The Differences That Are Panama

Deciding to relocate to another country is a huge step.

You can research for years and still not be totally prepared, because it’s often the little things that pose the biggest hurdles to your acclamation. I always encourage clients to visit for long periods of time before deciding if moving to Panama is right for them.

The other day a friend of mine returned from a couple of weeks in London and she said: “you know the biggest thing I really enjoyed was having the sun rise at 4:30 in the morning and it still  being light at 9:00 at night.” I thought about that for a while and strange as it may seem, I would agree that I miss that change in the rising and setting of the sun. Panama is simply too close to the equator for there to be much of a change. It’s pretty much 12 hours of light and 12 hours of dark. Should that be a deal breaker? Probably not, but it is worth considering.

The Lack Of Changing Seasons

I was warned about the lack of changing seasons when I first considered moving. Everyone was quick to point out that Panama was the one spot on the globe where you could watch the sun rise over the Pacific and set over the Atlantic, but few mentioned it was summer all the time. No snow. Never a freezing temperature. That could be a good thing or a bad thing. I tend to like not having to rotate my clothes and knowing it’s always going to be warm. There is the wet season vs. the dry season, but I hardly notice the changes. The weather is pretty much the same.

No Mail. No Addresses.

Panama Packages
Packages are shuttled from Miami to Panama City by expediting companies which provide individuals in Panama with a US mailing address. It can be costly and, as Panama matures, you can find most products locally.

There are other differences which one should consider. Like the fact is there no postal service. No mail. I have friends in the States who claim they could stop getting mail and never miss sorting through the circulars and bulk mail which is delivered at least six days a week. I have to caution them that not having mail delivered touches lots of different things.

For example, no mail, no address. I listened quietly the other day when a client was attempting to visit their lawyer. “The building diagonal from the sushi restaurant?” I heard them repeat slowly and I smiled inwardly. I knew a taxi driver would be able to get them to the correct spot, but not having a real address was a bit unnerving to the unaccustomed. When it comes to addresses, there tends to be a lot of descriptive geographical instructions which requires a bit of trust and easy acceptance that I don’t always find in North Americans.

Who’s Going To Deliver My Amazon Orders?

No mail service also means no Amazon. I find many people are so used to Amazon delivering just about everything to their front door, that not being able to easily activate Amazon Prime is a big deal. You can order from Amazon, but it’s expensive. Some people have a mailing address through a local shipping business such as Mail Boxes Etc. or a UPS store. You are given a personalized address which is normally located in Miami and it’s simply a shipping hub. Handlers accept mail and packages on your behalf and then reroute them via plane to Panama City. The packages are then delivered to your local store waiting for pick-up.

Panama Amazon
You don’t often see that amazon smile in Panama unless it’s arrived by way of the underground network of expats!

There are several stores in Panama City, but there are also ones throughout Panama including Coronado and Boquete. Normally you pay a monthly fee for the address and then by the gram, so if you are ordering anything remotely heavy, you start to pay a hefty price.

Because people tend to come and go from North America fairly routinely, there is sort of an underground network among friends that shuttles packages back to Panama from a trip. “I almost always have an extra suitcase that is filled with things from Amazon” laughed a friend the other day. “It’s amazing what people want and order, and I’m always happy to help out a friend if I’m on a trip.”

A Wide Access To Most Products

I also know that after a few months in Panama, the need for Amazon delivery lessens. People get accustomed to what they can find in Panama and they are surprised at how they thought the things they couldn’t live without, quickly disappears. Ten years ago the need for shipping was much greater because there wasn’t the wide access to all kinds of products, which we now enjoy. Today you can find just about anything in Panama.

Robust On-Line Banking

Panama Bill Payment
Many local Panamanians continue to go in person to pay bills for things such as cable, electricity or water, but more and more most bills are paid via Panama’s robust on-line banking system.

Not having mail also impacts the way routine bills are managed in Panama. Banks have a robust on-line presence for the transfer of funds, but many locals still line up in the grocery stores or banks to pay in cash. Many of the bill payment centers have few hours, speak only Spanish and only accept cash. Electrical and water bills are often hand delivered and it is pretty much on the backs of consumers to remember to pay everything from the cable to home association dues at a particular date either on line or in person and in cash.

Don’t Expect Service From The Appliance Store

How warranties are serviced for things like appliances is also often times confusing for outsiders. “I bought upgraded appliances,” began a woman who recently purchased a refrigerator that didn’t work upon delivery. “I assumed the company from whom I had purchased the refrigerator would come out and make things right,” she said. “It was a brand new GE appliance that should have worked.”

Stores selling things such as appliances, do not fulfill warranties, but rather an outside company must be called, an appointment made and then work may, or may not be started on a timely basis. “They only came to Coronado once a week, they were always booked and I really needed a refrigerator,” she continued. “It was absolutely the most frustrating situation. I really learned to embrace the Mañana code of living,” she said. “Today, all the appliances are working perfectly, but it has taken a while to come to terms with the fact you wouldn’t just call the store where you purchased the appliances and have someone out that afternoon”

Becoming Easy With The Day-To-Day

But, for everything challenging or different, I find there are other things which make life easier in Panama. Domestic help is less expensive and the warm temperatures tend to slow people down. Mañana is not always a bad thing. Local residents are almost always helpful and friendly even if they don’t speak any English.

Help Is Always A Request Away

Of course, with a little efectivo (cash), you can hire individuals to pay your bills either on-line or in person. Individuals are willing to negotiate the best possible price for services such as cable and internet while also keeping you current with things such as home owners dues and electricity. It’s not especially costly and it keeps everything smooth. Many times, just having someone negotiate a better cable rate saves you time and money.

Panama is on the fast track to becoming a first world country. English is being widely taught in all schools and products are flowing onto the shelves of stores throughout the country. A completely digital world will reduce the need for paper mail and things will move more quickly. We are on the world stage when it comes to culture, finance and sports. Our infrastructure is developing quickly and transportation is world class.

Twelve Hours of Light And Dark Won’t Change

I’ll always desire the longer days of sunlight I can experience in London, but I’m not sure I’d trade their long, grey days of cold and wet, for the routine bright blue skies of Panama.

There is a lot about London to love, but it is often overcast and rainy for long periods.
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