Living in Panama
Many well-traveled citizens of the world decide to make Panama their home, especially noted in the recent reverse migration of many Panamanians. It has quickly become a preferred hot-spot for expats, especially retirees from the U.S. and Europe. But Panama now is much more than a retirement toss-up with Costa Rica: Panama is booming, for all ages. Whereas ¨back home,¨ you might know someone who lost their pension, has trouble finding a job, is laid off, won´t go to the doctor because it´s too expensive, works past retirement age or gauges all too much where that extra pocket change is going, in Panama you can live well- comfortably, safely, and happily- and many expats don´t think twice about meeting their basic needs again.
Rated the fastest-growing economy in North America in 2012, and number 15 in the world, commentaries, articles and reviews from 2010, 2011 and even early 2012 are officially outdated and don´t do Panama justice to the massive transformation it is undergoing today. The Canal´s expansion; increase of direct flights; rising expat population; restaurants, hospitals, grocery stores, businesses, resident communities and roads springing up right and left; a new metro system and buses: it is challenging to keep up with the changes, even through newspapers and online guides. Leave Panama for a month and come back to see a few more skyscrapers added to the skyline in Panama City, with a total of 229 built and 18 under construction (view the progress here). Celiac-support groups, crêpes, Egyptian-cotton bath towels, boutique mola handbags to support indigenous rights, jazz, wine and rooftop bars: all these details make it comfortable for expat living, and were nonexistent 10 -even 5- years ago. Only 5 years ago, taxis were normal cars, occasionally throwing up a taxi light when in service, and public buses were U.S. yellow school buses jammed with extra seats, graffiti-style art, music and lights: now there´s a 90-mile metro system in the works, city buses comparable to Madrid´s, and since October 2007, taxis have all had to be one color: yellow.
Panama does have most creature comforts that helps make the transition to living in Panama smoother than other locations abroad. The constant process of acculturation within Panama, from the Republic´s inception and, most especially, ongoing multinational Canal presence, is a two-way adaptation of lifestyle, diet, industry, technology, law, economics, language, religion, politics, philosophy and other traditions that has resulted in comfortable living for Panamanians and foreigners alike: Latin American heritage with an international perspective. The U.S.-dollar based economy is familiar for many travelers, and it is possible to comfortably arrive to Panama and not speak Spanish: many professionals in schools, businesses, real estate and the government speak English. Officially, the rate of English speakers is the highest in Central America, at 14%, and in practice, most of your day-to-day contact could be done in English, although it is feasible to quickly learn Spanish. Many coffee shops and expat boards announce intercambios, bartering Spanish for English, and tutoring centers, classified ads and the wealth of fully bilingual young-professionals in the country allow for reasonable formal instruction. There are fully accredited, international schools in Panama City with full English-language instruction, making it convenient for private, quality education for expatriates and locals. The longtime U.S. presence has influenced for excellent medical care in public and private hospitals, with quality medical attention.
Living in Panama can give you a chance to explore and/or broaden your social and physical activities. Panama is a family-oriented country, by very definition including friends, and extremely intimate and interdependent given its´ ¨small¨ population: social circles will start to overlap in no-time. Embracing events (dinners, races, Sundays, barbeques, homecomings, birthdays, relative´s visit), long weekends and holidays creates space for relaxation, and a different pace in having a cup of coffee with a friend. You can take a plane ride to an island, try scuba lessons for the day and enjoy a fresh fish lunch to mix up for Saturday. Help a non-profit with their grant-writing and media exposure or pop into a local school in el interior to teach a few Christmas songs in English. You can continue golfing or pick up a new hobby of yoga on a stand-up paddleboard for your morning routine. Horseback ride, join a 5K along the Causeway or take salsa lessons. No Jazzercise or step class? Teach your own. Family overseas can easily visit for reasonable prices and direct flights right into Tocumen airport to even come for a weekend to enjoy a newly-found definition for quality of life.
The best way to decide if living in Panama is right for you is to take an extended vacation and explore the country, becoming more aware of your willingness, open-mindedness and adaptability for all that Panama has to offer. It is a personal journey and decision, and life in Panama can be from the most simple to the purely extravagant. Life in Panama is a beautiful experience: make it your own.