Founder of the popular Facebook group – Black Expats in Panama – Charlotte Van Horn has the insider scoop on all things Panama. In this Travel Noire exclusive, Charlotte shares the reality of being Black and based in Panama, offering invaluable tips and observations to help make your move smooth.
I will always be a Jersey girl! I was raised in Glassboro, NJ and remained in Jersey until 1993. My life was headed in the wrong direction, until my BFF, Karen, convinced me to move to Biloxi, MS with her. It was a life-changing decision that revised the trajectory of my life! I met my husband, Alfredo in 1993 in Biloxi.
We have 3 daughters and 2 granddaughters. Alfredo is Panamanian, so he is definitely the reason I am in Panama today. We share our time between Florida and Panama.
Black Expats in Panama (BEIP) was started as a Facebook Group in May 2019. I was looking to connect with Black Expats and potential Sisterlocks® clients in Panama (I own Locks4Ever and I am a Sisterlocks® Consultant/Brand Ambassador). I also wanted to become more immersed in the Black culture of Panama. However, when I looked for Panama expat groups on Facebook, I found the group discussions did not resonate with me.
Although basic information was plentiful and helpful, I did not find much in terms of Black culture and diversity. Also, I knew I lived in an AMAZING suburb of Panama City (Brisas Del Golf, Norte), but I did not see any information about it. The focus seemed to be on Coronado and Boquete. So I started BEIP.
The Pandemic, George Floyd, “Karen in the Park” and the weight of the hostile political climate collided and more Black people started to seriously consider living outside of the U.S. A new version of “Blaxit” emerged. The group membership skyrocketed! As the group grew, I had to figure out ways to respond to the needs expressed by members.
Primarily, they wanted to know about the Black culture of Panama, admitting they never thought of Panama having a Black presence. I reached out to Destination Management Company, ITA Global, whom I’d done another major tour with. I asked Chris to help me customize a Cultural Relocation Tour that would address the need for relocation options and information, but would also include the Black culture aspect and history.
BEIP received a Trademark from the USPTO, became an LLC, and partnered with ITA, Global. Since then, we have completed several tours (monthly) and partnered with real estate, medical, legal, insurance, veteran services and Afro-Panamanian Tour Guide professionals and added a coaching option to create a one-stop service.
We are now in the process of working with Avarr Webbing (a BOB based in Colorado) to launch a revolutionized website that provides more services, information and engagement for members and business opportunities for vendors.
I think some of the reasons Black travelers choose Panama are proximity to the US, sophistication and infrastructure, cost of living, great weather, peaceful vibe, melanin and US currency.
It seems the most popular locations are Panama City area, Coronado/Gorgona (beach) and Boquete/David.
Charlotte Van Horn.
* Come with an open mind. The best advice I received came from Alfredo’s Cousin, Greg. He said, “forget everything you know about the US . . . THIS is Panama”. Come with an open mind and remember that while the U.S. has some pretty amazing systems in place, there is more than one way to do things. You cannot force your North American expectations onto Panama.
* Do your research. There is so much information available. Make sure you are diligent about vetting the information you see online. For example, if someone is professing to be an expert/coach/relocation specialist, and they are relatively new to the country . . . look a little deeper.Many occupations in Panama are reserved for Panamanians. Some foreigners have to figure out ways to make money, make sure you are getting the quality and experience being promised.
* Hire professionals and skip the D.I.Y. While you may be the brightest, sharpest knife in the drawer at home . . . THIS is Panama! Documents are in Spanish, the language is Spanish, add international laws, policies, culture and customs, it can get pretty overwhelming. Research the pros and look for personal references. Look for pros who preferably can read/write/speak English. Fortunately, the price for professional services is usually much less in Panama, so do not assume you cannot afford the pros. You can save time, money, stress and heartache by having the right professional team.
1. Cost of Living
2. Business and Volunteer opportunities
3. I feel much safer here than in the U.S.
If you’re considering life in Panama then check out the Black Expats in Panama main page for tips and advice and join the Facebook group to learn more from other Black travelers.