Traveling has always enriched my life. Simply studying different countries and people in books and other media is eye-opening… But nothing compares to engaging your senses by being in a new land and among a new people.
I could illustrate it this way: The Panama Canal is an inspiring article for a travel magazine or a history book, but that article is going to be universal by nature in order to appeal to the widest number of people.
Visiting the canal in person on the other hand…
When I actually stood along the observation deck, the personal experience was somewhat of a mixed bag. As colossal as the tankers, mules, and locks are, it only made me think of watching the kitchen sink fill up and then drain water to do the dishes or some household task.
I actually found the mapaches walking in packs around the canal grounds the more exotic part of my visit. And I would have never known about the raccoon’s laid-back Panamanian cousin unless I saw it with my own eyes.
Much more could be said about the benefits of setting foot in another land—so let’s continue…
But allow me to extend the vacation by a few months or longer. I am confident you have tuned in because you want to make that sort of change; you want to move to Panama or another country and stay as long as you wish. That is fine, but staying is only one facet of this life-altering choice.
It goes back to my experience at the Panama Canal (residents and citizens get an US$8 discount on tickets; tourists get a marked up price). The discoveries I made on the ground would have never occurred to me if I’d only read about the place.
And this leads to the main point: A suburbanite from the United States decided that two weeks at a hotel and a self-guided tour just won’t cut it anymore. It was time to emigrate. The method you use to make your move may be quite different from mine. The benefits of doing so, however, will be similar if not more impressive and can last a lifetime if not longer… but hold that thought.
It’s All About The Paperwork
Panama is my parents’ homeland. That was my in. And before I go on, this is something I have wanted to say to the baby boomer generation of folks who left Panama for a number of years now. If you were born in Panama, still retain your citizenship, and have children whose birth you have yet to register, please do them a huge favor and get their birth certificate into the civil registry. It’s never too late: My parents successfully took care of my paperwork when I was 27. Oh yes, I was able to obtain my Panamanian citizenship well into adulthood and with relative ease.
Now I talk about this experience with a certain tone and conviction, but up until that point in my 20s, the thought of residing in Panama for an extended period never fit into my thinking. The whole plan came about because of the need to care for an elderly relative. I knew I was in a position to help; the only hindrance was how long I could stay to make arrangements and then keep them going for the indefinite future. Then, in a conversation with a Panamanian Consulate official, the idea of securing my citizenship was brought to my attention—they really should get all the credit for my broadened viewpoint on expat life.
So what did ditching tourist status for dual citizenship open up? Well, you could look at it from this angle… What would be a deal breaker for a tourist, but only a minor setback or nonissue for a resident or a citizen of Panama?
For one thing, I instantly gained the freedom to come and go as needed without extra visa payments or pages in my passport. My money also enjoyed this mobility, too. Opening a bank account, accessing funds, purchasing, etc., became as easy to do as in the United States. This would not be so if all I brandished was a U.S. passport.
Another opportunity that Panamanian citizenship opened up was the ability to work. And not surprisingly, work for English-speakers can be found—no special need to know Spanish in a number of offices—although, the longer you stay, the greater chance you’ll have of picking up the local language. So the benefits of making such of a move increase over time.
Don’t Overlook These Added Bonuses
For me, the true value in obtaining my citizenship is not merely the monetary or even mobility benefits I can tap into. That’s only part of the picture. With the ability to remain in Panama, I was able to better acquaint myself with family members and the parts of Panamanian culture that I had only partially known. I recall this very insightful conversation I had with my grandmother; she was still alive and residing in Panama City at the time. In three hours of speaking with her one sunny afternoon, I was able to chronicle more family history than I had learned in the 27 years leading up to that day!
Becoming a Panamanian citizen has also benefitted my immediate family in another tangible way. I took the same steps my parents did and obtained citizenship for my son. Bear in mind neither of us was born on Panamanian soil. He was born during the years I was back in the States in my early 30s. What it boils down to is the legal basis I have when it comes to immigration in Panama. The benefits of dual citizenship can last a lifetime, or even longer. The next generation can take advantage of what was established with the proper paperwork.
As the months in Panama stretched into years, I’ve realized something more subtle: I’ve gained a clearer understanding of my parents’ view of things. Being first generation born in the United States, I experienced somewhat of a cultural gap with my immigrant parents. But, living in Panama and being immersed in the culture, the tables have turned. The food, idioms, facial expressions, gestures, and so forth are the norm—not just quirky things my parents do.
Greeting people on the street and in stores is a welcomed bonus over the more suspicious nature that North Americans show each other. A warm and hospitable culture exists in Panama. It’s safe for children to walk to school or the corner store for an ice cream or some last ingredient that will go into dinner. Yes, parents still allow their children to run this type of errand here. That’s an advantage that parents in other countries only dream of. And again, these are tidbits you pick up on when you live in the community, not just when passing through on vacation.
A multitude of other points could be made about the benefits of second citizenship in Panama or anywhere else, but I challenge you to find them out for yourself.
I will leave you with one last positive thought on the matter… After moving, it’ll be the types of joys I mentioned that come to mind when, at the end of a full day, you sit down at the table to enjoy the city lights, sip a cool drink, and reflect on the journey. That’s how it is for me. Sure, I could do all of this in the States, but that simple, enduring “I am in Panama” feeling would be missing.
This article was originally published in October 2017 and has been recently updated.