A Panamanian City with a Small-Town Feel

It’s hard to believe four years have passed since I moved to Panama. It’s even more incredible to think that I left the U.S. almost nine years ago. I live in David, the capital of Chiriquí Province in the west of the country. I didn’t plan to move here; it was never on my “to do” list. But when my husband, Al, and I first saw the rolling hills and slopes lined with rows of vegetable plants, acres of pineapple and rice fields, coffee plantations and orange groves, I said to myself, “This is it; this is where I want to live.”

Chiriquí is Panama’s farmland. Its broad pastures are dotted with dairy cows, and you’ll find beef cattle ranches and horse stables. Rocky rivers and winding streams crisscross a landscape overlooked by Barú Volcano and the Continental Divide. I guess it reminds me of the countryside of New Jersey and New York State, where I grew up, except for the palm trees!

When compared to other countries in Central America, Panama emerges as a great choice for a few reasons. It has better infrastructure (roads, bridges, utilities, and the like). It’s a stable democracy and it has a large, well-established middle class, which promotes small-business ownership and allows for upward mobility. While far from perfect, the educational system is accessible and there is widespread belief in the importance of education.

The standard of living is high and it’s affordable. The country has no standing army, and the police are helpful. On top of all this, Panama has a wide assortment of visa options, including an attractive permanent-residence visa for retirees and pensioners.

I’m a country girl, not a city girl, so Panama City did not appeal to me. At the same time, I wanted the convenience of being near a town with good shopping, reliable services, and health care. David, with a population around 85,000, has all this and a climate we like.

The city sits on the Pan-American Highway and has a downtown area with a central park, a cool fountain, and lots of traffic. There are modern shopping centers with large department stores as well as many small, family-owned businesses. Four hospitals, two private and two public, provide complete medical services to the community, and many doctors speak English.

Many of the restaurants here, such as Pizza Hut, Subway, TGIF, McDonald’s, and KFC, will be familiar to North Americans, and there are two multiplex cinemas. Cattle ranchers, farmers, and indigenous people mingle with college students, government employees, and entrepreneurs in this busy, energetic commercial hub. For me, David is the ideal combination of small-town life with all the amenities we need to be comfortable.

We rent a small house in a middle-class Panamanian neighborhood just outside town for $220 a month (which is unusually low), and we don’t have A/C. We do have fast Internet, cable TV, and reliable water, trash pickup, and electric services. It’s a five-minute drive to the supermarket and 10 minutes to downtown, or it’s easy to catch a bus or call a taxi.

A budget-conscious couple can live here for $1,400 a month including rent, and live well for $1,800 a month ($2,000 if you want A/C).

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