Panama City, Panama Report of what it's like to live there - 07/28/14
Personal Experiences from Panama City, Panama
1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?
No. I lived before in South Africa, Italy, Brazil, Cambodia, Uzbekistan, Afghanistan, and Mali.
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?
Porto Alegre (Brazil), straight flights with COPA, around 8 hours.
3. How long have you lived here?
Almost 3 years.
4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
Housing depends on your budget but you can find nice houses or modern apartments depending on what you want. Commute time can take a while if you live downtown and work near the canal, for example. Traffic is not the best in the capital.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Groceries at the supermarket aren't that cheap. Public market is cheaper but not that easy to go to considering your working schedule and traffic.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
You find it all here.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
All American fast foods and chains. Also very good and pricey restaurant, all sorts (i.e. Indian, Thai, Chinese, Mediterranean, Italian, French, Mexican etc). Prices range from US$5 to $60 depending on your budget.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
In some areas outside the capital, mosquitoes. But nothing compared to Africa.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
Never did it.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Most help comes from Nicaragua, Colombia and neighboring countries. You can house live-in help or not. Cost varies from US$300 to $600 depending on how many days and what the work is (i.e. children, cleaning, cooking, ironing).
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
Power gym is around the city, and different smaller workout facilities are all around town, also pilates, jiu jitsu, yoga classes etc. Not that expensive so you can find a place for your budget.
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?
Available almost everywhere.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
Many churches have English-language services available.
6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
You need Spanish.
7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Not really, as I see special access in many public areas. Probably one of the best Latin American cities for someone with physical disabilities.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
All affordable and ok. A metro system was opened this year; the first in Central America.
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?
Better SUVs due to the rain that floods some streets or avenues even in the capital. Also it is better to have SUV to have access to not so easy to reach beaches and different sights. You can go to San Blas only with a SUV. You can find all models and car companies here, but you need to consider availability of parts.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Yes, up to 10 GB, around US$40 a month.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
All have it. You can buy it everywhere.
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?
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?
Yes (i.e. NGOs, foundations, international organizations, international corporations, etc). Panama is the location of many regional offices for private companies, NGOs and the UN.
2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?
I would say many, if you know Spanish and look around (i.e. local NGOs, public institutions etc).
3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
All kinds. Here you go to the mall and see women wearing mini skirts and tiny shorts, with all kinds of cleavages. You also see Muslim women with traditional clothing. Professional places have people wearing professional attires. Most of the public areas are very cold due to very low AC temperatures.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
This is the safest you get in Latin America. Just be aware when going to public places, and avoid some areas late at night. A safe country - my number one quality for Panama.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
No major health concerns. Great medical care is available. Many expat women have their babies here.
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?
4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Always hot and humid. Weather patterns: dry and rainy seasons.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
At least 3 good international schools: ISP, Balboa and the MET. One of my kids went to Balboa for pre-K 3 and 4 and then we put both kids at the MET and we are very happy with them. Very international, innovative, fun and culturally sensitive school.
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
The MET has accommodations for special-needs kids.
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?
Yes, preschools available but more downtown near the canal, though I see more daycares available now then when we got here. Panama is growing so fast!
4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
Yes, soccer clubs, beisebol clubs, swimming classes and others.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
2. What are some typical ways to socialize, either with local people or with other expatriates? Are there groups or clubs that you can recommend?
Beaches, parks, canal, traveling to the country side, malls, movies, restaurants.
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
Everybody seems happy here and enjoy their time!
4. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
I would not know but I guess so as there are so many foreigners here and Panamanians are very welcoming.
5. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
6. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
Great places to visit in country (San Blas, Bocas de Toro, Chiriqui, Boquete, Coiba) amazing beaches, contact with nature and animals.
7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
The canal, San Blas, Coiba, Bocas de Toro, Volcano Baru, El Valle, Embera indigenous tribes, molas.
8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Mola, Panamanian hat, hammocks.
9. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
Safe, weather for those who like warm weather, nature.
10. Can you save money?
Not really as things aren't as cheap as you would expect, and you have so many different restaurants to go and the biggest mall in Latin America.
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
I read a lot before coming and was ready...
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
Lack of patience as service in Panama isn't the best, winter clothes.
4. But don't forget your:
Sun block, swimming gear, back pack, surf board, snorkeling gear, camera.
5. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:
6. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?