The Challenge of Building in Panama

The Challenge of Building in Panama

Welcome in beautiful Panama where you will start your new life! You have found a fantastic land and you’re ready to set a house that will soon be your home. Unfortunately, it does not go as smooth as expecting… Let me tell you about

The Challenge of Building in Panama

When you move in a foreign country, it takes time to adjust and sometimes it is hard to get rid of our beliefs. Building in Panama is no exception to this. We all come with European or North-American standards in our mind and we all soon experience the “cold-shower” syndrome… Nothing here seems to be the same.

When we start building our house in El Espino de San Carlos, we had a very hard time at starting. There is 5 parts in the challenge of building in Panama.

  • Paperwork

Well, coming from Europe, there are some steps to go through when you start a new construction and I always found it kind of a hassle. Well, that was actually a breeze! In Panama, you first need an architect. He may not design your house but for any construction above 50 m2, you need one who will stamp your plans. Then, maybe you will be lucky and find a honest architect, the one that will not cost you both arms and a kidney! Don’t expect to spend less than $5,000 though and that the honest price.

Once you found an architect, you will need other authorizations from public services, such as Bomberos (firemen) for electricity, Salud (health) for sceptic system and plumbing, and at the end, another inspection from a city engineer who eventually will deliver your Permiso de Occupacion (occupancy permit).

You will then have to either go or hire someone to go for doing the registrations in the Registro Publico (public registry) and in the Dirrecion General de Impuestos (tax office). Funny thing is that nothing is connected so you have to do it all to make sure your house is registered so you would not be in trouble with any government office.

  • Weather

Most of us moved in Panama for weather reasons. Who don’t want to live in a tropical country where you have hard sun all year long! 😎

This is fantastic until you decide to build! Then, this is a totally different story. Any move will make you sweat like crazy. It is exhausting for our non-tropical bodies. Once again, there is a need for adjustment. You will work from 6 am to 2 pm at most. Don’t even think about doing more because your body will stop you in no time! Prepare yourself to drink litres of water without a single drop or pee. Don’t believe me? Try for yourself!

When the sun is not killing you, you may enjoy some hard showers during rainy season. In San Carlos and surroundings, our area of operation, there is less rain than on the Caribbean side but still, when it rains, it rains hard. And if you’re not ready to cover your new concrete floor in less than a minute, then you have to be ready to redo it 😤 … And that SUCKS.

  • Labor

Finding good workers in Panama is almost the hardest part. And by “good”, I don’t even mean “skilled”. I only mean workers who will show up for work every day. We have been doing construction for about 2 years and we managed to find some reliable ones but they still need to be supervised. CONSTANTLY.

I see many contractors here who just bring a bunch of guys to a construction site and come to pick them up at the end of the day. And guess what? It takes twice as much time than if the contractor would stay here and manage the team. If they run out of materials, they stop working. If they’re done with doing what they were told to, they stop working. When they don’t know how to do something, they stop working. I can go on and on and on. Examples are endless!

  • Materials

Even if we don’t reinvent the wheel and adjust to Panamanian ways of building, there are still issues. You need to engage in relationships with your material suppliers so they will deliver when they say they will (at least on the day they said they will!). You also need to negotiate the prices and make sure they will maintain them for the duration of the building work or you would be in trouble to respect your offer.

After you find a good supplier and make all arrangements with him, you also have to constantly check the quality of the materials they deliver. It happens sometimes that you have to return some blocks or cariolas that don’t meet the agreed level of quality.

Last but not least, make sure you have more than enough materials delivered because you may enjoy the “we are out” at the time you need the stuff. They even happen sometimes to be out of concrete… WTF? How can a material store be out of concrete??? Who knows! But you’ve been warned!

  • Language Barrier

That the most challenging part when you start doing something abroad. You think they get what you said. But they didn’t. And you end dealing with delays and hassles because you just “assumed” everything was understood.

Or you don’t speak the Panamanian Spanish, which is not the same than Spanish from Spain, Argentina, Colombia, or any other Spanish speaking country in the world!

As last words, I would strongly advise you to make sure the company you’re hiring for your construction or remodelling needs:

  • is registered legally in Panama
  • has a manager who works on the field or at least is present on site
  • has finished already at least one job with a satisfactory outcome for the client.

And this is your lucky day because we have it all! Just contact us and enjoy the ride!

About Anne

Helping people in Panama with their needs of Construction, Property Management Services, and Freelancing Services.
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