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I found this announcement in a Texas newspaper on October 28, 2016:
“The US fast food company Wingstop has announced that the franchise has plans to open 30 stores in Panama and Colombia, starting in 2017.”
I actually stopped at Wingstop in David (Chiriqui Province, Panama) about a month ago with a friend. We enjoyed a plate of wings with our favorite sauces and a Corona, while sport events were playing on several wall-mounted TV’s. Sound familiar? If this is your idea of an afternoon out, you really won’t be missing much in Panama. The fast-food joints that you have come to know and frequent back in the U.S. are becoming more and more common throughout Panama today.
Panamanians have always had a close relationship with U.S. culture over the years, mostly due to the Panama Canal. As a result, businesses, products and services associated with the United States are popular among the general population.
The economy in Panama has been growing steadily for over a decade. Panama also has the highest per capita income in Central America and the US dollar is legal currency here. With the increased purchasing power comes a desire for more popular (as seen on TV and movies, I believe) experiences and services. This trend has fueled investment by major multi-national food chains in recent years. Most of these franchises and restaurants are still found in Panama City, but they are popping up in the interior of the country as well, and more and more are appearing in Chiriqui, Veraguas, and Herrera. Several large shopping malls have recently opened in these areas, providing a boost to the growth of these franchises through their popular Food Courts.
Here is a sampling of the restaurants and cafes that I have personally seen here in Panama: McDonald’s, Burger King, Smashburger, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Popeye’s Chicken, Carl’s Jr., Taco Bell, Dominos, Little Ceasar’s, Pizza Hut, Nathan’s Hotdogs, Subway, Starbucks, Coffee, Bean & Tea Leaf, Dunkin’ Donuts, Dairy Queen, and of course Wingstop.
For the most part, these chains are very similar in pricing and products to their US counterparts. There are some notable differences though.
- Often, there will be additional menu items that are representative of local Panamanian foods, like yucca fries, or Sancocho (local Panamanian soup).
- The menu will usually be written in Spanish, but if you don’t speak the language you can say the order number and the prices are in US dollars.
- Fast food places are very popular in Panama and there can be long lines at certain times. The staff, and customers, are anything but ‘fast’, holding true to the laid back style of the country.
- If you are a woman over 55 or a man over 60 years of age, you can actually get the “jubilado”, or senior discount. This usually requires the manager getting a different receipt with your signature on it though.
- Many fast food restaurants offer delivery services, not just the pizza joints. I have even seen delivery bikes for KFC and McDonalds around town!
You won’t have to worry about getting your fast-food fix in Panama. Watch for my next report where I’ll share some of the popular full service restaurant chains that you can find in Panama today (hint: think TGIF & PF Chang’s).
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Now that the hustle and bustle of the Holidays are over, I finally have the time to reflect on how truly amazing they were! Since moving to Panama, one of the many questions I am asked is, “Don’t you miss your family and friends during Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years, birthdays, etc.?” Truthfully, this was one of the many subjects that came up when my family and I were considering moving to another country.
Like many families, though, when the matriarch and/or patriarch passes away, the entire family dynamic shifts and every individual “unit” starts celebrating holidays a little differently as well as creating their own new traditions. My family is no different as my husband and I have lost both of our parents: Thanksgiving/Christmas of 2015 was our first without any of them and our first being outside of the U.S. As most “firsts” are, after the passing of loved ones, it was extremely hard.
We were living in a resort area of Panama and there were very few people who lived there full time. Although we made some amazing friends, we spent that first Christmas alone – just my husband, 12 year old son and myself. Right after Christmas, we made the decision to move to another part of Panama where there were more children and a lot of activities for all of us. In January of 2016 we moved to Boquete where we currently live and oh what a difference a year, and new location, has made!
This Holiday season was so very different from last year! The quaint little town we live in was decorated so beautifully especially the town square which had many trees and a multitude of lights! The friends we have made here made it especially wonderful as they have now become our family! My son turned 13 on December 23, so we had one of the first birthday parties he has ever really had, aside from the family dinners with cake and ice cream, and one other nightmare party at Chuck E. Cheese when he was 4! Having a birthday so close to Christmas always meant, at least in the States, that no one was ever in town for his birthday or they were at their own family parties. This year, we had it at a local restaurant in Boquete called Black & White where the owners have become like family to us! We celebrated with a karaoke party with almost 20 people from 5 different countries!
Christmas Eve dinner was spent with our neighbors and friends at a neighbor’s house and Christmas dinner was at the house of the owner of the company where my husband works followed by a huge Christmas parade through the town! New Year’s Eve was very eventful, too!! We rang in the New Year at the same restaurant where we had my son’s party. All of the owner’s family was there and we were treated just like we were one of them! At midnight we toasted with champagne and shot fireworks with the rest of Panama! New Year’s Day, which is also my birthday, was celebrated with a delicious dinner with our neighbors and friends!
I have always heard that you can choose your friends but you can’t choose your family! Until we moved to Panama, I believed that to be true.
Now, though, the friends we have chosen have become our family. Because of all of them, our holidays, special events, and even our day to day life, have been made so much better! Yes, I still miss my family, especially my parents, but these amazing people remind me I’m not alone. They have become our surrogate moms, dads, abuelas/abuelos (grandparents), sisters, aunts. I am truly grateful to have each and every one of them in my life!
On January 17, 2017 Panama installed 50 free wireless wi-fi internet access points at bus stops (MetroBus) all over Panama City. Smart City is a joint initiative between the Municipality of Panama, a private company – JCDecaux, and the wireless internet company Wigo. Users will be able to connect for free using all devices that connect to WiFi; such as a laptops, tablets and smart phones. They claim that using small signal amplification antennas throughout the city will provide better quality internet connections. Many of the bus stops also have digital screens where people can access a website of the Municipality of Panama to get government and event information. In the future there will be real time bus arrival information and routes, as well as nearby points of interest. The government is providing these free connectivity services to encourage use of the public transportation systems for both residents and tourists, and make internet more widely available to everyone.
The National Internet Service is known as “internet para todos”, which translates as “internet for all”. The first time you access the network, you’ll have to go to the webpage to register for a free account. You only have to do this once and your device will be recognized by the network from then on. There is more information on their website and directions on how to register your devise, in Spanish. Here is a link: Internetparatodos
According to the website (translated to English on Google): “The service allows free access to the Internet using standards-based technologies commonly available on laptops and personal computers and other devices, allowing every citizen to use the service in case of owning a computer without the need to purchase special devises for connectivity. It is remarkable the proliferation of mobile devices and its incremental in the National Internet Network, which has given many citizens the benefit of improving and / or diversifying their methods of communication and access to information.”
*There are some restrictions to the use of the free WiFi service. To protect minors from viewing inappropriate content, the Network has restrictions on sites not suitable for children. Because there is a lot of mature or unsuitable content available on YouTube and similar ‘streaming” sites, they are also blocked from users.
The 50 bus stops that currently have free wi-fi service are:
The plan is to extend the wi-fi services to all bus stops in the District of Panama. Of course, there are already lots of private restaurants, coffee shops and businesses that offer free wi-fi. Internet is becoming more accessible to everyone in the country as time goes on, especially now that the government is on board too.
Panama is looking towards the future as it positions itself
at the forefront of Smart City technology!