Good luck Mr. President

No, not that one.

Although I do love this picture that Jim Wasson, creator of Panama Red overproof rum, posted of Obama …

There’s even a Panama Red poster on the Oval Office wall!

No, it’s this Preident, Jaun Carlos Varela, Panama’s new President.  I liked this post by Westanna Carleton, Research Associate at the Council on Hemispheric Affairs that apeared on EURASIA.

For the record, Varela has his own brand of rum and owns the biggest rum distillery in Panama.  Varela Brothers Abuelo ['Grandpa"] rum is the best mass market rum available.  Good stuff!


The period of near ecstasy over the electoral victory by partisans of Panama’s new elected President, Juan Carlos Varela (who was inaugurated this past July 1) is rapidly coming to an end. After jubilant partisans celebrated his victory Varela declared to his supporters “today democracy won, today Panama won, we will not tolerate corruption in any way,” in addition to guarantees of a more transparent government,growth of social programs and less inequality.
What is being substituted for the enchantment ofthe new president is an attitude of skepticism has taken over. This relates to the change Varela promised his audiences during his presidential campaign.
Varela clearly was not former president Ricardo Martinelli’s (2009-2014) chosen successor. In fact, Varela worked diligently towards the end of his term as Martinelli’s vice president to distance himself from the former president’s most fundamental positioning. Since 2011, when Varela resisted Martinelli’s attempts to extract greater executive power from the legislative and judicial branches, the two have been called the worst of enemies by the country’s media. Yet, the similarities between these two individuals are too numerous to ignore, as they are analogous not only in their belief systems but also in their backgrounds. Much of the media have noted that in terms of their politics, both men are center-right, members of Panama’s elite, and originally come from the business sector. Even the natures of their personal businesses are connected: Varela’s liquors are sold in Martinelli’s Super 99 supermarkets.
Varela may deceptively appear to welcome a fresh start for the country. While he clearly signified during his campaign that he was against the various discredited initiatives left over from the Martinelli era to expand the array of executive sanctions he hoped to continue in effort, he handily exposed that he focused on the absence of anything approaching a radical break-through. At first glance, his resistance to the latter also makes it seem as though Varela’s goals are in opposition to the heart of Martinelli’s platform while he was in power. After proposing his 100 por 70 plan, that allows Panamanians older than 70 to receive a monthly stipend of $100 USD, Varela successfully developed a clear image for himself as a politician with social coordinating abilities in the area of social initiatives.
Informed journalist Eric Jackson of Panama News comments that turmoil in rural Panama are huge issues and Varela’s promise to give every rural household running water and indoor plumbing may have been unrealistic or may be the public works program that saves rural society from total dissolution.”
Hence, it comes as little surprise that Panamanians have a hopeful outlook for what may come, but are by no means certain that it will actually help.
Panama has enjoyed an enviable rate of economic growth under Martinelli, as the country’s building boom has made the capital “a new Miami” or the “mini-Dubai on the Pacific” Panama City also lays claim to Central America’s first metro and Latin America’s tallest building. The country’s building boom, in addition to his ability to carry out economic projects with both panache and a rare rate of success made him a very popular president. Yet his authoritarian streak generated considerable resentment in a large Panamanian populace who want to forget the country’s history of dictatorship, particularly under the Manuel Noriega regime in the 1980s. Accusations of corruption had routinely plagued the former Panamanian administration, and many from the country had good reason to believe that Martinelli’s economic program was not at all that it was originally made out to be. It is hard to ignore the stark difference between the glitz of Panama City and the grim living conditions to be encountered in almost every other locale in Panama. The nearby region of Colon provides a ready contrast that should illustrate this point. This can be seen in the festering environment that describes the vast area that vividly contrasts with the economic growth described above. The World Bank notes that Panama is responsible for providing evidence some of the severest disparities of wealth in Latin America. Obviously not all of Panama is “booming” with wealth. Most notably is the fact that last month was the Panama Canal’s 100th anniversary. What was supposed to be a joyous and memorable moment for the country was tainted by huge over run costs, strikes, and the fear of competition.

Looming on the horizon are plans, backed by a Chinese billionaire, to build 173-mile canal to be built across Nicaragua. For Nicaragua this is good news and “the government says it is critical to lifting the nation out of dire poverty,” to Panama it is direct competition that could drain away profits in addition to being an instigator for future country generated debt if the government chooses to attempt to out build the Nicaraguan project. The Panama Canal, which was built in 1914 and was returned to Panama near the end of the Cater administration, has significantly boosted Panama’s economy, in addition to promoting global international trade and effectively reducing transportation costs. The canal is currently being renovated to allow changes that will reduce transit delays and allow larger trans-isthmus voyages to travel through the locks. Ironically the construction that is supposed to reduce delays in the future, has managed to produce them today. In February, there was a work stoppage due to a dispute between the canal administration and contractors working on the Canal expansion project that involved a $1.6 billion USD in additional cost overrun regarding the planned construction. Moreover,in May, a strike of 5,000 laborers slowed work again. Due to these occurrences the October completion date has been pushed back 14 months. Juan Zamorano of the Durango Herald writes about the benefits that was suppose to accompany canal renovations, “its completion was envisioned as a coming out party for Panama, a chance to showcase the country’s pro-business credentials and role as a linchpin of global commerce…backers portrayed the vote as a bet on the future of Panama’s children” . However, now many disenchanted Panamanians are now seeing the problems besetting

the Canal expansion as a metaphor for the future course of the country.
With the country at the mid-expansion stage, giddy hopes clearly have been dashed and more somber sentiments have evolved that will now have to be replaced. The country as a whole will not be able to generate or sustain the economic expansion symbolized by the Panama City construction boom and the opportunities provided by the Canal Zone. Panama had a tremendous 8.5% economic growth in 2013, well above most developed and developing countries, yet over 25% of the population remains at or below the poverty level. These figures are reflective of the concentration of wealth in Panama’s urban centers, which like many other Latin American countries have become national show
cases in the shadows of what lies as stark economic disparity. Like it’s Latin American sister countries, the challenge in Panama remains in defining economic and social policies which will enable the economy and population’s abilities to move toward a more balanced profile. Part of this definition is recognition of the government’s responsibility to its “social contract” with the population. In this respect, Varela’s 100 por 70 plan may be a step in the right direction. However, the “fuel” that will support this and other social programs must come from the economy itself; simple redistribution of wealth via taxation or other means without expanding the populations and by extension the country’s potential productive capacity ignores the valuable potential of the Panamanian people.
“The First 100 Days” is a term coined during the Roosevelt Administration during the 1930’s when his New Deal attempted to bring the economy out of deep depression. Since that time, the first 100 days has been period after which the national populations and the world have taken a close look at countries’ leaders in order to determine in what direction the country might move. President Varela is just beyond his first hundred days in office and as noted, there are some positive indications for the future.
It remains to be seen whether Varela’s social justice platform will be sufficiently robust to counter balance-anticipated fallout from possible economic policy setbacks.

Mail Call

Great comments! Thank you!

Thanks to all of you who have taken the time to write reviews of my books on Amazon! Special thanks for these new reviews …

Panama Canal Day: An Illustrated Guide to Cruising The Panama Canal

Great book to read when you are preparing for a cruise through the Panama Canal. There are so many interesting facts in this book to help make your transit through the Canal an enjoyable event. Once I started reading the book, I looked forward to the next chapter. It is difficult to believe that this engineering feat was actually accomplished 100 years ago without the technology of today. A must book to have to prepare you for your cruise! Don Gordon

 The New Escape to Paradise: Our Experience Living and Retiring In Panama

Having lived in Boquete, Panama for almost 6 years, traveled around the country and worked here, I have never seen such an honest, complete and straightforward representation of what it is like to live here. Richard writes the truth about subjects that many won’t, and shows very little bias throughout the book. In all of his chapters explaining life, real estate, services, construction and retirement in Panama, he hits the nail on the head and isn’t afraid to outline the fact that Panama may not be for everybody. Great Job Richard! Conner

What a fantastic resource from someone who has been living in Panama and knows the eccentricities and nuance of the culture. Whether considering Panama or anywhere else to retire abroad, Richard provides a lot of food for thought. Thanks for sharing your knowledge, Richard!! khfitz6311

Worth every penny. Well written and informative. Big Al

And now, on to the mail …

Steve writes about assisted living …

Richard, I am coming to Panama this November to begin my research into opening what would be called in the States an “Adult Foster/Family Home”, in Panama! I have long believed that there are ex-pats in Panama that have no desire to return to the States and would prefer to spend their final days in Panama. My hope is to offer “American care infrastructure” for ex-pats in Panama. My model is to purchase a home and have up to 6 residents that need 24 hour care, whether the care is limited to dementia or they are bed bound. I have the experience and ability to do this. Am I an idiot to think of this, or is there a real need? Do you have any insights or comments? Anxiously awaiting your reply, Steve Broom

Steve, there is a HUGE NEED for this type of assisted living in Panama! Many of us come down to Panama to enjoy retirement in paradise, but … things change. Life grows on, which means we are all getting older. Our bodies change and although we all see ourselves as “forty something” the fact is that bodies start to wear out. Growing older and needing assisted living is not something that we find appealing, especially for folks who are active and adventurous enough to move to Panama and experience a new and different culture. Family is ALL important in Panama. Multi-generations live in the same town, and often under the same roof. When you get older and need assistance your family takes care of you. Most North Americans and Europeans come from cultures where the family is strung out across states and countries, the so-called “nuclear” family. So, as we discovered with my younger brother whom we had to take back to the States for care, there is no North American style assisted living concept in Panama. And it is definitely one of those things that you need to keep in mind when you move to Panama. It’s the reason why I included a chapter in the NEW ESCAPE TO PARADISE entitled “Exit Strategy.” My wife, Nikki, is involved in the Hospice program in Boquete, created in part to assist folks who come to Panama and end up terminally ill, alone and without a support structure. Just this week she met with folks who are forming a support group for care givers … people struggling with incredible challenges of caring for infirm spouses, alone, in a foreign country without local family support. So, yes, there is a need.

Are you crazy? Well … We knew some folks who tried to do this. Mom had Alzheimer’s and needed round-the-clock care and so they bought a little house, hired a staff, and set up an “Adult Foster/Family Home” intended for Mom and four others. It was a great idea and these folks came with experience doing the same thing in the States. Then they ran into Panama and a different way of doing everything, a host of red tape and regulations … and gave up. This doesn’t mean it can’t be done, but you’ll need incredible patience and deep pockets. I’d suggest that you work with a local partner, maybe a Panamanian church or existing non-profit care group who understand the Panamanian way of doing things. I know from a distance it seems like you could easily hire care givers and hire them more cheaply than in the US. But wages, like everything else, have gone up in Panama, and finding people who are qualified and willing to work as care givers is a challenge and if you hire anyone in Panama you immediately have the Labor Board as a partner and tons of regulations and red tape, to say nothing of the regulations and red tape of the Health Department.

There is a crying need, but Panama doesn’t make it easy to meet the need.

Moving money …

I always look forward to reading your blog. I’ve been reading it for years. I meet you in April on Jackie’s tour You came along with us. Which made the trip so much more informative. My question a couple of months ago you named the bank that you deal with for getting money into the country Was it citi bank or another? Thanks in advance, Richard

PS I plan on coming back to Panama next May to scout out a place to settle down for a couple of weeks before I make the BIG move to live. I know for sure it will be in the Chiriquí area.

When we moved to Panama we knew there was an HSBC bank here, so we moved our US accounts to HSBC in Beverly Hills with the naive assumption that it would be easier to move money. We discovered that although they used the same branding, the banks were different with different rules and vastly different customer service. I hated HSBC in Panama and there was no advantage to using the same bank here as in the States since they were different banks. The one in Panama was actually a Mexican bank. So I moved our account to Banistmo [not the same Banistmo as we have now]. HSBC bought out Banistmo, so I moved to another Panamanian bank, which locals not-so-fondly call “the bank of just say no.” This is a truly Panamanian bank where every little item requires a lengthy process of getting approval from Panama City. [I've often wondered if the local bank manager needs to email Panama City for permission to go to the rest room.] Last month I was in Seattle and finally closed out our US accounts with HSBC. Nobody asked why I was closing my accounts at HSBC, or how my experience had been, or seemed to care. I took my money down the street to Bank of America where I and my money were warmly received.

In terms of moving money, it really doesn’t make any difference in my opinion. One bank is as good, or bad, as the other. The US has put a ***tload of regulations about moving what you may have thought was your money around. This means more hassle for you and more money for the banks since they charge outrageous fees to wire money. Don’t even think of doing what a friend of ours did ten years ago … she just stuffed her money into her girdle. If TSA doesn’t nab you Panama will. When you enter Panama all your luggage goes through a scanner when you leave luggage claim. They are only looking for two things: drugs and cash. You’d be surprised the millions of dollars Panama customs seizes from folks who thought they could bring suitcases stuffed with cash into the country.

John enlightens me on flushing …

The reason given for not flushing Toilet Paper, that it increases pumping frequency, can have some truth…but there is more. Unvented drain lines, high waste strength due to diversion of gray water, improper material disposal, poor waste line design, double trapping, improper toilet paper, undersized septic tanks, short separation of tank inlet/outlet, undersized/unsuitable leach field selection, improper operation, e.i. excessive loading, such as multiple loads of laundry, can all be problems of individual systems.

Proper design, construction and operation will lead to a sanitary system that does not contribute to disease and is not a nuisance. It should have a useful life in excess of 50 years, more like the Panama canal than a Chinese motorbike, with tank pumping every 5 to 10 years.

The basic design, construction and operation principles are the same, whether in Panama or California.

It’s customary in Panama, as in most Latin American countries, not to put used toilet paper in the toilet but place it in a waste basket beside the toilet. If you can’t deal with it you might not be a good candidate to move to Panama. In your own home do what you want, but in the rest of the country, even in hospitals … Accept it! No matter how much you wish, Panama as every other country you may consider, is different from that to which you are accustomed.

I stand corrected … apologies to Sarah!

Al, was put off by my blog “Back Home: A Changing America.”  Two things raised his ire, one was a response I made to a comment about the blog … which I’ll get to in a moment … and the other was my assertion that Sarah Palin said she could “see Russia.”

First, I quoted from a piece about the findings of Pew Research regarding the Millennials that included this statement, “In short, it is the Millennials who have helped consign the Republican politics of division – ‘Vote for us or your daughter will marry a black man!’ – to the dustbin of history.”

Candidobserver wrote,

Until bleeding heart liberals choose to learn the truth of history, and not what politicians want them to know and believe, the name calling and mud-slinging will continue unabated. After all, if you can’t tell the truth, why say anything positive?

To which I commented …Interesting comment … might also apply to “right wingers” but I guess I’m not sure what it has to do with post about Millennials. I agree, I thought the “daughter marry a black man” was kind of irrelevant, since I don’t think anyone cares who marries whom, color, race, sexual orientation, etc. That’s not to say racism is still entrenched in many areas and ways, as we’ve discovered the past few days when a teenager is shot SIX TIMES … siX! … for being at the wrong place at the wrong time. But Pew Research finds what it finds: it is what it is. Regards, Richard

Now Al …

“That’s not to say racism is still entrenched in many areas and ways, as we’ve discovered the past few days when a teenager is shot SIX TIMES … siX! … for being at the wrong place at the wrong time.”
WOW. Really?
Maybe just maybe he was shot after smashing his fist into the cops face and then trying to take the cops gun and then trying to run away from the cop and then when that failed he bum rushed the cop. Just maybe.
There was the case of an unarmed white man shot by a black cop the same week. Do you know his name? Are white people rioting there? Is the White House sending any of their representatives to his funeral?
His name was James Whitehead. Look it up. If you do, you will find that the cop was fired. That’s all. Just fired. Even though his fellow officers said he should be on trial for murder. Double standards anybody?
Nothing is nearly as black and white as we would like things to be if we look at BOTH sides of an issue.

Oh yeah, by the way, Sara Palin NEVER said she could see Russia from her house – that was taken from a skit from Saturday Night Live. You are just repeating the same old tired lie from over 6 years ago. Don’t feel bad, a lot of “objective professional journalists” have repeated the same lie over and over for the last 6 years also.
just saying – Nothing is nearly as black and white as we would like things to be if we look at BOTH sides of an issue.

Al, thank you for the correction on Palin.You are right, she never said she could see Russia from her house.

The basis for the line was Governor Palin’s 11 September 2008 appearance on ABC News, her first major interview after being tapped as the vice-presidential nominee. During that appearance, interviewer Charles Gibson asked her what insight she had gained from living so close to Russia, and she responded: “They’re our next-door neighbors, and you can actually see Russia from land here in Alaska, from an island in Alaska”

Two days later, on the 2008 season premiere of Saturday Night Live, Tina Fey and Amy Poehler appeared in a sketch portraying Sarah Palin and Hillary Clinton, during which Fey spoofed Governor Palin’s remark of a few days earlier with the following exchange:

FEY AS PALIN: “You know, Hillary and I don’t agree on everything . . .”

POEHLER AS CLINTON: (OVERLAPPING) “Anything. I believe that diplomacy should be the cornerstone of any foreign policy.”

FEY AS PALIN: “And I can see Russia from my house.”

Henceforth, invocations of Sarah Palin frequently employed the line “I can see Russia from my house,” rather than the words she actually spoke, “You can actually see Russia from land here in Alaska.”

As to the question of whether one can actually see Russia from Alaska, Governor Palin was correct: such a view is possible from more than one site in that state. A Slate article on the topic noted that: “In the middle of the Bering Strait are two small, sparsely populated islands: Big Diomede, which sits in Russian territory, and Little Diomede, which is part of the United States. At their closest, these two islands are a little less than two and a half miles apart, which means that, on a clear day, you can definitely see one from the other.”

Also, a 1988 New York Times article reported that: “To the Russian mainland from St. Lawrence Island, a bleak ice-bound expanse the size of Long Island out in the middle of the Bering Sea, the distance is 37 miles. From high ground there or from the Air Force facility at Tin City atop Cape Prince of Wales, the westernmost edge of mainland North America, on a clear day you can see Siberia with the naked eye.”

Neither of these viewpoints offers the observer much more than a glimpse of a vast, desolate expanse, however. [SNOPES.COM]

Flack or flattery, I love getting your comments! Keep them coming!

13 Things the Offshore Gurus Will NOT Tell You About Panama

Driveway leading to house

Driveway leading to our house

When I come back and visit the US and folks find out I live in Panama they’re always interested and have lots of questions. It’s not unusual to bump into folks who subscribe to, or have read press releases by outfits that promote seminars and literature about living in Panama. Yes, it has been “paradise” for us and many others, but it is not “perfect” and some of these outfits tend to gloss over the realities of life in Panama. The more you know about how life really is in Panama, or whatever country you are considering, the happier you will be when you make the move.

One of the things I like about Panama Relocation Tours is that it’s not a real estate tour. Nobody is selling anything. It’s a boots-on-the-ground tour that allows you to experience the real Panama and talk with real expats about their experiences living in Panama. Jackie Lange, who runs Panama Relocation Tours, wrote this piece on her blog

Ask 100 expats what their life is like in Panama, you will get 100 different answers.

Their perspective depends on where they live, how patient they are, and how much they have attempted to accept Panama for what it is… a developing country.

When you read offshore publications about Panama you’d think the whole country is a “Paradise”. The distant photos of down town Panama City look like any first world metropolis. But walk the streets or drive around the country and you will quickly notice that it is not as developed as the USA, Canada or Europe.

With its beautiful skyscrapers, new subway system, and Trump Tower, Panama City is certainly impressive. Some areas are very modern with underground utilities. But that is not the way it is in most of Panama City – or Panama in general.

Many people say Panama is like the USA was in the 1960s but with cell phones, internet and flat screen TVs. I grew up in the ’60s and have fond memories of what life was like then. Panama does offer a simple life where young children can walk all over town safely and family values still exist.

But it is not all paradise.

Here are 13 things you won’t read about in in the sugar-coated publications about moving to Panama:

(1) Don’t assume you will have hot water at every house or at every faucet in the house. Some houses only have warm water at the shower.
Be careful to check out the hot water situation before you decide to rent or buy. You should not rent a house without seeing it first.

(2) Internet speed is not the same throughout the country or even on the same street. If you are lucky enough to live in an area serviced by Cable Onda, you can get up to 15 mgps for about $50 a month. If you can’t get Cable Onda, you will be forced to use MobileNet or Planet Telecom where 2 mgps will cost you $125 per month and you will pay a whopping $250 for 4 mgps. Cable Onda is available 1 mile from my house but I’m stuck with paying the higher prices for less speed.

(3) The sidewalks are not level. They may have holes your whole foot can fit through, or metal pipes protruding in bad places or the sidewalk may have stretches which are completely missing. You need to wear sturdy shoes and watch where you are walking at all times in Panama.

(4) If Code Enforcement from the USA came to Panama, they would probably shut down most of the country. There is crazy wiring inside and outside. There are steps and other unlevel surfaces with no handrails or safety devices. There usually will not be a GFI outlet within 6 feet of all water sources. The only exception is new construction in the higher price ranges… maybe.

(5) Most places will have a sign in the bathroom asking you to NOT flush the toilet paper but instead to put it in a waste basket which is next to the toilet. Oh, and don’t assume that all public bathrooms will have toilet paper… bring your own. The reason you should not flush toilet paper because most businesses and homes have a septic system. The more toilet paper that is flushed, the more often they have to get their septic tanks cleaned out and it is just as expensive to do that in Panama as it is in the USA. We recently paid $175.

(6) You can pick your temperature by your elevation. If you are at a lower elevation, it will be hot and humid. If you are at 3500 feet it will be 75-80 just about every day and less humid. Get above 5000 feet and you can enjoy weather in the high 60s to mid-70s every day. Lower elevations (less than 3500 feet) will have more snakes, spiders, and bugs. There are tradeoffs.

(7) There is no Walmart. There are plenty of affordable stores but it will not be the same. We do have a have PriceMart which is very similar to a Sam’s or Costco. Currently, the only big fancy malls are in or near Panama City.

(8) Name brand, imported items will usually costs more, but similar Panama brands will usually cost much less than you pay now. You may or may not be able to find all the name brand items you use now but there is usually a good substitute.

(9) It rains a lot in Panama. We average 100 – 120 inches of rain a year. It does not rain every day or all day… usually. In the dry season, January – April, is may not rain for a month. In October and November it will pour down rain like the Heavens opened up and dumped the Pacific Ocean on Panama….but this usually happens in the late afternoon so you can plan accordingly. The rains keep everything looking lush and green and provide plenty of water for ships to go through the Panama Canal.

(10) Speaking of water… yes, there is plenty of water but the water distribution systems are not what you are familiar with. Some rural areas have water delivered in a small PVC pipe that gets busted occasionally. That means low water pressure at your house or no water. In the dry season, there may not be enough water pressure so it is important that you rent or buy a house that has a large reserve water tank so you have consistent water pressure. Other areas have more modern water delivery systems. In some areas, the water is treated in other areas it is not. So you really need to have a good water filter system at your house. Take all this in to consideration when you select a place to live.

(11) Panama is a Spanish speaking country. In Panama City, Coronado and Boquete English are widely spoken. But in other areas it is not. Even in the areas where English is widely spoken, not everyone will speak English. If you want to live in a Spanish speaking country, you need to learn some Spanish.

(12) Getting things done like opening a bank account, getting a driver’s license, auto registration or even getting mail will be more complicated. It will get done, but your patience will be tested.

(13) Panama has small earthquakes. In the last 12 months I have felt 3 small tremors. They usually last 1-2 seconds. If you are sitting still, you will feel them. If you are driving or moving around you probably won’t feel them at all.

(14) I will throw in one more… There is poverty in Panama but it is not as bad as other South American or Central American countries I have visited. The Indian tribes are most affected by poverty because many of them have no skills and only make $12 – $15 a day. But Panamanians are proud people so you rarely see anyone begging for money.

So with all these negatives, why in the world would anyone want to live in a country like Panama?

For some it is purely economic, others have strong political reasons, and some are just ready for a new adventure. Regardless of the reason, these are the things you can enjoy when living in Panama:

Low utility costs (if you live in an area where you don’t need air conditioning)
Affordable health care .. I pay $2460 a year worldwide health insurance
No wars, no military
Very strong economy
Very low crime in most areas
Fresh air
Fresh fish from both coasts
Great produce and fruit supply – some organic
Great soil to grow your own food
Government leaves you alone and has less rules and regulations
Low or no taxes in Panama
If US citizen, you can take advantage of the $97,600 Foreign Earned Income Exemption
No hurricanes, No snow, No tornadoes
Consistent weather year round – no extremes
Plenty of water – no drought
Visible improvements happening all over the country .. for the better
Not a country divided with conflict from strong left or strong right political parties
Get away from the insanity and intrusion of the US government
Do not have to sign up for or pay for Obamacare
Incredibly beautiful scenery
A lot of opportunity
Small country so you can go to two Oceans or the mountains in a day…. Driving
Friendly and supportive expats… almost always
Friendly and supportive Panamanians… almost always
Pamananians do not have an entitlement mentality

I could go on and on…

Panama is just right for some. But Panama is too big of an adjustment for others who want everything to be like it is back home… wherever that might be.

Panama Relocation Tours will NOT sugar-coat what life is like in Panama. You will learn about the good things and the bad things about life in Panama. I will share my current personal experiences about living in Panama and so will all the other expats you meet with during the tour. The country is changing so quickly, you need to know what it is like being in expat in Panama this month.  For me personally, I can tell you that my only regret is that I did not come to Panama to check it out 10 or 20 years ago then move here sooner.

What “it’s different” actually means …

Living as an expat in Panama, or any country for that matter, is different than living in your home country.  If you want to accept an expat lifestyle and enjoy it you have to accept that things are different.  That’s sometimes easier said than done.  And there are some “different” aspects to live in Panama which often get glossed over in the enthusiasm for all the positives about life in Panama.  “Soup” Campbell who came down from the North Pole, Alaska tells folks that when they move to Panama they need to check their expectations at the border.  It’s different and don’t expect everything to be the same.

The other day our local expat news feed sent out this notice …

We still desperately need 5 pints of O Positive blood for a man in Regional Hospital who is awaiting surgery.

Most of the people on the Blood Donor list do not qualify because they have been OUT of the country in the last 6 months so we need help from anyone who qualifies and can go to Regional Hospital tomorrow morning between 7 AM to 10 AM. The earlier the better.

If you are O Positive, on the Blood Donor list and have not received a call from me yet, please contact me ASAP if you can help.

To donate blood in Panama:

You must be between the ages of 18 and 65. You are generally ineligible when you become 66. In a life or death situation, the doctor in charge of the patient may override this restriction.

You may not give blood if you are allergic to penicillin.

Men can only give blood every 3 months, women every 4 months. The difference is because men usually have a higher hematocrit than women.

Infectious diseases: An active infection or any infection of any kind in the last 10 days, including dental, will disqualify you. A history of the following diseases will disqualify you: TB, malaria, sexually transmitted diseases, HIV/AIDS, hepatitis of any kind, Chagras disease, Yellow fever. CMV and mono are OK if not recent.

Other medical issues: You must have normal blood pressure. Blood pressure medications are OK if your blood pressure is normal in the ER when you are screened.

You may not give blood if you have anemia falciforme (sickle cell anemia) or if you are diabetic.

You must weigh more than 55 kilos (approximately 121 pounds by calculation).

IV drug users are ineligible.

You may be rejected as a donor by the ER doctor who screens you or by the lab. Your blood will be tested by the lab for normal values and infectious diseases.

IF YOU PASS THE ABOVE QUALIFICATION AND CAN GO TOMORROW MORNING PLEASE CALL and we will provide you with the patients name to give at the lab.

Thank You, Boquete Hospice Blood Donors

There is no blood bank in Panama.

There is no way to give your own blood in advance of surgery and have the hospital store it for use if needed.

Most expat retirees — your friends — are going to be 65 or older and prohibited from giving blood.

So what happens? You lay in bed in the hospital and wait, and hope, and pray.

In the Boquete area we have no ambulance EMT service comparable to what you may be used to in your home country. Ambulances are mainly used for transport. A few years ago a group of gringos got together and raised money to buy and equip and ambulance for Boquete, albeit without any trained EMT. No one is quite sure now what happened to that ambulance and the equipment. My understanding is that the fire department, Bomberos, in Boquete does not currently have a trained EMT. Panama is working on implementing a 911 Emergency Ambulance program but this is only for accidents on the highway. So what do you do?

Our plan is that one of us throws the other into the car and we drive to a hospital in David, about 35 minutes, and hope for the best. The reality is that we had the same plan in Ventura, California where we lived 20 minutes drive from the hospital and knew that it would take longer than that for an ambulance to arrive. That plan may work … except when I’m off on a ship for several months at a time.

It IS different. It’s NOT the same. It is beautiful, a great life style and we love it, but you need to know and accept in advance that things are different.

Two Great Videos About Panama

I’ve disappeared for a few days … back to Milwaukee, USA.  Milwaukee used to be known for beer, now it is known for Harley Davidson.  I’m staying in a Hilton Garden Inn down the road from Harley … midweek and a lot of Harley folks are staying here as well.  Last night at the hotel’s guest reception party someone commented to a gal from Harley, “Seems like almost everyone who works there has a tattoo.”  The gal, who worked in HR replied, “Yes, it’s a requirement to have a tattoo somewhere!”  Anyway I’m here to do a funeral service for a very good friend.  The last time I was in Milwaukee was 2000, and things seemed kind of grim.  I’m amazed to the difference.  Vibrant economy, lots of growth and development, huge and beautiful developments of Mc Mansions in the western suburbs. This afternoon I’m driving down to Chicago.  Two of the guys I hung around with in college are driving down from Grand Rapids and three old men are going to get together and remember when we were kids.  Sounds like the stuff of a boring movie!  Then it’s a quick trip up to Door County, where we used to have a little cottage, to visit some friends, then back home to Panama.

I’ve got to share with you that I set the world record for clearing both immigration and customs in Atlanta … 10 minutes!  We must have just arrived at the perfect time!

So the videos … first is a great promo video for Panama.  The second is a video by Bob Adams of  You’ll enjoy them both!



Prison Nightmares

There are expats who will ask, “So, what do the state of Panama’s prisons have to do with moving to Panama, or our somewhat privileged lives in Panama? What’s it to me? They’re criminals: lock ‘em up and throw away the key.”

Prisons are designed not just to wall people IN, but to wall people OUT. A society that just locks people up and throws away the key, or only cares about good people like they assume themselves to be, isn’t a worthwhile society. You ignore the poor, and those in prison at your own risk. Not only can it become a cancer on society, but in the final analysis, well, Jesus put it this way,

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.

“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’

“They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’

“He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’

“Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.” [Matthew 25:31-46]

If you don’t dig Jesus, or just think the whole world should revolve around you and your needs … well, then, obviously Jesus opinions aren’t important to you. But … the time may come when you run afoul of the law in Panama, or when, rightly or wrongly, you are accused back home of some infraction there, and you end up in the “better” and “protected” area of prison, reserved for expats and foreigners. So even you might find this interesting.

This appeared in CAYMANCOMPASS.COM and concerns the death of a Cayman citizen being held in prison in Panama.

Panama Prison Horrors

Cellmates of drug mule Mark Bodden have told of the squalid conditions and nonexistent medical care in the notorious Panama prison where the Caymanian died on Aug. 18.

The 37-year-old, according to the witness accounts, was injured in a fall from a makeshift bed in the seriously overcrowded cell block 6 of La Joya prison, where 506 foreign nationals are crammed into tiny rat-infested cells with limited access to clean water or exercise.

Three of Mr. Bodden’s fellow prisoners, including Dr. Arthur Porter, a high profile physician wanted in Canada in connection with a bribery scandal involving Montreal’s McGill University Hospital, have been in contact with the Cayman Compass to give their version of events surrounding the death.

The Caymanian prisoner was left without access to proper medical attention for nearly 12 hours after sustaining serious head injuries when he fell 8 feet from his “home-made bed space,” according to an unofficial two-page medical report produced by Dr. Porter.

“I am of the opinion that if Mr. Bodden had received a prompt transfer to a hospital with neurological competence, he would have had a substantial chance of making a complete recovery,” wrote Dr. Porter, who has been in the prison for 14 months fighting extradition back to Canada following his arrest on an international warrant in Panama City.

His report was emailed to the Compass through fellow prisoner Leo Morgan, a British drug dealer locked up for money laundering, who has been representing foreign inmates in talks with prison officials and embassy diplomats in an effort to improve conditions.

“Mark was not a bad kid. He made a mistake, did something to make some money and he ended up here.

“What happened was an accident, but he didn’t have to die. It could have been prevented if he had got medical care. He died because of neglect,” Mr. Morgan told the Compass in a call from the prison’s public phones.

The 57-year-old former boxer and nightclub bouncer, described as a “drug kingpin” in British press reports, said he had seen 60 people die during his 10 years in the Panama prison system from accidents, stabbings, fights and disease.

“There’s no medical center, there’s not even any water. We have to buy everything we have,” said Mr. Morgan, who competes in boxing bouts with fellow inmates for cash.

“Mark had good people looking out for him in Cayman. His grandmother sent him money and the church was helping him out. You have to buy everything, you have to buy your bed, you have to buy toilet paper.”

He said the cell block is a 180-bed facility that houses 506 foreign prisoners – a mix of Colombians, Africans, Jamaicans, Guatemalans and three British citizens: Mr. Morgan, Mr. Bodden and his cellmate Ben Perschky, who is serving a 112-month sentence for trying to smuggle cocaine out of Panama.

Mr. Perschky, speaking to the Compass via instant-messaging service Whatsapp, told how inmates had banged on the cell-block doors and made frantic calls to the British embassy to raise the alarm as Mr. Bodden slipped in and out of consciousness throughout the night.

“He fell around 9:30 Saturday night. The Canadian prisoner in here [Dr. Porter] examined him and he had broke his shoulder and his head was bleeding. He was responding though. We went to the people upstairs, with the contacts, but were told nobody is here and we would have to wait until morning.”

Mr. Perschky, one of six inmates who shared a cell with Mr. Bodden and bunked on the bed below, said he became seriously concerned when his friend began to experience convulsions.

“We carried him to the door. He was in a really, really bad way. We banged and banged on the door and at 8:30 a.m. Sunday a policeman came and opened it and they took him away. Monday morning we heard he had died.

“I believe he died because nobody came here to get him out and give him the care he needed to survive.”

In his report – a typed manuscript of his medical notes on the incident – fellow prisoner Dr. Porter, the former medical director of McGill University Health Centre, expresses similar opinions.

He writes that Mr. Bodden had suffered injuries to his chest, head and shoulder in the fall and had an “open laceration on his cranium.”

He describes how he attempted to “medically manage” the patient, who was suffering epileptic seizures, while others tried to raise the alarm.

“At around 8:30 am a policeman arrived and the patient was placed in a food trolley and wheeled out. On Monday 18th August I was informed that Mark had died. Frankly I am of the opinion that the care that Mark received was sub-standard,” Dr. Porter wrote.

He adds, “I have been incarcerated here for over 14 months and can attest this is not an isolated incident… Not having any ability to contact authorities, transfer or even have basic resuscitation equipment represents a significant systemic flaw in the delivery of medical care in the Panamanian Penitentiary system.”

Dr. Porter was injured himself during a riot at the prison – widely reported in Canadian news media earlier this month.

The Sierra Leone-born doctor is a prominent figure in Canada where he was a member of the Privy Council and served as chairman of the Security and Intelligence Review Committee under Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

He has been in La Joya since being arrested at the airport in Panama City on an international warrant in May 2013.

He is wanted by Quebec police in connection with a $22.5 million bribery and kickback scandal, described in media reports as one of the largest frauds in Canadian history.

Dr. Porter is facing charges of fraud, conspiracy to commit fraud, fraud toward the government, breach of trust, participating in secret commissions and laundering proceeds of crime, according to Canadian media.

There is a sense in which you can judge a nation based on how it treats its prisoners. If that is the case both Panama and the US fall short.

Panama’s Pensionado Discounts: Worth it on airfare?

The Panama Pensionado discount program is an often-touted reason to consider an expat retirement lifestyle in Panama. This program was developed for Panamanian retirees, not expat retirees, although Panama generously allows expat retirees who have permanent residence status to take advantage of the discounts. If you are a permanent resident in Panama, whether you live here on a Pensionado visa or “Friendly Nation” visa or other visa, once you reach Panamanian retirement age, which for men is 60 and for women is 55, you enjoy the discounts offered to all retirees. If you have a Pensionado visa you enjoy these benefits regardless of your age.

One of the benefits is “25% discount in air fares in public and private national and foreign Airlines.”

OK, so how does that work out in practice?

I’m back at sea later this fall and Nikki is going with me on several voyages. In order to get the Pensionado discount I went to a local travel agent. This is what we needed …

PTY – NYC – Where we pick up the ship
SJU – MIA – This cruise finishes in San Juan. My next assignment is out of Fort Lauderdale. We’ll spend some time between cruises doing a Florida road trip before Nikki returns to Panama.

So here’s what the travel agent came up with … with the Pensionado Discount $691.27

DL 392 24 OCT Panamá-Atlanta 8:00 AM –> 1:06 PM

DL 1419 24 OCT Atlanta-John F Kennedy 4:13 PM –> 6:35 PM

DL 309 13 NOV San Juan-Atlanta 12:35 PM –> 3:35 PM

DL 1527 13 NOV Atlanta-Fort Lauderdale 4:10 PM –> 6:05 PM

DL 1827 23 NOV Fort Lauderdale-Atlanta 1:45 PM –> 3:45 PM

DL 393 23 NOV Atlanta-Panamá 5:50 PM –> 9:53 PM

Lot’s of changes – lots of time in Atlanta [It's said with Delta, "If you want to go to Heaven you have to connect through Atlanta."]

And here’s what I came up with using the standard senior discount [65 and over], without the Pensionado discount $707.30

Copa 1922 24 OCT Panama-Newark [Nonstop] 10:05 AM –> 4:20 PM

American 397 13 NOV San Juan-Miami [Nonstop] 2:01 PM –> 3:55 PM

Copa 440 23 NOV Miami-Panama [Nonstop] 10:49 AM –> 1:50 PM

OK, the Pensionado rate was $16 cheaper. But for $16 more three DIRECT flights, and the Panama flight gets in early enough, that with a little luck, Nikki can get the last flight from Albrook to David, saving the cost and hassle of an overnight in Panama City!

So here’s how it works: the Pensionado Discount is the SAME as the 65 and over regular senior fare. If you are a Pensionado you get the senior rate even if you are not 65 and over. Once you turn 65 … it’s the same.

Back Home: A Changing America

Me and boys 080614Having just been “back home” in the US, I can report that it’s still the same.  But I do wonder what kind of country I will be leaving my grandkids.

It’s easy to hear expats in Panama complain about life back in the US: the Bush so-called “Patriot Act” which Congress and Obama have not only supported but interpreted in even more anti-patriotic ways offering up traditional US American freedoms as trophies to terrorism in the name of “national security”; how the US has become a country living in fear [FDR: “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”; how curt and militaristic the airport “Welcome to America!” has become when you go “back home” to visit; and “Obama Care” – if one more person tells me how “bad” or “good” it is I will throw up on the spot!  There are those who still believe that a black man riding on a white horse would save the US from self-destruction, and those whose life revolves around FOX “news” [Yes, it's available in Panama.] who think that had McCain, Palin, Romney (and who was his running mate?) had been elected, the US would be so, so much better.  Palin’s foreign policy experience [Remember?  Even though she'd never had a US Passport she "could see Russia" from Alaska.] would have trumped Obama/Clinton’s bungling.

Some folks love romping in this stuff like pigs in the mud, and others, while still concerned about life in the US, it’s direction or lack thereof, and the implications for grandkids, just enjoy being away from it all in Panama.  Bob Adams, who has a great Web site called, says that if you’re coming to Panama to live as an expat you need to pack all that negative, political stuff that has nothing to do with your new life in Panama and leave it back where you came from.

But there is no question that things are changing in the US.  I found this article about Clinton’s potential White House bid that included some very interesting material developed by the highly respected Pew Research organization …

In March this year, Pew published a social trends survey which concluded that the Millennials were “forging a distinctive path into adulthood”. They did not join political parties or churches, lived largely beyond the corporate world, and were mostly broke but still had hopes for their future.

“Now ranging in age from 18 to 33 ½,” the report found, “they are relatively unattached to organised politics and religion, linked by social media, burdened by debt, distrustful of people, in no rush to marry – and optimistic about the future.

“They are also America’s most racially diverse generation. In all of these dimensions, they are different from today’s older generations. And in many, they are also different from older adults back when they were the age Millennials are now.”

Pew found that 50 per cent of Millennials now describe themselves as politically independent, but if they do back a party, it will be the Democrats. They hold “liberal views” on issues such as same-sex marriage and the legalisation of marijuana. Forty-seven per cent of children born to Millennial women are born out-of-wedlock.

They seem to be living differently and adopting different views and values partly because they have had to: they are the generation launched into a global recession with an unprecedented amount of college debt and few job prospects, the first generation to realise that the American Dream is going to remain just that.

They do not want to drive big cars or buy suburban mansions; they repopulate cities (when they can afford to leave the nest at all) and ride bicycles.

Perhaps most significant is that they are adapting to America’s rapidly shifting racial balance. Whites will cease to be an overall majority in America sometime around 2045. That projection is behind the anti-immigrant, right-wing rage of the Tea Party and its related militias. But it bothers the new generations of pink, brown and black Americans less and less.

In short, it is the Millennials who have helped consign the Republican politics of division – “Vote for us or your daughter will marry a black man!” – to the dustbin of history.

It has been calculated that Millennials will not have the majority of votes for another 20 years, and so will not have control of Washington until 2035.

But they have been a rising power since the first of them turned out for Barack Obama in 2008, and their share of the vote will go up in every cycle. [Charles Lawrence THE WEEK]