Hiring a Maid in Panama
Many apartments in Panama include a servant’s bedroom and a small bathroom. That’s because having a live in maid is customary in Panama. Hiring a maid to come and clean once or twice a week is very different than hiring one to live with you and your family.
Finding an honest, competent, and reliable maid can be difficult for foreigners living in a strange land. The best way is to ask other foreigners (expats) living here for recommendations. If an expat had a good experience with a maid but couldn’t hire her full time or moved far away then this maid may be right for you. If the expats you know can’t recommend a maid then Panamanians you work with or associate with will always know one or more potential candidates. There are also agencies that can provide maids for a fee. Most of these agencies will have prior references for their maids.
Interviewing candidates may be difficult if you do not speak Spanish fluently. Ask someone you know who is bilingual to attend the interview so you can ask all your questions and receive complete answers. Ask for references from past employers (preferably expats) and contact them to see if the candidate was honest, reliable, and a good worker.
Good Communication: A maid with a cellular phone is easier to communicate with when she is late than one with a home phone or none at all. Panama maids tend to show up late due to traffic congestion, missing a bus connection, or simply not being organized. The ability to call her to find out how far away she is and an estimated arrival time will save you from stress and frustration.
The Right Equipment on hand is very important as Panama maids do not bring any tools or cleaning supplies. When hiring a Panama maid it is a good idea to show her what brooms, mops, cleaning solutions and supplies you have and what more she will need.
The Keys to the front security gate and your front door may be the difference from peace of mind to losing everything you own. Many expats are home when the maid arrives and leaves with no need to give her a copy of the keys. Expats who work or are on holiday and not at home when the maid arrives must decide whether to give her a copy of the keys. The better solution is to have a trusted neighbor let the maid in and out while you are away. But, if you must hand over your keys to a stranger make sure to lock up all valuables (cash, jewelry, passports, etc.) to be inaccessible to the maid. Keep an inventory of all valuables including silverware, cutlery, clothing, expensive tools, music CD’s and videos. When you terminate the maid ask for the keys back but also take your front door locking mechanism to a locksmith to re-tool the lock and make new keys.
Live In Maids require more attention as you trust a complete stranger with the keys to your home and access to your family and pets. Most live in maids come from the interior with little schooling and only speak Spanish. Treat them like an extension of your family by feeding them the same foods your family eats. Buy her a small TV for her room. The reality of the Panama economy is that a live in maid can save more money than a shop clerk or an office worker who have to pay rent, utilities, buy furniture, commute to and from work, and buy groceries.
Training may be required if the Panama maid has no prior experience. For the first day of employment write up a list of things the maid should do written in Spanish. Make sure she knows how to clean appliances like the microwave, stove, oven, and fridge. Make sure she knows how to use the washer & dryer, vacuum cleaner, carpet sweeper, and cleaning solutions.
Pregnancy can happen when you hire a young maid leading to paid maternal leave and lost work time. Panama does not have any laws against age discrimination. Therefore, it might be wiser to hire older Panama maids in their 40’s and 50’s who already have grown up children.
Payments should never be in cash. Make all payments either by local bank check or direct deposit into the maid’s bank account. Direct deposit is easier because the maid doesn’t have to take time to deposit checks in her bank. This way there are permanent records proving payment whereby signed cash receipts can be lost or disputed in labor court. If the Panama maid does not have a bank account request that she open one and offer a $10 advance to the required initial deposit.
Buy Homeowner’s or Renter’s Insurance to cover any damages or losses by theft from a Panama maid. This will give you peace of mind. Make sure you save all receipts and photograph or video all valuables and keep an inventory for the insurance company in case you have to file a loss or damages claim.
Another option is to either find an illegal immigrant or to import a maid from another country.
Panama has a unique immigration residency law called the Foreign Domestic Workers Visa which provides resident visas for all types of live in domestic workers including maids, cooks, gardeners, butlers, handymen, and chauffeurs.
Any Panama legal resident (temporary or permanent) can hire foreigners to be live in domestic workers and obtain immigration residency visas for them. These visas can be renewed annually up to four times totaling five years.
Here is a list of the requirements under the Foreign Domestic Workers Visa:
• Written Employment Contract with three originals, for the employer, employee, and the Ministry of Labor. The contract should define all responsibilities and the salary. Include a two week trial period clause allowing the maid to be fired if it does not work out.
• Pay Minimum Wage: Domestic workers in Panama City earn a minimum of around $2 an hour, which amounts to $352 a month based on a 44-hour week.
• Register the maid within 30 days of hiring with the Social Security (CSS) office.
• Hire a Panama Immigration Attorney who knows the Panama labor laws.
Follow the Labor Laws
The Foreign Domestic Workers Visa requires following Panama’s Labor Laws.
All wages are subject to income taxes, social security taxes, and an education fund. Withholding these taxes from employee’s salaries is mandatory after the first week.
An uncompensated day off per week is required (usually Sunday). Employees receive a 30 day annual paid holiday after working continuously for 11 months.
The following days are paid holidays or days of mourning for all employees: New Years (January 1), Martyrs Day (January 9), Carnival Tuesday (Mardi Gras), Labor Day (May 1), Independence from Colombia Day (November 3 & 5), First Cry for Independence Day (November 10), Independence from Spain Day (November 28), Mother’s Day (December 8), and Christmas Day (December 25). Employment on a holiday requires paying 150% of the usual wages.
Every employee receives a special bonus called the “13th month” equivalent to one month’s salary every year. This bonus is earned with one day’s pay for every 11 days employed and paid in three equal installments: April 15, August 15, and December 15.
Employees are also entitled up to 11 sick days per year.
Document every violation of the employment contract and give the maid a copy. Guard the original reports from the maid. The Panama maid can be fired after several of these violations for just cause.