A few weeks ago I was asked to do a conference call about relocating to and living in Panama by a meetup group about retiring abroad. Some people called into a Conference line. Others were in a meeting in Raleigh North Carolina and asked their questions from the meeting. Following are the transcript and the audio
Jackie Lange: Hi, I’m Jackie Lange, I live in Boquete, Panama, and I have a tour company called Panama Relocation Tours that I’ve been running for about six years in Panama now, and Kathleen told me about your meet-up group about Panama, and asked me to do a conference call to answer any questions that you guys have about living in Panama, getting visas, or anything else that you have in Panama. So if you have any questions, we can get started with that, or if you prefer, I can just kind of give you a – why don’t I start with a background history of how I ended up living in Panama, and then we’ll take it from there?
Before I lived in Panama, I lived in the Dallas, Texas area. I also had a lake-house over in east Texas, and I have been a real estate investor for the last 25 years. But there was this one summer, I think it was 2008 in Texas, when it was over a hundred degrees every day for ninety days straight. Even at midnight, it was still a hundred degrees. It was so hot, I couldn’t even get out on my boat, so I decided I was sick and tired of living in a place that was hot in the summer time and cold in the wintertime, and of course I had really big electric bills to go along with all of that, and I was fed up with that also.
So I did a bunch of research about where could I live, so I’d never need an air conditioner or a heater ever again. There’s a lot of places like that around the world, but there needed to be some additional criteria. As many of you know, the economic situation – I mean the political situation in the United States is not so good, and there’s a lot of tension, and the economy hasn’t been good for quite some time, so I wanted to move some place that had a really strong economy, that had a democratic government, that there wasn’t a lot of political tension, no racial tension, no religious tension – that everybody just got along – but my biggest criteria of all was living in a place where I would never need an air conditioner or heater again.
So I visited a lot of different countries over about an eighteen month period, and I finally decided after doing all the investigations and actually visiting a lot of different countries, that Panama was the best place to me. So in 2010, I sold my house in Dallas, I sold my lake-house, sold some of my rental properties, and moved to Panama with two suitcases and a cat. My husband came with me also, and he also had two suitcases. That’s all we came with. It made it easy to just come with those things, because the majority of the rental properties in Panama are completely furnished, and when I say completely furnished I’m talking pots and pans, and silverware and dishes. It already has the internet turned on, cable TV, electricity is already working, it has towels and sheets – everything there – a coffeepot – everything you need is already at the house, so it’s easy to make a move with just a couple of suitcases.
Now some people choose to bring down all of their household goods in a big shipping container, but it’s very expensive to do that and I chose not to. The good thing was, I’d already been to Panama many, many times, and I already had a rental property picked out that we were going to be moving to, so I knew exactly what I was moving into, and that made it easy. The house I rented in Bouquete was a two bedroom, two bath house on about an acre. It has beautiful mountain views at the front of the house – it’s surrounding the whole house. Three-sixty views of mountains, I’ve got 120 banana plants, avocado trees, tangerines, lemons, limes, oranges, plantains, and organic coffee, and the rent is only $600 a month. It included everything. The internet, cable TV, everything was all included for $600, and you know I had electric bills that were more than $600 in Texas, so it was a breath of fresh air to move into a place where my total monthly cost for rent was even less than what my electric bill and my water bill was at one of my houses in Texas.
So that’s how I got here. I’ve been here six years. Next month it’ll be six years, and then shortly after I decided to move to Panama, I told a lot of my real estate investor friends that I was moving to Panama. Many of them said, well, they wanted to come and check it out, too. We were travel buddies, and so I arranged for a driver to pick everybody up at the airport, and we did a little six-day tour of Panama, and these are friends I’ve known for fifteen years. About a month after that, I was getting calls from people asking me when I was going to do my next Panama tour. I had no plans at all of moving down here to start a tour company, but I just kept getting calls from people of wanting to come and investigate the country, and they didn’t want to do it all by themselves, especially in a place where Spanish is spoken, and some people don’t know any Spanish at all. They wanted to security of being with a group and someone who knows where to go, how to meet people, and how to get things done, so that’s how my tour company got started.
I’ve been doing tours every single month for about six years. The lines are all unmuted, so if you have a question, you can just ask your question. You don’t need to press any special numbers, so just ask if you have any questions.
Respondent: We’re here with about a dozen people in the conference room, and so are you going to do a presentation, or are you going to rely on strictly questions, or how do you want to do it?
Jackie Lange: Well I just did an overview of why I decided to move to Panama and how I moved here, so I just discussed all of that, and then I also discussed how I’d been a real estate investor for twenty-five years, but I discussed how I ended up starting this tour company also.
Respondent: Yeah, we caught that, but do you want to talk anything about Panama itself, like the economy or whatever?
Jackie Lange: Yeah. I’ll be glad to. I don’t know what the format is for your meetings or how you want to do things, but one of the main reasons that I chose Panama, and Boquete specifically, was because in Bouquete, it’s spring like weather year round, it’s green year round, flowers are blooming all the time, so I could meet that goal that I had of living in a place where I don’t even have an air conditioner or a heater at my house, and I don’t need one.
But more specifically, I chose Panama because it has such a very strong economy. For the last fifteen years, ever since they got possession of the Panama Canal – it’s been sixteen years now since they got possession of the Panama Canal – Panama has been running a six to seven, sometimes even an eight percent GDP, compared to about one percent in the United States, and there are signs of economic growth all over the country, with new construction everywhere. Not just in Panama City, but everywhere.
There’s new housing developments, all different price ranges, there’s new shopping centers, new hospitals, and expansions to the airport. You know we have one subway system in Panama City now, they already started on the second subway system. As many of you I’m sure have read, they’re opening up the expansion to the Panama Canal, the third set of locks will be open in June, and the day that they do that, the income from the Panama Canal is going to triple.
I mean it’s already a significant income, but it’s going to triple. So there’s just money that’s coming into this country because it has such a stable government, and a stable economy. One of the biggest differences in Panama compared to many other countries, for example in Ecuador – Ecuador is another place that’s very popular for expats to move there, because it’s so affordable, but the problem with Ecuador is much of their income comes from oil and gas. I mean as you know, the price of oil and gas is down significantly, so now Ecuador and many other countries that rely on that revenue are having some major financial problems.
Panama on the other hand has – the Panama Canal only accounts for about five to six percent of their revenue. It’s a very small amount. Panama has the second largest free trade zone in the world, that counts for another about five percent, the largest copper mine in the world, they do a lot of export, there’s more ships registered in Panama than any other country, that’s additional revenue, and the list goes on and on. So they are very diversified in their income sources, and that’s one of the things that creates this stability. If any one source were to go away, they’d still have plenty of money coming in from all the other sources.
Respondent: What about the cost of living, Jackie? Do you want to speak about that?
Jackie Lange: Yeah, the cost of living really depends on where you live. If you live in Panama City, it’s probably just as much money to live in Panama City as it would be in Raleigh, North Carolina, or wherever you live in the United States. It’s quite expensive, rentals are expenses, but if you get away from Panama City and you move further west, like I live in Boquete, the first house I rented was $600 a month, I’ve since purchased that property, but you or a couple can pretty comfortably live on $2200 dollars a month. If they’re paying $600 to $800 dollars a month in rent, it includes healthcare, and it includes all your other car insurance and everything else. So $2000 a month goes a really long way in Panama.
Respondent: And how about Spanish? How important is it for people to speak Spanish when they move there?
Jackie Lange: It really depends on where you live, as to whether or not you need to learn Spanish. There are some parts of Panama where there’s a high concentration of expats, like in Boquete and Coronado, even some parts of Panama City, and in those areas, all the menus are in English and Spanish. At the bank, at the grocery store, the pharmacy, everybody speaks English, so it makes it really easy. I’ve been here almost six years, and because I live in a place that has a high concentration of expats, I know enough Spanish to get by, but I would certainly not say I’m fluent in Spanish at all. And I know people that have lived here even longer than I have, that the full extent of their Spanish is ‘Buenos Dias’, and that’s about it ‘Muchas gracias’, ‘Buenos Dias’, and a smile. Those two words and a smile will go a really long way in Panama.
A lot of people want to know about healthcare, and what it costs, and what the quality of healthcare is. Since I’ve been here, I’ve had two surgeries, and both of those, I thought that the care that I got here was much better than the care I got in the United States for similar surgery. What happened about three years before I moved to Panama was, I tripped on a blanket, and I fell down the stairs at my house in Dallas, Texas. I hit my head so hard it detached the retinas in both my eyes, and flipped one of my eyes, so I had quite a few eye surgeries before I came to Panama, and then when I got to Panama I started having problems with my eyes again, so I went to an ophthalmologist in David, and I went to another one in Panama City who did some additional surgery. So I can compare the surgery I got in Dallas, and the care I got there, compared to a similar surgery and care that I got in Panama City, and in my opinion, the care, and the prices, and everything else was so much better in Panama City than what I got in Dallas, Texas.
You do have a choice in Panama for health insurance. You can either just be insured in Panama only, and you can get insurance, or you can get a medical reimbursement plan. The medical reimbursement plan is approximately one dollar for every year you’ve been alive per month, so if you’re sixty-five years old, it would cost $65 a month. If you’re fifty-five years old, it would cost about $55 a month, and that only insures you in Panama, but it’s still a really good price. I chose to get international health insurance, which is not even available from the United States. My insurance is through Worldwide Medical at United Healthcare, I’m covered at any hospital, any doctor, anywhere in the world. I have zero deductible in Panama, and a $1000 deductible outside of the country, and my total cost is $2100 a year. Like I said, you can’t get that insurance from the United States.
You do have to live outside your home country at least six months out of the year to get that insurance, and I know many people that live in Panama six months out of the year, and live in the U.S. six months out of the year just so they can get that health insurance, because it’s so much better than ObamaCare, or even Medicare. It’s cheaper than Medicare for many people to get that insurance. Also, if you live outside of the United States at least 180 days out of the year, and you have that insurance, you don’t have to get ObamaCare.
Respondent: How about the Pensionado Program? Do you want to tell us a little about that?
Jackie Lange: Right, the Pensionado is actually not just for expats, it’s any Panamanian, any expats that meet the age requirements of a woman being 55 years old, and a man being 60. If you have a visa, or if you’re Panamanian, then you qualify for those discounts. I don’t have a list of all of them in front of me, but I can give you a little overview. You get 25% off any airfare or cruises that originate from Panama. You get 20% off at a nice restaurant, 15% off at a fast food restaurant, 10% off at a pharmacy, and 50% off when you go to the movie. I went to see the new Star Wars movie whenever it first came out, and it was $2 to go to the movie theater. Really nice movie theater, in English, leather seats, large popcorn and coke was $3.50. So it’s really cheap with your Pensionado to save a lot of money to go to those kinds of events.
And it’s not just the Pensionado that gets those discounts. Any visa that you get, whether it’s a friendly nation’s visa, a business visa, reforestation visa, any of the visas, if you meet the age requirement, you still get those discounts. I would like to talk a little bit about the visas that are available. There are about fifteen different visas available depending on what it is that you want to do in Panama, but the two most important, or the two most used visas are the Pensionado visa – and that’s for someone that plans to move to Panama and just be retired. They’re not going to work, and they’re not going to start a business at all. I mean it’s also the least expensive, because the government waives all their fees, because you’re a retiree.
The other popular visa right now is called the friendly nation’s visa, and it’s the most affordable visa that will allow you to get a work permit, so that you can work in Panama. Like I have a tour company, and I used to have a work permit and business license to be able to run my company. So you can get that with a friendly nation’s visa. It costs a little bit more, a thousand dollars more to get that visa than it does the Pensionado visa, but you do get the right to be able to work. Another question that comes up often is, well why do I have to get a visa? Why can’t I just move to Panama and stay in Panama? The reason is because they have rules. They have rules in all the different countries, except some people go by the rules and some people don’t go by the rules. In Panama, they stick to the rules for immigrants coming to the country. As a tourist or someone that does not have a visa, you can only stay in the country for six months, and then you have to leave. If you are driving a car, then you can only stay in the country for ninety days, and then you have to leave.
They’re very strict about that in Panama, but if you get a visa, then you can stay in the country as long as you want to. So if you decide to move to Panama, when you do leave you only have to leave for three days, but still it’s inconvenient if you’re living here ninety days and you have to leave the country, go to Costa Rica, or Columbia, or back to the United States every ninety days, and be gone for at least three days before you can come back in. So if you’re going to move to Panama, you should get a visa, otherwise you’re going to have the inconvenience of having to leave every ninety days if you’re driving, or every six months if you’re not driving.
Respondent: Well, speaking of healthcare, i think some people are concerned about mosquito borne illnesses, and particularly right now, there’s all this stuff about the Zika virus and so on. Now, what is it like there?
Jackie Lange: Well, where I live up in Boquete, we don’t even have mosquitoes. They’re more on the coastal areas, but the only place that we have any cases of the Zika virus right now, is on the Caribbean side over by the Colon and the San Blas islands. That’s the only place that they have any cases of it in Panama. No other cases have been reported.
And the country is spraying different areas, they’re putting in warnings about not having standing water, and this is the dry season right now so we don’t have to worry about it that much, but they do put warnings out about how to prevent mosquitoes from coming on to your property or being anywhere. But on the San Blas islands, I mean their island is surrounded by it. Interestingly, the Bocas Del Toro islands, which are also on the Caribbean side, there’s been no cases of Zika at all on the Bocas Del Toro side – only around Colon and the San Blas islands.
So the government’s doing a good job of putting out warnings and letting people know about it, and there’s really no fear of anybody who lives here that I know of, because it’s such a small amount of people. Compared to almost four million people that live here, only fifty people have gotten it. Let’s see, what other things do we need to talk about?
Another question that comes up often is, ‘Should I get a bunch of shots?’ If you look at the – I think it’s the Center for Disease Control – they have recommendations of different shots you should get if you come to Panama, and if you’re planning on going hiking in the Darién jungle, I would highly recommend getting all of those shots, but if you’re not going to be going hiking in the jungle, nobody, absolutely nobody that I know of gets any of those shots, and the side effects from the shots could be worse than anything else that happens.
Many people think that things are kind of dangerous in Mexico with the drug cartels and the violence and things that happen in Mexico, and a lot of people think the further south you get, the worse it must be, but nothing could be further from the truth. Panama is not like the United States at all. We have some really nice shopping malls, we have some really good roads, we have really good hospitals, and there’s some parts of Panama that are definitely a little bit rough around the edges, but for the most part, Panama’s quite civilized.
Respondent: So if you move there, what would your life be like if you live in some city that’s not Panama City, but other places? How would it be similar or different from how you live your life in the United States?
Jackie Lange: Well, I haven’t even been to the United States in about three years, and haven’t lived there in about six years, but everybody, what they do is different. For me, I live in Boquete, Panama, and there’s a lot of social activities that go on every single day. For example, last night, I made a group of friends at one of the restaurants that had some live music that was playing. We all had dinner together and then live music. We have a theater that is just local talent – some director from Hollywood that moved here is taking local people and turning them into actors and actresses, so we have live theater, and that happens about six times a year. There’s bridge every Wednesday, there’s tennis every day, golf every day, there’s also – I’m about an hour and fifteen minutes to the Pacific Ocean, so if I ever get tired of my spring like weather up here in the mountains, I can drive an hour and be at the Pacific Ocean enjoying the beach, or I could drive three and a half hours and get on a water taxi, and be on one of the islands on the Caribbean side.
Panama is a small country, and with just a one hour drive you can completely change your environment. There’s always a lot of social activities in Boquete, there’s a lot of social activities in David, and there’s a lot of social activities in the Coronado area. If you move to a more rural area like Volcán, which is very affordable and absolutely beautiful, there’s less social activities. They have live music once a week on Friday, there’s not a lot of different clubs over there, there’s potluck dinners and going over to someone’s house to watch a movie, but there’s not a lot of social activities like there are in Boquete. So depending on what your needs are, and how much social interaction you’d want to have with a lot of other people, you’d need to decide which area would fit your needs the best.
Respondent: What about television? Do you have American shows down there or is it all Panamanian?
Jackie Lange: I have cable TV here in Panama, I pay $50 a month for cable TV, it’s got about 285 channels, and just like the United States, you can have 285 channels and absolutely nothing good to watch. Doesn’t that sound familiar? But I do get CNN in English, Fox News in English, The Animal Planet, The History Channel, Bloomberg, I have HBO and Cinemax for movies, those are in English, and then there’s the weekly series shows that are in English. I don’t watch any of those, but we have all of that also. Of course, we’ve also Spanish TV, and there are certain channels that are in German, some are Italian, some are in Chinese, so a variety of different languages on my cable TV. I use Netflix a lot to just watch movies or some of the series that are on Netflix.
There’s also a website called US TV Now that some people subscribe to. I think it’s ten dollars a month, and that gives you access to the ABC, NBC, CBS, and many of the other US TV channels. For people that don’t want to get cable TV, they’ll just get US TV Now, and then they can watch US channels from there. For communication, mostly you use Skype to call friends and family back in the United States, you can even do video phones calls so you can see your kids and grandkids and they can see you, and some other things to know is that car insurance is real cheap, and house insurance is real cheap. House insurance costs about $90 per $100,000 per year, so for a $200,000 house, you’re looking at $180 a year for house insurance. Car insurance – I have a 2009 Nissan X Trail, just a used car that I bought here and I pay $240 a year for full coverage on my car.
And like I said, health insurance is real cheap. There’s many, many places here where you can go out and get a really good meal, a full plate of things that is only $4 and included either a lemonade or an iced tea that comes with it, or you can go to a very elegant restaurant at a fancy hotel with cloth napkins and really nice servers, and it’s going to cost you $15 to $20, and they’ll include a glass of wine or two. So we have the full gamut of restaurants. In Boquete where I live, there are no fast food restaurants. The only chain/franchise thing we have in town is Mail Boxes Etc. Other than that, it’s all mom and pop shops, but anywhere in Panama City, Coronado, or David, they do have MacDonald’s, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Pizza Hut, Dairy Queen – all those things are available in the larger towns, but not in the small town where I live. Boquete has a population of about 25,000, and 20% of those, or almost 5,000 of those are expats. Not just from the U.S., but from many other countries as well.
Respondent: How about the availability of property to rent, like you move down there just to try it? Are there any places, especially something that already has been furnished or something? Would you be able to find something like that down there to try it?
Jackie Lange: Yes. The majority of the places to rent, whether it’s in Panama City, Coronado, David, or Boquete, the majority of the places do some fully furnished with pots and pans, coffee pots, sheets, towels – everything comes with it – all the furniture, and the TV already has cable TV, already has internet hooked up, water, everything, so you don’t have to hassle with getting all that stuff turned on. Those are readily available a majority of the year. I can tell you that in December, January, and February, we have snow birds that come down here just like they do in Florida. It’s mostly people from Canada that come down to get away from the cold weather in Canada, and they’ll come down to Panama for three to four months to get away from the snow.
So December, January, and February, the availability of rentals, there’s not as much to choose from. There’s always something to choose from, but there’s not a lot to choose from during those months. The rest of the year, there’s plenty of rental properties. In my area, for a one bedroom, to get a really nice place on the low end, you’re looking at $400 a month, fully furnished, all utilities included, and then on the high end, that same one bedroom would probably be $700, and that’s going to have granite counter tops and really fancy cabinets. Now if you’re looking at a condo in Coronado, it’s going to be more. A two-bedroom condo in the Coronado area on the low end, you’re looking at $900 a month, up to about $1,500 a month in the Coronado area.
Coronado is much more expensive for two reasons. One, because it’s right next to the Pacific Ocean, it has tons of shopping availability, plus you’re only an hour to get to Panama City. So it’s much more expensive in the Coronado area. People that like the beach, that’s a good choice, but it is going to cost more money.
Respondent: Well, tell me, what’s the biggest downside for you of living in Panama?
Jackie Lange: You know when I first moved here, I used to miss Walmart, but now that I’ve been here a long time, I don’t even miss Walmart anymore. And it wasn’t so much the Walmart store; I missed the convenience of going into one place, and I could pick up a new t-shirt, a pair of jeans, and all my groceries, and a new pair of sandals all under one roof, and then be out of there. And there aren’t really any places that are like that close to me right now. There is a store in Coronado, and they have one in Santiago and Chitré called Machetazo, and they’re building one about twenty minutes away from where I live, and that’s one of those places where you can get everything you need under one roof, and the prices are significantly cheaper than they are at Walmart.
So that was the only thing I really missed. I don’t miss anything else at all. One of the things I really like about it is the weather. It’s just exquisitely and spectacularly beautiful every single day. Every day I have my windows and my doors wide open, and I get fresh air every day. I don’t have any air conditioner or heater, and so I always get fresh air, and that’s the thing that I like the best, plus the affordable prices. And affordable prices – let’s say you bought a house, and you have to pay for some of your utility bills. I did buy the house that I was renting for $600 a month. I bought that house on a couple of acres, I paid $125,000 for a small coffee farm, house, and almost three acres, and so now I have to pay my own utility bills. My last electric bill was $16.74. I’ve never had an electric bill that was over $25. My water bill is $60 a year for unlimited water use. There’s not even a meter on it. I paid more than $70 a month for water in Dallas, and now it’s only $60 a year.
For my cellphone in Texas, I paid $200 a month for calling and data plan. Here, I pay $10.70 for the same thing, plus my health care is cheaper, food cost is much, much cheaper here – because Panama has a very temperate and tropical climate, they grow food year round. They usually get four harvests a year, whether it’s broccoli or pineapples, or whatever it might be, so food is really, really cheap here, and it’s really fresh food. When I go to the farmer’s market, whatever tomatoes I’m buying, or lettuce I’m buying, it was picked that morning. It wasn’t picked a month ago and then shipped and sprayed with a bunch of chemicals. Everything I eat is real fresh, so I just don’t get sick anymore, because it’s such a healthier environment with fresh air and fresh food.
Respondent: Well I’d like to open it up the questions. Anybody here in this room with me? Okay, I hear a lot of questions. Airport access?
Jackie Lange: Airport access – there’s several different airports throughout Panama. The closest airport to me is about thirty minutes away in the town of David. It looks like David, d a v i d, but it’s pronounced David. From there at that airport, I can be at Panama City in 35 minutes, or I can fly to Columbia, or Costa Rica. There are no flights from that airport directly to the United States yet, but they plan to have some.
In Panama City there’s two main airports: the Tocumen International Airport – and there’s non-stop flights from all over the world into that airport. There’s also the regional airport close to the Albrook Mall, and that’s where I fly into. And then throughout the country, there’s also the small airports that will get you from like Pedasi back to Panama City, and from the Rio Hato area which is close to Coronado back to Panama City. From Bocas Del Toro, there is an airport to get you back to Panama City, so there are airports all over the country. It’s quite expensive to fly, though. It’s $60 one way for me to fly from David to Panama City, and it’s not a bad price, but I think it should be less.
Respondent: A lot of questions about transportation. What about transportation? Do you have to drive?
Jackie Lange: As far as transportation, you don’t have to drive. I know a lot of people that live close to town, and so maybe they’ll walk into town, get their groceries, and then they get a taxi to take them back home if they have a lot of things. I live about 8 km, or almost five miles from town, so I bought a car. I sold all my cars in Texas before I moved here, and I bought a car when I moved here, and then just recently I sold that car and bought another car. It’s easy to buy cars here, the process is straightforward, but if you live close to town, a lot of people choose not to buy a car, and just to rely on public transportation. Just to give you an idea of the cost, if you wanted to go from Boquete to David, where there’s some big shopping areas in David, it is about a thirty minute drive in a car, and it’s only $1.75 to take the bus to go there. Or if you wanted to go to the airport and you didn’t have a car, it’s $1.75 to take the bus to go there.
Respondent: So there’s a lot of buses throughout the country for people to take?
Jackie Lange: A lot of buses throughout the country. A lot of buses, and a lot of taxis, but there’s a lot of buses. The bus to David leaves every 30 minutes, every day.
Respondent: How are the roads for people who want to drive?
Jackie Lange: The roads are really good in a majority of the country. There’s a few places where you get off the beaten path, and there aren’t very many houses, and there could be a paved road that has potholes in it, or a dirty road, but as far as the main road, it’s called the Pan-American Highway that goes east-west through the country, and it’s a four lane road, very well marked, very well paved, nice shoulder on it – the road going in from David to Boquete is a four lane road with lights down the medium, so it’s very well lit, so all the roads are very good. I’ve also driven in Costa Rica, and Ecuador, and Chile, and Argentina, and Uruguay, and Honduras, and I can tell you that compared to any of those other countries, the roads are much worse than they are in Panama.
Respondent: How about animals? Which ones are likely to show up on your property, which ones are harmful, and do most people have pets?
Jackie Lange: Most people do have pets. Some people choose to bring their pets with them from the United States. There’s so many pets here that are up for adoption, so a lot of people get additional pets, or they get their pet once they get here. It depends on where you live. If you live in the coastal areas close to the beach, you might have geckos and iguanas, they could show up in your backyard, but if you live up in the mountains like I do, I just have a lot of birds. That’s the only thing. I’ve never seen a snake in my yard in six years, I’ve never seen a snake, and it’s because of the elevation. I live at 4,600 ft. It’s too cold for the snakes.
If you’re in the jungle hiking around and not in a populated area, they do have deer, occasionally I’ll see a dead possum along the road, and we have this thing that looks kind of like a raccoon, but it’s got a real long nose, it’s called a coatimundi, and you’d see those once in a while. They’re real friendly, they’re always begging you for bananas or apples, or if you’ve got any food they’ll be begging for their food. So they’re real friendly, they’re not aggressive at all, and of course you’ll see a sloth more in the warm climates, but not up here in the mountains where I am.
I have a pretty big property, and where my coffee grows it’s all shade grown coffee, so I’ve got a big tree that has a whole family of green parrots. There’s hundreds of them, and they just make a ton of noise whenever they all decide to leave their little nest area and find someplace else. They make a lot of noise whenever they’re coming back, but they’re not aggressive. I’ve got two cats now, and they’re not aggressive towards my pets at all. There is this little thing that comes to my yard every once in a while, mostly at night. It’s got really big eyes, and I have a lot of banana on my property, and it goes after the bananas. It’s called a Kikamuno, and it’s sort of like a little monkey. If you put a light on it, it runs and hides in the jungle. They only come out at night.
Respondent: How about big bugs, like water bugs? You guys have many bugs?
Jackie Lange: Oh it depends on where you live. If you live on the coastal areas, you’re going to have a lot more bugs than if you live up in the mountain area. In the mountain area we do have bugs, but like I said, my windows and doors are wide open during the day. I don’t even get flies in the house, and we don’t have mosquitoes here. In the dry season, which we’re in the dry season right now, you do occasionally see a scorpion, but it’s a real small scorpion and not the deadly kind. But in the rainy season, you’d never see a scorpion. Mostly it’s because we have so many birds. There’s 954 species of birds in Panama, a lot of birds, and the birds eat the bugs, so those birds are good. They keep the bird population down.
Respondent: Someone here wants you to tell them exactly where Coronado is in relation to Panama City.
Jackie Lange: Okay, Panama is an east-west country. The Pacific Ocean is to the south, and the Atlantic and the Caribbean Sea is to the north. About an hour west of Panama City is where Coronado is located, right along the Pan-American Highway, and it’s a position closer to the Pacific Ocean.
Respondent: Is Coronado a city, or is it more like a community, or what is it?
Jackie Lange: Coronado is considered a city, but it’s more like a community. There’s not like a town square, but there is on either side of the Pan-American Highway, there is a lot of different restaurants, there’s hospitals, there’s shopping centers, hardware stores – all of those things are there, they have four grocery stores that are open twenty-four hours a day. The actual area of Coronado is a gated community that has a golf course, an equestrian center, tennis, some big high rise condos right on the Pacific Ocean, and the Coronado area includes Coronado, just a little bit east of it is the town of Gorgona, which is not a gated community, and it’s a little bit cheaper than Coronado, and then a little bit west of Coronado is the town of St. Carlos and Santa Clara. So all of that area is considered the Coronado area, but the actual town part of Coronado is the gated community. They have single-family homes and condos.
Respondent: How about the quality and quantity of water?
Jackie Lange: If you’re on the mainland, and not on one of the islands, then the quality of the water is excellent. You can drink the water right out of the tap They don’t put fluoride in the water, but they do treat the water, and most people have a filter on their water also, so the water is really good. It tastes excellent. If you’re on the islands, I wouldn’t advise drinking any of the water. It’s better to have only bottled water. The only area that has a serious water problem almost all the time, not just in the dry season, is called the Azuero Peninsula, and that’s the area – when you’re looking at Panama there’s an area that hangs down – a peninsula that hangs down in the middle of the country. That’s called the Azuero Peninsula.
It includes the town of Chitré, Las Tablas, Pedasi, Playa Venao, Santa Catalina – that whole area, they have some serious water problems there. Sometimes they won’t have water for three or four days, especially on the western side of the Azuero Peninsula. I know some people are starting some developments over there, which I think is a big mistake, because there’s just such a big water problem there. So that area does have water problems, the Azuero Peninsula. Mostly in the Los Santos Province, not the Herrera Province.
Respondent: How does your country compare to Costa Rica?
Jackie Lange: Oh, there’s a huge difference between Panama and Costa Rica, and I’ve spent a lot of time in Costa Rica. Just to compare, Panama has a growing economy, with a very low inflation rate. The inflation rate in Panama right now is about 1.5% inflation. The inflation rate in Costa Rica is about 10% right now, and it’s been 10% for the last five years straight, so everything costs a lot more in Costa Rica. I know a lot of people from Costa Rica that come over to Panama to go shopping, because it’s so much cheaper in Panama than it is in Costa Rica. Rentals are much more expensive in Costa Rica. Some other three big differences are, the roads in Costa Rica are absolutely horrible, and you should never ever drive at night in Costa Rica because there’s many places where you’ll be driving along, and there’s all of a sudden a 2 ft. wide by 2 ft. deep hole with no markers or signs or anything, and if you’re not paying attention to what you’re doing you’re going to end up right in that hole. The roads are terrible in Costa Rica.
The other big problem is, in Panama, we have a lot of hydroelectric plants and they’re always building new ones, and that’s our main source of electricity. In addition to that we have a wind farm, and we have solar farms, so we have multiple ways to generate electricity. We have an excess of electricity, and we sell some to Costa Rica. Costa Rica on the other hand hasn’t built a new hydroelectric plant in almost eight years, so they have a problem with electrical outages quite often. To try to conserve energy in Panama, we have the same price per kilowatt hour, every day, always the same. In Costa Rica, not so. There, the electricity between midnight and 5 a.m., they charge one price between 5 a.m. and 10 a.m., it goes up between 10 a.m. and one, it goes up even more, so many of the people that I know that live in Costa Rica, they say they try to get all their laundry done before 6:00 in the morning, because it’s just too expensive to use any electrical appliances between 10 a.m. and about 7 p.m. at night. They try to keep all electricity turned off during that time.
Like I said, I live in the highlands in Panama, in the mountains. My highest electric bill ever has been $25. A lot of people live in Costa Rica in the Central Valley area, which is San Ramon, Grecias [inaudible 00:48:58] – those are all the towns in their central valley, where they also don’t need air conditioning or a heater, because the weather is so temperate, yet those people can still have a $250/$300 electric bill because of their graduated utility costs, because it’s so much more expensive for electricity in Costa Rica.
The other thing in Costa Rica is, you have to leave the country for a month there, every ninety days, if you don’t get a visa, where in Panama, you have to leave only for three days if you don’t have a visa, and once you do get a visa, you’re required to pay into their national healthcare system, which is like in ObamaCare, and they just recently changed it. The Costa Ricans get one price, but expats have to pay a different price that’s higher, and the reason they do that is because so many people that move to Costa Rica are older, and so they have more health care needs, so they’re making them pay more money.
Here in Panama, we have a social security hospital that anybody can go to, but you don’t have to pay a monthly cost for it. You just pay $150 whenever you go to the doctor, and speaking of doctors, just a routine doctor visit here with no insurance is less than $15. An emergency room visit for five hours in the emergency room with no insurance is going to cost about $125 to $150 dollars.
Respondent: What can you tell him about the Bocas Del Toro area?
Jackie Lange: The Bocas Del Toro area is hot and buggy. Those are the two most important things. It’s on the Caribbean side, and every time I go to Bocas del Toro, which isn’t every often, I put all kinds of natural bug repellent on me, because if I don’t, then you’ll see them just chew me up. I think they like blondes or they like expats or something, I don’t know, but I just get chewed up with bugs every time I go over there. It is really pretty, there’s always activity, the surfing is good, and snorkeling is really good in that area. Bocas Del Toro is actually a province. Part of it’s on the mainland, and part of it’s on the island. The mainland part of Bocas Del Toro is not good. It’s a mucky little town, and there’s no place that you’d want to live on the mainland of Bocas del Toro, but the island part of Bocas del Toro is very nice, and it’s also very affordable in most of them.
Isla Colon is the main island, you can get a nice two bedroom house for about $400 a month on the main island, there is a hospital there, there’s an airport to get you back to Panama City, there’s two really good beaches that – one is called Bluff Beach, the other one is called Paki Point, and then the island right next to it is called Isla Carenero. My favorite restaurant is on that one, called Bibi’s. There’s quite a few different islands. Every one of them has a little bit of a different characteristic. The most expensive area over there is on the Bastimentos Island, and there’s a development called Red Frog Beach. It’s quite expensive, but it’s also very, very nice.
Respondent: How do the expats interact with the local community?
Jackie Lange: Well some expats interact very well with the local community, and they get involved in the local community and do things to help. For example, there’s an elementary school about a mile down the road from where I live, which I adopted the school, and every month I take school supplies or food to the school, and I put out a blast to everybody that lives here to also help whenever the school opened up, and more than 100 people took donations of food and school supplies to the school once school started. From expats there’s a spay and neuter clinic, there’s a handicap foundation that people do things to help the people that are handicapped, there’s another group of people that do things to help any needy families – for example the husband died and the wife has five kids, and hasn’t ever worked, and they help her gain some skills so they can go to work and get a job.
The list goes on and on of different ways that people do things to interact. And also, most of the places that you go to, you’re just as likely to see fifty percent of the people that are there are Panamanians, and fifty percent of the people are expats, so they interact very well with each other. There are a few people, there’s some people that they just are nervous about living in a foreign country, and they probably shouldn’t have moved here to begin with, and they just live in a gated community, and they stay in their gated community, and all their friends are people that live in the gated community, and they don’t do any interaction at all, other than the times they go to the grocery store or the bank.
So there’s some people that do that, but the Panamanian people are so nice, and they’re so friendly. They would do anything in the world to help you. If you drive along and you get a flat tire, you’re going to have two or three people that are going to stop to help you change that flat tire. If your car overheats, you’re going to have people that are going to stop and help you, and they don’t care if you’re an expat or a Panamanian, if you’re black or white, or what religion you are. It doesn’t matter. Everybody here gets along, and everybody helps each other.
Respondent: Is it necessary to be an expat, or is there dual citizenship?
Jackie Lange: Well you know, an expatriate – yes you can have dual citizenship. Whenever you get a visa in Panama, whether it’s a Pensionado visa, or a friendly nation’s visa, or the other visas, after you’ve been here five years – well you don’t have to live in the country – but after you’ve had that visa for five years, then you can apply for your Panamanian citizenship and passport. It only costs $100 to do it. But some people have done that, and they have dual citizenship. Of course, there are some people that chose to renounce their U.S. citizenship once they got their Panamanian citizenship. But you can have both, or you can live in Panama full time and never get your Panama citizenship. You don’t have to. It’s not required. The visa gives you the right to live in the country indefinitely without having to leave.
Respondent: Are there some good language schools in Panama that you could recommend to somebody if they moved down there?
Jackie Lange: There are a variety of different language schools here, but I honestly would not recommend any of them. Instead there are private tutors for $12 for two hours. They’ll meet you at a coffee shop or come to your house, and they’re going to give you lessons based on your style of learning, and they tailor it exactly to you and what you need to learn, and how fast or how slow you need to go. If you’re in a class with five or six other people, you may have people that pick up everything really fast, and other people that don’t, and it slows down the whole group, so I think a private tutor is the best way to go. I would also highly recommend an online course. Rosetta Stone, I don’t like.
There’s two different things you can do online. One is called Duolingo, but the one I like the best is called warrenhardy.com. Warren lives in San Miguel, Mexico, and before that he was a Spanish teacher. He’s lived in Mexico for a really long time, and his online training for Spanish is specifically designed for baby boomers, who learn a little bit differently than people who are in their 20s, and in addition to teaching you to memorize things, he teaches you the verbs, and how with one little word like necessito, which means ‘i need’ – I need the bathroom, I need the liquor store, I need the police, I need a hospital – so with one little of necessito, you can build all kinds of different sentences from there.
But also, Warren talks about what’s customary in a Latin culture, which is really good to understand, because the Latin people are much more polite than people are in the United States. So many times people will do things in Panama just like they did in the United States, and a Panamanian may think, “Wow, that person’s rude,” because they didn’t do things the way that it was customarily done in the United States. A couple of examples of that – if you go to a restaurant and you order your food at a sit-down restaurant, and you finish your food, in the United States you’re used to the waiter, as soon as they see that last bite off your plate, they have that check right on your table right away, because they want you to hurry up and clear out so that they can get somebody else on there, so they can get the tip from the next person.
In Panama, that would never happen in a million years. In Panama, they think it’s rude to interrupt you whenever you’re eating. Unless you signal to the waiter to come over because you want more wine or something, or you want your check, they’re not going to bother you whenever you’re eating. They just think that that’s very, very rude to do that. So people think when they come here, “Oh, the waiter didn’t even bring me my check, I waited for an hour and they never brought my check,” well they don’t bring the check because you didn’t ask for it. So it’s just a different way of doing things, and many, many other ways that the Panamanians are just really, really polite, like it used to be in the United States a long time ago, and they’re not always in a hurry. They like to take their time on things. But that Warren Hardy’s Spanish, they teach you Spanish, but they also teach you the Latin customs.
Respondent: I was wondering about singles versus married people there. Is it overwhelmingly married, or mixed, or?
Jackie Lange: It’s actually about half and half. There’s a lot of single women that moved down here, there’s single men that moved down here, and there’s couples that move here also. But it’s about half and half.
Respondent: Is the electric voltage 110, or is it a 220?
Jackie Lange: It’s 110, but they may have 220 for dryers and things like that.
Respondent: Okay, and if you were going to try Panama, how long would you recommend coming for, just to really get a flavor of the country?
Jackie Lange: I would recommend at least a couple of months. The other thing that I would recommend is, Panama only has two seasons – the wet season, and the dry season. The dry season happens between about the middle of December till about the middle of April. We get a little bit of rain then, but not very much rain, and it’s a little bit windier in January and February, then the rainy seasons starts about the middle of April, and lasts until about the middle of December. And it’s not that it rains every day, but in October and November are the two rainiest months that we get. October/November it might rain five times a week starting at about two, and it’ll last until about five, and sometimes it rains very hard, sometimes it’s just a light gentle rain.
So a good thing to do to give it a test drive, would be to straddle the dry season and the rainy season. Come, I would say, in September and October, because then you’re going to have not very much rain, and October is a lot of rain, or come in the middle of December to the middle of February. Then you’re going to have part of the rainy season, and part of the dry season, so then you can experience both of them.
Respondent: How reliable is the internet down there, she wants to know.
Jackie Lange: It depends on who your internet service provider is. If you live in an area that’s serviced by a company called Cable Onda, then you can get 24 to 50 megabits of internet speed starting at $25 a month. It’s fiber-optics, and it’s the most reliable. They also have cable TV and landlines. It’s the most reliable. Unfortunately, they don’t service all areas. I live five miles to town, and the closest fiber optic is about a mile away from my house, so I have satellite internet, which the highest speed that I can get is about 7 megabits of internet speed, and it costs more money.
But for the most part it’s very reliable. I’m doing this whole call on Skype, and we’re using the internet for a conference line that’s recording everything. If we have a big thunderstorm, which only happens a couple times a year, then your internet might go out for a couple of hours, but for the most part, it’s always up and always reliable, but you’re going to have the fastest speeds if you live in an area that’s serviced by Cable Onda.
Respondent: He wants to know about opening a bank account in Panama, transferring money from here to there, and how good are the banks, and things like that.
Jackie Langer: I think the banks here are actually better than the banks in the United States. Many of the banks will not open an account for you unless you have a visa. There’s only about two or three that will open an account for you if you don’t have a visa, and they’re still going to require a bank reference letter, they’re going to need a personal letter from someone that lives in Panama, they have this theory that you really need to know your customer, and they have a questionnaire that you have to fill out. It’s important if you don’t know Spanish fluently to select a bank that has online banking in English and Spanish, and their ATM machines will be in English and in Spanish. Some banks have that and some banks don’t, so it’s important to get that.
But the reason I say the banks are better here, is because the Panamanian government, they do monthly accounting of each one of the different banks, and in one of the newspapers, they even publish the health of the bank, and how much debt they have compared to their assets, and so there’s never been a bank failure in Panama. There’s never been a bailout of any banks in Panama, and you can earn a much higher interest rate on just a regular savings account. I have money in three different banks in Panama. They lowest one earns 1.75% interest. The highest one gets 2.5% interest compounded daily on my savings account, and that’s not a CD, that’s just a regular savings account.
Respondent: ATM fees for the bank?
Jackie Lange: There are no fees, unless you’re using a debit card from the United States, then they charge you $1.50. But there’s no fee to use the card here.
Respondent: How much does a car cost?
Jackie Lange: If you look on the Kelley Blue Book, or Edmunds, whatever the cost of the car is on there, is about the same as the car costs here. It’s not cheaper, and it’s not more expensive. It’s pretty much the same, give or take $500.
Respondent: And do they drive on the same side of the road that we drive on in the U.S.?
Jackie Lange: Yep, it’s the same side of the road. They are very strict about speeding here. Along all of the roads, you’ll see police officers on little motorcycles. Some of them have a radar gun and some of them don’t, but they’re very strict about speeding, and they’re even stricter about drinking and driving. It’s zero tolerance.
Respondent: What about the arts community in Panama?
Jackie Lange: Well in Panama City, there’s a variety of different art communities in Panama City. I don’t really know about Coronado. In Boquete where I live, there’s a photography club, there’s Chinese brush painting, there’s silver making, there’s jewelry making, there’s artisan bread, there’s just a lot of artists that do all kind of painting, whether it’s watercolors or oil colors, and other people will just make stuff. And then we have a Tuesday market where you can sell the stuff that you’ve made, and make a little extra money.
Respondent: Okay, I think everybody knows that Jackie does the Panama relocation tours for people that choose to go on a tour, and she takes you around the country and gives you educational information about all sorts of topics, and shows you the countryside and so on, and Julia here has been on Jackie’s tour, and she has a book here that shows you the pictures and stuff from the tour if you want to show that, and Clayton and I are going to join Jackie’s tour next month, so we’re looking forward to actually seeing all these things in person, so I think I’ll shut down. There’s one more question here. What’s the tour cost? $2,200, Jackie?
Jackie Lange: It’s $2,200 for a single person, and that includes whenever you come into the country, our driver picks you up at the airport and takes you to a hotel in Panama City. The tour includes all your ground transportation in a really nice, comfortable bus that I bought, all your hotels, all your meals, and then we also fly you back to Panama City, because it ends on the far western side, and we get you back to Panama City. Plus you get daily education on all the different things that you need to know about relocating, how to bring pets into the country, how to buy a car, how to find your rental property – these are options, the list goes on and on, and you’ll have the opportunity to meet expats at almost all of our different stops.
Respondent: It’s is $4000 for a couple? Somebody asked that.
Jackie Lange: It is $4000 for a couple, that’s right.
Respondent: What is this, five or six days, Jackie?
Jackie Lange: Well it’s actually five and a half days of the actual tour, and then usually on that sixth day in the afternoon, I’m helping people get their bank accounts opened up if they want to open an account.
Respondent: Yeah, she’ll help you open your bank account if you want to.
Jackie Lange: It doesn’t include the flight to Panama City, but it includes everything once you get here. I have details about everything that you’ll learn, and everything that’s included, on my website: www.panamarelocationtours.com And if you have further questions, there’s a contact us form on the website, and you can just fill that out, and I’ll be glad to reply back if you think of a question after the call, or if you just have a private question that you want to ask about, then ask away and I’ll be glad to answer your questions.
Respondent: Okay, she wants to know if she can hike and bike in Panama, in some place other than main roads that will still be safe.
Jackie Lange: You probably wouldn’t want to do very much hiking in the Coronado area because it’s so hot, but in some of the other mountain towns like El Valle, Boquete, Santa Fe, and Volcan, there are designated hiking trails. There’s national parks and designated hiking trails, and Boquete where I live, there’s three different hiking clubs that get together every single day of the week, and they have certain hikes that they take. So hiking with a group I think is always better than going on your own, until you get to know the trails. We have a lot of different trails, and we also have trails for mountain biking, or riding an ATV.
Respondent: If you’re out hiking, how likely are you to get eaten alive by a mosquito or some other insect?
Jackie Lange: Not at all up in the mountains.
Respondent: Okay, I’m going to close off the call here, and we have a couple people here who have visited Panama, and they’re going to talk about their impressions, so anybody wants to stay, I’ll let Jackie go, and thanks so much Jackie, we learned a lot.
Jackie Lange: You’re welcome.
Respondent: Okay, thank you Jackie.
Jackie Lange: You’re welcome. Bye.