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A Different Way of Looking at Panama

In this essay, I want to share one reason why Panama is my choice as a retirement home that may not occur to you. One thing is certain, it's a subject rarely more than briefly touched on at other websites discussing retirement in Panama, if at all.

First, let me tell what I do not look for in a retirement location. I am not interested in retiring to Club Med. I am not looking for a vacation resort. I love beaches, but they aren't the key factor. Panama's beaches are just fine, but I have seen many others that are as nice. I would say the same about its mountains where I have bought land. I don't find "native" Panamanian artwork, folk dances, or other traditional cultural practices especially quaint or exotic. I certainly didn't choose Panama because of its marvelous Mayan ruins. There aren't any. The fact that Panama has an especially rich variety of bird life is all very nice and I love seeing them all, but it's not significant to me.

I was not looking for certain types of "excitement". I don't want to live in a nation where you have to worry about right-wing paramilitaries and left-wing guerillas fighting it out in the mountains and then the capital city's streets. I don't even want a democracy where left-wing parties and right-wing parties constantly vie for support, placing a greater emphasis on ideology than the needs of the people, all the people, including foreign residents. Panama has several political parties, but they're usually referred to as "populist" in nature. That means that, during every election, the parties reshape their programs to meet those issues Panamanians consider to be important at that point in time. None of them qualify as right-wing or left-wing. Fine. I like parties that are responsive to people, not slogans.

I like the fact that Panamanian labor unions and business associations actively assert their members' best interests, sometimes pretty loudly, but without resorting to violence and hatred. There are political problems in Panama, but they sound suspiciously like those I hear in North America and Europe. Last year, they debated the proposed reform of their social security system. Does that sound familiar? If anything, Panamanians seem to debate their issues with less extreme statements than many other "developed" nations. After four decades living and working in as many nations around the world, I value democracy and Panama provides it. Additionally, I am perfectly delighted that Panama chose to disband its military fifteen years ago and has no interest in recreating it. They don't need one and they know it. I don't need one either.

No, I was not looking for a vacation resort or political excitement, I was looking for a place to live for many years, perhaps for the remainder of my life, not visit as some kind of long-term tourist. To that end, I was looking for a factor that you might not have considered. I was looking for globalization.

By "globalization", I mean a nation's involvement in the rapidly emerging global community. It's not a question simply of income level, of outsourcing, of the number of Internet users, of educational levels or any one of a variety of measures. Each may contribute, but globalization, in my mind, means the willingness of a society to link up with other societies to everyone's benefit. My experience strongly argues that economic globalization is the most critical. A nation that depends on economic cooperation and trade with many other nations is far less likely to get into violent disagreements with those other nations or their people, including those who retire in the host nation. It is a nation that is far more likely to be tolerant of other nations and their people. That's very much the case in Panama.

I have done my best to explain to friends why I feel Panama is more committed to the global community than other nations I've visited. I refer to the Panama Canal, the free trade zone that houses companies from all over the world, the multitude of foreign banks and corporations with offices in Panama, the decision of many foreign corporations to go further and set up operations in Panama (for example, Dell Computer's new international service center will employ thousands of Panamanians), the incredibly "mixed up" ethnic background of so many Panamanians where you can expect to meet someone with a Chinese or American or German family heritage (I've met all three and many more) without feeling it's unusual, the fact there are visible Jewish and Arab communities (I've seen three synagogues and one mosque so far) but no conflict between the two, the fact that the primarily Christian business population of Panama City takes off Jewish holidays as well as Christian holidays even if they're not "official", the fact that you can stop at a restaurant in a small town and discover it's owned and operated by Asians, and on and on.

Above all, and I can't emphasize this enough, Panamanians are tolerant. Basically, you can believe and live as you like, just so long as you respect everyone else's right to do the same and deal with them respectfully. The US is proud to call itself a "nation of immigrants". Panama is every bit as much a nation of immigrants and just as proud of it. Being a "foreigner" is not a strike against you in Panama as it is in so many nations I've worked in. When I was going through immigration at the airport a couple months ago, the immigration officer asked me why I visited Panama so frequently (my passport is full of Panama stamps). I told him I was interested in possibly retiring to Panama. He literally beamed. He took it as a compliment and told me so. I can get used to that attitude real fast.

For a very long time, I have wished that I could point to a reasonably objective, independent judgment on Panama's integration into the global community. I wanted to hear from some authority that didn't have a "sell Panama" agenda, but who considered Panama in relation to a wide variety of nations. I finally have found that and I want to share it with you.

A.T. Kearney is one of the largest management firms in the world. In 2003, 2004, and again in 2005, Kearney teamed up with Foreign Policy, one of America's most respected political journals, to create a "globalization index". Each year, they take a variety of different objective indicators to develop their index and apply them to each nation. They cover 62 nations ranging from those that can be expected to be "globalized" (US, Europe, Japan, etc.) and a few that are at least of global importance (Iran, for example). The nations that made the "cut" in the Western Hemisphere include Canada, the US, Mexico, Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Venezuela, and Colombia. Each of these nations has a large population and an active economy based in good part on foreign trade. The only small nation included in the list was Panama, an indication of its importance from the outset.

Of the 62 nations, Panama ranked 30th in 2003. It ranked 27th in 2004. In 2005, it ranked 24th. It ranks higher than any other Latin American nation and by a wide margin. Chile is next, ten levels behind at 34th. Mexico is next at 42nd and so on down the list.

But here's the real surprise. The rankings are further divided into four basic groups (economic, personal, technological and political). I am most interested in the economic rankings as they are based on the best statistics and the economic area is, in my opinion, the critical area for globalization. How economically "connected" is Panama to the rest of the global community? Well, it ranks 3rd. That puts is far ahead of Canada (27th), the UK (32nd), and the US (60th). How could Panama be more globalized economically than these other nations? It's not that hard to explain. Panama's tiny population of 3 million means they have a tiny home market. The US population of 300 million affluent people means Americans have a huge home market. Panama's economic growth requires globalization in ways that US economic growth does not. Having a small home market is not enough. Finland is 15th and New Zealand is 36th. A nation must truly be thoroughly involved in the global economy to get into the top five. Panama's position, both in the general index and its economic component, is unbiased testimony to its degree of global integration.

Why is this so important to me? It's all well and good that Panama is a nation of immigrants where a Canadian, an American, or a European is not going to stick out like a sore thumb, but that represents, in great part, past "globalization". The fact that Panama is a leader in integration with today's global community means that Panamanians will continue to have good reason to welcome people from other nations. This reinforces the already existing high level of tolerance for others. Panama has cast its lot with the global community. The subject is a closed one in Panama. Panamanians don't want to isolate Panama from "foreign influence". It's absolutely the contrary.

Whatever your nationality, Panamanians are more than happy to let you join them, as long as you show the same tolerance and respect for them and others that they show for you. They are too busy being part of the global community to waste time worrying about foreign retirees. Quite the contrary, they welcome them. That, not the beautiful beaches or even the hot real estate market, is why I'm moving to Panama.

Source: Retirement Wave