One of the places my wife, Suzan, and I have lived since moving abroad in 2001 is Panama City, Panama. And I must say, if it was a big, modern city I was after as an expat destination, Panama City would have to be it.
The idea of craving the amenities of a big, bustling metropolis as a place to retire or have a second home strikes some people as odd. After all, aren’t all expats supposed to long for hammocks on the beach? Drinks with little umbrellas in them? The lazy murmur of gentle surf and the rustle of tropical breezes in waving palm trees?
Believe me, Panama the country has plenty of all that, stretching east and west along two magnificent coasts—Pacific and Caribbean. But when the novelty wears off and there’s shopping or fine dining or entertaining or business to be done, it’s Panama the city that gets the nod, and many expats simply decide to make it a permanent part of their lives.
Thanks to the canal, Panama has been drawing expats for more than a century. And it’s the canal that brings almost anything you can think of or desire to Panama’s shores. Most of it passes through and goes on to other destinations, but a lot of it sticks right there in Panama. We lived there ourselves in 2006, and as we found out, if there is something you really want to do or have, and you can’t find it in Panama City, you probably just aren’t looking hard enough.
About half a year in Panama City convinced us that we weren’t city folks, that we prefer village life. Panama’s lush interior, especially around Boquete and Volcan, definitely fit the bill, and we very nearly stayed until life happened and we were called to other shores. But I have to admit that we still keep an eye open for opportunities in those green mountains. Landing in Panama again for a few years still hovers near the top of our list of things we wouldn’t mind happening somewhere down the road.
And not just because the Panama highlands are beautiful and Panama City is big and exciting and there when you need it. It’s also pretty darn easy to settle almost anywhere in Panama, again thanks to more than a century of U.S. presence in the country due to the canal. The expat trail has been well and truly marked in Panama, and new visa and residency options are making it easier than ever to settle in quickly and affordably.
But as I said, you have to really like big city living to live in Panama City, because it is all that: honking taxis, rush-hour traffic jams, construction noise, torn-up streets and detours…and all the vitality and hustle and bustle that makes it the perfect place for a great many expats I know.
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