Plan to Dress!
Logistics for Expatriates
Proved to be a Pleasant Surprise”
Experiences of four Corporate Executives Relocating to Panama
be a destination for corporate executives of international businesses large and
small. They come from as far away
as France and Israel or as near as Colombia and Costa Rica.
For many of them, this isn’t their first or even second international
move. After they have made the
decision to accept the relocation, they have many concerns for themselves and
their family’s comfort and safety in addition to finding housing, schools, and
resolving legal issues. Relocation
firms from around the world assist these corporate executives and their
families to make the transition easily and positively.
Sandra Snyder, Relocation Specialist, with Panama
Relocation Services recently interviewed four such relocated executives on the
anniversary of their first year in Panama.
Here is what they had to say about their experiences:
Sanchez, Country Manager, American Airlines in Panama just celebrated the completion of his first year in
Panama. He and his family are in many ways typical of the international
corporate family. Rafael, his
wife, Rocio, and their two children relocated from Santiago, Chile but they call
Costa Rica home. This was their
second international move and not much different as far as the need to address
the basics: housing, schools,
banking, social activities all of which were taken care of with the help of the relocation
company. As Rafael confirms,
“American Airlines always provides its expats with this service as they
recognize its benefits.”
it is easier to relocate when the new country is similar to your home country,
Chile and Panama are two different worlds despite a shared language.
The culture, traditions, and the city itself, are different.” Santiago
is very cosmopolitan and while Panama may fit that description as well, it is
not nearly as big. However, Panama is much closer to home, both geographically
most important aspect of making a successful relocation once the decision has
been made, is taking care of the children.” Rafael goes on to stress “the
importance of having to help them realize the differences in culture, ways of
life and appreciating the opportunity they have in experiencing these
differences.” Now and in the
future, his children will be able to compare their experiences and appreciate
the benefits derived from them. Already
his children tell him, ”Children
here are brought up differently than in other countries. For example, they live in Panama City Monday
through Friday, but weekends are spent in the country.
In fact, it is as if all of Panama City moves to Coronado or El Valle for
Friday evening through Sunday afternoon.” Rafael says, “There are many
benefits of being an expat but it is also important to understand, and be sure
the children understand, that they may have these exciting opportunities
momentarily but they are only temporary. You
must always be prepared to return home and back to reality.
Failing to realize this and believing it will never end, will create
the decision was made to come to Panama, Rafael was pleased to discover that
Panama is very safe. Safety
is for Rafael and his family important but he is also “pleased to find the
Panamanian people warm, open and wanting to be friends”.
He has made many friends as a result.
And, although there are lots of social opportunities in Panama, many
things he and his family enjoy doing, don’t get done because of the weather!
After growing up in San Jose, Costa Rica, and living in Santiago, both
with cooler climates, they find Panama hot and humid.
For those newcomers unaccustomed to the warmer climate, it presents
limitations when it comes to planning a picnic or a basketball game.
The Sanchez children are 8 and 11 and school
considerations were paramount in making the move. As for many expats, the Panamanian school calendar vs. the
Western school calendar was one of many considerations.
American Airlines assignments range from two to three years and it is
likely that at some time the children will need to switch to the Western school
calendar. In the meantime, the
children have settled in and made friends.
Leaving friends was also the most difficult part of their leaving Chile.
On the lighter side, the children have noticed an interesting cultural
difference – they found people in Chile “more formal in interactions than in
Panama”. They also think
“Panamanians talk louder than Chileans or especially louder than Costa
Ricans”. In general, however,
Rafael finds the children adjust well and are already starting to understand the
advantages they have over others that have not lived abroad.
for adjusting to life in a new country, Rafael says “The important thing is to
understand there are differences, not good or bad, just different.
And, speaking of good and bad, it is most important to come to a country
looking for the good. Whatever good there is in a country needs to be what you
focus on.” “You, the expat,
need to adapt to the Country because it is not going to change for you”.
Further, “interacting with people who say nice things about the country
will put you on the right foot for success”.
Rafael cites his experience with the positive consultants from Panama
Relocation Services and the Panamanian friends he has met who talk about the
good things in Panama. “Panama
has some really good things to offer – restaurants, beaches, people just to
name a few. However, much of the needed infrastructure still needs
is very pleased with the whole experience.
He says he ”feels it is very important to thank the host country.
They embrace you and your family personally and professionally and,
therefore, it is important to leave something of yourself behind as a way of
thanking them.” Professionally,
he says he wants to be remembered for “the way he gets things done like
providing good service”. Personally,
he says he knows he will always think about and care about the people he has
met, and he will remember for many years the wonderful experiences and friends
made in Panama when it is time to move to the next assignment.
Neizer, Vice President, Central America for The Martin-Brower Company, LLC, the
primary supplier to McDonalds fast food restaurants. Meredith spoke to us recently in the offices of Panama
Relocation Services about her recent international move.
making the decision to accept Martin-Brower’s offer to come to Panama, the
most important issue for me was quality of life. I had lots of questions about
the standard of living and security, especially as compared to other places. My
number one concern was safety because I am a single, professional woman.
I wanted to be sure I would find a safe place to live and work, but I
also wanted to be able to move around comfortably within my own personal life.
Panama has proved to be a pleasant surprise.”
The look-see trip to Panama, with the help of Millie and Panama
Relocation Services, showed me everything that the City and the Country had
to offer. In four days, I had enough information to be confident that it would
be a very good, safe place to live for my two-year assignment.”
asked Meredith how many moves she had made in her career and were surprised at
the number – 10! All but
Panama and the Philippines were moves in the states and after so many moves she
has a process for getting organized, settling in and finding the basics like
where to get her hair done, dry cleaning, doctors, etc.
However, moving to a foreign country with a different language, culture
and new environment, present a whole new set of concerns.
“Panama Relocations Services has continued to be a source of
information. They have made it
relatively easy to find those goods and services needed in every day life.
In addition to providing information on places to go, things to see and
to do, their introductions to people and clubs have made it easy to get
integrated into the community."
who calls the United States home, also has found that enough people speak
English in Panama that the language barrier has not been as large a problem as
she initially expected. One
of the first things she did upon arrival was enroll in Spanish language classes.
general, she says Panama continues to be a “nice surprise”.
“ It is a pretty country with mountains, water, the canal, and in
general just a pleasantly wonderful place to live.”
Since coming here she has had some friends and family visit and they say
the same thing – they are pleasantly surprised by a big bustling city and
there are no sacrifices necessary to enjoying life.
It is nothing like the Philippines, for example, her other overseas
assignment. That move was made more
difficult because the relocation service concept did not exist there.
“I had to rely on a realtor and a few company employees and I didn’t
get enough information ahead of time to really understand what to expect.”
Meredith points out that for the employee relocating,
“assimilation into the work environment is easy, it is the other parts of
relocating that are difficult and take time”.
She credited the assistance of the relocation experts with
easing this process and saving time, too. Just
the little hints as to who to use, where not to go, where to find things, these
are the quality of life issues, that she called “value added” for her and
for families that are going to a new country. She personally found this move so much easier than that
first international move – putting aside the problems with the US moving
company, which failed to track her household goods.
She was waiting for them in Panama and after four weeks, they hadn’t
even left Houston! Had she had the
benefit of a relocation company on that end, those problems might have
been avoided as well. The good news
is “in Panama she has a great apartment, landlord, the job is going great, she
feels secure and happy.” She did
mention the traffic…
Darmont, Legal Representative, B.I.S. Overseas
in Panama with his wife, Albena, one month before the birth of their first
child. While he was excited about
helping to expand B.I.S. and establish a new warehouse in Colon for the
company’s cigar import business, his first priority was getting his family
settled and ready for the new arrival. A
year later, B.I.S. Overseas has 7 components, of which Casa de Habana in Obarrio
is the best known. It imports over
300 styles and kinds of cigars from Cuba and is one of only 40 such businesses
in the world. Hans calls it a
Boutique business as it is so specialized offering its clients a club-like
atmosphere for buying, storing and enjoying cigars.
relocating to Panama, which was his fourth move, Hans was located in Eastern
Europe or the “Wild East” as it was known after the curtain fell.
Comparatively, he describes it as “ lacking in facilities and an adequate
standard of living”. He says he
and his family rank Panama as number 2 in places to live after only Switzerland.
Not only is Panama modern, coming here was the easiest move logistically.
“Thanks to the assistance of the relocation company”, they
were able to find a lovely apartment within a couple of days and that left them
time to address their number one concern – medical care for Albena.
the assistance of the relocation specialist guided them through hospital
selection, doctor, and Lamaze classes. They
found the gynecologist in Panama had better equipment than even Switzerland.
This is now a truly international family as Hans is Belgian, Albena
Bulgarian and baby Alison Natalie is Panamanian.
While the supermarkets in Eastern Europe were very limited, the markets
in Panama are very sophisticated. However,
Hans finds the “incredible amount of paperwork required at every turn whether
for business or personal needs can be overwhelming.”
the offer came with B.I.S., Hans was very interested in crossing to another
continent to work and live in a different culture. He was also excited about the opportunity to be involved with
a start-up company. The last year
has been exciting as the company now has its warehouse in place in Colon and
Hans is starting a major remodel on the Cigar store. This is “a multi-national European company and it has been
challenging to find solutions to problems in working in Panama”.
Hans’ goal is to “implement the same high standards of European-type
of customer service in Panama that he is accustomed to in Europe”.
The people he has met here are friendly, helpful and polite and,
therefore, more than compensate for any shortcomings he has experienced.
He and his family have no complaints with living here and except for
dealing with the beaucracy, they find Panama an easy place to live.
Wolf, Director Customer Business Development, Procter & Gamble. Shane and family made two
other international moves with Procter & Gamble before relocating to Panama
last July. He says “they enjoy being out of their home country, Mexico,
because being an expat allows them to experience a different life.”
For his children, “they get to meet interesting people and develop in a
way that is not possible without the international experience”.
For himself and his wife “it creates a closer relationship that is very
positive”. Professionally, it
allows him to “develop value as an executive with international experience”. Overall, he says it is an “opportunity to achieve a high
quality of life, to save money, and to enjoy the expat experience”.
Prior to Panama, the Wolf family lived in both Guatemala and Mexico City,
which Shane says is so big and so different from their hometown of Guadalajara
that it is really like another international location.
coming to Panama, the Wolf family was concerned because they didn’t know the
country or what was available for housing and schools.
They have three children 15, 5 and 2 so they needed four bedrooms.
Because of the different ages and needs of the children, they also needed
three different schools. With the
assistance of Panama Relocation Services, they found just the right
selection of schools for the children and within a few months the children were
happy in their new schools and they had also adjusted to apartment living.
Proctor and Gamble Panama is part of an expansion plan
for the company into Central America. While
Panama is the largest in potential and the least covered market, when selecting
a new site for the business services headquarters, Costa Rica was selected over
Panama as it offered tax incentives in the form of a free zone which made Costa
Rica a more attractive option. The Panama facility offers services and no products as
all the products are made and shipped from Mexico or the US.
found Panama an easy country to adapt to and his wife says, “It is because of
the social life”. “The most
important thing when relocating is that the wife is happy, if she is happy,
everything else is easy.” And,
Panama offers such an interesting and varied social life that Cecilia quickly
made friends and settled into the community.
“Analisa and Panama Relocation Services introduced her into the
Who’s New Club in Panama shortly after her arrival and her circle of friends
has expanded since.”
always use a relocation service for moves of its executives and as a
result of their experience here, Shane “plans to recommend that P&G
continue to use a relocation service.
The trained professionals provide more information about living in the
country, schools, visas, work permits, moving companies, pet relocation, dress,
doctors, running clubs as well as providing a good basis for an easy adjustment,
especially on the part of the relocating spouse.”
are the experiences of just four of the many corporate families relocated to
Panama in the last year. They are varied as far as being single or married, with
or without children but their needs overlap in many ways.
In general, they are all in agreement that their first year has been a
successful one. Their
positive attitudes and experiences remind me of the advice of Napoleon to his
sister before her trip to Rome in 1803 – “Conform to the customs of the
country; never run down anything; find everything splendid; and don’t say,
‘we do this better in Paris.”
prepared for AmCham Business Magazine by Lic. Sandra T. Snyder,
Relocation Specialist, Panama Relocation Services, Panama, August 2001.
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