Moving with your kids to Panama presents a unique set of challenges. Though you may be dying to start your new life in the tropics, it’s natural to be concerned about how your children will adjust. Chances are, they won’t be thrilled about the idea of being uprooted—at least initially.
You’ll be happy to know, though, that Panama is a wonderful country for children of all ages. From the schools to the unique activities to the immersion opportunities, your little ones have much to gain from a life abroad.
Moving with your kids to Panama: about the schools
Though Panama has an extensive public school system, private schools can be extremely affordable and are the way to go here. Many are bilingual with English spoken half the day (or even more). Most Spanish-curriculum private schools teach English as a second language. Some schools in Panama even offer French, Italian, Japanese or Mandarin as primary languages.
Considering the quality of the schools, it should come as no surprise that many expats here have school-age kids. Most live in Panama City, which offers a variety of good, inexpensive private schools—many of them bilingual or international. Depending on the school, tuition can be as little as $50 a month or as much as $250 a month. (Most prestigious schools also charge registration fees.) Nearly all public and private facilities require uniforms and can help arrange door-to-door school bus transportation.
The fun part of moving with your kids to Panama
Panama City is a great place for families, as it is close to great weekend destinations like breezy mountainous Cerro Azul, the “fun in the sun” beach of Coronado, the awe-inspiring Darien rainforest, and the cool crater-town of El Valle. Plus, the city offers so many activities for youngsters that boredom is never an issue. Here your kids can study music or art, martial arts or Mandarin. Go to the Amador Causeway for a picnic and a day of bicycling, sign your kids up for summer internships at one of the many local NGOs, or attend shows for kids or teens (from Barney to Disney on Ice to teen dance Jamborees).
Living here will most likely be the most memorable experience of your kids lives…imagine growing up in a place where you can snorkel, scuba dive, surf or swim every weekend!
Expat kids in Panama: Four tips to help them cope
Naturally, your children will have concerns about moving to Panama, but you can deal with this by communicating with them. Let them tell you about their fears and show them you understand and have fears of your own. Present the move as a positive adventure that will be fun and challenging. Involve your kids (as much as possible) in decisions, packing, and preparing for the move. Here are some quick tips to consider:
1. Let your kids know that, though they will miss their old friends, they will make wonderful new ones. In fact, many expat kids find it easier to make friends in Panamanian high schools. Here, “cliques” are non-existent—the schools and classes are too small for that. Your kids are likely to find that everyone in their home-room is quite willing to make friends. (And parents, you’ll be happy to know that peer pressure here tends to work differently than what you’d expect—keeping kids in line rather than pushing them to misbehave.)
2. Before moving your kids to Panama, talk to them about the country and the culture. Discuss the language, school system, and wonderful places to visit, from beaches to mountains to jungles to islands. Together, make a list of activities they can enjoy in Panama that they may not have access to at home—snorkeling, hiking, whatever gets them jazzed. Find fun photos in books or online to help them get excited.
3. Expat children moving to Panama may be dismayed at the thought of wearing a uniform or learning Spanish. Let them know that they’re likely to grow to appreciate the uniforms. Remind your kids that they’ll still be able to express their individuality with school supplies, shoes, and other accessories. Offer to help them find a great pair of shoes, a watch, or a fun notebook…something new or quirky can boost their confidence and even be a conversation piece on the first day.
Assure your kids that learning Spanish will come naturally with immersion—young minds are proven to adapt easily to new languages. If they are anxious, consider putting them in Spanish classes before the move. Remind them that becoming fluent will help them later in life, from applying to college to applying to their first job.
4. Help your kids stay in touch with old friends, collecting e-mail addresses and telephone numbers before the move, and sending back cards or Panama souvenirs. Help them make friends in Panama by enrolling them in after-school or summer activities. And lead by example…if you “get out there” and open yourself to meeting interesting new people, your kids will be more likely to follow suit.
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