Panama City, Panama Report of what it's like to live there - 05/22/08
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?
2. How long have you lived here?
Since August 2007.
3. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
My husband works for an NGO.
4. Travel time and best routes to this city from Europe or the US:
From Tocumen Airport to Houston it's about 4 hours. We take a flight from there to California, which is another 4 hours.
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
There are many large homes in our area. Most of them are old homes left over from the Americans. Man have been restored nicely, others not as nice. We live in a new home. Workmanship is very poor and not nearly as good as the quality you expect being that prices are so high now. We live about 10 minutes from downtown, depending on traffic of course.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Riba Smith has the most items I am familiar with. But you do pay a premium for them. I also shop at El Rey and Super 99 which have lower prices, but not as good as a selection. Surprisingly good produce is hard to find.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Good furniture. I am glad we kept our stuff from Ikea. They have the worst selection and quality of furniture. Plus it is not cheap. Also books are hard to find and overpriced.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
At night Panama looks like any other city in the States with its bright fast food signs glowing. They have them all except Taco Bell and Arby's. They do have very good restaurants here though. Ten Bistro is good, and Mi Ranchito on the causeway has a nice atmosphere with decent food.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
You can use Mailbox Etc to have a P.O. Box.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
We have a lovely woman who charges US$20 per day.
3. Are credit cards widely accepted and safe to use locally? Are ATMs common and do you recommend using them? Are they safe to use?
They are everywhere. Not a problem using them.
4. What English-language religious services are available locally?
5. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?
We pay extra to get ABC and CBS. They have the Miami Herald available. And I saw the Sunday Edition of The New York Times available at El Rey for US$10.00!
6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
You should know it if you want any kind of service. It is a fallacy that everyone knows English here. They have many Spanish course available as well.
7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Somewhat difficult. The sidewalks do not have ramps, but newer buildings do have elevators and handicap accessible public bathrooms. I have seen few wheelchairs though.
1. Do you drive on the right hand side of the road or the left?
2. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Buses are really for locals and are very cheap, but dangerous. Taxi's are safe supposedly, but I would feel uncomfortable by myself. They charge you more once they see you are a foreigner. Know the prices before you get in.
3. 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?
Lots of people have tinted windows on their SUV's. I have also seen other high end cars here, which makes no sense since you are bound to get dinged. We have a small compact car that works for us.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Yes, we have it included in our cable bill which is about US$80.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
A prepaid plan works for me. I pay US$15 a month.
3. What is the best way to make phone calls back home?
We use Skype.
1. Quality pet care available (vets & kennels)?
Very good and affordable.
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?
Not that I have found.
2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Health & Safety:
1. Pollution index (Good, Moderate, Unhealthy, or Very Unhealthy)?
We live just outside the city in the old canal zone. It's very nice and clean. Occasionally during the dry season, we smell fields burning. In the city it's pretty polluted and the bay smells badly.
2. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
I have heard of home robberies in our area. Also a particular gang that poisons dogs in order to break into homes more easily. I myself feel secure and have accidentally left the front door open a few times.
3. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Lots of mosquitoes, although dengue is suppose to be under control. It's very humid and the sun burns the skin easily. Health care is good and affordable. Most drugs do not need prescriptions, but they are costly.
4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Hot and humid.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
I don't have direct experience with schools since my child is not old enough, but I hear Balboa is good. Although you have to pay a hefty non-refundable initiation fee per child.
2. What accommodations do schools make 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?
There seem to be some good ones in the City of Knowledge. I plan on taking my toddler soon. They are about US$180 per month (half-day, five times per week).
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
Huge, especially in the old canal zone. Lots of Expats walking their dogs.
2. Morale among expats:
Good I think. At least in our area.
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?
Movie theaters are cheap and up to date.
4. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
As a family we find ourselves limited to walking the malls on the weekends since it is very hot to do things outside in the middle of the day. I am sure for adults without children there are a lot more options.
5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
It is more subtle, but there is an hierarchy of skin color. You see people with darker skin doing more menial work.
7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Lots of wildlife here. Also El Valle de Anton which is about 2 hours away is lovely.
8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
The molas are beautiful. They put them on everything from purses to sandals.
9. Can you save money?
Somewhat. On labor costs there is a huge savings. Gas is high, as well as groceries. I have found great bargains on clothes in the Albrook Mall and at Sak's.
Words of Wisdom:
1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
Yes, I love it here and I think it's a great place to raise a child, as least in the early years.
2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
Customer service and house quality standards. Things are held to a much lower standard.
3. But don't forget your:
4. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
The Tailor of Panama of course.
5. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
The Tailor of Panama of course.
6. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:
The Tailor of Panama movie. Also the new James Bond movie shot some of their scenes here, although they have it made to look like Bolivia.
7. Do you have any other comments?
The housing prices are going up here, and the market is being flooded with condos with a supposed ocean view. Many people are disappointed to find that their beach side property has no beach. There might have been good deals here before, but now they are rare to come by.