I know I haven’t posted much lately, but I have several items consuming my time. However, I have had some time to observe several Yahoo groups and the Internet conversations about the frustration of the new immigration laws that Panama is enforcing.
For those considering retiring in Panama, this should have no major ill effect. I still maintain you should live here, as you would if you were a permanent resident, for a minimum of 6 months, prior to deciding to move here.
You should use that time for a test run to allow experiencing both the rainy and the dry seasons. That is not hard to do, but it does require effort. You should keep in mind that some locations have extra risks during the rainy season , such as bridge outages or land slides.
During that time you need to do a real due diligence to see if Panama is right for you.
I suggest several items for your due diligence.
- Observe the climate. Probably the most enticing reason to move to Panama is the weather. I consider it the only reason that would motivate me to move here after 14 years of experience.
- Visit the appropriate medical facilities. Check out doctors you might use. Visit the Regional Hospital emergency and watch the traffic. Determine how you would cover a serious illness or accident. Understand how you will pay for an unplanned medical event. If you have moderate to serious medical conditions, think hard before making a move here.
- Watch the local Panama TV news. Even if you don’t understand Spanish, you will learn a lot. This should be a daily event while you are here.
- Plan on learning Spanish, if you don’t speak it. It will be needed, if you are rushed to the Regional Hospital for an unplanned medical emergency.
- Determine how you will manage your finances. Many Panama banks no longer allow US citizens to open an account. To withdraw $500 from an ATM will typically cost you over $5+, if the account is not from a bank in Panama.
- Determine the cost and availability of reliable Internet. TV and Internet can be costly, if you don’t live in a good area. Most programing will be in Spanish. Service, both technical and account, can be a challenge, if you don’t speak Spanish.
- Verify the cost of living in Panama. It is not cheap. Granted, it is cheap compared to Costa Rica and safer than most of the other Latin American countries, but cheap, it is not.
- Verify your tolerance to rapid changes. What was the rule last week may not be the rule next week. Don’t like protests blocking you ability to get to medical services, well expect it in Panama and plan for it.
- While government officials will tell you that crime is on the down tick, locals will tell you it is higher than in the past. I have seen it change a lot in the last 14 years I have been here. Watching the local news will educate you.
Continue this list with other items that are important to you.
My feeling is that individuals, that can qualify for a Pensionado Visa, will (7 out of 10 times) decide not to apply for the visa, if they do a strong due diligence.
Realize that the US Embassy will tell you that over 80% of their problem requests come from property purchases. People buy a piece of land, pay their money, go to register it and find it is owned by someone else. They pay a builder to build a house and pay 1/2 down and find that the builder has disappeared.
Realize that the US Embassy is not here to hold your hand. Sign up for STEP to stay informed with US Embassy advisory notices.
Almost all of the problems they run into can be avoided, but most new comers don’t take the time to check out their lawyer. And don’t ask me about trying to get your money back from a Panama court. Your odds are not good.
If you are in a traffic accident that results an a Panamanian’s death, You may find yourself in jail until the cause of the accident is determined, It is amazing how a gringo is normally at fault. Another reason to have previously determined what lawyer is going to represent you.
I have enjoyed and continue to enjoy my life in Panama. I think the weather is as good as it can possibly be. I have lived in Panama longer than I have lived in any of my previous homes.
I have lived here long enough to know what is safe to do and where I think it is best to live. It took me the first two years to understand many of the pluses and minuses. Over the next 12 years, I have changed some of my thinking and reenforced other parts.
So here is my current recommendation to those thinking about moving to Panama for retirement.
The list above remains. I would still plan on discovering and evaluating Panama over a six month period. I am still talking about a intense due diligence, not just having fun. This investigation will require real work to be beneficial.
After the 6 months you can now return to your country of origin and reflect on what you have learned. If you decide that Panama is for you, then start preparing during the imposed waiting period. There will be plenty for you to do.
The FBI fingerprints and report will be easier there than in Panama. I have seen people that were in Panama take up to two years to get the documents done.
You should also take the time to get a complete physical examination. You should not come to Panama with any known medical concern. I did this before I moved here and found a hernia and was told to lose 50 pounds. I had the hernia taken care of in the US.
Spend time placing your household belongings in good homes. I do not recommend moving containers to Panama. I have seen too many people move 40 foot containers here and decide to move back to the US within10 months to 2 years and leaving everything here. It is easier to get stuff here than to take it out.
Visit all those you love and make sure you have prepared for an Internet capability of staying in touch. SKYPE and video helps more than email. Add WhatsApp to your Smart Phone (get a Smart Phone if you don’t have one).
If you have pets that will come with you, get acquainted with your state’s requirements for taking pets to a foreign country. Texas had a narrow window to get all documentation done and leave. I remember it being 10 days. You also need to verify the flights you are coming on do not have per embargoes for the time you are traveling. During some embargoed pets are not allowed. Make sure you have prepared for the Panama regulations. Standard is a one month quarantine, but you have to have the proper work to get them released from the Panama airport.
I assume you will have decided on a lawyer to handle your Pensionado Visa during your initial 6 month trial run. Collect all documentation that was required when you exited Panama. Check to see if anything has changed. Six months is a long time in panama for things to stay the same.
I laugh when I see all the comments from people thinking they will change to a different Latin American country for retirement because of the new immigration enforcement.
Costa Rica will be much more expensive. Crime is much higher there. It has a different money standard, but most things are priced in US dollars, so you get screwed with the money exchange. Panama uses the US dollar as its basis.
If you still want to move to an other Latin American country, the due diligence above should still be used. I have been in Mexico, Costa Rica, Colombia, Panama, and Peru. You can fall in love with any of them and all of them can be your hell on earth.
Moving to an new cultural country is an adventure and not for this faint of heart. Whatever you do, always look forward and never backward.
Over and out for the time being.