Moving to Panama can be a big step in life, and an even bigger one when it comes to making new friendships. Let’s be honest, changing countries, cities, towns, and cultures can seem a bit overwhelming for many of us, no matter where we’re from. For many expats, finding friendship can seem like a daunting task. It takes a lot of courage to put yourself out there in a new place, but with a bit of guts, some open-mindedness, and good communication skills, it’s a lot more pleasant than it seems.
If you truly want to adjust to your new life in Panama, familiarize yourself with the country and culture, and get the most out of your social life here, there’s one way you can fast-track it more efficiently than anything else: make friends with locals!
In the town of Las Tablas, they prepare for Carnaval all year long, and it’s by far Panama’s biggest Carnaval celebration. Las Tablas is famous for parades that split the town into two sides – Calle Arriba and Calle Abajo – who then compete for the attention of the crowd. This creates for an electric atmosphere of parade floats, outdoor dancing, food, music, and the famous “culecos.” Culecos are essentially giant water trucks that spray the crowd throughout the day to keep them cool, and spice up the party a bit.
You can reach Las Tablas by car or bus, but know that it’s about a 5-hour drive from Panama City. You can also fly to nearby Pedasi (45 min flight), and take a short drive to Las Tablas, but make sure to book ahead as flights are small and sell out fast.
How to endear yourself with locals in your new hometown, and new country
For starters, let’s be clear on what a “local” is, in terms of this discussion. A local in this case is someone, whether Panamanian or foreign-born, who has lived in Panama for a large portion of their life, and has “roots” there, so to speak. As an expat, you’ll often run into people who, like you, haven’t set their roots down yet and are unfamiliar with both the Panamanian lifestyle and local culture. That’s OK, but remember that these friends will also be looking to familiarize themselves with Panama, which means they will be in the same boat as you.
For these reasons, it’s good to go out of your way to find social events, groups, and communities that cater to locals, and participate in them. Of course, you should socialize and make friends with fellow newcomers too, but you’ll find that if you lead the charge to become more locally familiar, you’ll have a much easier time getting by, and you’ll be happier.
Learn how to speak Spanish
This may seem self-explanatory, but learning how to speak the local language (Spanish in this case) is the quickest and easiest way to ingratiate yourself with local culture in Panama. It opens many doors, both socially and civically, and is a sign of respect that locals appreciate and are endeared to. Learning Spanish will help with local social gatherings such as community meetings, birthday parties, networking events, and holiday celebrations. It will also help with day-to-day tasks, which will come in handy throughout your time in Panama.
Don’t rush yourself or criticize yourself if you don’t pick up on a new language in the first few months. Learning a language takes time. It’s a process, it has its own growing pains, but in the end it’s always worth it. Plus, think of learning Spanish as the FUN part of making new friends! Locals are mostly more than happy to help you learn through conversation, and will help you with your mistakes when you make them.
No matter how you choose to acclimate yourself, make new friends, and adjust to a new culture when moving to Panama, remember: there’s no “one size fits all” way to do it. Go at your own pace, be mindful of how things are done, be kind, and remember that this is a journey. Make it a great one!