Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Pros and Cons of Living in Panama

(This might be looked at as a continuation of a related blog from last year, "Is Panama Safe". Also, part 3 and 4 of this series are "Is Panama an Illusion?"  and "Further Notes on Panama Living")

OK...this blog has been 7 years in the making. Having devoted this much time primarily living in Panama, I think I now have a few qualified views to contribute to those wondering about living, working or retiring to Panama.

I see a lot of hype everyday in my mailbox or in the "news" about what its like to live in Panama. Of course, at the beginning of the conversation we must admit that it depends on "which side of the tracks" you are living on. Panama is a small country of less than 4 Million residents...yet its wealth reaches a very small proportion of that population. If you understand that basic fact, you begin to understand the framework around which I will paint this picture and tell my observations.

Trying to be as positive as possible this year, let me start with the "pros" of Panama living...

Panama is small and manageable. Even though it is very bureaucratic for its size, one can know and understand Panama more quickly than most other LatAm countries.

The "pensionado" (retirement) program for foreigners relocating to Panama is still the most aggressive and cost effective of any other Latin country. "Pensionado" is any foreigner who can afford to "retire" to Panama, regardless of their age, and they qualify for 25-35% discounts on most everything...from food to airline tickets. For this you need a VALIDATED income stream of $1000 per month, or $1500 per married couple.

Health-care is very inexpensive in Panama. An office visit for a dentist, with a cleaning and exam is anywhere from $25 to $45.

Panama City is more modern than most other cities in Central America. It has upscale malls, and great movie theaters.

Panamanians are overall peaceful and laid back. They are not as aggressive or in your face "patriotic" as many other Latin countries. Their 100+ year history of having Americans in their country building and running their canal (until that changed in 1999) helps them understand and at least accept some of the idiosyncrasies of "Americans" in their midst.

The dollar is tied to the local currency called the "Balboa". That, at least for the time being, creates more stability of currency for this region. Of course, that could all change in the future if the dollar takes an expected devaluation.

There is no Central Bank to manipulate or control the money supply in Panama. That means the banks are run more conservatively and maintain values better than much of the rest of the world. Panama is the largest international financial center after New York in the hemisphere.

Based on the huge money reserves in Panama, the past 8 years have seen a building boom unheard of in Latin America for such a small country. There are plenty of new skycrapers for condos and offices available. Of course, some of this topic will fall under "cons" as well.

Lots of late model cars and trucks on the road, and prices are about the same or even less in some cases for a new vehicle than in the USA.

If you know the right people, you can get most anything done here if you have enough money and patience to endure the process. It is easier to be a "big fish in a small pond" than vice versa.

If you like warm, the climate year around is tropical at sealevel...and there are enough higher elevation mountains such as near the northern border with Costa Rica that feature a more "springlike" climate year around.

Panama features more species of flora and fauna than most any other country...and because of its relatively small size, it is easier to find or observe those wonders of nature.

Islands, islands and more islands. If you like islands, Panama has the most of any country its size. The best beaches in Panama are at the islands...the two largest groups being "Las Perlas" islands on the Pacific side, and "San Blas Islands" on the Caribbean side.

Food and drink are much cheaper overall than the USA and elsewhere...unless you get into specialty imported items which will offset the potential savings in this department.

Cons...unfortunately I differ from many people and publications on many issues. Some of the pros I see heralded are either not true, used to be true, or just mis understood.

Doing business in Panama is not for the "amateur" or faint of heart. While there are many opportunities of small and medium scale in Panama, the bureaucracy and cultural barriers end up costing time and money that even some of the bigger international companies have turned away from and gone a different direction recently. The biggest problem in this department are the protectionist labor laws and constantly changing regulations that make any long term business planning a misnomer in Panama.

Immigration bureaucracy...and constantly changing regulations...make Panama a mess to try and reside officially and legally. There are also many contradictions between their promotion of inexpensive housing projects for foreigners...but then having immigration regulations where many of the potential buyers would not qualify for residency. If you do not have an OFFICIAL pension to qualify for "pensionado" status, then you need to invest over $300,000 in a house or in a bank account in Panama to have "investor" residency. So, theoretically you can own a nice place here for under $100,000, but if you don`t have an extra $200,000 to put on reserve IN Panama, you will not qualify for residency here or be able to live in your house year around.

Changing tax scenario...the current government has significantly increased taxes on almost all fronts. A pretty good summary of Panama taxes for 2012 has been published by Deloitte, but I find the increased sales taxes and income taxes have caused a significant increase in Cost of Living in Panama as businesses have typically passed on their increased taxes to the general public. While it is understandable that for the government to take on so many projects they have to increase revenues...unfortunately many of these increases come off the backs of those least able to afford it, and many foreigners are taking this into account when deciding where to retire. The annual corporate tax of $300 per year PLUS required registered agent fees make owning a corporation in Panama a much more expensive proposition than it used to be. They also have just increased the "minimum wage" which makes locating business in Panama a bit more expensive than it was.

I also must point out a fallacy purported by many Panama promos. Some "professionals" still tout 20 year "tax free" incentives on Panama real estate. The fact is this is only on "improvements" on a piece of land...such as a house or condo. The land tax is still there...and is one of the highest in Latin America. That law was also changed so that the tax moratorium on a typical structure over $200,000 is now only 5 years. As I have said, these laws get changed almost yearly, and sometimes quarterly. Most lawyers and professionals don't or cant keep up. In addition, the advertised prices for real estate are not the real price. They expect significantly low counter offers on properties here. I also would never buy property "pre-construction" in Panama. I have never known a happy customer nor a project delivered "on time" in Panama. Typically the contracts are heavy on the side of the developer or builder, and you have little legal recourse of significance to fall back on in Panama.

Justice overall is based on what you can afford. The court system are almost all political appointments...and your level of justice will depend on what party or connections you have. While this is true throughout most of the world, it is much more obvious in Panama. Don`t bring your American approach of being "sue-happy" to get your way in Panama. There is no quicker way to losing money on a losing cause...even if you are in the right.

The roads and traffic systems are not designed for the volume of traffic Panama is now experiencing. In addition, there is total disregard for laws and regulations for parking or driving in Panama City. It is "dog eat dog" when it comes to getting around the city, and those who come from organized, highly regulated countries like the USA, Canada or European Union will not be comfortable driving in this craziness. Red does not always mean stop to everyone here...and a stop sign is more a "suggestion" than a rule.

Service...is practically a foreign word in Panama. As in most Caribbean destinations, it seems locals in tropical climates have a hard time getting motivated to go out of their way to provide service or show ambition in this regard. Timeliness and professionalism are an exception versus the rule in Panama...and no one seems to expect improvements in that accept the foreigners here. So, if first world service and excellence is important to you where you live, Panama will consistently disappoint you.

Infrastructure problems are plaguing the development story of Panama. While Panama has historically had more clean, fresh water than most any LatAm destination for drinking and other uses...water is becoming a problem in this country. There is not enough to run their reliance on Hydroelectric dams for electricity...and electricity rates are higher than many neighboring countries per KW. The past two years have seen significant problems with IDAAN, the government bureaucracy that oversees the water supply system, and there have been long service disruptions and a decrease of quality in the drinking water. Not only that, but many of the new high-rise projects do not have adequate drainage and sewage treatment systems in the most expensive of areas. There have been many documented payoffs in engineering and construction contracts that have decreased the costs by cheapening the infrastructure around some of these projects. "Buyer beware".

Cultural barriers...while it is reported that Panama is an "English friendly" place to live or do business, I find that most people who do not speak Spanish are at a tremendous disadvantage in Panama when it comes to business or social concerns. Most taxi drivers and service people do NOT speak or understand English. They also will not respond to criticism or nagging foreigners about their not understanding you or not responding to your demands. In fact, if you get aggressive, it will slow even further your desired results. These people do not respond to "foreign" pressures, and “mañana” does not necessarily mean “tomorrow.”.

The most fundamental problem I see in Panama is the lack of effective education. The public education system is terribly underfunded, and this shows up when looking for qualified, trained workers. While there are some tremendous private (and expensive) schools in Panama City, 98% of the children cannot afford to go there. For Panama`s long term planning, they need more quality schools and teachers than more buildings or office complexes.

As you notice, I have probably gone into more detail about the cons. The reason for that is trying to counterbalance all the "superlatives" you can read at other sources about the joys and benefits of living in Panama. I think peaceful, easy going foreigners with low expectations of their host country will get along fine in Panama. If you have a "live and let live" attitude in life, you will have to adjust, but you will get on fine in Panama. But, if you are out to change or revolutionize this country...well, lets just say you could choose a more reasonable goal.

There is no "Utopia" anywhere in the world. Each person, or company, needs to carefully determine its requirements against its "wish list", and then determine if Panama meets your needs for peaceful and/or profitable living.

I have a Stategic Consulting business in Panama designed to help with these decisions. Let me know if I can be of service. www.latamsynergies.com

57 comments:

AmCha said...

I am Canadian and have been living in Panama since 2007. This is the best review I've ever read about Panama and by this I mean it describes exactly how it is to live in this country. The pros and the cons are exactly what to expect here. Well done !

Big said...

Very good comments. The only one I disagree with is the one about the roads. Although they are not as good as the ones in the US, they are much better than roads in other countries in Central America. Panama is way ahead of Costa Rica when it comes to roads. Costa Rica has so many more cars than its roads can handle. You can't get anywhere fast in that country. But I really don't find Panama roads to be all that bad.

Chris said...

Excellent report. I sure wish I had read this before being suckered by Internationbal Living. I attended an IL conference in 2007 and thought I had found my new utopia. I came down and invested nearly $1 million in real estate. I was able to evacuate last year and returned to Canada. I am still trying to sell the real estate I bought but with no MLS system and very unmotivated realtors it is not that easy. The CONS way outweigh the PROS.

edward said...

Thanks for all the comments. There ISNT any utopia anywhere...and I am not interested in living back in the USA. But...we must go wherever we go with eyes wide open.

As for the roads BIG...I agree about Costa Rica. I lived there 3 years before Panama and the roads are much worse. The main problem in Panama City though are just too few roads for so much traffic...and not much room for expansion accept filling in the bay as they are doing now on various projects. Also, they love stealing iron manhole covers here...so another driving trick is straddling open manholes so you don`t destroy your tires or suspension system. Especially hazardous on a Motorcycle which I have been known to ride here.

Will said...

I thought the article was good but I have a few comments.
The biggest problem with Panama is incompetence. Incompetence can be the result of many things. I can result from ignorance, lack of intelligence, dishonesty, lack of responsibility, low standards and more. All these characteristics are prevalent in the Panamanian culture. This may not seem like a big deal but it is. It will waste away your time to an extent you will not believe and your time IS your life.
Panamanians are even more suit happy than in the U.S. and the legal system is even worse in many ways, if that is possible, though much, much less expensive and therefore more accessible. Regarding only getting the justice which you can buy, that is true sometimes and other times not. If you are going up against a wealthy, well-connected person, especially a Panamanian one, you better have the same or your odds are bad. But if your case is against others either without the capacity or leaning towards bribery or who do not have connections with the particular judge, then you could very well get a reasoned decision. However, now the problem is a severe lack of reason in Panama.
This links back to the poor education system. Panama is an OECD member and they rank fourth from last and next to last in the areas of reading, science and math out of 65 countries and it shows big time. And many of those good schools referred to really aren't. It is common here in Panama to have expensive (by Panamanian standards) private schools that give out good grades and little homework, both of which pleases their parents. This is not a country of fair competition. This is a country of a few privileged folks who only work hard at maintaining their unfair advantage. Then again George Bush became president of the US and he is an ex-alcoholic who never demonstrated excellence at anything except partying so what can you say.
Now here is a pro. The cops are serious cops. I guess I say this vis-a-vis Costa Rica where the cops are more often than not incompetent and sometimes even cowardly. I have never found the cops here to be unfair or incompetent. The politicians, bureaucrats and the officials, yes, but not the cops.
Now the key to living in Panama for honest folks. Make your money elsewhere and just come here to play. For that it is good. One other key. Have low expectations when you do try to do something.

Nars said...

I came across this blog looking for something entirely different, but i'm glad i found it so i can help clarify a few things about Panama, at least to a few folks, as a Panamanian.

first of all, what you say about incompetence is true, and it is the by product of decades of bad distribution of the wealth. but more than that, lazyness of the poor class. whenever you go to a restaurant, you'll find colombian, nicaraguan, venezuelan (etc.) waiters, making an honest living, by doing work that doesnt require any level of education, just good manners, which are not taught at home in this poor households, contrary to other countries in the region.

The justice system is very beaurocratic, and you do need a good attorney, howerver you will see delays of all sorts, but not biased verdicts in any level, and i know this because i'm a lawyer.

Someone wrote that we have schools with poor standards of education, and that is not all true. i myself went to the Episcopal school of panama, which is just as good as Academia Interamericana de Panama, International School of Panama, Balboa Academy and many others. and in all these schools a very high percentage of their graduating classes go straight to school in the best American Universities, i myself went to Columbia for undergrad and UCLA for law school, and my classmates went to Harvard, Yale, Dartmouth, Duke, Goergetown, Nyu, Stanford, UT Austin etc. etc.

so i think it is unfair to just go ahead and trash our education.

Actually if you travel a bit around Latin America, you will not find a country whose middle and high classes speak better english on average as panamanians do. However, your main concern as a foreigner moving to a country with a completely different language and culture should be to be more open and learn a bit from it. if you go to Russia, China, Italy, Dubai and do business, people will speak behind your back in their native languages.

learn some spanish for god's sake.

edward said...

Thanks for some interesting comments. In the cases of rule of law and education in Panama...YMMV (your mileage may vary). Not ALL the schools are terrible and not ALL the lawyers are worthless or dishonest...just too many of them are.

NARS is also correct about learning the language...which I could have emphasized more. There is definitely an "attitude" by many English speaking foreigners here that somehow these people should be better versed in English. It is a definite barrier here if you have little or no Spanish.

There IS some very good education here...and some privileged Panamanians get access to it...and thereafter the good USA schools previously mentioned become available. The main criticism I have mentioned is the PUBLIC system. Terribly underfunded by government and not enough involvement from lower or middle class parents to make it better. Most of those families are working too hard and long to make ends meet in a time of very increased cost of living to have much energy left over for school activities and some version of PTA (parent teacher association).

I think NARS view of the legal system is...well, not very objective. I´m sure you are a good, honest lawyer...and probably have your ways of getting justice for your clients or boss. At the same time, I know of way too many up close and personal stories of tremendous injustices by these courts...to both the poor Panamanians...and many unsuspecting foreigners. A foreigner suing a Panamanian in Panama is...well, basically futile. Not a recommended strategy in most cases...unless you have really deep pockets and a good prayer life.

I continue to try and emphasize that Panama has many charms and many traps. Depending on your personality and expectations...it can be right up your alley...and there are many foreigners I know who have lived happily for 30-50 years here. So...it is definitely doable...but don`t come here expecting a similar culture or life that you have in the USA, Canada or elsewhere. It is just..DIFFERENT.

I will probably followup this blog soon with one focused on TRYING to do business in Panama.

edward said...

NARS...i was copied on your last comments which i thought were very good...but they are not here on the blog. Did you retract the comments? Or...did something not go right with this comment section? Please send me a direct email if you like by clicking my image in the blog...and I would like to repost your comments...even if in a more anonymous manner if you prefer.

Anthony Edwards said...

I am a Panamanian living in the USA. I travel to Panama yearly. While a lot of the things Edwards said are true, the vilification of the Justices is not. There are bad attorneys in every country and we have our share of them, but you can expect a reasoned verdict from the bench. However, you are dead on about the corruption in other sectors.

internationallivingpanama said...

I think it's ok that you talked about some of the negatives here. It still reads like a balanced post. I agree with your statement about Panamanians not being very aggressive. In customer service the lack of confrontation skills can be frustrating but in terms of safety I appreciate immensely the fact that a lot of crime here is non-confrontational. This brings me to another point...people who read crime stats (like murder rates, for example), can often be misled. For example, into choosing a country with a "lower crime rate," but where you're likely to be targeted if you're a foreigner. Panama has crime, and no doubt it increases proportional to increases in tourism and "residential tourism." But the people targeted tend to be involved in crime themselves...foreigners are not targeted as a group here. I feel safer going out at night in Panama City than any other Central American city (and with good reason).

As for the discussion about the judicial system here, I'd like to weigh in and say that I agree with you. Those who disagree with you have perhaps have never themselves had a case tried here.

martarubió said...

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Is this something you might be interested in?
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NoName said...

Hi Everyone. Glad to have found this forum! Will be going to Panama for first time October 2013 Can anyone recommend a cheap but clean place to stay? Close to airport to begin with, doesn't matter for second week. Don't care about fancy - just clean and quiet. Also, are there any decent swimming beaches that are easy to get to? Swimming as in for serious swimmers. Thanks!

stormryder said...

I am a 64 year old retired veteran and am looking to buy some acreage outside the US where I can live outside a city and build my own bamboo or earth bag house while living in my box truck. I plan to drive my box truck with my belongings and towing my pick up truck. Would like to be 20 or more minutes from a city.
Any advice or suggestion welcome.
Prefer an area where I can help the poor and hopefully not be to concerned of being robbed.

stormryder said...

I am a 64 year old retired veteran and am looking to buy some acreage outside the US where I can live outside a city and build my own bamboo or earth bag house while living in my box truck. I plan to drive my box truck with my belongings and towing my pick up truck. Would like to be 20 or more minutes from a city.
Any advice or suggestion welcome.
Prefer an area where I can help the poor and hopefully not be to concerned of being robbed.

Unknown said...

I love panama not sure if i love doing business here though I opened bambu hostel www.bambuhostel.com in david panama five years ago and have been dealing with banking problems (fees and insane rules) ever since..maybe after martinelli leaves it will get better..

CJ said...

I have seriously been looking to move from the US and this blog is very helpful. I could prove an income but I was wondering about the schools. When you say expensive, what is that amount. Also, Edward, how costly is it to go out to eat, are movies possibly subtitled in English, is cable etc available?? What are houses near the city like?? cj

Stan Manning said...

Truly good comments. The only one I disagree with is the one about the roads.Now a day's Retirement Living Consultants are really require for the senior people.

Jo Ana Starr said...

Hi!

Your post sounds good overall, but you neglected to mention the new business Friendly Nations visa which allows a foreigner to obtain permanent residency by forming a corporation, depositing $5K, and becoming an officer of the corporation. It's possible for a couple to both obtain permanent residency from the same corp and thee is no annual requirement for a presence in the country. No minimum monthly income requirement like the pensionado, although you need to show a bank balance of $5K in a US or other qualifying country bank account for the 6 months prior to applying. Total cost including the $5K deposit is about $8K. The 5K is in your own corporate bank account and needs to remain there, I believe, so the net cost is about $3K. That is probably the quickest permanent residency program other than MX, and removing MX from the mix makes it also the cheapest.

jarmilapro said...

Hi,thanks for the eye opener...
We were going to move to Panama in next 2 years. I guess it's not so good as they advertise. We were going to just buy a small condo and do some traveling, but roads are not good, we speak not much Spanish...
Jp from Santee

Gabriel Sutton said...

If you make it up to Nicaragua, check out our hotel San Juan del Sur. This country may not compare to Panama, but the view from our hotel is unmatched! Rooms start at $17 per night.

Rosanne said...

As a European with a Panamanian partner is see A LOT of Americans (from the US) getting completely frustrated by everything in Panama.

It's not just about low (they're not so low anymore) real estate prices, nice beaches and palmtrees!

The biggest mistake i see US Americans make is that they expect the US lifestyle is THE BEST. In my humble opinion it's not. This is why:

-1- USA "Efficiency" in doing business (ASAP means Asap, Today means yesterday) is NOT necessarirly the right way. You guys have more stress and heart disease than anywhere in the world!

-2- USA customer service: it may appear great and problems do get solved but it's so fake..... Behind your back the cust. service employees are completely frustrated and hate themselves for being all fake. In Panama you will find the authenticity of a girl who doesn't want to help you if you're shouting at her. And she's right, why would she? She's just relaxing until her day goes by. Isn't that wonderful for her?

-3- People from the US expect everything to be the same, worldwide and generally think that everyone envies the us. It's not like that and will never like that. The Panamanians are a unique kind of people and they def. not aspire to take over your values...

The most important thing is that you try to remember: you are the guest. Adapt! Relax! Get rid of that Gringo inside you! Miami might be a better option for you :)

Rosanne

Ingrid Renner said...

Can you elaborate on the cons you were subjected to? I am also almost suckered by International Living, and they make it sound like a UTOPIA. I like the article above but am interested in specifically what you ran into. And how is electricity? It says expensive, but on average do homes have central air or units in bedrooms? In the Dominican Republic I know electricity is so expensive most people don't run the air.

Jan said...

I came from the Caribbean Island of St.Martin with over 600K, in 7 years this is gone, all I have is a house and car worth 185k. I agree with all, just like to add with what I think will be the downfall for Panama. Panamanians DO NOT like foreigners, unless you have money to throw at them, they are lazy, and uneducated. It also is not a democracy, it is a semi dictatorship, you are not aloud to fly the flag, not wear at.shirt with the flag on it, etc etc. 20 years ago, the American DEA took Alibaba, but they left the 40 robbers, they still run this country, by letting banks give loans for expenisve SUV, with salaries that average maybe 1500.
The secret of the governaments is simple, keep them dumb and poor, just give them a big car and a BB celphone.

Rossy said...

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Rossy said...

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Luis Polar said...

Hola, I am glad everyone has left an interesting comment! We lived in Panama in the 70's and, of course, being children we found the county perfect for living! Panama is progressive and offer a unique mix of Latino and USA mixture; similar to Puerto Rico. The area outside of Panama City stars getting more mellow and easier to deal with. Certainly if you able to speak "español" you'll fair better, but folks down there are friendly enough that you'll get around.
No one is going to mess around with the Canal, so serious issues with the country will not be an issue. Gracias!

71ccccc8-4575-11e3-8b1b-000bcdcb471e said...

Hello Friends:

Thank you very much for all of the information on Panama. I am writing to give an outline of my objectives and hopefully to get comments regarding whether Panama would be a place that I would want to live.
I am a lawyer by education, though I have tired of the practice, and especially the disingenuineness and stress of the profession. I am also a published author, though on a very small scale. While becoming educated and raising a family, I acquired some skills which have become very handy both for my own family and for friends and others. I became a skilled automotive mechanic while restoring many antique cars over the years. I can do any car repair that you could imagine. The best thing is that I actually enjoy doing mechanic work. I charge half of what commercial mechanics charge, so everybody is happy. I also have the skill to do any repair work on a home, including carpentry, painting and air conditioning.
In addition, I played basketball in high school and college in the US , and have the ability and basketball IQ to coach basketball at any level. I love the game, and still play it at a high level. I wonder if I could earn money as a coach or teacher in Panama.
Finally, one of the things I seek most is peace, and this means to me an escape from the communications and media technology. I see a great disconnection in people caused by the cellphone, internet and social media technology. I see my own children affected in a negative way and it makes my want to cry when I realize that I cannot control the filth that they are exposed to in my own home.
So, my question is this: Is it likely that with the skills I possess I could earn a living in Panama? And, could I find relief from the constant ringing of cell phones and internet blather?

Vaya Con Dios

Pete

Rossy said...

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Edward Shaw said...

This is by far one of the best fora of discussion I have ever experienced. Thank you all for such a cognitive sets of posts.
My uncle lived in Panama for years and still has acreage there which my cousins have inherited.

Roseanne-thank you for telling is as it should be told. Many Americans need to read on the work of the anthropologist Edward T. Hall and what he had to do for Americans to get the Peace Corps program to revamp and continue in existence.

Why are so many Americans (and others) so ethnocentric, impatient, and rude when being "the other" in other countries? America and aspects of its often warped culture, is by no means the barometer of universal ethics. And that is one of the reasons that I blame countries who do not take any initiatives to regulate the level of American pop-media and "hollywood hype" that they subject their populace to.

Pete, you are a great parent and a forward thinking humanist. I love your spirit my brother. I would so love to be a friend or acquaintance or be in a group with you. Maybe if you make it to Panama, and I do, we will meet up some day.

To all-I still feels chills about Panama when I read about the sacrifices of people of color who were collateralled in the fabrication of the canal.

Does anyone think it ever likely that the canal-on that narrow strip of land-could become targeted during a global economic or military struggle? Is the international political and economic situation ever going to rule out focus on this strategic piece of infrastructure?

Lawrence G. Robinson said...

This is the best information and direction I've read about Panama.
Eyes wide open....I'm thinking of visiting for work/play more play really. Those of you Canadians who are living in Panama...please keep sharing and educating us. I'm fascinated by this country and would love to talk more to anyone who would care too. Please contact me if you have time at robinsongerry74@gmail.com thanks everyone

Roger L said...

Roger L
I am a Canadian retiree snowbird spending winters in Arizona. All has been well for the last 9 years obtaining health insurance until a recent heart attack.
The cost for four days hospitalization in Arizona amounted to $138,000. Insurance is now difficult and extremely expensive to obtain.

I am interested in spending winters in a country with less expensive health care.
Any advice and suggestions will be appreciated

Renee Garrett said...

Hi everyone,

Your posts were very informative because I know very little about Panama. I have two questions: 1) I am currently a teacher in the USA, and would like to know with what difficulty will I have in becoming a teacher in Panama? 2) Is there any employment ageism for people 50+ as there is here in the USA?

Your responses are appreciated.

Renee'

Dennis Spencer said...

I think the original article is fair and a generally correct representation of the life in most, if not all third or near third world countries. I was born and raised in the Caribbean and have lived, studied and worked in the US. I've been a US citizen for most of my life and have also lived for significant periods in several States. The same problems with education and laziness plague most inner-city enclaves in the US. And as for crime, one just has to look at Chicago, SE DC, East St. Louis, Baltimore, etc. etc.
As far as the legal system goes in the US, it is still the same; you get what you pay for. Just remember the OJ Simpson fiasco, or the 16 year old who got drunk and wiped out 4 people on the die of the road in Dallas. All he got for his misdeeds was probation and a stint in a $34,000 a month rehab resort in Newport Beach.
I would not even think about retiring in my native Caribbean island and have been traveling and researching other locales, including Panama. I certainly will not be getting old in the US because of the outrageous taxes and cost of healthcare. I could, if I wanted to get poor and live off the other taxpayers, like the Welfare class. I think not. When I lived in the New York area, I expected and enjoyed great services, though I had to pay for it. I moved to Florida and had to adjust my expectations, though I paid less for the goods and services I was purchasing. Still, when I lived in Evansville, IN the service there was nearly non-existent. Again, I had to adjust my expectations and not gripe and compare it to New York or Los Angeles.
So in concluding, your mileage will always vary. I think that of all the Latin American countries that I've traveled to, including Brazil, Panama seems to be the most hospitable when it comes to the lifestyle that I am looking for as I get older.
Just my $0.02

Luis Eduardo Aguilar said...

Hello, I'm a venezuelan expatriate in Panama. Before I moved here with my wife, I got the Canadian Permanent Residence. I was facinated with the idea of moving there, because 12 years ago I studied ESL in Toronto and I really liked the country. Now, I'm considering my decision if moving to Canada is a good idea, We really like Panama. As latin americans, we found the culture very similar and to be honest, thinking about retirement, this definitly would be an option to consider. I was last december in Calgary and I have to say I was scared. Winters in Canada are awful, and Panama offers better options, specially if you like the beach. I would appreciate any advise from wise and experienced people of this forum. Thanks,

heart123 said...

Just beginning my search for a retirement area in either Panama or Costa Rica. Lots of info in the ozone to digest!
I'm a widow in my 60's. Any thoughts about single women living in Panama?
Not really a city person but do like to be close enough to get in to one.
Also it would have to be affordable(read cheap as possible!)
Possible to live without a car?
Any help would be appreciated...

Lynn said...

I am also just starting my search for a place to retire or at least move to for a couple of years. There is a good chance my oldest granddaughter will move with me once she graduates from high school. It is a good opportunity for her to experience another culture. What I am surprised at in reading this blog is the discussion on language. We in Canada or the US expect new comers to learn English and speak it in our country, so why are we so surprised that when we move to a non English country that they do not speak English and expect us to learn their language. Come on people, I do find it difficult to learn languages but when the time comes I will make sure that I can at least speak some good basic words and hope that when I am actually there I will learn more. BUcj up people and learn the language of the country you are moving to.

Lynn said...

As a Canadian retiree I am wondering how it works in collecting your pensions both government and private in Panama
Any help would be appreciated.

Becki Burr said...

We got sucked into the lies by International Living as well. They must know what they are talking about, right? We had lived in Mexico for 14 years, and while we loved it, thought it would be fun to make a change. We drove down with our pets, but knew we could import our car for free once we obtained our "easy to obtain" Pensionado status. The costs are much higher than they reported and going up all the time. Even fresh fruits and vegetables, which you'd think would be abundant and cheap here, are instead, quite pricey. We have been here 6 months and have gone back and forth to Panama City working on our papers. It has been total frustration. Now we find that the free import on our cars is exaggerated and we will have to pay several thousand dollars to do so....THEN, when we sell it somewhere down the line, will have to pay duty on it after all. Not really sure we want to get our Pensionado status now.

We live in beautiful El Valle de Anton...are fine with the roads throughout the country, speak a lot of Spanish, though much of it is different than Mexican Spanish, are accustomed to living in a third world country. Everything is included in our rent, but rent is much more than expected. Food is more expensive. Fuel is more expensive. Household goods are more expensive...even for cheap stuff that falls apart.

In addition, we find the Panamanians that we come in contact with in businesses rather cold and uncaring (though I hear the Chiricanos are quite friendly in the area closer to Costa Rica). We are always friendly, speaking Spanish, and they just look at us like we're bothering them. We do belong to a little church that is primarily poorer Panamanians and Guna and they are lovely people, friendly, caring, generous. We have not found people in the businesses to be that way, in general.

It is nice to have access to so many things here, even if you have to pay extra for them. It is nice to have highways that are so much nicer than other Central American countries. It's nice to be able to go to the mall or nice restaurants in PC. But having grown up in Southern California, Las Vegas and other large cities, I can say that the roads and traffic in PC are quite intimidating.

Every third world country has it's own set of problems, electricity, water, roads, etc....and we're fine with that. It's really the cost of living that has been the most difficult here. NOT as touted by IL.

International Living is a group of con artists or pollyannas ...not sure which. But don't believe anything they tell you!

Maria Davis said...

Luis Eduardo Aguilar

To your comment about whether to move to Calgary or stay in Panama.

I agree with your statement that Venezuelan and Panamanian cultures are quite similar. I lived in Valencia, Venezuela for five years in the 80's and totally loved the people and the country. Venezuela was (and still is) a developing country and I understood that from the beginning. If it were possible I would go back to Venezuela and leave Calgary where the winters are awful as you mention and Canada as a whole offers very limited cultural opportunities. Canada is a country that is safe, where you will make more than a decent living and your children will get a good education at a reasonable cost. However, you will find that once you have attained the basics that you were looking for in Canada, you will tire very quickly of the country. The weather itself keeps you blocked at home behind a wall of snow at freezing temperatures only fit for bears. I came to Canada from Latin America and cannot complain because Canada has been good to me. However, I would have never left Venezuela if politics there had not taken the wrong turn they have. I'll say that if you can support your family and are comfortable in Panama you do not need to move to Canada.

Douglas Fraser said...

Enjoyed the free and open comments. We are thinking about a move to Panama...so open thoughts pro and con are good. I travel in India and a cross SEA...and I don't think after traveling the roads in India that Panama will compare...will have to see. Thanks...
A Texan

Douglas Fraser said...

Enjoyed the free and open comments. We are thinking about a move to Panama...so open thoughts pro and con are good. I travel in India and a cross SEA...and I don't think after traveling the roads in India that Panama will compare...will have to see. Thanks...
A Texan

BillF said...

I don't know why you've written such an incomplete picture of panama may of your assertions are wrong and the basis you refer to is incomplete. I've lived in this country for five years some of your issues are true but in the context of comparing other countries outside North America Panama is far ahead of practically any other central or South American country and that's saying a lot.

If you would permit I'd love to respond to each of your cons so a fair article can be available to your readers.

As for corruption the same can be said of the US the US has simply legalized corruption by allowing lobbyists to pay off senators with both campaign contribution, trips even by allowing them to sit on boards of companies talk about influence. Then the Senators vote regulations that pander to these companies. Or case regulators to turn the blind eye.

Panama is a progressive country the money their spent on major pubic projects like a new Panama canal, a wind far that will produce 7% of the countries power needs, a sewage treatment plant that will deal with the citys waste.

As for the citys sewage last I checked Victoria Canada still dumps it sewage directly into the Strait of Juan Defuca Panama started building a state of the art sewage treatment plant will be competed in a few years.

As for water shortages there can be pockets where at times they have water issues the country is working to correct this at this writing.

If you were to check your records you would see I believe around 50 major International Corporations have relocated their headquarters to Panama and more are coming.

You carried on about customer service slow service isn't limited to Panama if you've traveled you would know this. Practically every county outside N. America including many parts of W. Europe have less than stellar customer service if we're to use N. America as the bench mark. The problem is life in N. America is NOT the norm and having a pushy N. American attitude will only ensure one thing, you'll be ignored no surprise.

As for your remarks about establishing residency you only mentioned 2 there are several other options investors visa, one deal with a five year CD investment the country is very progressive in this manner there are a lot of options none of which you bothered to highlight in your article.

If I was a reader I'd shy away from someone whose unable to accurately portrait life in a country you claim to live in. Your article was horrible inaccurate get out and discover the country your living in if you don't like it then leave as this isn't a country for everyone.

Mary F said...

While US and Canada may have their problems, it's important I think to focus on the fact that people who are reading about Panama here are looking for an unbiased perspective, not a series of excuses. So what if Victoria Canada still dumps it sewage, this blog is about living in Panama, not Victoria Canada.
People living around the southern Med also have a laid back way of life that those of us from the UK are not used to, but that doesn't make it not worth knowing, that you could be spending a lot of money/time waiting on builders in Panama if your understanding of the local culture is out of kilt with the reality. None of us are born with conscious precognition.
If we are attracted because of ideas that English is a widely used 2nd language that is out of touch with the reality and if the cinemas only deliver films in Spanish, that might have a big impact on some bodies personal needs, we are all different. I found this blog extremely thought provoking/ Thank you all.

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Fresno Fred said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Fresno Fred said...

From Fresno CA and glad I ran into all of you and the great information because so many of you agree its great. I thought is was very helpful but you never know who is writing it. Since so many approve I will follow this blog and keep in touch with all of you if I make it to Panama Nov Dec 2014...
Good Luck.

Lisa Daigneault said...

Hi there....
I am in Canada looking to make a move to either Panama or Cost Rica to teach English. Do you have any comments on this type of thing, or which areas to focus on and which to avoid? Thanks....great and informative article.

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