Posted on 01 November 2010.
An aspiring expat asks Miriam Butterman, author of Living Abroad in Panama, about fast food, small dogs, and relocating as a single woman.
Q: I have been talking my mother into retiring in Panama . I just bought your book and received it yesterday. I am through half of it and already and skimmed the rest so far… but still have questions. Are there any fast food chains there such as McDonald’s or KFC? And for shopping I didn’t see any names of stores I have heard of for basic shopping. I see they have a mall, but what about maybe a WalMart?
I read about pets but have heard many horrific stories contrary to what you wrote about… so for the record, would our dogs be in quarantine or taken from us at any time? We have small dogs would they be in danger in the yard with snakes and large birds?
Also I really love your book so far and am very excited about finishing it. I am ecstatic about moving to Panama and plan a scouting trip next Spring. I will be traveling alone (female)– how safe is it there to travel alone and do you have any connections for me?
Miriam Butterman answers:
First of all, congratulations for asking some pretty significant questions with relation to your daily life, as this could be your everyday life soon and you will want to be comfortable at every minor level.
I think the first thing you have to understand about moving to Panama is that you are not so much moving to the “sticks” as you think you are. There are plenty of good restaurants that serve American fare, without even having to go to the fast food option (I’m a health nut). If you feel safer with familiar food, there are American chains such as TGIF’s and Benniganns in Panama City. There are also a lot of McDonald’s and KFC; Wendy’s is a local favorite and Taco Bell arrived in 2009. Still, Panama has some great original burger joints, and many other options for all kinds of ethnic fare, including delicious Panamanian food, which is usually grilled fish or meat, (they love chorizos — sausages). The El Rey, Super 99 and Riba Smith grocery stores have plenty of U.S products available. You can stock your kitchen with all the foods you love from home, and you won’t blink an eyelash to being abroad. (Still, be adventurous and shop for some local stuff, Panamanian food is delicious!)
As for shopping, you won’t be at a loss for anything. The malls have a lot of WalMartesque stores. It’s almost overwhelming. Price Costcos (Price Smart in Panama) has a big presence around Panama City and other major cities in the country. Do-It Center has a big chain of hardware stores in Panama too. Novey and Rodelag are two more big hardware/home stores.
I haven’t shipped my dog to Panama, only from Panama, but I have heard that all animals coming from the US do have to be quarantined, and often times this can be a home quarantine. I don’t want to give you misinformation, so I highly suggest calling Panama Pet Relocation when you are there, or emailing them. Your dog will not be with any wild snakes or birds.
Traveling alone is okay, as long as you are smart and prepared with your transportation arrangements and your arrival info on hand. In the interior, you might want to be a little more careful (women especially), but if you have your destination known and a trusted person to contact when you get there you should be fine.
You really need to know what you want and where you are going before you get there. In Panama, you can be adventurous, but I don’t know how experienced a traveler you are. If you rent a car and drive towards the Pacific beaches, you’ll be fine. Start with locations such as the Santa Clara beach just off the Pan American Highway, the road is one long highway and you can’t get lost. The entrance to the beach is clearly marked about one hour and 25 minutes west of Panama City. You can’t miss it and it is always populated. From there you’ll begin talking to others and you’ll start to get your bearings and probably some great recommendations while on the road. .
Scout out carefully where you want to be and what kind of a community you are looking to be around. Do you want a gated community, with a lot of expat presence, or do you want to get to know other Panamanians and /or live more freely in nature, along the beach or in the mountains? These are questions you have to ask yourself before, during, and after your scouting trip.
I think my book does a pretty good job of detailing each of the prime areas to live in for expats and how you might go about doing that. As for contacts, I think the best thing you can do is to contact a realtor and from there you will start to unravel some connections. In Panama City, it is a good idea to start off at the NY Bagel Cafe just off Via Argentina, as a lot of expats hang out there.
If you are looking to settle in the mountains or the interior within two hours of Panama City, you might want to stop at a bed and breakfast called Los Nances in El Valle. It’s a cute hotel on the side of the valley and the owners (Bill and Adam Brunner, father and son) also have a lot of real estate knowledge. The hotel has been under renovation for a while, and their website is not up, but the telephone is (507) 983-6126. Also see Living Abroad in Panama.
Best of luck on your scouting trip.
Photo of hammock by Miriam Butterman