Describing Panama

Panama is a small country of Central America having land borders with Costa Rica and Columbia. The country is shaped like a shallow "s" with a coastline on the Caribbean Sea and the Pacific Ocean. The Gulf of Mosquitos is part of the Caribbean Sea on the northern coast towards the west of the country and its border with Costa Rica. The Gulf of Panama is part of the Pacific Ocean on the southern coast towards the east and the border with Columbia.The famous Panama Canal runs between Colon in the north and Balboa in the south. The capital, Panama City is on the southern coast.

Panama is a representative democracy with a 72 member unicameral parliament. The head of State is the President and there are two vice presidents. The executive and legislative branches of the government are elected by universal sufferage every five years. Voting is nominally compulsory although those who fail to vote are not penalised. The independent judiciary is appointed and organised under a nine member supreme court.

Panama has a population of about 3.3 million about half of whom live in urban areas. The per capita GDP is $US11,600 and the unemployment rate is approximately 6%. Medical services are good and the life expectancy at birth is 74 years and an infant mortality rate of 21 per 1,000 live births. The economy is based upon the services sector including, obviously, the canal. Annual revenue from the canal is about $US2.0 billion and there are plans to double the capacity of this waterway. Other revenue comes from banking, insurance and financial operations in general, the Colon Free Zone, flagship registry and tourism. This sector accounts for about 80% of GDP. There are also industrial, agricultural and natural resource contributors to the economy.

The Panamanians are predominantly Caribbean Spanish, with nearly three quarters being ethnically Mestizos of mixed Amerindian and European origin. Although the official language is Spanish, in many offices and businesses English is commonly used. Many Panamanians are bilingual at least with often a third indigenous language also used. Education is compulsory for six years and school attendance rates are good. Over 90% of the population is literate.

Most major sporting activities are available in Panama although, unusually for the Caribbean area, cricket might be hard to find. Rugby of either code (union or league) also seems to be missing from the mix. Quality is high especially in basket ball, soccer and and baseball with national teams performing well at international level. Water sports are also enjoyed in Panama including snorkelling, surfing and scuba diving. The geographical position of the country also encourages deep sea game fishing.

The tourist industry is encouraged by the Panamanian government. The official web site of the Republic of Panama is as good a promotion as any of the possibilities in the country for a visitor. Panama City itself has all of the attractions of a major world capital with international connections by sea and air and entertainment and restaurants of all kinds. Panama can also offer cool mountain areas and streams, tropical flora and fauna and excellent beaches. Small villages allow contact with local indigenous people and secluded bays with clean sandy beaches can provide private sunbathing and good swimming. The canal itself, although much like an industrial site in parts, is a spectacular man-made wonder of the world which is well worth exploring. Some of the border areas, particularly those with Columbia, have restrictions for visitors and residents but the whole country is generally charming and picturesque. Panama is well worth a visit even if the ultimate decision is to settle elsewhere.

All of the above points and more are covered by reference to links at the "Resources" tab on this site and the book "How to Retire in Panama" by Les Johns which can be bought directly at this site.

Other Considerations

There is no doubt that Panama could satisfy those with a preference for city life or those who aspire to retirement in a "laid back" tropical paradise. The variety of climatic conditions available in such a small country is surprising. The general use of English and Spanish makes the language problem easy to cope with for many from a number of countries. Tourist friendly Panama makes the "Golden Rule" (visit before settling) easy and pleasant to apply.

These points can be examined at the links at the "Resources" tab on this site and by reference to the book "How to Retire in Panama" by Les Johns which is available from this site.