Liz Larroquette
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Selecting Panama Over The US For a Job Transfer?

I take great pride in being able to answer most questions individuals have when considering a move to Panama. How to open a bank account? Is a Visa needed? Can we bring our dog? How do I get a driver’s license? The other day, however, I was unprepared when a United States citizen, told me she was leaning heavily toward taking a job transfer to Panama as opposed to one in her own country. I’ve not explored that question a great deal.

Panama? Really?

panama flag in the wind

For some of my clients, Panama is the right choice for their next destination - and the reasons why can be surprising!

“I never thought I’d be saying this, but Panama appears to be the better choice,” she said to me over the phone from London. “We’ve been here for over six years and finally got the word we could transfer home. Both my husband and I work for the same company and we’ve been pretty anxious to get transfers back to the States. They have given us the option of either transferring to Panama City or San Francisco,” she explained and immediately the beauty of the Bay Area and the Golden Gate Bridge popped in my head. “I’m not even sure why they threw in Panama. Everyone just expects we’ll be moving to San Francisco,” she laughed. “But the assignment covers both North and Central America and right how Panama actually seems better when you consider the airports, how far a US-based salary would go in Panama and private school fees!” she continued.

“Our oldest child will be starting first grade and we want to complete the move so it won’t be as hard to leave her friends. London is all they have ever known,” she continued. “Our youngest isn’t quite two.”

I'm Accustomed To the Help

I listened carefully, knowing this was a very big decision, but I couldn’t help but feel Panama would just be another foreign country; a stop on their eventual way home. “Why wouldn’t you just take the transfer back to the US?” I responded. “Don’t get me wrong—I love Panama—but the US is home and I’m assuming that’s where you eventually want to live permanently.”

woman with baby

For many busy expat families, domestic help is an affordable luxury in Panama

“Well, we thought it was, absolutely,” she said, “but we’ve had live-in help for as long as we’ve been in London. I’m not sure I can manage two children and a demanding career without help.

In the United States, help is very, very expensive!” she continued. “I sound like a baby, but I’m just being realistic. We’ve gotten used to live-in help. We like having time in the evenings with the children and not worrying about running another load of laundry.”

Domestic help here is pretty inexpensive” I said, wondering privately just how expensive it could be in San Francisco. “Maybe $450 to $500 a month” I offered.

“Really? It’s more than that per week,” she said. “Then you have Social Security payments, all the government paperwork and providing a car. They don’t work over forty hours. Not that I want to work them to death, it’s just I work more than 40 hours.”

Le Marque render loungeroom

Many new properties suitable for families, like the luxurious 'Le Marque' by Empresas Bern, will include amenities for domestic live-in staff

“No, you don’t need to provide a car and they don’t maintain a 40 hour work-week,” I said quickly. “They normally work six days a week. Having help has become a very common practice that expats, especially those with children, have embraced here in Panama. Most of the new residential buildings include maids’ quarters as part of the living space,” I added, thinking we would need to set up an additional appointment to chat. “It’s considered a very good job. Competition is keen, and more and more are taking 'live in' positions".”

More Than Just The Property Prices

San Francisco houses

San Francisco is a great city, but property prices are some of the highest per foot in the US

“And, I’ve been looking at home prices,” she said. “We are used to outrageous prices for London flats but wow, real estate in San Francisco is expensive. There are lots of beautiful new buildings in Panama City,” she continued. “It’s hard to beat the prices there, especially when you consider all the amenities.”

“Have you seen the new developments in Costa del Este?” I asked. “We have some stunning properties for you to consider and they are much less than what you would be paying in San Francisco.”

I immediately thought of the new offering, Le Marque, with it’s 60 levels, 48 of them offering three apartments per floor of three-bedroom residences, plus a maids’ quarters with a private bathroom. Lots of amenities with pools, social areas for the children and in walking distance of everything Costa del Este has to offer - parks, high-end restaurants and grocery complexes. There would be no need for a car for the children’s care giver.

“I know we want to buy, but we’d like to rent first, just to make sure. Costa del Este is top of our list based on the research, but what about renting first?”

“Perfect,” I responded, “because there isn’t a lot to permanently move into right now. The area is just exploding. Multi-national companies are transferring people almost daily. By renting, you could make sure Costa del Este is where you want to be, then we’d look at best options and secure some great deals on properties that are on the market, but not ready for occupancy. You could even do some customization concerning the layout because they won’t be totally built out,” I continued. "A home of your dreams", I added, thinking Costa del Este was a perfect option. 

“The schools are there, everything is within walking distance, there is a big central park, wonderful restaurants and the growth is pretty dramatic,” I said. “Your investment would be solid in Costa del Este.”

Unexpected Perks

“I never thought it would be Panama,” she said, “but I’m pretty excited at the possibilities. Our families are on the east coast so everyone would be in the same time zone as opposed to three hours ahead from California. It's not terrible that we have a five hour difference in London, but still, I like being in the same time zone. Travel is comparable because I can be in Atlanta in three and a half hours.” I could tell she was putting everything together and I felt confident she was making a great choice.

children parents grass

Many expat families are discovering a great lifestyle in Panama

“I’m sure my daughter will do fine with Spanish,” she continued almost talking to herself. “A different language is nothing to kids. The weather is also an improvement. I know it rains in Panama, but at least  it's normally sunny. Have you experienced London - grey and cloudy - in winter? I'll take hot!" she said laughing. 

“What this transfer to London has taught us, is that the world is not boxed off into countries anymore. It’s all very fluid with easy travel,” she continued and then added, “Of course the new airport at Tocumen International will make things even easier!”

“Why don’t we set something up for you,” I said, considering how remarkable it really was that Panama City seemed a better fit than San Francisco.

“We need to stay under a million,” she said cautiously. “I never thought I’d say such a thing. More money than my parents would have dreamed of, but it’s a different world. That would be a ‘Starter Home’ in San Francisco. We’ll have money for bilingual schools, live-in help and still be able to live.”

PTY v SFO

“We’ll find something stunning for a million,” I said carefully. “Much better than what you could get for that in San Francisco.” “Wait till I have to explain this to the in-laws,” she laughed. “Seriously. I can’t wait. Panama!

That phone call made me feel good. Panama City, one—San Francisco, none.

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About the Author Liz Larroquette

Whether you are looking to retire in Panama, relocate your family, or buy property as an investment Liz is a wealth of knowledge you can and should tap into.

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