Panama is not for everyone, that’s right I said it. Just like Costa Rica, France, Thailand, The United States, and any other country in the world is not for everyone. And it is ok, that is why there are around 195 other countries to choose from. I have seen a lot of folks arrive in Panama with unrealistic ‘expatations’ as I call them. Panama is not a first world country but is often judged as such.
It is a rapidly growing country and with that comes challenges. Panama has accomplished in 10 years what most countries take 20 or more years to achieve. There is growth in the Canal, finance, tourism and services industry. In the short time I have lived here there have been major improvements in transportation with the opening of the metro, new roads, businesses, government buildings and more.
Is it perfect, not by any means – but tell me what country is?
Panama is a young democracy. It was a constitutional democracy for most of the 20th century until a coup in 1968 brought the military to power. During the 1980s, Panamanian General Manuel Noriega assumed control of the government.
After diplomatic and economic pressure failed to remove Noriega, U.S. president George Bush used American troops to remove the dictator from power and restore democracy in 1991 in a military operation known as “Just Cause.” Therefore, the democracy is only 24 years old and working through the challenges that come with it.
Do you realize that it has only been 15 years since Panama took over control of the Canal? It is not only thriving but expanding. I recently made my 14th visit and continue to be in awe of this modern wonder of the world. If you are investigating Panama as a future destination, don’t miss the opportunity to see the Canal at some point.
Speaking of transportation, the bus system is efficient but don’t look for a bus schedule. Every time I have asked for one people just laugh at me. Apparently it is like folklore and only passed verbally. The good news is you can take a bus from Coronado to Panama City and back for only $3.00 each way. For many visitors driving in the country is stressful. If you wouldn’t consider driving in New York City or Washington DC, you may not be comfortable driving in Panama.
Panama has a laid back, mañana attitude similar to other Latin American countries. Someone once told me, “it doesn’t mean tomorrow it just means not today”. Panamanians do not place a high importance on promptness. Showing up late is normal and in many cases expected except when doing formal business. The emphasis is placed on people and relationships rather than a strict schedule. The only people in a hurry and irritated seem to be the ex-pats. If you want ‘things done yesterday’ – this will drive you crazy. I moved to Panama for a tranquilo lifestyle and knew it may take longer to get things accomplished; I have been pleasantly surprised each day!
The extended family is the most important social unit in Panama and people work hard to take care of their relatives. Panamanians often live at home well into their twenties and thirties, or at least until they get married. Family-oriented occasions, including birthdays, Mother’s day, and baptisms, are important and often celebrated with a party, loud music and fireworks. Living on the beach we frequently have fantastic night time displays. However, if you don’t like loud music or noise this will probably annoy you.
Trash alongside the road is a common site in many areas of the country and frustrates most people. Panama is working hard on all levels to educate the citizens and visitors. In my community the developer has started a scholarship program with the local schools teaching them about keeping their neighborhood clean.
Just like the Keep America Beautiful programs started in the 1970’s in the U.S., education is underway. Panama has also started a major recycling campaign. We are seeing more community clean up days and effort from the locals, a lot of credit goes to the local ex-pats. Keep in mind change doesn’t happen instantaneously. I have been in a lot of countries around the world, a lot of them first world, that are still fighting the same challenges as Panama.
For me, the most annoying thing in Panama is the damn individually wrapped hot dogs!
I cannot tell you how many wieners I have seen on the grill with the plastic on them because it is something new for ex-pats. I still have not been able to find a good reason for this. I suppose it is up there with individually wrapped cheese slices.
We all have our reasons for considering a move to another country. We also have our checklist of items that country must or must not have. I encourage you to do your research into all aspects of the country; the good, the bad and the challenging.
For me, the decision to move to Panama was a lifestyle change. I encourage you to adjust your ‘expatations’ accordingly and you too may be pleasantly surprised!
To talk to someone with boots on the ground and a view without the rose colored glasses
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