Panama City, Panama Report of what it's like to live there - 06/26/15
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. We lived in a few cities in Asia and Europe.
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?
USA. I think it's about 3 hours from Miami and also 3 hours from Houston.
3. How long have you lived here?
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?
- We live in a gated community close to work and school in a suburban area where beautiful birds fly over our heads sometimes. Love the neighbors. However, you need the world of patience when things need fixing in the house. The number of visits of technicians and the length of time to fix things, their lack of knowledge and expertise is something we never experienced in any other country. This affected my morale significantly.
- Downtown/city is not far in terms of distance but takes a while to get there because of traffic.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
The great thing is you can find U.S. products but they are expensive. Local fruits, vegetables, milk, yogurt are cheap/reasonable.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Portable dishwasher if the house doesn't come with it, lawn mower (available in Panama), carpets (sometimes available in small sizes).
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
McDonald's, Wendy's, Taco Bell, Burger King, Pizza Hut, Papa John's, Dominoes. Indian, Thai, Chinese, Mediterranean, Italian, French, Mexican etc
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
Cockroaches, ants, mosquitoes etc.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
DPO, pouch for embassy families.
DHL. Mailbox services to receive things via Miami for non-embassy families.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Panamanian helpers generally don't iron. It's hard to find good part time helpers. At the moment the going rate for part time is US$30 (/plus) per day 7:30am - 3:30pm. Full time helpers can live in or out. You can apply for work permit for non-Panamanian helpers. I believe if a helper is pregnant or delivers baby while employed by you, you are liable to pay for her medical expenses, however I don't know if you need to pay 100% or partial.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
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?
U.S. credit cards are accepted and there are plenty ATMs that might charge you additional fees for withdrawing cash.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Yes. I take taxis and the new subway. No experience with buses. Please negotiate with the taxis since they charge 2-3 times more to foreigners.
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?
Any but SUVs might be better so rain water from the streets doesn't get in..
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
There are different options you can choose from, no issues.
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?
Maybe if you speak Spanish and if they think you are in Panama for not short term.
2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?
3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Work: formal and smart casual. Public: whatever you feel like. However you are not allowed to go to offices or local schools wearing shorts.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
- Snakes and scorpions both inside and outside the houses. We cut all the bushes off and maintained small grass; did not let our kids go to the backyard. We didn't see snakes or scorpions in our house but previous tenants and several neighbors did.
- Heard about some house robberies, rape cases and robbing people at restaurant at gun point but nobody we know was robbed or raped.
- Car break-ins to steal cell phones etc is common.
However when you're in Panama it feels pretty safe as long as you use your common sense.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
No health concerns. Medical quality is good however for general cold etc. it seems like local doctors believe in antibiotic for simple issues.
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 do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?
I heard for nut allergies you can't buy shots to carry with you, I think you need to go to the hospital to get the shots when needed.
5. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Always summer. Rainy season: hot and humid with pouring down rain, dry season: hot with beautiful breeze.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
Balboa Academy, Metropolitan School of Panama, Kings College, Christian Crossroads Academy, International School of Panama. Our kids went to the Metropolitan School where teachers are very nice, loving and caring. Our kids are very happy there and their after school activities are great. The school focuses a lot on reading, technology (iPad, computers) etc, however, math level seems to be lower than Panama and marginally lower than the U.S. standard. Students are always encouraged to speak English except for Spanish classes so it's not easy for non-Spanish speakers to learn Spanish unless you work with the teachers or speak Spanish at home. Other international schools are similar when it comes to Spanish. The school doesn't believe in helping young gifted and talented students, however, the homeroom teacher tried to help on her own. It worked out excellent for us because they were willing to work with every single issue we had. I would highly recommend them!
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
Not sure - Met had a pull out session first thing in the morning.
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?
Daycare and preschools are available at a reasonable price. However, a lot of preschool seemed like in between a preschool and daycare. Instituto Atenea is a proper local school from nursery to 12th grade. Our kids went there for preschool. Other than their psychologist's off the chart questions during the admission interview, we had a very good experience with them. The school is fantastic, most of the teachers speak Spanish but the principal of the preschool speaks English and is very helpful. Cost was very reasonable too (very low compared to international schools).
4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
Size = Big.
Panama is oversold but morale is okay to good.
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?
Go out to tourist spots, meet up with friends, go to restaurants, go to beaches, watch movies.
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
4. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
I think so.
5. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
I haven't noticed anything.
6. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
Tourism. To go to Cinta Costera, Causeway, Ancon Hill, Metropolitan Park etc. at the weekends. Hang out with neighbors, go to the U.S. 2-3 times a year. Chriqui, Bocas del Toro.
7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Beaches, tourist places in the cities.
8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Mola, local t-shirts, arts and crafts.
9. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
Close to the U.S. and in same time zone with family. Summer all year round, beautiful country, for the kids to learn a widely used second language. Good schools. Beautiful country.
10. Can you save money?
I don't think so.
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
One day everything is easy and the next day the same thing at the same place will make you pull your hair out.
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
Knowing what I know now would I do the first time tour here?
Answer: Probably (if I can't get my top 5 choices). It's better than hardship posts.
Knowing what I know now would I do a second tour?
Maybe not. To deal with housing (fixing/maintenance) issues sucked the energy and happiness out of me. Also I'm not great fan of Panama heat (weather wise). However expat community is great!
3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
People said you can leave behind your winter clothes so we did but ended up buying them every time when we visited the U.S. in winter.
4. But don't forget your:
Patience, patience and patience.
Sunblock, rain boots, swimming and snorkeling gear and CAMERA (it's a beautiful country!)..
5. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
6. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:
7. Do you have any other comments?
We met a lot of awesome people here.