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Cost Of Living In Panama City

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Lief left home well before dawn this morning to catch his flight from Panama City to Belize City, where, starting tomorrow, he’ll be hosting this week’s Live & Invest in Belize Conference. The event continues through Wednesday (we’ll be bringing you live-from-the-scenes updates), but Lief is staying on in Belize through the week’s end to meet with developers in that country he’s working with and to scout a new opportunity he may want to report to his Marketwatch members.

Meantime, Jackson and I have remained behind, at home, in Panama.

Years ago, living in Ireland, Lief was on the road continuously, gone regularly for a week or longer at a time. I’ll admit it now–it wasn’t easy. At first, it was Kaitlin, age 8 when we made the move to Waterford, and I at home alone. Then, after Jackson was born, it was the three of us. Kaitlin had to be delivered to school and then collected at school day’s end. Jackson had to be dropped off at daycare and then picked up before closing time. In between, I had a business to run. Plus grocery shopping, cleaning, cooking, laundry, the usual errands and chores…and the unusual ones, too, like getting lost in the dark, in the rain, me driving two young children home alone, or the chickens escaping the coup when Kaitlin opened the door to feed them (both those things happened in Waterford while Lief was away, the first one with maddening frequency).

We all survived, of course, and now we have lots of funny stories about chasing chickens around the back yard and trying to navigate the unmarked, unlit back country roads of County Waterford. “Turn right at the barn,” the Irish we asked for help would instruct us. Which barn, we’d wonder as we crawled along the narrow, winding roads, Jackson in his car seat in the back, Kaitlin up front with me doing her best to help identify the indicated landmark.

Back then, the day Lief departed for a week on the road, a sense of dread, even panic would begin to wash over me that would expand a little each subsequent day until Lief returned.

I’m reminded of this this morning, because, here in Panama, our situation is quite different. Here in Panama we’ve been able to build an infrastructure of support that means I don’t have to dread a week without Lief. I’ve got help.

We have a full-time personal assistant who manages schedules and appointments and who takes care of any house-related emergencies (leaks in the roof, ants in the kitchen, etc.).

We have a full-time maid, who has become like part of the family, who works as my partner in managing the household, and who is always home to receive Jackson, whenever he returns from school or an after-school activity.

We have a full-time driver, who transports Jackson to and from those after-school activities, who runs the extra key over to Kaitlin when she locks herself out of her apartment (as she did a couple of weeks ago), who can run to the grocery store or the dry cleaner’s for me in a pinch, and who takes care of all car-related emergencies (this week he’ll be renewing the registration).

Before we moved to Panama, I never would have imagined that we’d ever invest in this level of support. Now that we have Marion, Olga, and Alberto on board? I can’t imagine how we’d get along without them.

There are lots of downsides to life in Panama City. It’s hot and humid all the time. The traffic is insane. The city is noisy and dirty. The sidewalks are so cracked that walking even a few blocks can be like running a gauntlet. I report on these things regularly, because they’re a reality here that you should be prepared for if you’re considering spending your own time or money in this town.

But there are big upsides to living in Panama City, as well…and one of them is that this is a place where it’s possible and affordable to enjoy a level of support that can make both living day-to-day and doing business much easier to manage.

In Ireland, I had a maid who came to the house once a week. I paid her, at the time, the equivalent of about US$50 per daylong visit. I have no idea what a full-time driver would have cost, but I’m pretty sure we couldn’t have afforded it. Likewise in Paris, where we lived for four years between Ireland and Panama. There I’d occasionally indulge in some help around the house that cost me the equivalent of about US$50 per half-day visit.

A full-time maid in Panama City earns US$250 to US$350 per month. In fact, you can get one for less, but US$300 a month is a reasonable figure for competent help. A full-time driver can cost US$500 to US$1,000 per month, depending on his experience and whether or not he speaks English (Alberto does).

If it weren’t for Marion, Olga, and Alberto, Lief and I wouldn’t be able to do everything we’re currently doing. We recognize that.

And if it weren’t for Marion, Olga, and Alberto, the Lief-free week ahead would seem far more intimidating than it does.

Kathleen Peddicord

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