Panama As An Expat Destination? Think Twice…

PanamaWe lived in Panama for about a year, around 2007. Granted, it was in Panama City, so take my rant with a grain of salt. If we had lived in Bouquette, maybe our experience would have been different. I’m not expecting to change your mind if you’ve already decided to move to Panama. But for anybody else considering it:

Panama has grinding poverty. My wife is Colombian and even she was shocked.

The Panamanians– culturally– are very rude. You say, “Thank you,” and they say nothing. Or, “Okay.” if you’re lucky. I didn’t find that to be the case in either Costa Rica or Colombia.  They have a bad attitude and have not learned business etiquette.

– I’m told the banks are corrupt. There used to be a gringo who ran a site called Noriegaville.com. Maybe use the Wayback Machine to read some of the old posts. There was another site too that documented the bank corruption. They only give lip service to rule of law in Panama. There is no recourse if the banks take your money. I know you’re thinking, “Why would the bank take my money? If they develop a reputation of taking people’s money, they will go out of business.” Sure. And god-forbid you listen to some dumb expat who tells you that you can hide money in Panama. You can’t. One of my neighbors worked for the IRS. The banks down there have desks for the IRS agents to man, full time. LOL. Unfortunately, they’re not down their to protect your money… they’re down there to protect Uncle Sam’s money.

– It’s difficult to get a gun down there, let alone a concealed carry permit. If you get citizenship, it might be easier. I asked at a couple of gun stores, and as a resident he basically told me, “Not a chance.” You might want to investigate this further, though.

– We left because Panama, like a lot of 3rd world countries, make it very attractive for Expats to come… because it brings money and investment and tourism. But after awhile, they start to get fat and arrogant and begin jerking the expat community around. For example, they arbitrarily changed the tourist visa from three months to one month. Previously, you could live down there on a tourist visa as long as you made a “visa run” every three months. But every month? Give me a break. A large part of the expat community started to put their condos up for sale and leave. Fortunately, the Panamanian government realized the error of their ways and after 9 months they switched it back. But by then… we were gone. So were a lot of our friends. Gracias, adios.  And before you say, “Well.. why wouldn’t you just get residency?”  The answer is that: It costs a lot of time and money.  Generally, it’s a good idea to “test drive” a country before committing to residency.  Now, if they had a streamlined residency program… that would be another argument.  But asking Panama to develop anything “streamlined” is asking a lot.

This idea that many Panamanians speak English is false. You can find people within the professional sector who speak English, if you search for them. You will not normally encounter people on the street who speak English. My advice is to budget at least four hours a day to study Spanish for AT LEAST the first year you’re down there. Your ability to speak the language will directly affect your ability to successfully navigate your environment.

– The heat is oppressive. It wears on you.  Expect the humidity to reek havoc on your clothes and shoes and furniture.

My recommendation is to RENT for the first two to three years before buying anything. Be aware that construction is not up to American standards. Everything looks great on the surface, but it is not. For example: Building inspectors are routinely paid off. The parking in our high end condo was back to back and not wide enough to back your car out.  So, if somebody was in the space opposite to your’s, you’d have to go find the owner of the car or wait for someone else to back their car up. These were $200k+ condos. LOL.

The food was good, though. I’ll give ’em that.

One Comment
  1. hahaha yeah a colombian shock about poverty xD mmm…. that makes me love so hard because actually Colombia has more poverty than Panama

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