A Little Panama History
Panama’s rich history is strongly entwined with that of Colombia, Peru, and of course, Spain. It’s the narrow gateway between Central and South America. With its income derived from the Panama Canal, it is now the most prosperous country in Central and South America. As a result, it has become a magnet for immigrants from countries with political difficulties who wish to escape unfavorable conditions at home.
Panama is also a haven for expats because of its natural beauty, rich wildlife, tropical climate, low living-cost compared to western countries, and considerable tax advantages for foreigners. Panama’s infrastructure, although on par in rural areas with neighboring countries, is well developed in most cities. From highways to affordable fiber internet availability, Panama is the Jewel of Central and South America.
Immigrants in Panama
Despite the heavy influence of immigrants and expats in Panama’s well-developed communities, Panamanians artfully managed to preserve the country’s indigenous roots.
During my first three expat years in Panama, I have met many Colombians, Nicaraguans, and Venezuelans who work hard to provide for their families, who often live back in their home country. Many drive Uber or cabs. Others make a living working in the hospitality sector.
One of my favorite places to enjoy a meal and a drink is within walking distance of my Punta Pacifica highrise apartment on the 21st floor, overlooking part of the Pacific Ocean.
The bartender there (in the restaurant, not in the apartment) is a gentle Nicaraguan. We became friends, sharing family pictures and stories from around the world.
The restaurant closed for over a year and I lost contact with my friend.
Apartments in this area are not cheap. But many Colombians, Venezuelans, and Panamanian professionals live here.
Their entrepreneurial spirit is legendary. A mom and daughter, neighbors from Colombia, sell tasty cookies all over the city, using Instagram to attract customers.
To my delight, they gave me a free plate as a gift for my birthday last year. I also used to have a lady from Colombia who helped with housecleaning.
She even cooked Colombian meals for me. When she couldn’t do it anymore for personal reasons, she sent her niece, who also did a fabulous job.
Always Joyful Despite Hardship
My friend Emily from Venezuela has received her permanent residency. It was harder for her than it was for me.
She is now working as a waitress, moving from low- to better-paying server jobs. Emily is saving every penny she earns to provide for her son and for her mom.
She lost her husband in Venezuela during clashes of Venezuelan government forces with civilians. Emily is now hoping to bring her son to Panama, who still lives in Venezuela with her nana.
There are many more immigrant people I had the honor of meeting. What strikes me most is that they’re grateful for the opportunity they have found in Panama to pursue their own destiny, without fear and persecution. They smile, they are friendly, they’re happy, and their joy is contagious.
These hard-working individuals provide value to Panamanian society. Their entrepreneurial spirit is legendary, and Panama would be worse off if it wasn’t for those brave men and women who left their countries to escape persecution.
As for most expats, the story often differs. Many of us come with a guaranteed income or significant savings to the host country. But these immigrants, expats in their own right, need to earn every penny in a land far from home. They do have one advantage, though – they speak perfect Spanish.
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by: LP Wirth