Posts Tagged With: Panama

Things Ex-Pats Should Consider: Volume 1

I have done a “Favorite Things” ongoing volumes of my favorite things about living in Panama, so I would like to do a least favorite things list too. It seems only fair. It is a list of things you should probably consider before committing to living here. If you are pretty laid back, these things will not bother you so much. But if you expect Panama to be the same as a pristine suburb in the US, you may be very disappointed. These things apply to Panama City:

1. Garbage. There is an ineffective garbage pick up service in Panama City. Trash piles up fast and sits a while. You will see piles of it on street sidewalks, often feeding feral cats.

2. Sidewalks, or the lack of them. Sidewalks in PTY are more like an obstacle course. On one block in my neighborhood, which is San Francisco, an upscale community, there are three two foot deep holes, four rusty pipes sticking up from the broken concrete, several mud slicks, three sections of broken tiles, many splits in the concrete where tree roots have pushed up the concrete, two long patches where there is no sidewalk at all and the curb is a full foot long step down. My husband and I are gamers and like to think of it as gaining experience points while walking; “OK, that was 5 XP getting over that hole, 2XP for avoiding the pipe, 10 XP for not getting hit by the oncoming cars and 50 XP if we get across Via Porras alive… it’s like human Frogger.” The guards at the bank across the street cheer when I make it across the street and I break into a victory dance.

3. Traffic. The traffic scares the hell out of me. The only relief from fear I have is the notion that the majority of this chaos is gridlock in the city in which goes slowly and is unlikely to be fatal if you are in a crash.

4. Car horns. AAAAAAAAAARRRRRRRRRGGGGGGHHHHHHHHHH! This is the worst! Panamanians honk their fucking horns at EVERYTHING. All the time. All day, all night. No consideration for other people at all. No courtesy, no common sense. The traffic could be backed up because of construction and everyone is honking, as if the car in front of them can magically take flight and move forward at their whim. I think all car horns in Panama should be forcibly removed. It is a huge detriment to the city, a black eye on what is otherwise an awesome place, despite the negatives.

5. The heat. The humidity. This should probably be #1 but this list is random. The heat and humidity here is fierce. It is brutal. You go outside and you are sticky and hot. For those like my husband who professes to be “a lizard” this might be just fine. If you are one of those alien creatures that professes to be cold in 90 degree weather… eat a sandwich, and the heat might be fine for you. For the rest of us, it is uncomfortable and we must make ways to cope with it easier. I carry misting water bottle and fan with me. I walk with an umbrella to keep the sun off of me. I am pale and I don’t tan. I burst into flames like a phoenix.

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Panama City Dusk


© Triocean – Dreamstime – Panama City Photo

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These Are A Few Of My Favorite Things: Volume 2

El Valle de Anton –

There is something almost mystical about “El Valle”. As you round winding roads, white knuckling turns and come upon this open valley, it feels like a hidden paradise. The market on Sunday Mornings is my favorite time to go. I love hiking up to the painted rock and dipping into the waterfall on the way down.

Because… ceviche! Nothing is better than that on a hot day, which is almost every day here.

Thunder & Lightning
Panama puts on spectacular thunder and lightning shows during rain season. If I am quiet and don’t multi-task, it is meditative.

La Praline Chocolatier
On Via Porras there is a new boutique chocolate shop. It is amaaaaaaazing.

 I have professed my love for Theater Guild of Ancon before and here it is again in the favorites list. This is where I met most of my friends and established a new life.

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Panama thrives and is among the happiest nations, according to Gallup poll

Gallup and Healthways produced the annual “State of Global Well-Being Index,” which this year analyzed 135 world countries in five elements, including financial stability, social relationships, community safety, physical well-being, and sense of purpose (i.e. contributing to society). The results might surprise you. Often, people think of happiness in terms of Polynesian islands and a lot of mai tai drinking in a hammock. But Panama came in number one by a landslide. Panama is growing, changing and moving with a rapid speed that is sometimes breathtaking. In a constantly changing country like this, it is easy to find a way to be part of that change directly, and with that, you feel like you are changing the world because in some little way, you are. According to the Gallup poll, 63% of people in Panama are thriving in at least three of those elements.

Here are the 10 happiest countries, with the percentage of people who are “thriving” in three or more of the elements of well-being:

  • Panama: 61 percent
  • Costa Rica: 44
  • Denmark: 40
  • Austria: 39
  • Brazil: 39
  • El Salvador: 37
  • Uruguay: 37
  • Sweden: 36
  • Canada: 34
  • Guatemala: 34

Gallup Poll at Business Insider with a map

A numbered chart

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These are a few of my favorite things…

There is a lot to enjoy and experience in Panama in every corner of the country. This is Volume #1 of my favorite places and experiences in no particular order:



Parque Metropolitano
Smack in the city is the huge 232 hectare natural reserve which hosts an abundance of wildlife and natural beauty. Sloths, tamarinds and gorgeous blue morpho butterflies are easily seen if you go very early in the morning.


The Plaza de Francia in Casco Viejo (French Plaza in colonial Old Town)
With a mix of stately architecture, galleries, cafes, a beautiful flowery garden tunnel and a gorgeous view over the bay, this is a perfect place to have a romantic stroll, have an icee and just chill.




Restaurante Las Tinajas
If you are not visiting Panama during a festival, then the folk show at Las Tinajas might be your best chance to see the beautiful Pollera, national costume of Panama, up close. The music and dancing are excellent and so is the food.


Raspaos (Panamanian snow cone)
Hand-shaved raspaos are a favorite street food in Panama, with vendors carting around large blocks of ice to carve the treats fresh to order. The shaved ice is mounded into an easy-to-hold cone before being doused with a variety of fruit syrups, including cherry, grape, pineapple, lemon, and passion fruit. If you’re looking to add an extra kick of sweetness, ask for a thick drizzle of condensed milk (as shown above), malted milk, or honey.


Amador Causeway
A chain of islands that were created by the relocated soil moved when cutting and expanding the Panama Canal, the islands are now a stopping point for cruise ships and a favorite hangout of tourist and locals alike. The islands are connected by a road so you can drive there. Rent a little bike buggy and putter around with your family, skate, bike, run, or just kick back and have a tropical drink and watch the sunset over the bay. I have been told there are several swanky nightclubs there but that’s not my scene so I don’t know if they are any good. 






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It’s all happening…!

     Yesterday I watched my bookshelves, desk and sofa carried out of the house by the total strangers who bought it off of Craigslist. A large red suitcase is sitting smack in the center of my living room, half full of things I want to take with me to Panama. It is mostly clothes because I haven’t had the heart to try to see if my art supplies will fit in there and still give me room for a few changes of clothes. I have to pack my life into two suitcases and a carry-on. I shouldn’t say “have to” but instead I should say “GET to”. There is a beautiful kind of rebirth to all this disrobing of my suburban life of the last four years. All the stuff I have collected going out the door. The stuff just walking out and the rest of it I get to choose what are the truly important parts of my life and what can simply be parted with.

     My passport is being renewed. I did the fingerprinting thing today (to apply for residency in Panama, you need a fingerprint FBI report and you can do that at a UPS office) and our landlord is showing the house to potential renters since we are moving out in less than a month. Now, it all feels very real and approaching very, very soon. I am happy about this, though admittedly apprehensive. No matter how adventurous anyone is, tossing your whole life in two suitcases and not having much of a plan after that is a little nerve fraying. And there is so much to do that it all seems a bit overwhelming. Sell everything. Cancel the electric, the cable, the phones… oh God, I can’t take all my books! Now THAT is painful. 

     The next year is going to be a life changing experience. Moving to another country… even though I lived there before, it all seems very different now, and I feel a bit unprepared because of my four years of cushy (but depressing) life in the American burbs. What Spanish I knew, I have forgotten (and I have had two brain surgeries since then, and it has been hard to remember words in English sometimes, much less Spanish.) I have so much to learn and so many ways to change. It is exciting and yet scary at once. The good kind of scary. 

     Aside from the international move, I have a big trip planned for next Spring. I’ll talk about that in another post. But, it’s a big three month long trip to Europe, so a lot is going on for me in the next year. Now I just need to pack my things and try to breathe.

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Igua, playing his pipe on the island of Ustupu, San Blas, Panama

Igua, playing his pipe on the island of Ustupu, San Blas, Panama

I spent two weeks on the island of Ustupu, a part of the San Blas Islands tourists rarely see.

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Panama: Pros & Cons In My Opinion

This is all just my opinion, but here is a basic run down on what I consider the good and the bad about living in Panama. Please note that my home is in Panama City and so my opinions are based around living in the city.

PRO: Affordable and quality medical care. 

CON: The heat and humidity. For me, it is uncomfortably hot and humid. 

PRO: Friendly people. I have found it fairly easy to make friends in both the Panamanian and the expat community.

CON: Traffic. In the city, traffic is a nightmare.

PRO: Plenty to do. I rarely get bored in Panama. There is always something to do. Festivals, lectures, classes, parties, good restaurants, beautiful things to see. Since costs are relatively low, I can afford to actually go out and do things.

CON: Hot garbage. Seriously. The trash pick-up service in the city is severely lacking and dumpsters get overflowing with trash that sits in the heat and makes a stench. If you are considering living in Panama City, this is likely something you will see in most neighborhoods. 

PRO: Affordable living costs. Panama is no longer “cheap” but housing and living costs are quite lower than most places I have lived in the US, UK and Western Europe. 

CON: The many predatory real estate scams that are present in the Panama real estate market. Panama is moving away from it’s old west anything goes reputation of ten years ago, but you still have to navigate a pretty risky landscape of fraud and con-artists. If you are savvy, you can do it, but you must be very careful.

PRO: Panama, despite it’s flaws (the US certainly has it’s fair share of problems too) always feels like home. It is a fairly easy jump for a new expat. The currency is the US dollar, the expat community is large and friendly, the US is a short flight away and as an American you’re never really that far from something familiar. It is easy expatriation. 

CON: Same as above. The Americanization can be seen as both pro and con. 

PRO: The beauty. Panama is a genuinely beautiful country with a rich history and culture. It is difficult to not be charmed by it. 


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Medical Care In Panama

I get asked about medical care in Panama often. There is a very xenophobic idea that I encounter often in the USA that the only decent medical care is found in the USA or ‘those expensive white people countries.’ I think they mean France and Germany but I don’t speak fluent stupid so I’m just guessing. I have rather complicated health problems myself. I have very severe epilepsy. That’s the big one. More common problems I have dealt with are high blood pressure, chronic ear infections (diving, yay!) and some pretty standard dermatology issues.

I have a very good general practitioner in Panama City. She is very attentive, takes her time with the patient and I prefer her to any doctor I have ever had in the US. She does not toss unneeded pills in my direction as has been my experience with many US doctors. Pills are a last resort, not a first with her. I greatly appreciate that. I see a neurologist when needed and my GP manages my epilepsy medication in tandem with my neurologist. I also have frequent appointments with a physical therapist to manage the damage seizures do to my body. My epilepsy is treatment resistant so even with medication, I still have frequent seizures. That would be the case regardless of where I live in the world. My doctor visits cost me $18. (It is a modest clinic, not a big fancy hospital, but I am very happy with the care I get there.) My prescription medications are all about 30% less than what I pay in the US except my epilepsy meds which are a bit more.

In 2006 I had an ear infection so severe that I was hospitalized. When I was finally well enough to go home, my ear/nose/throat specialist gave me his cell number and drove me home so he could learn the route to my house in case he needed to make a house call. And I puked in his car.

I have seen a psychiatrist in Panama City and found the experience pretty much the same as seeing a ‘shrink’ in the US. Same office, same meds, same methods. (I suffer from depression and PTSD) My appointments were $40 for an hour long session.

I had surgery for a hernia behind my navel two years ago in Panama City. I was treated at a small clinic and my experience was a very good one. I had three doctors attend me and two spoke English. I felt very confident about their skills and no more scared than I would be in an American hospital. The bill for the surgery, anesthesia, etc was $1400.

Last year I had full blood panels and all around tests done (blood, pee, poo, the works) and this was done in a big fancy hospital (Hospital San Fernando). I usually fear blood tests because I have weird veins and nurses tend to poke me multiple times and I end up feeling like a sprinkler. The nurse who drew my blood was a one hit wonder. She nailed it right from the start, no pain, no weirdness. EKG – $40. Blood, poo, pee tests complete set – $350

I do not have medical insurance in Panama (because I move back and forth) so these costs are reflective of having no insurance.

I have been more than impressed with the quality of medical care in Panama City. I cannot speak for other parts of Panama as I have not seen a doctor anywhere else.

In case you are wondering about dental- same thing. Good quality care and very affordable compared to the US, even if you have insurance in the US. I MUCH prefer my doctors in Panama to the ones I have seen in the US. In the States, I find doctors are often uninterested, not available, don’t listen and rely too heavily on drugs that are not needed (got thin eyelashes? take THIS! Sure, your eyes will turn yellow but you’ll have thicker, fuller lashes!) No, I don’t need four different anti-depressants plus sleeping pills, plus social anxiety pills plus restless leg syndrome pills. What I need is a doctor who makes realistic diagnosis and advises me without a corporate lawyer involved.



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Hospital San Fernando in Panama City



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A Me Post. Some old travel photos.

A Me Post. Some old travel photos.

Just some old travel photos because reasons.

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