397: Panama versus Morocco

As an international teacher (at least since I sold out and left the USA) I have lived and worked in two lovely countries in different parts of the world: Morocco and Panama. While each country is unique, worth seeing and visiting for its own special reasons, I can’t help but make comparisons between the two as I move through the routine of daily living and working.

Living and working breaks down into several distinct categories for comparison. Housing, transportation, utilities, food/shopping entertainment and income are all important to living, and are different experiences in each country. So, which is “better?” Your answer and my answer might not be the same, depending on a lot of things. Our situations are not the same, nor are our resources. If you are Bill Gates, you are pretty much going to have a darned good time, no matter what country you are in. I am not Bill Gates, so my experience of each country varies significantly, partly in relation to my resources – which vary according to the country and the work I find there, and partly because the countries are just plain different.

Plus, your experience of each country will be affected by what you want and are willing to accept. If you live more like a native to the country, your expenses will plummet. If you live like an American in either country, your expenses will rise considerably. Central heat and air don’t come cheap anywhere – but usually, the natives have figured out how to live comfortably using fewer costly resources. And I like the smell of line-dried laundry, anyway, compared to tumble-dried.

HOUSING: My apartment in Morocco had two bathrooms, two bedrooms, a ginormous family room, a den, a kitchen, a balcony AND a rooftop terrace, for 176 USD a month. My four BR, 2 bath Panama house with a tiny living room and an eat-in kitchen (galley style) with a front porch costs 800 USD a month. Approximately the same size apartments in square feet. Yes, the complex in Panama has a pool, an exercise room (sort of) and it is located on a polluted beach, and the apartment in Morocco adjoined a mosque, so we got the call to prayer five times a day, starting at 4:30 am. In Morocco, I was robbed three times in three years by maids my husband hired, and in Panama I have been robbed twice (once in the house and once on the street) in the first year. Points to Morocco.

TRANSPORTATION: In Morocco, you can travel in a taxi 80 kilometers for about five bucks. In Panama, you can travel in a taxi about five kilometers for five bucks. The bus in Panama is cheaper – and safer. Morocco has trains that are pretty cheap, Panama does not have trains. Both countries have cheap buses. Both countries have good airport services – about the same.

UTILITIES: Moroccan veterinarians are FAR less expensive than Panama ones – and doctors and dentists compare about the same: Panama costs FAR more. Morocco wins HANDS DOWN for cost and quality of medical and dental care. Total utilities in Morocco are also far cheaper than Panama, and they work better, too, with fewer outages in services. The one thing you need in Morocco that you don’t need in Panama is firewood during the winter, which Panama does not have. Points to Panama on that one. Water quality in either place is good, but Morocco water tastes better – at least in the mountains. Overall – Morocco wins.

FOOD/SHOPPING: In Morocco, produce and limited meat for two people for a week costs about 12.50 USD – 20 bucks if you want imported things, or fancy meats. There is no way in the hot place you can buy food in Panama, anywhere, for that kind of money. Food in Panama is three to five times as expensive as Morocco. Restaurants are similar. I could eat at a local restaurant in Morocco for three dollars or less. Only at a street stall (quality and sanitation iffy) can you do that in Panama. Points to Morocco. Shopping is pretty amazing in either country, but then, I am female…….

ENTERTAINMENT: Where we were in Morocco, there was little entertainment you didn’t make yourself, or that was not sponsored by the local University. In Panama City, where this school is located, entertainment abounds – if you can pay for it. I still end up watching movies online, mostly, and popping my own popcorn. It’s a wash.

INCOME: Morocco paid less on paper, but I had more money. Panama pays more, but the costs of living are correspondingly more, so I have less available cash, even with greater income. It is a wash, pretty much.

Final judgement? I don’t like Panama nearly as much as I liked Morocco. I will finish my contract here in Panama, and start looking for another place to go and see. That is why I became an international teacher – to see some of the world!


8 thoughts on “397: Panama versus Morocco

  1. Great review! You touched on real everyday life things. Very informative! Enjoyed reading this.

  2. Thanks for the post. I’m in Latin America and I’m just not feeling it. I’ve set aside a year to decide where to retire. Last night in the middle of the night it dawned on me that so far Colombia and Ecuador just weren’t cutting it, making the cut. I started thinking about places I loved, and Morocco popped to the top of the list. Then I found your blog, amongst others, and realized I may be overlooking something. This post gives me some perspective. One question, are you able to makes friends well there? I am very concerned about that. Thanks for the good analysis.

    • Al Akhawayn University, which is the overseer of the PreK-12 school where I taught, in Ifrane, Morocco (1 hour from Meknes and Fez) is the only English-speaking University in the country – with many expatriot faculty and families living there. All of the instruction is in English, so all the students and many of their family members, as well, also speak English. Plus, because of Morocco’s location and history, many Moroccans speak multiple languages (French is a given, Berber, Spanish, etc.). We found English speakers everywhere we traveled within the country. The low cost of living there is very attractive. I do not know the process of applying for a residency visa, since I had a work visa while there. If you are looking to purchase property, be sure it has an authenticated deed. And the bureaucracy is legendary, but then, that is true with governments everywhere. 😦
      There are several organizations of expatriots, as well as information sites for foreigners who may be living in situ. Enjoy your research!!

      • Thanks so much. I have enough, just, of a Social Security pension that I think I can get residency. I’d love to be able to do some tutoring. I have taught English, Political Science and World History in the US and Asia for more than 20 years. I’m just not connecting with Latin America. I lived in Saudi Arabia and Oman, so the culture is not a problem, in fact I quite miss it! Thanks for the follow, and the great response!

      • And now you are my 200th follow for my blog! I’m feel very fortunate to have found your blot-I think this is an omen about Morocco! (wink)

  3. There were eight international schools in Morocco when I taught there, in various cities, whose instruction was in English, and parents were always looking for tutors, not to mention private students (youngsters and adults) who are eager to learn English for the better job prospects. Happy hunting – it is a wonderful country!

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