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Do Not Build a House in Panama Unless You Love Stress, Frustration and Have a Lot of Extra Money to Spend.
I usually write about the positive things I love about living in Panama but here’s information about the dark side. You need to know the good and the not so good things about living in Panama so you can make an intelligent decision about relocating.
I would not advise building a house in Panama unless you have a lot of patience and a lot of extra time and money. And absolutely do not attempt to build a house in Panama unless you can be present every single day during construction. Here’s why:
In October 2017, I signed a contract to have new custom cabinets built for my house. They were to be delivered in January but, like many things in Panama, there were delays so they were installed in March.
A month before they were installed, I had my old kitchen demolished – literally with a sledge hammer. With no kitchen, I was eating out more or using my Instant Pot to make meals then doing dishes in the bathroom sink for a month.
Before the cabinets could be installed, I had to install tile on the walls and on the area where my old kitchen was located because there was no tile under the cabinets. After looking for days at 6 different stores in David and Panama City, I knew it would be impossible to match the existing tile which was put down in 2007. So, I went looking for new tile and a transition tile that had both colors in it. I needed 10 boxes of tile.
I found the perfect tile at one store but they only had 5 boxes and said it would take a month to get more (if at all).
So, I shopped at some other stores to find a different tile. I found the great tile but they only had 8 boxes.
Finally, I picked out a tile because it was the ONLY tile in Panama where I could get at least 10 boxes of the same thing.
The tile was finally installed on the floors and walls.
In my new kitchen design, the sink and stove were moved to a new, more functional, location. But the plumber could not move the plumbing to where the sink needed to go so the cabinets had to be moved slightly to accommodate the plumbing.
Next came the search for the cabinet knobs. You’d think it would be easy to buy cabinet knobs. But not in Panama. There is no Home Depot or Lowe’s in Panama. I searched high and low in David and even in Panama City. The knobs I bought were the only knobs in all of Panama that I could get 38 of the same thing in stock.
I could order cabinet knobs from Amazon and pay $4 a pound to get them delivered but it’s hard to see what the knobs really look like from a photo on Amazon.
The next nightmare…
The granite countertop company had to see the cabinets installed before he would come out to measure. But he measured wrong. The absolutely beautiful granite I picked out was ruined when he measured wrong. To make matters worse, he wanted an extra $1800 to order new granite and correct HIS mistake.
Instead, I hired a different company to make my granite countertops. After searching for two months, the granite I wanted was no where to be found in Panama.
So, I picked out a different granite. But when it was being loaded on the truck, they dropped the granite and broke in to a million pieces.
So, I had to pick out a different granite that I don’t like as much but at least it fits. The new granite company did a really professional job with the granite and installation.
Next, my plumber came out to install the kitchen faucets. There’s a main faucet and a filtered water faucet. By the way it took three full days to find these faucets. Every time I found one I liked, they were out of that faucet so I had to keep looking. The plumber discovered that the water filter faucet had a missing bolt even though the package was sealed when he opened it. I went back to Elmec, (35 minute drive one way) where I bought the faucet to get the bolt. Even though they had the same faucet in stock they would not give me a bolt out of that package or exchange my faucet. So I had to order the bolt on Amazon to get it delivered to Panama in about 7 days.
Thinking that my kitchen remodel was almost over, I hired a company to add a room on to my house. My little 960SF house really needed a little more room so I could get my office out of the bedroom.
The contractors bid was labor only like most bids in Panama. So, I was making daily, sometimes 2-3 times a day, trips to various hardware stores for supplies. If the local store did not have what was needed, I had to drive more than 30 minutes one way to David and go to 4-5 stores to get everything on the list. Sometimes when materials were delivered to the house, it was the wrong thing so I had to go back to get it straightened out. This was very very frustrating and very time consuming.
The room addition project turned out great and was finished on time… EXCEPT they built the new patio right on top of my septic tank.
I had no idea where my septic tank was. My husband took care of getting the septic cleaned out so I never paid attention to the location. The blueprints for my house show that the septic tank is in a completely different location than where it is actually located.
TIP = This is Panama
When the contractors were digging for the foundation of the patio they should have mentioned that they saw pipes. They should have investigated what the pipes went to. But nope… they just wanted to finish the project so they could get paid.
Now, I need to get a new septic system installed which will take more time, more frustration and cost more money.
I have been buying and remodeling houses for 25 years.. in Texas. But all of that did not prepare me for the frustrations of remodeling a house in Panama or the lack of the availability of materials in Panama.
These were just two little projects with contractors who came highly recommended. I can’t imagine the stress and frustration in trying to build a whole house in Panama.
Everyone I know who has had a house built in Panama says they they would never EVER do it again. It always takes twice as long and costs about twice as much. Sometimes the builder and their crew disappear for weeks at a time or forever.
Last weekend I met a lady who had a house built two years ago. She’s still finding problems and the house has become a money-pit in correcting all the problems.
I have talked to several people who paid a contractor a 20-30% deposit to build a house in Panama but the contractor disappeared with their money.
Don’t build a house in Panama. It will be way too frustrating and stressful.
It is much better to buy an existing house then make modification to it if you absolutely need to. At least with an existing house, you can hire an inspector to make sure everything is ok before you buy. And an existing house will already have plenty of landscaping (though you’ll probably want to add more).
As always, I highly recommend that you just RENT for several months before you decide to buy.
Have you ever wondered what happens if you have an emergency when you live in Panama? What if you need to call the police, fire department or need an ambulance but don’t speak Spanish?
There is a 911 service in Panama, but the emergency operator will probably only speak Spanish. And there is a special “tourist police” emergency number, 511 9260, but it is primarily for Panama City.
TO THE RESCUE…
Some, but not all, communities in Panama have a private bi-lingual emergency number you can call 24 hours a day to get the help you need. These are usually paid subscriptions services. The small fee is worth the peace of mind to know you always have someone you can call when you need the police, fire department, ambulance or even roadside assistance.
In Boquete I subscribe to an emergency service that is $80 a year. Members log in to their website to enter your contact information, directions to your house (many houses do not have an address), list of medications, your doctor’s information, emergency contact both locally and internationally, and even pet sitter information. Once you enter your information, you are assigned a number. If you have an emergency, you just tell the operator your number and what kind of help you need, like “I’m number 1234 and I need an ambulance.” The emergency service company has instant access to directions to my house so they can give it to the ambulance, police or fire department. The bi-lingual operator will stay on the line with you until help arrives and they will notify your emergency contacts.
If you are moving to Panama with pre-existing health problems, you should consider living in an area where a private bi-lingual emergency service is available. You should also take in to consideration where the closest 24-hour hospital is located… just in case.
Last weekend, in Boquete, a friend’s husband went for a short walk. He has dementia and Parkinson’s disease. He got disoriented and could not find his home. He had no idea where he lived or how to get there so he just kept walking and walking. Someone saw him and offered to give him a ride and help find his family. Luckily, there is a free email service where they could send out 1 email and it goes to thousands of people in Panama who have subscribed.
They sent out a message that they had my friend’s husband and where looking for his family. They gave a contact number. When I saw the message, I immediately called his wife who had been frantically looking for her husband for more than 2 hours. They were united a few minutes later.
This valuable service can be used when a pet is lost, a family member has not been heard from, and it is also used to notify the community of upcoming events. This email service is also used to notify the community about storms or rip tides in certain areas.
WHEN THINGS GET BAD….
Some communities in Panama also have hospice and free short-term healthcare help after a surgery, including hospital beds, walkers plus volunteers who bring food, get you to follow up doctor visits, and assist with recovery.
In addition, each Embassy has a person assigned to each province to assist people from that country. These volunteers are called wardens. If, Heaven forbid, you should get put in jail or get in a car accident, the warden for your Embassy will be notified so they can offer assistance to you.
YOUR NEW FAMILY…
When you move to Panama, you will quickly make a lot of new friends (expats and Panamanians) who you can call if you need help too. The friends in your new community are like a new family. But it’s also comforting to know that there are so many different ways you can get help when needed.
If you are thinking of moving overseas, it is important to investigate what kind of emergency services are available to you. As you can see, Panama has many different systems in place to help foreigners in emergency situations.
It’s a big decision to move overseas. There are so many unknowns so we know it helps to get answers to some of your questions in advance during our monthly Q & A Conference Calls. Of course, you will get MUCH MORE information during a 6-day all-inclusive Panama Relocation Tour. SEE MORE INFORMATION HERE
Click on the link below to listen to the May 2018 Q & A Conference Call about living in Panama.
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