Panama City, Panama Report of what it's like to live there

Personal Experiences from Panama City, Panama

Panama City, Panama 10/10/18

Background:

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

No, I have also lived in Turkey, Mexico, and Thailand.

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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?

DC in the US. I am no longer required to fly through MIA! I can take the direct flight to DC w/USG

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3. How long have you lived here?

Two plus years.

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

State Department.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

House in suburbs, on the darker size, but is a nice safe neighborhood. Nothing amazing, but certainly adequate. Some in the 'burbs live with lovely amenities, others with larger houses in nicer neighborhoods, but all within close range of the embassy. Those who wish to can live in downtown apartments, though there is generally nothing cute in those neighborhoods and the commute can be 45 minutes plus, but to each his/her own.

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

Plentiful options, though groceries are more expensive than in the U.S.

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

None.

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

Take-out is not that great, but the general sushi/pizza options exist and are pretty good.

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

Regular mosquitos, snakes, and insects.

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Daily Life:

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

DPO.

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

I pay US$650 (average is around $550) for full-time, live-in nanny help. Many find the requirements (social security, severance pay) to be cumbersome here.

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

Gym in the embassy, some okay gyms nearby

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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?

Yes.

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

All.

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

Definitely helpful to know Spanish.

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Transportation:

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

Yes, but most people drive.

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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?

SUV for potholes and occasionally flooded streets.

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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.

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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?

Yes.

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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?

There are a few EPAP and other employment options in the area. Some are successful telecommuting or traveling occasionally back to the US for work (MIA/DC). Don't know anyone finding the right salary match on the local economy.

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2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?

Lots.

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

Business casual at the embassy.

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Health & Safety:

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

I've found this post very safe!

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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 talked about Zika for a while but that conversation seems to have died down. Good quality medical care here.

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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?

Good.

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4. Are there any particular mental health issues that tend to crop up at post, such as Seasonal Affective Disorder (winter blues)?

Lots of rain (almost daily for nine months) can hamper the lifestyle.

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

Hot and humid.

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Schools & Children:

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

Lots of school choice! My little ones go to a local Spanish-speaking school. Most go to Balboa, Metropolitan, or the Int'l School. People seem happy with their respective choices.

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2. 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, I pay about US$400-600 per kid for pre-k

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

Yes, there are local sports options (ballet, tennis, soccer, flag football).

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Expat Life:

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

Large American expat.

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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?

Many Community Liaison Office (CLO) activities are organized for the embassy community. There are also SUP clubs, crossfit gyms, art classes, and really anything you want to focus on here, you probably can.

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

Definitely better for families. The city is very small.

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

I'd say medium. Not a huge scene, but certainly not condemned.

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

Some fun overnight beach excursions, travel to Colombia, getting to know the cute little old town area.

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

Beaches in Chame, Westin Playa Bonita, Pipa's beach, Portobelo beaches and little town, hiking around.

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

If you're into molas that's a thing here, there are some nice natural woven things (masks and baskets), some beaded necklaces and bracelets.

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

Safe, close to the US, very livable, good for kids.

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Words of Wisdom:

1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?

It's really not close to the beach: one and a half hours minimum. Panamanians seemed to me to be a bit colder when compared to others in LatAm countries.

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

Yes, good for kids who learned Spanish while here, life has been slow, low, and not too stressful.

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

Winter gear.

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4. But don't forget your:

Sunblock and bug spray and grocery money.

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Panama City, Panama 09/01/18

Background:

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

No. We have also lived in San Jose, Lima, and Baku.

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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?

Augusta, GA., USA about six hours flying time. Five hours to Atlanta on a direct flight and one hour to Augusta.

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3. How long have you lived here?

Two years.

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

US Embassy.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

We love our house. It is the normal size house for the US: three bedrooms but with four and a half bathrooms. We live in Albrook Gardens and there is a real sense of community in the neighborhood. It is safe to walk at night or early morning, it is well lit with 24 hour security. It is the oldest housing area for the embassy pool, with infrastructure problems, but it is close to the embassy, small to medium-sized yards, and bigger spaces than may be available in downtown apartments.



Each house is unique and some are larger or more spacious than others, but all are adequate. If you are a family with one to two people and want a house close to the embassy, some of the houses here are small enough to accommodate that size limitation, but then of course, the rooms are smaller than someone may prefer. The embassy does a good job of meeting the requested area for incoming employees: if you want downtown you will likely get it (with a longer commute) and if you want close to the embassy, you will likely get it (with fewer resources close by).

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

Groceries are a bit more expensive than in the US and if you really like something you should buy what you can when you see it, as you can't depend on consistent stocking of shelves. Stocking and cleaning go on while the stores are open so expect some inconvenience. Many US products are available in Panama but you may have to go to specific stores to find it and the availability will be spotty.

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

None.

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

Almost everything can be delivered. Sushi, fast food, TGI Friday's, Hooters, and the list goes on. Appetito 24 is available 24/7 and will deliver quite a wide range of food. Local restaurants are varied and tasty, so no real lacking of options.

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

Ants and roaches. Big ants, small ants, big roaches, and small roaches. The best thing you can do is have boric acid (available locally) and geckos.

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Daily Life:

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

Pouch and DPO.

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

Local help is adequate but usually it is third-country nationals. Panamanians do not seem to want to do domestic work for the most part. We have a full- time Nicaraguan maid for $30 per day and that is considered a high salary, but we believe in a living wage. We also hire a person who speaks English to take care of our house with enthusiasm and cooks daily. Maids are the most common help here.

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

Gyms are common and the embassy has a decent workout facility.

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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?

Lots of crime with credit cards, but we use them in restaurants and grocery stores. I heard a TDYer used their card at a local US hotel and within minutes it had been used in Trinidad for something else fraudulently, so just be aware.

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

All of them, I think.

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

You don't have to have Spanish but it makes like much nicer. Plenty of opportunities exist to learn.

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

A little, but I think it is workable.

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Transportation:

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

Yes, there are even party buses that go around the city. We use Uber more than anything so we don't have to negotiate.

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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?

We have a sedan and a 4 WD. If you like to go to the beach, I would bring a 4WD as the Kuna Yala only allow 4WDs to go through their area to San Blas, but if you are staying on the common routes then most everything else would be fine with a sedan.

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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?

Easy to install, fast enough for all of our electronics (quite a few). We stream quite a bit without trouble. The two primary providers, Cable & Wireless and Cable Onda, seem to compete for who can provide the worst customer service, but the actual reception is pretty good.

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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?

We use a local provider but brought unlocked phones to post. Phones are available here at about a 25% markup.

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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?

Good vets, everybody has animals, just clean up behind your pets. There is a quarantine but you can get the government to let you do that in your home. Easy to bring pets in. Even if you come in during the middle of the night, the pets are sheltered in the airport until the next business day for a fee of maybe US$3 per day so that the government vet can look at them and confirm they look healthy.

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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?

Local salary is low compared to the US and the schools are almost always hiring.

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2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?

Lots of opportunities to volunteer in the city.

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

Men wear suits and women dress in business attire. Panama City is much like a US city in expectations of appropriate dress.

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Health & Safety:

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

Like any big city, just be careful.

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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?

Hot and humid year round. Seriously, if you have allergies this is likely not the post for you. There is mold in the air conditioners (this is normal) so you can't escape it. Medical care is pretty good though the price may fluctuate based on the perception that you can pay more. Traffic delays in the city (up to two hours) can make getting to a hospital or doctors appointment even more frustrating than the variable costs or expectation to pay in cash.

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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?

Good.

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4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?

There is no FDA here, so cross contamination is a real problem. Some of the schools do not seem to be concerned about peanut allergies, etc, so the parents and children must be extra careful. Panama City is still very close to the jungle and the embassy is across the street from preserved jungle park land. Sloths and monkeys are common in the area. Something exotic is always blooming so meds are a must if you have allergies.

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5. Are there any particular mental health issues that tend to crop up at post, such as Seasonal Affective Disorder (winter blues)?

Not really, but it seems that many people think that this will be an easier tour than it actually is and the disappointment in the lack of customer service, apathy among employees, limited things to do, and the lack of a downtown community make people want to curtail from here.

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

Hot. Year round. Humid. Year round. Rains from April to December almost daily. Usually dry in Jan, Feb, and March. Or at least less rainy. They call this the 'summer' since the kids are out of school, but since we are north of the equator, it is not really summer.

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Schools & Children:

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

Many schools with different areas of focus. Christian/Secular, IB/AP, large/small, and people seem genuinely happy with the school they choose. I have heard that they are hard to get into, but that does not seem to be an issue since no one is complaining.

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

The schools seem to recognize the need for services and do a pretty good job accommodating special needs. There are two big schools, The Met and ISP, that seem to be better than others.

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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?

Each school has their own plans and things like scouting and sports groups are available.

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Expat Life:

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

LARGE expat group and mostly happy.

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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?

The same ways as in the US. Work colleagues, bars, exercize groups, hobby groups, etc.

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

For any type family, I think you could be happy here, depending on expectations.

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

I don't know of particular problems, but this is a Catholic country so maybe a problem, maybe not.

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

I am not sure; I have not seen much of it but it still may exist.

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

Chartering a boat in the Caribbean, Gamboa trips to see the sloths and other animals.

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

San Blas! Beautiful! Snorkeling, scuba diving, boat trips, exploring ruins, tropical drinks. Dinner on the balcony at the Miraflores Locks.

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

Not really. There are some local indigenous artworks but once you have a few 'mola's' then there is not much else to buy.

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

Dollar economy, you can drink the water, and 110 power.

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Words of Wisdom:

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

Definitely! It has been a wonderful two years!

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

Coats, expectations for customer service, need for perfection.

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3. But don't forget your:

Patience, sense of humor and sense of adventure

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Panama City, Panama 05/15/17

Background:

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

I have been overseas for several years now.

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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?

Miami. About 3 hours direct.

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3. How long have you lived here?

Two years.

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

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

Worst housing I've ever been in. Small houses with little or no yard and no curtains or curtain allowance provided so you have to buy your own.

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

Expensive!

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

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

Quite a lot of restaurants and American franchise fast food.

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

Some housing has lots of roaches and ants, and snakes, and poisonous toads and/or frogs that can kill your pets.

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Daily Life:

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

DPO.

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

Expensive and legally you must give a lot of benefits.

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

Many gyms!

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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?

Not safe everywhere for credit or debit cards and even ATMs will rip you off.

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

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

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Transportation:

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

We use Uber.

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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?

Any kind of car is fine, although I think an Asian-made car is cheaper and easier to maintain here.

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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?

Cable Ondo is what most people use, but customer service is bad.

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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?

Movil or Digicell -- Movistar sucks, in my opinion.

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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?

There are both great and really bad vets. Find one by referrals.

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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?

Part-time embassy work but it takes a long time to find a spot and get a clearance.

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2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?

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

Suit or business casual, shorts are fine outside of work.

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Health & Safety:

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

I find it very safe here.

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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 get sick a lot here, and food poisoning is not uncommon.

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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?

Good.

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4. Are there any particular mental health issues that tend to crop up at post, such as Seasonal Affective Disorder (winter blues)?

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

HOT and HUMID year around.

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Schools & Children:

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

Good to great schools.

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

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Expat Life:

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

Large. Morale is bad to OK, but not great.

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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?

BBQ, dining out.

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

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

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

The beaches.

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

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

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Words of Wisdom:

1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?

How expensive it is.

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

No, I would not.

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Panama City, Panama 03/15/17

Background:

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

Yes. This was my first assignment with the State Department, however I had studied abroad in Spain for a semester during college.

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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?

Denver, Colorado. Most direct would be about four hours from Panama City to Houston, and then two hours from Houston to Denver. Very easy getting back to the States.

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3. How long have you lived here?

About one year.

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

Foreign Service.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

BIG apartment downtown with ocean views. We are a kid-less family and have three bedrooms, three bathrooms, plus a maid's quarters w/bathroom. Apartments downtown are a mix of some older buildings and brand new buildings. We are in an older one, but it's still really nice. Our kitchen could use more counter space, but some of the newer additions to the housing pool have really great kitchens.



Downtown living is close to the Cinta Costera - the coastal "boardwalk" with bike/running paths, exercise equipment, shaved ice sellers, etc. Also usually within walking distance of grocery stores or small markets. Commute to the Embassy takes anywhere from 15 minutes with no traffic to an hour plus with major traffic and rain. Average commute is about 30-35 minutes.



Housing near the Embassy is mostly small, older houses in gated communities. Good for families. Usually it's less of a commute, but not always.

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

Grocery shopping is much more expensive than I thought. You can buy nearly anything that you'd find in the States, from gluten-free, dairy-free, allergy-free products, to cheeses, to meats, etc. Lots of imported items which are reflected in the price. You can save money buy buying local meats and produce, but they're still up-charged quite a bit at the most common grocery stores (Riba Smiths, El Rey, Super 99). The best local produce is at a market called Foodie, though the prices are high. A typical grocery run for our family is almost twice the cost of what we paid in the States. For extremely cheap produce, go to the Mercado de Abastos, which is where all the restaurants buy their produce wholesale. You can buy heaps of pineapples, mangoes, and bananas for extremely low prices. It may be overwhelming at first, so bring a friend. Pricesmart is a Costco-like store which you can go to for cheap groceries as well - $30/year membership.

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

Not really anything in particular. OTC drugs are a bit harder to get, as you literally have to wait at a counter and ask for them. They're quite expensive.

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

Panama City is an excellent foodie city, though dining out prices are very high at most places. As a melting pot, there is also many varieties of restaurants and foods from all over the world. Apps like Degusta are a good way of finding restaurants that have been rated by locals. There are many restaurants that deliver or offer takeout, and also a wave of third-party delivery companies who deliver right to your door- such as Apetito24 or Delicentro.

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

We live on the 13th floor and have never seen any bug or insect in our apartment.

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Daily Life:

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

DPO or Pouch. Amazon is fairly quick - usually you will get your orders in about a week. There are some local courier and shipping services, but I think they're a little expensive. Panama doesn't really have a well-instituted local postal service.

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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 don't have household help, though I think they are around $25 per day. From what I've heard, Panamanians don't iron.

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

Panamanians are very into working out. There are races or activities nearly every week. They also extend the Cinta Costera on Sunday mornings all the way up to Panama Viejo, by closing off a lane of the road. There are gyms in almost every apartment building, though they can be small. Larger, membership-only gyms exist in nearly every neighborhood, though memberships are $100+ per month. The Embassy has a good gym as well.

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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?

Yes they are used nearly everywhere and are safe to use. Panama City is the banking capital of Central America, so there are ATMS everywhere. I don't use them because I usually take my cash out at the Embassy.

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

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

Spanish is pretty essential. Many people do speak English, but your day-to-day needs will require Spanish. Many great Spanish schools locally - Habla Ya is highly recommended. Also, classes at the Embassy.

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

Yes. Sidewalks are poorly maintained and it would be very tough to navigate.

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Transportation:

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

Panama's public transportation system is growing - they have brand new buses and one metro line. They are constructing a second line that should be complete in 2018. The Metro is easy to use and I think less than $1 per trip. It currently isn't super useful for our family since we don't live on the line. Buses are also cheap, but usually quite packed. There are some buses, Diablos Rojos, that are not safe to ride as they are somewhat unlicensed and drive quite recklessly. Taxis are safe, but I recommend using Uber if you can avoid the taxis. Taxis don't have meters, drive poorly, and will charge you more for being Gringo.

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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?

We have a Rav 4 and are quite happy. While lower-clearance cars are generally fine in the city, once you get out of the city and do any sort of non-highway driving, the higher-clearance is usually needed. Additionally, during the rainy season, the downtown roads flood quite easily and it isn't uncommon for giant potholes to appear or for manhole covers to float away. Lots of dealerships around the city as well as mechanics. Many tire repair shops, too, which you may need!

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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. I get 15 MBps plus cable TV (which I don't use) for $50/month. More reliable than Comcast. I got it a few days after arrival.

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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?

I have a local SIM card with 3 GB per month of data and 300 minutes/100 SMS for about $30/month. I rarely use the minutes or SMS, because we use WhatsApp so often. We use Movistar, which seems to be a common provider.

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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?

Many work at the embassy or telecommute to companies back in the States. Some work on the local economy, usually at the international schools.

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2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?

We have a People-to-People coordinator at the Embassy who can probably hook you up with any number of volunteering opportunities.

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

Dress code at work is usually business casual, with a tie and jacket on standby just-in-case. I do see a good number of jeans on Fridays as well as many guayaberas.



As for public places, most Panamanians wear jeans or long-pants. Shorts are pretty rare, though not completely strange. Dress codes at the nicest restaurants are fine to have nice jeans and a collared shirt.

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Health & Safety:

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

Panama is considered a high-crime post, but we have never felt abnormally unsafe. Even walking around at night downtown or in Casco Viejo has been fine. There are tourist police in Casco Viejo as well as along the Cinta Costera. You may drive through some unsafe neighborhoods, but usually they're not too bad. You should always maintain vigilance though. Especially while driving as the other drivers are bound to do something that they shouldn't.

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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?

Health care is top-notch. Zika is probably a concern for some. Dental care is very good. I don't think any medical condition would require a medical evacuation.

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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?

Air is usually good. Some burning during the dry season, but not bad.

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4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?

Food allergies--you can find whatever you need at the grocery store. Environmental allergies for me are somewhat bad. Antihistamines are very expensive here, so stock up before you arrive or have your family and friends restock your supply when they come visit.

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5. Are there any particular mental health issues that tend to crop up at post, such as Seasonal Affective Disorder (winter blues)?

Rainy season is long and hot and humid. You have to wake up super-early if you want to exercise outside in weather that is "bearable"

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

Hot all year round. Hot and humid for most of the year. Hot and "less-humid" for three months (Jan-March).

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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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Expat Life:

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

Expatriate community from all over the world is LARGE. Morale is good.

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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?

Endless. There are exercise groups, free classes in the parks and Cinta Costera, there are hiking groups, LGBT groups, etc. I recommend Meetup.com or Couchsurfing for locals/expats. Embassy CLO is amazing as well.

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

It's great for nearly everyone! Families enjoy the family nature of the post and singles are easily able to find any sort of activity they're interested in and can branch out with local friends.

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

Very good. My husband and I are part of the LGBT community and found a very large group of international LGBT friends. There are a few dance clubs (though we're a bit past that age). There is a pride parade every year, though it's really more of a march than a parade. Attitudes in the country are still a bit traditional, but minds are changing. Many public TV personalities are LGBT, but not necessarily super-open about it. We are asked if we are brothers more often than we like, but oh well.

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

Panama is a melting pot of cultures - since the construction of the canal it has attracted people from all around the world. However, I'd say there are probably some prejudices, just as in the US. There is growing animosity towards immigrants from Colombia and Venezuela. Religious communities from all stripes are represented here - there's actually quite a large Jewish population, though they are a bit more orthodox than many Jewish communities in the US.



There is still gender inequality but I think it's improving.

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

Chocolate tour in Bocas del Toro, coffee tasting in Boquete, Canal Jungle tour, evenings on rooftop bars in Casco Viejo, Altos de Campana National Park.



It's a small country, but there is SO MUCH to see. From the jungles, to the mountains, to the white sand beaches, to the coffee country, to the deep sea fishing, to the surfing, to the canal, to the city life, etc. If you are not having fun in Panama, you are not trying.

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

Cajones de Chame are awesome, and somewhat off the map.

Pedro Mandinga rum bar in Casco Viejo.

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

Yes. Molas, woven baskets, rum, coffee, chocolate, Panama hats.

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

Panama City is an American hub - it's easy, though not always cheap, to get to almost anywhere in the hemisphere. Your family and friends will likely bombard you with visits.

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Words of Wisdom:

1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?

How much I'd sweat.

More about the history.

More about the accent - Panamanian Spanish can be hard to understand.

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

Absolutely.

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

Expectations of good customer service, winter clothes (though it can be cold inside from A/C!), timid driving .

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4. But don't forget your:

Patience, sunscreen, moisture-wicking clothes, sunglasses, umbrella, sense of adventure, bird-books, snorkel gear, defensive driving skills, running shoes, regional travel books, and flat-tire repair kits.

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

Path Between Two Seas by David McCullough.

Hands of Stone (2016) movie directed by Jonathan Jakubowicz. Not the best movie, but filmed in the city and interesting bit of history on Panama's most famous boxer.

Listen to music by Ruben Blades and Danilo Perez, two of the most famous Panamanian musicians.

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6. Do you have any other comments?

Previous post reports had mentioned poor customer service so much that I had built it up to be terrible in my head. Upon arrival, I thought it was much better than it had been described, but after a year here I would concur that customer service is generally bad, with the caveat of you just have to get used to how it works. You will need to clearly ask for what you want and call over servers when you need them, otherwise they generally won't go the extra mile. You will also get cashiers who roll their eyes at you for interrupting their conversation and hardly say a word to you. It's not that you're a gringo, they're like this to locals, too. Just kill 'em with kindness. Occasionally you'll be surprised with some really great service and it makes you appreciate it even more.

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Panama City, Panama 10/21/15

Background:

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

NO, Africa

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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?

Miami is about a 3-hour flight.

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3. How long have you lived here?

Almost a year.

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

Work for USG.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

Mostly small houses or townhouses with very small yards and some compounds. Housing is configured so that you have no privacy at all. Also not all the rooms (or even bathrooms) are curtained, and the embassy won't give you a curtain allowance or provide you with curtains. So you have to go out of pocket.

Apartments are spacious.

Embassy Maintenance here is horribly slow and they don't follow up on work orders.

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

Almost everything is available here at higher than U.S. prices. Imported meat is VERY expensive.

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

ALL of them! Lots of good restaurants, too. Costs are more than in the U.S.

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

We haven't had any ants and just a few roaches, but apparently that is a big problem. If you have a yard, snakes and poisonous toads and frogs can be a problem.

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Daily Life:

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

FedEx, DPO, APO, and "Mailboxes are us".

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

Available but expensive with lots of bennies to pay.

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

Yes, and the embassy also has a gym.

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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?

Some cash machines don't give you your money but still deduct it from your account. Use only inside inside ones at a recommended location.

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

Some.

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Transportation:

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

Uber! And safe radio taxis. And also a new metro.

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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?

Anything is okay unless you plan on going touring on bad roads.

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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, and it is pretty good! 15MB for under 30$

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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?

C&W pre-paid cell service is the cheapest we've found so far. Buy an unlocked phone from the U.S., though, unless you just want voice service.

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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?

Getting pets into Panama is a pain in the butt. There is a quarantine unless you are with the embassy, but even then it is still a pain. Once here, you will find good pet care and 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?

At the embassy it's good.

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2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?

Many.

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

It varies at work. In public, shorts are acceptable.

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Health & Safety:

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

Like everywhere else, there are certain areas you don't go to. But generally it is quite safe here.

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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?

A lot of people get sick with a severe kind of cold that can hang on for a while.

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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?

Good.

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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?

Hot and Humid all the time, with a lot of rain added in during rainy season.

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Schools & Children:

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

Most are very good I've heard.

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2. 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, and there are a few good ones.

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

Yes!

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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 expat community is large in Panama -- people from all over. The U.S. Embassy is medium-sized, and morale is low to good.

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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?

Day or weekend beach trips, tourism, dining, diving, BBQs.

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

Good for all.

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

Beach resorts, BBQs.

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

Diving, beaches, beach resorts, touring the countryside, dining.

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

Beaches, tourism.

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7. Can you save money?

NO!

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Words of Wisdom:

1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?

If I'd have known about all the housing issues I may not have come.

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Panama City, Panama 06/26/15

Background:

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.

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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?

USA. I think it's about 3 hours from Miami and also 3 hours from Houston.

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3. How long have you lived here?

Three years.

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

Spouse's employment.

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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.

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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.

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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).

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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

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

Cockroaches, ants, mosquitoes etc.

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Daily Life:

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.

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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.

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

Yes.

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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?

U.S. credit cards are accepted and there are plenty ATMs that might charge you additional fees for withdrawing cash.

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

Not sure.

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

Some.

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

Some.

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Transportation:

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.

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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?

Any but SUVs might be better so rain water from the streets doesn't get in..

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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.

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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?

There are different options you can choose from, no issues.

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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?

Not sure.

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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?

Maybe if you speak Spanish and if they think you are in Panama for not short term.

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2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?

Many.

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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.

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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.

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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?

No health concerns. Medical quality is good however for general cold etc. it seems like local doctors believe in antibiotic for simple issues.

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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?

Good.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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

Not sure - Met had a pull out session first thing in the morning.

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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?

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).

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

Yes

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Expat Life:

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.

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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.

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

Absolutely!

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

I think so.

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

I haven't noticed anything.

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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.

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

Beaches, tourist places in the cities.

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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.

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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.

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10. Can you save money?

I don't think so.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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4. But don't forget your:

Patience, patience and patience.
Sunblock, rain boots, swimming and snorkeling gear and CAMERA (it's a beautiful country!)..

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5. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

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

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7. Do you have any other comments?

We met a lot of awesome people here.

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Panama City, Panama 05/11/15

Background:

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

No, various locations in WHA, EUR, and EAP.

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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?

There is a direct COPA flight from DC to Panama City. There are also flights from Miami, Houston, Denver, and Atlanta.

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3. How long have you lived here?

2 1/2 years

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

USG

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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 both houses and apartments available, although due to skyrocketing rents, there are now more apartments than houses. If one is housed in the former canal zone located near the Embassy, the commute is between 5-15 minutes, although it can be more due to traffic. The main road is only two lanes and traffic can back up quickly. For those traveling from Costa del Este or Punta Pacifica, the commute is between 45 minutes to an hour and half depending on the time of day.

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

One the one hand there is a wide range of products are available but on the other, it will cost you. The cost of living has risen dramatically even in the short time I have been here. This has causes serious morale problems for entry and mid level employees, especially those with families with a stay-at-home parent. For example, a bag of grapes cost US$7, frozen lean cusine meals are US$5.50 each, a small individual sized container of greek yogurt is US$1.85 and a one pound container of greek yogurt is US$7.

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

Portable dishwasher. The vast majority of homes don't have one assuming you will have a maid but hiring a domestic is so diffciult and expensive that many decide to forgo having one. Many homes lack storage, I wish I would have pruchased shelving units and containers before my arrival.

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

Chains like McDonald's, Popeye's, Baskin Robbins, Carls, Jr, Taco Bell, Dominos, KFC, Papa Johns are available here but they not cheap. In some cases the prices are similar to DC but higher in other cases. Also, fast food is not fast here at all--it usually takes 30-45 minutes between ordering your food and receicing it. There are nice restaurants available but they are expensive. If you like pork, chicken, rice and fried plaintains then you can find inexpensive food at Panamanian cuisine restaurants. Inexpensive street food of dubious quality is available.

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

Lots. Everybody has ants in their kitchen and they often invade other parts of the home. Houses often have crickets, roaches, lizards, and other creatures in them.

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Daily Life:

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

DPO

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

Cheaper than in the U.S. but way more than one would think for a county in Central America. The average price for a full-time maid is US$600 a month plus social security, one month's vacation, one month's Christmas bonus, plus severance pay. A part time maid is about US$30 a day plus vacation, severance, etc but you don't have to pay social secuirty for someone who works less than twice a week. Most Panamanian maids do not iron and many won't clean or take care of a small child.

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

Yes, they are available but not cheap. The Embassy has a small gym. It is very hot to exercise outside--one really must do their outdoor workouts before 7am and after 6:30pm to at least take the edge off the heat. There are CrossFit gyms here but none of themare open on the weekends and it will cost about US$100 a month. You can find zumba classes easily here--they are US$5 a class.

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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?

There are generally safe, but you MUST watch the clerk swipe your credit card in front of you othereise you will be scammed. ATM's are ok if you use them inside a bank. There have been cases where embassy employees have been scammed at ATMS and who have had their credit cards scanned.

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

I know there are Catholic services in English--I don't know about others.

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

Education First lists Panama as having one of the lowest rate of English-speakers in the world--very surprising given the U.S. controlled the canal until 20 years ago. I was shocked how few of my interlocuters in the Panamanian government speak even basic English, even in the Minsitry of Foreign Affairs. Not to mention the fact that the accent is very hard to understand. Spanish is essential here and life is very isolating for those who don't speak it.

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

Yes--there are not many sidewalks and when you find them, the pavement is uneven.

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Transportation:

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

Taxis are relatively safe but you must insist that the driver does not pick up any additional passengers along the route. They are reasonably priced but be leary of hailing one at the hotels--otherwise the prices quadruple. For example, a taxi from the Hilton Hotel on Balboa avenue to the embassy (a 10 minute cab ride-about 3 miles or so away) will cost US$35 in front of the hotel but US$7 a block aweay. Plane tickets are widely available given that Panama City is a transportation hub but it is pricey. For example, a round trip ticket to Miami which is 3 1/2 hours a way will set you back US$700+ per person. There is a brand new metro that is affordable and safe but there is currently only one line so it is not conveneient.

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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, it is available but it is very spotty with frequent outages. In addition, the wifi signal in your residence will often not work throughout the house despite the use of extenders.

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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?

A pre-paid plan for 1 GB of data on an iphone 6 will run US$15 for 15 days.

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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?

No, decent opportunities. There is a bilateral work agreement but one must have fluent Spanish and the pay is less than one would earn at the Embassy. Unfortunatley, competition for EFM jobs is high and there are many who cannot find a job even after looking for a year.

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2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?

There are volunteer opportunities, but it is easier if oen speaks basic panish.

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

Formal at work, more casual outside although not as casual as in the U.S. (no shorts or workout clohtes to go out and about).

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Health & Safety:

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

Panama is rated critical for crime. Although it can happen, violent crime is relatively rare in the neighboorhoods where embassy staff live but residential crime (like burgalries) is not unusual. Embassy staff have had their homes and cars broken into. There are "red" zones identified by the RSO throughout Panama City, including Pacora which houses an annex office of the Embassy, where poeple should exercise extreme caution. There are dozens of different gangs in Panama. The increasingly high cost of living and frequent utility outages have led to civil unrest and frequent demonstrations that close down major streets in the city without notice.

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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?

There is a huge disparity between the perception of the current RMO and the embassy community on the quality of health care here. There are worse places to be, but there have been many horror stories about the level of care of here. Other than the cost of living, the inferior quality of health care is one of the biggest moreale issues of employees and families at post. For example, ambulances are inadquate and despite what the Health Unit says, there is not always an English speaking person on staff at the hospitals. I know of at least 3 people in the embassy community who have contracted dengue recently. Mold is a huge issue here--several people in the community have been hospitalized due to mold in their homes. There are several types of poisonous snakes that have been found in the yards of embassy housing.

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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?

Moderate

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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?

Hot and humid and really hot. It is overcast and rainy for much the year (from Mid April to December) when it is also super humid. One will be sweaty just walking from the car to one's place of business. The dry season is sunny and although hotter, it's at least a little more comfortable because of reduced humidity. The downside to the dry season is that the beautiful, lush, green countryside turns brown.

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Schools & Children:

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

There are several options to choose from. About 60% of the embassy kids attend the Metropolitan School and the rest either attend ISP or Balboa. ISP has very nice facilities but they are located on the other side of town with a long commute. The ISP bus picks up students in my neighboorhood in Clayton at 06:15 am for an 8 am start. In contrast, my kids who attend nearby MET get picked up by the bus at 07:40 am for their 8 am start. I only have experience at the MET and I am pleased with the school. I think other parents are overall happy with the schools at Balboa and ISP as well. The only negative thing I've heard about those schools are some stories of bullying because they have more of an upper class Panamanians student body which does not seem to welcome non-Spanish speaking foreigners. One thing to note about Panamanian society in general--girls' sports are not a valued part of the culture here as it is in the U.S. One can find many boys teams playing soccer and baseball in the parks on the weekends but no girls at all. The MET has an active co-ed swim team and a girls volleyball team. They have been able to field a girls basketball team. I heard Balboa has a girls' flag football team among a few others. Boys have many more options.

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2. 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 are preschools available but I don't know much about them. There are no daycare centers, people hire nannies which are not cheap.

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

Yes, but it is much more limited for girls than other countries we've been posted to.

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Expat Life:

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

Panama is a medium sized post and growing. Morale is low to medium. It is not that Panama is a terrible place and there are cetainly worse places in the world to be stationed, but Panama is unfairly listed as a zero differential post and it isn't nearly as nice here as real differential posts such as London or Sydney. The weather is hot and humid year round, there are frequent utility outages, internet connectivity is spotty, customer service is one of the worst in the region, traffic is terrible and service is very slow. Panama is a transportation hub but prices are exorbitant causing travel to escape, especially for families, cost prohibitive. Morale is very low for those who don't speak Spanish.

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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?

Not much; maybe go to the pool or the movies. Hiking if you don't mind the heat.

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

I guess it would be fine for all of the above. The cost of living has increased dramatically, however, so many young families where the spouse doesn't work complain about the high cost of living here.

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

No, LGBT individuals do not have basic human rights and a recent police study demonstrated extreme bias against this population. There are worse places one can be, however.

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

Travel (7-9 hours by car) to the mountains in the Boquete region. Nice weather there and many outdoor acritivites such as whitewater rafting, ziplining, hiking, and visiting coffee plantations.

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

It is interesting to do a tour of the canal and see the beaches. Every year, there is a three-day ocean to ocean cayuco regatta that is fun to either do or observe once. Casco Viejo is a nice area for dining out.

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

Molas.

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

Beaches (although you'd have to drive about an hour and a half to get to the nicest ones).

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9. Can you save money?

Not really, the cost of living is suprisngly high.

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Words of Wisdom:

1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?

I wish I'd known how expensive it was and that despite its appearances, Panama is definitely a third world country. I was unprepared for the frequent water and electricity outages (homes do not have generators) and how spotty internet connectivity would be. Customer service is very slow and almost non-existant here. This was a suprise to me too when I first arrived.

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

Only if the post allowance was raised and if they got a hardship differential and an R&R to compensate for the hardships endured here.

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3. But don't forget your:

Bug spray. Also, sunscreen--it is expesnive here.

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4. Do you have any other comments?

Despite is facade of being like Miami, one only has to scratch the surface slighlty to realize that this is a third world country. Power and water outages regularly occur on a weekly basis. Despite the prevalence of high rises, construction standards are below U.S. standards and many cannot be leased for Embassy housing. Maintenance problems are a regular occurence. On the positive side, you can find many types of different restaurants and products in the gorcery stores. There is also interesting flora and fauna to watch. I also enjoy watching vessels pass through the Panama Canal.

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Panama City, Panama 09/07/14

Background:

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

Have lived all over the world.

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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?

I think it's about 3 hours from Miami and also 3 hours from Houston.

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3. How long have you lived here?

Almost a year.

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

U.S. Government work.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

My house is nice but it has absolutely no privacy. The Embassy does not provide privacy curtains so everyone can see into all windows in the house
(yes, also the bathroom!). I ended up buying tools and installed my own black-out curtains at an inversion of about US$700 for a house in which I will live only 2 years.

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

I found it expensive, hence the COLA, which never adequately compnesates.

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

None.

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

All the usual and some really good sushi and Lebanese.

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

In my house none at all.

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Daily Life:

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

DPO.

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

Too complicated to hire a maid.

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

YES.

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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?

Be careful. Best to use the one in the Mission.

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

Some.

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

Some.

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Transportation:

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

Yes. Negotiate with the taxis or they will overcharge.

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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?

ANY.

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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. Installation customer service is horrible. I think I paid too much: US$100 for 9mb plus cable TV with all HBO channels.

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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?

C & W.

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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?

Yes, unless you are a diplomat. Good care.

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Employment & Volunteer Opportunities:

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

The usual and men can wear shorts here - thankfully.

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Health & Safety:

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

Occasional break ins.

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2. 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?

Good.

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

HOT AND HUMID!!!!!!

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Schools & Children:

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

I hear the schools are great!

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

YES, lots.

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Expat Life:

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

Huge. Morale seems ok to good.

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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?

Meet for supper, BBQs, movies.

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

Yes yes yes.

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

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

No.

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

The tourism.

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

Canal and beach overnights.

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

Air hub so lots of flight options.

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9. Can you save money?

I would have to say no.

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Words of Wisdom:

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

Yes!

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2. But don't forget your:

Pre-planning: There is little welcome material to help you plan your arrival at post (except a sponsor assignment). I didn't hear from anyone until two weeks before my arrival and I usually hear two MONTHS before at other posts Ask one of your sponsors to provide a Mission phone list, map, taxi numbers, food delivery numbers, etc. ahead of time.

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Panama City, Panama 07/28/14

Background:

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.

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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?

Porto Alegre (Brazil), straight flights with COPA, around 8 hours.

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3. How long have you lived here?

Almost 3 years.

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

NGO work.

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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.

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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.

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

You find it all here.

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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.

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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.

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Daily Life:

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

Never did it.

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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).

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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.

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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?

Available almost everywhere.

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

Many churches have English-language services available.

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

You need Spanish.

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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.

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Transportation:

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.

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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?

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.

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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, up to 10 GB, around US$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?

All have it. You can buy it everywhere.

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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?

View All Answers


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.

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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?

No major health concerns. Great medical care is available. Many expat women have their babies here.

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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?

Good.

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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?

Always hot and humid. Weather patterns: dry and rainy seasons.

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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.

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

The MET has accommodations 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?

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!

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

Yes, soccer clubs, beisebol clubs, swimming classes and others.

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Expat Life:

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

Very high.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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

No.

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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.

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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.

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

Mola, Panamanian hat, hammocks.

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

Safe, weather for those who like warm weather, nature.

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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.

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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...

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

Yes!

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

Lack of patience as service in Panama isn't the best, winter clothes.

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4. But don't forget your:

Sun block, swimming gear, back pack, surf board, snorkeling gear, camera.

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5. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

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

Lonely Planet.

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Panama City, Panama 03/29/14

Background:

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

No. Lived in Asia before and did some short stints elsewhere in Latin America.

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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?

Washington, D.C. - 5 hour flight if you can get the direct flight. A little more with connections.

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3. How long have you lived here?

A year and a half.

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

US 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 apartments and single-family homes and townhomes in an area close to the Embassy (Albrook and Clayton) and apartments in the downtown area (Paitilla and along the Cinta Costera) and farther out (Costa del Este). Then there are apartments between the downtown area and the Embassy (El Dorado/Dos Mares). I highly recommend staying away from the El Dorado/Dos Mares apartments, they look like they're in a nice area but they're actually in an area that's very dangerous for driving (at the top of a steep hill with a narrow road and a blind curve), you hear all the road noise from hundreds of feet below, they aren't fire safe (one exit and one stairwell on the 27th floor), they're isolated from the rest of the Embassy community, there are no areas for children to play and it's hard to walk anywhere outside of the complex.

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

About the same as DC, although anything imported will be a lot more expensive, so I recommend buying some of those things online if you have access to the DPO. Frozen goods are almost all imported, and most seem to thaw and refreeze at some point during shipping.

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

A portable dishwasher. Most of the housing does not come with dishwashers (under the assumption you'll get a maid, which we didn't), but no one informed us of this before we packed out. We were able to buy a portable dishwasher from someone else leaving post, thankfully. There are rumors these are sold at the main Pricesmart store out by Brisas del Golf, but we have not confirmed this.

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

All the American staples are down here (McDonald's, Wendy's, Taco Bell, Burger King, Pizza Hut, Papa John's, Dominoes, etc). Some decent Colombian chains are here too (Juan Valdez coffee shops, Crepes y Waffles). Lots of good independent restaurants, too, of all kinds, although SE Asian foods are hard to find. Lots of Chinese restaurants, but generally low quality and bland. Prices are comparable to major cities in the U.S.

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

The thing about tropical climates is that bugs don't really die off, it never gets cold enough or dry enough. Mosquitoes are a problem all year (and there are dengue outbreaks often). Termites will spread and infest anywhere possible - they've been living in our kitchen since before we moved in, and we're in a high-rise apartment on the 27th floor, so if they can get up here, they can get anywhere. We had a small ant infestation for a while too but after purchasing some ant traps (which I picked up on a trip to the U.S. since you can't find them in Panama), they seem to have died off.

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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 dip pouch.

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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 don't have any domestic help, but I've heard that it's hard to find good people. Most of the available domestic helpers will not perform more than one sort of duty (they'll either clean your house OR cook/prepare food OR be a nanny - it's hard to find someone to do all three). Also I've heard that it's hard to find someone who will iron. I don't know the price range, it's not terribly expensive but you do have to pay Social Security and follow the intricate labor code if they work more than 2 days/week.

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

Embassy has a gym and there are private gyms throughout the city, not sure about cost

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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?

No issues. I can use credit cards almost everywhere.

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

Most major denominations seem to have at least one weekly English service.

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

Spanish is definitely needed here. Hardly anyone you'd interact with on a daily basis knows even one word of English. Before I came here I was under the impression that Spanish wasn't required and that everyone knows English. That is DEFINITELY NOT the case here. Their dialect is hard to understand, too, so get used to highly-slurred Caribbean Spanish.

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

Yea, lots of construction everywhere, sidewalks aren't well-maintained and are frequently covered with trash.

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Transportation:

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

We are encouraged not to use the buses. Taxis are usually safe and pretty cheap, but there are no meters so you have to negotiate your price every time. We usually drive our own car to get to and from places. A brand new metro system will open in April 2014, safety TBD.

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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?

Definitely a 4WD vehicle. Roads are not well-maintained and sometimes just randomly disappear when you're driving on them. Also bring a car that you don't mind getting dinged up. Panamanians are unobservant aggressive drivers and make up their own traffic rules, so you have to be on alert at all times when you're driving inside the city. Traffic is really bad at all times of the day (except Sundays) and the roads are too narrow for the volume of cars. They treat their cars like bumper cars, and if they run into you they might only stop if they notice they left a dent. Parking lots are cramped and you will get dinged and scratched frequently.

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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, cost is comparable or a bit cheaper than the U.S. We have 10 mb cable internet for about US$40/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?

4 major cell phone companies, all have 4G service at rates generally lower than the U.S. No problems here. If your phone works in the U.S., it will have the radios to work here.

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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?

Yes - if you are bilingual. Panama is a logistics and financial hub that is pretty plugged into the global economy. Many multinationals have operations here. Panama has a shortage of skilled labor.

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2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?

Lots of community service opportunities, most dealing with youth in poor neighborhoods, etc. Standard stuff.

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

Formal at work except on Fridays; seems like anything goes in public.

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Health & Safety:

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

Unorganized gang violence is common in and around the city among small-scale neighborhood gangs (nothing like further north in Central America/Mexico). Make sure you know where the bad areas are, they tend to be quite close to the nice areas in some cases. House break-ins and burglaries aren't uncommon, so make sure you arm your alarm (no one with the Embassy has had a break-in since we've been here, but there have been some attempted break-ins on Embassy houses, and some non-Embassy neighbors who have been robbed).

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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?

It's not bad, but for anything serious it's recommended that you medevac. Just stick to private doctors and hospitals and far away from the public hospitals.

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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?

Not bad. Not as polluted other places, but not perfect.

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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?

It's hot and humid all year. There's a rainy season (roughly April-December) and a dry season (roughly December-April). The temperature hovers around 90F all year, occasionally dipping into the low 80s.

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Schools & Children:

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

They do have several international schools here. Schools, however, aren't very important to Panamanians. When there was an energy crisis last year, the first thing they did was shut down the schools (k-12 and universities). The first school my son attended cancelled their 4-year-old program altogether, saying the Ministry of Education provides no curriculum support and they didn't want to develop a program on their own, so we had to find him a new school. I was okay with that, though, because I don't think he was learning anything at that first school, it seemed like the teachers were much more concerned with posting selfies on Facebook than actually teaching anything. There's an enormous gulf between the international schools and the local schools. Bear in mind that the international schools require a ~US$10,000 "capital donation" when your kid enrolls, in addition to all of the enrollment, tuition, and materials fees.

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

Not sure, although I know that there is a child psychologist at the new school that my son just started attending.

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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?

They are available everywhere, and costs per month are what you'd pay per week in the DC area, so not very expensive.

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

Yes - baseball, tennis, soccer for sure.

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Expat Life:

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

Very large. Medium morale. It's not a terrible place, but you start to get sick of the inconveniences after a while (water and electricity randomly shutting off for days, random road closures with no warning, horrible roads with terrible drivers and constant traffic at all times of the day, poorly constructed housing that is constantly needing repairs, the worst customer service I've ever encountered anywhere, etc).

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

If you live in Albrook/Clayton, it's great for families. There are tons of kids around and all the neighbors know each other and can ride bikes out on the street and play on the playgrounds, it's like suburban America in some ways. Don't live in El Dorado/Dos Mares if you have kids - very few Embassy families live there, and there really isn't anywhere for them to play anyway (unless you like sending your kids down to dark warehouses to play, because that's what's available).

Our neighbors' kids tend to run up and down the stairwell for fun, which is loud and annoying for us, and it's not the way I'd want to play as a kid. Paitilla is a good spot for singles and couples without kids because that's where all the bars and restaurants are. Although honestly, the Embassy is mostly families with small children so I don't know if it would be that enjoyable for singles unless you're willing to branch out and extend your social network to include locals and other expats (of which there are many). Costa del Este looks like a nice suburban area too, but with high-rise apartments. I don't know anything about it, though.

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

Not very gay friendly, although it's probably worse for gay Panamanians than gay expats. There are no legal protections for being gay and homosexuality is specifically cited in the police code of conduct as a serious moral failing.

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

Panamanians are very misogynistic, but I don't know of any real prejudices against anyone but homosexuals.

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

Being able to get back to the U.S. often.

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

Check out the Canal and everything related to it. It's easy to go into the jungle and see some cool wildlife (sloths, iguanas, howler monkeys, etc). Beaches are nice, although you do have to drive about 2 hours to get to any usable beaches. Our favorite is Las Veraneras at Playa Santa Clara, where you can drive up and rent a cabana (with table, chairs, and a hammock) for US$20/day.

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

Not much, most of the souvenirs you see here are available in other countries in Central America as well. Some indigenous handicrafts are different.

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

The Panama Canal is cool and there are lots of amazing outdoor places within a day's drive or less from Panama City. It's close to the U.S. so it's relatively easy to take short trips up there. Most U.S. products are available and there's a Costco equivalent (Pricesmart). Timezone is easy.

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9. Can you save money?

If you don't want to travel too much outside of Panama, sure. Panama is somehow ranked among the cheapest cities to live, but we find the cost of living to be very similar to the U.S. (DC). If you live like an American, it will cost the same. If you live like a Panamanian then it can be pretty cheap but your quality of life is much lower.

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Words of Wisdom:

1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?

That all 0% posts are not created equal. I came out of a 20% hardship post and my life has been far harder in Panama than it ever was there.

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

No way. The housing has really ruined the post for us, but in addition to that, it's a much harder place to live in than we thought it would be. Before this, we spent 2 years in a polluted and overcrowded city, so this post was supposed to be our "nice" post. It hasn't been what we were expecting, and it's made the experience disappointing.

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

Brand new cars (buy something a few years old, it's going to get hit a few times).

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4. But don't forget your:

Sunblock and patience.

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

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Panama City, Panama 01/07/13

Background:

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

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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?

Chicago - 5 hours non-stop

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3. How long have you lived here?

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

(The contributor is affiliated with the U.S. Government and has been living in Panama City for 15 months, a sixth expat experience.)

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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 many great areas to live in Panama, but you need to take heavy traffic into consideration. The city has great buildings with terrific views, as does "Costa del Este". But depending on where you work the traffic can be horrendous. Many ex-pats live in Clayton or Albrook where the US Embassy, many NGO's, and many international schools are located. These areas are suburban, but have sidewalks and parks and less traffic.

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

Grocery stores here carry almost everything you can find in the U.S., including a lot of organic, gluten-free, etc., type products (for a price). I've been disappointed by the vegetable selection here. Unless you're really into starch, it's pretty limited. Tropical fruits are fantastic though.

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

Pine-nuts. I can't find them anywhere.

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

All fast food chains are here with about same prices as the U.S. There are several good restaurants here, usually a bit cheaper or the same as a U.S. equivalent. I haven't been overly impressed by the dining scene here, but there are some decent choices. Look elsewhere for good Thai or Indian though!

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

Mosquitoes can be a pain (but not dangerous). Every type of ant imaginable - and then some. Generally not bad.

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Daily Life:

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

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

Domestic help is available and usually runs about $20/day. Getting and keeping good-quality help can be difficult. Also, enrolling a full-time employee in the social security system, as is required by law, is a real headache, which is why many people don't.

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

Yes. There are gyms, some housing areas or apartment buildings have facilities, some communities such as Clayton and Albrook have public pools. Clayton has a gym which offers arobics and yoga. There are yoga and pilates studios around. Many people run/walk/bike on the Cinta Costera, Amador Causeway, Parque Omar, or Kiwanis Park as well. There are competitive running events and lots of cycling too.

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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?

Credit cards are easy but be careful to use ATM's only inside banks or secure areas. There have been reports of copying cards.

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

Plenty.

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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?

The more Spanish you know, the happier you will be here. Many people speak English, but many don't, and when you're looking for that one thing at the store, or trying to order a pizza or make an appointment, it can be really difficult without Spanish.

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

Panama is one of the only countries I've been to that not only has handicapped parking spots, but people who actually respect them. Many buildings also have ramps and sliding doors.

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Transportation:

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

Public transport is safe (avoid diablos rojos but the metro buses are fine) with the usual precautions. However, you will need a car here for flexibility. It's not the kind of city where you can get what you need easily in walking distance.

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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?

Any car will do here as the roads are good. Bigger cars can be harder to park.

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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.

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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?

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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?

No.

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

Panamanians are dog lovers, so, yes.

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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?

Many people look within their spouse's agency or at the international schools. However Panama has relatively relaxed rules and does grant resident visas to many people who want to invest here and start a business.

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

Pretty relaxed. I wear flip-flops in public often.

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Health & Safety:

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

There have been some house/car break-ins. Most people feel very safe. You have to keep an eye out, like anywhere, but it's pretty safe.

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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?

There is excellent medical here. I know several ex-pats who've given birth here. Most of the good hospitals though are in the city and difficult to reach in heavy traffic.

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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?

Good.

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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?

Very hot and humid. It rains almost every day from April through December. Having said that, we still manage to get outdoors most days. The rain is especially heavy in October and November, and the dry season goes from January through March, when it almost never rains.

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Schools & Children:

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

Excellent international schools are one of the many reasons that Panama is a great family post. Balboa Academy, the Metropolitan, Kings College, Christian Crossroads Academy, International School of Panama, the Boston School, and others all have good reputations. You should look at the websites of each to find the best fit for your child. Think about foreign language instruction, (there are also French, Greek, Jewish, and Italian schools...), commute time from where you live, length of school day, extra-curricular activities, religion, etc., which differ between each, but all parents I've met seem happy with their children's school.

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

Again, each school is different. Reach out to individual schools to find out more.

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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?

Most of the above schools offer preschool, but it can be expensive. There are also many Spanish instruction preschools that many ex-pat parents are happy with as well.

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

Again, too many to list. Ballet, tennis, swimming, soccer, American football, baseball, gymnastics, karate, tae kwan do, horseback riding, to name just a few that I'm familiar with.

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Expat Life:

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

Very, very, large. I often feel like I never see Panamanians.

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2. Morale among expats:

This varies. I find most people coming from developed countries have a harder time here. Panama is a modern, well-developed country, but it's not the same as the U.S. or Europe, and there are many frustrations from traffic, poor infrastructure, power outages, poor customer service, different adherence to time. Also the more Spanish you speak the better. People who get out more and enjoy the great things Panama has to offer seem to appreciate the country most. The traffic can be excruciating, and some people drive like real jerks, so people with long commutes are pretty unhappy, too.

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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?

Depends on what you like to do. There are huge malls, movie theaters, bars, clubs, restaurants. The arts scene is pretty limited, though there is theater and ballet.

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

It's a great place for families as there is so much to do here with kids. It's also a great place for anyone who is into the outdoors and/or athletics. I can't speak to dating. There is definitely a night scene in Panama but I don't know how easy/hard it is to date.

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

I think Panamanians are fairly tolerant.

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

Panama is a diverse society and you will see people of many different backgrounds here, including Asian and South Asian. I haven't heard of any particular stories of outright prejudice, although of course it can happen anywhere.

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

Hiking, beaches, mountains, seeing the canal, boatrides, enjoying nature. It's also a relaxed, easy place to live overall.

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

Too many to list. All kinds of outdoor activities from hiking, biking, sport competitions, boating, fishing (lake and deep sea), scuba/snorkeling, surfing, rafting, tourism, some decent dining, a nice outdoor aquarium, a small zoo, forts, Casco Viejo is a wonderful neighborhood.

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

Tourism. Artisan goods are not that great here.

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

Tourism and outdoor activities. It is easy to travel here and the tourist infrastructure is good. It is a beautiful country with so much to see.

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11. Can you save money?

Not if you're out enjoying the country.

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Words of Wisdom:

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

Absolutely. I love living here!

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

expectation to improve your Spanish.

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3. But don't forget your:

patience for sitting in heavy traffic, umbrella, outdoor sports equipment and beach wear (although you can get that here).

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

Divorcing The Dictator: America's Bungled Affair with Noriega
is about Noriega - that's pretty interesting.

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5. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

The Tailor of Panama
is a lot of fun. There's also a documentary on the building of the canal which is interesting.

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6. Do you have any other comments?

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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, 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. 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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5. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

The tailor of Panama

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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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Panama City, Panama 04/30/10

Background:

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

3rd expat experience

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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?

Washington, DC, about 4-hour direct flight.

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3. How long have you lived here?

Year and a half.

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

US Embassy employee.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

Housing has been difficult in the US Embassy community, but is getting better. Housing near the embassy is OK, but that limits your options for getting around. I live on Avenida Balboa and would recommend it as a nice mid-point. Avoid Punta Paitilla (horrible traffic) and Costa Del Este (too far out, unless you are part of US Agriculture´s bug project).

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

Good prices overall.

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

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

Everything you want.

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

In the city it's OK. The fight against yellow fever eliminated most of the mosquitoes.

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Daily Life:

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

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

Most people avoid hiring the Panamanians, who are not known for their stellar work ethic. Fortunately (or unfortunately), there is a ready supply of other Central American workers ready for hire. Nicaraguans are particularly capable.

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

The embassy has a great and underutilized gym. Not sure of the open market.

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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?

I use AMEX, which doesn't charge me the foreign transaction fee (Panama is dollar-based). Check your cards, most will hit you with a 3% fee.

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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?

Surprisingly, given the time the US spent here, Spanish is very much required. Maybe it´s because we dont live in an embassy enclave.

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

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Transportation:

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

Taxis are OK. Call Taxi America. Take the local busses ¨Los diablos rojos¨(red devils) only if you have a death wish.

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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?

Go 4x4, given the bad roads and torrential rain. Most models are supported.

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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?

Cable Onda is good; Cable and Wireless.

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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?

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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?

View All Answers


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

View All Answers


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?

If you are a banking professional or money launderer, it looks OK.

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

Wearing a suit in this heat is fairly ridiculous. A dress code is not really enforced in the embassy -- though the bankers go in costume.

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Health & Safety:

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

Insecurity is an increasingly difficult problem, as more drugs come through. Normally, it is still safe, but it is becoming increasingly more difficult.

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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?

World-class health care.

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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?

Air is good, but the humidity is high.

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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?

Hot, full-on-air-conditioning-hot. Or hot with rain.

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Schools & Children:

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

Balboa Academy for the tweens.

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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?

My 2-year-old goes to a pre-school called PlayTime, and we´re very pleased. If you are comfortable varying off the embassy route, there are good options.

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

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Expat Life:

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

Large. There are lots of retirees out by Volcan, in the west by Costa Rica.

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2. Morale among expats:

Good. Better since we´ve gotten some better options for housing.

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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?

Lots of bars, some nightclubs and gambling for the young set.

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

Good for families, particularly if you stay close to the embassy community. Of course it is OK for the single guys, but the gals might be challenged.

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

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

There are strong jewish and islamic communities.

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

Running on the Cinta Costera (bay-front walkway), Panama Canal locks, all-inclusive beach resorts.

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

The canal: it is fascinating in operation and history. There is good adventure up the canal, where the Smithsonian has a reserve. There is also some good fishing. For the families, some all-inclusive beach resorts are reasonable and great for a weekend getaway.

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

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

Good transport routes, cheap electronics.

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11. Can you save money?

For embassy folks, its a zero-differential post, so not really.

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Words of Wisdom:

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

Yes. If you want to experience Central America, I think this is the best you can get in terms of cities.

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

ski boots, mittens, and any belief that Panama has (or wants to have) a cultural heritage.

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3. But don't forget your:

swim suit and defensive-driving habits.

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

"Pathway between the Seas" tells the story of the US Canal effort back when we could do things no other country could.

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5. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

"Tailor of Panama", a marginal movie, but gives great footage of Panama City.

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6. Do you have any other comments?

Panama offers an intriguing political/economic situation and world-class amenities with third-world management.

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Panama City, Panama 12/30/09

Background:

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

no, Kingston Jamaica, Stockholm Sweden and Nairobi Kenya

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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?

VA 5 hours

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3. How long have you lived here?

1 1/2 years currently there

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

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?

good housing, commute time is 20 minutes

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

can get most things you need but will have to pay more for them

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

specialty foods or any item you HAVE to have

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

McDonals, Burger King, Popeyes, KFC and recently Taco Bellprices are similar to the US

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

mosquitos

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Daily Life:

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

have to use a mail service out of Miami (Mail boxes etc is a good one)

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

local help is easy to find (if you speak Spanish) and is fairly cheap. A full time housekeeper is around $250 to $300 for a month

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

yes

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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?

you can use them here, but must be very careful since there is a lot of credit card fraud

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

There is an English service at the Catholic Church and 2 other non denominational churches

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

yes they are available. You have to have cable to get English TV and it will cost about $50 a month

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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?

While it is possible to get around without Spanish in Panama City (although very difficult) it is impossible once you leave town

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

Lots, the city is not handicapped accessable at all

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Transportation:

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

some taxis are safe, local buses are not safe

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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?

large cars are fine to drive but very hard to park

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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?

I have 2meg and my cable/tv bill is about $100 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?

several choices here not as cheap as in the US, you only pay for outgoing calls but pay for all texts, incoming and outgoing

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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?

they are supposed to be quarantined in the house for 40 days

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

the vets are pretty good here. They are limited in the specialty service you would find in the US. There are very few kennels that would meet American standards

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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?

not many jobs on the local economy due to wages paid here

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

casual

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Health & Safety:

1. Pollution index (Good, Moderate, Unhealthy, or Very Unhealthy)?

moderate

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

moderate security concerns (seems to be getting worse though)

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

good quality when you get there, very few ambulances in country and have to be on a paid service plan for them to take you

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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?

Hot and humid, rains a couple hours a day for 9 months a year

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Schools & Children:

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

3 schools most families use, International School of Panama, Balboa Academy and Christian Cross Roads

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

not very many programs here

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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?

yes, in English and Spanish

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

some soccer programs and american football has recently started

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Expat Life:

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

decent size can find someone if you want to, but can also go for days without seeing anyone

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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?

lots of clubs and casinos

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3. Morale among expats:

depends on the day but overall it is ok

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

good for families, couples and single males, most single women complain about the lack of dating opportunities

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

heard it is ok

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

no problems

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

active night life, lots of casinos, plenty of beaches within an hour drive

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

some local craft items including taguas

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9. Can you save money?

yes if you don't travel back to the US often

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Words of Wisdom:

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

yes, schools are a little weak, but not bad

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

winter clothes!! hot and humid most of the year

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3. But don't forget your:

umbrella as it rains for a couple hours a day for 9 months out of the year

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

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5. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

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6. Do you have any other comments?

if you have any dietary needs or special medical needs, make sure to bring everything with you~

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Panama City, Panama 05/22/08

Background:

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

Yes.

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2. How long have you lived here?

Since August 2007.

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

My husband works for an NGO.

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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.

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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 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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Daily Life:

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.

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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 have a lovely woman who charges US$20 per day.

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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.

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

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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!

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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.

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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.

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Transportation:

1. Do you drive on the right hand side of the road or the left?

Right.

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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.

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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.

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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 it included in our cable bill which is about US$80.

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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?

A prepaid plan works for me. I pay US$15 a month.

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3. What is the best way to make phone calls back home?

We use Skype.

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Pets:

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

Very good and affordable.

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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?

Not that I have found.

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

Pretty formal.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

Hot and humid.

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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.

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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?

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).

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Expat Life:

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.

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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?

Movie theaters are cheap and up to date.

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3. Morale among expats:

Good I think. At least in our area.

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

Customer service and house quality standards. Things are held to a much lower standard.

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3. But don't forget your:

Spanish dictionary.

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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.

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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 Tailor of Panama of course.

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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.

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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.

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Panama City, Panama 04/25/08

Background:

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

No, I've lived throughout all of Latin America.

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2. How long have you lived here?

2 years.

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

I work for the U.S. Embassy.

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4. Travel time and best routes to this city from Europe or the US:

From Miami, 2.5 hours via American Airlines.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

Housing in Costa Del Este is nice but not worth the more than one hour it takes to commute to the Embassy in stop and go traffic; this with paying the toll fare of US$1.25.

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

Everything is available but everything is also imported with few exceptions of some fruits and some Panamanian coffee.

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

Remember that most everything is imported in Panama so if you want something expensive, it's best to buy in the U.S. with the exception of electronics which we found to be about the same as in the U.S.

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

Everything and anything. Prices generally about the same as the U.S. but maybe about 10% less than major U.S. cities. It is expensive compared to other countries we've been in Latin America.

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Daily Life:

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

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

About US$250 for a live-in. Everyone we know has tried Panamanian domestics and in the end ended up hiring a Colombian due to work ethic issues. We didn't believe them initially but after going through two Panamanian maids, I would recommend identifying a good alternative with references.

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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?

All major cards excepted and ATMs are readily avilable although they charge US$2.00 per withdrawal.

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

Yes, we attended the Catholic service in English.

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

Cable is readily available. We pay US$107 for both cable and high speed internet.

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

You need Spanish. The wealthy all speak English but for anyone else you need to speak Spanish.

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

No consideration for people with physical disabilities that we've seen.

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Transportation:

1. Do you drive on the right hand side of the road or the left?

Right.

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

Taxis are relatively affordable although they do not use meters and frequently charge different rates for foreigners and if you are going to a richer neighborhood.

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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?

For the city a small sedan is more suitable although if you intend to leave the city you soon become aware that Panama is a 3rd world country in every sense, including the roads.

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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?

Same as above.

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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?

Any of the major carriers are good.

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3. What is the best way to make phone calls back home?

We use VOIP with our internet.

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Pets:

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

Relatively good for Latin American standards.

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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?

Yes, for teachers but the pay is not comparable to the U.S. Unless you own your own business, expect to be paid much less than you would in the U.S.

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

Business formal for the more formal business community and diplomatic community.

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Health & Safety:

1. Pollution index (Good, Moderate, Unhealthy, or Very Unhealthy)?

Poor, there seems to be a lot of trash burning and the water is extremely contaminated.

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

High security concerns, but mostly petty crime, home break-ins, etc.

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

The heat and humidity are concerns. Many medical doctors indicate U.S. training but we have generally been very dissapointed with the quality of health care.

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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?

Hot, hot, and hot. Either with rain or not depending on the month.

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Schools & Children:

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

We had our children in ISP and are thoroughly dissapointed. The children have not found the school to be stimulating or challenging. The teachers are not responsive to the students' needs. We now regret not having placed them in Balboa Academy. Other families staying longer have pulled their children out of ISP to place them in Balboa. As we are preparing to depart, it was not a choice for us. This said, I have met a parent who likes ISP so you may want to consider them both.

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

None.

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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?

Preschools are readily available in numerous neighborhood schools. The larger private schools offer preschool programs but they are very expensive.

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Expat Life:

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

Large business population. There seems to be a huge push by the Panamanians to attract retirees to move to Panama but I worry about what these people will do when they confront the horrible traffic and difficulty getting anything done in Panama.

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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?

Anything you want. Although night clubs and prostitution seem to be main attractions for many foriegnors.

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3. Morale among expats:

Seems to vary. The morale at the US Embassy seems to be poor compared to other posts we've been assigned to.

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

Not for families. Panama is trying to represent themselves as a great place to retire but the non-stop traffic and relatively high cost of living do not support this. They are building an additional highway but this will do nothing to alleviate the inside city traffic.

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

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

Generally, the wealthy Panamanians look down on anything other than White. Outwardly they appear very social but we've found it to be a facade.

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

Boating (expensive) visiting the beaches (although you either have to fly to the nice ones on the islands or travel across land via very poor roads to the nicer beaches on the Carribean side).

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

Travel to the islands.

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9. Can you save money?

No, not if you want to enjoy yourself.

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Words of Wisdom:

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

No.

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

Your winter items; the rush to get anywhere; the expectation that Panama is anything other than a third world country.

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3. But don't forget your:

Patience, lot's of patience.

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

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

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6. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

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7. Do you have any other comments?

I had been to Panama in the 80's and thoroughly enjoyed it. Now it seems different, much more commercialized, with people out to make a buck anyway they can. It gets old very quickly. We will not return and I would never consider it a good place to retire. We've enjoyed our other four tours in Latin America but this stands out as a major disapointment.

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