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Friday, September 6, 2013

Enrolling your kids in a Panama school

Hey everybody,

So much information is available online when it comes to nearly all aspects of expat living in Panama. If you're ready to retire here, you can find detailed steps on how to do most things either on the numerous websites or from friendly bloggers, but the subject of schooling is still quite vague. I've found lists of schools online, but not much information about actually going through the process and kicking off a new life with school-age children here. 

I'm 34 years old, married to a Panamanian, and have 4 children, all born in the United States, so if anyone is qualified to talk about dealing with schooling issues, I guess I'd be the one. 

I’ve received a few emails on this subject, which I tried to answer the best I could, and I responded to someone today at the expat-blog to try and shed a little bit of light on the living in Panama with school-age children topic, but I feel that overall I've failed to provide enough information. It's kind of hard to compile all of the info and hand it out on a case-by-case basis. So I'm going to try to do it here. 

Because of the amount of schooling information I've got stored in my noggin, I think it's best to break this up into two posts. For this post I'll focus on school requirements, fees, and which schools are available. Later, in my next blog post, I'll write about some of the things you need to get used to when putting your kids in the Panama school system. That'll be more of the good, the bad, and the downright ugly. 

Let me start by saying this isn’t easy, it’s not cheap, but it’s not impossible either. Panama has become so much more expat friendly since I first visited the country 12 years ago, and has even changed a lot in my 4 years living here. It’s becoming a lot more user-friendly. 

Most of the information you’ll find online about expats enrolling their kids in Panama schools, involves Americans (or other expats) moving here with some sort of work contract, where oftentimes the employer will pay the costs for school. The U.S. Embassy, from what I understand, pays everything when they bring people to Panama to work. A friend of mine even had his rent taken care of, apart from his regular wage. If you can set something like that up, please do, as school costs will probably be the most difficult part of your budget to manage. 

Estefania outside of The King's School

My daughters, ages 11 and 8, are both enrolled in a school here in Panama City called The King’s School This is an all-Spanish language school (well one English class). My kids didn’t speak a lick of Spanish when we moved here (they did, however, understand a little since my wife is Panamanian). The King’s School is the 3rd school we’ve tried here in Panama. I’ll get to that whole experience in my next post. We're happy at The King’s School. It seems like a pretty good school so far. 

Take a look at this photo to see the list of requirements for enrolling your kids in this school. 

I’ll translate this the best I can. You’ll need:

-3 passport-size photos (you can get these at most pharmacies)
-Birth certificate
-Certificate of health (you’ll need to see a doctor here in Panama to get this)
-Copy of the parents’ identification cards
-Proof that your child finished preschool (if enrolling in kindergarten)
-Accumulative records from all years at previous schools
-Credits from all years the kid has attended school
-Letter of conduct from past school
-If in highschool, certificate showing the child has completed 9th grade
-Not sure what Convocatorias means
-Records of classes taken (credits towards university)
-Courses specific to your country

Some of this seems ridiculous. As I was going over this list with my wife, we were both scratching our heads, as we're pretty sure we didn't give the school most of this stuff. For the most part, you’ll need to make sure you have the  birth certificate, photos, health certificate, and any transcripts or documentation you can possibly get from your child’s previous school.

Trust me, as I found out after moving here, you’ll want to have your school records/transcripts with you when you come to Panama. When I was leaving Columbus, Ohio, the school there refused to give me the records. I was told they could only send them to a requesting school. When we arrived in Panama, and went to enroll my kids, we had a hard time with that because the Panamanian school didn’t want to contact the school in Ohio in order to get the records. They wanted us to request them. It was a bit of a mess. In the end, I think we ended up writing an email to the Ohio school, but sending it to the Panamanian school so they could send that email to Ohio...something like that. To avoid all that nonsense, try to bring the records with you. 

Costs of schooling in Panama can be high. It’s not like the States, where you just find a very nice public school. Public schools here are frowned upon by most people, which is really sad, because I’m sure there are some really good public schools with great teachers. Private school is much more common here, for families able to afford it. The problem is, the international schools, the ones catering to expats with English-speaking children, are well aware of their market and charge outrageous prices (most of them). The King’s School, although all Spanish, is less expensive than most of the other schools we’ve looked into. Here’s a list of the enrollment fees:

Primary school costs at The King's School

Here’s the breakdown in English (I'll just do the primary school):

$75 Inscription fee
$175 for vacations (whatever that means, shouldn’t vacation be free?)
$200 for books and supplies (you’ll still need to buy your kid’s basic supplies like notebooks, pencils, crayons, etc.)
$25 for insurance
$25 for use of the offsite pool
$25 for school ID with photo
$50 for school access (this is the computer system where your kid can check his/her homework)
$100 for infrastructure support (I guess this is to assist with electric, water, etc.)
$50 computer lab fee
$25 school agenda (not exactly sure what this is either)

Overall that comes out to $750 in enrollment fees, which is called matricula here in Panama. Below that you see that the monthly fee is $175 (for 10 months).

Secondary school, which starts at 7th grade here, is a little more expensive. Here are the costs for secondary school at The King's School:

Secondary school costs at The King's School

Overall, these costs aren't too bad for most people, and if you have more than one kid enrolled, you’ll usually qualify for some sort of discount. Most schools will work something out for you. I have 4 kids, and even with the discounts, ouch. I just paid to enroll my sons for next year. They’ll be starting kindergarten. So I had to pay $750x2 for my girls, then $500 for one son (it’s cheaper since it’s just kindergarten) and I got a discount on the second son. I think I only paid like $250 for him. But still, that’s over 2 grand just to start the next school year. Some schools charge 10 grand and up per year, per kid, so I guess I shouldn’t complain. 

I’ve heard of one school in an area called Panama Pacifico, which is the old Howard Air Base, just past the Bridge of the Americas, which leads from Panama City into the country’s interior, that's much more affordable. It’s a small school, but the last time I checked, the fees were much lower than what I’m paying at The King’s School, and it’s an international school. I just checked the website and it’s currently being upgraded (which I hope doesn’t mean the prices will go up). Maybe by the time you click on it it’ll be up and running again. For anyone thinking of moving to this upscale residential area, this could be a great school to send your kids to. The website is

As we found out when we first moved here and tried to enroll our daughters in some of the schools, quite a few of them have long waiting lists. This is something to look into before assuming you'll just enroll your kids somewhere because you like the pictures and can afford the costs. 

To give you an idea of one of the more expensive schools, which is supposed to be excellent, here’s a breakdown of some of the costs associated with the International School of Panama. After that, I will just list schools and their websites, as I'm afraid to quote fees that could change at any time. 

International School of Panama 

Straight from their website:

ISP tuition rates will be as follows:
PK-3 USD  6,312
PK-4 - Grade 5 USD  10,100  
Grades 6-8 USD  11,104
Grades 9-12 USD  12,552

New students are required to pay a one time $11,000 donation, plus a $250 application fee, a $500 building fee, and a registration fee of $750. At least textbooks are included.

Returning students pay the regular tuition, plus a $500 building fee. I think those are all the fees. Go to their website and download the pdf to make sure you fully understand all of the payments. 

Other Schools in and around Panama City: 

Panama Pacifico Academy (in Panama Pacifico)

St. Mary’s School of Panama (in Albrook)

King’s College, the British School of Panama (in Clayton)

Balboa Academy (City of Knowledge, Clayton)

Canadian International School (El Cangrejo, Panama City) (

Saint George International School of Panama (Brisas del Golf)

The Metropolitan School of Panama (City of Knowledge, Clayton)

The Panamerican School (Cerro Viento)

Oxford School (Panama City)

Boston School International (In Balboa, close to Albrook)

Oxford International School (Panama City)

Colegio de Panama (San Francisco, Panama City)

Colegio De La Salle Salle (El Cangrejo, Panama City)

Colejo Javier (Panama City, and in Clayton)

Crossroads Christian Academy (Cardenas, near Clayton/Albrook)

Colegio San Agustin (Costa del Este)  

Schools outside of Panama City:

Panama Coast International School (Gorgona)

Coronado International School (Coronado)

Five Stars Academy (Santa Clara)

Academia Internacional Boquete (Boquete)

I’m sure Boquete and David must have other international schools. I’ve heard of a school called American School in David, but I couldn’t find their website. Maybe some of my David-based friends can fill us in on that front. Kris, any schools worth mentioning in your neck of the woods? Emma?

I've heard that the schools in the Coronado, Gorgona, Santa Clara area are great, and that's one of the most expat-friendly areas in all of Panama, especially if you desire a life near the beach. If you're wanting to live more local, like in one of my favorite beach towns called Pedasi, you may have to adapt your lifestyle a bit. Las Tablas is one of the least expensive places in Panama, but it's also very Third World. These areas aren't equipped with international schools (although I've heard one might be coming to Pedasi). 

This doesn't mean you can't move to these areas with children. Other expats have done it, and although it's challenging, they've figured out ways to make it work. 

In Pedasi, I met a French expat who sends her kids to the local Panamanian public school for the first half of the day, then brings them home to complete online homeschool-style lessons. Other expats stick with homeschooling full time. Some have even paid tutors to visit their homes and teach their kids. 

Making a life overseas work, especially in a place like Panama,  isn't only for the typical retiree. Young families, young entrepreneurs, and even retirees with school-age children, are just as welcome here as everyone else, and trust me, your children will pick up on Spanish quickly (although I haven't, ha!).  

Thanks for reading and I hope this has helped someone out there. Keep your eyes open for my next post on Panama schools. 


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