Panama is Not Like the USA or Canada – But Better in Many Ways

My friend Jackie Lange of Panama Relocation Tours sent me this interesting post based on her experience.

When we do the Panama Relocation Tours™, I can usually tell by the end of the tour who would “make it” relocating to Panama, and who would not. Some people need all the creature comforts of home. Others see the change in lifestyle as a new adventure in their life. If you want to make it in Panama, that is the kind of attitude you need to have.

Some people expect to see all the same brands of food at the grocery stores, a Walmart or shopping center just down the street, the same TV shows (in English) and the same kind of services you have in the USA. In Panama, that will probably not happen.

There are many varieties of food at the grocery store, some you will be familiar with,some will be new. And you may need to go to several stores to find all the things on your list. You can buy the Del Monte brand of can tomatoes for $1.69 a can or you can buy the Panama brand for $0.69 a can. There will be some things that you just cannot find if you live outside of Panama City (like Temptation cat treats or Friskies shredded cat food). You’ll learn that buying produce from the farmers market is fresher and more affordable than buying at the grocery store. Shopping is a whole new experience in Panama.

You won’t find a Walmart anywhere in Panama but there are other stores with even better prices. Conway is the Latin version of Target. You’ll be amazed at the variety of items at Conway. They even have furniture and household items.

Panama City has huge malls with anything you can imagine available but the malls in the interior are small. Think about all the times you went to the huge malls in the USA or Canada and still could not find anything you liked. Do you really need 100 stores in a mall? The good thing about a smaller mall is that you can get in and out faster with fewer distractions. Of course, you can always fly or drive to Panama City for a weekend shopping fix if that’s your thing.

The reliability of services will depend on where you live. When I first moved to Boquete we’d have electricity and internet outages a couple times a week. Now it might happen a couple times a month and usually only lasts for 10 minutes or less. So, for me, it’s not a big deal. Some people will be irritated by this slight inconvenience.

Because you won’t need air conditioning or a heater, you will save a bundle on your electric bill. Plus. Plus, if you have a Pensionado visa you can get a 25% discount off your bill. Try getting that back in the USA or Canada!

When you’re looking for a house to buy or rent, you should not ask, “do you have high speed internet?” The answer will always be yes if they have any internet service at all. The better question to ask is who is your internet service provider? how much does it cost? and what speed can you get? If the property is in an area serviced by Cable Onda you can get the highest speeds (7-15mps) for less than $50 per month.

But if you’re in an area which is not serviced by Cable Onda (like me) you will spend $125 – $150 per month for 3 megabits max.

Luckily, WIFI is readily available throughout Panama

If you need faster speeds, you need to find a place to live which is serviced by Cable Onda. I run 50 web sites, upload video and audio and stream videos all with only 3 megabits and have no problems. But if you do day trading, you will probably need a wired connection and Cable Onda.

Cable Onda also offers cable TV and a land line phone. Most people just use their cell phone for all calls.

I have Sky TV which has hundreds of channels plus I added the HBO movie channels. Some of the shows are in English, some are not. Just because you watch one show in English on a certain channel, it does not mean that the next show will be in English on the same channel. You’ll do a lot of channel surfing to find shows in English.

None of the network channels like ABC, NBC, or CBS are available through the Cable Onda or Sky TV. You’ll learn how to get access to their stations during the tour. Honestly, after you’ve been in Panama for awhile, you will care less about what is happening in the news”back home”.

Netflix is readily available in Panama with both movies and TV series. We have a Blue Ray player which allows us to watch NetFlix shows on our TV. Amazon Prime also has movies and TV shows.

There are also movie theaters with English language movies I have heard. I have not been to a movie theater yet, since the closest one is 45 minutes away from my house in Boquete.

Water service in interrupted a couple of times a month during the dry season. It could last for half a day. That’s why most people have reserve water tanks. We rarely have no water during the rainy season. Water is only $60 per year for unlimited service. I paid more than that per MONTH in the USA.

There will be trade-offs when living in Panama. Only you can decide if it’s worth it and if you can make the adjustment.

You will give up the convenience of some things but gain a better way of living for less money if you can deal with the trade-offs. Some can. Some can’t.

Come see if Panama is right for you during a Panama Relocation Tour™.  You’ll probably be pleasantly surprised.

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The Goal & Plan B

The object is the goal.

True in the Super Bowl and true in life.

Especially when you live in Panama, it is important to keep your eye on the goal.

And there are more ways than one to get to the goal.  Important to keep in mind if you live in Panama.  If you are a detailed person who likes to plan the way things should happen, you need to know that it is highly unlikely that anything will go according to your original plan.

You always need a “plan B” … and not the morning-after birth control pill either, although depending on your particular situation, that might work.

And chances are your “plan B” isn’t going to work, so you’d better have a “plan C … D … E … F”, etc. in mind.  You need to be flexible!  Things will happen in Panama, just maybe not on your original plan.  It’s true with the ordinary stuff of life, and true with the mega projects, as the Panama Canal Authority is finding out.

Plan B

Plan B

I mention all of this because I’ve been struggling with my own “plan B” for the cover of THE NEW ESCAPE TO PARADISE.  Amazon’s Create Space publishing on demand program generally works quite well, but since I live in Panama it takes longer for me to get my hands on a physical copy of the book.  The cover I agonized over looked great on the online preview applications, but … So I had review copies of the actual paperback book sent to both of my daughters to get their take on the look and feel … and the results weren’t what I had hoped for.  So … “plan B” … a new cover design … still the same content.  The goal is to get this essential information about living and retiring in Panama into the hands of readers.  So, goal achieved, just with a different plan.

If anything, ten years living in Panama, to say nothing of working on cruise ships, has taught me to be flexible, which is an important thing in life if you don’t want to have a coronary.

I’m not a sports fan and really don’t like the whole concept of US professional football.  “How about those Seahawks?”  I’ve watched maybe three Super Bowls in my life, but I will  watch this year because my daughter and family live in Seattle and are Seahawk fans, and because Craig Owings is doing one of his famous BBQ parties.

I probably should have played football growing up, but I didn’t know how.  When I was a seminary intern in a church in Grand Rapids, the local high school football coach was a member of the church.  He, and some of the guys in the church, talked me into filming the games.  It was actually fun … after a while.  At first I’d always follow the fake and not the ball, but eventually I figured it out.  And, too late for a high school and college football career, I figured that these kids didn’t know how to play football, but were learning.  Nobody ever told me that you could learn how to play.  But it strikes me that all of those plays that football players learn and practice over and over and over are just alternative plans for how to get the ball into the end zone … “plans C … D … E … F” if you will.


Bieber has left the country . . . back to our regularly scheduled telenovelas

OK, Justin went back to Calabasas . ..  and has left Panama, but not without giving Panama millions of dollars of tourist advertising and exposure!  The Minister of Tourism must be doing back flips with all of the media attention.  Not only will Panama be known as a place of escape for baby boomers, retirees, expats, would-be money launderers … good luck with that! … but now for the in-crowd of celebs and beautiful-people-wantabes.  Although you’ve got to wonder about these teeny boppers who see Justin Bieber as a sexy, hunk??  I assume, hope, he’s started to shave!  Whatever, Justin has come and gone (at least for the moment) and put Nitro City, a youthful resort club on the beach in Punta Chame, on the map.  Heck, cool name and concept and even I would like staying at a place decorated with graffiti art! [Really, I had quite a collection of graffiti art from the Bronx which unfortunately we got rid of when we came to Panama.]

So now that Bieber has left we can get back to our regularly scheduled telenovelas.

“El Presidente”

An ongoing political soap opera centered around the current Presidential campaign in Panama.  The county is awash in bright-colored flags of the three main political parties and new accusations of dirty politics, stealing the country blind, and who is doing what to whom dominate the news.  As a result of “the dictatorship” Panama has a sensible fear of power so restricts a President to serving a single term, needing to sit it out for a while before running again.  A lot of times parties just switch every five years, thus giving everyone a chance to … well some would say … stick their hand in the till.  Politics in Panama run on patronage, so whatever party gets into power throws out the folks who got jobs in the last election and puts their own people on the payroll.  Not very efficient, but …  The current President Ricardo Martinelli, is a no-nonsense businessman who brags, not without reason, that he has accomplished more in four years than his biggest rival party had in 40 years.  Right now the government candidate, Jose Domingo, is leading in the polls promising more change for all.  Each day brings new accusations and new Presidential Tweets.

The bigger daily drama concerns . . .

“The Amplification”

No, this is not a new religious doctrine, but the saga surrounding the expansion of the Panama Canal, which, because Panama wanted this to be an international project built by the largest international construction companies, involves the governments of Spain, Italy and Panama.  Originally the Canal expansion was proposed at something like $8 billion, then, perhaps to get voters to approve it, the cost was reduced to $5.5 billion and, guess what, the contract was given to the low bidder.  When the then US ambassador to Panama warned Panama that the low bidder was nearing bankruptcy back then, the warning was ignored.  Now, like my experience with Panama home builders, the contractors are demanding more money, like $1.6 billion more, or threatening to stop work.  The Canal administrators are saying, “Fine, we’ll finish it ourselves” which may be easier said than done.  The new Canal was supposed to open this year, tying in with the 100th Anniversary of The Panama Canal, but that has been pushed off to mid 2015 at the earliest, and if things start to fall apart . . . it may be 2016 or later.  And that $1.25 billion direct contribution from Canal revenues that the government was looking for in 2015 …

This telenovela may have several seasons of reruns eventually.

And as I struggle with Spanish . . . 

I can’t resist adding this that was sent to me by Shaun Pilson …

A SPANISH Teacher was explaining to her class that in Spanish, unlike English, nouns are designated as either masculine or feminine.

‘House’ for instance, is feminine: ‘la casa.’

‘Pencil,’ however, is masculine: ‘el lapiz.’

A student asked, ‘What gender is ‘computer’?’

Instead of giving the answer, the teacher split the class into two groups, male and female, and asked them to decide for themselves whether computer’ should be a masculine or a feminine noun. Each group was asked to give four reasons for its recommendation.

The men’s group decided that ‘computer’ should definitely be of the feminine gender (‘la computadora’), because:

1. No one but their creator understands their internal logic;

2. The native language they use to communicate with other computers is incomprehensible to everyone else;

3. Even the smallest mistakes are stored in long term memory for possible later retrieval; and

4. As soon as you make a commitment to one, you find yourself spending half your paycheck on accessories for it.

The women’s group, however, concluded that computers should be Masculine (‘el computador’), because:

1. In order to do anything with them, you have to turn them on;

2. They have a lot of data but still can’t think for themselves;

3. They are supposed to help you solve problems, but half the time they ARE the problem; and

4. As soon as you commit to one, you realize that if you had waited a little longer, you could have gotten a better model.

The women won.

I Promised . . .

I know that I promised all of you to share my interview with the real Santa Claus, the one I did after Christmas at Santa’s island hideaway in Boca Chica.  I’ve been so busy getting THE NEW ESCAPE TO PANAMA finished and published that I haven’t had time to write-up my exclusive interview with Santa.  Sorry, but since I promised . . . here it is!

I met Santa Claus, the real McCoy, a few years ago when he was sipping a Balboa beer at what was then called Wahoo Willies in Boca Chica. I probably wouldn’t have known who he really was, except that as we sipped beer we talked about getting older, needing to lose some of the paunch, and retiring to Panama. Eventually, as his story came out, he swore me to secrecy, a promise I have kept because you don’t mess with God, Mother Nature or Santa Claus.

What many folks don’t realize is that Panama has islands off the Atlantic and Pacific coasts. Some are owned by people who just want to escape completely, some of whom have celebrity status, like Mic Jaggar. So for about 10 years the real Santa Claus has been living 8 months of the year on his own private island, all I can say is “somewhere in the Bay of Chiriqui” off of Boca Chica. Since he is now in his mid-70’s, I finally managed to convince him to give me a no-holds-barred exclusive interview.


DETRICH: “OK, Santa, let’s set the record straight. There really is a Santa Claus, right, and you are he? So, is Santa like God: do you live forever? If not, why you? How did you become Santa?”

CLAUS: ‘Yeah, it’s me all right. And I DO exist. And I’m not immortal. And yes I have the same old age pains that you do. Santa Claus is our family business. My birth name is Christopher Kingle, and that was my father’s name, and it’s the name of my oldest son. We’re a little like the British Royal Family. My wife calls me Chris, but to the rest of the world I am Santa Claus. Chris, Jr., my oldest son, will inherit the title, the role, and the business when I die. We are a family owned, multi-national conglomerate, officially Santa Claus, S.A., and I am the Chairman of the Board and my son, Chris, is the President. We do business all over the world but primarily in countries which religiously have some tie to Christmas and the birth of Christ, although increasingly it doesn’t matter what religious background a country has, almost every developed country does business with Santa Claus.”

“So like the Queen is Elizabeth II, I’d be Santa Claus with some number behind my name. But we’ve found that it’s best for the business to let folks assume that Santa goes on forever. So we lead a low-profile private life and when my father, or grandfather died, or when I die, nobody really knows but the immediate family, and the oldest son takes over the role.”

DETRICH: “So we’re talking about a gigantic business here? What kind of revenue are we talking about? Do you pay taxes?”

CLAUS: “Santa Claus, SA is a private corporation so we don’t release any financial information.  Part of why we’re in Panama!  And we don’t pay taxes . . . anywhere. Don’t ask me how. Just accept that being Santa Claus offers certain advantages. End of story. Actually because there was no such thing as licensing when this business started, people don’t pay to use my image or name, so, we really don’t make that much money. We make a living, but a lot of it is a labor of love.”

DETRICH: “So how’d it all begin?”

CLAUS: “Look it up on Wikipedia! It’s more or less the same story. Or call my daughter, Virginia – yes, just like the 1987 editorial in the New York SUN! – who is the Vice President of Marketing and she’ll give you our official version. Basically my great-something grandfather, following the tradition of Saint Nicholas and the Dutch Sinterklaus thought it would be fun to leave some anonymous gifts for the neighbor’s kids. He began doing this year after year, eventually finding it was easier to cart the gifts in his sleigh rather than on horseback and one thing led to another and by the end of the 18th Century the tradition was evolving.”

DETRICH: “So there were no reindeer?”

CLAUS: “Initially no, but through the years the tradition grew and grew.”

DETRICH: “So,no sleigh and reindeer now?”

CLAUS: “We DO have several sleighs and teams of reindeer that make appearances throughout the world, Kind of like the Budweiser Clydesdales.  And every team of reindeer has the same, traditional names . . .”

DETRICH: “Rudolph?”

CLAUS: “You bet! And it’s a lot easier to bring off Rudoplh’s traditional appearance now with fibere optic lights.”

DETRICH: “High tech Santa, huh?”

CLAUS: “You bet. We could never keep this going without technology! My youngest son, Sam, is the CIO of our company. We have all of the latest technology. It’s the only way we could keep track of all the boys and girls, production, and delivery. Out on the island I can log in and follow every aspect of our business.”

“My other son handles production which is now outsourced around the world. And my daughter Noelle is in charge of logistics. It’s quite a task getting all those gifts delivered every year and we couldn’t do it without our corporate partners Fed Ex and UPS.”

DETRICH: “Without the sleigh and reindeer, how do you get around?”

CLAUS: “We have a Gulfstream G150 that’s a lot more comfortable than a sleigh!  It’s usually at Albrook in Panama City.”

DETRICH: “No more going down the chimney?”

CLAUS: Opening another Balboa and munching on Cheetos, “Come on Richard, do I LOOK like I could fit down a chimney?”

DETRICH: “So what about the North Pole? The tradition is that you live at the North Pole, not in the Bay of Chiriqui.”

CLAUS: “Have you ever BEEN to the North Pole? Hell of a place! Snow. Ice. Miserable place. But we have an office there, more for show than anything else. I have some little people friends who play the role of my elves and happen to like snowmobiling, so they keep it going. I make a few promotional appearances when we bring in some press folks the first part of December. And a week or two at the North Pole gives me more than enough snow and cold weather! Why do you think I live in Panama?”

We chatted a bit about some of the Alaskans who’ve come down to Panama to retire. Turns out he knows “Soup”, Collin Campbell, an expat from the real North Pole, Alaska [outside of Fairbanks] who’s left behind the snow and ice to move to Volcan. Soup was on one of the Panama Relocation Tours. I had lunch with him last week in Boquete and he’s having the time of his life in Panama.

Santa showed me a picture of his jet and, I must admit, it beats a sleigh . . . or flying coach.

Sometimes I see Santa’s boat fishing around Boca Chica. It’s called JOSN [“Jolly Old Saint Nick”].


The_NEW_Escape_To_Pa_Cover_for_Kindle (3) It’s now available both on Kindle and in the print edition!

I’m grateful for the enthusiastic response to the original ESCAPE TO PARADISE since it came out in 2010.  But there have been so many changes since then in Panama and in the world economy it was time for a major rewrite.  Now, having been in Panama ten  years, I know a lot more about WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW if you are thinking of moving and/or retiring in Panama.

The new book contains 55% more information.  Important new chapters include:

  • To Your Health – Vital information on health care in Panama
  • See Spot Travel – How to bring your pet along
  • Burn Rate – How not to burn through all your money
  • Exit Strategy – One way or another, at some point you’re going to go
  • Legalities – The major differences in legal systems and how not to run afoul of the law
  • Just Say No – The frustration of everyday dealings with business in Panama
  • This Isn’t the Panama Canal – Understanding the Panamanian work ethic
  • Due Diligence – What should, must you do before deciding
  • The Devil You Know – Something to think about before you jump
  • Things to Like and Not to Like – Things to love . . . and hate
  • A Place to Call Home – A look at many of the places in Panama expats like to call home
  • Addicted to Coffee – If you love coffee you’ll love this
  • Leaving Paradise – People come . . . and go: why people leave Panama

Even if you’ve read the first book, I think you’ll find the additional information in the new book valuable. This book can save you hundreds of thousands of dollars by helping you to make the right choice.

Order Kindle     Order Trade Paperback


January (in Latin, Ianuarius) is named after Janus, the god of the doorway; the name has its beginnings in Roman mythology, coming from the Latin word for door (ianua) since January is the door to the year … The first day of the month is known as New Year’s Day. It is, on average, the coldest month of the year within most of the Northern Hemisphere (where it is the second month of winter) and the warmest month of the year within most of the Southern Hemisphere (where it is the second month of summer). In the Southern hemisphere, January is the seasonal equivalent of July in the Northern hemisphere and vice versa. [Wikipedia]

Kinda . . . sorta

First month of the year, no argument there. Although Panama is in the Northern Hemisphere, the way things work out January is actually our first month of summer. The kids get out of school just before Christmas and don’t go back again until March. This is the dry season, often hotter than usual, and a time for family vacations, trips to the old swimming hole and/or beach.

It’s really just a matter of choice . . .

You gotta love it, right? Why else would you do it, or put up with it?

It’s a choice!


I guess some folks just like shoveling snow, chipping ice of the windshield, going to work in the dark and coming home in the dark, a bundling up in a blanket in front of a fire sipping hot chocolate and watching the snow fall outside so you can go out and shovel some more.  It’s probably a good think actually, because otherwise that deserted beach just off Boca Chica would be crowded with bodies.

Final Cover THE NEW ESCAPE TO PANAMABut hold on pilgrim, you do have a choice! You can escape!

And to help you escape I’m putting the finishing touches on THE NEW ESCAPE TO PARADISE which will be available NEXT week!  The new book contains much more information and is based on my experience of living in Panama ten years.  The original book first came out four years ago and much has changed in Panama, and in the world, since 2010.  If you’re even thinking of escaping to another country, this book can save you hundreds of thousands of dollars, money you’d be out if you make the wrong choice for the wrong reasons, or without really understanding what life in another country is like.

Down to the wire, the hardest part, I think, about writing a book is finalizing it and proofing it.  Fortunately I’ve had the help of some of my faithful blog readers and people who’ve also lived the expat life in Panama.  Proofing is not easy and you can look at something scores of times and miss something that becomes painfully obvious when you hold the finished product in your hands.  Ever had that experience?  If you have, you will sympathize with the poor newspaper editors who left the following slip into print:

Man Kills Self Before Shooting Wife and Daughter

Something Went Wrong in Jet Crash, Expert Says
No crap, really? Ya think?

Police Begin Campaign to Run Down Jaywalkers
Kinda harsh.

Panda Mating Fails; Veterinarian Takes Over
Rather him than me.

Juvenile Court to Try Shooting Defendant
Let’s hear it for law and order.

War Dims Hope for Peace

I can see where it might have that effect!

If Strike Isn’t Settled Quickly, It May Last Awhile
Ya think?!

Cold Wave Linked to Temperatures
Who would have thought!

Enfield (London ) Couple Slain; Police Suspect Homicide
They may be on to something!

Red Tape Holds Up New Bridges
You mean there’s something stronger than duct tape?

Man Struck By Lightning: Faces Battery Charge
He probably IS the battery charge!

New Study of Obesity Looks for Larger Test Group
Weren’t they fat enough?!

Astronaut Takes Blame for Gas in Spacecraft
That’s what he gets for eating those beans!

Kids Make Nutritious Snacks
Do they taste like chicken?

Local High School Dropouts Cut in Half
Chainsaw Massacre all over again!

Hospitals are Sued by 7 Foot Doctors
Boy, are they tall!..

Typhoon Rips Through Cemetery; Hundreds Dead
Did I read that right?

Thanks to Ellen Bolton, one of my proof readers who understood how, after a while, your eyes get crossed.

Boquete’s Fair of Flowers and Coffee

Boquete’s annual fair runs through this weekend and is expected to draw 150,000 people to our tiny town.  During the fair, if you’re not actually going to the fair, it’s best to stay home.  The flowers are beautiful but the last time I went to the fair, several years ago, I was hard pressed to find a single coffee tree.  There was … one!  It was tucked away in an agricultural exhibit tent which nobody actually visited.


Panama’s Economy Will Grow Over 5 Percent In 2014, Making It The Fastest Growing Economy In Latin America

A hundred years ago in January, Panama was a few months shy of becoming one of the world economy’s key players. On Aug. 15, 1914, the Panama Canal was inaugurated, providing a much-needed link between the Atlantic and the Pacific, forming the bedrock of Panama’s economy and putting the Central American country firmly in the trade map of the world.

As the country gets ready for the 100th anniversary events, the canal is knee-deep in an expansion that will allow for more traffic and bigger ships to use it . . .

In 2013, Panama saw its GDP rise 5.57 percent, a feat that will be repeated in 2014, according to Trading Economics. The predictions for 2015 and 2016, however, are much higher, at a little more than 9 percent. The International Monetary Fund is even more optimistic, calculating this year’s GDP growth at 6.9 percent, the highest in the whole of Latin America.

According to BBVA Research, the main driver of the economy will be investment, together with private consumption prompted by an all-time low unemployment, which was 2.9 percent both in 2013 and 2014, the lowest in the region.

Investment will represent a third of the country’s GDP, while in the rest of the region it accounts for 25 percent. The canal expansion project is responsible for most of the influx of investment, though the energy and mining sector will also attract international attention.

The recent discovery of oil reserves in Panama’s Darien jungle, which could contain as much as 900 million barrels, has opened the way for the country to wean itself from imported oil and its related debt (it rose from $447 million in 2000 to $2.25 billion in 2012, according to official data). A bill is currently in the works to make the most of the reserve and to ensure protection of the natural environment, a vast rainforest known as “America’s second lung.”

As for inflation, the 2013 rate of 3.45 percent will rise slightly in 2014, to 3.6 percent — still the lowest rate in the region. And it will go down again to 1.5 percent in 2015, according to Trading Economics. Patricia Rey Mallén, INTERNATIONAL BUSINESS TIMES]