To work overseas, the process is different for each country. My other friends who work in international schools have dealt with visas and other paperwork before they left the U.S. In Panama, we entered the country as a tourist; because of this, we experienced Panama bureaucracy first hand!
As mentioned earlier, all new hires arrived in Panama on Tuesday, July 22. From 8 in the morning until 10:30 at night, the shuttle brought teachers from the airport to the Marriot. On Wednesday morning, there was a group of educators & dependents (families, boyfriends, spouses) milling around the lobby. Colorado dominated the group with five of us from CB, Fruita, Denver, & a teacher who came from Chile—who had previously taught in CO! The others had just left schools in Germany, Vietnam, Spain, Africa, Thailand, Minnesota :), Chicago, and California.
After quick introductions, we were shuttled to the school. During the first few days, we set up bank accounts, received stipends, toured different barrios of the city as well as learn about the culture of Panama.
At the end of the first week, they had a cocktail party for us at the hotel. All the new hires attended as well as the director of the school, various administrators, and some teachers. The following week, the party venue was an amazing rooftop restaurant in Casco Viejo (Old Town). Two days after that, we had dinner at Miraflores Locks at the Panama Canal.
Miraflores Locks at the Panama Canal!
I think they planned the parties to balance the waiting in basements of government buildings without air conditioning. Immigration was crazy. Luckily, 4 out of the 7 new elementary hires have families so they were ultra-organized for us—so the process was a bit quicker compared to the day before.
We were called to the window individually 3 different times to complete the forms. Imagine Liam at the window on his tiptoes being fingerprinted with instructions given in Spanish. Luckily, ISP’s lawyer and HR representative was there to guide us through. Each time we signed a document, we were told “just like your passport”. The day before, a teacher had to start from scratch because the signatures varied. I found myself overthinking signing my name…
The support we received from ISP was great. If we needed transportation to buy school uniforms and supplies, they provided it. ISP helped us with car insurance, translating leases & car contracts, social security accounts, and providing a realtor to help us find a home.
Panama isn’t the most efficient of countries—beautiful, but inefficient. Panama takes planning. A simple errand may take only 10 minutes while the next day, it can take 50 minutes for no apparent reason. The days when everything goes right without mishaps or traffic jams, I file it away as a happy place to think about when the next time, daily life challenges me!