How is lodging and living in Panama?
I am living alone in a one-bedroom apartment that costs $350 per month for rent. The rent is all-inclusive, for a small spot on the outskirts of Casco Viejo, a tourist-heavy area. I’m not in the best or most centrally located area, but it’s sufficient for me as a starting point. My building has no hot water, which took some getting used to. I live with mostly foreigners, people who come for all types of reasons from all over. A great upside of this area is heavy police presence most of the time.
My living alone is somewhat rare as many Panamanians live with their families well into adulthood. The American way of jumping ship isn’t as much of a priority here. While staying in a hostel, a friend I’d made from Facebook offered me his living room for a few weeks while I found my bearings. From there, a Panamanian-born girl who was raised in Kentucky offered me her apartment as she was to be leaving the city to house sit for a traveling woman at Playa Coronado. I’ve found that apartments here are easy to find. Though salaries are much lower on average, I’ve seen prices comparable to what I used to pay when living in Brooklyn, N.Y. Some newer buildings can run upwards of $3,000 monthly, which is what one might pay living in New York City.
How does the cultural experience differ from what you’re used to in the States?
American culture has a heavy influence in Panama. The malls here have just as many familiar restaurants as malls stateside. Sprawling shopping centers and towering glass condos and apartment buildings are everywhere. Here you can observe their take on American customs (such as singing “Happy Birthday” completely in English) and a very interesting mix of the indigenous and Caribbean influences. Panamanians take great pride in their traditional music and gorgeous, distinct garments (such as beautiful pollera dresses). I connect more with the Caribbean and African aspects of the food and music, as it reminds me of my grandmother’s style of cooking and speech. The island-kissed accents and richly flavored food take me back to afternoons in her kitchen. That’s what I identify with most of all.
What advice would you give anyone considering a move to Panama for career opportunities?
1. Use any skill you have to offer and are able to teach. It will be of benefit to someone here. This applies tenfold to English. Most people you meet will mention wanting to speak English. Everyone from call centers to music schools will pay good money to a native English speaker.
2. Handle all embassy or consul work before boarding the plane. Local bureaucracy is not for the faint of heart.
3. Have patience. It will save you from a heart attack, especially in the Caribbean and Latin America, The pace isn’t as fast as some might be used to in the U.S., especially in U.S. cities.
4. Use social media to connect with people in your target country prior to moving. I sent friend requests to people with common interests before moving to Panama and was able to eventually build relationships and find lodging that way. Send an email to your contact list. Perhaps someone has a cousin or childhood friend in the region. You’ll be surprised who knows someone there.
5. Check the Web for expatriate groups and organizations. Couchsurfing.org has meet ups in certain major cities where locals and other travelers can connect to share their experiences and resources.