I answer emails from people coming to Panama every day of the year when they are inquiring for transport from Panama Roadrunner. We really want people to know what to expect when they come for vacation or are looking to relocate to Panama. Before Neil and I moved down in May 2011 we had spent hours and hours on the internet researching! Now there is so much information on the internet but often it can be conflicting.
Lists seem to be trendy these days, so here is mine!
The top 10 questions I get asked by our customers;
1) Currency - Panama uses American dollars and American change but Panama has a coin called a Balboa and coins that look very similar to the American ones as far as value and size. The Balboa coin looks very much like our Canadian toonie - in fact it was minted in Canada and shipped here a couple of years ago. It is interesting, when you go into a store and get $4 change they will give you a combination of American dollar bills and Balboa coins. I've talked to a few cashiers (in my limited Spanish) and the Panamanians are slow to embrace their new $1 coin.
2) Vaccinations - people often will ask what they need to be vaccinated against before their trip to Panama. I drove one family from New York from JW Marriott to the airport and they were telling me the list of things they had vaccinated their children against before they headed down to Panama. I am not a doctor and offer no medical advice, but can tell you that Neil and I were not vaccinated for anything before we came down. We did the research and could not see a reason why to vaccinate ourselves - we were not going to be traipsing through the jungle or sleeping in the rainforest.
The CDC recommends Malaria, Hepatitis, Tyhpoid, rabies and yellow fever vaccines.
We drive hundreds of people every month - most people do not bother with the vaccinations.
3) Carrying Cash - we have automated tellers on nearly every corner in the retail areas. However, in saying that, there may be times that the machines are down (sometimes for several days) and during busy holiday seasons such as Carnival, Christmas, Easter, and Independence week the machines at the beaches will run out of money. We don't suggest carrying large amounts of cash but its a good idea to have some on hand. Many restaurants and some stores do not accept credit cards!
4) Tap water - at the beaches we have heard of some areas who are plagued with problems with contaminated water. We live in Coronado and do not drink our tap water but we have friends who do and friends who pick up the 5 gallon jugs of bottled water. There have been adveries on occasions for different areas of the country. We do suggest you drink bottled water while visiting. Save the tap water for showering, brushing your teeth or dishes.
5) Wet season versus dry season - Coronado has much less rain than Panama city or other areas of the country. We live in the "dry arch" of Panama (arco seco) and while it has been raining all afternoon, I know that most days in rainy season we see the sun all morning! A typical rainy day at the beaches may be a sunny morning, cloud up at lunch time, a one hour shower and then the sun will come out again.
November/December is the change over from wet season to dry season. We tend to get a lot more rain for about 2 to 3 weeks (compared to snow and minus 40 in Calgary we can live with this!). We start to feel gentle breezes coming down off the mountains during this time and as the breezes increase rainy season gives way to dry season. We have warmer temperatures in dry season and I've seen it over 100 on occasion for about a week, but with the breezes we don't seem to feel it as much as you would in Canada.
My favorite time of year is May - when dry season is just about over, the temperatures are cooler but we've not had any rains yet to encourage the bugs to come back!
6) House prices - there are lots of real estate listings to look at online. If you are thinking of the beach area you are looking at 200k plus for a condo and beach houses can go up to several million for beach front! Talk to a reputable realtor - be sure to get lots of referrals from expats who have bought here.
7) Cost of living - we freely share some of this information with our guests. Utilities are low unless you run your air conditioning all the time. We run our ceiling fans 24/7, a pool pump every day but rarely use the a/c. Our power is about $120 a month. We pay $5 a month for propane for our hot water (on demand - works great and no hot water tank). Our water bill is about $7 a month and we pay $30 a month for internet. We don't have cable because we don't watch TV but I understand it can be quite pricey. Our cell phones are prepaid cards and for the business I use $10 to $15 a week. There are no airtime fees or any other fees. I use Mas Movil and if I put in $10 on a card I usually get 3 days of free calls or 1000 free minutes which get used up before I start using my $10.
Groceries - we have seen prices go up a fair bit since we moved here. We try to eat local fish and fruits. Veggies - lots of lettuce but often no cauliflower or broccoli available! Cauliflower tends to be really expensive. There are always carrots, local lettuce, peppers, celery and we have learned to eat some new veggies as well such as Chayote - looks like a green pear and tastes like broccoli!
8) Health care - There are world class hospitals in Panama city and we have found a doctor here in Coronado who speaks excellent English and charges me $15 for a visit. LOL Neil must look older than me because he only pays $12.50 after the oubliado (Pensionado) discount. Blood work may run you $100 and I had an ultrasound about a year ago that was $80.
9) Dental care - I've written an entire blog about this - I've not had great experiences. Prices are great but so far the work has not lasted. I've just found a new dentist here in Coronado who did a filling and 2 xrays and I am heading back tomorrow for work on a crown. He comes highly recommended by a couple of our regular customers and guarantees his work for a year! So far so good!
10) Eye care - glasses in the city are very inexpensive. When I first moved here I got 2 pairs (bifocals) for $200 a couple of years ago. One pair in Calgary was over $700. I was quite pleased with the prices. Yesterday I went to the local optometrist and had my eyes checked (no charge) and got 2 new sets of lenses and a new pair of prescription sunglasses for $220.
Do you have more questions? Please feel free to email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
We are always here to help.