My life in Panama so far...

Swiss-born Chris is no stranger to expat life, having lived in countries such as Senegal and the USA prior to moving to Panama, where he now lives with his wife. There he wields his prowess in the real estate industry, and tells us why Panama is presently a buyer's market. He also shares some of the things he likes about living and working in Panama.
 

Chris

-Where were you born?

In Switzerland.

-In which country and city are you living now?

Republic of Panama, Panama City.

-Are you living alone or with your family?

With my wife.

-How long have you been living in Panama?

Initially 11 years, in the early Eighties. Then I moved to the US. Miami and Manhattan. Two years ago, I moved to Panama.

-What is your age?

Mentally and physically 30, but my passport says 60. Must be a typo.

-When did you come up with the idea of living in Panama?

I guess you could call my Panamanian wife an important factor!

-Was it hard to get a visa or a work permit?

It was not.

-Was it difficult for you to get medical insurance before you went there or when you first arrived?

I kept a fantastic Swiss medical insurance until I arrived in Panama. I got a local insurance that covers me worldwide. Very affordable, but I selected the highest possible deductible. I am blessed with perfect health and (because?) I have never taken any prescription medicine (I never asked "my" doctor if Dumbex is right for me) and I stay as far away from doctors as I can. The way I see it, medical insurance is just for extreme emergencies: "I have bad news and good news... Bad news, you've got cancer. Good news, it's good for my bottom line!"

-How do you make your living in Panama? Do you have any type of income generated?

I was a real estate broker in Miami, first with EWM.com then with Prudential Realty and I had a very bad feeling about the market (which dropped 40% after my departure, but that's not related). I did a lot of research, online and word of mouth, to identify the best real estate company in Panama.

My criteria were simple... I had heard too many horror stories about how real estate was conducted in Panama, where a majority of "agents" operate illegally (which would be a felony in Florida, carrying a jail sentence) and I wanted to work for an American style company with a high sense of ethics. I contacted Century 21 and was hired immediately, based on my US broker licenses. I am happy with that choice.

-Do you speak Spanish and do you think it's important to speak the local language? (please add your thoughts on local customs and whether it's important for expats to respect/observe local customs).

I speak Spanish perfectly, albeit with an accent but that doesn't matter. It took me three months to be able to speak, read and write, but I was determined to do it. I speak other languages so it was not too difficult, although I had budgeted one month... I was rather motivated, as my employer (International Committee of the Red Cross) had sent me to Argentina by mistake, although I did not speak a single word of Spanish.

It was a huge mistake, taking into account that I had been very thoroughly vetted and was submitted to extensive examinations for every language I spoke. I guessed someone put an X in the wrong column. It was a bit foolish from my part to accept the assignment which involved interviewing political detainees and reporting on their condition, but it was not MY mistake and I always loved a challenge. As it turned out, no one ever found out my secret, which I shared only with the prisoners of a female facility. They had few opportunities to laugh...

In Panama, you can certainly get by with English only, but it is not as widely spoken as you would think. Do yourself a favor and learn the language. It's good for your aging brain. Panamanians are basically a welcoming people and they have an excellent attitude towards the Gringos, which they somewhat regard as superior beings. Gringo is not a bad name, by the way, and I use it freely. This may not be case in other parts of Latin America.

-Do you miss home and family sometimes? Describe your favorite recreational activities there or those that are available.

One of my sons lives in Miami, and most of my family, including my parents, live in Switzerland, and of course I would want to see more of them. I am however a professional expat, I've lived in lots of places, so home is where I lay my hat. Nice beaches are one hour away, but the truly spectacular ones are on the Atlantic side.

-Do you have other plans for the future? 

I plan to be an active Realtor for the next 25 years. Travel plans are limited to visiting family and friends.

-What about housing, have you bought, or are you renting a home? How much do you pay for it?

Right now, Panama is definitely a buyer's market. Apartments cost around $150 to $200 per square foot in the capital, and much less in the "interior" provinces. New apartments currently benefit from a 20 year property tax exemption.

-What is the cost of living in Panama?

Not as cheap as you would think, but less than in Florida for example. If you are retired, you get all kind of discounts, in restaurant meals (good food!), prescription, travel and entertainment. How does a movies ticket for $2.00 sound? That's for an original English soundtrack (Spanish subtitles) for a recent movie in an American style movie place. And if you choose to pay a tad more, they have VIP screening rooms with leather recliners, where your food is served by waiters.

-What do you think about the locals?

Panamanians are great people. Very welcoming. If you consider yourself a VIP and expect the reverence due to your superior status, then stay home. You are not going to get it here. The word here is IGUALADO, meaning that they see you at their level and not as a superior being. I find their familiarity quite refreshing. They need to work a bit on the customer service thing. They will get there...

-What are the positive and negative aspects of living in Panama?

The positive aspects overshadow the negative. I like to have US Dollars in my wallet (the ONLY local currency) instead of useless banknotes printed on demand. No hurricane season, for one thing. By the way, the Central American country whose economy is the least affected by the world's financial turmoil. Panamanians do not feel compelled to reply to their email messages ASAP. They frequently treat it as snail mail... but that may change, given the current Blackberry invasion. (I am an iPhone guy!).

-Do you have any tips for our readers about living in Panama?

Come spend a few weeks to test the waters. You may want to rent an apartment at first until you find the neighborhood that best suits you. If you see cheap rentals on the Internet, take into account that leases are for one year. You can find short term but there is less to choose from. If they don't advertise short term, then it's for 12 months and that explains why they won't bother responding to your inquiries.

-Do you have any favorite Web sites or blogs about Panama?

I need to update my own site, but I would recommend the website of my company, as it provides a good snapshot of the current market. By the way, many real estate websites are not reliable at all. One simple reason: many of my colleagues advertise properties they do not represent, just to hook a prospect... (Sorry, that apartment just sold yesterday, but I'll be happy to help you find you another one!).

On occasion, competitors copy and paste the descriptions and the photos from my listings then post them, without changing a comma, on their own sites - at a lower price! (I am not getting upset anymore...). There's another factor: expired listings stay posted for years, because no one bothers to remove them. That might give you a false idea of the market.

So here's Century 21's website: http://www.semusarealty.com/

If you need a reliable Interior Designer, my wife Rita will be happy to answer your questions. She is an ASID allied member: http://www.interiordesignpanama.com/ If you have a question, I'll be happy to help.

Take care, and thank you Lizza and Victor for providing this interesting forum!

 

Working in Panama

Gatlin's picture

Although I am retired from Project Controls/Mngt in the Eng.& Const. industry I currently teach Recuperative Yoga which is is an all ages, all infirmaries yoga which obviously would be ideal in a retirement area although I do have students in their early 30's right now who are either beginners/restarters into yoga, or are recouping from injuries.

I lived in Panama as a youngster (late 50's early 60's) and loved it there .. my parents were members of the Archeological Society and we had a weekend place in El Valle .. although we were military we were not the type who stayed on Base/Post. So living on the economy is not a problem for me.

I realize that Panama is ranked currently as Number One for retirees and that Panama makes it very easy for ex-pats to retire there I was wondering how hard it would be to have a, probably in-house, yoga studio there. I realize that in country income would be taxed but that would still leave my US SS as untaxed .. and working as a Yoga teacher is more for me than anything .. and its not like classes there are that expensive. I did check out some Yoga studios there and most of the classes were in the $5-10 range per student and I only do small group or individual classes so the earnings would not be significant. But I do want to be legal about it.

I was thinking about taking a vacation there this year to give me a more updated view of the country and thought I might want to rent a house for a month or two if I can schedule it. I assume those type rentals are rather expensive but I would prefer a non-gated community rental. I'm a inner city, funky houses, artist community dweller normally. Most of what I have seen listed seemed very posh and I was wondering if there are places to rent that would be more like what I would be interested in living in.

thanks,
Melissa

YOGA in PANAMA

Panamawise's picture

Hello Melissa,
That’s quite a career change, but probably a smart choice and less stressful. Yes, Panama is ranked as Number One for retirees, but you don’t see many folks running around in plaid shorts and mismatched shirts. And, while there are gated communities (Costa del Este, for instance) they are not geared towards the Third Age. No retirement communities that I am aware of. Anyway, who says Yoga is reserved to grand parents? Lots of people could benefit, and that includes me, atlhough I am familiar with meditation. Good thing that you plan to go legal about your new profession, especially when you post your intentions on a public forum. Taking a vacation here is a wonderful idea. Hotels are not cheap though and it’s hard to find short term rentals, but not impossible. The best location for you would be Casco Viejo (now Casco Antiguo, because “antique” sounds more valuable than “old”) Panama City’s colorful downtown. Although this ancient part of the city is being discovered by artists and investors and is slowly getting restored, it remains very authentic as the original dwellers have not been displaced. This is no Disneyworld… Welcome back to Panama!

Chris

You´ve got a friend in Panama!

BILINGUAL SCHOOLS IN PANAMA

Panamawise's picture

Hello Denise,

First of all, I apologize for this late reply. I took a few days off, as Panama is virtually shut down because of the (prolonged) national holidays. It´s obvious you did indeed fall in love with Panama. And you don´t even have a Panamanian spouse, which is my case! True the opportunities are many, especially for retirees – since they don´t compete with the local work force. The “pensionado” visa applies to individuals of any age, who decide to retire. The condition is not age, but a permanent (pension, social security, etc) income from another country. There are other types of investor visas, based on specific investments. I am not an expert on immigration, but I suspect that a good way to find employment would be to create it. I see your interests are diverse. I love doing real estate, but I would certainly love to be a coffee grower (Boquete), for example, or a small hotel /resort operator (Bocas del Toro). The Caribbean shore (Pacific Ocean) is actually very accessible. This is where Panama City is located. At the other end of the Canal, where the city of Colón is, you have the Atlantic and the beaches are truly superior (from the San Blas islands, which is a Cuna Indian reservation, to Bocas del Toro). In other words, Coronado is on the Caribbean side, but just an hour from Panama. About your husband, transportation logistics would likely land you in Costa del Este, a new US style neighborhood 15 minutes East of Panama City. Obviously, your lodging accommodations would depend on your job situation. Here in the city, single family homes are pricey and burglars would be a concern. What is valuable is the land… many homes have been razed and replaced by 30 story buildings. However, you can find US style townhouses in gated communities around $200K, 20 minutes from the city. If you think Panama City, then a condo in a tower is very likely. Boquete is charming, but it´s a small provincial town. You will need to come back and keep exploring. Many other factors to consider, of course, such as schools… Here´s some information about bilingual education:

http://www.panamainfo.com/en/schools-where-should-i-send-my-kids

While it´s true that many real estate sites are never updated (if it does not cost you to advertise, why bother?), the Century 21 site is more reliable and I can always provide you with more accurate information, whenever needed.

Best regards to you and Darren,

Chris

You´ve got a friend in Panama!

Dream House in Chitré (Herrera)

Panamawise's picture

Hi Jim,
The reason why you find it so hard to find a reasonably-priced house in Panama is simple. Because of the current construction boom, which has slowed down a bit but is still going strong, buildable land has become expensive. Developers view a well-situated house as a piece of land where they could build a 50 floor tower. I´m afraid you are not going to find a large house (especially with the kind of garden you are looking for) under $200,000 in Panama City. At that price, I could find you a brand new apartment with 20 year tax exemption in a good location, but not a house. Since you are looking to retire in a quiet location, with good medical facilities, a golf course and nearby beaches, the town of Chitré (Herrera Province) might work for you. The only drawback: it´s a 3 hour drive (excellent highway) from Panama City, but it´s a booming little town with theatres, restaurants, supermarkets (even a large McDonald´s) and daily flights from the local airports will soon put the capital a mere 30 minutes away. This house belongs to an American couple who use it as their vacation home. It´s within your price range at $175,000 and with all the gardens you need. I hope it´s still available when you arrive next February. It will be a pleasure to assist you.
Best,
Chris

http://i205.photobucket.com/albums/bb118/daptin1/Chitreporch.jpg
I hope the picture shows... If not, here´s another link with more details about the lot size, etc.
http://i205.photobucket.com/albums/bb118/daptin1/DreamHouseinChitrHerrer...

You´ve got a friend in Panama!

Panama Visit

Jack Kenney's picture

Enjoyed your article. We are planning to come to Panama the beginning of 2010 with the hopes of possibly renting an apartment and then in about a year buying a property if we like it. What I really need is someone to take us around once we arrive. Do you have anyone we could get in touch with to show us the area so we can determine a good place to live. We live in Florida now, but want to move to Panama. We need the name of a good hotel to stay in near Panama City and then someone to escort us around to the nice areas to live. We will be happy to pay for their time and expertise. We are just a little older than you.

Please let me know via e-mail jrksgs@aol.com

Jack Kenney

A good hotel in Panama

Panamawise's picture

Hi Jack,

Glad you liked it, although it was written on the spur of the moment and it hardly qualifies as an article. I’m not much of a tourist guide, but I’m always glad to help. It will be a pleasure to show you a few nice neighborhoods personally and I can refer you to someone who can do that more extensively. I can also recommend a good hotel, if you define the word “good”. That would depend on the duration of your stay and your budget. Let me know when you are in town and we’ll have a cup of coffee. The Century 21 office is located at Multicentro, on Avenida Balboa, an easy-to-find location in a city where street addresses are not very relevant.

Merry Christmas!

Chris

You´ve got a friend in Panama!

Hello Chris~ I came across

WomanOfWord's picture

Hello Chris~

I came across this site and forum; found it to be interesting and informative. As I read on, I was able to expand my mind thus see how it can be a helpful and useful tool for others who are planning, anticipating or even are in the very early stages of considering the idea of living in another country for whatever their reason is.

I am at the "early stages" of consideration. However, my interest is not in the country in which you reside and work in; but, in Haiti. And, my reasons for making a change are different. It is the recent earthquake in Haiti that have once again beckoned my spirit and heart; caused me to pause, rethink and consider making a move to not merely assist in the relief efforts; but, beyond. You made mention of working for the International Committee of Red Cross and I want to ask you further information about this piece if I may too. As I am already a local and national ARC volunteer and have long desired wanting to explore the opportunities with the International Committee of Red Cross for years. It is this "piece" that is draws me to your "doorstep" for additional information, guidance and direction.

Your time, consideration and thoughts are appreciated and welcomed at: CJY4Ever@aol.com

Have a blessed day as you travel to and from. You have blessed mine already.
Cindy

Dream House sold... with cat clause!

Panamawise's picture

Hello friends,

As Jim already knows, I just sold the house in Chitré to a young couple. There was a somehow unusual clause: the two cats were part of the sale and had to be taken care of. I was glad to arrange that. I am happy to report, they get along extremely well with the new owners´chihuahua!

You´ve got a friend in Panama!

The International Committee of the Red Cross (reply to Cindy)

Panamawise's picture

Hi Cindy,

When I visited Haiti in 1976, I was struck by the mixture of poverty and potential. It looks like that situation has not evolved much. The catastrophic earthquake could not have happened at a worse location. Nevertheless it has focused worldwide attention on that tiny country and I pray this attention endures. News networks bombard their viewers with images of despair and that in turn helps channeling donations. The risk is that news network find something new to boost their ratings (The octomom or the flying saucer boy, etc... ) and forget about Haiti overnight.

I worked for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), the independent organization based in Geneva and at the origin of both the Geneva Conventions and the Red Cross, as a Delegate. It may surprise you to learn that the first requirement is Swiss citizenship. As the ICRC website (http://www.icrc.org/eng) explains:
"Recruitment of members of the International Committee by co-opting them from among Swiss citizens is a guarantee of cohesion and efficiency. Its members have attended the same schools, and often share the same background - the liberal professions, or higher education; they think along the same lines, and can identify themselves with the institution much more easily than would eminent figures from different parts of the globe. And since they do not represent any State or party, they are responsible only to the Red Cross and to their own conscience. They have no constituency to which they are answerable for their activities and for the opinions they express within the ICRC. In fact, despite the momentous nature of their decisions, the vast majority of them are taken not by vote but by consensus emerging from discussion. The International Committee has never reached a deadlock because its members failed to agree."
Congratulations for being a local and national ARC volunteer! We are members of the same family. You may want to further explore with the ARC all available opportunities to help Haiti.
On my Facebook page, I have placed a link to Doctors Without Borders, which I feel are the most qualified recipients for donations. I don´t have excessive appreciation for people who walk around with a stethoscope around their neck and do my best to avoid them, but these doctors are heroes who volunteer their time and expertise to do emergency field work. They keep red tape and expenses at a minimum and are always the first on location whenever they are needed. Their website is http://doctorswithoutborders.org/index.cfm
Check it out!
All my days are blessed, and so are yours...
Christophe

You´ve got a friend in Panama!

Working in Panama

Tom Esposito's picture

Chris:
I read your information with great interest. I am a realtor with Coldwell Banker which is a sister company to Century 21. My wife and I are thinking of moving to Panama where I served in the Army for 2 tours in the 80's, the latest one with the US Embassy there. Although I'm a military retiree, I'm not ready to just quit and bask in the sun quite yet. I need to keep working and real estate is what I had planned to do. You commented that obtaining a work permit was very easy. I read another commentary from another expat currently living in Panama and he said it was very hard, almost impossible to obtain a visa or work permit and then stated that "foreigners are not allowed to work here(with some exceptions). Can you help clarify this point. Obviously, you're working as a realtor there so I don't know what this other expat was referrring to. Where do I go to obtain additional info on this point? I look forward to hearing from you soon.

WORKING IN PANAMA

Panamawise's picture

Chris:
I read your information with great interest. I am a realtor with Coldwell Banker which is a sister company to Century 21. My wife and I are thinking of moving to Panama where I served in the Army for 2 tours in the Eighties, the latest one with the US Embassy there. Although I'm a military retiree, I'm not ready to just quit and bask in the sun quite yet. I need to keep working and real estate is what I had planned to do. You commented that obtaining a work permit was very easy. I read another commentary from another expat currently living in Panama and he said it was very hard, almost impossible to obtain a visa or work permit and then stated that "foreigners are not allowed to work here(with some exceptions). Can you help clarify this point. Obviously, you're working as a realtor there so I don't know what this other expat was referrring to. Where do I go to obtain additional info on this point? I look forward to hearing from you soon.

Dear Colleague,

You are correct, I am working in Panama as a Broker Associate with Century 21 and - although my age entitles me to $2.00 movie tickets - I am not about to retire any time soon. Sorry if I may have implied it was easy to get a work permit. It was easy for me indeed, mostly because my interior designer wife is Panamanian... While it is easy to obtain a "pensionado" visa (the condition being not the age, but being the recipient of a fixed income such as one from a pension fund) I believe it's not as easy to obtain a work permit. The best way to go would be to contact a Panamanian immigration attorney. Many won't charge you for preliminary information. If you contact me at panamawise@gmail.com I will be happy to supply the name of the attorney used by Century 21.

Best regards,

Chris

You´ve got a friend in Panama!

fees

Elaine's picture

Hi Chris,

What are the building fees? I have scanned the Century 21 listings and I noticed many
amenities, noting is said about maintenance fees. Also, when the listing says a second parking slot is available, does that mean you pay for it?

Thanks for your comments and I find your blog extremely helpful.

A question about building fees...

Panamawise's picture

Hi Chris,

What are the building fees? I have scanned the Century 21 listings and I noticed many
amenities, noting is said about maintenance fees. Also, when the listing says a second parking slot is available, does that mean you pay for it?

Thanks for your comments and I find your blog extremely helpful.

Dear X,

I don't have your contact information, so I will attempt to provide a reply here. In Panama, most buildings (especially the new ones) are provided with such amenities as pool, gym and social areas. Other condos offer saunas, spas, tennis courts, squash courts, etc. Administration fees cover these costs, as well as security, building maintenance and cleaning of common areas. These fees are the responsibility of the owners. On average, they represent a monthly payment of $1.25 per square meter. Therefore a 2000 sq. ft apartment could pay the equivalent of $233 monthly. That payment is usually built into the rent, so tenants are not expected to be responsible for it. When it comes to accepting the responsibility of a new listing, be it for rent or for sale (I only work on an exclusive basis, just like in the US) I strive to negotiate reasonable terms with the owners. I recently turned down the listing of a wonderful house because the owner insisted on charging tenants for the administration fees on top of the rent.

When an extra parking space is mentioned as available, which is not too common, I assume that a neighbor is willing to sell it or rent it for an additional fee. That happens occasionally, when a couple of retirees have two spaces but only one car.

Best,

Chris

You´ve got a friend in Panama!

Just for the record, I have

Panamawise's picture

Just for the record, I have replied to Cindy via email, last January. Given the nature of her inquiry, I didn't think it indispensable to share my response online. I do my best to always reply...

You´ve got a friend in Panama!

building fees

Elaine's picture

Thank you for the reply. This is helpful in trying to decide where to go for holiday etc.
I am finding many hidden fees in my worldwide search and trying not to take anything for granted.
Sorry for being "Dear X" I am now registered with this site!

MOVING TO PANAMA

RITA MURRAY's picture

I AM AN ICU RN FOR 27 YEARS IN THE USA. MY HUSBAND HAS A LANDSCAPING BUSINESS. WE ARE CONSIDERING LOOKING TO PANAMA AS A MOVE IN THE FUTURE. WHAT ARE THE CHANCES OF GETTING A REGISTERED NURSE JOB IN A HOSPITAL IN PANAMA? WOULD I BE ABLE TO TRANSFER MY LICENSE THERE? WE WOULD HAVE A COMBINED INCOME OF OVER 3200 A MONTH WITHOUT WORKING, PLUSE OUR SAVINGS. WHAT KIND OF HOUSING WOULD WE QULIFY FOR...WE WOULD RENT FIRST TO BE SURE THIS IS WHERE WE WILL RETIRE.

MOVING TO PANAMA

Panamawise's picture

Hello Rita,
Even though your skills and experience are in high demand here, as well as in the States, it is not easy for a foreigner to work in Panama. On the other hand, you would appear to qualify for "pensionado" visas. Panama is quite welcoming for those who have a guaranteed fixed income (you don't need to be a retiree, as the qualifications are not based on age, but on income) but, understandably, the country does not want to create unneeded competition for local workers. On immigration issues, you may want to contact a specialized attorney. I don't have a specific recommendation and I am not endorsing anyone, but here´s a link to a law firm which specializes on immigration, at least according to their ads: http://www.estudioarauz.com/pa/en/practice-areas.html
One of the decisions you need to take is WHERE you would like to retire. Panama City is bustling, but you need to drive one hour if you are a beach person. Nobody swims in the Bay, which is scheduled for a massive cleaning undertaking. Boquete, near the Costa Rica border is a favorite destination and in between, there are many little towns like Chitré where other Americans and Canadians are going. It all depends on what you want to do and your budget, but of course, you would get more housing in the interior provinces. I would suggest you come for a visit. There are plenty of opportunity for rentals here in the capital. A two bedroom apartment will cost you between $1200 and $1500, unfurnished. A word of caution: all rentals are intended for a year. Short terms are not as easy to find.
Best,
Chris

You´ve got a friend in Panama!

Work in Panama

Orchid's picture

Chris, first thank you for this information. I am in the same boat as everyone who has posted here - I want to work while we are living in Panama. We are retiring to Panama. We qualify for the pensionado visa.

We will be in country from 10 July 2010 and return to the states 24 July 2010.

I am pursuing my real estate license through, ugh, ReMax, sorry. Do you think this is wise? And even though the company is a competitor will I have a hard time getting on as an agent? Ultimately, I would like to get my broker's license.

pmiller985@hotmail.com

Working in Panama

Panamawise's picture

Chris, first thank you for this information. I am in the same boat as everyone who has posted here - I want to work while we are living in Panama. We are retiring to Panama. We qualify for the pensionado visa.
We will be in country from 10 July 2010 and return to the states 24 July 2010.
I am pursuing my real estate license through, ugh, ReMax, sorry. Do you think this is wise? And even though the company is a competitor will I have a hard time getting on as an agent? Ultimately, I would like to get my broker´s license. P.

Chris, I read your interview and all of the posts at expatinterviews.com. My husband is retired and we do qualify for the pensionado visa. We are making an exploratory trip to Panama 10 July -24 July 2010. My concern above all others is not being able to work. I am pursuing my real estate license through one of your competitors. I am hoping that will get me a job in the office in Panama. Our biggest concern now that we have made airline reservations we do not which hotel to stay in. We are interested in David. However, we do not want to pay the exorbitant package price that is being asked. Can you assist us? Any advice you can offer would be very helpful. I posted a response to your "My Life in Panama" at expatinterviews.com but as of now 4:30 PM CST they have not posted the post. Peggy.

Hello Peggy, I´m not too sure how the posting system works but it seems to me that whoever runs this blog (Victor?) does a great job. I started out as an attorney, but I am not licensed to practice law in Panama and therefore whatever opinion I might express should not be construed as legal advice. That's what attorneys do for a living and sometimes, instead of relying on information found over the Internet, it would be a good idea to contact one of them. As far as I am concerned, finding a job was easier because a) I lived in Panama legally for over 5 years, b) My wife is Panamanian and c) I am fluent in Spanish. I have the feeling that Panama does a great job in attracting retirees ($2.00 for a recent movie in English, etc.) because it is obviously beneficial for the country. However, it would be far less beneficial if those same retirees were taking jobs away from Panamanians. Language skills aside, I found passing the local broker license difficult as it requires memorizing a lot of stuff you can look up, so I see it more as a barrier intended to regulate the field than as a learning process. Based on that experience, I am very suspicious of expats claiming to be "independent" real estate agents, unless of course they can show me their license. I carry mine in my wallet and the number is 2255. I am not saying your husband necessarily needs to obtain a license... the immigration attorney will tell you under which conditions he can or cannot work in Panama, and should he be able to do so, he could practice real estate under the umbrella of an established local broker. Again, Spanish fluency is a vital requirement. Don't be fooled by brand names... In Panama, it's possible to register the name of a famous American company and fool people into thinking they are dealing with the American franchise. Also, some huge American real estate companies are offering franchises to unrelated bidders and two familiar brand names can be operating in the same neighborhood without being connected to each other. On the other hand, Century21 is operated nationally by the same group under strict guidelines. Take advantage of your stay to visit locations and talk to the operators.

I sense the object of your interest is Chiriqui and this is definitely outside my area of expertise, which is Panama City. Boquete is a charming little town that has become a magnet for expats and backpackers. If you don't mind the frequent drizzle, the temperature is much cooler than the rest of the country. However this cannot be said of the city of David, where temperature is particularly hot. I am unable to recommend a hotel in David, but aside from the classic Expedia, Wikipedia, etc... I would try TripAdvisor.com (Try this link: http://www.tripadvisor.com/Search?where=nav&returnTo=__2F__&q=david+chir...
or go directly to www.tripadvisor.com ). Have a safe trip! Chris

Considering a move to Panama

shelley's picture

For anyone who could comment. We are extensively researching Panama for a place to relocate. My husband is a self employed consultant and am a mom of a 6 and 7 yo. I homeschool now and plan to continue with that. I am totally lost as to where would be a good place to land with small children. We don't mind driving a little for amenities (20 minutes or so) We love the beach and the mountains. We would like to be close to a christian church and around others with small kids. Other than that we are very tight knit and probably go weeks without leaving the house. We would bring our 2 small dogs and would like space for the kids to safely romp and play. We are "gringos" to the extreme (bleach blonde blue eyed kids) we would like to be safe. My husband will work from the home office. His clients are all in the US.
Essentially we have been fed up here for years and have the luxury of living anywhere, Costa Rico and others are on the table but Panama seems to be the most like what we need. Any help would be appreciated.
Thanks
Shelley

CONSIDERING A MOVE TO PANAMA

Panamawise's picture

Considering a move to Panama
For anyone who could comment. We are extensively researching Panama for a place to relocate. My husband is a self employed consultant and am a mom of a 6 and 7 yo. I homeschool now and plan to continue with that. I am totally lost as to where would be a good place to land with small children. We do not mind driving a little for amenities (20 minutes or so) We love the beach and the mountains. We would like to be close to a christian church and around others with small kids. Other than that we are very tight knit and probably go weeks without leaving the house. We would bring our 2 small dogs and would like space for the kids to safely romp and play. We are "gringos" to the extreme (bleach blonde blue eyed kids) we would like to be safe. My husband will work from the home office. His clients are all in the US. Essentially we have been fed up here for years and have the luxury of living anywhere, Costa Rico and others are on the table but Panama seems to be the most like what we need. Any help would be appreciated. Thanks
Shelley

Hello Shelley,
Gringo to the extreme? You mean your ancestors were from the North of Europe... being blonde and blue-eyed is more a Scandinavian attribute than an American trait, given the diversity of U.S. immigration. But don't worry, this is something that will endear you with the Panamanians, who are rather gringo-friendly in my opinion. I am definitely a gringo to them and that has never been a problem, except during Noriega´s rule when on one occasion I risked being stoned by a mob! As I mentioned in previous posts, working in Panama is NOT easy... Since your husband is a consultant, he may consider providing his services via the Internet. Home-schooling is rather unusual here and I never encountered a case. You might want to investigate this beforehand. You don't want to clash with local rules possibly mandating schooling. The general level of safety is OK. I would not walk into certain U.S. neighborhoods, especially at night. Christian churches should be easy to find. The best thing to do would be to come to Panama for a visit. Costa Rica is fine, provided you learn the conversion rate with the local currency. Here, there is no other currency than the dollar.

Good luck!

Chris

You´ve got a friend in Panama!

hey

Nelda Purvis's picture

Hi my name is Nelda, I live in the U.S.A..I was wanting to move to Panama but do not know how to get started. Can you send me any information about renting and cost of living. If you can't. Can you put in contact with someone who can? I'm on a fixed income and someone said it was a wonderful place to retire because of this.

Thank-You,
Nelda Purvis

Wanting to move to Panama?

Nelda Purvis's picture

Hi,
My name is Nelda. As I said I'm interested in moving to Panama. My only problem, if you could csll it that, I'm on a limited income. Was wanting to rent at first, but maybe find a good buy and get my on place later. Could you please send me some information or put me in contact wth someone who can. Every time I tried to call got no answer so was looking to get that from you.

Thank-You,
Nelda Purvis

Cost of living in Panama

Panamawise's picture

Hi, I live in the U.S.A..I was wanting to move to Panama but do not know how to get started. Can you send me any information about renting and cost of living. I am on a fixed income and someone said it was a wonderful place to retire because of this.
Thank-You,
Nelda P.

Hi Nelda,

I used to live in the U.S.A. too, and I am happy here in Panama. To be sure, since I was a child I have been living most everywhere, except Asia, and I am very flexible. Also, my Interior Designer wife is Panamanian and obviously you have to take all that into account. On the other hand, I have no vested interest in attracting anyone to come and live in Panama or anywhere else for that matter. Your fixed income might qualify you for a "pensionado" visa (the qualifier is not age, but the nature of the fixed income) which offers you many perks, such as discounts on medical expenses, prescriptions, entertainment (think $2 for a movie ticket) restaurants, etc. Many of my American customers at Century21 tell me they consider moving out because they fear the U.S. is at risk of becoming a Socialist republic. But let's not get into that... You have to ask yourself why you are considering moving to a foreign country. In spite of what you hear a lot, I don't think the cost of living in Panama City is much lower than it is , say, in Miami, FL (my last US address). If you move inland, far from trendy locations such as Coronado, Boquete or Pedasí, life is cheaper. It depends what your expectations are. Panama is not cheap. On the other hand, the local currency is the dollar, so you don´t need to fret over currency conversions. Do you speak Spanish - or rather are you willing to learn? That would be a good idea, because in spite of claims to the contrary, English is not widely spoken. Lately, rentals have been softening. You can find a one-bedroom for $1000, a two beds for $1400, a three beds for $1600 up to a luxurious penthouse for $7000. In Panama, all rentals are for one year. If it's not advertised specifically short term, don't even bother to ask.

Enjoy your weekend!

Chris

You´ve got a friend in Panama!

Permanent Residency

Cab's picture

What is the easiest way to get permanent residency for somebody without a pension?

Is it true if you buy property, a house, that you are "in?"

Is it also true that there is no property taxes for 20 years? Or is that only for a brand new property?

Is it okay to work in Panama if you are earning your money overseas on the Internet?

Can somebody set up their own business? A health spa? Is that legal to do?

Where would be a good place to buy property where one could have a garden and some chickens, access to a farmers market, and live as cheaply as possible, still have high speed Internet, with the most moderate climate not requiring heating or cooling, or very little?

Thanks for whatever you can offer in this regard.

Cab

Permanent Residency and Working in Panama

Panamawise's picture

Hi Cab,

Sorry it took so long to address your questions, but I've been a bit swamped. Lots of questions... I am going to address them with a big caveat: even though I started out as an attorney in Switzerland, my degree is NOT valid in Panama. Therefore anything I say must not be construed as legal advice. I am licensed as a real estate broker in several States in the US and also in Panama (which is not too common for a foreigner) and that's about it. I chose not to work as an independent agent, as my customers are better served through Century21 (I am a broker associate with Semusa Realty Century 21 in Panama City, Multicentro, Balboa Avenue. So much for disclosures...

I would add that no one wishing to consider working in Panama should make plans based on something they read on the Internet. Same thing if you are looking for a medical diagnostic: feel free to browse the Internet ad nauseam, but consider eventually seeking real medical help from a professional. Nuff said. Lots of expats in the making are thinking of retiring in Panama and working on the side. A common mistake... While it's true that Panama is doing a fine job at attracting retirees (I love that movie ticket for $2.00) the idea is not to bring in folks who are going to compete with the local work force. So, if you are a "pensionado" (which does not translate as "retiree" because retirement age is not a consideration - all you need is a guaranteed fixed income, currently set at $1000 monthly, but subject to change) enjoy your retirement, but forget about a local Green Card! After 10 years of being a legal resident you can apply for a work permit. Also getting married to a Panamanian allows you to get a work permit.

I understand you can get a permanent residency, even without a pension, if you invest in a property worth a least $350,000. It has to be under your personal name though, not a corporation. Becoming a legal resident, you should be able to set a business (especially if you are going to have Panamanian employees). About receiving your money overseas, earning it on the Internet, that is a bit tricky and I don't feel qualified to answer that. However, in Panama - QUITE contrary to the US - the income you earn outside the country is not taxable... That explains why Panama has the largest merchant marine in the whole world. If you register a Ship under the Panama Flag, and it does business in the US, you won't pay income tax to Panama... Foreigners can be hired by a Panamanian company as experts, technicians, consultants, etc. under specific conditions based upon the ratio of Panamanian workers.

The 20 year property tax exemption is valid for brand new properties. If you purchase a 5 year old apartment, you still have 15 years to go. By the way, it´s an exemption on the building only, not on the land. So if you buy a brand new apartment, you still have to pay property taxes on the land - which is no big deal actually...

Where to live with a "moderate" climate... That would be Boquete in the Chiriquí Province, next to Costa Rica, but El Valle de Antón has a moderate temperature (you can sleep at night with a cooling fan) and is located about 40 minutes from the beaches, or 2 hours from Panama City. Frugal living? The Azuero Peninsula, although Pedasi is becoming too trendy to stay cheap very long. The farmers market is not a very popular concept yet, but in the "interior" provinces, farmers are never very far. High speed Internet can be found wherever you can subscribe to a landline, which is most anywhere in the country.

Best,

Chris

You´ve got a friend in Panama!

vacation and potential retirement

DVT's picture

Hi

I'm from Gatineau Quebec and I am elegible to retire next yr. My plan is to go to Panama next April for approx a month to perhaps "test the waters" to see if retirement here is realistic. I would like to rent a house(for a month) on the quiet part of the beach, but I have no clue where to start looking 1st. I would also like to plan on visiting some places for long term rentals and perhaps purchasing some real estate in the future. I also need to speak with Banking people(the right ones) to ask questions about assets etc...later on I'll need to contact layers as well.

I f you could direct me or give me suggestions on how I can obtain this information, I would greatly appreciate it. Thanks.

Testing the waters

Panamawise's picture

Cher Anonyme,

The quiet part of the beach sounds like the ideal place to test the waters... Contrary to what some ads would lead you to believe, there is no beach in Panama. I mean, Panama City, of course. Forget about swimming in the Bay of Panama. That might change a few years from now, as cleaning the bay is another mega project well under way - same as a subway system. Yes, this is a booming country. I first lived here in the early eighties and a ten story building was the equivalent of a skyscraper. Those who have been here earlier and have not returned in, say, ten years are in for a surprise. Among other things, they just inaugurated a very impressive RIU hotel, which will make you think you were transported to Manhattan. The Multiplaza Mall is not too shabby either, with all your favorite stores such as Vuitton, Cartier, Hermès, Tiffany and Cinnabon. It is endearing to watch this country grow. In my line of business I frequently meet a few Americans concerned that their own country might become a Socialist state and looking for a safe haven should their worst fears become reality. Here's a (Fox News) interview of Panama's president, who is a pragmatic businessman (Dan Cavuto thinks he has a couple of lessons to give to his US counterpart):
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=955WuHrJvXo

But I digress... so where is the beach? About one hour drive from Panama City. Mostly around, but not limited to, the area of Coronado. Check it out on a (Google) map. The quiet part of the beach is a matter of definition. It is highly unlikely your condo or house will be located right on the beach, but more likely a few minutes away. About rentals, remember that all rentals in Panama are by definition one year rentals, unless prominently stated otherwise. If the ad does not mention the words "short term", don't even bother to ask, as you are not likely to get a reply. Panamanians are chock full of qualities (my wife is Panamanian...) but don't expect quick replies to your messages: they treat email as they would snail mail; not a priority.

Banking people abound in this country where the number of banks is disproportionate with its size (about half of Florida, or smaller than South Carolina). However, you're likely to find opening an account a hassle. If it's mortgages you have in mind, you could do worse than getting a free consultation from a mortgage consultant. Attorney are in plentiful supply and easily recognizable by their trademark uniform: a suit and tie, under the tropical sun. (You're not likely to confuse them with shorts and flip-flop wearing Americans).

My advice: come here for a vacation and find out how it feels. Expect an emerging country and let the first-world touches dazzle you. Not the other way around.

Bon voyage!

Chris

You´ve got a friend in Panama!

I am planning a week's

marshaja's picture

I am planning a week's vacation at the Breezes in Santa Clara this October. For the life of me, I cannot find an inexpensive way to be transported to and from the airport. The Breezes ad states that therem is a shuttle but no further information. Any ideas?
I am very much interested in retiring there within the next 5 years or so. I would like to look at houses for sale while down there. How does the financing work? What can we expect for a down payment. I see from the various real estate ads that housing varies in price.
Please advise.
thanks......

Dear Week Planner, I have

Panamawise's picture

Dear Week Planner,

I have spent a weekend at Breeze's and it was a generally pleasant experience. You may want to give them a call at 1(877) 273-3937 or 011(507) 908-3600. If you call them at least 72 "business hours" in advance, as I was told (which seems like a lot of business days...) you can arrange shuttle transportation from the airport to the resort at the additional cost of US$70.00 per person. While here, you will have the opportunity to explore retirement opportunities and locations. Financing works pretty much the same than in the US. I would expect you to pay at least 30% down. Some banks are more efficient than others and according to the informal polls I subject my customers to, Scotia Bank comes consistently with good marks. Same as everywhere on earth, housing prices vary according to many factors, the most important being location.

Best,

Chris

P.S. Tooting one's own horn is an ugly job, but someone's got to do it: Century21 just posted its 2010 rankings: my office (Semusa Realty Century21, Panama) is number one, and Chris Frochaux is the top producer, out of seven countries and 23 offices in all of Central America.

You´ve got a friend in Panama!

Hi All I opened a hostel/bnb

bambuhostel's picture

Hi All

I opened a hostel/bnb in david panama almost three years ago, it has been a struggle at times but rewarding, the place is popular with visa runs and real estate searchers..

if anyone plans on being in David Please stop by for a swim and a cold beer!
http://www.bambuhostel.com