An Amazing Adventure Is Waiting For You! Leave All Your Worries Behind... Let Us Take Care Of Everything For You! Our 9th Year of Doing Panama Relocation Tours! We're Your Panama Relocation Experts! Our 6-day, 7-night ALL-INCLUSIVE Panama Relocation Tour ™ will introduce you to the … Get the Details
Thank you to everyone who joined me for the Living in Panama Q & A Conference call. What was supposed to be a one hour call turned in to more than two hours. Because this is my 9th year of living in Panama and offering monthly Panama Relocation Tours, I know the answers to all your questions about relocating to and retiring in Panama. I’ve helped many hundreds of people relocate to Panama.
The Living in Panama Conference Call only scratched the surface of what you need to know. During a 6-day, all-inclusive Panama Relocation Tours, I have much more time to share all the information you need to make a smooth transition to relocating to and living in Panama.
These are some of the comments I received after the Q & A Conference call:
♥ I can’t thank you enough for your unselfish load of information during today’s call!!!!! Thank you, thank you, thank you!!!!!!
♥ Thank you for hosting this call – my husband and I both listened to all the question/answers, and found that we probably have even more questions to find answers to when
I come on the March tour with you.
♥ You and your company are simply awesome – we are so impressed with how organized, knowledgeable and just plain helpful you are. Thank you!
♥ Thank you so much for your generosity in spending the time on today’s call.
♥ I am traveling solo arriving 3/21 and really pumped after your Q&A today. I was amazed by your passion and true spirit. A 1hr call goes 2hrs and 15 minutes because you
wanted to engage as long as you possibly could in spite of your other obligations. Really looking forward to meeting y’all. I’m sure we are fixing to have a great experience!!
♥ THANK YOU SO MUCH JACKIE!!! This Call was SO INFORMATIONAL AND HELPFUL~!!! So many questions I did not know I had were answered or touched on. You
are so very direct and giving! I appreciate your directness and generosity with the time you gave to supply information to us. THANK YOU.!!!
♥ Jackie — you are ‘quite’ a lady. You have continually ‘gone out of your way’ to help people (me too)! Yesterday, you gave your all with the radio call in. It’s no accident that you are as successful as you are. I’m particularly alert to people who cross their t’s and dot their i’s. I look forward to the January tour.
⇓⇓ CLICK ON THE TRIANGLE BELOW TO LISTEN TO THE LIVING IN PANAMA CONFERENCE CALL
This is our 9th year of offering Panama Relocation Tours. In all that time, we’ve only had very few minor medical situations until the February 2019 tour when we had two major medical emergencies which required visits to a hospital emergency room. I’m sharing details about these two emergencies so you can see the costs and quality of the care received at a public hospital and with doctors in Panama.
In Panama, there are public hospital and private hospitals. The private hospitals cost more. At the private hospitals, you’ll pay $15 – $20 for a routine doctor visit or $40 to $50 for a specialists.
But, the public hospitals are much more affordable. Anyone can use the public hospitals. There is no monthly fee to use the public hospitals, instead, you just pay when you go. It is typically about $2 for a routine doctor visit or $5 for a specialists at a public hospital. Interestingly, the doctors who work at the private hospitals are required to work a certain number of hours each week at the public hospitals so you could see the same doctor, but for a fraction of the costs, if you go to public hospital. However, unless it is an emergency situation, you might wait longer to see a doctor at a public hospital than a private hospital.
I have been to the small public hospital in Boquete for physical therapy a few times after messing up my shoulder with a weird yoga move called the Five Rites. Even though I had an appointment at a specific time, I had to wait about 20-30 minutes for my treatment. The doctor spoke perfect English and my treatment was $5. The results were great!
Some expats who live in Panama decide to “self insure” (meaning they do not buy health insurance) because the costs of health care is so affordable at the public hospitals. Instead of paying a health insurance premium, some expats set that money aside for any medical expenses. You’ll understand why when you see the costs below.
Honestly, I think it is better to get health insurance if you can afford it because you will have more choices about which hospital and doctor you can go to. You never know when a serious illness or accident could require a longer stay at a hospital or even surgery. Don’t worry, there are affordable health insurance options in Panama too. I’ll write about health insurance in a different article.
When considering a move to Panama, it is comforting to know that very affordable and quality health care are available for you in Panama. There are hospitals throughout Panama and more being built, or expanded, every year. Some hospitals are larger than others. Only some of the larger hospitals are open 24/7.
EMERGENCY #1 – Vivian’s legs and feet were swelling. She knew something was not right. This is her write up about her experience with Panama medical care two times in Panama:
Upon my arrival in Panama I noticed that my right ankle was swollen. Thinking that I must have banged it at some point during my trip preparations I spent the afternoon before the tour elevating and icing it. Unfortunately, my efforts did not decrease the swelling, which was advancing up my leg.
I had never experienced this so needless to say I was concerned and as we rolled into the second day of the tour I informed Jackie of my situation. We agreed that I would go to the hospital when we arrived at our stop that afternoon – which I think was Santiago.
My visit to urgent care was challenging in that the staff was not proficient in English. However, a combination of limited English, Spanish and Google Translate helped to weather the language barrier!
The process at this hospital was to first consult and then pay for the prescribed treatment. In my case it was meds via IV. Upon payment, the IV was set up. During the procedure there was a shift change and my follow up was with a doctor who spoke English well. She ordered a lab and an additional med. I paid no additional cost for the follow-up consult or meds. I was there several hours as is typical of urgent care/emergency. The total cost – $4.50!! See the receipt below
There was a slight improvement but unfortunately the treatment did not fully resolve my problem. At this point I was thinking of cutting my trip short in order to return home and get to the source of the problem. However, Jackie cautioned against traveling before the situation was under control and as we were now in Boquete, Jackie took me to her personal doctor. He not only spoke English but patiently explained to me initial concerns about the possibility of a DVT. Once he felt a DVT could be ruled out he focused on the blood pressure which was at 190/100. To bring it under control he prescribed a sublingual med and oxygen for 60 minutes. This resulted in significantly lowering my BP. He gave me a 10 day’s sample of medication to keep my blood pressure low and ordered a battery of labs. The cost for the visit and treatment: $65.00.
The next day Jackie took me to her preferred lab and returned with me the day after that to pick up the lab report. The cost for the labs was $57.00. A follow-up appointment with Jackie’s doctor to review the labs was $12.00. At this visit the doctor signed off on my travel and gave me a prescription which I didn’t fill because I still had samples.
Upon my arrival home my primary doctor continued the meds prescribed by Jackie’s doctor, and ordered a repeat of the same labs! An additional test she ordered was an ultrasound.
I share this experience for two reasons: 1) to provide a picture of the very reasonable out of pocket costs for emergency health care of this nature, provided by both a public hospital and a private doctor and 2) to express my gratitude to Jackie for her generous, PRICELESS care and support, including an invitation to stay at her house if my trip had to be extended!). THANK YOU, JACKIE.
I also want to thank my “angel ladies from Houston”, and the group in general for their well wishes. I hope all are well and thriving. 😊
Note that Vivian has been fine ever since but decided to ditch the meds and treat her high blood pressure with natural remedies!
EMERGENCY #2 – This one was very scary! A tour client had a major seizure just before boarding the bus on the second day of the tour. Luckily, her Uncle was with her. This is his write up about their experience with the emergency room at a public hospital in Panama:
I’ve been back home for ten days, have caught up with things (if that ever actually happens), and now turn my attention to the Panama Relocation Tours (PRT). I can only say that it was a great experience, that Jackie and her crew managed to provide a relaxed and comfortable environment while conducting a unique educational and experiential tour. I believe the Panama Relocation Tours is the best possible way to experience Panama. Jackie clearly knows Panama and is exuberant about it – it is beyond enjoyable to listen to her describe a country and a people she obviously loves and, after my experience, I can see why I would come to love them too. Panama is a beautiful country, with much to offer (so much that my wife and I hope to be living there in a few months) and a people who love life. You can tout the less expensive lifestyle, readily available fresh food, exceptional medical care or great weather. These are all considerations but in the final analysis it has to be an environment you can live in, thrive in. Panama is the perfect confluence of good living and the Panama Relocation Tours will prepare you for living there.
Now, I have to apologize to Jackie and her crew and to everyone on the Panama Relocation Tours. On the second day of the tour my niece, Brandy, had one of the most significant seizures I had seen up to that point. She’d had a VNS (vagus nerve stimulator) implanted which was supposed to prevent her seizures a year prior to the tour, and there hadn’t been a seizure incident in that year, so I was very surprised. But though I missed two days of the tour I had the benefit of being immersed in Panamanian culture and got a mini-tour of Panamanian medicine.
When she went down she was caught by some members of the tour. We were at the Sheraton Bijao and there were two staff members there immediately helping with her as we tried to keep her on her side so she wouldn’t aspirate. Within two minutes there was a doctor also helping and we eventually got her cognizant enough that we could put her in a wheel chair and take her to the small aid room in the hotel. Jackie was very calm and spoke to me suggesting that the best course of action would be to get her to a hospital. All of the people on the tour were very supportive and promised to make sure all of our bags were loaded on the tour bus.
In the aid room the doctor monitored Brandy’s oxygen levels and ran a short ekg strip, neither of which impressed him. He decided we needed to go to a clinic and we jumped into a cab and headed to San Carlos (a town that warrants further investigation). The hotel doctor rode with us and briefed the doctor in the clinic before leaving. They immediately took Brandy back into the examination area and left me to figure out how things worked. As it turned out, the Panamanians have great patience and took very good care of me. Any of them could look at the paperwork I had and point me in the right direction.
The first stop was the check-in receptionist. After a few minutes of gestures and sound alike words she suddenly picked up her cell phone and used it to translate. It was smooth sailing after that. She gave me the completed form and I walked down the hall to pay $1. I was then stopped by another clerk and she had another bill for lab work so I took that to another window to pay $42 dollars for a UA and complete blood workup. We were in the clinic for three and a half hours and toward the end I was given a bill for IVs, three of which were used so I went to a different window to pay $6.82. The labwork indicated that Brandy had a beginning UTI and I was sent to the pharmacy to pick up ten days worth of two medicines, $1.85. The doctor examined or interacted with Brandy every step of the way and frequently called me in to explain (in perfect English) Brandy’s status. When it was time to leave one of the clerks called a cab for us and waited with us on the curb and explained to the driver where we needed to go. So it was three and a half hours of exemplary medical care (I was a medic in VietNam and an EMT all of my adult life), with very fine people (both the medical people and the patients) for a TOTAL of $49.67.
Since we had left all contact information behind, we headed back to the Sheraton Bijao. The manager immediately recognized us and offered any assistance he could render. He put me on the phone with Jackie – still cool as always and we decided we could catch up with the tour by catching a bus on the highway near the hotel. The hotel manager immediately had us in a taxi who got us to the highway just in time for him to jump out and flag down the bus to Santiago. I had thought a car would have been more comfortable, especially for Brandy, but after we were on the bus we found it quite comfortable and again, everybody friendly and helpful. It was a two and a half hour ride to Santiago which cost $15.00 for both of us.
The next day Brandy was not completely recovered and Jackie and I decided that it would be better to skip that day of the tour and take Brandy straight to Boquete where she could rest in the same hotel for several days. Jackie, in her graciousness, paid for a car to take us to the Oasis Hotel and she had already called to inform them of our early arrival. After a couple of days of rest Brandy was able to participate in a couple of tours which she found delightful.
If I wasn’t convinced that Panama was the place to retire before this experience but am certainly convinced now. I can’t imagine retiring anywhere else.
I cannot thank Jackie and her crew enough. This is a tour that was conducted very professionally and yet you were made to feel as though you were a personal friend and were there to have a great time. Thank you Jackie, and if ever I can do anything for you, you need only ask.
I met many wonderful people on the tour, all of whom I wished to talk with and all of whom I hope I see again. Again, I apologize for any distress or inconvenience this incident may have caused. I thank you all for your help and for your graciousness and concern. It was easy to get right back into the tour mode thanks to all of your support.
CAN YOU IMAGINE WHAT THESE EMERGENCIES WOULD COST WHERE YOU LIVE?
So, why are the costs so low in Panama and so high where you live? That’s a question I get asked often. The answer is that the costs, especially at a public hospital or clinic, are based on what a simple Panamanian worker can pay. Someone like a gardener might only make $25 – $30 a day.
The other reason the costs are so low in Panama, compared to other countries, is because lawsuits are rare so doctors do not have to spend a fortune on malpractice insurance. You’ll find that most doctors offices are simple but clean.
I’ve had two eye surgeries in Panama which my health insurance paid for. My surgeon told me that when he filed the insurance claim for $2,200 in Panama, he gets paid $2,200. But when his daughter, who is a doctor in Miami, files an insurance claim for $7,000 she will be lucky to get paid $3,500.
These are some of the reasons health care costs are more affordable in Panama.
As you can see from the two medical emergencies above, quality and affordable health care are available in Panama. I don’t take any medications but I’ve been told that some medications are much more affordable in Panama too.
About half the people who come on a Panama Relocation Tour want to live near a beach. The other half prefer the cooler mountain weather which we visit also. During a Panama Relocation Tour, we visit several beach communities which offer a variety of different prices.
We focus on the beach communities which offer the most amenities without driving more than 10-20 minutes to buy groceries, see a doctor, banks, hospitals with emergency rooms, restaurants and shopping opportunities like clothes or hardware stores. Of course, reliable electricity, water and internet are top priorities too. A good road to get to the communities and houses is important too.
There are plenty of other beach communities in Panama, but unfortunately, they do not have very many amenities close by, so we don’t usually visit those areas. Most people, especially retirees, do not want to drive an 30-60 minutes to go to a nice grocery store, restaurant, doctor or a hospital.
When selecting a place to live in Panama, it’s important to think 5 or 15 years ahead and whether you will still be comfortable making a one-hour drive to see a doctor or buy groceries. If you have pre-existing medical conditions it is especially important to select an area that is close to doctors and a hospital.
Most people who come on a Panama Relocation Tours are also looking for ways they can reduce their living expenses. What’s affordable for one person may be cost prohibitive for others. Driving an hour to buy groceries adds to your living expenses not to mention the hassles involved.
The three most affordable beach communities on the Pacific side of Panama, which also have plenty of amenities, are (1) near the Coronado area, (2) the Azuero Peninsula near Chitre and Las Tablas and (3) in far western Panama in Puerto Armuelles.
Coronado has every amenity you could possibly want or need but it is also one of the most expensive areas to live outside of Panama City. However, if you drive just a few miles east or west of Coronado there are more affordable options like:
Gorgona is more affordable than Coronado yet you are only a few miles away from all the amenities in Coronado. In Gorgona, there are a few small grocery stores, some restaurants and bars plus a nice beach where you can swim and buy fresh fish every day. In addition to houses to rent, there are several ocean front condo complexes in Gorgona.
Chame is a little further east of Gorgona (closer to Panama City) and is an up and coming area for expats to move to. Interestingly, Chame is the only area in Panama where I have seen really white sand. Surfing is great in Chame. There is even a surf school there. We sometimes visit Chame and see some $700 per month two-bedroom ocean view rental houses and condos when they are available.
San Carlos, west of Coronado, is a funky little beach community which has a 24-hour hospital, restaurants, bars, grocery stores and more. You’re only 10 miles away from Coronado but you won’t need to go to Coronado often because everything you need is available in San Carlos. We sometimes visit some rentals in San Carlos when they are available.
Playa Blanca is a little further west of San Carlos. There is a new shopping center near Playa Blanca which has a 24-hour grocery store, hardware store and a pharmacy but not much else. If you lived in these communities, you’d need to drive in to Coronado on a regular basis (which could get old after awhile). Playa Blanca is much more affordable than Coronado but it is a bit isolated. Playa Blanca is about 10 minutes from the San Carlos hospital.
Estimates are that there are 2,000 or more foreigners living in the Coronado area. Some are snowbirds and some are full time.
In the Azuero Peninsula between Chitre and Las Tablas, there are 10 beaches. Some beaches are better than others. The towns are not on the beach, they are about 10-15km (6 miles) away from the beach. There are excellent roads connecting the towns and to get from either town to the beach areas.
Chitre is the larger town with a population of about 80,000 in the metro area. It has four 24-hour North American style grocery stores, a movie theater, some excellent restaurants, banks, hardware stores and clothes shops. Chitre has a small mall and an airport with flights to Panama City. There is a hospital in Chitre with a much larger and more modern hospital under construction.
Las Tablas is about 30 minutes South of Chitre. It is home to many Panamanian traditional festivals like Carnaval. The population of the town is about 8,000 and the entire metro area of Las Tablas is about 24,000. Las Tablas has restaurants, grocery stores, banks, clothes & shoe stores, hardware stores and a hospital. They just got a McDonalds too (not sure that is a good thing).
Playa Uverito is a funky beach community about 6 miles from Las Tablas. Playa Uverito has good paved roads all the way to Las Tablas. There are rentals for as little as $600 per month for a 1 bedroom right on the beach. Playa Overito is a nice safe beach for swimming. There are several restaurants and bars at the beach. There are about 200 expats in the Las Tablas and Playa Uverito area. They have weekly get-togethers and they are very involved in the community too.
Further South down the Azuero Peninsula is Pedasi and Playa Venao. Unfortunately, they do not fall in to our amenities requirements yet but things are getting better every year. Hopefully, we can add Pedasi to our itinerary in 2020.
Pedasi is a really cute little town about 35 minutes North of Playa Vanao which is at the southern tip of the Azuero Peninsula. Playa Venao has great beaches. As you can see on a map, Pedasi is not close to the coast but you are less than 15 minutes to a beach if you live in Pedasi.
Pedasi does have a nice town square with a few restaurants and four small grocery stores. They also have a new, modern hospital, Minsa-Capsi which is a public hospital so you may or may not have a doctors available who speaks English. For any major shopping, you’ll need to drive 45 minutes to Las Tablas, or you’d need to drive to Chitre which is 1 hour and 17 minutes away (per Google Maps).
Playa Venao is I hour and 52 minute drive to Chitre which is the town with the most amenities. This area is popular with surfers because the surf is great at Playa Vanao
The people who live in Pedasi or Playa Venao love it, but most of the people who come on our tours would not want to make that long of a drive to get to amenities. Poco a poco (little by little) both of these communities are getting more amenities.
Out of all the beach communities we visit, Puerto Armuelles is the most affordable. That’s why it is attracting retirees and expats from all over the world. Puerto Armuelles has 25,000 residents in the town and 60,000 in the metro area. It has several grocery stores, banks, hardware stores, restaurants and a small hospital now with a new large state-of the art hospital under construction. Unlike other beach communities, the town of Puerto is right next to the beach.
The down side of Puerto Armuelles is that is it not that easy to get to. You will need to fly in to David then take a bus or rent a car to get to Puerto. It’s a 1 ½ hour drive to Puerto from David. The other down side to Puerto is that it has been economically depressed for the last 20 years since Chiquita Banana pulled out of the community and left most of the town unemployed. The depression definitely shows in some parts of Puerto Armuelles. But now that Del Monte has come in growing bananas in the area again, and thousands of people are employed again, things are slowly starting to change for the better. I think Puerto Armuelles has a huge upside potential.
OTHER BEACH COMMUNITIES
There are plenty of other beach communities on the Pacific side of Panama, but they do not have our amenities requirements, so we do not visit them during a Panama Relocation Tour. In another article I will write about beach communities on the Caribbean side of Panama.
The only exception is Las Lajas, in Chiriqui province, which we usually go to for lunch. It is a short 15-minute drive from the PanAmerican Highway to Las Lajas beach. The town of Las Lajas is about 5 miles away from the beach. There are two grocery stores in town and a small clinic. At the beach, you’ll find several restaurants, hotels and B&Bs. It’s a rustic but relaxing beach community. People who live in Boquete like to go to Las Lajas for a day trip because it is a short 1 hour 30-minute drive.
Someone from a previous tour is renting a small 1 bedroom ocean front house in Las Lajas for $200 per month there. There is a small housing development and some new condos in Las Lajas but the road to get to those properties is a dirt road filled with pot holes. You can still buy a ocean front land for under $50,000 in Las Lajas.
If you live in the Las Lajas area, you’d need to make frequent trips to David to buy groceries, go shopping for clothes or shoes, pick up Amazon orders, see a doctor, go to the airport, go to a hospital etc. It is 1 hour 15 minute drive from Las Lajas to David.
Las Olas is another popular beach community but it is a 35 minute drive to David for any amenities.
Another thing to check out at any beach community are the rip tides. Some areas have very bad rip tides and some areas do not have rip tides. If you do not plan to get in the Ocean, the rip tides are not a problem but you also need to warn any guests who come to visit to stay out of the Ocean because of the possibility of rip tides.
There are trade-offs everywhere in Panama.
Only you can determine which area is best for you. Some people are willing to put up with a 1-hour drive to amenities and some are not. Some people are ok with rough dirt roads to their property and some are not. Sometimes the area you like best is out of your comfortable price range so you will need to look elsewhere. It is certainly something that you need to take in to consideration when you select your place to rent or buy in Panama. There is something for everyone in Panama!
The other thing to investigate, especially if you are a social butterfly, is how many expats are in the area and are there a variety of social activities you would enjoy getting involved in. The last thing you want to do when you move to Panama is just sit at home because there is nothing to do.
Of course, you want to get involved with Panamanian festivals and activities too. Your transition to relocating to Panama will be much easier if there are plenty of other expats around and there are plenty of social activities you would enjoy.
At each stop during a Panama Relocation Tour, we invite expats who live in the area to join us so they can talk about their first hand experiences about living in that area. This is a good time to ask them how many expats live in the area and what social activities are available.