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5 Types of Panama Expats

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Written by Matt   
Tuesday, 05 May 2009 10:58
Panama ExpatsI heard the word expatriate for the first time living one summer in a tiny suburb of Madrid at the age you learn to drink. A chatty woman on the subway had complimented me on a t-shirt I had picked up at a local thrift shop for no more than the price of a donut. It was a solid blue t-shirt with words on the front that translated loosely to I will kill you to get a Nobel Peace Prize. (The Spanish version sounded less aggressive).  "You gotta be a smug expat to wear that shirt," this lady said to me in English. She had overheard me talking on my cell phone and figured that as long as we were from the same country, she might as well treat me as she treats her dog. "You are a smug expat aren't you? I can see it in your face. You been a expat in Spain for long Mr. Smuggie Smug Smug?"

"Thirty six years," I told her without missing a blink. "Thirty six smug years." I then left the subway and jotted "expat" down in the small notebook that I carried around for just the occasion next to the words annoying biatch. These sat below a long list of crossed out words and phrases, most in Spanish, which I'd come across then go home to look up and define. I liked to use the notebook as a learning device and had it divided cleanly into sections: dining etiquette, curse words, lyrics from rap songs...etc.

An expatriate (in abbreviated form, expat) is a person temporarily or permanently residing in a country and culture other than that of the person's upbringing or legal residence. The word comes from the Latin ex (out of) and patria (country or fatherland). While it sounds militaristic or even prestigious, being an expat is really no more than hanging around a country that's not your own. Below are the main types of expats you'll find in Panama: some may slip between these definitive cracks or be exceptions to their group, but for the most part the following are your major players.

1. The Retired Panama Expat: Arguably the most common and the most boring type of Panama expats are the retirees. Mostly they stick to themselves, their rocking chairs, and their flowerbeds. You'll see them at the supermarket fumbling for the Spanish word for meat, the local bar downing domestic beer, and the countryside where a cooler climate accommodates their (on average) older age. Almost all retired expats in Panama chose Panama for lifestyle reasons such as inexpensive cost of living, good weather, and friendly people.

2. The Rejected Panama Expat: This is your sketchball crowd. The guys on various hunted lists, the criminals hiding out, the scam artists looking for new blood. Chances are, their home country didn't want them (or perhaps wanted them very much in a loving, law enforcement kind of way) or they just didn't fit in. Panama provides these types a foreign ground: a new playing field or a distant hideaway where no one knows their name.

3. The Legitimate Businessman Panama Expat: Legit businessmen in Panama are the ones with oft-found international credentials and an intuition that has landed them on the isthmus to seek out new money-making opportunity. These expats can be savvy investors always ahead of the trend, they can be seasoned industry professionals, and they can be visionaries looking to fulfill a dream. In the past, most have been real estate and tourism related, but there is a large influx of everything from yoga teacher to boat captain, form pool cleaner to botanist.

4. The Clandestine Businessman Panama Expat: This is a group of businessmen that practices an industry, which doesn't fly for one reason or another at home or that's just much more practical to conduct from Panama. Gambling, spammers, pharmaceuticals, call centers, pornography...etc. These guys are real characters and knowing they have to run their service from abroad, they're often typified by an accordingly feral style of life.

5. The Aimless Panama Expat: Ah yes, my favorite bunch. The aimless expat in Panama is getting more and more common with such debilitating circumstances at home; an ever-increasing group that just wants to "get the hell out" so, "why not Panama?" You'll find this gang writing dreamy comments on Panama blogs, smiling widely at Panama's tall buildings, and experiencing (like a newborn) the great natural resources Panama has to offer. This is the honeymoon phase, those who are Panama's biggest cheerleaders yet also those with the least distinguishable purpose.

I returned home that morning in Madrid and decided to add the word expat as a new gun in my arsenal. I was excited, the way I imagine the world's first Tourette's patient might have been, that there existed formal diagnosis for my obsession, a community I could be a part of, a people I could associate with. In Panama, the expat population is small but it's growing:

There are Panama expats working for multi-national corporations. There are expats who live on boats. There are rich kid Panama expats and there are expats who specialize in making beef with other expats. There are even parties and get-togethers for Panama expats who find comfort, one way or another, that there is someone just as smart or innovative or crazy or smug as them that's decided to call Panama home.

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3.5 or 5.3
written by La Mer , May 06, 2009
I vote for decimal numbers!

Those you list as #5-s are looking for something...that they can't properly define, so they call it "Panama". For some obscure reason, Panama lends itself to such ambiguous projections... I am reminded of a German children's book written and illustrated by Janosh: "Oh wie schoen ist Panama" (Oh how beautiful is Panama -- it's like singing Oh Tanen Baum around the Christmas tree). It tells the story of two friends: a little tiger and a little bear. The two find a raft that is from Panama and decide that Panama is the land of their dreams. Tiger and Bear set off for Panama, meeting many other animals along the way.

But who's funding the trip? And who the heck sent the Panama raft this way anyway? smilies/cry.gif
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written by D. Panama , May 06, 2009
Good writin Matt. I think just about everyone in Panama fits into one of these categories. Without offending them, you nicely described the crew of strip clubs, escort services, and otherwise sketchy establishments from Costa Rica - starting to see a lot of these sleezballs here in Panama.
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written by Anthony james , March 09, 2011
Interesting!! city living is for the young, city real estate prices will always rise we are at the bottom of Sothern Spain soo many empty apartments in the recent boom to bust if new Yorkers want a nice way of life look at Sothern spain,,,,,they all speak English they are just about giving away a marbella property every day good luck in the city
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written by Escort Service London , April 25, 2011
This is a great series of articles. Your recent first-hand experience is invaluable.Panamanians are formal in dealings with strangers. There is a minimum of greeting behavior in public, and manners tend to be stiff and not courtly. Once included in family and friendship groupings, a stranger can be incorporated into a party-going network quickly. Dress tends to be formal despite the tropical climate. Thanks for writing them.
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written by Chuck Rylant, MBA, CFP , June 24, 2012
Very informative and funny at the same time. The more I dig into Panama, the more intreagued I become.
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what about the tourist in panama...
written by craigbhill , August 25, 2013
...who doesn't have to hew to a timetable to leave? That's my category. I leave my winter place near the Mexico-US border in Arizona every spring for 3-6 months of travel out of that dying republic (murdered by both political parties), on my Social Security budget, before my pension kicks in when i'm 65. In order to have two coins to rub together at the end of every month before the next payday, i travel Centroamerica. Spent time in every country between Panama and Mexico, sometimes just a bus ride through it (Honduras), and sometimes spending and enjoying a few months in any place that catches my inexpensive fancy.

I'm in Panama City now, slowly exploring as much of the country as i care to. I'm an expat but one who doesn't fall into any catgory Matt the article typist listed, inasmuch as i view everything for what it is, not some dreamy idiot as he describes in category 5. I'm just here to enjoy the place, as much as i can, observe, absorb and learn enough of the culture as i can, and decide whether it's got enough good in it for me to want to return. I love Costa Rica, Mexico and El Salvador (which usually raises quizzical eyebrows), and am growing comfortable in Panama after a week of the 1-2 months time i've budgeted for the country to decide Yes, i plan on returning in the years ahead. Tho not to live here, just hop around and tour it. I have no desire to retire per se, which i think of as holing up in a domicile and staying put. I love to travel, and Panama being a corrsroad and hub, i find it's a perfect spot to get to, spend some time here, and go south from.

So there's your new category of Panamanian expat that fits me. After one week, i've developed some harsh thoughts about the culture, despite which will not deter me from enjoying the rest of the place. I expect my expat passport to be filled with faint Panamanian stamps.
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Last Updated on Wednesday, 06 May 2009 06:15
 
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