Finding a Maid in Panama

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The Luxury of Having a Maid in Panama

When we first moved to Panama, I was aghast that the apartments we looked at still had an area as part of the floor plan with a tiny bath and what appeared to be a very small walk-in closet. “What is this supposed to be?” I asked the real estate agent. “Oh, that’s the living area for your live-in maid,” she replied. It was hardly big enough to put a twin bed in and I told her as such. “Don’t worry,” was the reply. “You’ll be able to buy her a special bed to fit the space.” Sure enough, I saw mattresses smaller than twin size advertised in the newspaper not long after, and they were specified for the “maid’s room”.

In 2007, having a live-in maid was still very much the norm in the country. The average salary at that point was around $12 for domestic help. Per day.

Of course, we angered all of our neighbors and friends by hiring our first maid back then for $15 per day. “Stop it!” some of them exclaimed. “You’re driving up the prices for all of us!”And, that was for a maid who came and went every day, not a live-in, as I couldn’t imagine having someone in our personal space 24/7.

We ignored them, and we still overpay to this day. I like to think of it as one of our contributions to the Panama employment market, and maybe even to the rise of the middle class in the country.

Rate in 2007/2008 for a full-time live-in maid with benefits (vacation, social security, etc): $200-220. Rate for a full-time live-in nanny with benefits at that time: $225-250. At that time, finding a maid in Panama was not that difficult.

Domestic wages increasing in Panama

We now occupy a home 1/5 the size of the apartment we originally rented when we moved to Panama in 2007/2008, and now – in 2015 – we pay $35 per day for our maid that still comes and goes. Yep, that’s right: that’s a 233% increase in salary for the gal that works for us over the past eight years. It’s still PENNIES compared to what we paid – back in 2008 – in the U.S. for three hours of cleaning: $60! And, that help (in the U.S.) didn’t do dishes or cut up fruit, when I needed it. Nor would I have asked.

Today’s average pay for domestic help in the city of Panama is around $20 per day, depending on where you live (and how easy it is for the woman to get to you) and how big your home is. In the beach areas on the Pacific side, it may be lower – around $15. Note that generally this rate does NOT include a woman who will also help you cook. This is just for cleaning. (And, I do refer to most maids as women here in the country because doing household work in this neck of Latin America is still very much thought of as ‘women’s work’. The feminist revolution is only just now beginning to be born here, in the younger generations.)

I can’t speak to the rates for maids in the Interior – in smaller towns like El Valle, Boquete, Las Tablas, Santiago, etc. – I imagine because some of those areas are more rural and removed from the city, the rates may be less, but that’s a question better posed to some of the other bloggers in Panama that cover those areas.

Meanwhile, the rates for a maid in 2015 – at least in the city of Panama – for a full-time, live-in nanny: $450 and up. More than double what it was seven years ago. That is, if you can find one at all. Their numbers are on the decline.

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Domestic help in Panama becoming harder to find

It’s at least once a month that I hear a complaint from a Panamanian colleague. “Nannies are getting expensive. Maids are hard to find.” My usual response is to turn to them in mock horror, “Let me guess: you’re paying around $250 a month still?” To which, they stammer, “Well, yes, but I can’t afford anything more….”To which my usual response is, “And you haven’t gotten a raise at all in the past 7-8 years?”

And, believe me, most of them are professionals and most of them have. So I ask you: shouldn’t the salaries of domestic help be increasing in that same time period too?

Panama is thriving. The national Minister of Finance just came out with his projections for Panama’s economic growth rate this year: 6.2%. That’s phenomenal in a world where most countries are just trying to stay afloat.

With more companies moving to Panama who bring more jobs to Panama, which means more people relocate to Panama – well, you get the picture. Demand of domestic help is higher, supply is lower, and thus, prices increase. It’s economics 101, people.

Plus, las empleadas as a whole are getting smarter, and more educated, generally about their options in the marketplace.

Domestic help in Panama choosing other positions

Now, let’s be honest. If someone lives in a market that has less than 4% unemployment (like Panama), and they can get a job with regular hours in an office or in a hotel, versus slaving away in a domestic situation that does not have central air conditioning (most homes don’t) and that may have irregular or extended hours, would you blame them?

Some of my fellow expats may be mad at me for saying this, but I don’t blame the young women a bit! This is part of Panama’s upward movement, of positive economic growth, of the rise of a strong middle class – all the things that makes New World type countries New World-esque. And, Panama – as I’m sure you’ve read if you’re reading this blog – is well on its way, at least somewhat.

So, you won’t find me joining my national and long-time expat friends in lamenting their difficulties about the lack of domestic help in Panama – whether it’s a maid or a nanny or a gardener – in 2015.

My philosophy is simple: times have changed in Panama, especially in the past eight years, since we’ve had the opportunity to call Panama our home. It’s for the better: we’ve got more choices. And with more choice, you’re going to pay through increased prices and more competition. And most of the Panamanian local job force have those same choices too. Change is good!

Looking to hire domestic help in Panama?

In my mind, it’s simple, really. Be fair. Be reasonable. And pay slightly more than the market does. Result? You’ll never have problem finding a person that would like to work for you.

Want more realistic insight on moving to Panama, relocating to Panama, or what the culture is like before you visit Panama? That’s what my Gringo Guides to Panama are all about: What to Know Before You Go and More to Know Before You Go.

Panama’s Summer: The Dry Season

Rio Mar Panama
Rio Mar Panama

Usually peaceful and quiet during the wet season, beach properties in the Coronado area can become very crowded on weekends and public holidays during the dry season.

 

It was a welcome relief this week when I went out with my dog for our morning walk, and opened the door to a gorgeous cool breeze. Blowing from the south, this is the first sure sign that Summer in Panama, or as we call it locally, the Dry Season, has arrived.

What’s Summer like in Panama?

First, the Dry Season starts in mid to late December, and goes through the end of April, more or less. In 2014, it started later – more like mid January – because of the El Nino currents. This year, we seem to be right on time.

Summer means the daytime skies are a cloudless, deep blue color. And quite literally, this time of year in Panama, you won’t see any clouds, except once in a blue moon. The daytime haze – usually caused by the tropical humidity – lifts in Summer, and thus, it feels drier than it does any other time of the year. And, thus, Summer is called the “Dry” season. That and the fact that it rarely rains in Summer.

No Rain during Panama’s Summer time

That’s right. Once it’s turned fully into summer here in Panama, you’ll rarely see it rain – for an entire four months. As a result, the daily humidity stays at around 75%. Daytime temps are higher and hotter than in the rainy season – expect around 88 to 90 degrees F. And, sometimes into the mid 90s.

Sunscreen Needed!

Because Panama is only located 300 miles North of the equator, the intensity of the sun here is much stronger. Even people that ‘don’t burn’, burn in Panama. So bring your sunscreen, please. Otherwise, you’ll look like a tourist, or as the locals will call you “langostas”, which means “lobster”.

The Breeze – that lovely Summertime Breeze

Our very favorite thing about the Panama Summer is the almost constant breeze that blows from the South. That breeze cools things off – or at least it feels that way, and it’s a lovely characteristic that is unique to the Dry Season.

Bocas del Toro

Located on the Caribbean coast near Costa Rica, Bocas del Toro has become a popular holiday destination for Panamanians and the expat community.

Summer also means higher prices

If you’re coming to Panama to surf, swim or snorkel from December to May, you’ll pay more than you will any other time of the year. That’s because it’s High Season.

Latin American families do more vacationing during their Summer – just like we do from June to September in North America- because kids are out of school. So, expect more crowds on the weekends, more traffic on the road (especially for holiday weeks like Carnival and Easter), and more people on the beach, pretty much everywhere you go. For city dwellers, it’s actually kind of nice to be in the city during weekends in Summer, because all the locals head for the beach. Traffic is light, and it’s easier and faster to get around. So, keep that in mind for your travel plans.

More on Panama’s Seasons

Here’s a post I did a few months ago on the rainy season, in case you’re thinking of moving to Panama, or visiting Panama from May to November. And, of course you can find more on both seasons in my second book, The Gringo Guide to Panama II: More to Know Before You Go – which you can see here in the right column.

Enjoy the start to your Summer here in Panama!

Casco Viejo Panama

The neighborhood of Casco Viejo in Panama City is a nice location to walk, enjoy some colonial architecture, an ice cream or a cold drink.

Panama in December: What’s New

December in Panama
December in Panama

White Christmas in Panama

Whatever happened to my debit card?

Well, the original never showed up…but the bank did not seem to want to tell me this until two weeks in to the search and rescue mission. The bottom line is at that point, I had to involve the branch manager at my branch and insist upon her help. Once I did so, things remedied themselves fairly rapidly. That is, if you consider that four Panamanian holidays fell within the five business day turnaround needed for a new card to be ordered and delivered.

Bottom line: new debit card delivered another two weeks later. Total time for this entire debacle (no debit card, no access to new online system (because the new debit card was required to get you signed up): Five weeks!

Bad news in Panama

This entire scenario brings up another very relevant topic for expats in Panama. And that topic is the local’s reticence to share bad news with you.

That’s right: bad news is avoided like the plague. It was evident with what happened to me with my new debit card. The customer service reps did not want to tell me that they either had no news or had bad news, so instead they would tell me nothing.

You can read more about this tendency in The Gringo Guide to Panama: What to Know Before You Go in Chapter 12.

December 8 is Mother’s Day in Panama!

Panama is the only country in the world that celebrates Mother’s Day on December 8. I’m not sure why that’s the case. But when the rest of the world is focused on Christmas trees and wrapping gifts, Panama insists on stopping everything in order to honor its mothers.

December 8 is indeed another national holiday. Everything is closed (except the restaurants) and more importantly for you, all banks and government offices are closed. Yes. It’s another opportunity for the national population (and those of us that live in Panama) to take off work.

I feel certain that mothers in other countries might agree that they would like to be recognized with a national holiday and a day off – versus just a Sunday in the U.S. – I would vote for that!

Panamanians celebrate Mother’s Day much like anywhere else – flowers, gifts and time with family.

Pacific Entrance to the Panama Canal

Pacific entrance to the Panama Canal with the Bridge of the Americas and Biodiversity Museum in the background

Holiday Travel in December from Panama

It’s normal this time of year that the expats begin to clear out and head for home to see family, friends and take some time off work. For those that are long-timers in Panama, many will have family fly in to celebrate the holidays here.

For most expat executives living in Panama, once the international school schedule lets out for Christmas break, there’s a massive exodus for the airport. The same thing happens at Summer break in mid-June through mid-August too.

Our preference – having lived here for seven Christmases now – is to return home to the U.S. for at least a couple of weeks to reconnect with those we haven’t seen in a while. Then we love to come back to New Year’s Eve, when the parties are plentiful and the fireworks are abundant.

No country does fireworks like Panama!

Here’s wishing you and yours a blessed and comfortable Christmas holiday from the warmth of Panama.

Happy Christmas

Wishing you a Merry Christmas from Panama