Plan B Panama

plan b

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.


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 

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