Moving to and navigating a new country will always be a challenge. It’s a fun challenge that is incredibly rewarding, but the adjustment period isn’t always easy. From learning a new language to figuring out how to get around a city, or even what to eat, there are plenty of uncertainties and decisions that one never thinks about back home that are suddenly confusing and frustrating in this new, foreign land.
Luckily, for the 21st-century expat, the most important tool you could possibly need to help with this transition is likely already in your pocket. Your smartphone. The wide array of apps that exist today can make getting around in a new place so much easier. Take Panama, for example. There are apps that can help you with everything from learning and communicating in Spanish, traversing the city or country, finding a place to live, or getting food ordered to your door.
Not sure where to start? We’ve pulled together a list of the 17 apps you need to make your life in Panama easier. Whether you’ve been here for less than a year or more than a decade, it will serve you well to take a look at some of these cool tools!
Duolingo is my-all time favorite language learning app. The model is similar to Rosetta Stone in terms of the approach to learning a language, but unlike Rosetta Stone that costs hundreds of dollars per course, Duolingo is totally free! All you do is select your native language and the language you want to learn (English to Spanish, say) and you’re ready to go. This fun-to-use app makes learning Spanish a breeze and is easy enough to use anywhere, even on the go.
If you haven’t quite mastered Spanish yet, Google Translate is the perfect tool until you get all those tricky verb tenses down. Just like a digital dictionary, you can look up words phrases or entire sentences to translate between English and Spanish (or any two languages of your choosing). With Google Translate, though, you can do so much more. Point your phone’s camera at a restaurant menu written in Spanish and watch the words appear in English on your screen. You can speak to the app in one language, and it will automatically dictate your translated words. You can download the app to your phone and even use it when you don’t have data or wifi isn’t available.
Anyone who’s tried to master a new language knows that the hardest part is often the speaking. No matter how many times you practice flashcards or rehearse phrases, speaking to an actual person is always so much more challenging. Tandem allows you to do just that! This app connects language learners with native language speakers and allows you to practice through video chats. It’s the perfect way to get comfortable with conversation.
Whatsapp is essentially the same as iMessage or any other messaging app but has become the preferred mode of texting across Latin America or for international communication. While many cell providers charge per text message, WhatsApp is totally free to use as long as you’ve got data or wifi. Just like in a normal texting app, you can create groups and even share photos, videos, and voice messages.
Transport & Navigation Apps
Google Maps might just be the most useful app on this list. Obviously, it’s a great navigation tool, providing driving (or walking, biking, or public transportation) directions between point A and point B. I find that more for anything, though, I use Google Maps to learn more about the area I happen to be in at any given point in time. Search “lunch” or “coffee” wherever you are, and you’ll instantly get a number of options in the vicinity, along with photos and reviews. You can also download Google Maps to use offline if you expect to be without service.
One of our least-favorite parts of Panama City? Traffic. Sure, it’s nowhere near as bad as some of the other great metropolises of the world, but that doesn’t make being stuck in your car at the end of a long day any more enjoyable. Luckily, Waze is here to save your commute. Like Google Maps, Waze provides you with driving directions from one destination to another, but Waze has more sophisticated technology to help you choose the quickest route. The app collects real-time user data about traffic jams, accidents, and slowdowns to quickly calculate just how to get you to your destination pronto. It even alerts drivers about nearby police cars or speed traps.
If you’ve never used Uber, it’s about time you joined the masses who make use of the rideshare app as one of their primary modes of transportation. Uber is a relatively inexpensive and easy way to navigate Panama City if you don’t have a car or are heading somewhere and you’d prefer not to drive. Choose your pick-up and drop-off locations and the type of ride you want, and that’s it. The whole thing will get charged to your credit card and you can sit back and enjoy the ride.
Similar to Easy Taxi, Cabify allows you to hail a taxi from your smartphone. In addition, though, Cabify also allows users to schedule a pickup in advance –especially useful if you have an early morning flight and want to ensure you’re leaving on time. Cabify is conveniently used throughout Latin America, so you’ll likely find the service many of the places you travel.
Finally, if you prefer to hail a taxi the old fashioned way, or happen to find yourself hopping in a taxi that’s in the right place at the right time without the use of an app, Top Taxi is there to help. It isn’t unheard of for taxi drivers in Panama to take advantage of newcomers or visitors and charge marked-up rates. Top Taxi is the first app that will quickly calculate what you should pay for a ride given your pick-up and drop-off points, the number of passengers, and the time of day. Input this info and the app will give you an estimate of what you should pay for your ride.
When it comes to choosing where to eat or what to order, look no further than Degusta. Similar to Yelp, but with a focus on food, this is the app for all-things restaurants in Panama City. Search by location, category, price, and much more. You can read reviews, see photos, and even make reservations through the app. With a little bit of research on Degusta, you can ensure you never have to endure an overpriced tourist trap of lackluster meal again.
And for those days that you want to enjoy restaurant food but in the comfort of your home, there’s Uber Eats. An offshoot of Uber, Uber Eats allows you to order food from many of your favorite restaurants and have a driver deliver it to your door, usually within the hour. Perfect for casual nights in or a lazy Sunday when you don’t want to leave the house.
In the same vein as Uber Eats, is Appetito24. Beyond just restaurant deliveries, though, Appetito24 provides tons of other options of what you might want delivered to your home or work. You can have groceries delivered from the supermarket, get meds delivered from the pharmacy, or even use it to send a surprise gift to a loved one across the city.
Much like Appetito24, Glovo can have nearly anything delivered almost anywhere within an hour or so. Whether you’re craving some late-night ice cream, forgot an ingredient for the dinner you’re preparing, or just don’t feel like hopping in the car to run errands, Glovo can take care of it. They even have a courier service.
Airbnb adds a new level of fun and convenience to making travel reservations. Sure, Panama has plenty of great hotels to choose from, but if you want something with a bit more character, more space, or at a better price point, Airbnb allows users to book accommodations in other people’s homes. This is especially great if you want to book a large house for a group, have a special destination in mind that doesn’t offer tons in the way of hotels, or are looking for a travel experience where you can feel more like a local and less like a tourist.
Think of Encuentra as the craigslist of Panama. Here you can search classifieds for apartments, furniture, jobs, and more. You’ll often find great deals on used goods and can sometimes snag an apartment that might not be listed elsewhere. It’s also easy to create your own postings if you have something to sell or a service you want to market.
Compre o alquile
This is a great one-stop shop to search for apartment listings across Panama. As the name suggests (it means “buy or rent” in Spanish), this app is useful regardless of whether you’re looking for a rental or something more permanent. You can search by neighborhood, budget, number of bedrooms, or special features making this an easy and efficient way to see only the listings you’re most interested in.