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Panama > Articles


Moving To Panama - What to Expect as a New Expat

Friday March 13, 2015 (03:05:07)


Panama is gaining recognition and popularity as an expat destination since it has something for everyone – from students and globetrotters to drifters and retirees. Panama is developed and modern, and expats have described their stay here as a “first-world lifestyle at third-world prices”! The country does indeed offer a rather luxurious lifestyle with the best amenities at rather affordable prices due to its low cost of living.

There are several pros and cons to moving to Panama. It is important to find out as much as possible, as this will ease your transition and help you to settle in faster. Here is a short list of what you can expect as a new expat in Panama:

1. Climate

Panama has a mild, tropical climate, and temperatures and humidity levels are uniformly high with very slight seasonal variation. It has a very long rainy season, which lasts for about nine months, from May to January. This is followed by a dry season from January to May. While some people love the climate, many people find it hard to adjust to the heat and humidity. It rains on a daily basis for about eight months in the year, and this can get a little dreary. On most days, it is sunny in the morning followed by rain in the afternoons, which then clears up by the evening. People who have only experienced a moderate climate will have the most trouble adjusting, and will require 24x7 air-conditioning. However, mountainous areas such as Boquete and Volcan lie high above sea level, and so the weather here is much cooler.

2. Safety

Panama is a relatively safe place, but there is no denying that its crime rate has risen in the last decade or so. This rise in crime rates has scared off a lot of expats, who worry that they or their loved ones might be mugged or even injured. It is important to note that one of the main reasons for the rise in crime rates is the rise in drug-related crimes. Violent crime is not common, although petty thefts and burglaries do occur in more affluent neighbourhoods.

Safety and security is a high priority in Panama, and this is obvious from high police presence and safety measures in major urban areas of the country. The Panamanian National Police take expat and tourist safety seriously, and even have a team that deals specifically with crimes against visitors. There are several police stations in Panama City and in other large cities, and police respond quickly to complaints.

3. Customer service

Customer service in Panama tends to be appalling compared to most Western standards. The service in restaurants and retail stores is slow, unfriendly, and often downright rude! Expats often feel that this is because they are foreigners, but the fact is that the poor service has little to do with nationality, as the problem seems to be rooted deep and across the board.

This attitude seems to mark other business practices as well, and it is not uncommon for contractors to simply not turn up. Panamanians are known for their disregard for punctuality, and many expats make precise and detailed work plans only to have them go awry as none of the people involved stick to the given schedule. Furthermore, many expats complain about a lack of honesty in business, so it would be wise to examine purchases that are delivered home, as they may be damaged or soiled.

4. Language

Although a lot of people speak English, especially in the cities and in urban areas, most Panamanians prefer to communicate in Spanish. It may take a while to learn even the basics of the language, but learning a few important phrases will go a long way to making your stay here a lot easier. Locals always appreciate the attempt, and most people will contribute a few words to your vocabulary to help you learn the language.

5. Hissing Panamanians

This is probably one of the strangest things for an expat to experience – men hissing at women walking past! This hissing is similar to the Western tradition of men whistling as a pretty woman walks past. This is considered to be completely innocent and harmless, especially since Panamanian men are generally not aggressive by nature. However, it is important that you remain aware of your surroundings, especially if you are in an unfamiliar part of town.


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