Unfortunately . . .

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The Panama airspace was scheduled to reopen, I was thinking as a birthday gift to me, on June 22nd.  Fearful of once again being a “crossroads of the world” and “the Hub of The Americas,” Panama has extended the airport closure … now scheduled tentatively to reopen July 22nd.

So the parking lot for Copa airlplanes continues, that beautiful new terminal building remains closed,and I continue to be unable to work even if by some chance now tentatively scheduled river cruises actually sail.  Bummer.

Panama Pandemic Progress

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Since some of you have asked, we are doing fine throughout this pandemic.  We are very grateful for what we have and to be riding this out in beautiful Boquete.  I think our biggest challenges are being bored and unable to plan anything.  All of the many cruises I was to be on this year have so far been cancelled.  A big kick in the budget!  I’m used to traveling almost half the year, and so far I haven’t been anywhere.  Even on c4+ acres you can only plant so many hibiscus starters!  (This is the rainy season, so all you have to do is stick a branch in the ground and wait a few months and … voila!  Another beautiful bush!)  But thankfully, even during the most severe lock down times, we’ve been able to be out and about on our property.

Many things (vegetables, cheese, fruits, fish, breads) Nikki has always purchased directly from the farmers or producers, usually at the Tuesday Market.  Now we literally buy direct: farm to table!  Nikki orders on the phone, almost like drug dealers, we meet them at a predesignated spot, of course wearing masks!!, they give us a package with our order and Nikki hands them a Baggie with the exact money.

We’ve had to postpone previously scheduled annual checkups in the States.  Usually I’ll tie these in with cruise assignments.  But if you can’t fly anywhere, you can’t go anywhere.  So we keep hoping.

Panama’s response to the pandemic has been as good as, or better!!, than most countries big or small.  It’s been tough because Panama has always been one of the most important “crossroads of the world.”  Fortunately the Canal has continued to operate although with severe health restrictions.  Tocumen Airport, the “Hub of the Americas,” remains nothing but a parking lot for Copa airplanes.  With the airport closed, of course no tourists, which means lots of folks who earn a living off tourism, present company included, are out of work with no income.

Many people, unhappy and perhaps scared by the situations in their own countries, are eager to check out Panama as either an immediate escape or a “Plan B” if things in their home country get worse.  So literally folks from all over the world read this, and other blogs about expat living.  Jackie Lange’s Panama Relocation Tours are in my opinion the best way to check out possibly moving to Panama.  And no, I don’t work for Jackie or have any financial interest in her tours.  She’s a friend.  I’ve been on the tours and I recommend them.  Period.  But without air access she’s had to cancel tours which already were sold out through most of next year.  But she does get cancellations, so don’t totally despair.

Jackiepublished this update on the situation in Panama as of yesterday, June 14th.  It is well done and worth reading if you are interested in escaping to Paradise.  And of course, my book, THE NEW ESCAPE TO PARADISE also makes good, informative reading!

Panama Pandemic Update by Jackie Lange, Panama Relocation Tours

June 14, 2020

Panama’s borders are still closed. Tocumen International Airport was scheduled to open June 22 but yesterday President Cortizo announced that the airport cannot open with so many new cases of the virus every day. In his Twitter feed he announced that he would like to see the number of new cases go down to not more than 100 a day before the airport opens.

Last week, even the labor unions, including pilots, did a PEACEFUL march through Panama City protesting the opening of the economy too soon. As much as everyone would like to get back to work, it is too soon in Panama to start international flights or to open non-essential businesses.  You’ll see why below.

In June, the number of new cases has been between 400 to as many as 800 each day. Teams of people are going door-to-door to do testing because some people have the Covid virus and don’t even know it so they are spreading the virus.

Obviously, with this many new cases ever day it may be awhile before the airport can open for international travelers. Even when the airport does open, initially Panama will likely require a 14-day home/hotel quarantine when you arrive.

The majority of the cases have been in Panama City where there is a very high density of people.  I live in Chiriqui Province on the far western side of Panama in the town of Boquete.  Boquete has only had 14 cases of the Covid virus and no deaths. The map below shows how many virus cases there are in each province.

june 13 minsa map of panama covid cases

THE PROGRESSION OF THE VIRUS IN PANAMA

This is how the virus progressed in Panama and the actions Panama has taken to try to prevent the spread of the virus or overwhelming the hospitals.  Panama is an international hub for air and marine travel so it is exposed to a high volume of people coming in from all over the world.

Panama reported it’s first confirmed case of Covid-19 on March 9th, a 40- year old school teacher who have traveled to Italy. By March 10th, Panama had 8 confirmed cases and its first death.

President Cortizo took swift action on March 12 when he announced that Panama was in a State of Emergency and quickly mobilize $50 million dollars to purchase test kits, masks and increase hospital bed capacity to get ready for a big increase in Covid-19 cases.

On March 19th Panama suspended international travel in to or out of the country. Originally this was to be for only 30-days but that date has been moved several times.

control how you respondWe have received daily communications from the Ministry of Health and/or the President to keep us informed of the status of the virus and the government’s plans.

To prevent the spread of the virus, initially Panama enacted a curfew but it did nothing to slow down the number of new cases.  So on March 25th, a total quarantine was ordered for everyone in Panama. You could only leave your house three times a week for two hours to buy groceries or get medicine. Beaches were even closed. Women could leave home on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Men could leave their house on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. Children had to stay home. Only those people working at grocery stores or pharmacies could go to work.

Most non-essential businesses where ordered to close. Hundreds of thousands of people had their labor contract suspended. Of course, this had a huge impact on Panama’s economy. Because many people could not work, they had no income. On March 27th President Cortizo announced a Solidario program to give $80 a week to each adult who had their labor contract cancelled or suspended.  Panama has no unemployment benefits so the Solidario program was a first.  Just a reminder that Panama does not have a central bank so they can’t just print more money.

To prevent overloading hospitals, Panama had a new hospital built in less than 30 days.   And Panama worked with some of the hotels to convert them in to Covid-hotels where people who tested positive but had mild symptoms could stay instead of going home to their family where they would spread the virus to all family members.  The Covid-hotels are staffed with nurses to monitor their situation closely and meals are provided for those in the Covid-hotels.

In addition, Cortizo signed a measure passed by Panama’s legislature to suspend payments on public services—including electricity, internet, and phone bills. Originally this was for four months which has since been extended to December 31st. And, the president reached an agreement with the Panama Banking Association to institute a moratorium on a number of payments, including mortgages, a variety of loans, and credit cards, until December 31, 2020. Those who had their labor contract suspended do not have to pay rent and they cannot be evicted for not paying rent.

Even though my gardeners and house keeper could not come to work because of the quarantine, I continued to pay them.  Most people who could afford to have continued to pay their staff even if it is less than full pay.

Because of the strict quarantine Panama was able to get the number of new cases to below 200 a day, sometimes only 100 new cases. And the R factor (transmission rate) was below 1.

Panama thought they had control of the invisible enemy.

President Cortizo announced the six-stage plan to reopen the economy process which began on May 13 with a plan to open up a new Block every 14 days.

panama reopen plan

After Block 1 opened, we saw a big spike in the number of new virus cases.

Then Panama entered Block 2 of the reopening process on June 1. But we saw another spike in the number of new cases.  The original plan was to open each block 14 days apart to see if there was an impact on the number of new cases.

Unfortunately, when each Block was opened we saw a huge spike in the number of new cases mostly in Panama City , Colon and the areas just west of Panama City (Coronado). So June 1st, those areas had to go back in to a strict quarantine. The rest of the country is still only in a curfew.

During the entire State of Emergency, no one has been allowed to leave the province (like a state) where we live. This is done to prevent the spread of the Covid-19 virus.

Yesterday the president announced that we would not open Block 3 until we reduce the number of new cases each day.  At this point, we don’t know when we will be able to open Block 3 or when international travel will resume.

The good news, out of the 20,686 cases of Covid-19 in Panama, 13, 766 have recovered!   There have been 420 deaths.

june 14 covid cases in panama

ECONOMY – THE GOOD NEWS

Panama Canal
Panama Canal

Throughout the pandemic, the Panama Canal has operated and continued to produce income for Panama. Grocery stores and pharmacies have been open. We have not seen any disruption in the supply chain.  Some restaurants are open for take out or home delivery.  One of the largest copper mines in the world is in operation in Panama. Panama is home to the second largest free trade zone in the world and most of it has been operational during the pandemic.  Panama has continued to export bananas, coconuts, meats and other crops.

Panama has very diversified sources of income so they have not been as affected as much as other Latin American countries who rely almost exclusively on oil and tourism for income.

The other big plus is that Panama grows most of what we need without importing.  We have a huge variety of fruits, vegetables, rice, chickens, and fish from two Oceans.

Given that 6 percent of global trade passes through the Canal, financial analysts warn that Panama could feel the impact as the virus continues to affect trade.

However, despite the impact that Covid-19 has had on Panama’s economy, April 12 projections by the World Bank show that Panama stands to see only a 2 percent GDP contraction this year. Additionally, Moody’s projects that Panama’s public debt will expand to 53 percent of the country’s GDP with the deficit growing 2.2 percent. Panama hates debt but has borrowed money from the IMF to combat the virus.  Once the pandemic has subsided, the Panamanian government will create an aggressive plan to replay all debt as fast as possible.

REFLECTION

During this pandemic, I am so glad that I live in Boquete Panama. Some people have not been able to tolerate the strict quarantine so they left Panama on humanitarian flights arranged by the Embassy. I’ve actually enjoyed the time off.

I feel blessed to live in Boquete Panama where it is Spring like weather every day, I have spectacular scenery and the most fertile soil so I can grow much of the food that I eat.

As Panama gradually reopens we will all need to learn new ways of interacting with people and new ways to do business. Wearing masks and social distancing will unfortunately be with us for awhile.

Even though our Panama Relocation Tours have been put on hold we still have a steady flow of people who contact us because they want to experience a better and less expensive way to live in Panama.

To help you learn all the things you need to know to relocate to Panama as soon as possible, we created the Online Panama Relocation Guide.   The Online Guide has all the same information you’d get on a Panama Relocation Tour including our contacts for reliable immigration lawyers, honest property managers, how to save 40% on health insurance, and much more.  You’ll even get a list of people who can pick you up with you arrive in Panama. And we made arrangements with people in each area to do a private tour to show you around.

The pandemic has created havoc on the entire world. But here in Panama, it has created a sense of “we’re all in this together” where everyone is helping their neighbors. That’s the way life should be!

With the violence going on in the United States, many are looking for a more peaceful place to live… Panama is the answer!

When Panama’s borders open, come see how you can live BETTER for LESS in Panama.. with less stress too!

Live a stress-free life in Panama.

Take It Slow!

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Some good news … for a change ,,, as the world creeps slowly toward a “new normal”!  First, slow is good!  Leadership that wants to throw open the doors and pretend this never happened, isn’t the way to health and creative change.  I was a New Yorker for six important years after seminary [South Bronx no less!], and much of my life I grew up in northern New Jersey, so I appreciate and relate to the New York way.  Maybe that’s why I’ve appreciated New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s daily, update news conferences on the coronavirus pandemic, and the general tone and style of his leadership.  Slowly, step by step is the way to recovery.

And it’s working!  Panama had very serious restrictions in place which were pretty much followed by an otherwise very independent populous.  With few exceptions, mostly in Panama City, foks got in line, litterally at the grocery stores ten feet apart, and sacrificed some of their “rights” for the good of the whole community.  So, starting June 1st, Panama is moving to Phase 2, which means you will be able to be out and about from 5 am until 7 pm,  Construction supplies will be available so many of those jobs can restart. This doesn’t mean everything is back to normal.  Still social distancing, no groups, still masks, most non-essential things still closed, but the first step.  For me the big goal is when Panama reopens it’s airspace, scheduled as a birthday present to me!! on June 22nd, and Copa starts resuming operations June 27.  A challenge for me because the new protocols for American Cruise Line and Pearl Seas require that anyone boarding the ship must not have travelled internationally 14 days before boarding, meaning I end up in the US 14 days before I go to work.

Gradually I have been moving away from the big cruise ships toward port-intensive itineraries on smaller ships that don’t require long-haul international flights. [Panama to Chicago for example is just 5.5 hours nonstop, nothing like flying to Europe or Australia.]  So this year I was scheduled to do mostly trips on American Cruise Lines and Pearl Seas Cruises.  I had a busy year lined up, and everything for the first half of the year has ended up cancelled.  But the good news … American Cruise Lines will be the first tos resume cruising on the US River Cruises starting in June!  Cruise lines and airlines just don’t pick up and resume where they left off.  Equipment which was laid up needs to be inspected, prepared, and crews need to be assembled and retrained in the new protocols.  So it is a gradual process.  But it is starting!  I’m delighted with the protocols announced by American and Pearl.  And the 25% reduction in passenger load to create more space for appropriate social distancing will make their small ships even more intimate and special.

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Right now I’m scheduled to do PEARL MIST on the Great Lakes & Georgian Bay this summer, the Maine Harbors and the Eastern Seabord in the Fall.  This summer I’m still hoping to do QUEEN OF THE WEST and AMERICAN PRIDE on the Columbia & Snake Rivers.  Fingers crossed!

 

Blowing Smoke About Panama … or Telling It Like It Is

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Blowing Smoke

Tobaco was first discovered by Europeans when the visited Cuba and tobacco smoke, aside from being enjoyable, was also viewed as a medication used by European physicians for a wide range of ailments, but especially for cold, stomach pain, and even for resucitation of people who drowned.  The technique used was to use a kind of bellows to blow smoke up the rectum like an enema.  and drowsiness.  So called tobacco-enemas were also used to ease symptoms of hernias.  In the early 19th century people realized that nicotine was poisonous and the practice of blowing some for medical reasons ceased.  But some salesmen, promoters, and professional puffers of products and celebrities, continue the practice of “lowing smoke” up folks ass about the benefits of their products.  Even, believe it or not, blowing smoke about relocating to Panama!

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The other day I had a guy on the ship come up to me with a tattered, glossy magazine that he’d obviously devoured all about moving to Panama. He asked me if it was all accurate or just hype.

Unfortunately, there is a lot of hype about moving to Panama.

Yes, Panama is a great country for expats and retirees, depending on where you are coming from and what you are seeking. But it’s not for everyone. How do you know if it is right for you? Well you have to invest the time, effort, and money in studying, reading everything you can get your hands on but taking it all with a grain of salt, and talking to as many people as possible seeking out folks who will tell it like it is and give you the straight scoop.

BookCoverPreviewThat’s something I try to do on this blog and in my book THE NEW ESCAPE TO PARADISE: OUR EXPERIENCE LIVING AND RETIRING IN PANAMA. First, it’s our experience. Talk to a dozen different retirees and/or expats living in Panama and you will likely get a dozen different stories. Some of those who “package” Panama and make a living off selling the expat lifestyle have a tendency to gloss over some of the realities in order to paint a rosy picture. Panama hasn’t been perfect for us, but it has been fantastic. Nikki and I are both mature enough to realize that there is no “perfect” place, but for us Panama, with all of its frustrations, has been wonderful.

When I get comments on Amazon, like this from Keith Dick, I’m delighted!

“No rose-colored glasses here – Panama is not for everyone. If you’ve never lived outside the US before, particularly in a developing country like Panama – don’t even think about making a move without thorough research. Richard’s book is one of the best. Extremely valuable advice – take it to heart!”

Or this from Daniel Bridges …

“An outstanding, insightful book about the author’s experiences in Panama. It is a very sobering look at his and his family’s experiences, both the good and the not so good. The reader can tell they’ve landed in their paradise. My wife and I are considering relocating to Panama and we’re using Richards book as one of our primary sources of information for an anticipated visit to the country next year. Because Richard does not sugar coat life in Panama, rather he tells it like it is, we feel like we have a more realistic expectation of what life is like in Panama. He most definitely has us studying up on the many aspects to be considered.”

Or this from Dorothy …

“No bunnies and rainbows here, both sides of the coin are exposed. Like any country, Panama has it’s issues and beauty and Richard gives insight to the reader/expat on both so we don’t arrive and end up shocked to find bugs in our paradise. Good job.”

I’m even happy when I get a comment like this one from Ida Freer, a writer who actually helped edit the book …

“You provide a lot of useful information. Overall it led me to decide against Panama, except maybe as a tourist for a month or two. Too bad! I had high hopes.”

Just think, I saved Ida several hundred thousand dollars plus a whole lot of hassle! What if she had moved to Panama and THEN discovered it wasn’t for her?

Here’s my advice …

1. Get my book THE NEW ESCAPE TO PARADISE: OUR EXPERIENCE LIVING AND RETIRING IN PANAMA. Read it. I’ll show you how to decide what it is you’re looking for and how to evaluate and compare different countries. I don’t sugar coat it. Panama is not for everyone, but it may be the perfect place for you.

2. Scour the Internet and get all the information you can, but take what you read with a grain of salt. Sort through and try to separate hype from fact. Start following the various Internet boards that gringos in Panama post on. You’ll find almost as many opinions about everything as there are expats in Panama. No one, including me, has a lock on everything!

But be cautious . . . just because something is in print, or on the Internet, doesn’t make it accurate or even true.  Last week I stumbled on a series of videos a young guy made about expat living and one entitled, “What Does It Cost to Live in Panama?”  Turns out he lives in, I think it was Colombia, and had only visited Panama once! But he’d researched everything on line!  What he came up with was dated and crazy!

3. Carefully study the offerings and promises of the companies offering tours and seminars. Study the recommendations. Search out the company names on line and see what folks have to say. Weigh the cost and benefits. Anyone who promises to tell you “everything you need to know” is clearly blowing smoke. You want to meet as many expats along the way as possible and have opportunity to learn from them and listen to their unfiltered comments. Tour organizers tend to feature expats whose stories are in tune with the story the tour company is trying to tell. Take everything with a grain of salt. Some tours are built around selling one thing or another, which is not always made clear up front. There are real estate tours, carefully designed to allow time for you to see only the developments and properties where they’re getting a commission.

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Avoid ones where you are just going to sit and listen. You need to have your boots on the ground. If you’re unfamiliar with a place, these may be the way to get started and feel comfortable exploring on your own. Whatever seminar or tour you choose, come early to experience and explore Panama City doing some of the tourist things like seeing the Canal or taking the Hop On Hop Off bus. And set up your return flight so you have time, a week if possible, to visit and explore in depth areas that you think might be possibilities for you. In Panama we pretty much have everything in a tiny country. Big city life, small town living, or life in the country. Mountains or beaches Lowland hot or mountain cool.

4. Once you go back home and sort through your experiences and impressions plan to come back to Panama for an extended stay of several weeks to explore further both as a tourist but also as someone considering living here. Again talk to as many expats as possible. You are the visitor so take the initiative: “Pardon me, we’re just visiting here and thinking of maybe moving to Panama. It sounds like you’ve been here a while. Can I buy you another cup of coffee (or drink!) and ask you a few questions?” Most expats are going to be happy to share.

5. If you then still are excited about an expat lifestyle in Panama, arrange to come down for 3 to 6 months, rent a place, and actually experience day-to-day life in the area you like best.

Then, when you are convinced this is the right move, pack up and move here, either renting or buying the home of your dreams.

Before you sell all and move to Panama, I’d advise you to come down and check it out for yourself.  Of all the Panama Tours, the best one that I know of is Jackie Lange’s Panama Relocation Tour.  That should give you a good idea if Panama is a possible choice for you.  Then, come down again, rent and stay for a few months and check the fit,  Panama has been a great choice for us and scores of other expats, but it’s not for everyone.  Get beyond the smoke and the hype, check it out, and see if it is right for you.

Download Boquete Panama Retreat for sale $598,000

Retirement 2.0

Ham & Eggs

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pig-and-chicken2-250x187-1You remember, or you should remember, the story of the pig and the chicken who were discussing their various contributions to the traditional ham & egg breakfast.   They were arguing about who was most responsible for the delicious and nutritious breakfast staple.

The chicken bragged about the delicious eggs she produced, with their beautiful yellow yoke which, when cooked exactly right, ran all across the plate.  The pig was not impressed and responded, “For you it involves only a contribution, but for me it is a commitment.”

OK, I guess after 16 years in Panama I’m somewhat of an “old timer” when it comes to being an expat in Panama.  Please forgive me and let me say upfront that I have no intention of demeaning anyone, but this is just an observation.

aeropuerto-internacional-de-tocumen-panamaWhen we got off the plane in Tocumen International Airport in Panama City sixteen years ago, you knew you were landing in, if not a third world country, certainly not a first world country.  Land at Tocumen today and you could be at any massive airport anywhere in the world for Tocumen is now the “Hub of The Americas.”

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Driving from Panama City to Boquete was a near-death experience, particularly at night.  You had to zig zag to avoid cows that had broken out and the road from Santiago, about half-way, to Chiriqui was two-lane through very geologically unstable territory.  Which mean you were dodging semi-trucks and taking your life into your hands when you passed.  The pavement was always severely cracked and always under repair.  In the period right after the Turnover of the Canal, before Canal money started flowing, money was very tight for the Panamanian government.  So the construction repair and replacement of broken segments of cement on the “Pan American Highway,” which back then could better have been called the “Pan American Goat Trail,” was often very improvised.  They would tear out a section of highway without any warning signs that a section of highway two feet deep was missing up ahead.  Sometimes, but not always, there would be an upended oil barrel in the hole to serve as a warning of sorts, but nothing else.  No flashers, signs, florescent strips, cones, nada, nada, nada.

Panama was definitely an adventure for expats and very, very different: but that’s why we came!   You could find a few things in Boquete, more things in David the nearest large 001 (2)city to Boquete, but if you trekked to Panama City you could find almost everything.  So we made do, celebrating a lifestyle that in many ways reminded us of the 50’s back in the States.  We loved the tropical foliage, the warm days, and chilly nights with no need of heat or air conditioning.  And the beauty of the landscape and the people, and the friendliness of the locals … it’s still, for me, best captured by John le Carré’ in THE TAILOR OF PANAMA who has one of his characters say of Panama, “We’ve got everything God needed to make paradise. Great farming, beaches, mountains, wildlife you wouldn’t believe, put a stick in the ground you get a fruit tree, people so beautiful you could cry.”

Horse Competition Parita

Back in the day there were still a few hitching posts in town, where people could tie up the family horse when the came in to purchase supplies.  As more expats came and locals started selling property at prices they never dreamed possible there were fewer and fewer horses.  Eventually you only saw horses on Sundays when people rode in basically to see and be seen.  Then it seemed that the horses were replaced by locals driving brand new SUVs.  And for a long time now the only time you see horses in town is for our annual Horse Parade, which is a fantastic, fun event.

If you’ve read my NEW ESCAPE TO PARADISE book you already know we came down to visit Panama just to see if it remained on our list.  We fell in love with Panama, and Boquete specifically.  We saw what we liked and we bought it.

We didn’t rent.  I know some folks preach “rent first, don’t buy.”  But people are different and one size does not fit all.  I would be foolish to say, “Do what we did: come down and buy.”  Or “Everyone should build” or “No one should build.”  [Although if you do decide to build you are risking  your sanity!]  Different strokes for different folks.  Besides, there really weren’t any rentals, certainly not what North Americans were looking for.  So you either hoped to find an existing place to buy, or build your own.

august-2011-068.jpgMost people ourselves included, ended up buying in Valle Escondido, a planned, gated, guarded community, the first of its kind in Panama.  We bought a beautiful two-bedroom house in Valle Escondido overlooking the 9th hole of the golf course.  Yes, the homeowners, as is frequently the case, had some issues to work out with the developer, but as a group, mostly expats but with a few Panamanians thrown in, everyone knew everyone and got along together as we collectively adjusted to a new country and a new lifestyle.  We came here to escape to paradise, to live the adventure in a new, different and welcoming community.  People would drop in for coffee, or a neighbor would call and say, “We got fresh tuna {Ahi-grade, then $4 a pound all nicely trimmed], why don’t you make a salad and come over for dinner.”  Although some of the folks who came when we did have since moved on to other adventures, but some became, and still are, lifetime friends.

After a while we decided that nice as Valle Escondido was, it was just like any gated, guarded community in California or anyplace else, not what we moved to Panama to enjoy.  We had a little piece of property about 10 minutes from “downtown” Boquete, up in the hills, that we enjoyed going up to.  It had once been a coffee farm and was in a very Panamanian little town, really just a crossroads. We came to Panama for Panama, not a perfectly landscaped, gated, guarded community of expats and wealthy Pananamians who used the grand houses they built in Valle Escondido to occassionally escape to in order to get out of the rat race of Panama City.  So after three years in Valle Escondido, we “escaped” what has sometimes been called the “gringo ghetto” and designed and built our home in Palmira Central.

At the that time there were very few homes that were built to North American standards in and around Boquete.  We had sold our home in Ventura, California before coming to Panama in a good real estate market, so we could afford to build.  Today I don’t recommend that anyone try building in Panama!  There are many existing homes available, beautiful places, that can be purchased for far less than it would cost to build.  If you don’t like something you can change it for far less than attempting to build and you will preserve your sanity, save your relationship and avoid a whole lot of grief.

Boquete Christmas Parade 2When we came the ex-pat community all got along with one another and worked together to achieve the common good.  Working with local Panamanians, and getting along with one another, folks joined together in everything from participating in the annual Christmas parade, to working with the local orphanage, beginning a spay & neuter program, developing programs and getting needed equipment for locals with special needs, starting a community theater and the famous Tuesday Morning Market where Panamanians and expats could share goods and services.   Because most of us purchased or built homes in our new chosen community we all had “skin in the game” and had made a commitment to be long-term contributors to the community.

Yes, the cost of living in Panama was less than the cost of living in some places in the US.  We lived in Southern California and initially our cost of living in Panama was 30% less, and the lifestyle was better.  The cost of living in Panama is still lower than many [but not all!] places in the US.  But as the U S Dollar has devalued, costs have gone up in the US and since Panama uses only the US Dollar, costs have gone up here as well.  Plus, Panama has been in an economic boom which naturally has pushed prices up.

Nelson 056Sixteen years ago the folks from the US who were moving to Panama to enjoy an expat lifestyle had cashed in and had the money to build the North American style homess they were used to “back home.”  There wasn’t an inventory of North American style homes availabe, so we built our own.  That required making an investment in Panama and having “skin in the game.”

Things changed as they always do.  The great recession in the US caused many people to lose retirement money and the equity they thought they had in their homes.  Many had borrowed against their equity and found themselfs upside down owing more on their homes than they were worth.  The promise of retiring abroad with a less-expensive cost of living was enticing.  A whole industry evolved with publishing and seminarss offering “investment opportunities” in Panama.  The Internet exploded and everyone and anyone could publish anything online, sosme of it was accurate and some was just hype.  The big promise was “Panama is cheap(er),”  Of course “cheaper” meant renting, so a variety of rentals were created.

Folks came here to retire based on the promises of the Panama Promoters that life was so much cheaper.  We actually knew a couple who managed to eke out a living on $700 a month, renting, working off-the-books and illegal jobs when they could … and they managed, for a while … and then moved back to the South East US where life was cheaper and easier.

Unfortunately, some, but not all, of those folks who moved to Panama believing it to be “cheap” couldn’t afford “skin in the game” and so had a different attitude.  They wondered why Panama couldn’t do things “The way we did in Miami” or Chicago or LA or East Podunkville, USA.  Instead of focusing on what they could contribute, some looked only at what they could take … adventure, a new experience, friends, etc.  Nice stuff to be sure, but nothing to tie them to a new community.  So when they got tired, or bored, or their feelings hurt, without skin in the game they could just pick up and go on to the next adventure.  In essense they were just long-term tourists, not real residents.  So there was a subtle, and at times not so subtle, change in the expat community.  People competed in some of the organizations expats had created to benefit all, and struggles emerged for leadership roles, who could be the biggest fish in a very small pond.  Where in the past people had worked together, suddenly there were competing boards of directors, and in Valle Escondido one board actually locking the other board out of their offices.

There is real value to having skin in the game, whether the investment is big or modest.  Owning a home means making a commitment to be part of a community.

If you just want to be a tourist on an extended visit, wonderful!  There is a lot to see and do in Panama.  But if you want to have a home and be part of a community, come on down,  If you’ve really done your homework, visited a couple of times, come down and rented for a few months to “test drive” living in Panama, then come down, make a commitment, buy a home, and be part of the community.  We now have a wonderful variety of homes available from $200,000 to over $2 million … put some skin in the game and make Panama your new home.  Make a commitment, not just a contribution!

7 Reasons NOT to Move to Panama

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Reason #1 Not to Move to Panama: To escape the long arm of the law.  Panama is not the place to run to if you are looking to escape illegal activity in your home  country.  You will get caught!  You will spend some time in a Panamanian jail – and anything you have at home is better! – and you will be extradited back to your home country to face the music.   So con artists, murderers, child molesters, thieves and crooks take note!  The new hand-held “Pele Police” that Panamanian police have are linked to Interpol and US and other data bases.  If you have a bench warrant in the US, and  you’re stopped for a traffic violation in Panama, you may be headed home, after a week to several months in a Panamanian jail and a Panamanian jail is the last place on earth you’d ever want to be!

Reason #2 Not to Move to Panama: To run your Ponzi scheme off shore.  We had some folks who lived near us in Valle Escondido who promised amazing returns on investment; far more than anything you could make elsewhere.  Their scheme unraveled when they decided to buy some “blood diamonds” and send what they claimed was, I don’t know, say $30,000 worth of diamonds, shipped to their young child (if you can believe that level of scum) and when customs opened the package and discovered something like $150,000 worth of illegal diamonds – oops!  The scheme started to  unravel and they moved on.

Reason #3 Not to Move to Panama: To launder money or escape paying US taxes.  Panama never was a real “tax haven” for US citizens because the US, in its infinite greed, has, unlike many civilized countries, decided that Uncle Sam wants your money wherever you happen to live in the world.  So even if  you lived in Panama, as a US citizen you need to go through all the hassle of IRS paperwork and declare income and file returns.    And just to make sure you do, the IRS has opened an office in Panama City.  Not, mind you to assist expats who want to comply, but to search out those who aren’t paying what the IRS says you owe.  And if you think the IRS, and the tons of accountants and paperwork and tax provider software it spawns, is a major part of the “problem” that’s causing the collapse of the US, you may be right.

Of course if your permanent dwelling is outside the US, and you aren’t in the US more than 30 days a year, you can take advantage of a significant deduction of  income earned outside the US.  That’s earned income, not passive, investment or pension income.  And Panama doesn’t tax you for income earned outside Panama.  [Your tax accountant, those people who make their living off the IRS, can give you details.]

Reason #4 Not to Move to Panama: chill, drink Balboa beer and lay in the hammock.  If you’re retiring and want an easy, no-challenge life, go to an assisted living complex and sit in a rocking chair, drink beer and watch TV and talk with the other folks.  Panama is for folks who aren’t ready to “give up” but are eager for new experiences, new adventures, new challenges, learning tons of new stuff, new language, new ways of doing things, new culture!  If you want an adventure and to stretch your life and mind, this is the place!

Reason #5 Not to Move to Panama: it’s cheap.  Well in many ways it is, or rather may be, depending on where  you are coming from.  We moved down to Panama from the Ventura-Santa Barbara “Gold Coast” of California and it is much cheaper here.  Are there places in the US where you can get more house for your money and the cost of living may be the same, or even a little cheaper than Panama?  Of course!  Try Phoenix, Bakersfield, Las Vegas, Western Pennsylvania and there are a lot more.  Nothing against those places, but they are not for me.  For many people you can live very well, make that VERY well in Panama for less than places in the US with attractive climate, etc.  Sure, Texas may be cheaper – if you like Texas.  But most people can live better for less in Panama.

Reason #6 Not to Move to Panama: it’s a lot like the US.  No way Jose!  If you like the US, stay there!  If you like where you are living don’t move.  Panama is different and that’s why it is attractive to many people who like different!  It is a different country with a different lifestyle,  different culture, different way of governance, different systems, yada yada.  Yes, sometimes the differences will drive you nuts!   But it can also be stimulating, challenging and fun.

Reason #7 Not to Move to Panama: to make a killing.  A lot of folks came down here f to make a fast buck.  It doesn’t work that way folks – anywhere!  The joke here is, “How do you leave Panama with  a million dollars?”   The answer, “Come to Panama with two million dollars.”  Yes, like anywhere else, there is opportunity, lots of it.  But it takes work and time to create anything.  There is no fast way to success in business or quick way to make a lot of money.  If  it were, everyone would do it.   If you come to Panama for the long haul, make a commitment, follow the rules, work hard and stick with the program, yes, you can create a good business and make some money, but forget it if you’re coming here to make a quick buck or live off the land.

006I keep saying, “Panama is not for everyone” but for us it has been a wonderful adventure.   Yes, there are folks, and some of them I’m happy to say are contributors here, who tried it and it wasn’t for them.  So, now they know.  Maybe some of them didn’t really do their homework or analyze all the challenges they would face in a new culture.  Read their comments and read the stuff from the folks who promote Panama as the Promised Land.  Study, analyze not just Panama but yourself and then make a decision.

For us the real reason for moving to Panama is that our lifestyle is better, more fun, and more adventurous for less than in the US.

Yes, as with any adventure in life, there are challenges and risks. But it is when you are being challenged that you have the greatest opportunity to grow! If you want to grow you need to move out of your comfort zone.

Download Boquete Panama Retreat for sale $598,000

Retirement 2.0

10 Reasons to Retire in Panama

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Garden 20I’ve had the pleasure to lunch with Bob Adams several times in Panama City along with the Panama Relocation Tour. Bob loves his life in the hustle and bustle of Panama City. He writes a great blog called Retirement Wave. Adams says, Call it the “Baby Boom” or a “demographic explosion”, every day a wave of tens of millions of Americans and Europeans move one day closer to retirement. Retirement should be a stress-free period in our lives, but it has become stress-ridden. We worry that we won’t have enough money to take care of ourselves. We worry that we will be a burden on others in our society if there is not enough money to support our government’s social programs for retirees. We worry that if the social programs fail, we will be a burden to our children. We worry about being old in a world of terrorism, unable to protect ourselves. These are all fears that weigh heavily on us as we plan for retirement. Worse yet, they are fears we know we will continue to face once we are actually retired. This is much too negative for what should be a positive period in our lives. It could be positive if only there was a practical way to protect ourselves, avoid being a burden to others, and perhaps even make a small contribution to reducing global tensions. There is.

Bob, I, and many others have found a way to do that by retiring in Panama. Here’s Bob Adams “10 Reasons to Retire in Panama” . .

Why retire in Panama? Here’s the short version based on my observations and experience following forty-five years of living and working all over the world.

1) It’s a democracy with freedom.

Freedom of the press, assembly, speech, and religion are all found here. Panamanians are not shy about sharing their feelings and their concerns. Elections are free, honest, and competitive.

2) There’s no military.

Following the dramatic end of General Noriega’s regime in 1989, Panamanians decided they would never again fear that a military general would become a dictator. They closed down the military. The national police force is just that, a police force, and the territorial integrity of Panama is guaranteed by the United States. They don’t need a military and they have the good sense to know it.

3) They have the Panama Canal…and more.

The Panama Canal does far more than provide 10% of Panama’s GDP (Gross Domestic Product – the total economy). Unlike many small nations that depend on tourism or some natural resource whose price varies depending on the market, the Panama Canal provides Panama with a large, steady, dependable income and will continue to for years to come. It also provides thousands of well-paid jobs for Panamanians. A multi-year, $5.2 billion expansion of the Panama Canal currently underway will add thousands more jobs. These are jobs that pay a great deal more than picking coffee beans or waiting on tourists. And the money from Panama Canal fees reaches out to touch people and businesses everywhere in the country. But there is more than the Canal to Panama. Unlike many other Latin American nations, agriculture plays an important, but relatively small role in the economy. International banking, maritime services, manufacturing, and shipping combine to provide more jobs and tax revenue than the Panama Canal. Panama is also home to the second-largest free trade zone in the world (Hong Kong is the largest) which has had a dramatic impact on the economy, employing twice as many people as the Canal. Panama’s economy is far more modern and service-oriented than you might expect. This means stability not only for Panamanians, but for those of us who retire there.

4) Panama has a thriving middle class.

With the Panama Canal and a number of other established sources of income as mentioned above, Panama’s middle class is growing. As Americans and Europeans know from their own experience, a healthy middle class is the foundation for a stable economy and a secure democracy. You don’t have to search for the middle class in Panama, you can find them everywhere.

5) Americans and Europeans are welcome.

I am struck by the fact that Americans and Europeans are not looked at with awe nor are they disliked. Another contribution of the Panama Canal has been the introduction of hundreds of thousands of people from all over the world to Panama over the years, including tens of thousands of Americans assigned to support the Canal before its turn-over to Panama in 1999. Panamanians are perfectly comfortable with people from other nations. They’ve lived with them for decades and many of their “visitors” remained to become residents. English is widely-understood and also spoken by many of those who deal regularly with expatriates, although many Panamanians are hesitant to speak it at first, for fear of embarrassment, as is so often the case in reverse! In that regard, Spanish language instruction is readily and inexpensively available.

6) The currency is the US dollar.

There are two benefits to this. For Americans and others with dollars, there is no need for currency exchange or to worry about exchange rates. The Panamanian Constitution forbids the government from printing paper currency. Thus a second benefit is that, unlike most nations, the Panamanian government cannot just turn on the printing presses when it wants more money. Panamanians have to earn their currency from the world market through hard work and intelligence. There is none of the wild inflation that has plagued so many Latin American nations.

7) The climate and surroundings are beautiful.

Panama is basically a mountain range bordered by beautiful Panama beaches. However, these are not cold, barren mountains. They are “soft”, rounded volcanic Panamanian mountains and the volcanic soil provides an excellent base for lush vegetation. If you prefer a tropical climate, you won’t be disappointed on either the Atlantic or Pacific coasts. If, like me, you prefer a more temperate climate with easy access to the Panama beaches (it’s almost impossible to be more than an hour’s drive from a Panama beach; 30 minutes is more common), move up the mountainside and you’ll find it. The flowers, trees, birds and other animal life are varied and many are strikingly beautiful. It’s what you would expect in that part of the world and Panamanians are doing a decent job of protecting their environment, far more so than many nearby nations. Eco-tourism is a growing industry in Panama and for good reason. The gentleman pictured to the left is testimony to that. And he’s not alone.

8) The cost of living in Panama can be much less than in the US or Europe.

How much you will save by living in Panama will be determined both by the amount you spend in your home nation and the lifestyle you choose in Panama. There’s such a great variety among expatriates that it’s impossible to tell you how much you’ll save, but if you have any desire to spend less, you will find it far easier in Panama than in North America or Europe. Folks from low-cost rural areas express astonishment at how much cheaper it is to live comfortably in Panama. Those from higher-cost urban areas will save less, but they seem to have one thing in common: they live comfortably, cut their expenses, and save money. It’s always been a reason to relocate to Panama and it remains a big one today, but the final result for you will depend on your lifestyle. Panama has room for a very wide range of tastes and lifestyles.

9) The people of Panama are just plain friendly and a pleasure to know.

The factors above and others unmentioned in this “short” description leave Panamanians among the most pleasant, relaxed people I’ve ever met. They are more cosmopolitan and sophisticated than many who live in wealthier nations as a result of their long-term exposure to a wide variety of international visitors and Canal users. There are poor people in Panama, but there is none of the grinding, desperate poverty that is so common in much of the world. I have worked in poorer nations all over the globe for more than four decades. There are poor people here, but nothing to compare to the grinding poverty found elsewhere. International financial institutions rank Panama in the “upper-middle income” category and that sums it up well.

10) If you want to retire, Panama wants you.

All of the above makes retiring in Panama an excellent choice for retirement, but here are some very direct incentives. As a pensionado [retiree] in Panama, you receive: >> 50% discount at most recreational, movie, and sporting events >> 30% discount off public transportation (including buses and ships) >> 25% discount off Copa airline flights >> 50% discount off hotel stays on weekdays (30% on weekends) >> 25% discount at selected restaurants >> 15% discount at fast food restaurants >> 10% discount off prescription drugs >> 20% discount on doctor’s visits >> 15% discount on dental work >> 25% discount on your electric bill (if less than $50) >> 25% discount on your telephone and water bills. In addition, you can bring in all your household goods free of taxes and import a new car every two years for private use.

All that is required to qualify as a pensionado is that you must be in good health, AIDS-free, have an up-to-date passport from your country of citizenship and a verifiable monthly pension income of at least $1000 per month for an individual, $1250 for a couple, plus $250 for each additional dependent, if any. Foreigners who become pensionados can buy and own Panama property and enjoy exactly the same rights and protections as Panamanians, not always the case in many nations and an important point people often forget to consider. As for income taxes, you will be pleased to know that in Panama you pay no taxes on income earned outside of Panama.

Panama is not paradise, no nation is. Panama is still a relatively young nation and has its growing pains, but it’s made a great deal of progress already and it’s headed in the right direction. For the rest of us who are not Panamanians, it is a nation where we can live comfortably for much less money and far less stress than we have come to expect in our own societies. Best of all, we are “good” immigrants. We save money living in Panama, but we also bring with us the money that creates jobs and opens possibilities for Panamanians they would not have otherwise. They know that and so we are genuinely welcome.

Many would say “beautiful”, but if I had to choose one word to describe Panama, it would be “comfortable“. In this crazy world full of fear of terrorism and fear of not having enough money to pay the bills, that’s a description of a good place to retire.

Check out Bob Adams’ Retirement Wave.

Download Boquete Panama Retreat for sale $598,000

Retirement 2.0

As Quoted in FORBES

forbes retirement

Retirement 2.0

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We live in the closest thing to Paradise this side of the Pearly Gates.  We’ve lived in Panama now going on 16 years.  Some folks who’ve seen that our beautful home on our little farm in Palmira is  for sale have asked, “Are you leaving Panama?”

The answer is no.  For 13 years I’ve been traveling the world on cruise ships talking about the places we visit.  And, just to clear this up, cruising isn’t going to disappear. There are some things about it, largely issues created by the competition amongst cruise lines to keep building bigger, and bigger and bigger.  Things will change post-Covid-19 as we enter the world of the “new normal.”  And many of these things should change!

The newest, most significant entry into the cruise market is Viking Cruises.  Long known for European River Cruises, Viking moved into blue water cruising eschewing many of the things that have come to characterize big-ship cruising: buffets, lines, amusement park rides, kids, art auctions, casinos, nickel and diming constantly, overpriced drinks with umbrellas, crowds, and that’s just for starters.  More and more I have intentionally been moving to the small ships of American Cruise Lines and Pearl Seas Cruises, for many of the same reasons.  Smaller ships, we can focus on the destinations we visit, everyone has a balcony, and everything is included.  Interestingly during this “no sail” 4255365_0period as cruise lines wrestled with the coronavirus pandemic, bookings for cruises close to home on American Cruise Lines have broken all records!

So cruising with enhancements and improvements of the new normal … and who says change can’t be better? … cruising will continue and as I look forward to moving into my 80’s, I plan to continue working.

So for years I’ve been traveling to some of the most exotic and beautiful places in the world and as a result people often ask me, “What’s the best place you’ve visited?”

My response is, “I like there!  In Panama!”

Don’t get me wrong, Panama is not perfect.  But for us, the title of my book THE NEW ESCAPE TO PARADISE, sums it up.  Panama allowed us to escape the high cost, traffic and hassle of life in the States and to live better for less.

So we’re not leaving Panama.  Have we thought about it at times?  Absolutely!  But this has become home.

And frankly, as we’ve watched various countries respond or fail to respond to the coronavirus pandemic, we have been very happy to be in Panama and the government response, although robust, has protected us and our Panamanian neighbors.

012-4-copyBut, as we both have gotten older, and I spend 4 to 6 months on ships (Unfortunately not this year!), we need less responsibility and to be able to pick up and go.  On most of my cruises Nikki can come along at little or no cost, but with the responsibilities of the house and farm it takes a lot of advance planning for her to be able to join me, and often the opportunities for her to come along are last minute.

So it is time for us to move on to Retirement 2.0.  Part of that is to downsize.  Fortunately, we own two building lots with all utilities.  Beautiful smaller lots where we could build a smaller 1,500 sq ft home and have more freedom to up and leave as opportunities present themselves.  So that’s why we’re selling what others have called, “the most beautiful home in Boquete.”

Boquete Panama Retreat for sale $598,000

People thinking about escaping to Panama always wonder about the cost … so here’s what things cost …

• Town water $60 A YEAR!
• Trash pick up $30 A YEAR!
• Propane gas … for hot water, clothes dryer, cooking … $70 for a huge tank which lasts about 3 months.
• Electricity … for our house with 4 dehumidifiers, electric spa, our won well and water systems, out buildings, and rental casita on the property … $110 a month.
• The beautiful landscaping around our home, the rental casita and our driveway is maintained by one neighbor … a university student … who works one day a week, usually just 8 hours, at $1.75 per hour.
• Maid … once a week $30.

Boquete Panama Retreat for sale $598,000

When the airspace in Panama reopens, and planes start flying again, maybe it’s time for you to make some decisions regarding your future in Panama!  Jackie Lange’s Panama Relocation Tour is an excellent way to begin your exploration.  I know most tours are sold out for months in advance, but they do have openings from time to time, so get on the list.

If you’re coming to Panama, independently or with the Panama Relocation Tour, and you are actively looking to buy a spectacular, yet private property in the $600K range, let me know and I will be glad to show you around.  RichardDetrich!yahoo.com

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A Safe Haven

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There are times when you just want a safe haven.

Escape to Panama

Many people, disappointed and frustrated by their government’s disorganized response to the corona virus pandemic, or fed up with political malfescence and polarization, longing for a society that was respectful, honest, and at least attemped some degree of equality, many of these people have been battered and brused and are looking for a safe haven.

If they can find such a safe haven are willing to pack up and move choosing to control their own destiny and seek a place where they can grow and thrive and experience some security.  For many that has been, and will continue to be even moreso, Panama.

Years ago, many people from Venezuela seeing the direction in which their country was heading, made Panama their “Plan B.”  They started moving their money to Panama, taking advantage of the fact that Panama has always used only the US dollar, providing a stability that few currencies offer.  They started buying up real estate and condos, many of which just sat empty until they were needed.  But when they were needed, they were there.  They even began moving entire companies and distribution centers to Panama taking advantage of the Panama Free Zone, the location of Panama at the “crossroads of the world,” Panama’s business environment, and its role as a digital hub.  As life in Venezula deteriorated, these wise folks were prepared and just had to pull the trigger on their “Plan B.”

Of course you’d have a “Plan B”!

There are many large corporations and even large international banks that own suites of offices in Panama City that are fully connected with the latest technology, but sit empty, just waiting for crises where a company or bank must have an alternate command center if they are to survive.

A friend of mine likes to point out that we are not trees: we can pick up and move.  Yes, there are some people who are stuck.  Maybe they really are stuck in a certain place, or maybe they just think they are stuck, in a rut so to speak.  But a rut is merely a grave with the ends knocked out.

When the next pandemic strikes, as experts tell us it will, where do you want to be to ride out the storm?

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Panama is a democracy, with a democratically elected president who can only serve a single 5-year  term and who, should they want another crack at to money/power pot, must sit out for ten years before running again.  Yes, we do have a problem with transparency and corruption just as most American countries do, except in Panama the corruption is a lot more obvious and visible.  Come election time, Panama getss very political and, remembering the dictatorship, generally throws out whatever party has been in power for a new party.  The turnover is a bit chaotic with all of the folks appointed by the outgoing party now unemployed, and the new party distributing its patronage.  But then, eventually everyone gets down to work for the good of the nation without any lingering great political divide.

Panama has a strong economy, anchored by the Panama Canal, registration of 18% of the world’s ships, the second largest free zone in the world, the largest airport hub in the Americas, and a robust banking and business center.  All of this bodes well for the post-Covid-19 recovery.  It is possible to live better for less in Panama.  Panama is still a small country with only around 4 million people which in  many ways has made it easier for the country to deal with the pandemic.  Because the US dollar is the only currency Panama has ever used, not only is it convenient, but the US dollar is still regarded as one of the most secure and stable currencies in the world.  Importantly since the overthrow of Manuel Noriega, Panama does not have a military so all that money from the Canal can be invested in infrastructure, people and programs, with, naturally, a few billion being stolen by politicians and lawyers.

Panama welcomes people from around the world, throwing out the welcome mat especially for those from these “Friendly Nations.”

AndorraArgentinaAustraliaAustriaBelgium
BrazilCanadaChileCosta RicaCroatia
CyprusCzech RepublicDenmarkEstoniaFinland
FranceGermanyGreat BritainGreeceHong Kong
HungaryIrelandIsraelJapanLatvia
LiechtensteinLithuaniaLuxembourgMaltaMexico
MonacoMontenegroNetherlandsNew ZealandNorway
ParaguayPolandPortugalKoreaSan Marino
SerbiaSingaporeSlovakiaSouth AfricaSpain
SwedenSwitzerlandTaiwanUruguayUSA

Panama wants to grow and it is fairly easy to get permanent residency and a work permit.  If you just want to work online, Panama is a major Internet hub.  And if you are lucky enough to come from a Spanish-speaking country you have the tremendous advantage of already knowing the language.  A growing nation has growing opportunity.

The country is very divorse.  Yes, you have the high-density, “Miami on steroids” big city of Panama City, but you also have tons of undeveloped and remote agricultural land where you can be almost totally self sustainable.

And although it doesn’t help in the midst of a pandemic when the air space is closed, Tocumen International Airport is the “Hub of The Americas” with nonstop flights to major citis in the US, Canada, Europe and Asia.

Ausilio Family

And, maybe most importantly, Panama is home to beautiful people, some … seven living Indigenous tribes specifically … who were here before Columbus arrived, and others who came through the centuries as conquerors, workers on the Panama Railroad and Canal, traders, and business people from all over the world making Panama today “the place where the world meets.”  The Panamanian people are warm, welcoming, and accepting.  Yes, there are a few crooks at the very top and very bottom of the society, but most of the real people, the “salt of the earth” folks, are fantastic.

And the country itself is warm and wonderful, outside of the hurricane belt and incredibly beautiful.

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Grim, But Worth Watching

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There is almost constant reference to the “Spanish Flu” pandemic of 1918,  But so long ago, and most of us really don’t know much, if anything, about it.  And yet, knowing about that crises and how governments and people reacted, or failed to react, can be a matter of life and death as today we respond to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The first is a thorough, but grim, history.  Take a deep breath and take the time to watch it understanding that knowing history can help us learn and maybe not repeat the same mistakes.

The second, a piece from Good Morning America is shorter, less graphic, but what is very interesting is that it delves into how governments managed and controlled the flow of information, and since it was near the end of World War I, it was against the law in the US to say or report anything that might reflect poorly on the US. It was a crime in the US to say anything negative and the original versions of “alternative facts” and “truth” becoming a very fuzzy concept.

Seeing the current situation in the light of this past history, makes it a little more understandable the issues cruise lines had with ports and countries suddenly slamming their doors shut.

Win Some, Lose Some

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Wet Dry Wet Dry

I have been informed that it was the Ministry of Health that issued the repeal of the “dry” edict and it was the Preisdent who then reversed it after it had been announced. I am informed that it is still up in the air whether or not mayors have the authority to make policies for their own areas in this regard.

Of course all of this information is promulgated in Spanish, as you would expect, so unless you are fluent in Spanish you are lost or dependent on what translations you can come up with. Actual documents are photos, so you just can copy and paste in Google translate.

I appreciate the clarification of a friend who reads and understands Spanish.

Regardless, two points remain valid:

First, what does the science say about the value of banning all alcohol treating and preventing the disease? We’re not talking about bars, parties, or restaurants but being able to have a glass of wine with dinner in your own home, where you’ve been confined by law for over a month.

Second, the right hand says one thing, the left hand says another, and things change overnight often without warning. How coordinated is that?

Happy Days Aren’t Quite Here Again, But …

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Panama’s nutty idea that the way to fight Coronavirus epidemic was to go “dry” and ban all alcohol sales, I think a holdover from the years of the US occupation of the Canal Zone, an idea nobody ever actually thought about, but just a gut reaction to crisis … ends today!

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Now, there was some thinking that restricting alcohol sales at a time you were locking people down in their homes would prevent domestic violence.  And that may be a reason to restrict the amount of alcohol people could purchase, and apparently there still will be some yet to be defined restrictions.   The revision “will limit the number of purchases of alcoholic beverages and they can only be consumed at home.”  But just in the nick of time, when I’m running out of chardonnay … and thanks to my dear friends who helped me through the dry period!

But the virus threat continues … with some indications that the storm may turn around and get even worse, or that there will be more pandemics to come, so “Happy Days” aren’t exactly back.  And they may never come back in the same way.  But hopefully going forward government leaders, even those who never were Scouts, will “Be Prepared.”

Boquete Panama Retreat for sale $598,000

When This Is Over

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banner-seeds-midWhen this is over and the sun comes out, plants will continue to push up through the soil, birds will sing … Disney music swells … people return to the streets, and the world will continue.  Life will go on.  Divorce lawyers will do well.  Most other business, if they survive at all will continue to struggle.  Ingenuity and creativity will grow as we learn and develop new and more effective methods.

Social LD S2 NEWS PATTERSON BOYS HUL.1distancing will continue, but lest we forget, not everyone practiced social distancing at all times, so in nine months we should expect a bumper crop … of babies!  Meet the “CB Generation” … “Coronavirus Blessings” generation.

When it is over many, if not most of us, will be grieving … over what was lost, families and friends who died, businesses that went bankrupt, a world and way of life “lost,” maybe never to be recovered.  Of course everyone’s grief will be different.  Losing a loved one isn’t the same as needing to wear a mask in public to prevent someone else from losing their life.  But at all levels and for different reasons, we all will grieve over loses that the pandemic has forced on us.  One of the tremendous lessons of grieving is that although you would never choose it, you can grow through grief rather than just go through it.  Things will never be the same, but can eventually be “good” again, and maybe in some ways even better IF we learn from this experience.

Here’s where positive, affirmative, supportive, compassionate and honest leadership can really make a difference.  It was Teddy Roosevelt who called the office of the President a “bully pulpit” which, in the parlance of the day, did NOT mean mocking, name-calling and bullying people, but meant for Roosevelt that the office was a “bully pulpit” in that it was a terrific platform that could promote a plan and agenda for the good of all the nation.  We need leaders at all levels of society who can step up and lead us positively forward.   This can be seen just as a dissaster, or as an opportunity to learn, improvise, create and improve.   Darwin said it well . .

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On a sour note, Panama being Panama with a long history of politicians and lawyers ripping off the people . . . over the weekend, in the midst of a total lockdown at 7 PM Panama City errupted in protest in a way only Panama can do.  Mimicking one of the most effective ways the people had to protest the dictatorship of Manuel Noriega,  This is what happened …

“The protest was called by social network users, who are confined to their homes due to the pandemic due to the new coronavirus.

“They demand transparency in government purchases for health issues, as well as in the good use of public funds, and they call an investigation of the multi-million purchase of hospital ventilators and other items to fight the COVID-19 pandemic.

“On April 27, President, Laurentino Cortizo, accepted the resignation of  Vice Minister of the Presidency Juan Carlos Muñoz, who earlier had struggled to explain why they were going to buy 100 fans at a six or seven times the going price.

“The scandal erupted  after the digital medium Foco announced that the unit price of the purchase was $48,950 when in the market they could  be purchased at $6,900.” [NEWSROOM PANAMA]

 

Injesting Alcohol, Not Disinfectant, Really Does Work

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No.  Just drinking the Kool Aid, or injesting Lysol, bleach or other disinfectant does NOT work against Covid-19.  [Well, the Kool Aid depends.  If it’s made directly out of the packet by Mom for the kids with love, it’s OK.  Tastes lousy IMHO, but “does no harm” other than the sugary side-effects on kids health.  If it’s served up by some crazy, cultish leader … beware!  But you knew that.]  Not only does drinking poison not help, it can be fatal.

And yes, used wrongly alcohol can also be fatal.  We’re not talking rubbing alcohol, but beverages containing couch-with-wine-1280x720-1alcohol like rum and wine, just to pick our favorite few.

Millions of moms who’ve attempted home schooling know, how effective a glass of chardonnay or merlot can be, sipped once the stay-at-home scholars are tucked away in bed or with their video games.

If you’ve invited a half dozen friends to a virtual Happy Hour via Zoom, you may want to go all out and “serve” up martinis.  And with Zoom you don’t even need a designated driver!

Pity the pour guys who have grown tired and bored by working from home.  I know, it sounded like a great idea, working in your PJs most of the day, pulling on a shirt and tie, and only a shirt and tie, to look presentable for a Zoom meeting.  Just be sure you’re wearing something if you have to get up and answer the door to retrieve your take-out lunch for the “do lunch” meeting.itrapbawfas41

Yes, everybody needs a haircut, and most guys are growing facial hair, not to look cool, but just because we’ve all become a bit more laid back.   When Governor Cuomo’s daily press conference is the highlight of your day [Oh leadership!], or you’ve watched ALL of Netflix, and the big suspense is not will my company still be in business tomorrow, although that should be, but if Trevor Noah has finally run out of different colored hoodies.   Stuck in his $10 million apartment, doing the Daily Show from “home,” without his studio barber, Trevor laments needing a haircut.  Who knows?  Maybe Trevor can bring back the Afro!

200316-virtual-happy-hourBut by 4 PM, most ordinary working-from-home stiffs, have braved their family, temperamental technology, constant deliveries from Amazon Prime, an endless stream of emails, and a future that could be fatal even without coming near a coronavirus … most folks need a glass of rum, scotch or whisky on the rocks with a splash of water.  It’s one touch of sanity in a world that seems to be running amuck in insanity.  Ingesting disinfectant? You’ve got to be kidding!  Oh, I’m sorry: I didn’t realize it was sarcasm.   It’s so hard to tell these days.

I’m not advocating drunkeness or Florida-beach-style-drunken-bash-Spring-Break-201101272133414d422b05d05afCoronavirus-be-damned alcohol abuse.  But careful, responsible use of alcohol can help get through the crisis and boredom.  One of Nikki’s strategies is to clean out everything.  When she cleaned out the liquor cabinet we discovered a whole bunch of stuff we’d forgotten about.  Home made wine someone gave us as a gift.  It was terrible and the guy has since died so we weren’t offending anyone.  A bottle of red I bought in France emblazed to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of D-Day.   Twenty-five years later?  I may just a wait a few more years on that and when I open it I probably will be very disappointed.  We also found some stuff we bought in Curacao … 50% alcohol!

couple-drinking-wineSo all alcohol sales are banned in Panama, part of the fight against Coronavirus.  In part I can understand knowing that people fray when locked up for weeks on end and getting alcohol out of the equation for many helps prevent domestic violence.  But, so can sitting together on the porch, watching the sun go down, talking about the days events and what the “new normal” means for the world and for us … sitting with your partner with time to actually visit and share … and sipping wine or a mixed drink … that can be good for relationships.

So, we’re surviving with, as the Beatles said, “A little help from my friends.”  We’re not totally desperate … yet.

Boquete Panama Retreat for sale $598,000

Two Scenes We Hopefully Will Never See Again

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nintchdbpict000320043409Today is a subdued May 1st the International Day of the Worker in almost every country but the US.  Because of its origins in the Communist party in the US in 1886, the US, ever vigilant against the “Red Tide,” has preferred a May Day vision of little girls with flowers dancing around a giant erect “may pole” may-day-pollfestooned with ribbons floating down from the top. (Don’t even think Freudian here!)  But for Panama, part of the international world community by virtue of its location, and eager to recognize the importance of workers, May 1st is an important holiday.

This year, due to Coronavirus, it will be a relatively quiet prelude to another “lock down” weekend when nothing moves.  Nobody goes out.  Everyone stays in their house.  Generally there is a feeling that the severe restrictions are working, except in a few of the most heavily populated areas.  The government has been providing bags of food and Food Stamp-type coupons, but either not enough, or too much is being ripped off by local politicians, so in those areas we have started to see demonstrations.  Naturally, the demonstrators are not maintaining social distance, wearing masks (which of course they would be wearing at a “normal” demonstration), yada yada.  The rules are somewhat complicated, and since nobody has been thhis way before, Panama, like all governments, is learning.  Here’s a link for a good summary of things Covid-19 in Panama, in English and updated regularly.

Supposedly Panama will reopen its airspace on May 23rd, and Panama’s privately-owned airline COPA will hopefully begin operations on June 1st.

This weekend is an absolute lock down, stay at home.

The scenes we hope we will never see again … one of the usually busiest intersections in Panama City and the Copa air fleet parked at Tocumen International Airport.

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In The Beginning

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This is my Panama!

But, 20 million years ago there WAS no Panama.  The oceans covered what today is Panama.  The gap between the continents allowed waters of the Atlantic and Pacific oceans to flow freely.  There was no connection between the North and South American continents.  Beneath the surface, two plates of the Earth’s crust were slowly colliding into one another, forcing the Pacific Plate to slide slowly under the Caribbean Plate. The Panama Formationpressure and heat caused by this collision led to the formation of underwater volcanoes.

These underwater or submarine volcanoes continued to erupt as the tectonic plates moved until, somewhere around 15 million years ago, the volcanoes pushed through the surface and islands began to emerge.  Over millions more years ocean sediment (sand, mud and soil) began building up around the volcanic islands and eventually filled in the space between the islands.  So that by about  By about 3 million years ago, an isthmus had formed between North and South America.

Scientists believe the formation of the Isthmus of Panama is one of the most important geologic events to happen on Earth in the last 60 million years.

So the Isthmus of Panama became the Bridge of Life . . . Linking the continents together.  And as a result the formation of the Isthmus of Panama also played a major role in biodiversity on our world.   The bridge made it easier for animals and plants to migrate between the continents.

In North America the opossum, armadillo, and porcupine all trace back to ancestors that came across the land bridge from South America and ancestors of  bears, cats, dogs, horses, llamas, and raccoons all made the trek TO South America across the isthmus.

biomuseo-panama-by-frank-gehryAnd it is in celebration of this unique and important role of Panama as the Bridge of Life that a new museum right on the shore of the Panama Canal,  It is called PANAMA; BRIDGE OF LIFE: THE MUSEUM OF BIODIVERSITY. It was designed by Frank Gehry who also designed the Experience Music project in Seattle, the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles and the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain.

Panama, from its very inception, has been all about change and adapting to change.  Its location and its ability to adapt has enabled Panama to become “The Crossroads of The World.”

Happy Birthday Bob!

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4255365_0 Bob Adams just turned 75.  Since coming to Panama I have enjoyed Bob’s analysis and commentary about Panama, living in Panama, the state of our nation, and the future of this exciting little Isthmus that joins the world together.  Through his Retirement Wave Website he freely shares his knowledge and experience.

After a lifetime working in international development and banking, Bob chose to retire in Panama.

In addition to periodic email updates, Adams also has a YouTube channel where he provides informal,  informational updates, sometimes a bit wordy (Aren’t we all at this age?) but extreemly valuable stuff.  He calls it like he sees it without a bunch of BS.

bob2If you are even thinking about moving to Panama, you owe it to yourself to follow Bob’s information, newsletters and video.  There is a lot of hype, misinformation, and a certain degree of BS out there when it comes to stuff about moving to Panama.  Bob’s background gives him the ability to really analyze what’s happening and not just look at the fluff.

In thinking and making your decision you don’t want to rely on just one source for information.  Ask 100 expats living in Panama and you will get 100 different perspectives.  No one has all the answers, so ask around.

If you’re thinking about relocating to Panama you have obviously been following Panama’s response to the Coronavirus pandemic.  Of course the way in which a country responds to such a crisis should figure prominently in your decision to relocate to a country other than your native land.  Here’s Bob’s update on where Panama is at with the pandemic response.

You’ll definitely want to check out his YouTube channel and tirement Wave website.

And, oh yes!!  Happy Birthday Bob!  Thank you for your continued flow of information.  Stay safe and healthy and we wish you many more happy years in Panama!

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10 Reasons to Retire in Panama

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The world has changed … forever.  Even when this is over, things won’t go back to being the same.  And maybe you shouldn’t go back to being the same.  As the world struggles to create a “New Normal,” perhaps it’s time for you to create your own “new normal.”   Where and how do you want to live the rest of your life?  Experts tell us that this is not a “one off” but that there will be more pandemiics.  Where and how do you want to survive the next pandemic?

Change can be good: it can even be life-saving.

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Garden 20I’ve had the pleasure to lunch with Bob Adams several times in Panama City along with the Panama Relocation Tour. Bob loves his life in the hustle and bustle of Panama City. He writes a great blog called Retirement Wave. Adams says, Call it the “Baby Boom” or a “demographic explosion”, every day a wave of tens of millions of Americans and Europeans move one day closer to retirement. Retirement should be a stress-free period in our lives, but it has become stress-ridden. We worry that we won’t have enough money to take care of ourselves. We worry that we will be a burden on others in our society if there is not enough money to support our government’s social programs for retirees. We worry that if the social programs fail, we will be a burden to our children. We worry about being old in a world of terrorism, unable to protect ourselves. These are all fears that weigh heavily on us as we plan for retirement. Worse yet, they are fears we know we will continue to face once we are actually retired. This is much too negative for what should be a positive period in our lives. It could be positive if only there was a practical way to protect ourselves, avoid being a burden to others, and perhaps even make a small contribution to reducing global tensions. There is.

Bob, I, and many others have found a way to do that by retiring in Panama. Here’s Bob Adams “10 Reasons to Retire in Panama” . .

Why retire in Panama? Here’s the short version based on my observations and experience following forty-five years of living and working all over the world.

1) It’s a democracy with freedom.

Freedom of the press, assembly, speech, and religion are all found here. Panamanians are not shy about sharing their feelings and their concerns. Elections are free, honest, and competitive.

2) There’s no military.

Following the dramatic end of General Noriega’s regime in 1989, Panamanians decided they would never again fear that a military general would become a dictator. They closed down the military. The national police force is just that, a police force, and the territorial integrity of Panama is guaranteed by the United States. They don’t need a military and they have the good sense to know it.

3) They have the Panama Canal…and more.

The Panama Canal does far more than provide 10% of Panama’s GDP (Gross Domestic Product – the total economy). Unlike many small nations that depend on tourism or some natural resource whose price varies depending on the market, the Panama Canal provides Panama with a large, steady, dependable income and will continue to for years to come. It also provides thousands of well-paid jobs for Panamanians. A multi-year, $5.2 billion expansion of the Panama Canal currently underway will add thousands more jobs. These are jobs that pay a great deal more than picking coffee beans or waiting on tourists. And the money from Panama Canal fees reaches out to touch people and businesses everywhere in the country. But there is more than the Canal to Panama. Unlike many other Latin American nations, agriculture plays an important, but relatively small role in the economy. International banking, maritime services, manufacturing, and shipping combine to provide more jobs and tax revenue than the Panama Canal. Panama is also home to the second-largest free trade zone in the world (Hong Kong is the largest) which has had a dramatic impact on the economy, employing twice as many people as the Canal. Panama’s economy is far more modern and service-oriented than you might expect. This means stability not only for Panamanians, but for those of us who retire there.

4) Panama has a thriving middle class.

With the Panama Canal and a number of other established sources of income as mentioned above, Panama’s middle class is growing. As Americans and Europeans know from their own experience, a healthy middle class is the foundation for a stable economy and a secure democracy. You don’t have to search for the middle class in Panama, you can find them everywhere.

5) Americans and Europeans are welcome.

I am struck by the fact that Americans and Europeans are not looked at with awe nor are they disliked. Another contribution of the Panama Canal has been the introduction of hundreds of thousands of people from all over the world to Panama over the years, including tens of thousands of Americans assigned to support the Canal before its turn-over to Panama in 1999. Panamanians are perfectly comfortable with people from other nations. They’ve lived with them for decades and many of their “visitors” remained to become residents. English is widely-understood and also spoken by many of those who deal regularly with expatriates, although many Panamanians are hesitant to speak it at first, for fear of embarrassment, as is so often the case in reverse! In that regard, Spanish language instruction is readily and inexpensively available.

6) The currency is the US dollar.

There are two benefits to this. For Americans and others with dollars, there is no need for currency exchange or to worry about exchange rates. The Panamanian Constitution forbids the government from printing paper currency. Thus a second benefit is that, unlike most nations, the Panamanian government cannot just turn on the printing presses when it wants more money. Panamanians have to earn their currency from the world market through hard work and intelligence. There is none of the wild inflation that has plagued so many Latin American nations.

7) The climate and surroundings are beautiful.

Panama is basically a mountain range bordered by beautiful Panama beaches. However, these are not cold, barren mountains. They are “soft”, rounded volcanic Panamanian mountains and the volcanic soil provides an excellent base for lush vegetation. If you prefer a tropical climate, you won’t be disappointed on either the Atlantic or Pacific coasts. If, like me, you prefer a more temperate climate with easy access to the Panama beaches (it’s almost impossible to be more than an hour’s drive from a Panama beach; 30 minutes is more common), move up the mountainside and you’ll find it. The flowers, trees, birds and other animal life are varied and many are strikingly beautiful. It’s what you would expect in that part of the world and Panamanians are doing a decent job of protecting their environment, far more so than many nearby nations. Eco-tourism is a growing industry in Panama and for good reason. The gentleman pictured to the left is testimony to that. And he’s not alone.

8) The cost of living in Panama can be much less than in the US or Europe.

How much you will save by living in Panama will be determined both by the amount you spend in your home nation and the lifestyle you choose in Panama. There’s such a great variety among expatriates that it’s impossible to tell you how much you’ll save, but if you have any desire to spend less, you will find it far easier in Panama than in North America or Europe. Folks from low-cost rural areas express astonishment at how much cheaper it is to live comfortably in Panama. Those from higher-cost urban areas will save less, but they seem to have one thing in common: they live comfortably, cut their expenses, and save money. It’s always been a reason to relocate to Panama and it remains a big one today, but the final result for you will depend on your lifestyle. Panama has room for a very wide range of tastes and lifestyles.

9) The people of Panama are just plain friendly and a pleasure to know.

The factors above and others unmentioned in this “short” description leave Panamanians among the most pleasant, relaxed people I’ve ever met. They are more cosmopolitan and sophisticated than many who live in wealthier nations as a result of their long-term exposure to a wide variety of international visitors and Canal users. There are poor people in Panama, but there is none of the grinding, desperate poverty that is so common in much of the world. I have worked in poorer nations all over the globe for more than four decades. There are poor people here, but nothing to compare to the grinding poverty found elsewhere. International financial institutions rank Panama in the “upper-middle income” category and that sums it up well.

10) If you want to retire, Panama wants you.

All of the above makes retiring in Panama an excellent choice for retirement, but here are some very direct incentives. As a pensionado [retiree] in Panama, you receive: >> 50% discount at most recreational, movie, and sporting events >> 30% discount off public transportation (including buses and ships) >> 25% discount off Copa airline flights >> 50% discount off hotel stays on weekdays (30% on weekends) >> 25% discount at selected restaurants >> 15% discount at fast food restaurants >> 10% discount off prescription drugs >> 20% discount on doctor’s visits >> 15% discount on dental work >> 25% discount on your electric bill (if less than $50) >> 25% discount on your telephone and water bills. In addition, you can bring in all your household goods free of taxes and import a new car every two years for private use.

All that is required to qualify as a pensionado is that you must be in good health, AIDS-free, have an up-to-date passport from your country of citizenship and a verifiable monthly pension income of at least $1000 per month for an individual, $1250 for a couple, plus $250 for each additional dependent, if any. Foreigners who become pensionados can buy and own Panama property and enjoy exactly the same rights and protections as Panamanians, not always the case in many nations and an important point people often forget to consider. As for income taxes, you will be pleased to know that in Panama you pay no taxes on income earned outside of Panama.

Panama is not paradise, no nation is. Panama is still a relatively young nation and has its growing pains, but it’s made a great deal of progress already and it’s headed in the right direction. For the rest of us who are not Panamanians, it is a nation where we can live comfortably for much less money and far less stress than we have come to expect in our own societies. Best of all, we are “good” immigrants. We save money living in Panama, but we also bring with us the money that creates jobs and opens possibilities for Panamanians they would not have otherwise. They know that and so we are genuinely welcome.

Many would say “beautiful”, but if I had to choose one word to describe Panama, it would be “comfortable“. In this crazy world full of fear of terrorism and fear of not having enough money to pay the bills, that’s a description of a good place to retire.

Check out Bob Adams’ Retirement Wave.

Download Boquete Panama Retreat for sale $598,000

 

How Boquete Was Almost Named Lincolnia

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LincolnPrior to the abolition of slavery, both slaveholders and abolitionists favored sending freed slaves back to Africa, but for different reasons. The abolitionists thought freed slaves would be eager to return home to Africa, and slaveholders felt having freed slaves around promoted the abolition cause and might encourage their own salves to revolt. One of the results was the creation in 1821 of Liberia whose capital was Monrovia, a name derived from the name of the fifth President of the United States, James Monroe. Lincoln supported these ideas and thought that returning former slaves to Africa would secure jobs for “free white laborers.”

In 1862 President Lincoln asked his Secretary of the Interior to develop a plan to start an African-American colony in Panama. Lincoln, like many U. S. Americans since, viewed Chiriqui as an ideal destination, telling a group of prominent African-Americans that Chiriqui had “evidence of very rich coal mines and among the finest harbors in the world.” Although his guests were unimpressed the plan was pushed forward. The colony of Linconia would be settled by 100 freed black former slaves. Permission was secrured from the government of the Republic of New Granada of which Panama was then a part. Lincoln pushed his plan forward until strong opposition of Costa Rica, Nicaragua and Honduras forced abandonment of the idea, even although they had 500 “pioneers” who were ready to go … without any advance glossy brochures, unending emails, investment conferences or relocation tours.

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Picture Says It All

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Tocumen International Airport in Panama City is the “Hub of The Americas” yet since Panama closed its airspace March 22, the usually hectic Tocumen Airport has become a giant parking lot for 102 Copa planes, all out of service due to the pandemic.  On a typical day more than 350 air operations are carried out between takeoffs and landings, which generates a daily flow of 42 thousand people through Tocumen International.  KLM, Air France, Iberia, Lufthansa, Air China, Turkish Airlines, Avianca, Mexicana, British Airways, Air Canada, United, Delta and American in addition to Copa, all use Panama City as a major “Hub of The Americas.”

Many people in the North America are unfamiliar with Copa which offers direct flights to Panama from major US cities.  Copa is still flying the way it used to be.  Remember, “Friendly Skies”?  Copa still has skies, flight attendants, and service people are are still friendly.  Even in coach on Copa you have leg room, get free snacks and drinks, including alcohol, and not-bad airline meals.  Not kidding!  If you’re coming to Panama you don’t have to fly the US “big three” “cattle car” airlines!  Copa doesn’t attempt the old “First Class” service, but it’s business class or “Executive Class” is fantastic.

Copa aims to resume service, starting on a limited basis, as soon as Panama reopens its air space, hopefully by June 1st.  Due to COVID -19, Copa Airlines calculates a fall of 70% of its income for this year: about $2 billion.

Panama has taken the fight against COVID-19 VERY seriously.  Restrictions differ in various parts of the country.  For instance in Panama City you can be fined $1,000 for not wearing a face mask when in public.  Country-wide there is a ban on alcohol presumably to prevent domestic violence during the lock-down.  You can not have more than five people together.  The super-rich, “I’m above the law” family that went ahead with their grand wedding celebration ignoring the restrictions were fined $100,000.  If you are out and about at other than your prescribed 2 hours to go to the grocery store/pharmacy, your car is impounded and your lose your drivers license for 3 months.  Weekends you must stay at home.  No going out for any reason.  No walks, jogs, bike rides, walking your dog … nada!  People in Panama City have been told that if they have a pet they much make provision in their residence for the pet to take care of its “needs.”

So if you are a US-North American expat living in Panama, and you see incredibly stupid Southern US states allowing people to flock to the beach, drive their pickups cruising around waving Confederate flags, attending political rallies, encouraging people to gather together for demonstrations and religious events (and we’re not talking about “snake-handling” in the woods” here), wander around Walmart . . . you begin to think the folks “back home” either don’t get-it or are just nuts.  This is a pandemic: people are dying.

The staying at home policy certainly isn’t observed by the President, who goes off to his golf resort in New Jersey to get together with his family to celebrate Passover.  And then his kids, Ivanka and Jerod, who in addition to being the President’s family are high-paid, high-level White House employees, decide that they will ignore the Washington DC curfew and  drive up to New Jersey to join the rest of the family (“rather than fly commercial” since all those flights are grounded, or hop a ride on Air Force One).  Important as Passover may be, gross selfishness seems to ignore the whole spirit of the holiday.

Is Panama’s restrictive response a pain?  Yes, mostly.  Although I happen to enjoy just staying at home with my wife and dogs.  I do miss the wine but as long as the supply of Haagen Dazs Macadamia Nut Brittle ice cream doesn’t dry up, I’m fine.  I may gain back all the weight I lost last summer after my knee operation, but heck … if the pandemic reminds us of anything it should be this: it’s good to be alive!

How Has Panama Responded to Covid-19?

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I know that when people think about moving to another country and adopting an expat lifestyle they think about many things: health care, cost of living, friendliness of the people, what they hear folks talking about as possible destinations, the stability of the currency, the economic well-being, the stability of the government, definitely the weather … and the list goes on, and on.  If you’re thinking about adopting an expat lifestyle you already know the host of factors you are considering.

But what has been pretty much impossible, excepting response to various natural disasters, hurricanes, storms and the like, has been to see how a country responds to a major, earth-shaking, once-in-a-lifetime [Hopefully!] world-wide pandemic.

We never thought seriously about Ecuador, although we hear many people talking about mountain towns in Ecuador.  There were a lot of things about Ecuador that I didn’t like, although I did fall in love with Guayaquil, but given this experience I’m glad we never moved to Guayaquil or Ecuador.

mv5bmgq1mdgxmwmtmjmznc00yme4lwjhnjctngu4zdk3mwy0zgfkxkeyxkfqcgdeqxvymtm2mzg4ma4040._v1_uy268_cr20182268_al_The Panama Papers episode really painted Panama in a poor light.  But we were already living here and had already had personally experienced the impact of the lack of transparency, corruption at all levels, the legal system which if a head-spinning nightmare for anyone from the US who is familiar with US case law and the professional responsibility and agency expected from one’s personal attorney.  We’ve been assaulted by a Bible-thumping charletain, a Panamanian attorney who knew how to manipulate the system and has tied up our major investments by using them to secure his personal loans without our permission or knowledge.  And we’re still trying to recover our property!  Yes, we have poisonous snakes in Panama, but the most dangerous aren’t lurking in the grass where you might step, but are masquerading as lawyers, real estate developers, and the like.

So, unfortunately that’s a fact of life in Panama.  But in terms of Panama’s response to the Pandemic … Well, if you have any interest in moving to Panama, or even if you’re just curious as to how other countries, perhaps ones you view as “less developed” than your own country, have responded to the Coronavirus pandemic, you really need to read this article by Mat Youkee that appeared April 14 in AMERICA’S QUARTERLY.

But lock us down in quarantine, need a place that except for the corrupt lawyers and politicians, is safe, warm, and incredibly beautiful … Panama is the place.

PANAMA CITY – “This Panama Papers stuff? It’s time to erase all that,” said President Laurentino Cortizo, during a live press conference on April 7. “That’s not the Panama the world has seen in dealing with this crisis.”

Hit hard and early by the COVID-19 crisis, Panama adopted one of the most aggressive and coordinated responses to the virus in Latin America. In addition to developing a rapid medical response and pioneering policies since adapted around the region, the experience has rekindled the country’s self-image as a center for regional logistics and dialogue that has been obscured by its reputation for shady business and money laundering.

Panama recorded its first case of the virus on March 9. One month later, the country of 4 million people registered 3,472 cases and 94 deaths as of April 13, in both cases the highest per capita rates in Latin America. The country’s role as a major maritime and air hub increased its risk of exposure. 

200401093631-panama-city-panama-0331-large-169“Our connectivity, so beautiful from an economic perspective, has been converted into a disadvantage by a virus of this nature,” said Cortizo. Authorities have since identified eight original carriers of the COVID-19 virus: four entered from the U.S., three from Europe and one from China.

But the high numbers are also the result of the region’s most aggressive testing and transparent reporting. Panama began rolling out testing from day one, seeking out the infection and undertaking 11,776 tests by April 8, the second-highest number of tests per capita in the region after Chile. The death rate remains well below that seen in the U.S. and the most affected parts of Europe.

“Panama has a death rate of 2.4% of cases,” said Geraldo Alfaro, the Panamerican Health Organization’s country representative. “The regional average for countries with community transmission is over 5%.” 

Although new cases continue to rise, early and drastic measures prevented an exponential growth phase. Data from the University of Oxford’s Blavatnik School of Business shows that by mid-March Panama had the most stringent policy in the region. Schools and workplaces were closed on March 12 when there were just 14 confirmed cases and a nationwide quarantine began on March 25. Panama was the first in the region to introduce defined outdoor hours for shopping and medical purposes based on ID numbers and to segregate by sex. Peru, Colombia and others have since adopted such measures.

Panama was also first country in the region to develop a digital hub that allowed ministers and legislators to conduct government affairs online and was quick to introduce telephone lines and online services for citizens. Rosa and Paco, the “virtual doctors” that determine whether people with symptoms require treatment have delivered over 50,000 consultations, and 24 professionals man a new help-line for victims of domestic abuse.

“We’ve been monitoring the situation since January. Looking at how other countries were dealing with the virus, we set up our Coronavirus action table on Super Bowl Sunday (in February),” said Oscar Ramos, the government’s communications secretary. “Preparation is key to dealing with changing circumstances.”

As with other countries where presidents have taken a decisive stance, Cortizo’s popularity has spiked, helped by well-pitched nightly broadcasts where he has appeared in army fatigues at distribution centers, demonstrated on wall maps how food and medical packages will reach remote communities and promised swift punishment for corruption associated with aid delivery and for organizers of a high-society wedding that broke quarantine rules.

“Panama has been ahead of the curve, taking tough decisions and for the first time in many years we can see a unity of public opinion behind the government,” said Roberto Eisenmann, founder of La Prensa¸ the country’s leading independent newspaper. “Cortizo has established a strong team, lets them set policy based on science and he speaks from the heart, connecting with people.”

The crisis has also reminded Panamanian’s of their country’s traditional strengths, often obscured by the negative publicity caused by the 2016 release of the so-called Panama Papers, the scandal that seriously dented prestige and business.

From the country’s “Hub Humanitario”, the region’s only humanitarian hub, the International Red Cross and other NGOs are preparing their responses for Latin America and the Caribbean. On April 13 Panama was chosen as a member of the United Nations’ supply chain task force to distribute PPE equipment, oxygen and diagnostic laboratories to Latin America and the Caribbean.

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When the Zaamadan [Make that ZAANDAM] cruise ship arrived in national waters, carrying several deceased passengers following a long tack north from Chile, Panama became the only country to offer humanitarian assistance. It supervised the transfer of healthy passengers to another ship, opened airspace for relief packages and made an exception to maritime protocol to allow the vessel to pass through the Canal. 

Panama is also reprising a historical role as an epidemiological hotspot. During the construction of the Panama Canal, U.S. Army physician William Crawford Gorgas undertook pioneering large-scale sanitation schemes to control yellow fever and malaria that had taken 30,000 lives and threatened the completion of the waterway.

Today, scientists at the Gorgas Institute, a squat neo-classical building among the downtown skyscrapers, have sequenced 41 genomes of the new coronavirus – capturing local variations and helping identify the origin of the original transmitter – and have extended working hours to process 400 tests per day. Over 2,000 hotel beds have been made available for patients and a new 100 bed modular hospital commissioned on 18 March will be operational in the coming weeks.

The success of the country’s response to the crisis has prompted many Panamanians to question why similar decisive action hasn’t been taken to address the country’s other structural issues, such as extreme inequality.

President of PanamaPressed on the topic during the online press conference, Cortizo acknowledged that the crisis would require a rethink of the country’s economic and social policy. “The system has to become much more fair,” the president said.

A 48-hour full quarantine over Easter weekend, with no exceptions for food shopping, on top of falling trade and grounded flights will likely have a deleterious effect on the national economy. Still, many seasoned observers believe Cortizo has summoned the popular support necessary to avoid wasting the crisis.

“I think Nito will take advantage to push make badly needed changes,” said Eisenmann.  “Panama is a rich country, but it’s behind the times on inequality, education and provision of water. Now I think we have the chance to make radical reforms.”

Panama Covid 19

Fallecidos are “deceased”

Dropping Anchor

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uncertaintiesI had planned a very busy year. Yeah, a lot of us planned stuff … but things change. So far I’v had five cruises cancel, after having done all the preparation work, and it looks like I’ll have a few more cancelled before things return to normal. I work because I enjoy it, but I also need the money, so the cancellations suck.

A few years ago, when ships were just starting to get larger and larger, I had a Captain tell me that if our ship which was in the North Atlantic with about 8,000 souls on board, were to get into serious trouble, that there weren’t enough resources in the entire European Union to respond if we were forced to abandon ship. So, he pointed out, that’s why our ship was designed so that we could all “shelter in place” until . . . by some miracle we could get home. That was fine until some stupid Captain decided to play chicken with a little island off Italy, gashing a giant hole in the hull of the ship, and causing the ship to role on its side. There was no lifeboat drill for getting off a ship laying on its side!

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I’ve had a wonderful time working the big ships of Princess, Holland America and others.  For the most part ships have been effectively dealing with the threat of Norovirus for years.

My very first crew job I’d flown all night to get to Ft Lauderdale.  The flight got in early, early in the morning and they had a car to pick me up and take me to the pier where I and other “new joiners,” some who had travelled two days to get there, stood and waited.  And waited.  It seemed the ship had an outbreak of Norovirus and CDC was on board and it was taking longer than expected to clear the ship.   Finally, at 11 am our gang of “new joiners” got onboard, were told to stick our luggage in the hall and get to work.  The ships crew and a few hundred cleaners from Ft Lauderdale were spaying everything and scrubbing everything.  Someone stuck a giant spray container in my hands and told me to head up to the deck with the suites and start spraying.  So, I did.  Naturally I wanted to see the most expensive suites first and I gently and carefully sprayed.  Then someone with stripes on their shoulder came in and said, “No! No! Like this!” and they grabbed my sprayer and started spraying everything: ceiling, sofas, mirrors, drapes, drenching everything.

I guess I was a failure at spraying because over the PA system I heard my name called out saying I was to report to the Hotel Manager’s office.  Quick introductions: Hotel Manager, Cruise Director, me.  I was in the clothes I’ve flown in all night.  My room and most of the rest rooms had been sanitized so and sealed.  The Cruise Director and I were supposed to round up the string quartet and head over to the Convention Center.  Guests who had expected to  to be boarding their cruise by now, had been herded over to the Convention Center, for a lunch buffet and free bar.  They had  been told that because of the sanitizing of the ship we would not start boarding until 5 pm.  We are to tell them we won’t start boarding until 9 pm!

I found my suitcase and the only place to change was in the hall. Then we got everyone together and were riding over in the van when the Cruise Director asks me, “What should we do?”

Dumbfounded, I said, “What should we do?  You’re the Cruise Director!”

He replied, “No, I’m the DJ.  The Cruise Director got sick and left.  I’m just filling in ’til they get a replacement.”

We get up on the stage in this giant convention center with 4,000 people are eating and drinking.  And we say, “Hello!”  And like a giant ballpark it echoes back ten times!  The echo was impossible and you could barely hear the string quartet over the noise.  So, my CD/DJ asks, “Now what?”

Getting a little frustrated I respond, “Come on Dude.  Work the room!  Go table to table, schmooze them.  Promise them a fantastic cruise.  Captain doesn’t know it yet, but tell them he’ll make up the time so we’ll get to our first port as planned.  Tell jokes!  Tell them it’s an open bar, so they should drink up – they won’t have another chance for a free drink!  Assure them by 10 pm we should be sailing out of Ft Lauderdale.”

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We did and it worked. First day on the new job.

It has been a great and consistent fight.  Norovirus is highly contagious, spread by droplets and contact with items touched by people with the virus.  On a cruise ship you have people flying in from all over the world, who’ve touched everything imaginable en route,

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Cruise lines understand Norovirus and, for the most part, have done a great job.  In 16 years I’ve never come down with Norovirus. When I walk onboard I have one goal: don’t get sick.  If I get sick there is no one else doing my job, so to do my part in giving guests an excellent cruise I need to stay well and out of quarantine.  I don’t shake hands with anyone.  I used to do the fist bump, but from here on, I won’t even do that.  Now, it’s a polite, but sincere nod/bow, with your hands together like in prayer or to put some more heart into it, hand over chest.  I never push elevator buttons with my fingers, touch doorknobs article-0-1a465b00000005dc-302_964x642(always use a paper towel or something), rarely hold or touch handrails, and wash, wash, wash my hands.  Those grand staircases, if I can’t avoid them, I think of the Queen who at 93, gracefully glides down the stairs without tripping.  Of course she’s be navigating grand staircases all her life!  And if the boat is rocking, I’ve even mastered kind of holding on with my elbow.

Yeah, we’ve had Norovirus outbreaks, probably helped along by the guy who picks up three bananas before finding the one he likes, and then puts the other two back!  Or the lady who paws through the bread basket looking for her favorite roll.  Or the dude who walks into the rest room, takes a pee, then walks out without washing, thinking that his gold-plated cock is such a gift to the world and is so special that everyone wants to kneel down.

When that kind of passenger selfishness causes enough people to get sick that the ship goes to Code Red everyone suffers.  Things people would enjoy are closed.  No one touches anything.  Lots of extra work for the crew.  Lots of inconvenience for guests.  And when we get back to port none of the crew have chance to get off because everyone is scrubbing everything.  The Entertainment Department used to get the task of Viroxing the covers of every book in the library or, worse yet cleaning every toy and every Lego in the playroom.  All of the slot machines are scrubbed down and the cards are just thrown out.

So, the cruise industry has actually done a very good job with the insidious Norovirus.  But then along comes this!  No one knew anything about Coronavirus which is far more  contagious and deadly.  By the time symptoms became visible and folks became aware of symptoms they had already infected everything and everyone with whom they had come into contact.  Suddenly the cruise industry was dealing with a new and strange plague.

DSC_0006Coronavirus won’t sink the cruise industry, but it will certainly challenge most of the industry assumptions and practice.  Things will have to change, change   dramatically.  The industry will have to change … or die.  Last night my wife and I were recalling all the cruise lines we’d sailed on that are no more.  Some just failed.  Others were swallowed up. Companies like  Home Lines, Sitmar, German Atlantic Line, Bermuda Star, Commodore, Royal Viking … just to name a few.

The industry has been built on providing vacations for masses of people.  Hence the big ships.  Bigger ships cost more to build, but they make more money.  These big monsters have become resorts lost at sea.  If you want Broadway, go to Broadway!  If you want a sea of casinos and cheap buffet lines, go to Vegas!  If you want rollercoasters and bumper cars, go to Six Flags.  If you want waterslides and wave machines, go to a water park.  If you want a grand shopping mall, go to Bloomington.

sliders_pearl_2When the virus dies down,  I predict the demand for big-ship cruising is going to shift.  The “cruise” name is going to be tarnished by fears of being locked down in an inside cabin, being stuck on a ship with people falling ill and dying, being on a ship to nowhere that no port in the world will receive.  The ship is no longer going to be the destination, but we are going to go back to focusing on destinations, with the ship being the vessel that takes you too the destination.  Voyages will replace “cruises.”  This means smaller, more upscale and all-inclusive vessels.  Sit-down dinners with gracious service rather than mass-produced food from buffets or “markets.”   Yes, the per diem cost will be higher, but you won’t be nickel and dimed with every crew member tasked to sell-sell-sell!  Water will be included, not $3 per little bottle.  Wine, beer, liquor included.  Life on board will be more like traveling with a few dozen friends on your own yacht, than being herded onto a cattle ship.

 

 

 

 

 

Lockdown: Reboot 2020

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Panama has taken the Corona virus pandemic seriously from the start immediately laying out a plan of concentric circles of isolation to limit spread of the disease. First thing they did, pulled I believe from the US Canal Zone playbook, was to make the country dry – no liquor of any kind.  I have no idea what that knee-jerk reaction inspired by Panama’s colonial “masters” has to do with anything, particularly since the former President and his brother own Varela Brothers, Panama’s largest producer of rum and one of the most powerful businessmen in the country is Felipe Motta who controls most of Panama’s wine and liquor distribution.  But anyway – no country has figured out the prefect response.

But Panama by early on closing the schools, limiting public assembly to five persons, creating “sanitary fences” throughout the country, closing parks and beaches, and requiring people to remain in their homes except for controlled and designated times to go to grocery stores and pharmacies – all of this has been important and helped.  Most important has been the cooperative attitude of most of the people.  It’s been a little challenging in Panama City, but out in the “Interior” where we live, everyone coperates, except for the bitching about no alcohol to drink.

I hate to say this, but off the record, Nikki and I are actually enjoying the lock down.  Nikki’s found lots of stuff that needs cleaned out and organized and I’ve found projects around the farm that have needed to be done.  We’re enjoying our home, sharing breakfast and sunrises on the front porch, and dinner and sunsets on the back porch, although last night I finished off the last bottle of wine.  When I’m home I’ve very happy to be home, but Nikki’s a little more social than I am and misses her “girls” (her word, not mine) breakfasts, the Tuesday Market, and some concerts at the library that were on the schedule but of course now, like everything else, cancelled.

Our local mayor seems to be on top of the issue, enforcing the stay at home edicts, keeping people informed and in general remaining positive.  All the edicts are in Spanish, but expats who speak Spanish quickly translate stuff and almost instantly it is on the Coconut Telegraph, the modern version of which is the Internet.

But everyone agrees, if, and when you do go to town, it is eerie and spooky with hardly anyone in sight … except for the long line in front of the grocery store … all at socially appropriate distances.   Assuming the last number on your identity card or passport matches the schedule, 15 to 25 people at a time are left inside the store.  In some of the big-box type stores you’ve got 20 minutes or one shopping cart full, and in smaller stores you’ve got 15 minutes to shop.

So we celebrated Easter by joining our family together, we in Boquete, Panama, my daughter Noelle and her family in Seattle, and my other daughter Rebecca in the Bay Area, and we shared together Andrea Bocelli’s mini-concert from the cathedral in Milan, Italy.  It was eerie seeing some of the places we love totally empty.

Our Easter dinner were some slices of spiral ham we had a while back that were languishing in our dying freezer … a worthless, but expensive piece of junk, made by Frigidaire.  One of the joys of living in Panama is you buy this stuff and there is no one knowledgeable or reliable to fix it.  Same problem with my spa.  And me without a freezer to keep my Haagen Daz, no working spa, and now no wine or rum, but who am I to bitch if that’s my only problems?

We’re grateful for our family and for the people we’ve come to know around the world, and for all those who are suffering, grieving, and with very little.    Maybe this day can serve as a “reboot” for 2020.

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Sense & Nonsense

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On the whole the people of Panama have been very responsive and understanding of most of the restrictions imposed because of the coronovirus pandemic.  Most people get it: a few don’t.  The biggest problem with people cooperating with the “Stay At Home” and other preventative measures has been, as might be expected, in the urban areas in and around Panama City.  To date Panama has recorded 2,249 cases of coronavirus although the likelihood is that there are and have been far more cases in folks that have never been tested.  The have been 59 deaths, and yesterday, April 7 there were 149 new cases diagnosed.  And 797 people were arrested for violating various restrictions.

All-in-all, if with a few comparitively minor inconveniences [“Hey!  We’re talking about saving people’s lives!”] Panama, and Boquete in particular, has been a great place to ride out the pandemic.

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Since we’ve never been down this path before and like the rest of life it is a learning curve, some things have worked better than others, and some things … well, all recreational drugs ae illegal in Panama, so it can’t be that they are smoking too much weed.  Panama’s knee-jerk reaction, which I’ll talk about in a minute, is to ban all alcohol, so it can’t be that folks are just drunk.  But some ideas, and some people …

They were spraying the tires and undersides of cars the other day.  I guess in case the car had run over someone with Coronavirus.  But they sprayed cars like this in China, and cases have dropped in China, so who knows?

What we do know is this: social/physical distancing is the law in Panama.  So why do the lawmakers of the Assembly persist in being so eager to have their pictures taken that they regularly violate social/physical distancing?  Don’t these folks every learn?  Or do they think that they just make the laws for other people to follow?

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Members of the Panama Assembly demonstrating once again the power of proper social distancing!

totaljThis picture is from last Sunday, Palm Sunday no less, in the heart of downtown Panama City.  This is exactly the result desired from the “Stay At Home!” order issued for Sundays.  Of course the big test is yet to come.  Panama is officially a Roman Catholic country although all religions are welcome, including folks who don’t practice any religion.  Many business are closed anyway during Holy Week and under usual circumstances everyone sit for hours in traffic going to the beach.  Good Friday is an official, national holiday.  26keyblkyvafppvd4is5tumhqq

Maybe this year is a good year to recognize that faith, and religious commitment are primarily a matter of your personal relationship with God which is far more important than jumping through religious hoops.  And if you must have something more formal even the Pope himself will visit your living room as he did last Sunday for the faithful.

Panama has  a knee-jerk reaction to any crisis and that is to ban the sales of alcoholic beverages.  Now I can see limiting the sale of wine and beer, two bottles and a six-pack of beer once a week.  Maybe rum [This IS Panama!  “Vitamin R” is important for dealing with “cabin fever” and I’ve been told that even Drs. Fauci and Gupta agree.] … something like a bottle a month.  What’s interesting to me is to speculate how this knee-jerk reaction came about in Panama.  Remember, there was no country of Panama until the US facilitated its creation in 1904 so the US could build a canal.  To preserve this newly minted country and to keep Colombia from retaking its territory the US was a heavy-handed “partner” in the deal.  The Hay-Buneau Varilla Treaty between the Frenchman and the US gave the US rights to a territory cutting the new country in half  in which the US could act as sovereign.  Working obviously from a sense of cultural superiority, the US Army Corps of Engineers took charge controlling workers recruited from all over the world, molding them into a mighty force to control and eventually eliminate Yellow Fever, create sanitary and water systems and eventually build a wonder of the world, the Panama Canal.

So you had the development of the Panama Canal Zone, a kind of country within a country, a colonial outpost of the US plunk down in the middle of Panama, creating a culture much like that of the Southern US during the same period,  Segregation became a way of life with the same kind of racism, white vs. non-white, that infected the Southern States.  So Panama is created in 1904.  The Canal is opened in 1914.  By then US No Boozecolonialism is in full swing. The Queen had been deposed in Hawaii in 1893, the Treaty of Paris in 1898 ending the Spanish-Cuban American War gave the US control of Spanish territories in Puerto Rico, Cuba, the Phillipines and Guam, and the crown jewel of the US colonial empire was the Panama Canal Zone.  As all this was happening there was a growing idea in the US that all of the social problems were directly or indirectly the result of alcohol consumption.

So in the 1920s the US enters into its failed experiment with prohibition, of course john-a-leach-new-york-city-agents-1920impacting its Panama Canal Zone territory.

It is ironic that Panama, with all of its tremendous successes, home to the Panama Canal and Crossroads of the World, beacon of democracy and prosperity for Latin America, still hangs on to the knee-jerk reaction to almost any crisis to ban alcohol, a concept it owes to its former colonial masters.

Isn’t it about time to move on?

Guayaquil

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DSC_0136A few years ago I took one of the last of the Princess “Small Ships” on its final voyage around South America before the ship was sold to another cruise line.  One of the big surprizes for me was a city that was new to me, Guayaquil, Ecuador.  I was particularly drawn to the old part of the city, filled with art galleries, on the water, yet side-by-side with very modern office and apartment buildings.

The people were warm and welcoming, and I came back to Panama thinking, “Now I could live there!”  And many ex-pats have chosen to live in Equador, usually up in the mountains and not along the coast.  But I thought it was a charming city.

Now all of that has changed due to the Coronavirus Pandemic. Ecuador has been hard-hit and Guayaquil is one of the hardest hit cities in the world with both the country and city unprepared and unable to deal with the crisis.  So many 200403111850-01-guayaquil-ecuador-coronavirus-0402-exlarge-169people are dying … dying, not just testing positive … dying from the disease, that public authorities and private funeral homes cannot deal with the avalanche of dead bodies.  As the bodies start to deteriorate and smell, people can no longer keep them in their houses, so they are put on the street waiting for someone to pick them up.  The DSC_0127 (2)government is talking about mass graves.  Now this  once beautiful city has been all but forgotten, consigned to the pit of hell.

I realize the whole world is going through tough times right now, but when you kind of fell in love with a place, and then to see all this misery and tragedy …

Panama, although faced with it’s own challenges, has DSC_0081 (2)reached out in neighborly love to Ecuador and sent a planeload of masks, equipment, and even some of our infectious disease specialists and front line medical people to help out our neighbors in need.  Countries CAN do that you know.

We will survive, but the sad reality is that not all of us will survive.  But as a world family, we will somehow get through this.  I’m reminded of what Robert Schuller used to say, “Tough times never last, but tough people do.”  Ecuador quite literally is at the center of the world and it will survive.  I only hope and pray that once-beautiful Guayaquil will make it.

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The Grand Illusionist

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Magicians specialize in misdirection.  And we love being fooled!  It’s magic!  And in works in politics as well.

The world is consumed, rightly so, worrying about the Cov-19 Pandemic.  The perpetual questions of the Trump presidency — Who knew what?  When?  Who did what? Who said what to whom and when? — have once again turned up the heat.  It’s time to change the narrative and to introduce a new twist into the plot of “Presidential Apprentice.”

d2jbvmyxrhllyvjvew5onzvjqmcuanbnThe worst thing about working on a cruise ship is to walk back stage and stumble on the magicians props that have been accidentally left uncovered.  It spoils the magic!  So … SPOILER ALERT … While we are all for the moment focused on the Trump Administration’s response, or lack there of, to the Pandemic, the next episode may be brewing, which should sound vaguely familiar … like the build-up to the US Invasion of Panama (1989).

1200px-Red_Checkmark.svgStep One – The US salivates for “regime change.”   The target country is in turmoil.

1200px-Red_Checkmark.svgStep Two – US international advisors, politicians, and military dust off the Roosevelt Corollary to the Monroe Doctrine.”

1200px-Red_Checkmark.svgStep Three – The current, unwanted leader of the country in question, although known as a creep and dictator, is further demonized as a “drug lord.”

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1200px-Red_Checkmark.svgStep Four – US assets in the region, regardless of the pretense, are strenthened.

[AP] “President Donald Trump announced Wednesday that Navy ships are being moved toward Venezuela as his administration beefs up counter-narcotics operations in the Caribbean following a U.S. drug indictment against Nicolás Maduro.

The president’s announcement was a break from the daily White House press briefing to discuss the coronavirus pandemic, which has left much of the country in lock-down and which the government warns could cause 100,000 to 240,000 deaths.

“The Venezuelan people continue to suffer tremendously due to Maduro and his criminal control over the country, and drug traffickers are seizing on this lawlessness,” Defense Secretary Mark Esper said after the president’s announcement.

The mission involves sending additional Navy warships, surveillance aircraft and special forces teams to nearly double the U.S. counter-narcotics capacity in the Western Hemisphere, with forces operating both in the Caribbean and eastern Pacific. Esper said the mission would be supported by 22 partner nations.

“As governments and nations focus on the coronavirus there is a growing threat that cartels, criminals, terrorists and other malign actors will try to exploit the situation for their own gain,” said Trump. “We must not let that happen.””

Step Five – A real or imagined or staged incident presenting a threat to the welfare of US citizens, and, or US “interests” … translate corporate investments and/or US military, requires the US to militarily intervene in another soverign nation to protect the lives of US citizens.

The question is, would Trump do something so crass, so destructive, just to save his ass?  Of course not!

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Trump announces deployment of additional Navy resources off Venezuela.

 

 

 

Then Again . . .

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As Panama clamps down more and more on citizen movement and the stay home quarantine and social/physical distancing becomes more and more urgent … a matter of life and death for some … members of Panama’s National Assembly, all wanting to get in the shot, threw caution and social/physical distancing to the wind . . .

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A jerk is a jerk period.  Doesn’t matter if they’re hanging out with their friends sneaking around public parks at night, paying off friends and relatives with a wink and a nod to ignore their cedula number when they go out and to the store whenever they wish, when they ignore the good of all the people just to get their smiling face on TV or in the news.

The political cluster-f*** in Panama is alive and well, coronavirus protocol be damned.

How Leadership Responds to Crisis

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Panama Coat of ArmsAs an expat, living in a country, Panama, other than my won, the United States, it is interesting to observe the official responses and the way in which the US, Panama, and other nations respond to this crisis, and the tenor and tone of the national leadership.  As I mentioned previously, one of the challenges of living as an expat and not speaking the national language, Spanish, is that sometimes it takes a while to get translations  Thanks to Calvin Froedge here is an English translation, which he admits “is not exact but should be pretty close” of the address to the nation given by the President of the Republic of Panama, Laurentino “Nito” Cortizo in the face of the coronavirus pandemic.

“Good afternoon, I wanted to take this opportunity to communicate to the country about what we’re doing and what we’re going to do. The world and Panama is facing a difficult moment. It’s a moment of uncertainty. This is going to be a hard war, a prolonged and President of Panamaextensive war, but I don’t have any doubt that we’re going to win it. A team has been established to mitigate all the effects of the virus, health effects, social effects, and economic effects. How did we come to the decision to put these measures in place? In light of evidence. ‘You have to do this, you have to do that’ – in this kind of situation that stuff isn’t worth much, we have to support executive actions with the decisions of the health teams. The ministry of health, CSS, scientists, the directors of different institutions, and other organizations observe and analyze make a decision and pass it to the executive branch. We’re beginning a 24 hour quarantine obviously with some logical exceptions, health workers, public forces, food sellers and grocery stores, chinitos, banks. Daily movement is allowed but restricted based on the last number of cedula (he lays out details for this, there are charts you can refer to) for purchase of food, gas, medications. This is a 24 hours quarantine but there are VERY IMPORTANT exemptions, understand that this is a decision based in evidence provided by the health team. The health team needs to respond to this crisis with constantly having in mind “Why are we here” and have a lot of discipline, because this is a difficult situation. We need to take ALL decisions based on evidence. When we say you need to stay in your house, it’s important that you do so, maintain a meter and a half between yourself and other people. When there’s someone infected, it’s not just an isolation process, it’s also a treatment process, we need to keep in mind what the enemy is. When we see someone suffering, when we see someone fall in the streets, it’s a real heartache, I give to everyone affected by this virus my condolences. I can’t give you a hug because right now that’s prohibited. We need to keep pushing and fighting, I’m sure we’re going to win this thing.

Wash your hands using the water responsibly. It’s important that we conserve water. Conserve water brushing your teeth or flushing the toilet, make sure it doesn’t run. Every gallon of water that we save is important. We’re on top of the financial situation, making tests, and treatment. We have the resources to keep advancing as we need to for months. For sure, our resources are not infinite. We don’t have a central bank. We have to be efficient, and organized in the following months and use our resources well. We have to be very conscious of using our resources effectively.

We assure to the country we’re going to maintain all of the transfer programs, $1.6B in CSS transfers, gas subsidies, electricity, welfare, scholarships and many other subsidies and benefits – we’re going to guarantee EVERYTHING but please utilize these things on what is necessary – food and medicine – forget about everything else – worry about the basics. We’re not gonna leave anybody behind who is losing their income, but we ALL have to share the burden. This is the moment of solidarity – there is no other. Nobody who has lost their income on account of the virus is going to lose their home due to mortgage default. The banks are flexible, believe me, I’ve talked to the banking authorities and they are going to be flexible. Rest assured if you’re without income for three months you won’t need to pay your mortgage. Nobody is going to take away your house because you can’t work. For those of you who fall in the range of standard usage the electric bill will be lowered by around 50%. Nobody is going to lose electricity because they aren’t working. 300-1000 KW usage will be discounted by 30%. In any case you have three months of grace where your electricity will not be cut. Nobody is going to cut the water service in the next three months. But use it responsibly. Nobody is going to cut the internet service in the next three months. This relief plan is a fight for survival against a mortal enemy. Relief is for food, medications, and gas. We’re testing a system to use the cedula like a debit card. We’ve been testing it for a week and we need to study it more but it seems like it’s working. The relief plan is for families, people that live day to day, people who have lost their wages, vulnerable populations.

All of the logistic aren’t simple. We’re advancing and we’re doing tests. We’re going to be watching house by house, working with local authorities, to implement this process. Remember we’re in war time. We have to have solidarity. Don’t ask for things that someone else needs more. If you have plantains, or chickens, or eggs, and you have a neighbor in trouble, offer them some. Demonstrate the solidarity and the greatness of the country. Remember that the relief plan for the country is a plan of survival. We have a bank account in Banco Nacional for receiving donations to augment the national response. Our resources are very finite and every bit of help is needed. We need that each and every person shows solidarity. This virus kills solidarity, unity, discipline, order, and faith. If we unite, we’re going to defeat this virus and live a more beautiful life. We have to have patience. In a situation like this patience is very important. Resistance, the good administration of food, plains, rice, beans, it’s essential we administer everything well in this fight for survival.

This is the time to pray. If you don’t pray to above you won’t be blessed. Give thanks to God. Today I received videos of solidarity for example from restaurant owners, disco tech owners, bar owners, a beautiful but different type of video giving us joy and strength, that said let’s move forward, uniting forces. Someone from the police arrived and he said “We leave for the streets in the hand of god.” There are many units in the police that are testing positive, but when I read these messages from the police, sinaproc, the public forces, saying we’re going to the streets united, wrapped in the hands of God, we’re going to defeat our enemy. We have to give thanks to God for the people on the front line. I have to be in meetings and I have to be answer answering people till 1 in the morning, but we have to give thanks to the doctors, the nurses, technicians, administrators, the laundry workers, the people cooking and cleaning, all these health workers, damn. We have such an extraordinary team in this country. To the public forces and functionaries that have to be on the front line in this 24 hours quarantine. To those operating the metro and busses, those in the fields and the sea producing food, thank you. Those in the public forces, those producing food, the chinos, the supers, the means of conversation, to this spirit that grows in adversity, for this warrior attitude, the only thing I can say is I, Nito Cortizo, with the loudest cry, thank you.

panama flagAll of us Panamanians need to keep uniting forces. We’re fighting against the current. We all have to advance in the same direction, have solidarity, in the hand of God, us the world and Panama, are going to overcome this enemy, the coronavirus.Thank you for allowing me to speak to you – to all who are listening, I love this country. To all of you who are listening, love this country. Take out your Panamanian flag, no matter how old it is, take out your warrior flag. We’re gonna keep moving forward, like we’re doing, doing well. To the health team and the Panamanians in the front line, all we can say is take care of yourself, but please, care for us, too. Let’s keep advancing. May God bless this great country. Thank you.”

cropped-the-most-beautful-house-in-boquete-panama-for-sale-12-copyOn a personal note . . . I realized that this creates great hardship for many, however, riding out the quarantine at our home in Boquete, Panama, it honestly isn’t hard to enjoy being forced to stay at home, relax, read, chat, and enjoy a more stress-free life.  Yes, i’ve had three river/coastal small ship cruises cancel, but coronavirus permitting, I’ve picked up two more the end of May and June.  Fingers crossed!

 

Thoughts from Quarantine

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I sometimes worry that I could become a hermit … as long as I had the Internet, my books, my wife, some good wine, a little rum and my dogs … oh yes, and my spa was working.  In normal times, when the country isn’t locked down, I’m happy to stay on my little farm and avoid going to town as much as possible.  That doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy getting away, traveling and seeing the world, but I’m comfortable being home and being alone.  I know that some folks by nature are energized when they are in a group of people, but I am one of those with the opposite response: groups of people drain my energy.   It’s not that I’m not good being in front of people and interacting with them.  Lots of my ship board reviews say I’m good.  I know I’m not the only one.  I’ve met folks who are great in public as entertainers, speakers, whatever, but in private they are private.

So for me at least being confined to our little farm in Panama, while it has some inconvenineces, has not been bad.

A lot of time when I’m home I am working on lectures and port talks for upcoming cruise assignments.  I had planned this to be a pretty busy year with some destinations that were new to me, so I had dilligently worked ahead to have everything in order by the time I started.  Now, the first four trips have been cancelled because of the coronavirus cruise shutdowns.  But, I’ve gotten two additional trips for the same itineraries, which  hopefully will go on as planned.  These two are with American Cruise Line on the Columbia/Snake Rivers, so a lot depends on if Washington and Oregon get their act together and the coronavirus levels off and declines.

I do realize, and hope the cruise lines realize as well, that things have now changed forever.  Pre 9/11 you could race from the curb to the airline gate just before your flight was leaving.  Now we all accept the security routine.  Cruise lines are going to have to radically change their way of doing business if they are to survive.  Take the common cabin key card.  Everyone gets one.  As you board the ship you hand it to the security guy who puts it in his camera, takes your picture for on the card, and hands the card back to you.  Everyone boarding hands their plastic card to the guy, who touches them all before handing them back to the new guest.  Bingo!!  We’re off to a good virus-spreading start.

Cabin Key Card

Emergency drill.  Again you’ve got to have the cabin key card to get accounted for if you want a seat in the lifeboat.  Again, hand the card to the crew member in charge of your boat.  Card gets scanned and handed back to you.  So now everyone in your lifeboat has something in common, like it or not!

Buying a drink before dinner … again the card, handled now by the bar waiter.  In the dining room, ordering wine … again the same card passed around.

Disembarking at the first port … you must have the card to scan off the ship.  To speed things up the guys with the scanner usually take your card to quickly scan it rather than have you fumbling, holding up the line, to scan it yourself.

And that’s just the cabin key-card!

[Carnival/Holland America Princess has been trying out a new keyless program where you will get a “medalion” that you wear that is recognized by a vessel-wide system that recognises you, opens your stateroom door, tells the bar tender your drink preferences, automatically charges purcheses to you account and bills them to your credit card.  When I last worked Princess they were busily wiring the ship for this program.  This of course is brought to you by the folks who can’t deliver reliable Internet to your cabin and who, in the case of Holland America, had their data system breached.]

Watching from Panama, the US seems to have a very laissez faire attitude toward the pandemic, certainly in contrast to Panama.  Panama decided the way to limit both the damage, inconvenience, death and destruction of the pandemic was to go all in with a governmental policy locking down the country.  The US by contrast seems content to let every local juristiction make decisions without any consistent policy.  Panama locked down the country.  In the US you can freely go from state to state and county to county sharing the virus with your neighbors.  Sure go ahead and walk your dog, jog in the park, walk in nearly deserted streets, just maintain your distance, and, by-the-way, the President of the US assures everyone that it will all be over by Easter.

Yes, it seems a bit dragonian to say, as Panama has said, that being confined at home means you can’t walk the dog.  The health department has issued instructions for pet owners to provide places in their homes, or high rise apartments, for their pets to relieve themselves.  OK, these are tough times.  Fortunately we have 4 acres and lots of room for our dogs to run around and take care of business.  But for many people, especially those in the city …  Panama says that when the beaches are closed, they are closed, and you don’t have the right to take a solitary walk on a deserted beach.  The idea here is that for the good of all, and particularly those most at risk, you follow the program as a responsible citizen who cares about their neighbors.  Those who don’t comply are being arrested and fined, and those who flagrantly violate or in the cities decide to loot, are going to be put in jail.  [And nothing can be worse than being in a Panamanian jail, unless you are a former President of the Republic, politician, or former Supreme Court Judge, in which case you get nicer than normal prison accomodation.]

Panama’s idea is that if everyone gets onboard now and makes the sacrifice, the impact, death and damage will be less, and the length of inconvenience will be considerably less.

Panama in total quarantine indefinitely

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Many of you who are thinking about retiring to Panama or just moving to Panama and adopting an expat lifestyle are following not only the effects of coronavirus in your own area, but are interested in seeing how tiny Panama responds.  With some 669 cases and 9 deaths, little Panama with it’s role as “the crossroads of the world” is determined to learn from the expriences of other countries and not make the same mistakes, hence the indefinite quarantine declared by Panamanian President Cortizo.

PANAMA NEWSROOM is one source of news headline stories in English.  If you’re thinking about relocating to Panama it would be good to follow some of the news.  So here from Panama Newsroo is how it works.

Panama is the latest country to go into total quarantine for an indefinite period to stem the cortizo-25advance of the coronavirus.  The announcement came from President Laurentino Cortizo in a broadcast to the nation on Tuesday evening, March 23.

Cortizo, who explained that the measure is based on evidence previously evaluated by the health team dealing with the pandemic, based, in turn, on the behavior of the virus in different regions.

The round the clock quarantine exempts  18 groups or industries, among them, the Public Force; emergency officials; personnel from the Ministry of Health, the Social Security Fund, the Fire Department, Sinaproc, Acodeco, Idaan, the Cleaning Authority, Sume-911, the ACP and the media.

The executive decree allows two hours of daily mobility of people, based on the last digit of their identity card or passport.

Quarantine

The mobility is restricted to purchasing food or medicine. In a medical emergency, the person can leave at any time.

Senior citzens and people with disabilities must complete their errands between 11:00 am and 1:00 pm

To guarantee public order, the security forces will deploy 18,000 agents.

panama flagSOLIDARITY PLAN
The president said  that in during the  total quarantine the government will continue to pay subsidies (in the order of $1.6 billion) and will launch the Panama Solidarity plan, which includes the distribution of vouchers, food bags, medicines and tanks of gas to at least a million people, including informal workers, lottery sellers., residents of vulnerable areas and those affected by the economic impact of the pandemic.

The amount of the electricity bill will be reduced 50% to those whose consumption does not exceed 300 kilowatts. Service will not be cut nor that of water or internet to those who cannot pay their bills in the next three months.

Banks will not execute the mortgages of those affected by the pandemic.

Cortizo called for solidarity and rsaid  that in the next few days an account will be opened at the National Bank to receive donations.

Palmira Estate Drone 3Thankfully we have 4 acres of property on which to walk, run the dogs, and enjoy our beautiful weather outside.  Yes, there are restrictions, for our benefit and the common good, but our little place in the mountains 15 minutes from “downtown” Boquete, and 35 minutes from David (second=largest city in Panama, which I don’t want to go to anyway) … our little place is better than most places in the world to be quaranteened.

Riding Out The Storm

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847625I’ve done pretty well on ships, never really getting seasick.  But there have been some close calls, like when I was working on a private yacht, a big ship by yacht terms, but small by cruise ship terms.  We were trying to beat a hurricane which was hot on our tail sailing around the Western end of Cuba for Havana.  A few times, on the Atlantic and heading around Cape Horn it was rough, but I managed without getting sick.  If you are out at sea and caught by a storm you don’t really have much choice but to ride it out.

Boquete Estate Drone 3a (2018_07_18 18_17_49 UTC)Which is what the world has to do, right now, with the coronavirus pandemic.  So, we are riding out the storm at our home outside of Boquete, Panama.  Honestly, this isn’t a bad place to ride out any storm.  But Panama, just like the rest of the world, is facing challenging times.  There are about 250 some cases of Coronavirus and as of this morning I think there have been 5 deaths.  Being a small country, roughly 4 million people, Panama from the start has taken the threat seriously.  We are pretty much on lockdown, not necessarily a total quarantine but headed in that direction.

You are expected by law to self-isolate, remaining at home except to leave for specific reasons like trips to the store, pharmacy, etc.  All but essential businesses are closed.  There is no traffic in or out of the country and traffic within the country is severely curtailed.  Copa, Panama’s major airline, has shut down completely except for special flights arranged through Panama’s state department to repatriate foreigners stuck in Panama.  The is an absolute curfew which has now been extended from 5 pm to 5 am.

Cancelling public events, closing beaches, bars, and clubs, forbidding public gatherings or even small, local family/friends get togethers, and getting everyone to “maintain social distance” is tough in Panama because it goes against the entire Panamanian culture of social congeniality and appreciation of and enjoyment of life.  When closings and restrictions were first announced everyone did the most Panamanian thing they could think of … they went to the beach!  They treated it almost like an extension of Carnival.  So the screws have been tightened and I think I read, not that I read Spanish, that almost 2,000 people were arrested and cited for breaking the curfew yesterday.  Now most of that is in Panama City, but the government is making clear that they mean business and that the quickest way to return to normalcy is to cooperate and stay safe.

Fortunately the Canal is still open for business and making money.  I think two Canal employees out of around 10,000 have been diagnosed with the virus and about 140 are quaranteened.

Yes, I know that some people think that you can get by in Panama without speaking Spanish.  To a certain extent that may be true but let me give you three major reasons WHY YOU NEED TO KNOW SPANISH if you want to live happily in Panama.  #1 – All of the rules and restrictions coming down are all in Spanish.  Good luck as a gringo (defined here as an extranjero who does not speak Spanish) figuring out what’s going on and what the rules are.  NEWSROOM PANAMA is helpful as are Google computer translations from TELEMETRO REPORTS are helpful but only to an extent.  You end up relying on what your workers hear on the radio or what gets passed along word-of-mouth by the “Gringo Coconut Telegraph.” Everyone in Panama does NOT speak English regardless of what you may read online.  It is a Spanish speaking country and you are expected to speak Spanish.  There is no “Press 2 for English” when you try to do business.  #2 – If you can’t read business/legal Spanish you will get screwed.  This is the country that brought you the “Panama Papers.”  Life most Latin American countries corruption and payoffs are a way of life from the top down.  The “due diligence” in financial affairs by your “agents,” regardless of what is said, has no relationship to what that means in the States.  Your “agent” will consider their own interest to be primary and yours to be secondary.  And, if you’ve heard, it’s difficult to sue in Panama, should you want to sue a corrupt agent or lawyer, you will not live long enough for the case to go to court.  And when, and if, it does go to court, Panama’s system of law is totally different from, for example, US law.  US law is based on English common law and precedent.  Not so in Panama.  The decision is totally up to the judge: forget precedent . . . and in a country with a tradition of lack of transparency and corruption . . . well, good luck,  #3 – If you have Panamanian friends and you want to talk about all the important stuff friends talk about and share, you need to speak the native language understanding the nuances of meaning.

So, back to riding out the pandemic, it’s tough as a resident foreigner to figure out exactly what the new rules are, and, as everywhere in the world these policies are emerging, being constantly refined and adapted to a rapidly changing situation.  So, we are doing the best we can under the circustances given our linguistic limitations.

One of the good things about all this is that you know that almost everyone is at home around the world, more or less bored, so it’s a great time to take advantage of Skype or Whatsap and reach out to friends.  I called a long-time, really great friend of mine back in California.  You have to know a little of the background of our relationship.  I met him back when he was about 12 and his older brother was helping me renovate our house in Ventura.

Both kids came from what might diplomatically be called a rather fucked-up family life.  When they were 13 & 15 both ran away, lived on the street for a while, and eventually we took them under our wing.  Interesting times!  They supported themselves by selling “herb” and at one time the younger kid, I think he was 16 by then, was running a string of half a dozen twenty-something “runner boys” selling “herb.”  The kid had a real head for business long before selling pot was respectable.  At one point my wife worked very hard, pulling all the strings she had access to, in order to get him back into school.  You can imagine my wife’s chagrin and anger when, failing one subject he needed to pass to stay in school, he had a conference with the teacher, pulled out a wad of cash, laid it on her desk and asked, “What does it take to get a good grade?”  And the teacher took the cash and gave him the grade!

Both these guys ended up being good men and great fathers.  The older one was a long distance truck driver who tragically died in a fiery accident.  The younger one, now a mature 30-something dad and businessman, has a medical marijuana distribution service.  We were chatting on the phone and I was lamenting the fact that my source of “Vitamin R” had been eliminated due to the coronavirus decree making Chiriqui a “dry” state with no how-to-overcome-the-munchiesalcohol sales allowed.  He laughed, assuring me that his business was booming.  Not only that, he noted that LA County had officially declared marijuana delivery businesses to be essential operations just like pharmacies, grocery stores and the like.  His solution to keeping people at home, not on the street, was for Trump to declare a “Marijuana for all” policy since then, people would be happy to sit at home on the couch zoning out munching Doritos, or in Trump’s case cheeseburgers.  Of course then Doritos might become harder to come by than toilet paper and there would be a run on McDonald’s which unfortunately are closed.

haagen dazsSo, if running out of rum is my greatest challenge of sheltering in place, I guess I can survive … as long as the store doesn’t run out of Macademia Nut Brittle Haagen Dazs ice cream, my only other vice.

So … most of us, but unfortunately not all of us, will get through this IF we work together, follow the rules, maintain our social distances and wash, wash, wash our hands.

Trevor Noah and the Daily Show have been a great help to me in getting through the past couple years … well, since the last election actually.  I like his brand of comedy and more importantly his educated, well read, thought-out world view.  He pulls no punches, throws in enough street talk to make me feel at home.  I like his “between the scenes” chat the the audience and his current shot-from-home “Socially Distancing Daily Show” is Trevor Noahactually, I think, better than the more professional, in-studio Daily Show.  Trevor keeps me laughing, even now.  But there is just one problem.

The unwashed, real Trevor Noah without makeup and studio lighting, an elderly Millennial still struggling to grow respectable facial hair, unfortunately has an uncanny resemblance to Robin, my favorite bar tender in Boquete at Butcher Restaurant, which, like all the restaurants is closed.  Robin makes up amazing drinks . . . now only a distant memory.  Damn.

The Sun Will Come Up Tomorrow

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It really will … for most of us.  And that’s why, to keep it coming up for most of us, we all as a world community we all must work together and think of friends, neighbors and a world beyond ourselves.  We’ve been, frankly, in a dark period when many are focused only on themselves and not on community.  We are not alone on this planet: we belong to a family of nations, a family of man, and a family of children of God.  It’s time to lay aside the “me first” syndrome and see and focus on the big picture of life.  So stay well, follow the rules, take care of one another, have a healthy sense of humility, don’t hord, obey The Golden Rule, enjoy the temporary respite as best you can, chill, enjoy your individuality, read books, explore nature in solitude, wash your hands, and, at least once in a while turn off the technology.

No, that phrase doesn’t come for me from “Annie” but from an experience Nikki and I had many, many years ago on a Royal Caribbean Cruise ship.  It was then a very Norwegian company and the very Norwegian Captain didn’t speak English very well.  Every evening, just before dinner, he would come on the loudspeakers with a word from the bridge telling us our position, how many miles we’d covered, the weather for the next day, when we could expect the sun to set and then he’d close with the rather ominous phrase, “and we hope for another sunrise tomorrow.”

I feel compelled to write this because, I confess — I do check social media once in a while — a long time friend of mine who is probably the most well-travelled guy I can think of, just returned from leading a to-die-for [well, given the context of today’s world I am compelled to add “not literally”] extended dream-trip to India and Kuala Lumpur.

He wrote on Facebook (and the all caps are his, not mine) ‘IS ANYONE SCARED OUT THERE? I FEEL LIKE I AM LIVING IN A BAD SCI-FI..”  I don’t think he was trying to be funny.  I can understand his feelings.  He has a good life and a huge business which at least short run, like everyone in or connected to the travel business, is in for a rough ride.  But he’s a guy who has lived through a lot and come out as a winner.  He’s not just blowing smoke, or smoking smoke, if you get my drift.

Face it: we are all scared.  Things seem totally out of our control.  The world, and our lives are changing moment to moment and like it or not, for better or worse, things will never be exactly the same.  So we are facing an unknown.  And frankly we are grieving over the passing of what we knew, not to mention all of those around the world who have lost loved ones and friends.

My wife and I used to conduct grief recovery seminars back when I was pastoring churches and we even wrote a book together called HOW TO RECOVER FROM GRIEF.  Amazingly, you can still find it on Amazon!  But one of the things we used to try and share with those who had lost loved ones was this: “Life will never be the same again, but given time and walking through the valley of grief, it can be good again.”

The sun WILL come out tomorrow.  If we pull together we will get through the storm. Cruise ships will sail again, albeit with some different protocols.  People will get sunburned and drink pina coladas on the beach.  Hopefully in some way we will all manage to grow through this experience, at least most of us.

But the grim fact is that not all of us will make it through.  If we do survive, other survivors will need our love and support.  Some companies will make it and others won’t, and the degree to which that happens depends largely on government policies and support.  Many of us, who aren’t US Senators who trade on inside information (not mentioning any names: just follow the news) will lose a great deal and for retirees, folks like me, it may mean a different lifestyle than we had envisioned.  We may need to look for new places to retire where life may be cheaper and perhaps even better. {Not mentioning any country names BUT …]

So I found this on Facebook and it deserves repeating …

So, how I’m coping …

  • Nikki and I have been taking the dogs for walks around our little village.  Don’t worry, our dogs guarantee appropriate social distance!
  • I’m getting caught up on projects like repainting our little rental casita, trimming bushes that went wild during the last rainy season, and I’m planning on  getting ready to plant more stuff when the rain comes back in May.
  • I always enjoy YouTube reruns of THE DAILY SHOW with Trevor Noah.  And I especially like his made from home stay at home THE DAILY SOCIAL DISTANCING SHOW.  I also get a kick out of Jimmy Kimmel’s show from his home.  In some ways these are better than the real thing!
  • Our good friend Jackie Kuo before he returned to California, left us an external hard drive with tons of old movies that we’ve been enjoying.  And yes, there is Netflix.
  • Getting desperate I’ve tried figuring a way to use some of the plantains we have on our farm.  Most of them we give to our neigbhors, but today I tried making Plantain Chips. It’s so much work peeling the damn things and they feel like a dead penis, not that I know what a dead penis feels like, but as I cut up the little chips I keep wondering what I really pissed off wife would feel after … well, you get the image.  ANYWAY, I’ll just pay $1.60 for a bag at the local corner store!

Normally, I’d be busy working on lectures and PowerPoint presentation for my cruise talks, but since I planned ahead and have most of them done, intending now to BE on the cruises (which have been cancelled) I have lots of time on my hands.

  • So I’m trying to clean out my computer files and delete duplicate photos and photos which have no socially or technically redeeming qualities.
  • If Nikki reads a book she thinks I will like she sticks it under my nightstand, and since, although retired, what with travel, time onboard ships, and preparation, and catching up on farm work when I’m home, I really don’t have that much time to just read.  So the pile builds!  And, sorry to burst anyone’s bubble or ruin the image, but when I’m on the ship I’m working and don’t really have time to read.  I’m not sitting by the pool, soaking up the rays and sipping over-priced drinks with paper umbrellas, reading.  So digging in the pile THE MINIATURIST by Jessie Burton shure didn’t look like anything I’d like, so I’ve kept sticking it at the bottom of the pile.  But, seeing it had a few good blurbs on the back cover and since it is set in the Golden Age of Amsterdam, I figured I’d give it a try.  And I’m hooked.  It’s a strange and unlikely story with fascinating insight into 17th Century Amsterdam.  It has lots of hooks and turns in the narrative and lots of historical cultural backgroud: a great read.
  • The other great tool, even in a technolgically deprived household, is to be able to chat with our kids and friends we haven’t talked with in years for FREE on WhatsAp!

So pulling toether, most of us will survive and the sun will come up tomorrow.  Promise.

From our front yard – We have beautiful views of the mountains and Volcan Baru and the moods seem to always be changing.  Boquete is blessed with lots of rainbows a sign of promise and hope in the Judeo Christian community, equality for our gay friends, but, interestingly for our Gnabe Bugle Indigenous neighbors the rainbow is an ominous sign.

Panama on Lockdown

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Once agaub we are facing “times that try men’s souls” … and their patience. Countries all over the world are struggling with Coronavirus, some large, and some small, like Panama with only about 4 million people.

Lockdown

Panama’s first case was March 10th and it now has 200 cases. So the country has taken drastic steps to slow the pandemic. Most things are closed, except …

PANAMA’S TOP BREADWINNER DEFIES VIRUS as 50 ships a day transit the Panama Canal.

Thankfully, something remains normal. The Canal is OPEN FOR BUSINESS. Sure there are no cruise ships, but cruise ships have never been a major portion of Canal traffic.

car-carrierAccording to PANAMA NEWS, “”The maritime sector is calm and working in order, providing confidence and transmitting tranquility to our customers,” says the president of the Panama Maritime Chamber (CMP), Nicolás Vukelja. Vukelja,

The maritime sector, including the Panama Canal, represents approximately a third of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) and generates more than 100,000 direct and indirect jobs, according to the CMP.

“It continues with its work and services in an orderly manner and abiding by the health and hygiene standards established by the Ministry of Health,” he added. The ships are supplied with food, water, and other products, services that are developed by the boats in the docks, repair services, tugs, maintenance, inspection, fuel supply and other services are still supplied

Among the security measures to protect the health of employees in the maritime sector from coronavirus, direct contact with the crew of ships arriving in the country is avoided, and only ships approved by the maritime authorities are served.

To offer their services, the personnel of the maritime companies use masks, gloves, alcohol gel, in addition to putting into practice other recommendations such as maintaining the recommended distance between people.

In the Panama Canal, where until last week there was a queue of more than 100 ships waiting to transit, the waiting time has been reduced from ten days to between four and five days, the entity reported.

lng_tanker_galea_018b69250b-733d-460c-921f-b411a63d3209originalTo transit by sea, a ship is required to report its conditions on board through the Single Maritime Window of Panama (VUMPA). In case of non-compliance or giving false information, it is subject to penalties and restrictions.

The ship must report to the Ministry of Health when there are changes in the crew of the ships in the last 14 days and that they come from ports in countries where Covid-19 cases have been reported.

According to the Panama Canal Authority, ships confirm through a form previously completed in the VUMPA with the 9 questions included in the Maritime Health Declaration. In order not to interrupt the maritime services provided canal.”

OK, English translations from Spanish sometimes read a little wonky, but you get the gist … the Canal is still open for business and making money big time.

But the rest of the country is pretty much closed.

When stay at home restrictions were first announced and non-essential businesses were closed, Panamanians did the sensible thing … they went to the beach!  Not exactly the idea.  So the government has imposed so-called “Sanitary Fences” closing all beaches,  even the little beach on the river on the way to David, off limits for all.  “Closed” means closed.  There is a 9 pm to 5 am curfew.  All businesses and stores are closed except for certain exemptions like food stores, pharmacies, hardware stores, bakeries and the like. In Chiriqui state, where I live, all alcoholic beverage sales are banned.  Lottery ticket sales are banned.  (Tickets are sold by lottery ticket sellers on the street in usualy very social encounters.)  Grocery stores are only open 7am to 7pm and only a limited number of customers are allowed inside at any time.  You must wait in lines, hopefully maintaining appropriate social distances.  Group gatherings, including churches, are banned.  Non-essential travel is forbidden.  The Indigenous comarca areas are off limits.  People are urged to maintain social distances and avoid even large family gtherings.  Temperate check points can be put into effect.  

copaAll travel in and out of Panama is banned, except, at least for the moment, people who are changing planes in Tocumen International Airport, but they cannot leave special secure areas.  Copa Airlines, Panama’s huge domestic and International Airline and the primary carrier that makes Tocumen the “Hub of the Americas” will suspend operations tomorrow, March 22 until April 22.

The government hopes to be able to limit the spread of the coronavirus pandemic in Panama although it realistically expects that it will take a while beofre the epidemic peaks and is making plans to be able to treat all those who become infected.

CORONAVIRUS HAND WASHPlease … stay well!  We are all in this together.

 

Dreaming Even In The Midst of Crisis

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READ THIS FIRST!  i’ve always liked WordPress … however, I guess to keep employed they keep making changes … so-called “improvements” that just muck things up!  They take something that was good and make it crap, forcing you to relearn what you have no desire to relearn.  I wanted to share this, so I will, but damn WordPress!

I was looking forward to a busy year ship-hopping, focusing on smaller, destination-driven itineries, which of course is now up in the air, as, it would seem, is most of life. But, things change.

For me this seems strangely like waking up to 9/11 and gradually discovered that everything had changed.  The company I worked for was greatly over-extended and needed to make radical adjustments and my position was eliminated. Fortunately for me, they hired me back as a consultant and paid me more, but things definitely had changed.

Now world-wide we’ve adjusted to long security lines at airports and the realities of a post-9/11 world.This, I fear, will be the new reality of a post-pandemic world.

But the world will survive, as will many of us.

Friends have asked what is happening in tiny, little Panama in all this. With the exception of our Canal, Panama doesn’t get a lot of coverage. Like the rest of the world we do have coronavirus. Not many cases, yet, but one is all you need.

Yes we are on a “shelter in place” regimen, severe for a country accustomed to enjoying and celebrating life, but not a complete lock down.This morning “our” airline, Copa (a Columbian/Panamanian operation that has been flying high providing a level of service even in coach reminiscent of the way flying used to be, and the primary airline serving Tocumen International Airport, the “Hub of The Americas” in Panama City, announced it was pullling in its wings in order to survive.  Copa is cutting 80% of it’s operations through the end of May.

>In the light of all of that, I appreciated receiving the following from Jackie Lang, whose Panama Relocation Tours has enabled hundreds of our neighbors to discover new lives in Panama.

Keep The Dream of Retiring in Panama Alive

covid virusLast week, Panama closed their borders to prevent the spread of the Covid-19 virus. The only people who can come in to Panama are Panamanians or foreigners who have a permanent residency Visa. And those who do come in must be in self-isolation for 14 days.

We’re not on total lockdown but everyone has been advised to stay home and practice self-isolation. That means you don’t invite friends or neighbors over or go walking around town.  You can still go to the grocery store if necessary.

As of March 18th, Panama has 86 cases and 1 death due to the Covid-19 virus.

Movie theaters, bars, malls, gyms, museums, etc were ordered to close. There can be no social gathering so the Friday Panama Relocation Tours Alumni Happy Hours have been cancelled. Even beaches are closed to the public.

Grocery stores are still open but only 50 people are allowed inside at any one time. No one is hoarding. There is still plenty of food and even toilet paper. Senior citizens get to go to the front of the line if there is one.

Pharmacies are still open too. Hardware stores are still open. Many workers are wearing masks and gloves and some shoppers are too. Masks are still for sale in pharmacies and hardware stores.

Restaurants that are still open can only offer take-out or home deliver service. No dine in service is allowed. Some restaurants have closed temporarily.

Yesterday, they put a ban on alcohol sales throughout Panama. People seem to be more upset over that than the virus. You cannot buy alcohol anywhere in Panama. I have one bottle of vinto tinto (red wine) which I’m saving for the day they announce the “all clear”!

We had to cancel Panama Relocation Tours through the first week in May. We hope it is resolved by then so we can resume tours by May 22.  Most of those who had a tour cancelled switched to a tour later in the year before those dates are completely sold out!  We’re still taking new reservations for 2020 and 2021 every day.

It all sounds drastic. And it is. We’re fighting an invisible enemy.

But it’s Panama’s way of stopping the virus in its tracks! I’m proud that Panama has been very proactive at trying to stop the spread of the virus. The Health Ministry (MINSA) and President are keeping us all informed with daily communications.

Panama is a great place to ride out a pandemic. The skies are blue. The weather is perfect. There is plenty of fresh vegetables and fresh fruits like pineapple and papaya readily available. And we have fresh fish from the Ocean.

You can still go outside and walk around but it’s advised to stay away from other people. Life is what it is right now, but it’s also what you make of it. My daughter is here with me and we’re starting a new gardening project and have started growing micro greens which are super high in nutrients to keep our immune systems strong.

Where ever you are in the world, we hope you’re safe and have enough food and toilet paper and wine/beer to ride out the storm too.

Panama is the IDEAL place to retire!

three lessons on retirementIn fact, when this is all over, retiring in Panama may be more important than ever because this pandemic could affect the economy in every country and the bank account of every person.  Your retirement income will go much further in Panama.

Panama is a much more affordable place to live than other countries. Little Panama, with only four million people, will bounce back faster and easier than North America or Europe.

With all the recommendations for social distancing, staying inside, businesses shut down, and no tours to keep me busy, it’s easy to lose that sense of a real-world community. You’re probably feeling a bit isolated too.

THE SOLUTION…

To keep you informed about what it’s like to live in Panama, I’ll be offering a FREE special Panama Expat Interview Call every Saturday during this Covid-19 pandemic. You’ll be able to connect with someone who already lives in Panama and learn what their life is like.

This Saturday, March 21 at 5pm CENTRAL (6pm Eastern, 4pm Mountain, 3pm Pacific) I’ll be interviewing an expat who lives in Panama for 45 minutes then we’ll open the call up for questions for my guest for 15 minutes.

CALL:  1-712-770-4160
ACCESS CODE:  120440#

Every week, we’ll interview a Panama expat who will share what it’s like to live in Panama, talk about where they live and why they picked that area, learn what they don’t like about Panama too, plus much more.

During this time of self-isolation, this will give you something to look forward to every week.

Even though you can’t jump on a plane to fly to Panama to go on a Panama Relocation Tour right now, you can still stay informed about how you can live better for less in Panama with our weekly Panama Expat Interviews.

During our special Panama Expat Interview Call, you’ll be able to connect with someone who already lives in Panama. You can learn why they moved to Panama, what their life is like in Panama and much more.  On Facebook, I’ll even post photos of where they live and their views so you can see what it’s like to live in beautiful Panama.

Please join us this Saturday, March 21st to connect with a Panama Expat during our one-hour Conference Call which starts at 5pm Central.

The current Covid-19 situation will be over soon.  Don’t let it get you down.

Even though borders are closing all over the world, we can still stay connected in our virtual community through our FACEBOOK page, by email, and during our weekly Panama Expat Interview Calls.

Keep your dream of retiring in Panama alive.

As Quoted in FORBES

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Among other topics, FORBES has always focused on retirement concerns and destinations that offer particular advantages to US retirees.  William P Barrett covers retirement for FORBES including their annual Best Places To Retire Abroad.

The Best Places To Retire Abroad In 2020

“When Richard Detrich and his wife, Nikki Steele, started contemplating where to retire, they went about it methodically. The couple had already agreed to move abroad. Next, they each drew up a list of the 15 most important factors to them and then compared notes. Turned out their lists were pretty similar. The Ventura, California, residents both wanted to live in a place with warm weather and a lower cost of living that was convenient for their adult children to visit. The new home also had to be in a country that had a stable government and economy and whose residents were welcoming to newcomers. After poring over lots of data, the pair settled on Boquete, Panama, a mountain town near the narrow country’s western border with Costa Rica. Fifteen years later, they still live in that same town they selected all those years ago. “It’s worked out,” says Detrich, now 77.

“More Americans like Detrich and Steele have been retiring abroad in recent years. The U.S. Social Security Administration, for instance, now sends 700,000 checks a month to foreign addresses, up about 40% over the past decade, with the most checks going to Canada. To compile our recommended roster of hot spots to retire, we considered a variety of factors, some of which were the same as Detrich and Steele.  Among them: cost of living; quality and cost of local healthcare; overall safety; political stability; taxes (which in many places can be a burden); local hospitality; weather, food, culture; and how easy it is to get by speaking only English.  We also took into account how hard it is to get permission to stay. Generally, a would-be expat retiree has to complete a ton of paperwork and show steady retirement income (of varying amounts) from sources such as Social Security, pensions and retirement accounts. Canada has made it nearly impossible for retirees without relatives there to gain permanent residency, but it remains on our list because it is still popular with retirees who can spend six months a year there.”

What follows is a smorgasboard of beautiful and delightful places in the world for retirees.  Frankly many of these are some of my favorite places that I’ve visited and lectured about for years.  I’ve done two world cruises, and lectured on over 300 ports worldwide, and all of these are fantastic places to visit, and some I’d consider very attractive retirement spots as well … depending.

“Depending” on what?

Well it depends on you, what you are looking for and what your needs are in retirement.  A second article helps you sort through what you need as well as what you want.

Considering A Retirement Abroad? Here Are Some Factors To Weigh

With 700,000 U.S. Social Security checks a month now going to folks living abroad, foreign retirement is no longer an odd or terribly unusual proposition. But as with many major life decisions, deciding to pick up and leave these shores requires considerable thought and planning.   

“This much is certain: In many places it’s possible to maintain a higher standard of living at a lower cost than in the U.S. And for your money, you can also get such benefits as breathtaking scenery, beaches, terrific weather, great food and riveting culture.

“But there are also potential drawbacks, including taxes (sometimes high, always complicated); healthcare (Medicare can’t be used abroad); getting back to see relatives (not all attractive locales have a quick or even direct flight back to the states); and social isolation (particularly if you chose a place where English isn’t widely spoken and you’re not fluent in the dominant language). There’s also the matter of getting permission to stay permanently in that foreign haven of your dreams.

“It’s a lot to sort out. To give you a big head start on your research, Forbes presents its new list: The Best Places to Retire Abroad in 2020. The list, which is in alphabetical order based on country name, is here. In putting it together, we considered all the issues described above, and more.

“Richard Detrich, and his wife, Nikki Steele, wrestled with these issues more than a decade ago as they contemplated a foreign retirement. They lived in Ventura, California, a distant coastal suburb of Los Angeles that was pretty enough but expensive as hell and full of traffic. Detrich, then in his early 60s, grew up in the Midwest and on the East Coast and had had a varied career: pastor, travel agency operator, fitness chain Web guru and real estate agent, augmented by an M.B.A. from California State University Northridge. Steele, for her part, had run for years a government program dealing with teenage moms and dads. “My wife and I reached the point one day when we decided you have to cash in your chips,” Detrich recalls.

“The couple quickly decided to move abroad. But where? Methodical by nature, they separately drew up lists of the most important factors in making that decision. They then compared notes. It turned out their lists were pretty similar. A warm climate, a lower cost of living (not hard to find when compared to California), convenient to visits by grown children still in the States, a stable government and economy, and a culture accepting of folks from other cultures.

“That narrowed their list down a lot. They focused on Costa Rica, the U.S. Virgin Islands and Panama. They chose Panama for several reasons: It was outside normal hurricane zones, and Detrich and his wife had been there before. Plane trips from the U.S. were short and affordable. The weather was warm but not especially tropical.

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My interpretation of “smart casual” dress code when I am at home

“They didn’t speak much Spanish but found they could get around. So they took the plunge in 2004, moving to Boquete, a small lush, scenic mountain town in the western part of the country near the Costa Rican border that’s now popular with American retirees. Ignoring the usual advice given to expats in most places to rent rather than buy, they bought a house. “I don’t recommend doing that,” Detrich says now, “but it’s worked out.”

[NB: I recommend people try on a place, renting first, but THEN BUYING.  What I’ve observed in Boquete is the people who have bought have made … like the story of the pig and the chicken talking about breakfast menus … a commitment, whereas many of the people who just rent are making a donation.  The folks who become the backbone of the expat community and are involved in all kinds of projects serving our community are those who have bought and are committed.  Some of those who just rent are here to take all that they can get in terms of experience, sun and fun, and when they tire they just pick up and move on to the next place.  That may work with bars and beaches, but it doesn’t make any contribution to the town if you just come stay a while, take what you can, and then move on. RD]

“In 2010, he started blogging about living in Panama at richarddetrich.com. That same year he published a retirement guide, Escape to Paradise: Living & Retiring in Panama. In 2017 he brought out a second edition, The New Escape to Paradise: Panama Q & A. These efforts (the blog carries ads for Panama real estate. [Correction here: the blog does not carry ads for “Panama real estate” just MY real estate for sale] bring in a little revenue, which Detrich, now 77, supplements by operating a small coffee farm and working several months a year as a lecturer on local topics aboard cruise ships around the world. But despite the Panama Canal, “I have to fly to other countries” to catch the boats, he says.  

“Panama is one of 25 countries we recommend on five continents and some islands. For each of the 25, we list several inviting locales (including Detrich’s home of Boquete)—a total of 65 recommended places in all. While U.S. expats tend to congregate in specific areas, there are usually many more possibilities that can be discovered with a little due diligence on the Internet.

“One plus of most of the countries on our list: Good medical care and health insurance is available at a cost so far below U.S. price levels that private insurance or even out-of-pocket payments can replace Medicare without bankrupting you. Several countries, including Uruguay and Italy, even allow expats to join their national health care systems under certain circumstances.

“As noted, Medicare can’t be used in foreign countries. But it actually is available in one venue that made our list: the U.S. Virgin Islands, which is an American territory. Medicare is also an option for retirees close enough to drive or fly back from countries like Canada, Mexico, Aruba, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Belize and Panama.

“In assembling the list, we looked at a number of factors in addition to healthcare. These include overall cost of living, ease of gaining the right to stay, climate, culture, things to do, political stability, crime, ease of traveling back to the U.S. and whether you can get by speaking only English.   

“Another issue we looked at is taxes. Frankly, the tax situation for Americans living abroad is not great. Unlike most other countries, the U.S. taxes its citizens on their income no matter where they live, so there’s no break there. The country of foreign residence, of course, has its own taxes, often at higher rates. U.S. tax law allows U.S. filers to take a foreign tax credit against U.S. taxes for certain tax payments made to other countries, but this is somewhat limited.     

“The U.S. has tax treaties with most of the countries on the list and these treaties provide some protection against double taxation, or taxation of the same income by both the U.S. and the country of residence. The Internal Revenue Service website, irs.gov, provides guidance as well as a list of tax treaties in effect.

006“A handful of countries on our list, including Australia, Costa Rica, Malaysia, Panama, the Philippines and Uruguay, don’t tax any foreign income of expat retirees, while several others, including Colombia, Dominican Republic, France and Thailand, don’t tax pension and Social Security payments. Regardless, expect to pay more for tax preparation assistance and advice on such issues as reporting foreign accounts to the Treasury.

“Overall political stability is another important issue, and it can change from year to year. Chile, Ecuador, Nicaragua and Peru made some previous Forbes lists of places to retire abroad, but aren’t not on the list now due to unrest in key places, such as the capitals. On the other hand, we now include Colombia and Croatia, which not so long ago had big problems. Similar to the U.S., many countries on this list have safer places and those to avoid. In Mexico, some of the border cities are questionable, while the Philippines has unrest in a remote province.

“A key issue, of course, is what it takes as an American retiree to gain the right to live in a foreign country. Most of the countries on this list allow foreign retirees to settle there upon a showing of adequate income resources, such as pensions, Social Security and retirement accounts, or overall net worth. That adequate income can range from a minimal amount—$15,600 a year for two in Cyprus—to more than $100,000 in places like Ireland. Australia looks for a net worth topping $600,000.

“In some countries, family connections to the country, such as a grandparent born there, are a big help. That works in Ireland. Canada currently makes it very hard for an American retiree without close family living in Canada to move there. But our northern neighbor allows American tourists to stay for six months a year with few questions asked, raising the possibility of simply splitting retirement between the U.S. and Canada.   

“But personal resources are hardly the only issue. Every country has procedures that have to be followed. Paperwork frequently has to be translated into the main language of the country. Some countries specify that an application first be filed with the country’s U.S. embassy, while others require the paperwork to be filed once the retiree arrives in the country on a tourist visa. The website of the country’s U.S. embassy often has helpful information. Some expats retain a lawyer to handle the process.

“The initial permission to stay beyond a tourist visa is generally granted for a limited period of, say, a year or two, with the possibility of renewals and, eventually, something similar to permanent residence. 

“Using a tourist visa to stay as long as possible—most countries allow at least three months—on a first look to get the lay of the land is an excellent way of scoping out what might become a future home. It is often possible to rent an apartment on a short-term lease. That could lead to a longer-term rental, since most Americans end up renting, not buying a home. Buying property in a foreign country can entail all kinds of issues, and in some places is hard to do. There are other issues too; for example, Belize has had problems with fraudulent land sales to Americans.

“Expats retiring to a foreign country generally have to show proof of medical insurance, which is a smart thing to have, even without a mandate. Coverage can be identified from such sources as  the Association of Americans Resident Overseas and Medibroker. Reflecting the lower cost of healthcare abroad, rates are generally reasonable, but finding coverage for some pre-existing conditions can be tricky.

“A crucial warning: Even if you’re retiring abroad, make sure you enroll in Medicare Part A when you turn 65. It covers hospital care in the U.S. and it’s free. But also pay premiums for Medicare Part B, which covers doctors and other outpatient services. (Part B premiums for 2020 start at $144.30 but can be a lot higher based on income). Why pay for something you’re not using? You might come back some day. If you decline Medicare Part B now and later return, you can be hit with a late enrollment penalty equal to 10% for each year you would have been paying premiums. 

“Due diligence, of course, is the key to any move. The internet and social media have made this a lot easier. Facebook, for example, hosts scores of groups for expats in specific countries. If a group for a location you’re interested in is closed, ask to join and then fire away with questions about the nitty gritty—cost of living, crime, banking issues, ease of bringing personal property such as a car, and so on. Expats tend to be a helpful bunch, particularly when it comes to sharing information.

“Not on Facebook? Turn to Google. For example, a search earlier this month on “expat blogs in Portugal” produced more than 500,000 hits. One blog, Portugalist, run by an expat couple, had recent and useful posts on getting the best rate sending money to Portugal and traveling around the country on bus.”

FORBES is a great resource and you’ll find Barrett’s articles to be informative and helpful as you think about your own plans.  Barrett has written for FORBES since 1987. covering personal finance, taxes, retirement, nonprofits, scandals and other topics.

Boquete Panama Estate For Sale $598,000

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4,500 sq ft (418 sq m) Tuscan-inspired 3 BR, 3.5 baths

Library, indoor/outdoor fireplace, privacy, just 10 minutes from the bustle of downtown Boquete on paved road, in a small Panamanian & expat community and just 35 minutes from David.

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Tired of the noise, conflict, threats, and hassle?  Time to escape? Here is a peaceful slice of paradise above Boquete in the Chiriqui Mountains of Panama nestled in a private tropical landscape of tropical flowers,  fruit trees (lemon, orange, avocado, banana, plantain, coffee), private trails, seasonal creek, mountain views, private driveway lined with Royal Palm trees.

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This approximately 4,500 sq ft Tuscan-inspired 3 bedroom, 3.5 bath home includes a high-ceiling living room with double-sided river rock fireplace opening out on to an expansive terrace/porch which overlooks the small valley below.  The living room opens into a dining room and a kitchen with granite counter tops and Burmese Cherry cabinets.  The open concept extends out to a huge terrace/porch ideal for entertaining. It has been called “the most beautiful house in Boquete.” The home is all one level … no steps and the master bath features a large, light-filled walk-in shower.

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The open concept extends out to a huge terrace/porch ideal for entertaining.

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The beautiful property is about 3.5 acres, all planted in Arabica coffee (Caturra & Bourbon), with loads of banana, plantain, orange and other fruit trees.  The house is set back from the paved road on a driveway lined with beautiful Royal Palm trees which typically don’t grow in this area.  It is very private, no next door neighbors, and in the quebrada there is a seasonal little stream where the blue morpho butterflies like to hang out.  Put some bananas or oranges out and in an hour you will have eight different species of birds at the bird feeder!

At the entrance to the property is a small casita, about 900 sq ft, which we rent, but could also be used for a caretaker.  There is a container for storage,  a deposito for additional storage,  and an area covered with clear roof for drying coffee.

Purchase directly from the owners $598,000.

SELRES_47ecc9a6-54f0-4250-a4ac-4a764b7a6260SELRES_47ecc9a6-54f0-4250-a4ac-4a764b7a6260RichardDetrich@yahoo.com – Skype: richard.detrich – In Panama:  Nikki 507-6808-4833 – Richard 507-6966-0006 – US 707-243-3454

If you are in Panama or planning a house hunting trip or would like to schedule a visit, please let us know.  You do not need to use a real estate agent in Panama, all you need is an attorney who you trust to look after your interests.  If you do wish for whatever reason to use a real estate agent, we will pay the agent the “selling commission” of 2.5%.  [Commissions are generally 5%, 2.5% to the ‘listing agent” and 2.5% to the “selling agent.”]

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Coffee Havest Time

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Walk-through Videos 

Palmira Estate Drone 3

17 Things You Should Know About Panama

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One decision awayEach day you make a myriad of decisions, some little and some grand, that will determine what your life will be like.  You decide to let everything remain as it is, or you decide to make some changes to recreate your life and your future.  If you are happy with your life, where you are and what surrounds you, why change?  If you’re not happy, or you suspect that there is more to life, why not make a change?

If you are thinking about an ex-pat lifestyle, maybe thinking about moving to Panama, there are some things that you should know.  Here are 17 Things You Should Know About Panama.

Ten Reasons To Retire In Panama

I’ve had the pleasure to lunch with Bob Adams several times in Panama City along with the Panama Relocation Tour. Bob loves his life in the hustle and bustle of Panama City. He writes a great blog called Retirement Wave. Adams says, Call it the “Baby Boom” or a “demographic explosion”, every day a wave of tens of millions of Americans and Europeans move one day closer to retirement. Retirement should be a stress-free period in our lives, but it has become stress-ridden. We worry that we won’t have enough money to take care of ourselves. We worry that we will be a burden on others in our society if there is not enough money to support our government’s social programs for retirees. We worry that if the social programs fail, we will be a burden to our children. We worry about being old in a world of terrorism, unable to protect ourselves. These are all fears that weigh heavily on us as we plan for retirement. Worse yet, they are fears we know we will continue to face once we are actually retired. This is much too negative for what should be a positive period in our lives. It could be positive if only there was a practical way to protect ourselves, avoid being a burden to others, and perhaps even make a small contribution to reducing global tensions. There is.

Bob, I, and many others have found a way to do that by retiring in Panama. Here’s Bob Adams “10 Reasons to Retire in Panama” . .

Why retire in Panama? Here’s the short version based on my observations and experience following forty-five years of living and working all over the world.

panama flag1) It’s a democracy with freedom.

Freedom of the press, assembly, speech, and religion are all found here. Panamanians are not shy about sharing their feelings and their concerns. Elections are free, honest, and competitive.

2) There’s no military.

Following the dramatic end of General Noriega’s regime in 1989, Panamanians decided they would never again fear that a military general would become a dictator. They closed down the military. The national police force is just that, a police force, and the territorial integrity of Panama is guaranteed by the United States. They don’t need a military and they have the good sense to know it.

3) They have the Panama Canal…and more.

The Panama Canal does far more than provide 10% of Panama’s GDP (Gross Domestic Product – the total economy). Unlike many small nations that depend on tourism or some natural resource whose price varies depending on the market, the Panama Canal provides Panama with a large, steady, dependable income and will continue to for years to come. It also provides thousands of well-paid jobs for Panamanians. A multi-year, $5.2 billion expansion of the Panama Canal currently underway will add thousands more jobs. These are jobs that pay a great deal more than picking coffee beans or waiting on tourists. And the money from Panama Canal fees reaches out to touch people and businesses everywhere in the country. But there is more than the Canal to Panama. Unlike many other Latin American nations, agriculture plays an important, but relatively small role in the economy. International banking, maritime services, manufacturing, and shipping combine to provide more jobs and tax revenue than the Panama Canal. Panama is also home to the second-largest free trade zone in the world (Hong Kong is the largest) which has had a dramatic impact on the economy, employing twice as many people as the Canal. Panama’s economy is far more modern and service-oriented than you might expect. This means stability not only for Panamanians, but for those of us who retire there.

4) Panama has a thriving middle class.

With the Panama Canal and a number of other established sources of income as mentioned above, Panama’s middle class is growing. As Americans and Europeans know from their own experience, a healthy middle class is the foundation for a stable economy and a secure democracy. You don’t have to search for the middle class in Panama, you can find them everywhere.

5)  North Americans and Europeans are welcome.

I am struck by the fact that North Americans and Europeans are not looked at with awe nor are they disliked. Another contribution of the Panama Canal has been the introduction of hundreds of thousands of people from all over the world to Panama over the years, including tens of thousands of  US Americans assigned to support the Canal before its turn-over to Panama in 1999. Panamanians are perfectly comfortable with people from other nations. They’ve lived with them for decades and many of their “visitors” remained to become residents. English is widely-understood and also spoken by many of those who deal regularly with expatriates, although many Panamanians are hesitant to speak it at first, for fear of embarrassment, as is so often the case in reverse! In that regard, Spanish language instruction is readily and inexpensively available.

6) The currency is the US dollar.

There are two benefits to this. For Americans and others with dollars, there is no need for currency exchange or to worry about exchange rates. The Panamanian Constitution forbids the government from printing paper currency. Thus a second benefit is that, unlike most nations, the Panamanian government cannot just turn on the printing presses when it wants more money. Panamanians have to earn their currency from the world market through hard work and intelligence. There is none of the wild inflation that has plagued so many Latin American nations.

7) The climate and surroundings are beautiful.

Panama is basically a mountain range bordered by beautiful Panama beaches. However, these are not cold, barren mountains. They are “soft”, rounded volcanic Panamanian mountains and the volcanic soil provides an excellent base for lush vegetation. If you prefer a tropical climate, you won’t be disappointed on either the Atlantic or Pacific coasts. If, like me, you prefer a more temperate climate with easy access to the Panama beaches (it’s almost impossible to be more than an hour’s drive from a Panama beach; 30 minutes is more common), move up the mountainside and you’ll find it. The flowers, trees, birds and other animal life are varied and many are strikingly beautiful. It’s what you would expect in that part of the world and Panamanians are doing a decent job of protecting their environment, far more so than many nearby nations. Eco-tourism is a growing industry in Panama and for good reason.

8) The cost of living in Panama can be much less than in the US or Europe.

How much you will save by living in Panama will be determined both by the amount you spend in your home nation and the lifestyle you choose in Panama. There’s such a great variety among expatriates that it’s impossible to tell you how much you’ll save, but if you have any desire to spend less, you will find it far easier in Panama than in North America or Europe. Folks from low-cost rural areas express astonishment at how much cheaper it is to live comfortably in Panama. Those from higher-cost urban areas will save less, but they seem to have one thing in common: they live comfortably, cut their expenses, and save money. It’s always been a reason to relocate to Panama and it remains a big one today, but the final result for you will depend on your lifestyle. Panama has room for a very wide range of tastes and lifestyles.

9) The people of Panama are just plain friendly and a pleasure to know.

The factors above and others unmentioned in this “short” description leave Panamanians among the most pleasant, relaxed people I’ve ever met. They are more cosmopolitan and sophisticated than many who live in wealthier nations as a result of their long-term exposure to a wide variety of international visitors and Canal users. There are poor people in Panama, but there is none of the grinding, desperate poverty that is so common in much of the world. I have worked in poorer nations all over the globe for more than four decades. There are poor people here, but nothing to compare to the grinding poverty found elsewhere. International financial institutions rank Panama in the “upper-middle income” category and that sums it up well.

10) If you want to retire, Panama wants you.

All of the above makes retiring in Panama an excellent choice for retirement, but here are some very direct incentives. As a pensionado [retiree] in Panama, you receive:

  • 50% discount at most recreational, movie, and sporting events
  • 30% discount off public transportation (including buses and ships)
  • 25% discount off Copa airline flights
  • 50% discount off hotel stays on weekdays (30% on weekends)
  • 25% discount at selected restaurants
  • 15% discount at fast food restaurants
  • 10% discount off prescription drugs
  • 20% discount on doctor’s visits
  • 15% discount on dental work
  • 25% discount on your electric bill (if less than $50)
  • 25% discount on your telephone and water bills.
  • In addition, you can bring in all your household goods free of taxes and import a new car every two years for private use.

All that is required to qualify as a pensionado is that you must be in good health, AIDS-free, have an up-to-date passport from your country of citizenship and a verifiable monthly pension income of at least $1000 per month for an individual, $1250 for a couple, plus $250 for each additional dependent, if any. Foreigners who become pensionados can buy and own Panama property and enjoy exactly the same rights and protections as Panamanians, not always the case in many nations and an important point people often forget to consider. As for income taxes, you will be pleased to know that in Panama you pay no taxes on income earned outside of Panama.

Panama is not paradise, no nation is. Panama is still a relatively young nation and has its growing pains, but it’s made a great deal of progress already and it’s headed in the right direction. For the rest of us who are not Panamanians, it is a nation where we can live comfortably for much less money and far less stress than we have come to expect in our own societies. Best of all, we are “good” immigrants. We save money living in Panama, but we also bring with us the money that creates jobs and opens possibilities for Panamanians they would not have otherwise. They know that and so we are genuinely welcome.

Many would say “beautiful”, but if I had to choose one word to describe Panama, it would be “comfortable”. In this crazy world full of fear of terrorism and fear of not having enough money to pay the bills, that’s a description of a good place to retire.

VideoHere’s my take on the going on 16 years that we have lived an expat retirement in Panama.  Click and enjoy!

Now, the warnings …

Seven Reasons NOT To Move To Panama 

Reason #1 Not to Move to Panama: To escape the long arm of the law.  Panama is not the place to run to if you are looking to escape illegal activity in your home  country.  You will get caught!  You will spend some time in a Panamanian jail – and anything you have at home is better! – and you will be extradited back to your home country to face the music.   So con artists, murderers, child molesters, thieves and crooks take note!  The new hand-held “Pele Police” that Panamanian police have are linked to Interpol and US and other data bases.  If you have a bench warrant in the US, and  you’re stopped for a traffic violation in Panama, you may be headed home, after a week to several months in a Panamanian jail.

Reason #2 Not to Move to Panama: To run your Ponzi scheme off shore.  We had some folks who lived near us in Valle Escondido who promised amazing returns on investment; far more than anything you could make elsewhere.  Their scheme unraveled when they decided to buy some “blood diamonds” and send what they claimed was, I don’t know, say $30,000 worth of diamonds, shipped to their young child (if you can believe that level of scum) and when customs opened the package and discovered something like $150,000 worth of illegal diamonds – oops!  The scheme started to  unravel and they moved on.

Reason #3 Not to Move to Panama: To launder money or escape paying US taxes.  Panama never was a real “tax haven” for US citizens because the US, in its infinite greed, has, unlike many civilized countries, decided that Uncle Sam wants your money wherever you happen to live in the world.  So even if  you lived in Panama, as a US citizen you need to go through all the hassle of IRS paperwork and declare income and file returns.    And just to make sure you do, the IRS has opened an office in Panama City.  Not, mind you to assist expats who want to comply, but to search out those who aren’t paying what the IRS says you owe.  And if you think the IRS, and the tons of accountants and paperwork and tax provider software it spawns, is a major part of the “problem” that’s causing the collapse of the US, you may be right.

Of course if your permanent dwelling is outside the US, and you aren’t in the US more than 30 days a year, you can take advantage of a significant deduction of over $90K per person for income earned outside the US.  That’s earned income, not passive, investment or pension income.  And Panama doesn’t tax you for income earned outside Panama.  [You tax accountant, those people who make their living off the IRS, can give you details.]

Reason #4 Not to Move to Panama: chill, drink Balboa beer and lay in the hammock.  If you’re retiring and want an easy, no-challenge life, go to an assisted living complex and sit in a rocking chair, drink beer and watch TV and talk with the other folks.  Panama is for folks who aren’t ready to “give up” but are eager for new experiences, new adventures, new challenges, learning tons of new stuff, new language, new ways of doing things, new culture!  If you want an adventure and to stretch your life and mind, this is the place!

Reason #5 Not to Move to Panama: it’s cheap.  Well in many ways it is, or rather may be, depending on where  you are coming from.  We moved down to Panama from the Ventura-Santa Barbara “Gold Coast” of California and it is much cheaper here.  Are there places in the US where you can get more house for your money and the cost of living may be the same, or even a little cheaper than Panama?  Of course!  Try Phoenix, Bakersfield, Las Vegas, Western Pennsylvania and there are a lot more.  Nothing against those places, but they are not for me.  For many people you can live very well, make that VERY well in Panama for less than places in the US with attractive climate, etc.  Sure, Texas may be cheaper – if you like Texas.

Reason #6 Not to Move to Panama: it’s a lot like the US.  No way Jose!  If you like the US, stay there!  If you like where you are living don’t move.  Panama is different and that’s why it is attractive to many people who like different!  It is a different country with a different lifestyle,  different culture, different way of governance, different systems, yada yada.  Yes, sometimes the differences will drive you nuts!   But it can also be stimulating, challenging and fun.

Reason #7 Not to Move to Panama: to make a killing.  A lot of folks came down here from the US to make a fast buck.  It doesn’t work that way folks – anywhere!  The joke here is, “How do you get a million dollars in Panama?”   The answer, “Come to Panama with two million dollars.”  Yes, like anywhere else, there is opportunity, lots of it.  But it takes work and time to create anything.  There is no fast way to success in business or quick way to make a lot of money.  If  it were, everyone would do it.   If you come to Panama for the long haul, make a commitment, follow the rules, work hard and stick with the program, yes, you can create a good business and make some money, but forget it if you’re coming here to make a quick buck or live off the land.

I keep saying, “Panama is not for everyone” but for us it has been a wonderful adventure.   Yes, there are folks, and some of them I’m happy to say are contributors here, who tried it and it wasn’t for them.  So, now they know.  Maybe some of them didn’t really do their homework or analyze all the challenges they would face in a new culture.  Read their comments and read the stuff from the folks who promote Panama as the Promised Land.  Study, analyze not just Panama but yourself and then make a decision.

For us the real reason for moving to Panama is that our lifestyle is better, more fun, and more adventurous for less than in the US.

Expat Living in Panama

Featured

So who is relocating to Panama?  Here is a country with a booming economy, no military, a thriving democracy without great divisions, spectacular beauty, and fabulous weather.  Who wouldn’t want to live as an expat in Panama?  People from the United States, Canada, Britain, Europe, the Middle East, South Africa, China, Venezuela … are all considering moving to Panama.  But it’s not a move you want to jump into without doing a lot of research.

Living In PanamaNext  month we will begin our sixteenh year in Panama.  After al these years living in Panama, writing and blogging,  I’ve had a lot to say and there is a lot of great and helpful information, so browse around.

Here are just some of the great links …

Reasons to Consider Panama

10 Reasons to Retire in Panama

Best Places to Retire in Panama

Retirement 2.0

Panama: More Than A Canal

Seven Reasons NOT to Move to Panama

Ten Reasons to Retire in Panama

What does it cost to live in Panama?

Living In Panama: Is It For You?

Panama Relocation Tours Web site has a wealth of information and the tour is a good way to check out Panama and begin your due diligence. This one is NOT a real estate tour, not just sitting in a conference room in Panama City with folks trying to sell you things or paid presenters promoting “investment opportunities.” It’s a boots on the ground tour that will help you realistically determine if you should consider relocating to Panama.

Tour Our Boquete Mountain Estate

Life on A Boquete Coffee Farm During Harvest

Let Me Save You Thousands, Even Hundreds of Thousands of Dollars

Volcan, the Swiss Alps in Panama

Blowing Smoke or Telling It Like It Is

Do you need to speak Spanish?

This is NOT North America

Medical Care In Panama

Panama’s Indigenous Peoples

Boquete

Richard’s Spiced Rum

13 Things the Offshore Gurus Will NOT Tell You About Panama

More About Medical Care in Panama

How to Be A Good Expat

Maps

Videos About Expat Life in Panama

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You are welcome to join us in paradise!

 BookCoverPreviewOften called “the best book about living and retiring in Panama” my book THE NEW ESCAPE TO PARADISE: OUR EXPERIENCE LIVING & RETIRING IN PANAMA is a must read.

What folks say about ESCAPE TO PARADISE

“He answers questions that the other literature I read failed to ask, much less answer. His approach is far from lofty or detached. It’s like you’re both sitting at the breakfast table sharing conversation with a little wit here and an off-hand comment there: none of it a waste, but a nice easy way to give you the information.” Bob Little

“We gathered several publications, attended a conference and been to Boquete twice, but Escape To Paradise is by far the most useful book we have read so far.” Bob Milligan

“ I really enjoyed making the list of 15 things we wanted in our place of residence. Great exercise! This has honestly been more helpful to me than any other expat book I’ve read.” Lusk Meier

“Richard tells it exactly like it is … how I wish this wonderful tool were available before we moved here. It would have saved a lot of frustration trying to figure it all out for ourselves.” Kathy Donelson

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