Plan Ahead

Today was the U.S. Embassy Outreach in David. I spent a large part of the day on a task for the Embassy and only attended about 15 minutes at the first of the meeting. I did leave cards with the ACS Chief for anyone needing to contact me, if a problem arises in David or Chiriquí in general.

I finally finished with my task around 5PM and returned to the Hotel for a followup. I understand that there were a few complaints that came up today about requiring a Bank Check for any payment to Embassy.

It was posted in BOLD in the Chiriquí Chatter post, so it should not have been a surprise. It might not hurt to point out why the process was put in place. It was determined by the security staff of the Embassy that it was not safe for them to leave the meeting with $5,000 in cash as they have in the past.

Credit cards are accepted at the Embassy, if you would prefer not using cash.

It also might be worth pointing out that it is not safe for anyone to be walking around in Panama carrying a large amount of cash. This always comes up when we near the holidays because thieves tend to stakeout the banks watching unsuspecting people make large withdrawals and then following them to relieve them of their money.

Another subject that came up during our evening discussion was related to healthcare or emergency care in Panama. I was told that the Embassy has had several calls from people asking for help, because the private hospitals, in Panama City, were not accepting them for treatment unless they deposited $10,000.

The fact is that the private hospitals have no responsibility to accept anyone, except possibly to stabilize a patient. After that, they will be shipped to Hospital Santo Tomás in Panama City, if sufficient funds aren’t available. Santo Tomás is the public hospital in Panama City similar to the Regional Hospital in David. If you are coming to Panama, plan on coming with Insurance.

Even if it is just for a vacation, get insurance before you come. Trust me, you don’t want to go to a public hospital, if you can avoid it. If you don’t speak Spanish, what are you going to do in a hospital where 95+% of the hospital staff only speak Spanish.

If your family in the US call to check on you, they won’t be able to communicate with the admission’s staff. If you call the Embassy, they will check on a possible patient, but they will not be able to discuss the patient’s condition unless they had previously registered on STEP and listed their contacts.

I have never found a person in the David Regional Hospital’s admission’s office that spoke English. I have spoken to some doctors in the Regional hospital that spoke English, but rarely find nurses speaking English.

If you are planning on moving to Panama and using the cheaper insurance offered by some of the hospitals, read the fine print well and it would also not hurt to go interview payment offices in the hospitals and ask some tough questions to understand how your coverage will work. Know which hospitals will honor that insurance and which ones won’t.

Panama can be a great place if you come with the right exceptions and plan ahead. If you don’t you may not enjoy it much.

30 thoughts on “Plan Ahead

  1. Don, I am new to Chiriqui Chatter. I have just bought a home in Volcan. I am going to take your advice and come with insurance. Could you or your readers please post some names and contact info for insurance companies that offer coverage. Thank you in advance, Debbie

  2. The United States Embassy is a joke. The last time I showed up to have a paper notarized and was charged 50 dollars for 2 minutes of work.(what are we paying are taxes for) You can tell Obama is the commander and chief. They sent a four person crew down here with no one carrying a gun. No one screening people walking in the door. (idiots). These anti government radicals are not stealing money from people. There killing people. Reminds me of Hillary Clinton. All the while the woman who was filling out my notarization was making pro Hillary comments. The United States Government has turned into an embarrassment.

  3. Well John, you should consider yourself lucky that you had the opportunity to pay your $50 and get your documents notarized in Chiriquí. When I moved here, they didn’t have outreach visits to Chiriquí as they do now.

    The Embassy justifies their outreach visits to Chiriqui because they come quarterly to visit US citizens that are in jail.

    Were it not for that, your option would be a trip to Panama City to pay your $50.

    It is not the U.S. government’s responsibility to cover expenses of people choosing to move here. If it is not worth it to you to pay the $50, then don’t.

    Some people never appreciate how lucky they are. The Embassy spends an extra day here to have these outreach meetings. If they are not appreciated or needed, I am sure they would be happy to reduce it to one day and handle the business they have to do.

  4. Hi Don – First let me thank you for all the work you do for the Embassy and for the people living in Chiriqui. That being said, I would also like to inquire further regarding the certified check required for passport renewal by mail (DHL). I went to CACSA bank in Puerto Armuelles and was told I had to go to Banco Nacional. I did so and was told they are not authorized to issues a certified check to the U. S. Embassy Panama. I then went to Banco Nacional in Frontera and was told the same thing. The outlying banks apparently are not aware of this situation. Banco Nactional did say that if I had an account with them (which I do not) they would have been happy to issue the Certified Check. Any help you could provide with the Embassy and educating the banking facilities would be much appreciated. The final answer for my friend I am trying to help is that he will renew while in the states next month using expedited service. Maybe next time using mail (DHL). Thanks,

  5. Does anyone have any useful advice on where to begin the search for appropriate (and affordable) health insurance, or better yet, any recommendations on specific insurance companies and policies? I do not (yet) live in Panama but am considering the possibility of moving (I.e., retiring) there in about a year and a half. I would be most grateful.
    I currently live in the US and am faced with the terrifying maze of choices I’m forced to go through when I turn 65 in November this year (I understand Medicare is useless outside the US).

  6. After reading Susan Beattys message it only reconfirms my thoughts what kind of idiots are running the embassy. I Having experienced firsthand some of the people they have working the windows in Clayton.Very good example of somebody who is taking advantage of a situation where they have a little power. If you are a Panamanian when you walk up to these windows you are only at there mercy. The United States Government needs to change, and not just offer excuses like your lucky you don’t have to drive to Clayton. Believe me I would rather use DHL or go to the states like Susan before dealing with this embassy which is broken like a two dollar watch.

  7. John, John. If you read Susan’s comment again, (sorry, I realize reading and comprehending may be difficult) you will see that her problem is with the banking system in Panama, with which is under the governance of banking institution.

    Most people find that banking in Panama comes with its own set of problems and is always a challenge, not the least of which is the extreme ATM charges.

    The U.S Embassy didn’t say “Your Lucky”. I did. I see what goes on behind the scenes helping many people who have gotten themselves in to problems, some of which are almost unimaginable.

    I have dealt with cases in Chiriquí where I have written ACS staff at 11 PM on a Saturday night and received an answer at 1 AM Sunday morning.

    I know the extra efforts that the staff at the Embassy go through on a daily basis.

    You are lucky that you have the staff that work in the ACS in Panama. And this is coming from a volunteer for the Embassy (not an employee). All opinions expressed by me are mine and not the opinions of the Embassy.

  8. Donald let me start by stating that I think that your heart is in the right place. You are obviously very misguided. I, unlike you having worked for the United States government for 35 plus years (no draft dodger here. I quit my job to serve our nation). know that the establishment loves people like yourself that does not challenge the system and acts more like a robot. I read it right the first time. Banco National like other banks here does not issue a cashiers check without the person being a customer. Maybe someone at the embassy should of figured this out beforehand. I do find you to be very bias about The Panamanian governmental agencies including the public health system which has saved many of my friends lives etc. etc. Talk about a lack of appreciation.

  9. Worked to the U.S. government for 35 years and still you are surprised by its operation? Someone wasn’t paying enough attention.
    I have a solution for John Ret. USG, become a Panamanian citizen and you won’t be bothered by the US embassy.

  10. What is the answer to Sue Beatty situation on checks to the Embassy? I have a appt for Notary on the 28th and need two {2} 50 dollar checks. Can I use my credit card to pay the fees? I didn’t quite understand that answer. I wish this yahoo lawyer of mine could have sent this paperwork last week but NOOO. Then I could have taken advantage of the embassy being here. Oh well it’ll be good to get back to my old stomping grounds in curundu where i served as an MP for 11 yrs. Hey Don your doing a great job!

  11. Cash is required at Outreach meetings. If you are at the Embassy, credit cards are accepted. I haven’t received any information on communications between the Embassy and Panama banks, but as you would expect, the banks do what they want to do. It is getting harder for U.S. citizens to get Panama bank accounts. Not impossible, but not like it was when I came in 2003.

  12. I and my Panamanian wife at one time had a joint savings account at Banco Nacional for many years.. One morning, a few years ago, the Secretary at our local bank called us on the phone and said that we had to come in as they were closing our account. NO EXPLANATION GIVEN but I assumed it was because of the new U.S. Government Facta requirements. We immediately went in, got a certified check for the amount and went next door to Global Bank where we also had an existing account and they were happy to receive our check. To tell you the truth, I was happy to move the money from Banco Nacional, once I had asked to use their bathroom and they denied me that request. What kind of bank is that to deny an old man that request? Global Bank has never said NO to any request I have ever made. So, since I had an account with Banco Nacional and now don’t, how would I be able to get that Certified Check for the U. S. Embassy?

  13. Here was the response I received from the Embassy related to Susan’s question on Panama Banks and checks.

    Hi Mr. Williams,

    We apologize for the delay in replying to this one. We are exploring other ways to obtain the certified check; any new info will be posted in our website or sent to the registered citizens via email. For the moment, the procedures remain the same…the certified check is the only way to pay consular services during outreaches, and the applicants need to work with their banks to obtain one.

    We will let the public know if there are any changes or new possibilities to obtain the certified check.

    Thank you again!

  14. We do not have any Panama bank accounts, as in 4 years we have no need…..until renewing our US passports recently with the ‘by mail’ (DHL) service.
    It required a certified check for the embassy. Fortunately we have friends with an account, and we went to the bank with her, gave her cash for deposit into the account plus the bank fee, and the bank made a certified check payable to the embassy. We forwarded it via DHL per instructions with our old passports, along with a prepaid DHL return envelope to send the new ones back to us (Mailbox etc,).
    Of course the embassy sent an emal to us that we could ‘pick them up’ at the embassy!! Emailed them back telling them we included the PREPAID DHL envelopes for return to Boquete. They answered, of course you did, apologized and we got them next day.

  15. You can also go with cas to the bank and buy a managers check which serves the same purpose as a certified check, to ensure that the check has funds. Embasdy also sends passports via chavale. I think its cheaper than dhl. Chavale is in calle 3ra in front of croc’s

  16. Actually i am renewing mibe and having embasdy send mine with chavale as others have done.

  17. That may be, but as I said, I would recommend emailing and getting conformation from the Embassy prior to using either method. I have seen many things to the Embassy which has easier access to DHL and the cost is not significant and the risk of losing a passport is much less. However, everyone is free to do as they want.

    I personally would only use DHL if my passport was involved.

  18. Just stopping by to express my appreciation –

    1) to Don Ray: thank you for all the invaluable information and assistance you provide with your blog.

    2) to Latitude Adjustment (John & Susan): thank you for stopping by my blog and providing information, advice and contacts on obtaining health insurance in Panama.


  19. Well this really sucks. I have a appt at 0830 hrs on the 28th for two notarised letters. Lovely. Not your fault ray. But I got my answer. I’m working on something.

  20. Ok, so my passport expires next year, but better if I renew it now. Like others I don’t have a Panama bank. If I could get my US bank to issue a certified check to the US Embassy Panama, would that work? I would go the DHL route for sending and receiving to the embassy. If there is any change to alternately pay, such as cash via DHL or credit or debit card I could do that. I can wait for better options. Any help or comments appreciated.

  21. To James Wiliams – I just checked the Embassy web site and they will accept credit cards or cash in the Embassy offices. The cashier’s check problem arises when attempting to use the outreach services of via mail (DHL). If you have an 8:30 am appointment on the 28th your cash or credit card should be just fine. Good luck.

  22. Thank you so much. Just drove down from and arrived at 1500 hrs. The roads are getting better. I left the caldera area around 0800 hrs. The town of Paraiso “on the canal” was hit hard with a freak downwind and there are trees down everywhere. Huge trees. Blocked the old Gaillard hwy now Omar Torrijos Hwy. Emergency vehicles were still arriving arriving and looks like a life saving attempt is occurring on the hey. I suspect a tree might have hit them while driving. Lived in that area for 11 yrs never saw or heard of that before

  23. Re: Banks in Panama. IF you don’t have an account and you give them CASH , WHY DON’T THEY ISSUE A CERTIFIED CHECK????? ANY BANK? .They got the money to cover and may charge you for the certified check. $$$ at bank for helping, but IF the bank charges extensive FEES for certification, — they are messing themselves up. … If they do issue, they would get MORE people setting up an account at their bank. lst come, lst serve and someone should be on top of this. This is not crazy — it is reality–????? .

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