Panama Is Not For You If…
“You and Lief obviously think Panama is pretty great,” remarked a reader recently. “Maybe that’s where I should focus my plans?”
“In fact, no,” I replied. “I don’t think so.”
Lief and I could be living anywhere in the world at this point in our lives. We’re in Panama because, yes, we think it’s pretty great in many ways. For example, this country is the best place in the world right now to think about starting and operating an international business. For Lief and me, that was reason enough to make the move from Paris to Panama City a year-and-a-half ago, for, for the past 18 months, we’ve made our doing-business agendas our priority.
That is not to say, however, that Panama is the best choice for everyone.
You have other, better options if…
- You’ve got your heart set on the Caribbean. Yes, Panama has a long Caribbean coast, but I’m not a fan of Bocas del Toro, this country’s key Caribbean choice. It’s dirty and shabby. Plus, if you’re interested in investing in a piece of Bocas all your own, you’ll find that clean freehold title is hard to come by in this part of Panama. Your better Caribbean choice is the Dominican Republic. All the white sand, azure sea, and swaying palms your Caribbean soul could hope for, plus easy foreign residency, favorable approach to foreign taxation, and, right now, a down real estate market that has created great crisis buy opps. For all these reasons, the DR is my top 2010 pick in the Caribbean. Also, there’s an interesting and welcoming expat community on this island, including an established French population.
- You want to get back to basics. With everything that’s gone on in the world over the past couple of years, escape to the simple life sounds better and better. Yes, of course, you could live simply among nature many places in Panama, but Belize is my top choice for this. Unpretentious is what Belize does best. That’s why friend Phil Hahn has chosen this country as the home for his latest undertaking, a riverfront community based on the cornerstone ideas of sustainability and longevity. Phil’s concept goes beyond the typical “green” development concepts.
- You want luxury. We’re living well in Panama City. We’re enjoying full-time help around the house, plus a full-time personal assistant to help with administration, travel plans, and running errands. We dine out as often as we like, spend weekends at the beach whenever the inclination strikes, and go for shopping sprees at the mall. In other words, we’re living more indulgently than we would be able to many other places we might call home. Are we living a life of luxury? The answer to that question might be endlessly debatable, but I’d say no.
Some places around the world, you aren’t going to live a life of the rich and famous no matter how much money you’re willing to spend trying, and I’d argue that Panama is one of them. In Nicaragua, Belize, and the Dominican Republic, certainly, but, again, I’d maintain, in Panama, as well, the luxe life can’t be bought. It doesn’t exist.
I’d say, though, for a place to qualify as luxury, it must allow you access to four- and five-star restaurants with wine lists to match; malls and boutiques offering internationally recognized brand-name indulgences; live theater; movie cinemas showing first-run and foreign flicks; an artist community; affordable help around the house and a private driver; to-your-door delivery services (for groceries and restaurants); specialty food shops; wine stores offering good vintages from around the world; English-language bookstores; and spa and salon services.
In fact, Panama City has all those things, and Lief, reading over my shoulder, is telling me I’m all wet. It’s possible to enjoy a luxury lifestyle here in Panama, he’s saying. Possible according to my own definition of the word.
Allow me to clarify further. For me, for a place to qualify as “luxury,” it must have more than these commercial trappings. It needs also history and an ambiance of charm and culture, plus parks, squares, and plazas, places to walk and wander while enjoying the scenery, the architecture, and the people.
Where can you find all these things? I recommend Paris and Buenos Aires. Other luxury locales include places like Monte Carlo and Geneva, and life in either of those cities would be deluxe. It’d also be costly. In Paris and B.A., you can soak up all the good things this life has to offer even if your budget isn’t royal.
- You don’t want hot and sticky. Outside the capital city, the weather in Panama can be far better. Still, Panama is not the top choice if pleasant weather is one of your key criteria. Sunshine, sure. This country’s got that in spades and is a great option for escaping Chicago winters or Seattle rains. But pleasant? That’s not the first word that comes to mind when describing the climate in Panama. This is the tropics. For pleasant, look instead to Ecuador.
- You’re a single woman looking to make a move and launch a new life in a new country on your own. In this case, I’d recommend you take a good look at Paris and Buenos Aires. Both these cosmopolitan cities offer tremendous opportunity for making friends and establishing a support network. In both places, you’ll meet people (including interesting men) from all over the world. You could spend your days shopping and at museums and art galleries, your evenings enjoying any and every kind of diversion or distraction you could imagine. Restaurants, bistros, cafes, nightclubs, jazz clubs, movie theaters, live theater…of all types and to suit every budget. In B.A., it all comes with a spicy Latin twist.
- You don’t want to learn even a little of a new language. You can move to Panama speaking virtually no Spanish. I did. And you could live in this country for years never making any effort to change that. But I don’t recommend it. In Panama City, many locals you meet, especially in the business sector, speak English, but certainly not all of them do. And, outside the capital, the percentage of English-speakers drops significantly. Your life will be more challenging, frustrating, and isolated than it needs to be if you try to live in this country with no Spanish whatsoever.
If the idea of learning a new language terrifies you, I don’t think Panama is your best option. Look instead to Belize, the Bay Islands of Honduras, or, in Euro-land, Ireland, where everyone speaks English (sort of).