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

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

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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 5, 2020 – American Cruise Liine, QUEEN OF THE WEST, 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

Assimilating Panama’s Kinky New Year Traditions

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61703950 - concept of assimilation by painting red apple into green colorOK, so how did it all work out?

By the way, where ever you are, “Happy 2020!  Best wishes for a happy, healthy and prosperous New Year!

Well things got off kinda with a jolt.  The stretch of the plate lines between Puntarenas, Costa Rica and Colombia has been “adjusting” daily for the past month with 4 to 10 earthquakes a day, most in the 2-3 point Richter scale rating, and most I’ve never felt.  But as the evening was kicking off last night we had a 3.4 quake in Chiriqui which we briefly felt … what that signifies for 2020 I have no idea.

So, how well was I able to assimilate the Panamanian New Year’s Eve traditions.

Well grapes were sold out.  Go figure.  Sometimes things inexplicably sell out, but usually its stuff like chicken or bread.  The stores have difficulty anticipating demand.  So no grapes, no lucky lottery numbers, and besides, I don’t play the lottery anywhere.

What to wear?  Red something or another to guarantee love in 2020, or yellow … underwear! … for good luck.  Well years ago I started wearing black underwear just to avoid having yellow underwear!  I asked Nikki, told her for luck I’d wear hers, but checking her underwear that our dog Stanley hadn’t run off with … no yellow.

But I do have red shirts.  So red it was and I’ll just have to live on love.

Clutching money at midnight to assure you’ll have money in 2020.  Well, I put a dollar bill on my nightstand.  Traditionally I am sound asleep on New Year’s Eve until the invasion of fireworks begins.  Well someone’s watch was off and the fireworks began precisely at 11:01 PM, so I grabbed the bill and clutched it.  When I checked my watch I realized I had another hour to wait.  So back to sleep and when the big Midnight actually happened, the bill was gone.  Turning on the lights I found that Stanley had found the bill and it was almost all chewed up.  Scratch money.

But there is the rice in the pot deal.  So I got out a pot, put it on the counter, and stuck our Tupperware full of rice inside.  Nikki doesn’t think that will work, but it didn’t say the rice in the pot needed to be cooked!   We shall see.

We forgot sage.  Oh well, screwing up on one tradition can’t be all that bad.

Fireworks.  They started at 11:01 PM and the barrage went on nonstop until 1:30 AM so we certainly, like it or not, had lots of fireworks.

And now for the big finale!  No, we didn’t have a muñeco or dummy effigy of our dishonest, Bible-thumping, “wolf in sheep’s clothing” attorney, whom I’ve nick-named “FB” for “Fuckin’ Bastard,” to blow up.  The guy has caused me enough work and money already and isn’t worth the time or effort to make a dummy to blow up at Midnight.  But I did have an old hollier-than-thou CD pushing his brand of “prosperity gospel” which means God wants you to be filthy rich even if it means cheating your clients … quick forgiveness is cheaply available with a few tears.  Anyway, we scrounged around and I found this old CD given to me when he was pretending to be my friend and “Christian brother” … and at Midnight was smashed the CD to smithereens.  And it felt good!  Not that it’s any redress for the value that he’s stolen from me.

We tried to assimilate and we will have to wait and see what 2020 brings.  This morning, the first day of a new decade, all is quiet in our little town as folks sleep off last night’s celebrations.  Even the dogs are quiet!  And to roosters didn’t even crow, but maybe they had all been eaten, who knows.  The sun is out.  The sky is blue. Temperatures are in the mid ’70s.  Nikki has some harp music playing somewhere.  God is in his heaven.  Life is good.

Stanley & Molly Christmas 2018

Eight Different New Year’s Traditions

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387fd3_0c00f44f2a424bea82c544dcb3dbf81cmv2If you are living, or considering relocating to Panama, a key thing to remember is “It’s different!”  That’s why, hopefully, you are considering a new and different lifestyle in Panama.  So, as you might expect, Panama has some “different” traditions for welcoming in the New Year.  Jackie Lange had this great article about this different traditions on her Panama Relocation Tours blog.

Many Panamanians are superstitious and have certain rituals they believe must be done as we cross from one year to the next.  Panamanians traditionally spend New Years eve with friends and family.

judas doll in panamaEFFIGY: Throughout Panama at this time of year, you’ll see effigies, or life-sized dolls made out of straw, in front of houses or along side the roads. The effigy, also called a Judas doll,  represents someone or something they dislike. They are sometimes called Muñecos. Some houses will have 1-2 effigies and some houses will have many.

The dolls are stuffed with firecrackers. At the stroke of midnight, they are lit on fire and beaten. According to folklore, by beating and setting the effigies on fire, the sins and evil spirits of the old year are destroyed. Making way for good fortune in the new year. The fire crackers are said to help drive the evil spirits away.

Instead of the Judas doll, I know some Panamanians who make a list of all the people they felt who have done them wrong throughout the year, then they burn the list on the last day of the year.

What a great way to start a fresh New Year!

sage ceremony in panamaSAGE: On New Years Eve, it is common for a Panamanian to open up all the windows in their house then sage (or smudge) the house to remove all bad vibes and bad energy. Panamanians want a fresh start to the New Year.  You should use a feather or your hand to move all the smoke which collects the bad energy out of the house.

This is not the sage you use for cooking.  Stores throughout Panama sell smudge white sage bundles.

Some Panamanians make a small alter for their sage ceremony by bringing in additional elements such as a sea shell, feather, brass bell, and raw egg. The shell represents the element water and the energy of Mother Ocean; the feather represents the energy of the winged ones; the brass bell carries the energy of the cosmos; and the egg is a symbol of life.

It’s also tradition to declutter and clean your house thoroughly before you start a sage ceremony.  It’s all about leaving the bad of the old year behind and starting the New Year fresh with good energy.

MONEY IN YOUR HAND: It is said that if you have money in your hand at midnight, then you will have a prosperous New Year.

WEAR RED: It is said that if you are wearing red as we pass from one year to the next, it will bring you love in the New Year.

WEAR YELLOW: If you are wearing yellow underwear at midnight, it will bring you good luck in the New Year.

PUT RICE IN A POT: Tradition says this will attract wealth in the New Year.

12 grapes tradition panamaEAT 12 GRAPES: As you eat 12 grapes at midnight, you should make a wish for the New Year. They also say that the grapes will predict what kind of year you will have. If your 4th grape is sour, then April may be a bad month. But if you get a sweet grape, that month will be a sweet experience.

The lottery is very popular in Panama. At midnight, you should spit out the grape seeds then count the number of seeds in each grape. These will be your lucky lottery numbers.

NEW YEARS RESOLUTIONS:    In Panama, it is customary to write down at least 7 New Years resolutions.  These could be things you want to happen or things you want to not happen in the New Year.  Many Panamanians believe that by writing the resolutions down and carrying them with you throughout the year, they are much more likely to come true.

And finally, fireworks are a way to celebrate the New Year and new beginnings!

FIREWORKS: Panamanians LOVE their fireworks. In addition to the fire crackers in the effigies, it is customary to have a lot of fireworks at midnight.  You can hear them all over the country. Here’s a youtube video of the fireworks in Panama City for the New Year’s celebration in 2019.

Maybe some of these Panamanian rituals would be a good tradition to start even if you don’t live in Panama!

Christmas Eve in Boquete

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The big Christmas parade is tonight!  It starts when it starts.  The first Christmas parade we were in was with a bunch of gringo friends from Valle Escondido.  The parade was supposed to start at 8 pm, so being good gringos we showed up two hours early!  However, with libations to share.  I think the parade finally got started somewhere between 9 and 10 pm. which by that time we didn’t know or care.  The parade winds down the main street and I have no idea where all the people came from, but it was packed.  And the drill is that you throw candy out for the kids.  As our traditional Boquete Christmas Parade 2participation progressed, I would dress as Santa … with flip flops which no Santa had ever done since they all came dressed for snow.  I figured, “It’s Panama!”  And rather than sit stoically on the float doing the royal wave, I would jump off the float and plunge into the crowd like a US politician, kissing babies and posing for pictures with kids.  As time progressed I would take our beautiful Dalmatian Spot along with me.  She loved attention and kids, and the kids all loved her.

Spot is gone.   The Santa outfit went to my daughter in California,  We’re older, maybe wiser, and at any rate sound asleep by 9 pm.  But “Tradition!  Tradition!” the parade will go on starting whenever … with mobs of people scooping up cheap hard candy.

a8cf3fd7aaf3c15cfc5c740ab6926446Come midnight the sky will explode with fireworks.  Big fancy ones, and little one that some poor Indigenous person will have saved up to shoot off.  It is one of the very different things we love about Christmas in Panama.  The purpose of the fireworks?  They celebrate the appearance of the star that in the traditional Advent timeline led the wisemen to the manger.

I guess I do miss church on Christmas Eve.  When I was just out of seminary in the South Bronx, I’d do my Christmas Eve service at 8 pm, then go around the corner to the Catholic Church for Midnight Mass.  Afterward I and the guys who worked with me at Mott Haven Church would join the priests and sisters of St Rita’s in their rectory for a fantastic dinner and party that lasted until dawn.  Around sunrise we’d all migrate to the convent to say mass together and then have breakfast.

When I had my own churches in Milwaukee and Littleton we’d have multiple Christmas Eve services, and when I was at the Methodist Church in Thousand Oaks we’d have FIVE Christmas Eve services … so Christmas Eve was a big work night!  I never had Christmas Eve at home with just my family sitting around the fire.

The first Christmas we were in Panama I couldn’t find any church with a traditional Christmas Eve service so I announced one … and about a dozen expats showed up, two of them gals that I really like who came with flasks full of drinks … apparently a miscommunication or misunderstanding of what a Christmas Eve Service was about.

So I do miss a traditional Christmas Eve service with good, traditional church and Christmas music, and a real pipe organ … sorry, no “praise band.”  But life goes on and things change.  What doesn’t change is the celebration of the Incarnation and that midst all of our confusion, God is here with us.

May all of your have a blessed Christmas in the hope that some day we will have “peace on earth, goodwill to men” around the world.

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30 Years Ago

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30 years ago, as Panamanians prepared for Christmas, the US launched a massive and unexpected invasion of Panama ironically dubbed “Operation Just Cause.”

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Controversial, in both countries, even to this day, it has been argued that the US could have acheived its same objectives, without loss of life on both sides, without property damage, without flouting international law, and at far, far less cost, if it had just loaded a plane with bales of $20 bills, flown low over the country and dumped the money out of the plane.

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No one knows for sure how many Panamanians were killed in the Invasion.  It depends on who you ask, and who ou want to believe.  According to the US military 202 civilians were killed.  The United Nations puts the number of civilians killed at 500,  The Central American Human Rights Commissionputs the number at 2,000 – 3,000 killed.

THE PANAMA DECEPTION is an award-wining documentary that explores the Invasion and its aftermath.

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Father Abraham

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There is a song we used to sing at camp and in Sunday school that goes like this:

Father Abraham has many sons (presumably daughters as well).
Many sons has father Abraham.
I am one of them, and so are you,
So let’s just praise the Lord!

Faith-wise three major religions – Judaism, Christianity and Islam – all trace their heritage back to Father Abraham. So since we are all sons of Abraham, why can’t we accept, “I am one of them, and so are you, so let’s just praise the Lord” (or, if you prefer YHWH, Yahweh, Jehovah, God, Allah)?

Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: “Men of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: to an unknown god. Now what you worship as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you. “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by hands. And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything, because he himself gives all men life and breath and everything else. From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us. ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’ “Therefore since we are God’s offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone–an image made by man’s design and skill. In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to all men by raising him from the dead.” [Acts 17:22-32 NIV]

I found this interesting and well-crafted piece by Jeffery Weiss on CNN that is well worth reading and pondering . . .

Do Christians, Muslims and Jews worship the same God?

Sunni and Shia Muslims are killing each other in several nations, most notably in Syria’s escalating civil war.

Coptic Christians churches are being torched in Egypt.

In Israel, what passes for peace talks has restarted after years of murder and brutality.

Religion is a common thread in each conflict. But why? Don’t these folks worship the same deity?

After all, Jews, Christians and Muslims all trace their faiths back to a fellow named Abraham, whom they all claim was chosen for special treatment by the Almighty. Why can’t they all get along?

Not academic

The “same God” question is one theologians have hammered at for as long as there have been enough religions for the query to make sense.

The question is hardly academic, though. In fact, a number of politicians, religious leaders and scholars have expressed hope in recent years that a convincing answer on the God question might dampen the violence committed in His name.

Last year, for example, Yale Divinity School theologian Miroslav Volf edited a book titled “Do We Worship the Same God? Jews, Christians, and Muslims in Dialogue.”

In the introduction, Volf explained why the title question matters:

“To ask: ‘Do we have a common God?’ is, among other things, to worry: ‘Can we live together?’ That’s why whether or not a given community worships the same god as does another community has always been a crucial cultural and political question and not just a theological one.”

On the other hand, there’s CNN Belief Blog contributor and Boston University religion professor Stephen Prothero. His book on this subject is titled “God Is Not One: The Eight Rival Religions That Run The World.”

Prothero writes:

“For more than a generation we have followed scholars and sages down the rabbit hole into a fantasy world where all gods are one … In fact this naive theological groupthink – call it Godthink – has made the world more dangerous by blinding us to the clash of religions that threaten us worldwide.”

In the world of politics, President George W. Bush asserted the unity side of the argument more than once in the years after the 9/111 attacks – often as a way to deflect accusations that America was at war with Islam.

Bush told Al Arabiya television, “I believe there is a universal God. I believe the God that the Muslim prays to is the same God that I pray to. After all, we all came from Abraham. I believe in that universality.”

Pope John Paul II drew from the same rhetorical well several times.

“We believe in the same God, the one God, the living God, the God who created the world and brings his creatures to their perfection,” he first said in a speech to Muslims in Morocco in 1985.

Looking for a more recent example? Consider the plight earlier this year of the new Vatican envoy to Malaysia.

Shortly after he arrived there, Archbishop Joseph Marino said that is was fine by him that Christian translations of the Bible into Malay use the word “Allah” for “God.”

“Allah” is, of course, the Arabic word for God and is found in the Quran. The Christian translators explained that since most Malaysians are Muslim, it’s the word they’re most comfortable with and therefore the best choice for the translation.

But many Muslim authorities in Malaysia are furious. They say Christians are slipping in the familiar word as a way to convert Muslims. And conversion of Muslims is all but illegal in Malaysia.

There’s a lawsuit ongoing about the translations. Marino had to apologize for pushing into Malaysian politics.

Points of disagreement

So what do the “Abrahamic” religions disagree about?

Among other things: the purpose of humanity, the relationship of God and humanity, sin, forgiveness, salvation, the afterlife, Jesus, Muhammad, the calendar, and the religious importance of Abraham himself.

Plus the nature of God.

Any summary will leave out enormous nuance. Internal divisions within religions have fueled some of the worst examples of human violence. Consider the long and frequently bloody history of troubles between Catholics and Protestants or the growing death toll of Muslim-on-Muslim attacks.

But there are common elements about God widely accepted in each tradition.

Judaism

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Start with Judaism, since it came first and established roots that carried into the other two.

Jewish tradition teaches that there is one and only one God, creator of everything, and He established physical and moral laws. As Judaism’s preeminent prayer says: “The Lord our god, the Lord is one.”

This God walks and talks directly with His creations – for a while.

Eventually, He chooses one particular nomad (Abraham) to father a mighty nation that God sets up as an example to other nations.

This God likes the smell of burning meat and demands other extremely specific physical offerings as evidence of obedience and repentance. And He gives His chosen people a particular set of laws – but doesn’t mind discussion and even argument about those laws.

A famous rabbinic saying implies that every word in Judaism’s sacred texts can be understood in 70 correct (but related) ways. And human reasoning can even trump divine intention. (No kidding. It’s in the Talmud)

This God judges His people every year. Tradition says he’s willing to accept imperfection, as long as it comes with repentance.

He’s big on obedience, not so much on faith. He’s not nearly as attentive to the behaviors of non-Jews. (There’s a famous Jewish joke with the punch line “Would you mind choosing somebody else once in a while?”)

Tradition holds that there’s a World To Come after death where moral accounts will somehow be settled. But this God is vague on details.

Christianity

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The most obvious differences in the Christian God are the traditional teachings about the Trinity and Jesus. God is three separate persons who are also one. How? Christianity says the Trinity is a “mystery” of faith.

According to Christian tradition, God begets a son who is somehow also Him but not Him to atone for Original Sin. He sacrifices that son though a brutal death and thus achieves humanity’s salvation.

But the son, who also is God, rises from the dead. And that sacrifice redeems eternally all who accept and believe in it. Faith, not behavior, is the essential measure of salvation.

This God is willing to vastly expand what it means to be among His “chosen people.” He’s also willing to cancel many of the laws that had applied to that chosen group for this expanded membership.

Orthodox Jews say that God prohibits them from eating a cheeseburger; Christians say God has no problem with them wolfing down Big Macs.

Unlike the Jewish God, whose instructions are almost all about this world, the Christian God is focused more on eternal salvation: heaven and hell.

Finally, for this God, much of the Jewish scriptures (which are all God’s word) are actually about foreshadowing Jesus. Including Abraham.

Islam

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The Muslim God is a bit more like the Jewish God.

There is no Trinity in Muslim tradition. Jesus was a prophet, but no more divine than other prophets.

God has never has had anything like physical attributes and has no gender. (Some Muslim commentators say that the noun “Allah” is masculine, but only in the way that all nouns in some languages include gender.)

Muslim tradition holds that God wants one thing from humans: Submission. The word “Islam” is defined as “submission to the will of God.”

For Muslims, all true prophets in Jewish and Christian traditions were actually Muslim because they knew to submit correctly to God. Differences between Muslim, Jewish and Christian interpretations of God are due to errors that crept into the other two faiths, Islam teaches.

The Muslim God, like the other two, initially demanded that Abraham sacrifice a son. But the Muslim God wanted Abraham’s son Ishmael, not Isaac, who Jewish tradition holds was offered as a the sacrifice.

The Muslim God also designated, from before the world began, a perfect man to be his final prophet: Muhammad. God’s perfect truths are found only in the Quran and in the sayings of Muhammad, the hadiths.

And the Muslim God, like the Christian God but unlike the Jewish God, will welcome believers to paradise and condemn many non-Muslims – exactly which ones is a matter of much discussion – to eternal torment.

Final answer

So do Christians Muslims, and Jews, really all worship the same God?

In two major volumes on the subject recently published by scholars from various faiths and traditions, including Volf’s, the most inclusive response from these scholars is basically: Yes, and it’s our God.

This is not a new way of answering the question.

In 1076, Pope Gregory VII wrote this to a Muslim leader: “We believe in and confess one God, admittedly, in a different way…”

But like many other religious leaders on all sides of the argument, Gregory insisted that his version of the Almighty is the one whom the others are unknowingly and incompletely worshiping.

A less exclusivist set of religions might shrug off the differences. But all three claim to have the only “True Faith.”

So do all three faiths actually worship the same deity, whether they call him God or Allah or Adonai?

God only knows.

 

Spiced Rum for The Holidays

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panama_red.thumb_.jpg.00dd256b6bdc8681e021d5b4e4456f0fThe Caribbean/Central America historically has been a center for sugar cane production, and one of the most delightful by products of producing cane sugar is molases which can be diluted and then fermented to produce rum.  So the region has also become the epicenter for world rum production.  My favorite rum is Abuelo, a dark rum, about $18 in Panama for the big 1.7 liter bottle (almost a half gallon),  More pricey, around $30 a liter bottle, is Panama Red, a overproof rum.  Both are great sipped over ice with a splash or so of water, or they can be used in mixed drinks.

I happen to like spiced rum, particularly around the holidays.  I’ve always liked Captain Morgan, although it’s expensive.  So, I found a recipe and decided to make my own! It’s easy! And it’s a whole lot cheaper than buying Captain Morgan in the states.

So, here’s my “secret recipe” in my rum & sugar lecture, here’s the recipe:

  • 1 liter golden rum or dark rum
  • 1 vanilla bean cut up or ½ teaspoon vanilla
  • 3 cinnamon sticks (3”)
  • 4 whole allspice or a pinch of ground
  • 1 whole nutmeg crushed
  • 3 star anise
  • pinch anise seed

Let sit 1 week more or less, depending on strength of flavor desired. You can experiment and get exactly what you like.  It’s great mixed or just straight on ice.

So, a reminder for Mr. Claus … it’s time to get dressed, and at least for a few weeks get back to work up at the North Pole.  But not to worry, after you’ve done your Christmas duty, your semi-retirement spot in Panama will be awaiting your return.

So, “Cheers!” or as we say, “Salud!”

sunbathing Santa Claus relaxing in bedstone on tropical sandy be

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.

Thanksgiving

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Wishing all my friends in the US a Happy Thanksgiving!

So what do expats do in Panama when folks back home are giving thanks?  Well, some of the restaurants that cater to US epats have special menus for Thanksgiving.  Some friends get together and do the whole bit … turkey, crandberry sauce, the works.  Others just treat it as another day in paradise.

It may be easier in Panama to focus on the real meaning of thanksgiving … and maybe easier to focus on thanks-living every day of the year that we are blessed to live in such warm and beautiful surroundings.  US ways do have a way of creeping in.  Panama actually has a Black Friday with lots of sales, even although we don’t have Thanksgiving.  The first Sunday of December is a big, big holiday in Panama, Mother’s Day, celebrated much more seriously than in the US.  And of course Christmas is coming … canned Christmas music has already made it’s appearance, and the local supermarket has imported real Christmas trees for $30, which will most likely have lost all their needles by Christmas Day.

I have a lot to be thankful for: a great family, health, living in paradise, still able to earn a few bucks working on luxury cruise ships sailing around the world, friends, and this year, thankful for something I’ve prayed for for 24 long years, that my friend Brandon Hein, sentenced originally for life in prison without possibility of parole for a crime nobody says he committed,  has been approved for parole.  Using California’s Felony Murder Rule eager prosecutors were able to charge him for murder when alll he did was to be at the wrong place, with the wrong friends, at the wrong time.  Thankfully last year California abolished the Felony Murder Rule.  By law all of those convictions, including Brandon’s, are being reviewed and either retried or reversed.  But as that review process drags on, hopefully because of the Parole Board’s decision, in a few months Brandon will be released on Parole.

Thanksgiving Eve I’m having dinner with some expat friends, and Thanksgiving Day I will be extra nice to my dogs provided they stop digging up and rolling in my flower bed.  Nikki is in Seattle and will be able to enjoy Thanksgiving with my daughter and her family, and my two grandsons for whom I am very thankful.  The oldest, Rian, is 11, yet as tall as I am and wearing the same size shoes.  He has never seen a sport he didn’t like or excell in, but unfortunately is spending this holiday on crutches.  And the youngest, Caiden, is a brilliant and articulate kid who turns 7 this month and whose favorite subject is math.

Not to preach, but my message has always been, “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life and it’s a plan for your good.”  And certainly that has been overwhelmingly true for me.  The Bible says that God is a spirit and we must worship him in spsirit and in truth, so the older I’ve gotten, the less I want to see God squeezed into man-made boxes, and fought over.  I realize in many ways the God I learned about growing up, in college and seminary, was, if I can borrow from J. B. Phillips, too small.

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.

The Most Beautiful House in Boquete, Panama FOR SALE 45

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 

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

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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

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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,” 

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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.

Getting Ready For New Year’s

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holiday-4-1200x480So the Holiday season, which runs from now until after Easter, is just beginning with November being Panama’s month for national holidays, including not one, but two Independence Days.  Lots of paid time off work.  Strong labor laws.  November’s national holidays, then Mother’s Day the beginning of December … BIG holiday!  Much more important than in the US … then Christmas, and then New Year’s.  After that it’s the Fair, then Carnival, then Lent, Holy Week, and Easter.  Then, things get back to normal and folks focus on work.  Come on folks … the reason why we all move to Panama is that it is less stressful and more laid back!

So what’s this about getting ready for New Year’s?

Well I have a friend who, knowing I’ve managed to lose 30 pounds, and like most old men don’t fill out my size 40 pants anymore, so they are bunched up, and pulled up mid-chest with old belts that I’ve punched with extra holes … Well, my friend, knowing it was time for me to get some new threads, asked if I had any “old suits.”

“Old suits?”  Who wears suits in Boquete?  Even the Presidents of the Republic when they come to visit Boquete usually wear jeans.  Most of my suits  just hang in my closet, except for one with the least baggy pants, that I may drag out when I’m working on a cruise.

Well it turns out my friend is planning ahead and wants an old suit for New Year’s.  Is he going to wear it to a party?  No way!  He wants to use it for an effigy he’s dreamed up for New Year’s Eve.

EffigyIn parts of Panama it is traditional to cobble together an effigy, a dummy if you will, stuffed with straw or rags, which looks like someone you don’t like, someone who’s done ill to you in one way or another.  They are called Muñecos de Año Nuevo.  It may be your boss, the neighbor who slept with your wife, your ex, a poltician you don’t like [These are very popular for New Year’s Eve effigies!], your landlord, or … your lawyer.

Lots of folks thinking about Panama are concerned about snakes.  Panama has something like 140 different snakes, but only about 20 are venemous, although some of those are the most deadly snakes on the planet.  Most of us never see snakes, although it’s the snakes you don’t see that you are most likely to step on.  Snakes are more scared of you than you are of the snakes.  So you just learn to live with the snakes.  They are doing what they were intended to do, eating mice, and rats, and lizzards.  You just watch where you are walking!  Believe me, I have two big dogs so you’d better watch where you step!

The truly dangerous snakes-in-the-grass aren’t the ones God put there, but dishonest real estate scammers, some politicians, and dishonest lawyers.

Well my friend had a dishonest lawyer who has screwed him out of a major real estate investment and he is bitter.  I’ve been through a dozen or so Panamanian lawyers, so wanting to avoid his corrupt attorney, I asked who he was.  Knowing Panama’s free and easy libel laws, he said, “I just call him ‘FB’.”  So, wondering if this was Fernando, Franciso, Frankie … or whomever, I asked, and he replied, and I apologize in advance, my friend said, “I just call him ‘FB’ which stands for ‘Fuckin’ Bastard.”

OK, I get it.

effigy 1So what’s this have to do with New Year’s and effigies.  Well, the only people who wear suits all the time in Panama are Panamanian lawyers.   And he is carefully crafting an effigy of his former lawyer, “FB.”   So the idea of the effigy is this … You create an effigy of the person who has wronged you, or made your life hell.  You can hang a sign around his neck, or not.  It’s not really to publicly dis someone, but the important thing is that you know who is the target of your effigy.

You stick the effigy, in this case his corrupt lawyer wearing my baggy old suit, at the entrance to your property, and then, on New Year’s Eve, at the stroke of midnight you light the effigy on fire!  And the idea is that with the burning of the effigy you release all the hurt, anger, frustration … the curse if you will … that this person has dumped into your life, in order that you can enter the New Year free of that burden. Unfortunately, in my friend’s case, also the $1.4 Million dollar property that was his retirement nest egg.

So, I’m rummaging through my closet, sorting through all my suits with their old, “daddy” baggy pants, trying to help my friend banish “FB,” his “Fuckin’ Bastard” lawyer, from his life.

Point of information: does anyone know how these young guys even get into those skinny, peg leg pants?

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Unscrambling The Real Estate Biz

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In California I was a REALTOR®.  Real Estate in California is highly regulated by the State and self controlled and monitored by one’s fellow REALTORS® in the local Real Estate Board.  REALTORS® must adhere to a Code of Ethics and if you step out of line either the State or other REALTORS® in your local Board will enforce the rules and Code of Ethics.  REALTOR® is a protected term, a litle that can only be used by members of the National Association of REALTORS®.

This Is Panama – “TIP”

se vendeIn many different ways things are different in Panama, and particularly in real estate.  Some folks use that “realtor” term even although they are not licensed to do so.  Many of the things real estate sales people do routinely, if I had done those same things in California the State would have yanked my license.  But, as we often say, “TIP” or “This Is Panama.”  You move here because you like different, and it IS different in many ways.

In California “agency” is very important.  Real estate people must disclose who they are working for, either the seller, or the buyer, or both.  In Panama most people selling real estate are working primarily for themselves.  At best participants in a sale are agents for themselves, and also the buyer and seller.  Real estate sales people will show you only the properties where they make a commission and blatantly steer you to the properties where they make the most commission. I guess that makes sense, but only if you know that’s how it works.

Many properties are not “listed” by anyone.  Sometimes these are owned by people who are just so fed up with the whole real estate system that they prefer to take their chances and do it themselves.  There is no “escrow” system in Panama, nor traditional US-style multiple listings [There is an “MLS” operation which frankly plays on North American’s understanding of the term, but is not the same, i.e. a universal data base of everthing for sale.]  With a lot of research you can come up with “comparable” asking prices, but there is no way to come up with comparable sales prices.  There is no tradional North American style title insurance.

The best way to find properties is not the Internet, or the real estate hustlers, but by word of mouth.  Every property we’ve bought we found by word of mouth.  That means being here, talking with folks, following leads, learning some Spanish or finding some Spanish speaking friends who will help you just because they are you friends, and not because they are looking for a cut of the action.

The only professional you really need to buy and sell real estate in Panama is an honest lawyer.  And, just like everything else, don’t assume lawyers in Panama play by the same rules or ethics as North American lawyers, because the law in Panama is very different than in the US!  Most of the law you are likely familiar with is based on English Common Law, which is largely based on the accumulated legal judgement of past cases or bribeprecident.  Not so in Panama!  Panama law is based on old Spanish/French law where judges make the decisions without regard to any past decisions or precident.  In a region, and specifically a country, fraught with problems of corruption, lack of transparency, and bribery, this opens a Pandora’s box of challenges for ordinary citizens seeking justice, and opportunity for lawyers and judges to influence, interpret, predict, and even determine the outcome.  [Anyone who is thinking of moving to Panama should subscribe to and follow the daily NEWSROOM PANAMA which provides a daily dose of new headlines in English.  You will quickly note that much of the space is taken up with articles about governmental and judicial corruption.]

So what’s a person to do?

Do you write off an entire country, with all of the benefits and all of the positive features, because of a system that doesn’t always works, and is riddled with corruption?  If you would, just where in the world do you think you would find perfection?

So you deal with it, the best you can.  And you look for good advice.  In Boquete you can go to SUGAR & SPICE, the local expat morning hang out, and you will find a coffee shop FULL of experts eager to share their expert advice whether they’ve lived here 6 months or 6 years.

Jackie Lange, who owns and operates Panama Relocation Tours, has been giving out advice for 10 years.  She’s conducted over 100 tours.  You can read the reviews, you can talk with some of the folks at SUGAR & SPICE or at the Tuesday Market, and you can check up on the quality and accuracy of her advice.

So I particularly like this piece Jackie wrote about looking for properties in Panama.  If focuses on one aspect of the real estate problem.  For example, just this morning, I found three “listings” on line of my property, none of which I’ve authorized, but have just been cut and pasted off this blog, offered at three different prices!  “TIP!”

So here’s Jackie’s article which discusses the problem …

Beware of NET Listings in Panama

In Panama, some things are done in a different way than you are familiar with. A good example are real estate sales and rental listings.  In Panama, it’s common to see the same house listed at several different prices with different agents. Sometimes the “spread” can be as much as $100,000 difference for the same house!

In North America, most houses for sale are listed as an exclusive listing. This means that one real estate office as the exclusive right to market the property. If that same office finds a buyer, they will typically make about a 6% commission. If an agent from a different office produces a qualified buyer, the “listing” agent will usually agree to split the 6% commission. In North America, a real estate agent has a fiduciary responsibility to the seller/buyer so all the dealings for the transaction are revealed “on top of the table.”

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There are some exclusive listings in Panama too. But most listings are NOT exclusive. Instead, the seller has agreed to pay a commission to whoever produces a qualified buyer. This is why you will see the same house listed with several different office and at different prices. A typical commission in Panama is 5-6% of the sales price.

But sometimes, the seller has told the agent(s) that they need to NET a certain amount at closing and anything the agent can sell it for over that amount will be there profit. This is called a net listing. Net listings are illegal in most of North America, but it is business as usual in Panama. Here’s an example:

Joe and Mary need to walk away with $150,000 on the sale of their property. Real estate agent Sue advertises it for $220,000 – with room for negotiations, she’s hoping it will sell for $200,000 so she can walk away with a $50,000 commission versus the $12,000 commission she would have earned at 6%.

Maybe $200,000 is the right price for the house. But perhaps $150,000 is the right price. It’s hard to know in Panama because there is not a reliable MLS system to show comps of recent sales in the area. We do have an MLS system but most agents don’t use it and that’s why it’s not reliable.

Last year, I had breakfast with the broker for a local real estate office. He was bragging about how me made $600,000 profit on a NET listing near Boquete.

HOW WIDESPREAD IS THE PROBLEM?

Not all real estate agents, sales people and property managers do net listings.  But it does seem to be common practice with many real estate professionals.

I posted information on Facebook about Net Listings and the board lit up with people in Panama talking about their ‘not so good’ net listing experiences. Here are some of the comments

Phil said, “ It’s actually worse than people think. Here they practice (net listing). Highly illegal in Canada The owner wants $50,000, the (realtor) lol asks $85,000 and it sells for $75,000, the realtor pockets the $25,000 extra plus 5 percent of the $50,000 lol. And it’s both, Gringo’s and locals that are practicing this, so be careful about who you are working with”

Barbara said, “Found a property to buy, with a $100.000 difference at different realtors…”

Lenore commented, ” One house we viewed, the neighbor told me ahead of time what the owners wanted…the realtor jacked it up another $35,000 when he showed it to us.”

Enny ran in to a similar problem. She wrote, “This is very accurate. I wanted to purchase a home in las cumbres. The real estate agent told me it was $240k I send him an offer. I drove by the house one day and saw a guy closing the door so I asked him if the house was sold, he answered “no” he was the owners friend and if I was interested. I told him I was. He told me that the house was on sale for $200k. So, I asked him the owners name and he only gave me the first name. With that I started to ask around until I was able to find the owner. Contacted him and for my surprise…he was selling the house for $160k. So, the agent wanted almost the double and his friend $40k more. I offered the owner $140k and he accepted on the spot. Today I am a happy homeowner. Stay away from those sharks and try to find the owners.”

Frank said, “The same house was advertised for three different rents with three different agents and one told me I had to pay an extra $250 a month for HOA fees and utilities but the other agents told me they were included!”

It’s like the wild wild west! It’s a crazy situation which makes it hard for you to know what the right price is to pay or who to trust. Keep reading for a solution….


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IT’S RENTALS TOO

Last week, our tour group saw a 3-bedroom 3 bath furnished rental advertised for $1300. Just as we were leaving, we ran in to a previous tour client who told us she had been to that house three times with three different real estate agents. It was advertised with one agent for $1100. Another agent for $1300. And a third agent for $1400. Because it was all different prices, the tour clients thought it was a different house.

Most likely the owner of the house said they want to get $1000 a month rent. And instead of the agents taking a typical property management commission of 5-7%, they are hoping to make $100 – $400 per month profit PLUS the management fee.

The same thing happened when my son moved to Panama. He looked at a 2-bedroom house that was advertised for $650. Later that day he saw an ad for a 2-bedroom house for $850 advertised with a local real estate office in Boquete. Because it was different prices, he thought it was a different house. To his surprise, it was the SAME house. Guess who was hoping to put an extra $200+ a month in their pocket.?!!

IT GETS EVEN WORSE

It seems everyone is trying to get in on the action (at your expense).

A hotel owner in Boquete is now offering to help people find a rental if they pay him 50% of their first months rent. He’s also getting 50% of the rent from the owner of the house. So, for a $1000 a month house, the new tenant (YOU) must pay the owner $1000 plus pay the hotel owner $500 for his help in finding the property. It cost the tenant $500 more to use him to help find a rental.

Throughout Panama, people are selling or renting houses who are not legally working in Panama. If you’re working with a foreigner, ask to see their work permit. If they don’t have one, they are working illegally and the government will not get involved if you run in to a problem.  What could go wrong?

Last month, I was contacted by someone who rented a house in Panama and asked for my help. They paid the first and last month’s rent plus a security deposit (unusual for Panama) to the property manager. By the way, the property manager is working illegally (no work permit) with a local Boquete real estate office. One day, the owner of the house knocked on the door and asked who they were and what were they doing in her house. They had a copy of the lease they signed and a receipt for the payments made. Apparently, the property manager, kept the ALL deposit and rent money and never told the owner the house was rented. With a little help from me, they were finally able to get most of their money back but it sure did leave a bad taste in the mouth about dealing with real estate people in Panama. It’s not the first time I’ve heard of something like this happening in Panama.

THE SOLUTION

The solution to avoiding these NET listing situations, where you over pay, is to deal with the owner directly when possible or to at least ask to speak to the owner to get the straight scoop on what the property is for sale or for rent for.

Instead of walking in to a real estate office or contacting a real estate sales person to help you find a house to buy or to rent, take matters in to your own hands. Many properties are not listed with a real estate office. Look on facebook for property for sale or rent in the town you are interested in. Search craigslist for Panama. And check http://www.encuentra24.com.

Honestly, the best way to find a rental is word of mouth – you just need to start asking people if they know of a rental like you are looking for. You’ll be surprised how many leads you can get in a short time.

If you rent a car and drive around, you’ll find for rent and for sale signs for properties which are not listed on any website or real estate office anywhere.

Remember, don’t buy or rent anything without seeing it first. And, it’s better to RENT for at least 12 months before you even think about buying. Twelve months in Panama will give you time to make sure you love living in Panama and that you have picked the right town and microclimate.

During a Panama Relocation Tour, we will introduce you to trusted real estate professionals who can help you find a rental or home to buy – all while avoiding a net listing situation.