Raising A Family In Panama

Why Would A Family Of Six Move To Panama?

After nine weeks of travel—from Panama to New York then Portugal, Paris, Frankfurt, Andorra, southern France, and Ireland—Lief and I are finally, this week, back home in Panama City.

In Waterford, Ireland, our family’s one-time home town, we visited with old friends, including one who’s considering moving, with her family, to Panama.

Lief and I met with our friend and her husband one evening in Waterford’s Munster Pub to answer their questions and to try to help them think through both the big idea and the many little particulars of such a relocation.

Our friend and her husband aren’t a couple of retirees. They’re young and raising a family of four school- and preschool-aged children. They’d need to earn a living, and, for them, international schooling options are a priority.

Would it make sense for them to make the move they’re considering? To reposition their family of six from the Emerald Isle to the Hub of the Americas?

My response to that question when they put it to me straight was an enthusiastic: Yes, indeed.

In part, that response was self-serving. Our friend is also a colleague, a writer who’s been working with us for 15 years. How great for us to have her in the office in Panama City, rather than working for us long distance from her home in Waterford.

My personal agenda aside, my answer stands. Panama is a top retirement haven, as you know. It’s also a top choice for would-be entrepreneurs; I’d name it as the best place in the world to start a business (that’s an important reason why Lief and I, who could be living anywhere in the world, are here).

In addition, though, and much less publicized, Panama is one of the best places in the world to think about embarking on a family adventure of the kind our Waterfordian friends are contemplating.

Why do I say that? That is, why in the world should a family with young children consider the idea of uprooting the brood and re-installing them in Panama of all places?

Let’s start with the kids, because, if you’re thinking about making a move to another country with children, they take priority. What’s important when you’ve got school-aged children? Schools, of course, and Panama has at least a dozen good, international-standard schools, including American, British, French, Montessori, and parochial. These schools are all growing (the French school where our son attends has grown from 75 students total, among all grades, when Jack was first enrolled seven years ago, to more than 500 students today), and new international schools are being opened. The demand is expanding as more and more global businesses set up operations and offices in Panama City. All their executives and international staff need schools for their children.

If you’re coming from the United States, tuition at these schools will seem a bargain (though it has increased significantly in recent years). Unfortunately for our friends from Ireland, private school tuition in Panama City is more expensive than private school tuition in Ireland. In Panama City, you’re looking at monthly private school tuition of US$200 at a minimum to upwards of US$1,000 per child for the highest-end schools, with discounts for each additional child in a family.

What else is important to a family with young children? Recreation and entertainment. In this regard, Panama beats Ireland hands down. Ireland is a beautiful, geographically varied country, with coastline, mountains, lakes, and rivers, all potentially of great interest to a young child. However, the weather in Ireland can make it tough or at least uncomfortable to take advantage of the country’s natural wonders. On our recent visit, friends who live by the beach in Tramore invited us to go swimming with them one afternoon. It was August. The sea off their shore was as warm as it’d ever be, but Lief and I declined the invitation. “You couldn’t drag me into that water,” was my actual response.

When we lived in Waterford, we went to the beach a few times. We dressed in long pants and sweaters and then sat huddled and shivering on our blankets on the sand, watching the Irish diving in and out of the sea.

Panama is also beautiful and geographically varied, but, in stark contrast to Ireland, the sun here shines warm and year-round. Living in Panama, a family with young children could spend every weekend exploring beaches, islands, and rain forest, swimming, fishing, surfing, tubing, zip-lining, and seeing wildlife up close. One of our son’s favorite memories of this country is the first time he saw a crocodile in the Panamanian jungle (he was age 4).

Thinking more practically, the health care available in Panama City is international-standard and affordable. Doctors speak English, and, at the clinic where we take our kids when they need medical care, we’re seen within minutes even without an appointment.

Shopping malls in Panama City and increasingly elsewhere in the country offer everything parents need to keep their children fitted out and comfortable. Here in Panama City, our son has taken guitar, piano, tennis, swimming, martial arts, and riding lessons. He’s had cookie and lemonade stands and washed neighbors’ cars to earn pocket money. He rides his bike and his skateboard on the Cinta Costera, as do all kids living in the city. He goes to the movies and parties with his friends.

He lives a full, busy, typical teenager life.

He also speaks three languages fluently—French in school, Spanish with his friends, and English at home with us.

That’s the kids. What about the parents? That is, how would our friend and her husband earn a living?

Our friend is covered. We’re standing by to welcome her into our little operation as soon as her plane lands on Panamanian soil.

Her husband’s prospects are good, too. He’s a computer programmer. Big market for that kind of expertise and experience in this town.

And, thanks to Panama’s Friendly Nations visa program, our friends would have no trouble establishing residency and obtaining work permits. Depending on how they organize themselves, they could enjoy tax benefits.

Meantime, they’d be learning a new language, along with their children, and the whole bunch of them would be having a grand adventure.

We’re hoping they take the leap.

Kathleen Peddicord

Continue Reading: Does Bankruptcy Affect Residency Options In Panama?