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.

“Shut the **** up Cortana & Alexa!”

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We all know how the marvels of modern technlogy assist us and make our lives easier with automated  voices that won’t shut up and you can’t turn off, insult, or offend.  And also how when you are busy writing a message on Whatsap it helpfully finishes words for you, or after you think you’ve got it perfect, goes in and switches things around …

So Werner, one of my helpful friends who knows I’m struggling with limited supplies of “Vitamin R” [our state being “dry” to help fighting coronavirus … not sure how that works.  It seems to me that if alcohol cleans the germs off your hands, injesting it only makes sense, but nobody asked me] Whatsapped me the following message and advice:

“Heard a Dr on TV say to get through the boredom of self isolation we should finish things we start and thus have more calm in our lives.  So I looked through the house to find all the things I started but haven’t finished … So I finished off a bottle of Merlot, a bottle of Chardonnay, a bottle of Baileys, a butle [a yes, thank you Whatsap for the codrrection!] of wyn [see previous comment], the mainder of Valiunum scriptuns, a a box of chocletz.  Yu haf no idr how feckin fablus I feel rite now.  Sned this to all who need inner piss.  An telum u luvum!”

Happy total quarantine!

4pm Palmira Panama

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.

Upcoming . . .

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Just back from leading a great ROAD SCHOLAR program through Central America and the Panama Canal … and working on my next assignment.

I’ve grown tired of long-haul flights, and looking forward to spending this year close to home, enjoying the wonders of North America.  And I have moved more and more to smaller, port-focused and all-inclusive ships.  I enjoy being able to meet and get to know the guests who, on these type of voyages, are generally well-travelled, well-educated and who have had fascinating lives.

You are welcome to join me!

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CANCELLED April 11, 2020 – American Cruise Line, AMERICAN SPIRIT, Puget Sound & San Juan Islands

CANCELLED April 18, 2020 –  American Cruise Line, AMERICAN SPIRIT, Puget Sound & San Juan Islands

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CANCELLED May 8, 2020 – Pearl Seas Cruises, PEARL MIST, Maine Coast & Canadian Harbors

May 15, 2020 – Pearl Seas Cruises, PEARL MIST,Maine Coast & Canadian Harbors

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July 4 2020 – American Cruise Liine, AMERICAN PRICE, Columbia & Snake Rivers

July 19, 2020 – American Cruise Line, QUEEN OF THE WEST, Columbia & Snake Rivers

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August 6, 2020 – Pearl Seas Cruises, PEARL MIST, Great Lakes & Georgian Bay

August 17, 2020 – Pearl Seas Cruises,  PEARL MIST,  Great Lakes & Georgian Bay

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September 18, 2020 – American Cruise Line, AMERICAN PRIDE, Columbia & Snake Rivers

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October 13, 2020 – Pearl Seas Cruises,  PEARL MIST, Maine Coast & Canadian Harbors

October 20, 2020 – Pearl Seas Cruises, ,PEARL MIST,  Maine Coast & Canadian Harbors

October 30, 2020 – Pearl Seas Cruises,  PEARL MIST,  Historic Treasures of The East Coast

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.”]

More Aerial Views

Rental Cottage, Guest House or Caretaker Cottage and other Out-buildings

Coffee Havest Time

Retirement 2.0

Boquete Panama Home for Sale Fav Pics

Walk-through Videos 

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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

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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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The Arc of The Moral Universe

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“The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice,” was Martin Luther King’s off-quoted paraphrase of part of sermon in 1853 by a Unitarian, abolitionist preacher, Theodore Parker.  There is truth to that if you believe that God is sovereign, in control and has a plan.  But the assumption cannot be that the arc bends toward justice on it’s own.  Retired Attorney General Eric Holder said, “the arc bends toward justice, but it only bends toward justice because people pull it towards justice. It doesn’t happen on its own.”

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One of many, many prayer requests for justice in this case. This one stuck in the “Wailing Wall” in Jerusalem, 2011

So it goes.  And when I get to Heaven and join what I’m sure will be a very long line of people with questions, mine will be, “Respectfully, why?  Why does everything take so long?” So we have to push, pull, work, vote, struggle and wait.  Often we are disappointed, frustrated, angered by delay.

We pray for justice and when all we seem to get is “Your prayer is very important to us.  We are busy with other problems, bute be certain that your prayer is heard,” 

K24820

I have known Brandon Hein probably longer than anyone except his family and high school friends. I was an associate minister at the United Methodist Church of Westlake Village when I received a prayer request from a family visiting our church. It said, “Please pray for our son, Brandon Hein, who has been sentenced to life in prison without possibility of parole.”

Of course I visited the family and heard their story. My background includes pastoring a church in the South Bronx in the ‘60s, working as a volunteer clergyman in New York City prisons, and directing a drug rehabilitation program, so I was skeptical from the start. Brandon was in the process of being transferred from LA County to “State Property” and his family wanted me to visit. Before I visited him, I wanted to dig more deeply into the story and his family provided me with court documents, piles of clippings, etc. Still skeptical, but using my position as a clergyman, I went to visit Brandon.

Brandon

Prison Polaroid

I’ll never forget when Brandon was ushered into the attorney visiting room, legs and arms in shackles and dressed in an orange jumpsuit. Immature, scared and facing a life in prison, although 18, he barely looked 16. That was the first of many visits. Brandon and I became friends and I’ve watched him through the years grow into a man whose courage, discipline, maturity and positive faith in spite of everything has been an inspiration to me. Dr. Robert Schuller would have described Brandon in terms of “tough times never last, but tough people do.”

Brandon’s crime was essentially being at the wrong place at the wrong time when another young man started a fight which resulted in the death of another teenager, all of whom were illegally using marijuanna at the time.  Under California’s Felony Murder Rule aggressive prosecutors were able to charge not just the boy who had stabbed the deceased, but everyone who had been there.  Thankfully, this horribly unjust rule was repealed by California last year, and as a result the State faces a tremendous backlog of cases that need to be reviewed and in some cases relitigated.

Brandon has been in prison since 1995.  He has developed into an incredibly talented artist, improved and educated himself, volunteered and helped to create programs in prison to improve institutional life and to help other inmates adjust, cope, and catch a vision of a positive lifestyle and future. Both inside and through his friends outside, he has shared his “Heinsight.”

If you ask folks who they most respect and admire they usually pick an athlete, historical figure, politician, usually a person of note. I would pick a friend in prison … K24820 … Brandon Hein.

I have watched Brandon not just do time, but grow through the challenge, evidencing the personal, emotional and mental maturing that Nelson Mandela spoke of: . . . “The cell is an ideal place to know yourself. People tend to measure themselves by external accomplishments, but jail allows a person to focus on internal ones, such as honesty, sincerity, simplicity, humility, generosity and an absence of variety. You learn to look into yourself.”

Brandon Self Portrait

Artwork by Brandon Hein, “Future ID,” one of his works displayed at the “Future IDs” exhibition at the San Quentin Prison Arts Project sponsored by the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy

So there have been many, many prayers, literally from thousands of “Friends of Brandon Hein” around the world, people, like me, who believed that it was wrong to steal the life of a young man because he had been in the wrong place at the wrong time.  There have been unsuccessful state and federal appeals, the underlying problem being California’s Felony Murder Rule. In 2009 Brandon’s “life without possibility of parole” sentence was commuted to 29 years to life.

Brandon artNow, after after almost 25 years in prison, Brandon has been granted parole, while in the meantime his case and sentencing under review, like thousands of others who were sentenced under the old Felony Murder Rule.  So thank you Jesus!  Better late than never.

I’m anxious for Brandon’s actual release.  I’m eager to walk along the beach in Ventura with my friend and for the first time be able to talk freely without worrying about who is listening in to our conversation.  I’m eager to see him get on with his life and adapt and adjust to a world that is very different than it was 25 years ago.  Brandon has not just been doing time all these years.  He’s earned a business degree and been instrumental in developing numerous programs for prisoners and he has become a very talented artist.

For more …

Reckless Indifference by acclaimed documentary film maker William Gazecki and the entire movie is available online.

A fairly accurate summary on Wikipedia

Heinsight, Brandon’s online art store

60 Minutes interview with Dan Rather

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As Brandon’s friend and pastor we had an interesting relationship.  Early on, I’m probably the only pastor who was sending his parishoner in prison pictures of scantily dressed women, sexy but G-rated, until eventually the prison changed rules … no more supplying pictures for those dreams.  So, since we had travel agencies at the time, I’d send him cruise brochures to provide images for travel dreams so at least in his mind he could escape the walls that imprisoned him.   At any rate, I know that one of the cruise brochures inspired this painting, “Invision,” dreaming through prison walls.  I actually bought the original picture and Brandon’s dad is holding it for me.  I asked Gene Hein to hold it until the day Brandon could get out and personally sign the picture over to me, which is why I’m anxious to walk along the sand in Ventura when Brandon is free.