How Panama?

When I give my “Escape to Paradise” lecture on board ship, people always want to know how Panama got on my short list of countries when we were looking for a place to retire. So here’s the abbreviated story . . .

I was serving as Protestant Chaplain on the ROTTERDAM which was doing the 10-day Southern Caribbean itinerary round trip from Fort Lauderdale which includes going through Gatun Locks and into Gatun Lake,

My wife saw this “Authentic Embera Indian Village Tour” and wanted to go.  It was expensive and I said, “It will just be some hokey, touristy thing” – not that Holland America would ever do a “hokey, touristy” tour, but we had been on some othercruise lines that did offer some “hokey, touristy” tours.  So I told her, “You go, I just want to go ashore and say I’ve been in Panama.”    So I paid $30 to get off the boat and go ashore to the “Gatun Lake Yacht Club.”  Talk about a misnomer!  There was . . . and is . . . absolutely nothing at the “Gatun Lake Yacht Club”.  No yachts, no canoes, nada, nothing.  There were a few Embera Indians there selling baskets and somehow I got in a “conversation” with one of the Embera guys.  Interesting since I didn’t know Spanish and he didn’t know English.  But somehow we began to communicate.

Perhaps because paying $30 just to get off the ship was kinda “hokey, touristy”, the shore excursion operator began serving free beer to ROTTERDAM guests.  So I got some beer, and brought some back to my new Embera Indian friend.  Soon I met all his brothers, and soon I was getting beer for everyone.  Pretty soon the shore excursion operator began serving the beer to me and my new friends.

So here we all are drinking beer with the ROTTERDAM in the background . . .

gatun-yacht-club

Well it turned out that my new friend, Erito, was the chief of this particular Embera Puru village.  His younger brother, Auselio, was in love and wanted me to take a picture of him and his girl friend.

auselio

Auselio took a liking to me and gave me some Embera beads.  Not having anything to give him in return, I gave him the ROTTERDAM shirt off my back.  And he said, about the shirt and this beautiful bare-breasted Indian girl, “I can’t wait to get back to the village so I can put my girl friend in the t-shirt so she will look sexy like American girls.”

And I had to explain that in America we try to get the t-shirt off !

Well, they got my t-shirt, my 24 Hour Fitness gym bag, and they would have gotten my shorts, but I figured if the Chaplain came back on the ROTTERDAM wearing nothing but a red loin cloth, I’d never get invited back on Holland America!

amigos

Five hours later my wife returned from her Indian Village tour (which by the way turned out to be fantastic!  and that is still the reaction of our guests on ZUIDERDAM who take the tour today!) and found her half naked husband and his Indian amigos.  They kept saying to me, “We want you to visit our village.”

When I went back to Ventura I went on line to try and find out more about the Embera and their village and in the process, by accident, I stumbled onto all the information about retiring in Panama and the benefits of retiring in Panama.  So that’s how Panama made the list!

It’s because of Erito and his brothers that we live in Panama today!  And we’ve remained good friends with Erito and all the folks at the Embera Puru village at San Juan de Pequini.  We’ve visited them and they have visited us.  And, as an aside, this is Erito and his brother-in-law Fernando, when I had them visit on the ship one Christmas.  The only problem was where to hang the visitor Laminex cards.

erito-fernando-1

And last year on ISLAND PRINCESS [2015] I took 109 people on the ship’s Authentic Embera Village Tour to Embera Puru and took these pictures of the guys and their families.

Erito Family

Ausilio Family

Fernando family

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Places to Retire in Panama

My friend, Jackie Lange, who runs Panama Relocation Tours, gets to take people on her boots-on-the-ground tour to many of the best places in Panama to retire.  She sees them all and knows expats everywhere.  The plus of Jackie’s tour is that nobody is selling or promoting anything!  It’s just a great opportunity to get an honest view of Panama and hear un-rehearsed, un-coached stories of expat life in Panama from people who are actually living in Panama.  Here’s one of Jackie’s posts about THE BEST PLACES TO RETIRE IN PANAMA …

Did you know that Panama is the only country where you can watch the Pacific sunrise and the Atlantic sunset?

How cool is that?

Dubbed as the Crossroads of the Americas, Panama, like the rest of Latin America has that laid-back, relaxed kind of vibe. The people are welcoming, warm and friendly. In the past few decades, Panama has been one among the top countries best for retirement. Many people have been searching for the best places to retire in Panama because of one good reason: it is cheaper to live in this tropical country than in most parts of the world.

There is a perfectly good reason why this is indeed the crossroads. You can use Panama’s airports to travel either to Central or South America or hundreds of destinations around the world.

Panama is categorized as a tropical country but the weather is not hot, it is warm. From May to the end of the year, expect a much cooler air as the wind from the mountains come flapping down to the lowlands, cooling and relaxing people on the beachfront. Much like its people, warm sand beneath your foot is an indication that you are in beach paradise. Beaches are only part of the Panama scene. The nightlife is also vibrant here that every night you can go to different clubs and bars to your heart’s content.

It is not just the geographic location or the innate natural beauty that fascinates people to live and retire in Panama. There are many perks that one can come across an expat in this amazing country.

Panama is really made for retirees. With health care a fraction of the cost when done in the US, be rest assured that you have high quality health care provided to you. With certain hospitals affiliated with top hospitals in the US (like Johns Hopkins), you can get results but may cost you cheaper. Many of the clinicians are fluent in English so it won’t be difficult for you to communicate. In addition to this, Panama has adopted the US dollar as its national currency. If you’re from the United States, you don’t have to worry about exchange rate reductions in your spending power!

One of the perks you can enjoy after relocating in this country is that you can become a legal resident here. Retirees who chose to become residents can avail of the pensionado program which entitles one to discounts, even when owning your own real estate property. Women over 55 and men over 60, qualify for these discounts:

One time Duty tax exemption for household goods up to a total of $10,000.
Duty exemption for importing a new car every two years.
50% off entertainment anywhere in the country (movies, concerts, sports)
30% off bus, boat, and train fares
25% off airline tickets
50% off hotel stays from Monday through Thursday
30% off hotel stays from Friday through Sunday
25% off at restaurants
15% off at fast-food restaurants
15% off hospital bills (if no insurance applies)
10% off prescription medicines
20% off medical consultations
15% off dental and eye exams
20% off professional and technical services
50% reduction in closing costs for home loans
25% discounts on utility bills
15% off loans made in your name
1% less on home mortgages for homes used for personal residence

The consistent efforts of the government of Panama at positively improving and engaging retiree policies ensure retirees that they made the right decision to live and retire in Panama.

What are my relocation options?

Boquete
Located in the Chiriqui, one of the most fertile provinces in the country, relocating here means you get to experience a cooler climate, ranging from 70-80 degree Fahrenheit. This may be up in the highlands but you would not really be living bucolic. Boquete has a developed expat community so you settling right in is not hard.

What makes Boquete unique is its fog-like rain that creates an ethereal blanket over the area. Actually, this has a purpose – keeping everything fresh and sustainable. With coffee as one of its produce, be enticed in your sensorial feels.

If there is one lace in Panama where you don’t have to learn Spanish, it is this place. Majority of the people here can speak English fluently, partly due to the foreigners calling this their home

Activities You Can Do Here

With the Volcan Baru at the backdrop, and the waters of Rio Caldera running through the city, feel free to enjoy water rafting, if you are the adventurous one. If you miss hiking, feel free to go horseback riding or bird watching. There are plenty of outdoor activities to do here.

The Catch

Depending on the location, accessibility to utilities, cost of property varies. If you are in the outskirts where there is no line for water, electricity and the likes, real estate property can be cheaper. If you wish to be in the town area, expect land prices to soar.

Also, don’t look for the roaring waves of the beach. This province perches 3,400 ft high up the mountains. Also, Boquete is not readily accessible from the capital city. You need to drive to David then fly for 40 minutes to get to Panama city.

Santa Fe

With hills teemed with luscious green, Santa Fe in Veraguas is another highland city great for retiring in Panama. You don’t need to acclimatize to be in this city. Somewhat lower than Boquete in altitude, you can still duck the humidity of the lowlands yet experience warm days that seems to make breathing much easier.

Activities You Can Do Here

Because the biggest draw of Santa Fe is its outdoor appeal, there are many activities you can enjoy. Wild orchids and exotic flowers are abundant. Visit the Santa Fe National Park to check the various species for fauna to marvel at. Butterflies and toucans can also be found in this part of Panama.

The Catch

Although there is a flourishing expat community in the area, you still need to learn Spanish. If you are used to having the modern amenities, Santa Fe might not suit you as you might soon find out that you have to adapt to the true Panamanian way of living.

Expect a lot of changes in Santa Fe. If you like the simple life here, it might soon change as new roads are being created to connect the city with the coastal areas.

Volcan

Each country has its own fountain of youth. Panama has Volcan. With similar climate as Boquete, you can enjoy the wafting of cool breeze day in and out. Nestled by Tizingal Mountain, Volcan is like the other places that boast of longer life expectancy. Blame it on natural food and great weather all year-long.

Volcan only have a few thousand inhabitants, including expats. This means you need to still study Spanish. Nevertheless, this city has the basic amenities you can find in a world-class city plus incredible views.

Down in the Lowlands …

Las Tablas

Las Tablas PanamaAlong the coast of the Azuero Peninsula, Las Tablas is a more laid back place compared to other beach side locations in Panama. It is also very affordable compared to other beach communities. I know expats who are renting a 3 bedroom house for $400 a month and a single expat lady who is renting a small one bedroom house for $80 per month. The actual town is about 5 miles to the beach.

The Catch

Since the Azuero Peninsula is considered the Gold Coast of Panama, opportunities are coming in. While this has not been fully realized, you can still enjoy the serenity the place offers for only $1,200 a month. It may be far from the capital city, having to travel or four hours by car, but those fine-paved roads leading to the capital city makes your travel lighter. As you would be living mostly with the fisher folks, you also need to learn Spanish.

Chitre is north of Las Tablas. About a 30 minute drive. Chitre features more shopping opportunities plus a movie theater. About an hour south of Las Tablas is Pedasi.

Panama City

Panama CityWho would have known that there is such a phrase inexpensive metropolis. In many cases, a metropolis tantamount to having high cost of living; however, slash Panama City from that list. Major corporations may be in the city but living within the city does not entail having to expensively. You can marvel at the world-class infrastructure and services without really denting your pocket.

With museums, premium shows and performances, and first-rate dining experience, you’d be surprised how affordable these can be in the capital city. Where else can you find a piece of the rain forest in a metropolis like this but only in Panama City.

The Catch

Relatively, Panama City has a bit expensive property prices, nevertheless, still cheaper compared to cities of the same calibre in the Americas. The El Cangrejo district in the city offers your picturesque neighbourhood with thriving expat community may not come as cheap but still affordable.

Bocas de Toro

Lying in your hammock tied between to palm trees and viewing the stunning coastline seems like an image out of a postcard. Situated in the Caribbean part of the country, Bocas del Torro offers island hideaways and a more tranquil uptake on the beach life.

Bocas del Toro is actually a province in Panama. Bocas Town, is a town on Isla Colon island which is in the Bocas del Toro province.

The Catch

Bocas is not easy to get to. You either have to fly from Panama City to Isla Colon or you have to drive from western Panama near David over the Continental Divide about 3 hours to get to Almarinte. Then take a 40 minute water taxi ride to Isla Colon.

If you like island like and water sports, (and don’t mind being a bit isolated) then Bocas Town and the other islands in the area would be a good choice for you.

Coronado

If there is one beach community expats have been raving about for the last few years, it is Coronado. Tucked an hour away from Panama City, it presents the best of both worlds. The facilities you can only find in a cosmopolitan city and the unrestricted beach lifestyle that only Latin America offers.

What is unique about Coronado’s beach is that it is not the run-of-the-mill white sand. It is, in fact, a greyish sand, a mixture of pristine white sand and the volcanic sand, remnants of an extinct volcano. Being located in the “Arco Seco” area, aptly named because of the arc-shape of the coastline and the fact that this area does not receive much rain during the rainy season, Coronado has numerous activity-inducing facilities such as tennis courts, golf courses and the likes.

Many options are given to you in case you wish to retire and live in Panama. Its proximity to North America make this your dream destination for relocation.

Come join us on a Panama Relocation Tour to discover what Panama has to offer.