OK, It’s Out There: The Laudromat

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mv5bmgq1mdgxmwmtmjmznc00yme4lwjhnjctngu4zdk3mwy0zgfkxkeyxkfqcgdeqxvymtm2mzg4ma4040._v1_uy268_cr20182268_al_The new movie The Laudromat, based on the Panama Papers revelation/expose/crisis and starring Meryl Streep, is out there and available on NETFLIX.

It’s an interesting movie, a kind of combination drama, expose [not that there’s much left to expose], documentary.  It’s different, sometimes a little hard to follow connections, and at times kind of quirky, but it is well-worth watching.  Meryl Streep is an amazing actress who can take on any role, even several roles in the same movie.  The movie attempts to explain what the “Panama Papers” were all about, and how this underground shadowy world of shell companies, allows the rich and powerful to become more rich and powerful without being held accountable and along the way destroying the lives of ordinary folks like you and me.

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The documentary movie, PanamaPapers – The Shady World of Offshore Companies, produced by German TV and available on YOUTUBE, actually provides a better explanation of how this underground world of shell companies, revealed by the release of the “Panama Papers”, works.  The “Panama Papers” were in fact a shit-load of private emails of one of the leading law firms specializing in this legal sleight of hand.  The documentary is in English, German and Spanish, but the producers have thoughtfully included easy to read subtitles when people are speaking German or Spanish.  I would recommend watching the documentary before watching THE LAUNDROMAT.

What to me is most interesting that the firm at the center of the “Panama Papers,” Mossack Fonseca , is now suing NETFLIX for $10 BILLION, yes, “billion.”

Our local, Panamanian online English NEWSROOM PANAMA, reported, “Jürgen Mossack and Ramón Fonseca, the founders of the Panama law firm that creamed multi-millions from businessmen, politicians, sportsmen and celebrities seeking to avoid taxes through offshore front companies are now seeking their biggest haul,  a $10 billion lawsuit against  Netflix.

It was launched on Tuesday, October 15, three days after the platform premiered The Laundromat a film about the “Panama Papers”  scandal uncovered by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) in 2016.

In the civil lawsuit, filed in the Connecticut District Court, in the United States,  the two lawyers, and the Mossack Fonseca & CO. and MF & CO Law Firm, claim from  Netflix the payment of $10 billion, for alleged defamation, invasion of deprivation, false advertising and trademark violation.  

The plaintiffs allege that The Laundromat) presents them “as ruthless and indifferent lawyers, who are involved in money laundering, tax evasion, bribes and / or other criminal conduct.” They also refer that the “real” name of both is used in the film, in a “defamatory” manner.

They indicate in the demand that in the advance of the film it is indicated that it is ” based on real crap “, and then the question appears: ” How do 15 million millionaires in 200 countries stay rich? “. Answer: ” with lawyers like these, ” and immediately appear actors Gary Oldman and Antonio Banderas, who play Mossack and Fonseca, respectively, laughing “sinisterly, dressed in flashy clothes.”

Actress Meryl Streep, plays Ellen Martin, a widow deceived by the traps of the financial system and central character of the plot.”

THE LAUNDROMAT

According to THE NEW YORK TIMES, “In a lawsuit filed on Tuesday in Federal District Court in New Haven, Conn., the law firm and its partners — Jürgen Mossack and Ramón Fonseca — objected to their portrayal in the film as ‘ruthless, uncaring and unethical lawyers’ who engaged in money laundering, tax evasion and other criminal activities to benefit the wealthy . . . The law firm has sued Netflix for libel, invasion of privacy and trademarks violations, arguing that the law firm’s logo is placed in scenes that “allow viewers to associate it with very serious criminal and unethical behavior.” It is asking a judge to order that Netflix stop the film from being released for streaming. The film was already screened at film festivals in Venice and Toronto and has been released in a few theaters . . .  The firm said its role was to create companies and sell them off, but that they should not be painted as the villains if their clients ultimately sold those companies to ‘end users who were exposed as criminals.'”

PANAMA PAPERS

Mossack Fonseca argues that they produce shell companies, like a car factory produces cars.  If people use those cars wrongly, creating death and destruction, it is the end user that is responsible, not the manufacturer.

Were I advising Mossack Fonseca on damage control to their firm and image, I would have sued but only for a token sum.  All $10 BILLION does is highlight how lucrative it is to help the mega-wealthy, skirt the edge of the law and hide in the dark legal crevases of the world helping the filthy rich to get even weathier, while at the same time making obscene profits for lawyers.  $10 BILLION!?!?

Panama’s legal system is VERY different from the legal systems based on English common law and precident that many people, particularly those from North America, are used to.  Meryl Streep’s character illustrates that these kinds of financial shennanigans do in fact impact the poor, “little people” of the world.  $10 billion doesn’t earn a lot of good will or help a damaged reputation, but then, who cares?

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Yes, at time THE LAUDROMAT does get a little carried away with Hollywood imagination, like the lawyers “sinisterly, dressed in flashy clothes.”  Love them or hate them, no Panamanian lawyer would ever, dress like these guys!  Talk about wardrobe gone wild!  Panamanian lawyers don’t do flamboyant.  And is this intended to be some dig at sexual orientation?  Gay or straight, you can’t be a lawyer in Panama without always appearing at all times in a black suit, white shirt and tie.  Acceptable tie colors, red, blue or light blue, purple.  Maybe it’s the dumb, “sinisterly, dressed in flashy clothes”  image that warrants the $10 billion.

 

 

 

Breeding Butterflies Instead of Cattle

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Remember the original, classic PAPILLON movie with Dustin Hoffman?  “Papillon” of course means “butterfly” in French, hence the tattoo, the nickname of the main character, the name of the book, movie, yada yada.  But essential to the story was that the prisoners on Devil’s Island made extra money by chasing and capturing the blue morpho butterflies.

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[For more about the real story of Devil’s Island, which I have visited many times, check out the video of my lecture ESCAPE FROM DEVIL’S ISLAND.]

So maybe the movie has something to do with it, but I suspect it is just the sheer beauty of the blue morpho butterfly that attracts me, and the fact that we have them in Panama.  We don’t have tons of them, and they tend to hang around in cooler, wet areas, like along the little seasonal creek in the quebrada on our farm.  But when I see one, flitting in front of the house, or even when I’m driving down the mountain into Boquete, it is a magical moment!  I know rainbows do that for some people, but we see so many rainbows in boquete that they have become almost ordinary.  But morpho butterflies … see one, and it’s going to be a greater day than you imagined!  At least that’s my view.

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Which is why I found this article that appeared in NEWSROOM PANAMA this morning so fascinating …

BREEDING BUTTERFLIES INSTEAD OF CATTLE

Breeding butterflies instead of livestock is an environmentally friendly move by a growing group of Panama farmers highlighted by a space dedicated to the conservation and exhibition of over 400  Lepidoptera in Panama’s Metropolitan Natural Park in the heart of the city.

 Panama “has between 9,000 and 16,000 species of day and night butterflies, 10% of the global population,” said Samuel Valdés, the director of the Mariposario at the park.

Therefore, the butterfly project is characterized by its economic, social and environmental approach, with the objective of raising awareness about the importance of butterflies for the health of ecosystems.

“We try to bring nature to a city as cosmopolitan as Panama City,” whose inhabitants “live far from the environment. This is a space for education and recreation for anyone interested in the life cycle of butterflies,” said  Valdés.

But it is also a key commitment towards ecotourism: “In about 75,000 square kilometers, Panama’s diversity and surface ratio is very high,” said Valdés.

In Panama “we have more species per square meter than other countries such as Colombia, Ecuador or Peru, which although they have more types of butterflies, their land area is 10 times more than Panama. Our biodiversity is compacted,” he added., while a silver-blue Morpho butterfly, considered a national symbol, fluttered nearby.

The butterfly garden, opened in 2017, brings every 15 days chrysalis –  the cocoon in which the insect is enclosed during its development stage – reared in the Penonomé area, west of Panama, since the life span of the butterflies is too short: at most, about two months.

In this way, the space is always fed with butterflies in their different phases: since they lay their eggs on a specific plant, the caterpillar leaves, the chrysalis phase begins, and finally, it becomes a butterfly in search of solar energy and food like passion fruit or tropical pineapple.

The project also has an environmental character. At the national level: farmers are educated and trained to raise butterflies that are subsequently sold at between 50 cents and 1 dollar per chrysalis, depending on the life cycle of the insect.

A fact that has caused some farmers to put aside the traditional business of raising animals such as cows to invest in butterflies.

“We have initiated a training program for people living in the countryside so that they have a more balanced economy and do not necessarily depend on agricultural activities, as in that case, it is the production of butterflies, which is offered as a sustainable alternative with an ecological footprint “explained the director.

“I know a farmer who sold his cows and foals and has been involved in the breeding of butterflies. Currently, 50% of family income comes from the production of these insects,” said  Valdés.

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.

Surprise!

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My orchids just hang around the front porch and really don’t do a whole lot.  Most are native Panama orchids, of which there are over 1,000, that we have just salvaged from fallen tree limbs or trees we had to cut down.  They are beautiful, but not the spectacular cattleya orchids most people think off.  But cattleya orchids are native to both Costa Rica and Panama.  Orchid plants themselves aren’t that pretty, but … This morning, much to my surprise, one of the plants that’s just been hanging around taking up space, decided to bloom … and WOW!

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Better Than Architectural Digest

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Video

A friend encouraged me to just take my cell phone, walk around our beautiful home and estate that is for sale, and do an informal, somewhat chatty, often jerky and certainly non-professional, video tour. So, here’s the result … Let me know what you think.

Entrance & Driveway

House Entrance – Welcome Home!

Terrace & Master Bath

Library/Music Room

Master Bedroom

Guest Bedrooms

And, I almost forgot, the key to a happy relationship, Dual Walk-in Closets in The Master Bath

Here’s more information and if you have additional questions or would like to talk further shoot me an email at RichardDetrich@yahoo.com.

Pretty Good, If I Do Say So Myself

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We’ve lived in Panama now 15 years, going on 16, and I’ve answered a lot of questions about “Why Panama?” and “How did you choose Panama over, say Costa Rica?” Back when blogging was still new and hep, I started blogging about Living In Panama. I wrote the first edition of ESCAPE TO PARADISE: OUR EXPERIENCE LIVING AND RETIRING IN PANAMA. And, frequently while working on ships, the “Why Panama?” question came up again and again, usually when I was eating in the Horizon Court buffet and just as I was putting the first forkfull of dinner in my mouth.

“Richard, I don’t want to interrupt your dinner, or bother you, but …”

So, to answer all those questions, I started frequently doing a talk which proved very popular called, DON’T STOP THE CARNIVAL. [With appologies to Herman Wouk, who passed away earlier this year, but whose novel DON’T STOP THE CARNIVAL kept me going when life got tough in Panama. My tattered copy, read and reread for 15 years, is now held together only by rubber bands.

The ships usually recorded my talks to play and replay on cabin TV, and I happened to find one of those old DON’T STOP THE CARNIVAL talks, which I thought you might enjoy. For a sophisticated cruise ship with millions of dollars worth of stage and technical production equipment, it’s pretty sketchy quality, but it’s all there. This was recorded on a cruise around South America, and just to put it into perspective it was given on the morning before that afternoon we were sailing “Round The Horn” of South America.

Enjoy!

Two More Things …

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In my last post, Plan B, it was not my intent to create an exhaustive list of the reasons why living in Panama has been great for us and a place you might consider as your Plan B, but there are two more things that I should mention.  The first brought to mind by the tragedy in the Bahamas, and the second by an experience we had yesterday.

55049We had been toying with the idea that maybe it was time to move back to the States.  I guess every once in a while you need to stop and take stock of where you are at and where you want to be.  We love warmth, not necessarily hot, but warm, and an abundance of natural tropical beauty.  There are two places in the States that might meet my “Bougainvillea standard” [“If Bougainvillea can grow there, I can grow there”] … Florida and Southern California.  When we moved from California we knew that once we left we could never afford to return.  That hasn’t changed.  Nor has the traffic and all the other things that drove us out of California in the first place.

And Florida … what can I say?  I admit, it’s a California attitude, but Florida has always seemed to me like a cheap imitation of Southern California.  Sorry, Fort Lauderdale!  I’m in and out of Ft. Lauderdale/Miami a lot on ships, but the conjestion and wall to wall condos just don’t do it for me.  I could do the Conch Republic and Key West, but there are some obvious issues I’ll talk about in a moment.  Last year I was on a ship that had a wet dock in Lauderdale for some work, so I decided to rent a car and explore the rest of Florida.  And yes, I loved the area around St. Pete, and St. Augustine, and particularly the old area around the Fort … I was ready to move … except for that one thing …

As the ocean warms there are and will continue to be more and more hurricanes.  I don’t fancy several times a year having to flee my home, head inland, and hope and pray there is something left when I return.  And any old storm surge seems to put those charming old houses in St. Augustine next to the Fort knee-deep in sea water.  And if the hurricane actually hits, as evidenced in the Bahamas, God and the Red Cross help you.

Hurricane Hugo Slams Into Puerto Rico

One of my big concerns in picking Panama as a place to live was that it is outside the hurricane belt. I understand that no place is perfect. Yes, I live on the slopes of a volcano that may, or may not, show some life over the next 5,000 years, but being Panama that may mean the next 10,000 years, 20,000 years, or never. “Manana!” Not today. Possibly sometime in the future, maybe never. Just like the guy who has promised to come and fix something around your house! Being on the “Ring of Fire” we get tremors as the earth stretches and tectonic plates shift. We get lots … lots! … of tremors, most of which you can’t even feel. But for me, theologically that’s a good thing. It means that God is still creating and isn’t yet finished with the earth. Thank you Jesus! And if he’s not finished with the earth, he’s maybe not finished with me … so there is hope.

So … nothing perfect, but PANAMA IS OUTSIDE THE HURRICANE BELT. We may catch the outer fringe of a tropical depression giving us more rain at times than normal, but no hurricanes!

Here it is … the historic tracking the world’s brutal storm systems. And you see that little squiggle of land between the North and South American continents? That sliver surrounded by blue? That’s Panama!

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Dogs have always been an important part of our lives in Panama.  My first dog was a Dalmatian I called Spot.  What else?  I learned to read from a series of books about Dick and Jane who had a dog named Spot.  We got spot a playmate, a Rottweiler named Monkey, and later another Dalmatian named Baru.  We got them all around the same time, and 11-12 years later, we lost them all within 3 months.  Monkey had cancer, and both Dalmatians had heart problems.   So we decided, “No more dogs!”  Well, that didn’t last, and now we have two we adopted from Dog Camp, our local dog rescue organization run by an incredible couple.

So yesterday morning I get up and step in something sticky, turn on the light, and the floor looks like the set of a slasher movie!  Mollie had been coughing, waking me up to let her in and out, and it turns out she was coughing up blood!  So we called a vet who has been taking care of animals, dogs and horses for years.  We met him in town with Mollie and he checked her out, gave her some shots, and said he’d come up to the house in the afternoon with more shots and medicine.  And he did.  And while he was here, making a house call, we had him give our other dog, Stanley, shots.

So here’s what I’m getting at, and another reason we could never afford to go back to the States.  Total Vet cost $50.  My daughters, one in the Bay Area and the other in Seattle area, said that if they had to take their dog TO the vet in a similar situation it would have cost “at least $1,000, maybe $1,500.”  Which is why they both have health insurance for their dogs!

It’s wrong to sell Panama as a retirement, escape, or Plan B destination because it’s cheap.  Some things can be cheaper, other things not.  But on the whole Panama offers a better lifestyle for less.  THE COST OF CARING FOR YOUR PETS is just another example.

Stanley & Molly Christmas 2018

Plan B Panama

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Why wouldn’t you have a “Plan B”?

There are thousands of Venezuelans living in Panama, who were smart enough to see the writing on the wall and made a “Plan B” moving money and resources to the safety of Panama and it’s currency which is the US dollar.  When their country descended into chaos they were prepared.  They had a Plan B.  Most still pride themselves in being Venezuelan and hope, and pray, for the day when reason rules and they can return home … or maybe just stay in their new-found Panamanian paradise and go home occasionally to visit friends and relatives they left behind,  or perhaps to invite them to enjoy the benefits of Panama.

Around the world you see countries spiraling out of control, bitterly divided by race, religion and politics.  Politicians and leaders become more and more brazen while at the same time showing gross ineptitude.  Riots, gangs, thugs both in office and on the streets, shootings, and violence.  Governments that don’t know how to govern.  I can follow the frustrations people have in these countries and their quest for relief and escape by watching the daily tally of from where visitors to site are coming.  South Africa, Brazil, Canada, the US, the UK, Hong Kong, China, and the list goes on.

Why Panama?

First, let me get this out of the way right up front: Panama is not perfect!  Sure we have pesky critters like bugs and snakes, and rarely someone does get struck by lightening, but those are relatively minor problems and easily avoided.  Panama’s greatest problem is corruption, from the top down, and a legal system which is anything but the “rule of law.”   Which means a “justice” system even worse than in the US.  If you can’t buy or bribe your way out of jail, and think Dante’s vision of hell for comparison, you can sit in jail for years awaiting trial. You can spray for bugs, and just watch where you’re walking to deal with snakes [Hell, I have two big dogs, so you’d better watch where you step!].  Harder to avoid are the scores of corrupt lawyers whose practice of law aims to screw you!  Yes, there are some genuinely honest lawyers, but finding them without getting taken along the way … “Buena suerte!”

The most important chapter in my THE NEW ESCAPE TO PANAMA book is about the legal system and is entitled, “The Devil You Know Is Sometimes Better Than The Devil You Don’t Know.”   Well, that’s what the chapter is about, but since all that wouldn’t fit, it’s just called “The Devil You Know.”  For folks from the US, don’t assume you can trust your lawyer or that “fiduciary duty” and “agent/agency” mean anything similar to what they mean in US law.

THE LAUNDROMAT

Two new movies, “Panama Papers” and the movie just premiered at the Venice Film Festival, starring Meryl Streep, “The Laundromat.” also focuses on the issues of corruption and money laundering.  I saw a quote by a respected lawyer who was decrying the Panamanian system of paying off judges for verdicts in your favor.  He explained Panama thus: “Panama is primarily a bank, which also, happens to be a country.”

But the rest of Panama … is PARADISE!

It is a neutral, peaceful country without any military.  When the Canal was turned back to Panama, the in the second Carter/Torrijos Treaty, the US agreed to protect the neutrality of the Panama Canal in perpetuity.  Of course now that the US can renege on treaties with a Tweet, and countries can no longer depend on the US to honor treaty commitments …

Panama is a democracy … and since the US Invasion and the removal of Noriega, to avoid a repeat of a strongman/dictatorship, Panama has successfully elected numerous governments.  The President of The Republic can only serve a single five-year term, and must sit out ten years before running again.  It is a very participatory democracy, with hotly contested elections with candidates from several parties (not just two), and the candidate with the most votes wins!  [No Electoral Collage to frustrate the will of the electorate and put someone who doesn’t have the most votes into office!]  You only have two months from when you declare your candidacy until the election. [Not two years!]  And when the election is over, it’s over.  Signs must come down by law.  There’s no great divide between parties.  Interestingly, having learned from the dictatorship, the people just change the party in power each time.  New person takes office and the government changes … literally.  The old political hacks are out, having thrown any unfinished files and business into the dumpster, and the new hacks are in.  Not the most efficient system, but … And the assembly … he/she who buys the most votes, with hams, washers, sinks, T-shirts, umbrellas, whatever it takes, wins.  And the Assembly, just like the US Congress talks a lot … and sometimes goes into special session as fisticuffs break out on the floor of the Assembly … literally.

Panama is diverse and accepting.  Because of it’s unique position and history, people from all over the world have passed through Panama, and many have ended up staying.  Simon Bolivar, the great leader of the Americas overthrowing Spanish rule, said, “If ever the world had a capital it would be Panama.”  Through the Gold Rush, the creation of the Panama Railroad, and later the Panama Canal, Panama is the place where the world meets.  For that reason you have people living together in harmony, all races, backgrounds religions, lifestyles … it is beautiful to behold.

One of my favorite quotes about Panama is from the novelist John Le Carré who in THE TAILOR OF PANAMA describes Panama,  “We’ve got everything God needed to make paradise. Great farming, beaches, mountains, wildlife you wouldn’t believe, put a stick in the ground you get a fruit tree, people so beautiful you could cry.”

And it is a spectacularly beautiful country with coasts on two oceans, beautiful mountains, lush rain forests, beautiful tropical weather, all kinds of wild things, 954 species of birds, 1,000 species of wild orchids.

Panama is the economic powerhouse of the region.  True, the Panama Canal which annually contributes profits of about $1.5 BILLION to the central government in a country with only about 4 million people.  More ships are registered in Panama than any other country.   Panama’s free zones provide distribution centers on both oceans, with the Colon Free Zone being the second largest in the world.  Tocumen International is rapidly expanding as the “Hub of The Americas.”  For better, or worse, Panama has over 200 international banks and is the center for corporate registrations and financial transactions.

Panama has always used the US Dollar, regarded as one of the world’s safest currencies.  Although we call it the “Balboa” it is in fact the US Dollar, so we don’t have the wild fluctuation and inflation which characterizes the currencies of some of our neighbors.  Panama has its own coins many of which work in US vending machines because they are the same size as US coins.

Panama has a strong infrastructure and has wisely used Canal profits not just to expand the Canal, but for subway/metro in Panama City, bridges and roads.

Panama is a strong friend of the US, despite a turbulent relationship at times, but it is an independent, sovereign nation, certainly not the “boy” of the US, and acts internationally in its own best interests.  It was Panama’s relationship with Cuba which set the stage for the, unfortunately brief, positive developing relationship with Cuba developed by President Obama and, unfortunately for Cuba, the region, and the US, trashed by President Trump.  China has always been the second largest customer of the Canal, and a new developing relationship with China, has enabled significant economic partnerships, and a Chinese plan to created a high-speed rail service between Panama City and David, Chiriqui where I live.

For a small country Panama offers a wide variety of lifestyles!  Panama City is Miami on steroids!  A booming city of high-rise apartments, offices, and hotels, yet with spectacular parks and coastline.  You have the Pearl Islands just off Panama City.  Beach lovers will fall in love with the stretch of developed and undeveloped beaches along Coronado.  Boquete, Volcan, El Valle offer cool, spring-like weather year-round.  The Azuero Peninsula offers everything from beaches, to Spanish-colonial charm.  And then there are the funky, Afro-Caribbean, tropical islands of Bocas del Toro.

Something for everyone!  If you are a billionaire looking for a private island, or an Italianete mansion in a gated, guarded, mountain community, or just looking to stock up on overpriced designer goods and jeweled baubles … we’ve got it!  But if you’re an expat retiree living on Social Security … you can have that.  Mansions, houses grand and small, condos, farms ..  did I mention Islands?  Theater, music and film festivals, night life, every kind of outdoor recreation imaginable … well, except snow skiing … we’ve got it.

Panama is welcoming!  Maybe because it is a small country, it is easy for Immigration to keep track of who is entering Panama.  Because it is a small, but growing nation, it welcomes people from around the world as it always has.  The Friendly Nations Visa offers citizens from 49 “Friendly Nations” to have a fast track to Permanent Residency in Panama.

Having a sensible “Plan B” that’s thought out and makes financial sense doesn’t mean that you are locked into that plan for the rest of your life.  You may choose to live in permanent exile, but you may just choose to live as an expat until conditions improve “back home.”  Nothing remains the same forever.  Things change.  The key is to grow with the change and have a plan so that you’re not making knee-jerk decisions.  Most of us are able to make financial, investment decisions based on analysis of what is the best investment and we can move from one investment to another as circumstances change, but a lot of times when it comes to running our lives we lock ourselves in and don’t realize we can change the ways in which we invest our lives and money and where we can get the best return.

Darwin said, “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is most adaptable to change.”

Coming to Panama … Friendly Nations Visa 

Andorra Argentina Australia Austria Belgium
Brazil Canada Chile Costa Rica Croatia
Cyprus Czech Republic Denmark Estonia Finland
France Germany Great Britain Greece Hong Kong
Hungary Ireland Israel Japan Latvia
Liechtenstein Lithuania Luxembourg Malta Mexico
Monaco Montenegro Netherlands New Zealand Norway
Paraguay Poland Portugal Korea San Marino
Serbia Singapore Slovakia South Africa Spain
Sweden Switzerland Taiwan Uruguay USA

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Seven Reasons NOT to Move to Panama

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

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.

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

Escape To Panama

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You are not a tree.  You can pick up and relocate and many people and families choose to do so.  This life is not a dress rehearsal.

I came across this article on Marketwatch and I suggest you read the entire article.

It quotes a retired school adminstrator from Massachusetts who was, “… fed up with a lot of things in America — including the high cost of living, repeated mass shootings and what she saw as a lot of ‘rage and hate’ among residents. ‘The U.S. has gotten so out of control — the social fabric is shattering,’ she says. ‘It is an act of insanity to continue to stay in the U.S.,’ she adds, noting that in Panama crime is low, you more rarely see guns, and life can be more affordable.'”   “Insanity” may be a bit much, but you’ll want to read the entire article.

And she moved to Panama and the little town where I live, Boquete.  The article continues, “’It’s a place of indescribable beauty and the culture is complex and vibrant,’” she says. “’It’s not a sleepy town in the mountains, there’s arts and culture, birding, sailing, hiking, restaurants with chefs from around the world, it’s a foodie paradise. There’s so much going on here.’” (Travel guide Lonely Planet writes this:“’Boquete is known for its cool, fresh climate and pristine natural surroundings. Flowers, coffee, vegetables and citrus fruits flourish in its rich soil, and the friendliness of the locals seems to rub off on everyone who passes through’.”)

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My friend Jackie Lange relocated to Panama after reading my book, THE NEW ESCAPE TO PARADISE.  Jackie’s friends began wanting to check out Panama, and so she organized a little tour to show them her new home and explan why she chose Panama.  That humble beginning has morphed into Jackie Lang’s Panama Relocation Tour.  I believe at last count she has conducted over 109 tours.  These are not real estate tours, but boots-on-the-ground tours of the places many ex-pats have chosen to live and a chance to meet with expats and learn first hand of their experiences.  And the tour is filled with information about everything from visas and bank accounts to where you can shop and find most everything.  This is not necessarily a plug for Jackie’s tour, although if you have any interest in relocating to Panama, I’d definitely recomment the tour.

What I want you to check out is this YouTube page of testimonials of folks who’ve taken the tour, moved to Panama, and what life is like for ex-pats in Panama.

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Welcome everyone!

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LIVING IN PANAMA

dsc_0481Fifteen years ago when we moved to Boquete, Panama, there really wasn’t a whole lot of information available online, and blogging was somewhat new, so I began blogging about the joys and challenges of living in Panama. Then lots of folks started blogs, so now I only write occasional pieces about living in Panama. But not to fear … there is a whole repository of interesting blogs about life in Panama right here.

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WORKING THE HIGH SEAS

It is a tough job, but someone has got to do it. My first cruise ship gig was back in the 60s on the cruise staff of a student ship to Europe. Eventually I started working my vacations as a chaplain on cruise ships, that led to us owning travel agencies in Southern California, and then after retiring early and moving to Panama, and then 12 years ago I began lecturing on cruise ships. Now, after countless cruises, two trips around the world, and lecturing on over 300 different ports, I’m still enjoying being at sea on luxury cruise ships. It is a better retirement job than being a greeter at Walmart, not that there is anything wrong with being a greeter at Walmart. So, come along and share the adventure!

Dr Richard Detrich

OUR HOME IN PANAMA

We have a beautiful Tuscan-style estate home just outside of Boquete with 4 acres of tropical landscape with coffee, banana, avocado, and citrus trees. We also have a spot right on and overlooking the water in Boca Chica. And, I’m still working on ships 4 to 6 months a year … so eventually we are going to want to downsize. So, if someone comes along who wants a beautiful tropical estate …

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It’s an exciting life, so Explore. Experience. Enrich. Enjoy! 

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