Three Things I Don’t Like About Panama

by | Feb 11, 2022 | Panama | 1 comment

After arriving more than three years ago in Panama, I have no regrets about making Panama my expat home.

The near-perpetual sun, interrupted only by three hours of refreshing rain and impressive thunderstorms per day between April and January, has not lost its appeal.

I love Panama Sign in Panama City by LP Wirth
I love Panama Sign in Panama City by LP Wirth

As a country with friendly people, overall, with international flair, surrounded by cool mountains and two oceans, it’s easy for me to call Panama home. I intend to stay here.

One of the best things about Panama? Once an expat has got a Permanent Residency, the government pretty much leaves us alone.

But there are things I don’t like here. I accept them a little begrudgingly, knowing that there is no perfect place on earth.

But my list of gripes are no deal breakers, I mention them only so anyone considering Panama as an expat destination may adjust their expectations, and thus enjoy Panama as it is to the fullest.

Just to be clear, the good far outweighs the bad here, and my next post will focus on the awesome things Panama expat living offers.

International Transactions

As a permanent resident in Panama, it is difficult to conduct international financial transactions. The European Union, even the US to some extent, has shunned Panama for its tax policies for foreigners. While such banking diligence may have been warranted even a decade ago, it is disappointing that politicians in the EU and the US disregard the progress Panama has made. It was much easier for me to open a bank account in Germany, the UK, and Spain than it was in Panama. Rigorous proof of income or source of funds and other requirements resemble Western Know-Your-Customer (KYC) requirements on steroids.

International Bank Cards in Panama - Expensive Cash by LP Wirth
International Bank Cards in Panama – Expensive Cash by LP Wirth

Even insurance follows the same verification regime. Yet, executing financial transactions as a Panamanian resident from and to the US and EU entities is expensive and sometimes not possible.

The banks lowered the amount of US Dollars for withdrawal with an international bank card to $250.00. Institutions such as Revolut and US and EU Crypto Exchanges do not do business with people based in Panama.

However, Western Union remains a reliable and affordable vehicle to get cash from the US/EU into Panama. A USD $1,000 transfer costs as little as USD $11. But this requires a willing partner outside Panama. The same countries and institutions that have blacklisted Panama allow free money transfer for residents in China, Cuba, Venezuela, and Nicaragua; it’s a sad state of affairs.

That said, in most cases, it is possible to pay with a bank card issued in Panama for goods and services.

Self-Protecting Panama Businesses

Most businesses in Panama care for their interests, but not for the well-being or satisfaction of the customer. They will defend wrongdoing by their staff to the point of accusing the customer of things the businesses have done. It’s frustrating. I have had unpleasant run-ins with Mailbox ETC that have cost me hundreds of dollars based on the wrong information they had given me, yet they are unwilling to right their wrongs. My internet provider overcharged me nearly $50 for almost a year – but they refused to reimburse me. When called out, they sent a lawyer after me, who without shame accused me of hating females, because some of the staff I interacted with were female. They still owe me $450, money I won’t see from them.

Broken Office Chair Panama by LP Wirth
Broken Office Chair Panama by LP Wirth

A cell phone provider canceled my phone number without warning because I had not topped off the account. Another cell phone provider bombards me with irrelevant advertising via text messages, and upon complaining, removed my discount plan, refusing to escalate the matter to management. These are the unjust things that get my blood boiling.

While I do not regard Panama as a prejudiced country at all, but it seems that certain companies regard expats as customers with little rights. It is best to have a native Panamanian friend handle certain transactions on your behalf and document all company interactions.

Taking this approach, I easily exchanged an expensive office chair that broke after 8 months of use. Without having my Panamanian friend with me, this could have gone south as well.

Promises Broken – Almost Always

Whether it is the landlord who promises (and means it) to fix something in your house, or the A/C repairman, or anybody else here, agreeing with someone on anything often means nothing. A Panamanian will look me straight in the eye and agree with me on a delivery item, on a time, on a task. Such promises are worth nothing in most cases and often waiting for hours, even days. Only persistent prodding and picking may get the party to spring into action. Therefore, don’t trust an agreement will be kept outright, but assume that the person has a different understanding. The way around this is to double/triple confirm the time/date/task/item agreed upon. It might sound silly, but we are not in Kansas anymore and have to adapt to local customs and understanding.

Have you run into unexpected hurdles in your expat life? Please share them with us. Are you planning to become an expat? Sign up with TCI for access to our Alliance team of in-country expats who will give you the scoop on your destination. We are here to help.

by: LP Wirth