Making it to Panama

Matt Landau - The Panama Report March 24, 2007

To mix things up, I often like to walk sideways into the photocopier at work. I can do this because it’s a very relaxed environment down here and for most people I know in Panama, work is both an interlude and a part of the Panama experience. There is a lot of opportunity in the isthmus for people young and old, so unless you’re a useless ignoramus, you’ll find something to keep you occupied and make you money.

I have friends who do a variety of things. Lots are in the real estate business; working on websites or selling properties. A lot are also in the travel/tourism industry, and because it’s booming right now there’s more demand than ever. Several are in the medical field being that schooling down here is very good and relatively inexpensive. A number of my gringo friends came down to Panama with nothing: a big jump which the average, sane American might have issues with.

You see, moving from your home to a new place can be very intimidating. Because you will have no friends to start, you will probably look and feel like a loser for a short time: eating meals and playing chess alone or with imaginary friends. For the introvert, this period can be discouraging, but if you a gregarious enough—or at the very least, if your name is Greg—this friendless phase will motivate you to take some action being that no one—not even losers—like having no friends.

Where to start: well if you’re uncomfortable coming down to Panama without a job or a contact, a good place to start is on the web where you can meet various cyber Panamanians and apply for jobs. There are a bunch of online job and classified websites as well as friends networks that may allow you to hit the ground running once you arrive. If it’s online relationships you’re into, be sure to verify that the person who you’ll be dating is willing to lie and say that you guys met somewhere else.

There are a number of places to go, once you’re in Panama, where you’ll have no trouble meeting someone—whether it’s just a friend or something more. Hangouts in Bocas del Toro, Boquete, Panama City and the like are filled with lonely people just wanted to tell their story. Panama City is more developed than most Central American cities, so you’ll have a lot of the comforts of home to ease you through the process. There are stores that carry every American consumer good imaginable, and because Panama City is such a huge port city, almost anything you used to chomp through at home, you can find here.

Since the cost of living in Panama is low, whatever hoax you refer to as your savings at home will go a whole lot further down here. When looking for a place to live, there are a handful of budget hotels, some in El Cangrejo, others in Caledonia, where $10-$20 can score you a decent hotel room (somewhere around $500/month). You can use the time holed-up in your hotel room to search for apartments (the best place to look being the web and the local newspapers La Prensa and La Critica). It can also be useful to use a real estate agent you trust, however this will in some cases increase the cost.

So you’ve got your Butterfingers and Jiffy Peanut Butter to make you feel at home. You’ve got a few job interviews, a couple potential apartments and let’s say, one or two friends. You’ve semi-settled into you new environment, and now you gotta get to know it better. ROAD TRIP. The best way to explore Panama, in my opinion, is by car. You can reach tens of stunning destinations all within a few hours of Panama City. Rent a car if you must, or steal one, or do whatever. But I guarantee, once you’ve road tripped around this country by yourself, you’ll feel like you can do anything. You’ll come back with stories, friends, maybe a few bug bites.

Nonetheless, Panama is a welcoming country. It’s people are warm and inviting as long as your respect them. Tourism hasn’t quite taken off here yet, so you’ll probably be representing your country in the remote place you visit. Some years from now though, you’ll look back at Panama—what’ll then be a giant play land of business and pleasure. You’ll look back on it and remember the days you had no friends, no job, no clue what you were doing on the isthmus. You’ll then realize you’re not such a loser after all.