Istanbul Versus Panama City
Comparing Istanbul with Paris comes easy. Less obvious for most, probably, would be a comparison between Istanbul and Panama City. However, the Panamanian capital is my current general frame of reference and the city I can’t help but compare others against in my travels. So, while in Istanbul these past couple of weeks, Panama City kept coming to mind.
Paris, like Istanbul, is one of the world’s great centers of culture and learning, of architecture and art, of history and epicurean delights. Panama City is none of those things. It is, though, like Istanbul, a center of trade and transit. Istanbul has the Bosphorus; Panama City has the canal. Both are big-deal shipping lanes. The Panama Canal passages maybe 14,000 ships a year; the Bosophorus about 50,000. Ships travel back and forth between the Marmara and the Black seas free of charge these days, while Panama Canal revenues make for a big and critical piece of this country’s annual budget.
Both Panama City and Istanbul are fast-growing, though, again, on different scales. Panama is home to some 3.5 million people, with maybe close to half those living in the capital. More than 75 million live in Turkey, with somewhere between 15 and 20 million of those (no one seems quite sure) in Istanbul. In other words, Istanbul alone has more than five times the population of the entire country of Panama…and, as one local we spoke with put it, “there are more people in Istanbul all the time.” I’d say the same is true for Panama City.
All this population expansion means epic infrastructure strains. Cars, congestion, construction, traffic, and delays…they’re all dominant parts of both these scenes. In both cities, the effects can be frustrating though far less so in Istanbul where the chaos is more controlled, even genteel. Definitely I’d take a day behind the wheel in Istanbul over a day as a driver in Panama City any…well, any day.
Both Panama City and Istanbul are attracting foreign investor and entrepreneur attention right now, Panama City mostly from North America…Istanbul from Europe and Asia. Increased business activity means expanding economies and healthy though not always convenient employment scenes. In both cities, the working and middle classes commute long distances each day in many cases. The cost of living city-center has outpaced them…but city-center is where the work is.
Which is to say that the cost of living in both Istanbul and Panama City is greater than in the rest of each country. Life or retirement in Turkey and in Panama can be a bargain…unless you want to live life to its potential in either country’s capital city. Then you’re looking at real-world, not bargain-basement, budgets.
On the other hand, if you’re interested in a Euro-chic lifestyle, I’d say Istanbul could be your best bargain option. That’s why we’re adding it to the editorial calendar for my Overseas Retirement Letter. ORL subscribers can look forward to a complete guide to retirement living in what has become one of my favorite places on earth.