Panama Expat Interview: How I Fell In Love With Panama City

Why Panama Is No Longer A World’s Top Retirement Haven

Panama is no longer a world’s top retirement haven.

That is, Panama is no longer only a world’s top retirement haven.

This country has evolved to become as well one of the world’s best places to reinvent your life at any age.

Thanks to welcoming immigration policies, an open-borders approach to employing foreigners, and incentives for investors and entrepreneurs, Panama, specifically Panama City, is one of the best places on earth today to seek opportunity.

This is why so many international businesses (including Live and Invest Overseas) have chosen to base themselves in Panama in recent years. Business owners appreciate and benefit from the eclectic mix of educated, English-speaking labor that is being attracted in growing numbers to melting-pot Panama City.

Considered from the other side of the hiring table, anyone from anywhere with ambition and resources enough to qualify for Panama’s Specific Countries visa program can find employment, cash flow, and upside in this county’s capital city.

Our LIOS office is peopled today by three-dozen such folks, including one of our newest hires, Editorial Assistant Kirsten Horne. Originally from South Africa, Kirsten’s experience is as a television producer and writer.

I’ll let Kirsten tell you more of her story herself…

Q: Kirsten, why did you decide to move overseas?

Kirsten: In a nutshell, my decision to move overseas was all about adventure. My wanderlust has always been strong.

Q: What put Panama on your radar?

Kirsten: Panama has always been on my radar thanks to its spectacular wildlife. I could never live anywhere where there weren’t wild animals and pristine wilderness areas (both marine and terrestrial) in near proximity.

Don’t get me wrong. I love big cities, too… the vibe… the buzz… the opportunity to try new cuisine (I’m a bit of a foodie)… meeting new people and experiencing different cultures. But, at least every now and then, I need to escape to nature in as unspoiled a form as I can find.

Panama offers all of this.

It’s a vibrant, pulsating, multi-cultural, and thoroughly cosmopolitan capital city with pristine natural space—ocean and rainforests—just a few hours’ drive away in almost every direction.

Q: Where else did you consider?

Kirsten: Central America has always been on my bucket list. I’ve traveled extensively but never to Central America before now. Plus, I’ve always wanted to see a sloth in the wild…

Q: When you first visited, what were your initial in-person attractions?

Kirsten: Every place I’ve ever traveled has had a distinct energy to it, and I’ve always known instantly whether I was going to love or hate it.

I fell in love with Panama on my first taxi ride from the airport.

It was a Friday night, and the city was alive. Illuminated skyscrapers in the financial district screamed sophistication. Casco Viejo’s sidewalk cafés were bursting at the seams as people spilled out onto the sidewalks and the streets. Music wafted out of bars and restaurants mixing with unfamiliar smells…

I remember thinking, “What is this place? I have to know more.”

Q: What was the major factor that pushed you to making the move?

Kirsten: When researching the move to Panama, I realized that there’s so much to explore and so much opportunity here. And, once you arrive, Panama’s charms are hard to resist.

Q: Do you rent or did you buy a house?

Kirsten: When I first arrived in Panama I stayed in an Airbnb apartment. It just seemed easier until I got on my feet, figured out which area I wanted to stay in (criteria: in close proximity to fabulous coffee shops with reliable Wi-Fi), and met people who could give me advice.

I got lucky. After a few weeks here, a place in a new friend’s apartment opened up and I moved in, so I’m currently sharing an enormous apartment with a couple of other single expats.

Q: How is it living in Panama City as a single woman?

Kirsten: For single women like myself, Panama City is great. I’ve never felt threatened or unsafe (despite the odd altercation with taxi drivers who’ve tried to rip me off).

I’m cautious, but I’m perfectly comfortable walking around the area that I live in (El Cangrejo and the Via Argentina area) and Casco Viejo by myself at night.

Q: How much would you say you spend per month living in this part of the city?

Kirsten: As a single person, I spend around US$1,500 to US$1,800 a month living in Panama. But, then, my penchant for decent wine and my irresistible desire to see and explore everything stretch my budget to the limit.

Q: Can you comment on the health care here?

Kirsten: My experience of health care here has been good. So far I´ve only needed to refill a prescription here, and it was completely stress-free. The doctor spoke English, I didn’t have to wait in line, and it only cost me US$30.

I tried the same exercise in the United States a couple of months ago and just getting an appointment to see a doctor would have cost me between US$160 and US$400.

Q: What do you do for fun here?

Kirsten: There’s so much fun to be found in Panama!

I love to walk around the city, stopping at cafés (by the way, the coffee here in Panama is absolutely amazing, especially if it comes from Boquete) and watching the world go by.

I’m a little obsessed with Casco Viejo. From any of its trendy rooftop bars, you can clearly see the contrast between beautifully restored, nearly 400-year-old buildings and the new city in the background. It’s incredible.

And, of course, I try to get out into the wild spaces of the country as often as possible.

Q: Has the language been an issue for you?

Kirsten: I don’t speak any Spanish, and it’s been a problem sometimes… but, also, not really.

I’ve gotten to know a lot of expats who can either translate or explain things to me, and I´m also pretty good at gesticulating wildly to get myself understood.

But I do believe that when you move to a new place it’s important to immerse yourself in it completely. Learning at least a bit of the local language is not only necessary but respectful.

Q: How have you found the local expat community?

Kirsten: Panama has a vibrant, active expat community. There’s always something going on. I joined one of the big expat groups online, and, before I knew it, I was added to an assortment of WhatsApp chat groups and receiving invites to an eclectic range of activities from salsa dancing classes to wine tasting evenings.

How much you want to be involved is really up to you.

Q: What do you see coming for this region? Any predictions about the future?

Kirsten: When I lived in Dubai I was amazed by that city’s 40-year turnaround time from desert to high-rise metropolis. But Panama has done a similar job in just 20 years—its skyscraper skyline is less than two decades old, which blows my mind.

I think that’s a real indication of how fast things are growing here. As someone quipped the other day: The American dream moved to Panama. They may be right.

Q: What do you love most about living here?

Kirsten: The city is so full of birds. Hummingbirds on the balcony… vultures circling above the city… flocks of parakeets… Mornings in particular are just a cacophony of birdsong.

I also love it that the city is a melting pot of nationalities. At a dinner event the other night there were folks from the United States, Canada, Venezuela, Colombia, Germany, France, the U.K., the Netherlands, Guyana, Brazil, and Panama.

Q: What do you like least about living here?

Kirsten: The time difference between Panama and South Africa. When I get home after a long day and just want to call a friend or Skype my mom, I can’t because it’s 2 a.m. over there.

It’s also immensely frustrating that there doesn’t seem to be a single hairdresser in the city who understands blonde hair.

Q: If you have one piece of advice to share with someone considering moving here, what would it be?

Kirsten: Just jump right in. Panama is not a difficult place to integrate. It’s actually easy. And with so much to see and do and opportunities everywhere, Panama is undoubtedly one of the coolest places in the world today.

Kat Kalashian
For Live and Invest Overseas