Living abroad with kids is a whole different ballgame.
I should know. I’ve been doing it for the majority of my time in Panama.
I moved here in the early 2000’s, enamored with Panama and all it had to offer. As a real estate investor and consultant, I knew that Panama real estate was on the verge of blossoming. But as a mother-to-be, I had to make sure Panama was right for my family, too.
Today, I can’t imagine raising my children anywhere else.
As you can imagine, I get quite a few questions from clients who want to move to Panama with kids. Here’s what they want to know most.
Is Panama Safe for Children?
As far as Latin American countries go, Panama is about as safe as you’re going to get. It has one of the lowest crime ratings in Latin America, and Panama City is even considered to be safer than many major U.S cities.
Still, it depends on where you live. There are bad areas and “no-go zones,” just like in any other country, and these are areas neither I or my children go. Personally, we live in Coronado, which is Panama’s most established beach community and considered the safest place to live in Panama. We travel around the country quite frequently, and there are only a few places that we wouldn’t venture (and, quite frankly, there’s nothing to see there anyway.)
Where’s the Best Place to Raise Kids?
For most parents, the top priorities in raising a child are the child’s safety and quality of education. Assuming these are your priorities, I recommend Coronado, Gorgona, Panama City, and Boquete.
These places all lay claim to some of the best private schools in the country. Furthermore, they are outstandingly safe communities.
As noted above, Coronado is considered the safest place to live in Panama, on account of its residential security gate and local police presence. Playa Gorgona comes up close behind, with a police station located right at the entrance and a slow-paced family atmosphere. Certain parts of Panama City are also quite safe, with patrolling policemen and security stations at most new buildings. Boquete is not quite as safeguarded as the others, but it is by far the safest of the mountain towns.
What Are the Schools Like?
You can’t ask for a better education than that which is given by Panama’s private institutions. My children attend the Coronado International School of Panama, and I am pleased with their schooling. The curriculum is challenging yet suitable, the teachers are hands-on, and their classmates are friendly and diverse. There’s also another great school in Gorgona.
Sadly, most public schools in Panama aren’t quite up to snuff with North American standards. The government of Panama is working to improve upon this, with funding in place to increase the kids’ access to technology, afterschool programs, and other resources. I have high hopes for the public school system in the future, but for now- the private institutions serve my family best.
Do They Need to Know Spanish?
Not immediately, but one of the best parts about moving your family here is giving them the chance to learn! Most private institutions teach their core classes in English, but regard Spanish classes as highly as math or science.
Even if you’re child is starting from scratch, after a few months in school they’ll be speaking at least basic Spanish. With time, they’ll be totally fluent, the benefits of which are immeasurable. Countless studies have shown that being bilingual actually improves cognitive function, allowing the brain to make connections easier and think more abstractly.
Will They Have Any Friends?
What a silly question! Not only do kids in Panama maintain healthy friendships, their peers are incredibly diverse.
Growing up surrounded by other cultures is invaluable. Though my kids are young, I already see them gaining a deeply embedded respect for other cultures. This is indescribably important, as well all know, to be able to not only coexist with those who are different from ourselves, but to be able to empathize with and appreciate them. Diverse communities create open-minded and caring individuals, timeless qualities that are sure to persist throughout life.
What about Hobbies?
As far as recreation goes, I bet Panama has your hometown beat. Kids in Panama actually play… outside! Can you imagine? Sure, we have video games and TV and computers, just like at home. But with such beautiful surroundings at our fingertips year-round, kids would just rather be outside most of the time.
Kids here enjoy all the hobbies you can imagine: swimming, surfing, boating, horseback riding, hiking, sports, dance, art, the list goes on and on. By the time kids in Panama plop down in front of the TV, you can bet they’ve had an exhilarating and exhausting day outdoors.