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Saturday, August 23 2014 @ 01:32 AM EDT

My Experience Living in Panama for 4 years

Expat TalesBy RAY VAHAB for - I was completely surprised when I found out that Panama was named the #1 Place To Go in 2012 by the New York Times’ travel writers! This may be shocking to you as well but since I’ve been living in Panama for the past 4 years, I don’t understand why Panama deserves to be the number # 1 destination in the whole world. To begin with, I would agree with the writers since safety and security in Panama is a given and Panamanians and likewise foreigners could enjoy living in Panama without fear of getting kidnapped for money as other Latin America countries. I must tell you that just about anywhere in the day time you can go and feel safe about your being. I must tell you that prior to moving and living in Panama, I lived in Costa Rica and there I never felt I was safe and always felt someone may rob me ( in fact I was robbed a few times and my car was also broken into at night by my apartment). Fortunately in Panama , there is no petty larceny and I always feel I am safe and the proof is nothing was stolen from me or never felt threatened by anyone. (more)

The fact of the matter is, Panama tourism is booming and people from all over the world including Colombia, USA, Canada, Europe, Greece, Russia, China, Venezuela as well as others move to Panama to live and work for variety of reasons such as tropical climate surrounded by beautiful beaches, Central America culture and friendly Panamanians. In addition, some foreigners move to Panama strictly of booming economy to do business. It is noteworthy to mention that Free Trade Zone in Colon consists of over 4000 mostly large companies that import all types of merchandise from all over the world and you may find just about any types of items such as perfumes, electronics, clothes, etc. in the Free Trade Zone at lower prices. In addition, you will not be charged the 7% sales tax though this comes with a price that you will not be given a receipt or an invoice for your purchase and practically you are on your own. Even though companies in the Free Trade Zone are not supposed to sell to retail customers but you can purchase just about any item such as a computer, a television, a bottle of perfume, etc. from any store or wholesaler. I must mention, although there are many international crises out there, it is still worthwhile to look into Panama, where solid growth is expected for 2012 and beyond. The World Bank projections for the region in 2012 suggest a forecasted increase at about 4%. Panama definitely is a place to be in and make wise investments and start purchasing products to export or to start setting up shop to manufacture items.

Another point of interest in Panama is Panama Canal which is 2nd busiest port in the world, in fact it is that thousands of ships pass through Panama Canal everyday and is one of the best revenue generating operation for government of Panama.

True, after living in Panama for over 4 years, I am kind of used to it and living here for me now is kind of normal even though every day that passes by, I realize that living in Panama truly is an adventure and as a US citizen, I may never get used to life style of Panamanians. By the way I am not trying to put down their way of life however for me after living in the United States for almost 30 years, it carries a shock. For example, I would say to you that Panama has many intriguing laws and the way they process their daily life that we are not used to it. For example, god forbid if you need to get a piece of paper from the tax office or a driver license, Panama government offices present you with overwhelming documents and lengthy process for issuing a simple driver license, etc. Besides waiting in line sometime for hours, is very normal for Panamanians, until some operator who may not even be familiar with your question would attend you and most probably give you an answer that may not be what you looking for and often the person who works for the government office confronts you with negative attitude and present you a very complex task such as bringing additional documents that has no relevance to your case, unnecessary and unpredictable.

Size wise Panama is a small country and you may easily cross the entire country and get to know Atlantic and pacific beaches. Many foreigners choose to visit and or live in Panama and find it an interesting place. Nevertheless, even though Panama represents an exciting and fascinating place to be, it is an emerging place for foreigners since Panama represents a melting pot and Panamanians are used to mingle and interact with foreigners. One of the amazing observation in Panama City, is its abundant water view high rises, for example, alongside Avenida Balboa and Calle 50, especially at nights. The radiance of skyscrapers and their reflections on the bay, makes you feel at home and comfortable and people compare Panama city as little Miami. Even today, you could easily notice many new condo or hotel construction projects all over Cinta Costera, Calle 50, including restoration of old buildings in Casco Viejo. One very interesting place along Cinta Costaera is the fish market or Mercado de Marisco. There you can enjoy the best fish experience such as local fish called Corvina or Pargas or better yet, try going there at night and taste a cup of shrimp Ceviche.

Another positive point is the excellent roads in Panama that are of good condition and shape especially major roads and highways. For example the Pan American highway that connects Panama City to Chiriquí area and the border to Costa Rica, is very safe and secure and the government keep improving the conditions of the highways. Therefore, I am not surprised to see Panama attracts many tourists from all over the world and foreigners enjoy the Panamanian culture and life style. Touring in Panama is very popular and tourists come to Panama not only to see the Panama city but would travel to Colon area that offers tax free products as well as Pacific side of panama such as Boca Del Toro and Chiriquí areas. Many XPats and Gringos have chosen Bouquet to retire and reside in this part of Panama. Climate in Bouquet is very delicious and fresh since it surrounded by mountains and coffee farms. In addition, Panama currently is constructing its own subway and soon it will have subway transportation to get rid of its existing congested traffic especially in Calle 50, Via Espania, etc. during the rush hour. Panamanian government has already upgraded its old bus system and have mostly eliminated most of very antiquated Diablo Rojo buses and instead have installed Metro Bus. Metro Bus system is brand new, safe, clean and modern.

Another site seeing place in Panama City is Amador Causeway where you could dine and wine at night looking over the bay and enjoy the water front dinning and sail boats. Causeway provides a spectacular water front dining pleasure and you must visit this area at night to appreciate Panama’s water front beauty.

Of course, we all know that no country is perfect and even though, I am living in Panama for the past 4 years, I had no choice but to adjust my life style to Panamanian culture and sure enough, I enjoy living here even though at times it is far ideal. For example, in two occasions, I was not ticketed by cops due to asking $10. and $20. and naturally I made the deal with the cops.

By the way, as I am writing this article, one of the most fascinating part for me is that most of the Panamanians would live on a $450. a month minimum wage. Food prices in Panama relatively a little bit cheaper than in the U.S. but by going to a super market, easily you could spend around $50. Or $60. Just to purchase a few groceries and meat items. Imagine a Panamanian family with 2 kids, how on earth could manage to live in such an expensive environment. He must pay for rent, water, electricity, telephone, transportation, food, clothing, schools, etc. with this little money.

New condominiums in the Panama City or along the beaches easily could cost $150 K and a regular Panamanian would never be able to afford a high priced tag housing. Nevertheless Panama keeps growing and more and more high rises is being constructed to accommodate foreign investors and retirees.

Overall, I concur with the New York Times writers that Panama is a very good destination to be due to its tropical climate, good security, strong and stable economy, democratic government and its U.S. dollar based currency. But Panama is the No. 1 destination in the world, is debatable!

Editor's Comment: Thanks for the input, Ray. And just for future reference for everyone else, feel free to write up and submit similar "my Panama experience" type of articles for publication on this website. It's nice to hear other voices, and I suppose you all are sort of tired of hearing my voice by now. Anyway, feel free to write and send. As long as it's not advertising in disguise, I'll take it. Fire at will...

Copyright 2012 by Don Winner for Go ahead and use whatever you like as long as you credit the source. Salud.

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My Experience Living in Panama for 4 years | 5 comments | Create New Account
The following comments are owned by whomever posted them. This site is not responsible for what they say.
My Experience Living in Panama for 4 years
Authored by: Anonymous on Tuesday, August 14 2012 @ 01:07 PM EDT

Well written article. However, after you started with "I don’t understand why Panama deserves to be the number # 1 destination in the whole world", I wen't through the article always expecting the negative part. Did I miss something or did you mostly just praise the country and the choice to have moved here?

I've been living here for 10 years, I might write down my experiences some day too, been quite a ride ;)

My Experience Living in Panama for 4 years
Authored by: Anonymous on Tuesday, August 14 2012 @ 03:35 PM EDT

"a regular Panamanian would never be able to afford a high priced tag housing." You can say the same thing about the regular citizens of all countries.

My Experience Living in Panama for 4 years
Authored by: Anonymous on Wednesday, August 15 2012 @ 04:33 AM EDT

I liked the part about thousands of ships passing through the Panama Canal every day.

My Experience Living in Panama for 4 years
Authored by: Anonymous on Wednesday, August 15 2012 @ 10:05 AM EDT

Yeah that's funny coming from someone who spent already 4 years of his life in Panama. Isn't the average number of ships transiting daily thru the Canal 37?
I my experience the good things about Panama outweigh the bad. For instance I like the idea of getting away by bribing a cop $10 for minor traffic violations. Contrary to what Ray said in his comment, I find the "privatized" drivers permit office in Albrook to be quite efficient. I went there yesterday and it took me less that an hour to pass all the tests and get out of there with my $40 licence in hands. Of course, I like the discounts for retirees when purchasing airline tickets and dining at restaurants. However I dislike the extremely long waiting and slow pace of cashiers everywhere in Panama. There is definitely room for improvements in that area.

My Experience Living in Panama for 4 years
Authored by: Anonymous on Wednesday, August 15 2012 @ 03:26 PM EDT

I smell a Real estate salesperson who has free time on their hands and needs some more business.