to when you arrive you will get less aggravated by the chaos.

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