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Thursday, October 31, 2013

Panama For Real launches tonight at midnight


I'm so excited. I've been talking about doing this for a long long time and finally it's the day I've been waiting for. Tonight, at midnight, I'm launching Panama For Real!

Sorry for yelling. I'm just freakin' out about this. I have a few doctors visits to take care of today, then it's trick or treating with the kids at the mall...and finally, I'll be spending the remaining few hours of tonight making sure everything is good to go on the new site. 

So what's this going to be all about? 

The following is straight from the "Our Mission" page, with a few photos added in to give you a sneak peak at the first four locations we'll be covering:

Welcome to Panama For Real, where you’ll experience Panama like never before.

My name’s Chris Powers. Like so many others, I was living an average life, working long days, nights, and even weekends. At the time, I thought I was getting pretty much all I could expect to get out of life. My wife is Panamanian. I’d visited her country, but never really expected that I’d retire there. I was a good ol’ boy, born in Tulsa, Oklahoma. The U.S. was where I belonged. Plus, I didn't speak a lick of Spanish. 

Then an amazing thing happened...the recession. Yep, my job got wiped out, eliminated, destroyed. I was left with the option to either hang around my home country and hope to work my way up through the corporate ladder, from scratch, or do something crazy and give my wife’s country a chance.

So here I am, in Panama, making a go of it. I’m just an average Joe. I like peanut butter cups, I love country music (other kinds too), I drink beer, and I put my pants on one leg at a time (tried 2 legs at a time once, thanks to the country music and beer). I’m married to a beautiful Panamanian woman and we have four kids. Yes, four. And I still don't speak Spanish. Not really.

Don't miss the PFR Location Report on Costa del Este-
One of the best places to raise a family in or around Panama City

I’ve spent the past year and a half traveling all over this isthmus, seeking out the best places to live, keep a vacation home, or just visit for fun and relaxation. I’ve had coffee in a Las Tablas cafe out on the Azuero Peninsula, drank sangria and partied to a live American cover band in one of Pedasi’s expat gathering spots, swam in a David river, climbed to the top of a mountain in El Valle, and danced to tipico music in Panama City.

You may have stumbled upon some of my writing in the past, either on my own personal blog that I've been managing over at, or in articles I've written for other e-zines and online publishers. For the past four years, I've been making it my business to learn about this country. I don't claim to be an expert on buying and selling real estate, or navigating the immigration system. I'm no tax guru. I leave that stuff to the people who do that best. What I do know is what it's like to live, work, and raise a family in Panama.   

Just like you, I want to find that special place.

I've gathered a wealth of information during my time in this country and I'm satisfied that this is where my family and I will stay. Deciding where in this country we'll call home is the real challenge. Panama, for as small a country as it is, has so many different lifestyle options and so many fun vacation possibilities, so whether you're in it for the long haul, or just want to see what this place is all about, there's something for you.

At some point in time, I’ll settle down somewhere here in Panama, so I’ve decided to make it my mission to learn everything about this country. I’m going to start all over again, with a brand new awareness, a new focus on finding the place to hang my hat. I want to traverse this country and put my sneakers on every square inch. I'm going to travel everywhere, and I want you to be there every step of the way. Let’s find your dream getaway while I search for mine.

Don't miss the PFR Location Report on Volcan-
The Little Switzerland of Panama

Likewise, I want to show Panamanians (many of whom have only visited the town where they were born, Panama City, or some of the popular carnaval party spots) what else is out there. What about the rest of Panama? Panamanians are missing out on the amazing beauty and affordable cost of living in so many of this country’s interior provinces, towns, and neighborhoods.

I asked a Panamanian couple where they imagine themselves retiring in this country and they both said somewhere in Panama City. I asked, “Where were you born?” They said, “Panama City.”

They’d never been anyplace else. They were blown away when I told them that a couple I’d met from the U.K. were renting a furnished, one-bedroom house, right on the beach in Las Tablas, where the sand is literally their front lawn, for only $650. You can’t even rent a house in Panama City for that low amount. Not in a decent neighborhood. This is the kind of opportunity Panamanians are missing out on. Why rent a place in a congested area of the city for $800-$1,000 per month when you can retire on a beach for less than $700?

My goal is to help foreigners and Panamanians discover the best that Panama has to offer.

Do you want to live in a similar setting, on the beach, where you can watch the tide roll in while lying in your hammock, reading a book? Where the gentle lapping of waves helps you dream easy through the night?

Or is mountain living, where a brisk breeze touches down each evening and the sounds of cascading waterfalls echoes off the high hills, the dream you’ve always imagined?

Would you rather farm your own land, in a safe, friendly neighborhood, where town members grow everything on their own fincas? Tomatoes, cilantro, yuca, watermelon, mangoes, papaya, and sugarcane are just some of what can be raised on your soil.

Maybe you dream of moving to an untapped, young, growing town, where you can still bring something new to the community. Towns all over Panama are missing something. Something that you can create and maybe even use to help fund your new life. If you’re tired of wearing a suit and tie and wish you could bake fresh bread, ice cakes, and cut cookies before heading out to your front porch to drink sweet tea while watching the town settle down for the evening, this is entirely possible in Panama, and could cost much less that you expect.

Don't miss the PFR Location Report on Aguadulce-
The sweetest town in Panama's interior

All of that is available, but you already know that. You've already heard all of the marketing hype. For cryin' out loud it's in every search result. Yes, it's a beautiful country, but what is it really like to live here?

Enough with the fancy words and the "Come here, buy this hubub." Of course you want to come here and of course you'll end up buying stuff, but again, I'll let the sales experts handle all that. I'm no salesman. In fact, I probably couldn't sell a tire iron to a millionaire stranded in the desert sun with a flat. I'm just an adventure-bound buddy, ready to see what this place has to offer.

For some, and for many people already living in this country, traveling around aimlessly doesn’t seem cost efficient or productive. Let us do it for you and give you the info that’ll help you map out your next Panamanian adventure. Let us show you some of the coolest places to spend time in Panama.

Do you want to follow a guide through a tropical rain forrest? Pick your own fresh produce straight from the ground of someone’s farm? Zip line over waterfalls? Swim in some of the country’s most beautiful rivers? Or hike to the top of a volcano? I do.

Experience each province, town, and neighborhood in Panama as if you are actually there.

I can promise you that you’ve never seen Panama the way I’m going to show it to you. You’re going to see Panama through my eyes as I navigate and investigate each town. You’ll see the condition of the roads, the day-to-day life, the quality of the supermarkets, options for banking, what there is to do for fun, what the nightlife is like, and I’ll even go over the general cost of living (something so important but often hard to nail down because it is so subjective). I’ll go over every aspect of what living in or visiting these places will mean to you.

Best of all, I’ll be traveling around with my wife, Marlene, who is great at getting the information you need, from Spanish speaking local residents. We're not wealthy immigrants asking questions from the window of our luxury car. We're regular people, just like you, putting our feet on the ground, gathering research, and passing it along to you. You’ll see Panama like you’ve never experienced it before.

The only thing better would be being here yourself, and even then, without a guide you might feel lost. So let us do the walking, talking, digging up dirt, and gathering of intel. That way, you can make an informed decision about where to base your new life or where to visit to have a blast in Panama. 

Don't miss the PFR Location Report on Aguadulce-
One of the coolest places to hang out in or around Panama City

How will this work? It's easy. If you look at the top of this site (on the Panama For Real site, not this blog), you’ll see a tab that says PFR (Panama For Real) Location Reports. That’s where I’ll be putting all of the detailed written reports. Hang in there, and bear with me as the info will slowly be added to the site. My plan is to add a new report every month (maybe even more often). Along with these reports, we'll be posting Youtube videos under our name, Panama For Real. So keep your eyes open for these "on the scene" video guides, which will also be available for viewing up top in the PFR Location Reports tab.

To stay in the loop and to receive a newsletter every time we upload a new PFR Location Report or PFR Video, subscribe to our newsletter at the top right of this screen. I promise we won't bother you other than to give you a heads up whenever something new is posted. 

So in the beginning you’ll only see our first few reports, which will cover some of our favorite places in Panama. Going forward, as I complete the reports, I’ll add them in their destination type. So if you’re looking for a beach, mountain, city, or other (small town) location, you’ll find those reports under the corresponding heading.

Every month, right at the first of the month, you’ll find a new detailed written report that will break everything down for you on paper with tons of great, colorful photos. We'll also add our raw, documentary style videos to the site to give you a feel of what it's really like to be on the town streets.

Plus, this site is filled with other Panama-related info. Just check out the menu at the top of the page, where you'll find info like...
  • How to get a Panamanian driver's license...
  • Detailed supermarket shopping tips...
  • Navigating Panama City's major toll highways...
  • The breakdown of the budgets for each location we visit...
  • My personal blog on all the strange things you'll have to get used to when living in Panama...
  • What the city has to offer young families and those with kids...
  • Enrolling your kids in a Panama school...
  • Visiting a doctor here, and so much more. 

I’m thrilled. I wish I could throw all this info at you at once, but I need to hit the road first and bring them to you one at a time. I hope you feel my excitement coming through these words. This is going to be one hell of an adventure.

How much will all of this info cost?

By now you’re probably waiting to see the dreaded “$” dollar sign with my promise to attach free reports if you only spend a certain amount of money for this info right now. That’s perhaps the greatest thing about this. All of the information is free. And the plan is to keep it that way.

Are there other people and other companies out there giving out information about Panama? Absolutely, but most aren't doing it for free. Why pay an arm and a leg just to be fed regular marketing material, when I'm going to compile all this data for free. The ads that will (hopefully) pop up on the right side of the page are the only sales pitches you'll get from me. Check them out if you want more info on Panama or whatever is being offered in the ad. Or don't. It's entirely up to you.

I made the move to Panama, with no information to go on. I trusted in the fact that my wife's family was here and that we'd somehow work it out. It's been a great journey, but it would have been a heck of a lot easier with a little bit of guidance. Well, at the risk of sounding cliche, hindsight is 20/20, and knowing that, I want to share all I've learned and all I'll continue to learn.

I've always said, the best way to discover the real Panama is through the local bloggers. I've made some incredible friends here in this country, and I've found tons of info from friendly expats already here in Panama. Most of them just want to share their stories. So, to make the most of this experience, don't just take my word on all this retiring to Panama info, check out their sites too. Go to the tab at the top of this page that says "Other Panama Blogs" to find links to other sites talking about this retirement haven. Hang out here for a little while first though, wink wink.

Again, this is all 100% free. I only ask that you help spread the word. Tell people to check out our videos on Youtube. Like us on Facebook. Tweet about us on Twitter. Check out our website. The plan is to fund our trips and earn income off advertisements on this site, and those only come if we get enough readers and viewers. So help us keep this info free by spreading the word and helping us get popular.

With a little bit of team effort, meaning my Panama For Real team and you, the readers and viewers, this can be one of the coolest projects to ever take place in Panama.

Now, I've been told that sometimes I'm "too folksy" in my writing. I'm not even sure I know what that means, but if it means "too down to earth and too real" then consider me "too folksy."

This is me for real and more importantly, this is Panama For Real...join me on the ride.

Don't forget to check out Panama For Real at midnight tonight at: 

Our website: 

Our Facebook page:

Monday, October 28, 2013

Attending a wedding in Panama

Hey everybody,

First, I just want to kickoff this post by announcing that finally, I'm ready to launch my brand new website. On November 1st, this Friday, I'll be launching Panama For Real. My wife and I will be hitting every town in this beautiful country, and bringing you very detailed reports, full of colorful photos and raw videos, telling you everything expats and Panamanians would need to know before visiting or planning a life in any province, town, or neighborhood in Panama. It's going to be awesome. 

I've been working 'round the clock to get this thing going and I'm so happy to finally be able to announce the launch date. I'll be mentioning it a lot in the next few days. For now, the site is still under construction, but I've been uploading the videos to Youtube and will open everything up to the public at midnight, 12am on Nov. 1st, at

Oh, also, it's all 100% free. I hate charging people for info they should be able to find free of charge. But traveling around Panama isn't free, so I will be looking for people to advertise in the sidebar and on my videos. So if you know of any companies that might be interested in advertising on Panama For Real, send them my way. Have them email me at my new email address, specifically for PFR (Panama For Real), at Thanks guys. Now, back to the post...

Paola and Cesario

This post is about attending a wedding in Panama. In most of my posts, I try to be helpful in some way, but every once in awhile I just have to share an experience. I remember when I first moved here. My wife always gave me a hard time because I didn't like to dance. Dancing just wasn't a big part of my family life growing up. If you want to disappoint a Panamanian woman, refuse to dance with her. Oh boy. At some point, probably after I'd had enough beer, I just went for it. 

Like a date night...just with everyone else in the family

Dancing took some getting used to. I've learned that the key is to just get up and do it. Do it before someone asks you to do it. When I go to a party or a shindig of any sort, if I sit long enough, and wait for people to talk me into dancing, I'll never get up. I have to go to that party with the intention of dancing and make sure I'm one of the first ones on the dance floor.  I'm not a great dancer, but I can rock back and forth with the best of them (no spinning or cool salsa moves from this guy...not yet). Now, after getting past that fear of dancing, I kind of look forward to big family gatherings where I know the drinks will be flowing and everyone will be having a great time. 

No, they didn't take the guns to the wedding

Of course my daughters were excited about the wedding because that meant they got to go dress shopping with mom. The boys stayed with their ol' dad and I picked them up some sweet little tuxedos. They easily stepped into their junior 007 roles. 

The wedding of my wife's cousin, Paola, and her new husband, Cesario, was very nice. I snuck the boys' Nintendo DS's into the church to keep them quiet through the ceremony. Horrible, I know...but it worked. See?

As much as I hate these things, the boys' games are life savers

My daughters were flower girls and, unlike the boys,  they didn't need electronic devices to keep them occupied. They were busy lip-synching the Ave Maria. 

Right before lip-synching the Ave Maria

The reception was held at the Sheraton in San Francisco, right next to the ATLAPA Convention Center. It was a blast. I've been to several family weddings and there's always a live band, but this was the first time I've seen so many shows. From tango dancers to folklore dancers to Irish dancers to some kind of circus clown troupe. I'm not kidding. 

Marlene with one of the clowns

One of the best things about a wedding is the chance to get the whole family together. It's been a long time since we've had everyone in the same room. Even at birthday parties it seems that someone is always missing, so it was nice to gather everyone together for this photo. 

The whole family together

The kids had a blast hanging out with their cousins. I had so much fun and danced all night. And I was reminded why I stick to beer. I'M NEVER DRINKING RUM AGAIN!

Panamanians know how to party!

Some of the best parties I've been to were wedding receptions. Someone should open a nightclub/disco with a wedding reception theme. Where every night people show up dressed to impress, pretending they're there for someone's big day. And maybe the entrance fee can be a wrapped wedding gift, that's given to charity later on. That's not a bad business idea.  Hmm...

Thanks for reading,


Tuesday, October 22, 2013

An outstanding beauty salon in Panama City, Panama

Hey everybody,

If you've been reading my blog, you know that I'm not one to advertise businesses on my site. At least not one place specifically. I might mention the best places for Christmas shopping, or that kind of thing, but it's rare that I spend a whole post talking about one place. 

After several emails from readers, straight to my inbox, requesting info about a good beauty salon in Panama City, I figured it might be worth mentioning the place my wife and mother-in-law have been going to a lot lately. 

Outside of Color Me Chic in San Francisco, with the owner, Anabelle

I spent the first half of this past Saturday at the salon. Why was I at the salon? We were getting ready for a big family wedding, which I'll tell you all about in my next blog post. Weddings here are a blast and with a wife and 4 kids, each wedding we go to takes a lot of preparation.

Victoria getting the curls she begged for

Back to the salon details. I'm mentioning this place, because not only is it owned by a family member, but it truly is one of the nicest salons I've seen in Panama City. Beauty salons are all over Panama. I'm not kidding. They're on nearly every corner and in every mall or shopping center. And they're usually very affordable. But you get what you pay for. 

Pedicure before the big wedding

Color Me Chic, in San Francisco, located in a little shopping center called Plaza Ledakon, across from the entrance to Parque Omar, is very similar to what you'd see in the U.S.

Makeup time for the girls

They do just about everything in this place, including manicures, pedicures, facials, hair and makeup, name it. And they're surprisingly affordable for the level of service you get. They even offer you tea. I tried to snap a picture of their pricing menu. I'm not sure how clear it's going to come out on here though.

That seems pretty clear. As you can see on the list, a haircut is only $10, which compared to the $5 cuts at the smaller salons, might seem pricey, but compared to what you'd pay at a nice salon back in the U.S., that's nothing. A manicure is only $7. Plus, they usually offer coupons and discounts. They don't have a website, but they do have a Facebook page at:

I'm not going to attempt to translate everything on the list in the photo above, but if you just plug what you see into Google+, it should be pretty easy to figure out. 
Even the boys got haircuts

My wife has visited this place for a haircut, a facial, manicure, pedicure, and a massage. Both of my daughters have had their hair cut there twice and my sons just got their first cut. I've had no complaints so far. The stylists at Color Me Chic seem to have a good time, not only cutting hair, but creating cool hairdos for my kids. 

All smiles during her manicure

One of the other great things about Color Me Chic is the display of jewelry and lotions they have up above the cash register. You can pick up Bath & Body Works smell goods or a unique piece of jewelry created by one of Anabelle's designer friends. 

Pick up a quick gift

You know me. I'm all about customer service and I'm all about seeing new businesses succeed, especially when they really seem to "get it." If it helps answer the emails from my readers then it just makes sense to mention this place. 

Everyone's busy but having a great time at Color Me Chic

To find out more about Color Me Chic, visit their Facebook page at

Call Anabelle and her team at: +507-397-6692

Or just stop by their location off of Calle 75, Via Porras,  in San Francisco. They're on the second floor of the silver/grey shopping center. 

Vaccinations required in Panama

Okay, this is going to be a short post. One of the readers of my blog had great questions about the vaccines that are required here in Panama. 

I was surprised at how difficult it was to get a good answer for this. Jessica, the reader who requested this info, tried calling several of the schools here and tried emailing a few too, but got no response. So she contacted me. My sister-in-law is a doctor out in David, so I figured if anyone could get the info for me, she could. She sent me a couple of pdf's she found, with lists of vaccines needed. 

Still, finding a list of everything compiled, for all age groups, was a pain. I think I found what you guys need though. I used the following two websites to gather this info: and this awesome pinterest page:

These sites included the following charts, which I'll paste here as well, all taken from Panama's Ministry of Health (Ministerio de Salud). The charts are in Spanish, but if you print them out and take them to your doctor in the U.S., he/she should be able to figure out what it is you need. 

Worst case, just bring your kids' current shot records with you to Panama. If they're missing something, the doctor here will get them up to date. When we moved here, we brought our kids' records. I think our daughters need a couple of shots since the requirements are a little bit different between here and the U.S.

Here are the charts from the sites mentioned above. The print on these will be too small, I just couldn't make them fit onto my blog in a way that you'd be able to see them clearly. I've linked each chart to its web page though, so click each one and you'll be taken to a full-size chart. 

For Children under 1 year

Children 12 months to 4 years

Children 5 yeas to 19 years

Women of Childbearing Age

General Adult Population

National Vaccination Schedule for late or non-vaccinated children 4 months to 5 years old

Hope this helped a little bit. Thanks for reading,


Wednesday, October 16, 2013

A quick trip to the doctor in Panama City, Panama

Hey friends,

Today was another great day here in Panama. Well, for me anyway. My wife wasn't too thrilled about today's events. She's been suffering from a terrible cold. She's been up half the night with horrible coughing fits and her throat has been killing her. She's tried all the traditional meds for a cold, but nothing has worked. Last night, she even tried a remedy her friend told her about. She sliced a lemon in half, covered it in salt, and ate it. I watched as she suffered through the first half and then went in for the second. 

"Where's the tequila?" I asked as I watched her do the deed, sure one of her friends had played a wicked joke on her, and by the look on my wife's squinted up face, it was a really cruel joke. No joke though, her friend swears by it.  

Lemons here are really limes. I don't think I've ever seen a large, yellow lemon. This was a small lime, like you'd use with tequila shots. This remedy didn't involve tequila, which kind of sucks. I might've joined her in the "let's make the cold go away" game if it did. So later that night, with a belly full of lime acid, she had another of her coughing fits. 

After suffering through another night, she stayed home from work today so I could take her to the doctor. We don't really have a family doctor. We've tried a few. One of our favorite doctors is located down by the ruins of Panama Viejo. He's great and only charges $4. Yes, you read that right, four dollars. The problem is his office keeps odd hours. I think they open up at around 4 p.m.

One other office we visit frequently is very close to our house in Chanis, but it costs $30 per visit. That's probably still cheaper than the average copay in the States, but it's a little more than we like to spend here. So, we tried a small clinic in Campo Lindberg, over near Juan Diaz (for anyone familiar with the area). It's in the shopping center next to Domino's Pizza, right beside the Pio Pio fried chicken chain. 

Clinica Los Portales in Campo Lindberg

I'd driven past Clinica Los Portales several times, and noticed that it was a 24-hour clinic, but for some reason I'd never taken the kids when they were sick, and I'm rarely sick enough to go to a doctor myself. Well, we gave it a try, and we were pleasantly surprised. I'm always blown away by how cheap a doctor visit is here. I was crossing my fingers as we walked through the door, hoping it would be more affordable than the $30 charge at our other doctor, and wanted to jump for joy when the receptionist told us it would only be $12. 

Checking in for our $12 visit

As usual, checking in is a simple process. It doesn't matter whether you're a Panamanian or an American or a Canadian. Just put your passport number down on the form where it asks for your cedula. Here's the simple form my wife had to fill out.

Only one easy form to fill out

We sat and waited for maybe ten minutes before my wife's name was called to do the regular checking in stuff like finding out her height and weight. Then she was whisked away to see the doctor. I didn't go in with her. I'm kicking myself now because I didn't have the chance to find out if the doctor spoke English, which probably would have been great info for you guys to have. Most doctors here do speak some English, but quite a few of them are just embarrassed so they'll tell you what most Panamanians tell you when you ask if they speak English, "More or less."

Turns out my wife has laryngitis. And the doctor thought she needed a shot in the butt to make it go away more quickly. That's the great thing about Panama, and I've mentioned it before. I don't want to knock the health industry in the U.S., but there, because everyone is afraid of lawsuits, it's rare that a doctor diagnosis you right away and then actually takes care of the problem. Usually you'll be given some sort of medicine and then you'll be asked to come back next week sometime. I've written about this before. Here, it's not like that. At least not in the less expensive, regular clinics (maybe in the pricier hospitals it's the same).

The shot in the butt prescription

My experience in Panama has been that doctors aren't afraid to diagnose the problem right away. Then, they usually give you a shot in the ass or medicine that actually works. If you feel better, no follow-up appointment is necessary. Above is the prescription my wife got for her shot in the butt and some pills she's supposed to take for the next 4 days.

One of the cool things about Panama is the ability to buy medicine by the pill. That's how most Panamanians do it here. I've bought blood pressure medicine, a week's worth, and paid by the pill, rather than buy the whole box. Sometimes, when you're on a tight budget, that's very convenient. The doctor my wife saw today told us to buy only one day's worth, because I guess these pills were to help with the pain in her throat from the constant coughing. He told us to buy them each day because it might go away immediately. I'm glad he told us that because it turned out these pills were $2.15 per pill. I went ahead and bought 4, two days worth, and spent almost $9. 

Rubbing the pain away

My wife wasn't too happy about the shot in the butt and she definitely wasn't happy posing for the picture you see above, but in the interest of giving her husband something to post on his blog, she agreed to let me post this...with her head turned. She's still a bit sore, but the good news is, I got out of shopping. I found out that her plan was to go to the doctor and then drag me to go shoe shopping for an upcoming wedding we're planning to attend. Guess who got out of shoe shopping? Yep, THIS GUY!!!! Woohoo! So, at the end of the day, we paid a total of $25 for this visit ($12 to see the doctor and $13 for the injection). That's not too bad. 

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Tips and pointers for navigating the Panama school system

Hey everybody,

Well, the stay at home gringo is staying at home again. I’m doing freelance work from home, for now, which has given me a lot more time to write. I just finished the first draft of my 2nd book, Mirror Images Book 2: Sons of Man, and hope to release it soon (it needs a little more work). I’m also working on a Panama-based book and a brand new expat-friendly website. I should have the website ready to go by the end of this month. I’ll fill you in on all the gritty details when I’m closer to wrapping everything up.

The support I’ve gotten on this blog has been amazing. I’ve been getting emails from some of you guys with great questions. I hope I’ve provided the answers you've needed. Some of these questions have helped with blog ideas. It was a question about schools that got me going on this “Enroll your kids in school” kick.

My last blog post was all about actually enrolling your kids in Panama schools. If you missed that one, just scroll down and you’ll find it below this post. I promised to tell you a little more about the ins and outs of the Panama school system. Where the last post was mostly information based, this one will be a lot more personal. I’ll tell you about my experiences here so far.

Please remember that these are my experiences. There are a lot of schools here and they all handle situations differently. I think I’m going to purposely present this in a totally random fashion. It’s more fun that way.

Folklore Class  

Panama takes its traditions very seriously. In most schools you’ll have a folklore class, and if you do, you’ll be required to buy folklore clothes.  Being new to Panama, this might be a bit confusing for you. The school will probably tell you where to go to buy these items, but just in case they don’t, you can find these stores in most of the big malls here. I know there are at least two in Metro Mall and I’m pretty sure there’s one in Multiplaza too. These are the same stores that sell souvenirs. 

Buying cutarras and sombreros for Matteo & Nico at Metro Mall

So, what will you need to buy for folklore class? The teacher should give you a list detailing what you need, but these things will definitely be on the list.

Cutarras (for boys) – These are the leather sandals.

Sombrero (for boys) – These are the hats, not like the Mexican one you’re probably imagining.  Look at the photo above to see what I’m talking about.

Pollera de saraza or faldon de saraza (for girls) – You might hear it referred to in either of these two ways. These are the bright skirts with tiny flowers all over them.

Babuchas (for girls) – These are the typical folklore dance shoes, usually requested in black. 

Buying folklore clothes at Sal si Puedes on Avenida Central

If you want to save money, you can stop by Avenida Central and search for the things you need. A street called Sal si Puedes, off of Avenida Central, is kind of the one-stop-shopping for tipico and folklore costumes or outfits. This is probably the cheapest way to go about it, but can be pick and choose, kind of time consuming as you'll spend most of your time hunting for the best bargains, finding some things you need at one stand and some at others. If your kid has a performance coming up and needs the full get-up, Sal si Puedes is probably your best bet.

At Los Pueblos

You can also head over to the Los Pueblos outdoor shopping center. There’s a store that sells all folklore stuff on the same side of the center as TGIF. Drive down that lane, and you’ll see the store on the left hand side, about halfway into the shopping center, if headed towards the Felix toy store.

Last time I passed this store, I saw that they also sold Congo attire, which is usually the African-style clothing used to celebrate some of the festivals on the Caribbean side of Panama. My sons needed to dress in congo clothes a few months ago and I had no idea where to buy the outfits. Now, I do.

Estefania during her folklore performance

In folklore class, your kids will learn Panamanian traditions, stories, and all about the heritage. They’ll probably play tipico instruments, learn all the traditional dances, and study Panamanian history. You may also see a valores class, which is all about values. 

School Uniforms

If your kids don't wear uniforms in their school back home, you can count on it here. Whether they’re enrolled in a private school or public school, they will definitely need to wear the school uniform. I remember back home when it was up for debate nearly every year, whether or not it made sense for kids to start wearing uniforms. No debate here. They will wear uniforms.

Usually the uniforms are not part of the enrollment fee. Sometimes books will be (depending on the school), but most schools will require you to buy the uniforms separately. Sometimes they’re sold right there in the school. My daughters’ school is like this. However, we’ve been to other schools where they just send you to the store that sells their uniforms. 

All dressed up and ready for school

In my girls’ school, they have to wear the plaid skirt and a white, button-down blouse, with a jacket and a little crossover tie, on Monday. Every other day of the week they wear the skirt with a Polo-style shirt. Boys wear slacks with a white blouse, jacket, and tie every Monday. They wear slacks and a Polo every other day of the week.

You’ll also need to buy gym clothes, which your kids will wear to school the day they have physical education. Usually this consists of jogging pants (typically navy blue or red) and a white T-shirt. Some schools require the kids to wear a specific T-shirt with the school’s emblem. They’ll probably have to wear all white sneakers too.

Most schools will have certain days where they’ll allow kids to wear their civvies (as we’d call them in the military) or regular clothes. In my daughters’ school I swear it seems like this is every Friday. At their school they have to each pay $1 to wear regular clothes.

Swimming Class

This is probably one of the coolest things about Panamanian schools. They teach your kids to swim. We moved around so much before finally settling in Panama, that my kids never had the chance to learn to swim. We were rarely anywhere near a pool. 

This is not what happens in school swimming class. 
This is Dad’s swimming class! Ahahahah!

In Panama, it’s part of the curriculum. You’ll need to buy a few things at the beginning of the school year. This year, we had to buy goggles, a swimming cap, and a floating board. If the school doesn’t have a pool, the kids will usually be bused to one nearby.

I can’t say that this is the norm with all schools, but my daughters have had swimming class at all three schools we’ve had them enrolled in.

Religion Class

I’m happy to have religion back in school, but I can understand why some parents may not feel the same way. You have to remember that you’re considering moving to a country that is very set in its Catholic ways. Yes, there are plenty of other religions in this country, and if you put your kids in a school that teaches a different religion, then you should have no problem, but if you enroll your kids in a regular private school, chances are, they’re going to have a religion class, and it will more than likely be teaching Christianity.

My daughters’ class is called “religion” class, but still, if you flip through the book, you’ll see that religion means Catholic. I’m glad that, unlike the schools in the U.S. where religion has been yanked right out of the classroom, my kids are getting a religious foundation here in Panama.


This is where I get to rant a little bit. Holy shit Panama teachers give out a lot of homework. I’ve always believed that kids should learn while they’re in school. Yes, homework is important, to teach kids responsibility, but don’t make the homework so complicated that parents have to spend hours every night helping the kids finish the work.

I’ve never seen anything like the amount (and type) of homework that I’ve seen here. When I was in school, we’d have to do a major project with a poster board and stuff, maybe once a month (at the most). Probably closer to a couple of times per year. Here, each teacher seems to want it done every night.

The teacher will tell the kids they have a speech to do, tomorrow, on their favorite actor (just an example). This doesn’t mean they just have to get up in front of the class and speak about their favorite actor. No, this means they need to have a poster board, fully decorated, with pictures of their favorite actor…BY TOMORROW.

The Nacho book

Again, this might not be at every school, but I can tell you that all three of my daughters’ schools have been like this. You’ll get used to spending a lot of time in the little pharmacies or stores (often called Chinos here, we’ll discuss this in a later blog post) buying cartulinas. These are thin poster boards, pieces of cardboard in just about any color you could want. They’re cheap, usually somewhere between $.25 and $1.50 depending on the store and the quality.  

You’ll also get used to buying figuritas. Remember back in school, when the teacher would make you sit and write each vocabulary word and its definition? Here they make the kids illustrate the words. So they write the word, and instead of writing the definition, they have to past a picture next to the word. And I don’t mean draw a picture. The teacher expects you to either cut pictures out of magazines or go to one of these little stores I previously mentioned and buy figurita sheets, which usually cost about $.25 and have a bunch of small pictures in tons of different categories.

Or you can buy a Nacho book, like in the photo above, which costs about $6 and goes along with whatever grade your child's in. So you’ll see a kindergarten book, 1st grade, 2nd grade, etc. The problem with Nacho books is they don’t always have what you need, so you still end up rummaging through magazines. 


After about a year of daily visits to the store, I finally decided it made more sense to buy printer ribbons and just search the terms on Google images, paste the pictures onto a word document, and print the damned things. Trust me, this is the best way to go. Yes, you’ll need to buy $30 printer ribbons, but in the end, the joy of being able to knock this out in a few minutes rather than having to drive to the store or search through magazines and Nacho books, is well worth the money spent.

One last thing about homework. Expect to have to put together ridiculous models…quite often. For some reason, rather than taking the kids out to a soccer field and teaching them all about the field and the game, the physical education teacher thought it would be a good idea to have each kid put together a model of a soccer field, complete with all goal lines, boundary lines, etc. Measurements needed to be included. Plus, players, nets, and a ball. This usually requires clay for the green field, and whatever else your creative mind can come up with. We even had to put together a model of a volleyball court. Seriously? How lazy can a teacher get that she just constantly makes the kids do these models? Sorry, had to vent a little bit.

School Buses – I’ve been informed that what I’m about to say doesn’t apply to all of the schools here, but it does apply to the three schools my daughters were enrolled in, so I’m assuming it applies to quite a few other schools.

Many of the schools here don’t have buses that belong to the school. The buses belong to individual drivers, who have some sort of contract with the school. And they’re not provided for free, like buses back in the United States. Here, most of the time, you’ll have to pay the driver directly, with cash. You’ll also see that the buses aren’t the large school buses you’re accustomed to. Here, they’re usually Coaster buses, more like large vans.

We’ve had some great drivers who always arrived on time, but we’ve also had to deal with other drivers who weren’t so reliable. One of our drivers drove his own bus, and he did an okay job. The kids arrived at school on time and the price was reasonable. Then, one day, my daughters were sitting on the couch waiting for him to pick them up, and I heard a car horn outside. I opened the door to see a little red car parked in the street in front of our house. The driver honked again. Finally, the driver stepped out and I saw that it was the bus driver. He explained that his bus had broken down and that he had to pick the kids up in his car. There was a woman in the passenger seat, which I think was his wife. 

I was uncomfortable with the situation. I apologized and explained that there was no way I was sending my daughters to school with him in his personal car. I don’t know about you, but it just seemed really strange. What if, and I know I’m probably stretching this a bit far, but what if he wanted to kidnap my kids. How was I going to explain that I put my daughters into a little red Toyota with some dude and his wife? I know the guy meant well, and he was trying to get the job done, but I told him we’d wait until he repaired his bus. 

A typical Panamanian school bus

For awhile, we had a terrific driver named Franklin, who went out of his way and drover farther than he usually would (when we moved), just to keep our daughters on his bus. We paid about $35 per month for each of our girls. He was fantastic, but unfortunately, when the government made it mandatory for all school buses to be painted yellow, he had to stop driving for the school. He ran a tour business on the side, and painting his bus yellow would have screwed up his business.

At the start of the new school year, we’d moved again, and the new driver, even though we were much closer to the school than we’d been before, charged us $50 for each of our girls, plus he refused to put the air conditioner on. He was trying to save money on gas. Our girls were squished in this bus with too many kids packed in, and they were sweating their butts off. For $100 per month I want my kids to be comfortable. 

We decided to just take them off the bus. Now, my father-in-law drops them off at school in the morning on his way to work, and I pick them up after school.

Again, I’ve been informed that this isn’t the case with all the schools, but in our experience, we’ve yet to find a school that handles the bus system efficiently.


This is a major problem right now, in most parts of the world, but it doesn't seem to be one here. 

I loved the schools my daughter attended back in the U.S. They were all public schools. While we appreciated the cleanliness and organization of the schools, I remember always hearing my oldest daughter talk about kids making fun of her in class. She had a tooth that had grown out behind one of her other teeth, and so it didn’t form right. The kids in her class would ask her if she was a vampire and would call her shark tooth. Kids are brutal. I remember being very worried about bullies. We had her in one school here that was filled with mostly international students, which included a lot of American kids, and some of the same stuff went on.

Since we put her in a regular Panamanian school, that has died down. I don’t know what it is. Maybe it’s the religious background or just a different mindset. I’m not saying that bullying doesn’t go on. In fact, at one school here (a Catholic school), my daughter was picked on by a 16-year-old. My daughter was only 9 at the time. It was horrible. This had something to do with that girl though. Something was wrong with that chick.

Other than that one situation, I’ve found that the kids seem much more mellow and happy here. There’s a lot more playing instead of bullying.

Education Level

If you’re worried about the education level here in Panama compared to whatever country you’re moving from, don’t be. My wife is Panamanian and she remembers when she was sent to the U.S. for a study abroad program in high school. She was dumbfounded by how far behind the kids seemed in the U.S. She couldn’t believe her school in Panama was so much more advanced.

The difference in education level actually caused a bit of a problem for us when we first moved to Panama. One of my daughters, Victoria, was just starting pre-kindergarten here, so she was fine. She didn't know any different.

My other daughter, Estefania, was starting the 3rd grade here. I don’t know about you, but when I was growing up, 3rd grade was kind of the turning point. We learned how to write in cursive in the 3rd grade and we started learning multiplication and studying the times tables in the 3rd grade. So, since she was starting in Panama, I thought she’d be fine. I thought wrong.

In Panama, kids don't start writing with manuscript. They learn to write in cursive. So while the kids back home were just about to start their cursive journey, my daughter was really far behind the rest of her class here. Then, we found out that the kids had already learned the times tables. So, my daughter had to struggle with learning Spanish (she understood quite a bit, but didn’t really speak Spanish), had to learn to write in cursive, and struggled with multiplication.

The only class that I've noticed is lacking here, is English, especially if your kid is in a traditional, Panamanian school. They do study English, but my daughter will always be way ahead of her class.

School Schedule

When you enroll your kids in a Panama school, you’ll need to decide whether you want them to stay with the school schedule from back home, or switch to the Panamanian school schedule.

We tried the U.S. schedule at first. It’s what we were used to so we stuck with what we knew. Then, we realized during the first Panama “summer” break, which actually takes place in December and usually goes all the way through February (giving them the holidays and carnaval off), that our kids’ cousins were having a blast in the interior of the country, traveling around with their parents, living it up, while our kids were stuck in school. 

See? They would've been in school during this trip

Then, when our kids reached their vacation time in June, nobody else was out of school, except their classmates.

Everything seems to go on during the Panamanian break. All of the fairs take place in that time, usually towards the end of January or February. Most of the parks have activities during that time. It's not a great time to be stuck in school. 

The Panamanian summer

If you're planning to move here permanently, or for a long time, I’d suggest going with a school that’s on the Panamanian schedule. It’s just part of the way of life here. 

School Lunch

I’m not sure what it’s like at the Boston School or the other newer, more expensive schools, but I’ve yet to see a Panamanian school that had a cafeteria like we had back in the U.S. Emma, if you’re reading this (Emma is a teacher here and runs her own blog at, you might be able to speak more about this. I know you work in a great school. You guys might have a cafeteria.

Not only are some schools lacking a cafeteria, but many of them don’t even have a full, dedicated lunch time.

I figured this out at my daughters’ first school here. Every morning I'd pack their lunches and send them off to school. We’d been packing their lunches because we found out their school didn’t have a cafeteria. Like many of the schools here, there was a small snack stand whre they could buy candy, some pastries like empanadas, and maybe juice, but there wasn’t an actual cafeteria serving food. 

One day I  noticed that my oldest daughter came home with most of her food still in her lunch box. I asked her why she hadn’t eaten. She said that her teacher got angry because she showed up to school late (the bus driver’s fault) and made all the kids that were late spend their 15-minute recess writing over and over again, “I will not be late to school.”

I was already pissed because it wasn’t her fault, but the bus driver’s, and more pissed because she’d been forced to write instead of eat. The first parent-teacher conference was only a couple of days away, so I waited, and once there, I raised my hand in front of the other parents and asked, “What’s the deal with lunch time?”

The teacher asked, “What do you mean?”

I replied, “Why are you having them write ‘I will not be late for school’ instead of eating their lunch?”

She said, “That was just the first recess. They have another.”

“You mean they have two recesses? What about lunch?”

“They have two 15-minute recesses. They can eat during either of those, it’s up to them.”

I was shocked. I flipped.

“You mean to tell me that my kids have only two breaks, each 15 minutes long, and they’re left to decide whether or not they’d rather eat or play during those breaks? We’re talking about 9 and 10 year olds. What do you think they’re going to decide if you give them the option? My daughter’s starving when she comes home. And have you ever tried to eat an entire meal in 15 minutes?”

She argued that it wasn’t her policy. It was the school’s policy. I took my daughters out of that school shortly after (had a bunch of other issues too). At their current school, they do have a set lunchtime, but there’s no cafeteria. They can buy little snacks, but they need to bring lunch with them. Sadly, my kids will never experience the Mexican pizza from my youth. L 

Birthday Parties in Class

I’ve discovered that in Panama, quite often, instead of splurging on a big party outside of school, the parents will just bring a cake, goody bags, and sometimes even a piƱata to the classroom.

It’s a great way to make sure all of your kids’ friends are involved in the party because let’s face it, when you spend money on a huge party outside of the school, half the kids don’t show up.

This can put a little bit of weight on your pockets though, as a parent, when you consider that your kid’s class probably has over 20 students. With 20 students, and only 12 months in a year, you can see where this is going. Your monthly budget won’t be only rent, electric, water, and gas anymore. You better make sure you save $20 for the present needed for the kid’s party that’s going to be taking place that month, if there’s only one party.

School Supplies

This should probably be a post all its own as there’s so much info to cover here. I’ve never seen the variety of school supplies that I’ve seen here in Panama.

First, let me say that Panama isn’t my worst school shopping experience. That trophy belongs to the city of Chicago, a city I love, but a city that charges you to fart. That place is crazy expensive. So, I shouldn’t have been surprised when I got my daughter’s 2nd grade school supply list and saw that she needed all the regular stuff, but also a disposable camera, Ziploc baggies in every size available, 3 different sizes of Tupperware containers, and a Partridge in a Pear Tree. 

Panama isn’t nearly that bad, but it’s different. You’ll see all the regular stuff on the school list, like pencils, colored pencils, glue, erasers, scissors, modeling clay, and all that stuff. Goma Fria threw me for a loop. That’s the clear glue. You’ll probably need to buy the regular Elmer’s kind of glue, but also this goma fria. 

Get ready to scratch your head in the notebook aisle

What really messes me up here is the amount of notebooks you need to buy, and the different kinds. Some teachers, not unlike the teachers in the States, want large notebooks while others want small ones. That’s all the same. However, back home, I had only two choices. Did I need wide ruled notebooks or college ruled? It’s not that easy here. You’ll know what I mean when you get to the school-supply section of the store and you see the shelves labeled. 

Here are some of the notebooks you'll find on your kid's supply list:

Raya Ancha is the regular lined notebook. Like wide ruled.

Doble Raya is the double lined notebook. They look the same as the Raya Ancha on the outside, but the pages are more like what you’d imagine seeing in a handwriting class (see the page displayed in the photo above).

Cuanderno de Cuadritos is the math notebook. This is the one with the little squares on the page.

Cuaderno de Musica is the music book. It’s usually longer than a regular notebook. The pages on the inside are set up with the lines you’d see on sheet music pages.  

Dibujo is the art class notebook. These are the blank white pages. The outside might look exactly like the regular notebooks, or it might be long, like the music notebook.

I think those are all the main cuadernos you'll find. When you have two daughters who don’t want any of their notebooks to be the same as the other’s, this becomes a nightmare. Good luck with this one!
The 1-5 Grading System

I’ll never forget the first time my daughter brought home a test with a big number 5 on it, circled, in red. She was so proud.

I looked at her and asked, “What is this?”

“It’s a five,” she replied, hands on her hips, grinning from ear to ear.

“Like 5 out of a hundred? Like 5%?” I asked, not sure what she  was so proud of.

Turns out 5 is the Panamanian “A.” They don’t use the A,B,C,D, (not sure why we skip E), F system. Instead, they use the 5,4,3,2,1 system. It’s basically the same thing. 5 is A, 4 is B, etc. 4.5 would be like a B+.

Just thought I’d give you a heads up so you don’t ground your kid when he gets his first 5.
Okay, that’s all that comes to mind for now. I’m sure I’ve missed some of the differences between the Panamanian schools and the American or Canadian or wherever else you may be residing schools. If I did, please let me know in the comments, so we can all share and learn a little.

As always, love you guys, and thanks for reading,