UPDATE 24/01/15 – Two days after writing this, we lost power again for about an hour. Most of the city lost power for an hour or two, including my friend who had never lost power since her more.
This wasn’t a post I planned to write today, but as I was in the middle of my work today at about 10:15 AM when my power went out, again. It appeared to be out for at least my whole neighborhood. My wife, who works a couple of miles down the road, said the lights flickered on and off at her work before the generators kicked in. This was not the first power outage I’ve had at my apartment in perfect weather in the middle of the day, so I figured it would be a good time to write an article to help potential expats understand the reality of the utility grid in Panama.
The truth is if you move to Panama, you will likely have intermittent power and/or water outages. For my wife and I, we usually lose on of them for at least part of the day every month or month and a half. Our last major outage before today was water, which we lost at the end of November. Luckily we were leaving town right as it started, so I don’t know for how long that one went on for. Today’s power outage lasted for only an hour and half, and I consider myself lucky. In June, we lost water for 4 days straight. That outage tested my patience and love for Panama dearly.
This is a fact of life in Panama. Your situation will be better or worse depending on where you live. I know there are some areas that get it worse than us, particularly in the interior of the country where the grid is not as strong. On the other side of the spectrum, I was also discussing this issue with my friend who lives in El Cangrejo, and since she moved here in June, she’s never lost power or water.
I think my area (Edison Park) gets it worse than most other areas inside the city when it comes to power and water outages. I think this is due to a combination of us being on a hill and the massive amount of construction projects around us. I wouldn’t be surprised if someone is occasionally cutting some power line or water pipe with a bulldozer.
I’m very thankful that at least we’ve never had any issues with gas. I’ve heard from multiple friends that their buildings lost gas for weeks, meaning no ability to use the stove or take a hot shower.
If you are in the city and live in a high rise, they will usually have reserve water tanks and generators. The reserve water tanks have probably kept us going through some water outages that we never even knew occurred because it came back on before the tanks ran out. But these tanks usually only have several hours of peak time water in their reserves, and if the outage is longer, the pipes run dry. The generators will keep the elevators running and the hallway lights on, but it won’t do anything to power your individual apartment.
I write this not to complain, but to keep my promise when I started this blog, which is to give expats a realistic understanding of what their life in Panama will be like, both the good and the bad. The truth is, 99% of the time, you will have power and water. But during your time here, you will probably have experiences when you have to throw out what’s in your refrigerator or take a shower with bottled water.
Nobody finds this fun, but how you think you would handle these situations probably indicates how you will fare in Panama as a whole. If this sounds like something that’s an annoyance but you’ll move past quickly once the power and water is back on, then you’ll probably do very well here. If it sounds like something that would ruin your week and make you feel absolutely horrible, then Panama is probably not the place for you.
In some weird way, things like this are what helps make Panama the adventures it is. Panama is many things, but it’s never boring. And for those who embrace that, Panama is the place for you. For those who like boring, there’s nothing wrong with that, but Panama may not be the place for you. At the very least, before you move to an area, make sure to talk to several expats who live there about power and water reliability.