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Lists And How To Know What To Do In Panama?

It is difficult for me to brush past a list of just about anything. I almost always check to see if Panama is among those listed, regardless of the category. Best places to retire (https://www.bestplacesretire.com/panama/), fastest growing economy (https://www.worldbank.org/en/country/panama/overview), where The New York Times says you must visit (https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2019/travel/places-to-visit.html), one of Architectural Digest’s must see places for design (https://www.architecturaldigest.com/story/design-lovers-guide-panama-city), TripAdvisor’s top places to vacation (https://www.tripadvisor.com/Tourism-g294479-Panama-Vacations.html), Forbes’ ultimate private island vacation spot (https://www.forbes.com/sites/sophiefriedman/2018/08/09/islas-secas-panama/#7feecbf31a8f) and recently we learned that a pound of Panama coffee broke the world record as the most expensive ever sold—a cool $1,029 a pound! (https://robbreport.com/food-drink/dining/world-record-coffee-sold-panama-gesha-elida-estate-2859497/).

Town & Country, an upscale travel and lifestyle magazine seen globally, named Panama one of the best places to travel in 2019. They reported that, “The islands in the Gulf of Chiriqui?, 20 miles off Panama’s Pacific coast, have always been a bit of a secret, sparsely inhabited for centuries, if at all. The difference now? Brand new, high-end lodges committed to preserving the area’s unspoiled environment.Coming in 2020: a field station for the study of the humpback whales that migrate here each summer; guests will be able to geek out and partake in research.”

One Of The Safest Countries For Solo Travelers

With all the disturbing news for travelers to the Caribbean, I was pleased to see that Travel & Leisure had named Panama as one of the safest countries for solo travelers—especially women. (https://www.travelandleisure.com/slideshows/best-countries-for-solo-travelers?auto_advance=1&slide=704410#704410). Along with that designation, Panama was also highly rated generally as one of the “happiest places” on Earth (no. 6). Canada holds the top spot.

Upon more research, I found at least one list, Gallup-Sharecare Global Well-Being Index, where Panama is ranked at the very top. Number one for the “Overall Well-Being” list and in the top 20 for healthiest. Unfortunately, the USA ranked only 23 in the well-being rankings and the jury is still out about the health of individuals from the States.

Nice To Be Recognized

I’m not sure what all these rankings really say about Panama, but it is nice to be recognized. If you take Panama as just one body, then it has always been laid-back, non-judgmental and full of fresh fish and locally grown vegetables. Just thinking about all that makes me happy! Generally speaking the only people getting over wrought in Panama these days are expats. I will note that the mañana attitude, is sometimes infuriating, but if you learn to step back and take a breath, generally, things work out!

Another aspect about emerging as a “hot” destination for travelers, retirees and vacationers of every age and economic strata, is having accurate information about the different offerings. What are the options for touring? How do we get there? What to expect? How much does it cost? Is it child friendly? Where should we go to join a particular group? What are the ratings for restaurants, tours, coffee houses? These are all questions, the average local most likely wouldn’t be able to answer fully. Prices and times change daily, restaurants open and close often and new tours and experiences suddenly appear, so it’s good we now “have an app” for that!

“There’s An App For That!

“Panama—Good Times”, is the brain child of Austin Hess, an expat who also publishes a glossy magazine called The Restaurant Magazine PTY (www.TheRestaurantPTY.com) and a monthly free tourist newspaper, Panama Good Times (www.PanamaGoodTimes.com). Hess, with his wife, Viviana Marcano de Hess, also owns, a couple of highly regarded restaurants, LaVista and Boulder 54.

Lots of selfies are taken on the ferry ride to Taboga Island for an evening at LaVista. This couple staged a shot with co-owner of the restaurant, Austin Hess (right)

While Boulder 54 is located in Boquete, 50 minutes by air from Panama City, it is named for the restaurant’s wine list and the fact it is built into a boulder, LaVista provides a very different evening packed with sensory experiences. All begins with a ferry ride from the Amador Causeway to Taboga Island in Panama Bay and free-flowing champagne. Exceptional dinner music and a six-course tasting menu are conducted from the top of a hill, overlooking the lights of Panama City and the Panama Canal. The quick trip from the dock to the restaurant is also interesting, given you are provided an up-close view of how the islanders live.

The Good Times app can be read in English or Spanish, just like The Restaurant Magazine—PTY and The Good Times local visitor newspaper.

There are lots of magnificent restaurants in Panama City, but only one application which provides all the details needed to plan a perfect evening, retirement or vacation in Panama. The Good Times app is free and covers 18 different categories beginning with restaurants and bars, medical and dental services, entertainment, arts and cultural, pet care, accommodations, tours and transportation, professional services, food stores and shopping, just to name a partial list.

Only With Your Consent

The app, available at both the Apple Store and Google Play or from www.PanamaGoodTimesApp.com, can track your location—with your consent—and keep you informed of happenings physically around you. This is especially nice as Central America’s first “Smart City” will be located in downtown Panama City, where one of the newest and most exciting residential projects, Uptown, has recently been launched. It will be the social hub of Panama City.

I am out and about Panama every day and even I was surprised by just how much information was packed in that app! New restaurants and services are now just a few taps away. Need an ATM machine close by? There’s an app for that. Good Times Panama!

Currently, There Is Only One Railroad in Panama

It is incredibly easy to be misled about what is really happening in Panama, but if you are considering investing in this country, you should carefully do your homework. Today, there are many information outlets, from articles published in The New York Times to posts by the casual blogger. It’s imperative to know which sources to trust and the other sources you should completely dismiss.

I live and work in Panama City and yet, I regularly find myself researching if something that is being reported as fact, is indeed reality. First, I look at the source itself; if it’s something like The New York Times or The Guardian, I know it is well documented and it’s highly likely it’s fact. But, even when you have faith in the source, it’s important to track down when the report was written. Things change rapidly in Panama and if an article was written years ago, I immediately question its accuracy and look for follow-up articles.

Don’t look for Mickey Mouse to be donning a Panama hat anytime soon!

Recently, someone asked me about the new Disney theme park being built in Rio Hato, along the Pacific side of Panama. They peppered me with facts—$656 million to build everything from the theme park, to hotels, restaurants and a production studio. A train would be taking guests from a parking lot near Coronado, to the front gates of the new park named “Disneylandia”. They had so many reasonably sounding facts, I almost started to believe Mickey and Minnie were packing their colorful board shorts and Panama hats!

April Fools Humor

Most of the reason I paused about the Disney project, was because there was just a little bit of truth mixed in with the April Fool’s Day humor. Several years ago, Panamanian officials did court Walt Disney World, but the bid for a sprawling new theme park, was completely unsuccessful. That effort was also about ten years ago, so I could easily dismiss the rumor, solely based on time.

Just as there is no train carrying park-going passengers to a Disneylandia, there is also no high-speed train currently being built to carry passengers from Panama City to the city of David and the border of Costa Rica. Today, there is only one railroad in Panama and that is the Panama Canal Railroad, which operates in the Canal Zone.

What About That High Speed Train?

The high speed train spanning the country, is much more likely to become reality, than a Disney Theme Park, but nothing is currently happening. As part of China’s Belt and Road Initiative, a feasibility study was completed by the China Railway Design Corporation and presented to then-President Juan Carlos Varela earlier this year. Varela said he was grateful for the study because it “opened the way for this great project for Panama. It is economically feasible because of the social profitability it represents for the Panamanian people, it is profitable and viable to build it”.

But, of course, Varela is no longer in office and the current Panamanian president, Laurentino “Nito” Cortizo, has not communicated if he supports constructing the high speed train, which will ultimately cost Panamanians $4.1 billion USD. He has, however said, “he would examine the payment structure of the deal to build a high-speed train”.

Twenty-Two Stations And Five Freight Depots

If the railroad becomes reality, there would be 22 stations, including five freight depots and it would allow riders to complete the trip in a little over two and a half hours. Today that trip by automobile, takes approximately six hours or a 50 minute flight by plane.

There is some concern about Chinese encroachment, as China continues to invest heavily in infrastructure projects in countries world-wide. The high speed railroad, which would take six years to build and create 2,900 jobs, would be carried out under China’s Belt and Road Initiative, which promotes the creation of logistical hubs to improve the flow of Chinese goods. Panama fits well in those plans, as Chinese container ships are already in Panama traversing the Canal. China is second only to the United States in canal usage.

Of course there are always risks when a foreign power wants to bankroll such a huge project. Some other countries, mostly in Africa, who have accepted China’s largesse, have found it difficult to repay the investment. If that happens, the project defaults and becomes the property of China. Panama isn’t likely to default, but it is a concern and something which should be closely evaluated.

The Chinese And The Fourth Bridge

Since 2017, when Panama re-established relations with China, as opposed to Taiwan, the Chinese have been eager to court Panama because of its fortunate geographical position. Another project, currently under construction, is the fourth bridge over the Panama Canal. A Chinese consortium won the $1.42 billion contract after rival bidders appealed the initial decision to award the project to China. The construction is under way and the Chinese are currently building the four-mile bridge. When completed, there will be six lanes for vehicles, a two-way metro line, bike and pedestrian paths. This project should be finished in 2021 and will include an observation deck and restaurant.

All of these infrastructure projects are incredible investments in Panama’s future. Income from the Panama Canal, especially since it’s widening, has doubled revenue and the new copper mine, now sending shipments directly to China for processing, promises to contribute more to the country’s bottom line, than even the Panama Canal.

We Are All Worried About The World Economy

I have to give my friends in the States credit for being able to cope with their wildly fluctuating economy. One day the market will be up 400 points and the next it’s down 650. I remember when a 75 point downturn was enough to reach for the antacid. Now, it’s little more than a blip. Just when the trade war with China seemed to be leveling, we received news that $300 billion worth of additional goods will be subjected to new tariffs. Mexico has just replaced China as the US’ largest trade partner and it’s difficult to know if the US is headed to a recession. You hear “expert” predictions all over the place!

I’ve spoken with a lot of people this week because we recently launched the new Casa Pintada residential complex project which, in my opinion, is perfect for individuals seeking a hands-off, low-risk investment. If the unpredictable stock market is making you a little dizzy, the Casa Pintada project is solid, predictable and provides an income stream for years. Let me tell you how.

Scrambling For Housing

The new Panamanian copper mine is up and running, with thousands of employees and contractors scrambling for housing. Investors are pleased with a projected return on invest of up to 11.4% and a relatively small down payment of $56,000. That would represent 50% of the purchase price of the smallest unit. But, with developer financing on the balance and monthly rental income anticipated from $1,500 to $1,800, purchasing more than one unit suddenly makes sense!

Both Short- And Long-Term License

The variance in what an investor would profit each month would depend on how they decide to rent and finance the residence. The great thing about these units, they have both short- and long-term rental licenses. If rented short-term, the price for each night would be slightly higher than if the investor entered into a long-term lease agreement. There is more hassle when rented sort-term, but the occupancy rate is expected to bet close to 100% for several years.

The copper mine, that rests just along the Caribbean side of Panama, is now the largest such mine on the globe and it is expected to contribute more to Panama’s gross domestic product (GDP) than the Panama Canal. Yes, it’s that big!

The engineers and scientists predict the mine will be productive for the next 34 years. Recently, a second vein was discovered which would simply add to the vastness and life of the mine. That certainly makes these residential units attractive for the long haul. Approximately 3,500 employees work in the mine today and 1,000 contractors are on site daily and they all need a place to sleep!

This offering is truly a package deal. It qualifies as a 401K investment, where you can purchase the property with your retirement savings and reinvest the funds into something with a greater return and better stability. The US Government maintains very strict rules about investing 401K funds privately and certain strict rules apply to this unique offering, First, you must pay for it totally out of your retirement account, not use the property ever for personal use and all profits must be returned to the 401K., maintaining all the current rules for withdrawals. With on-site property management, everything is handled within the US Government rules. This opportunity would allow for an investor to purchase and then forget, allowing for the rental income stream to bolster your retirement savings.

Someone Else In Charge Of The Day-To-Day

Because someone else would be doing all the day-to-day work including marketing, cleaning the apartments and managing front desk details, it requires very little work on the owner’s part. First Quantum Minerals, one of the world’s largest and most respected mining operations globally, will be working with the Casa Pintada residential complex. They know happy workers make for happy, productive employees!

First Quantum will market to the miners, make the complex attractive because there will be buses with pick-ups on-site for employees going to and from the mine each day. There will also be a separate water treatment plant, open green space, schools and numerous restaurants and retail options.

There will be expenses, of course, and depending on financing and size of the unit, owners should expect to pay somewhere between $640 and $889 per month, per unit for a conservative annual profit of around $10,000 on a $56,000 investment. All accounting will be handled by the property management company. First Quantum will be sending the renters, many of whom will be contractors with specialist skills flow in from overseas, and Panama will enjoy the positive economic impact, while investors have a long-term low-risk investment income stream.

Britain, Germany And The Rest Of The World

I know it’s a volatile world. I worry about Britain and Brexit, Germany ’s economy has slowed and the Amazon is on fire, but the GDP in Panama is steady and vibrant. We have multiple infrastructure project on-going, including a fourth bridge over the canal, a new cruise terminal, convention center and international airport terminal and a third metro line.

This is such an exciting project. I’d love to chat with you about the opportunity. There are only so many units and they have been selling quickly. The pre-construction pricing won’t last, but developer financing will. If you’d like more information, go to the Casa Pintada page: https://casapintadainvestments.com/ or go to my website: https://www.lizlarroquette.com/.

Set up a private consultation time by calling my US office: 502.630.0318 or in Panama: 507.6981.1717. I’d love to hear from you!

There are many surprising things about Panama, especially considering we are such a small country.

For example, forget Juan Valdez, Panama has the best coffee in the world. Our chocolate is also world-class—next time you’re in Panama City, try La Praline Chocolatier. We are home to some incredible athletes. Even with little more than four million residents, Panamanians are often on a global stage at some of the most important international sporting events. Remember last year’s World Cup? Panama was there. Later this month, proud Panamanian and former New York Yankees pitcher Mariano Rivera will be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame as the only player ever to be unanimously selected.

Mariano Rivera

Our geography is unlike anywhere else. Within a day’s drive, you can enjoy the energy of a modern city and white sandy beaches that face both the Caribbean Sea and the Pacific Ocean. Panama’s lush rainforests boast more identified bird species than all of North America combined. If you want to enjoy the stunning views of the Continental Divide, hike up Panama’s non-active volcano, Baru. Of course, don’t forget the Panama Canal, one of the most amazing engineering feats of all time.

Given the incredible things that Panama has to offer, it didn’t come as much of a shock when I learned that Panama is also home to one of the largest copper mines in the world, with enough mineral deposits to remain active for 34 consecutive years. The mine has been under construction for over six years. Earlier this year the “first milling” occurred, making the mine officially operational. In June 2019, the first shipment of concentrate left the Port of Punta Rincon en route to China. Once completely engaged, the mine is expected to generate more of Panama’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) than the Panama Canal, exporting approximately $2 billion annually (4% of GDP).

The Cobre Panama mine is one of the largest copper mines in the world.

Canada’s First Quantum Minerals is a highly respected and rapidly growing minerals producer present in nine countries and on five continents. They announced recently that they will be hiring up to 7,000 individuals to continue construction and run the massive copper mine. Cobre Panama is located four hours by car from Panama City and only 12 miles from the Caribbean coast. The mine is spread over 33,606 acres with 11,000 of those acres designated as green space to support the area’s wildlife.

“We will maintain a workforce of 2,500 employees once the mine is completely operational,” said First Quantum’s Global Exploration Director, Mike Christie. “That will be for a minimum of 34 years. Everything about this mine is supersized.”

First Quantum is actively hiring for the Cobre Panama project. “Initially we will concentrate on hiring construction workers, but we are also hiring geologists, engineers, construction specialists, maintenance teams, lawyers, and IT experts,” said the First Quantum hiring team for Panama. “Our opportunities are remarkable, and we are recruiting world-wide, but we need to be able to provide high-quality options for the worker and their family.”

Employees of the Cobre Panama project are anxiously waiting for new housing to be constructed. Homes in the new Casa Pintada complex will be interspersed among retail, restaurants, bike and pedestrian paths, and green space.

First Quantum recognizes a main problem with luring highly skilled talent to Cobre Panama is the location. The mine is located in a remote section of the country. The closest residential options are, at minimum, two driving hours from the mine in the town Penonomé. Other options are three hours to Coronado-Gorgona and four hours into Panama City.

The mine employees have been scrambling for housing since construction on the mine began almost five years ago, but it had not reached critical mass until the mine became operational.

“I’m one of the lucky ones, because I am an expat,” one miner told me recently. “I have a room, even though it’s the size of a small bathroom, somewhat damp, and without anything I could use for distraction—not even a working television. I love the work, the area is beautiful, and I get to live alone in my little room. Lots of the other miners share accommodations simply because there aren’t enough residences,” he continued.

Additionally, because there isn’t enough residential space, many of the miners are separated from their families. “I’d love to see my wife and son more, absolutely, but since there’s no room here they live in Coronado, three hours away,” he said.

First Quantum, Global Director, Mike Christie said: “We represent the largest private investment in Panama, and we are generating thousands of jobs for Panamanian families. We have programs for the sustainable development of nearby communities, and we comply with the commitments of the environmental impact studies, but we also need housing. There is a human foot-print.”

There have been several proposals to build new housing in the area and one of those projects offers tremendous investment opportunities: Casa Pintada. First Quantum has begun working with one of Panama’s leading real estate developers, Empresas Bern to create Casa Pintada. Five hundred new residences are being built to accommodate some of the workers and their families. Casa Pintada, which translates to “painted house,” will also have 100 retail spaces and over 40,000 square feet of green space.

Construction on Casa Pintada has already begun. The development will include all levels of schools, parking, and a bus terminal running between the complex and the copper mine. Services such as internet, cable, electrical, and garbage disposal will be part of the complex as well as an independent water treatment plant, wide pedestrian and bike paths, and a hotel. A separate police and medical emergency force will also be on-site.

The units, which will be compact and range from around 462 to 613 square feet, are only open to investors. Investors will own the units, working with a property management company to find tenants, who will rent through First Quantum’s on-site management team.

Pre-construction pricing on the studio, one-bedroom, and two-bedroom apartments is still available. Investors can utilize builder financing at 8% APR for up to five years and 50% cash down. Return on Investment (ROI) is projected at 10% annually. Casa Pintada is an amazing opportunity and I’d love to discuss more details with interested investors. Just give me a call or drop me a line! casapintadainvestments.com/

The entire Casa Pintada residential complex will be built in four stages and will include a courtyard and hotel. Only the first and second units are currently on offer.

Recently, several high-profile international companies have selected Panama for their regional offices.

These relative newcomers, such as Estée Lauder and Liberty Latin America are creating hundreds of jobs for Panamanians and expats alike. In addition to the jobs, these forward-thinking companies also are bringing cutting-edge services to all of Panama and beyond.

For example, Liberty Latin America is a telecommunications company with operations in over 20 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean. Digital video and entertainment, broadband internet, telephone and enterprise-grade connectivity are only part of the commercial and residential offerings by Liberty.

Liberty Latin America (LLA) recently announced their decision to relocate their regional headquarters to Panama. Kerry Scott (middle), Senior Vice President for People and Culture is moving to Panama and will spearhead operations. Balan Nair, Executive President of LLA explained how Panamanians will be the first in Latin American to receive 5G internet capabilities.

Liberty Latin America is currently headquartered in Denver, Colorado, but it operates a sub-sea and terrestrial fiber optic cable network that connects over 40 markets in Latin America. While senior executives and leadership have been moving to Panama over the last few weeks, there will be an additional 500 jobs created here once Liberty Latin America is fully staffed.

Estée Lauder will have 250 new employees in Panama once they are at full capacity in their Regional Headquarters in Costa del Este. These employees will join other international workers from companies such as Johnson & Johnson, Proctor & Gamble, Adidas, and Dell.

If a company locates to Costa del Este, they’ll receive automatic government concessions, including tax rebates and the ability to forgo the requirement of employing 90% Panamanian workers.

Many of these new employees will garner a high salary and benefits from these international employers. Some will have trailing spouses and families, but others will be alone and require smaller residences. The good news is that Costa del Este has amenity-filled residences ranging from small studios to condominiums with 4,000 square feet, maids’ quarters, and private entrances.

Costa del Este is the hub for international businesses located in Panama City. It is a relatively new suburb, but one that is rapidly turning into a delightful residential option for many employees moving to Panama. All electrical and cable wires are buried, there is a beautiful Central Park, bike and pedestrian lanes, and dozens of retail and restaurants options, most within walking distance from the residential skyscrapers facing the Pacific Ocean and Panama Bay.

There are specialty grocery and wine shops, an upscale shopping mall, a Westin, and JW Marriott hotel. There’s also a Johns Hopkins-affiliated international hospital slated to open next year. The location is perfect for residents needing quick access to Tocumen International Airport, which is only 15 minutes away via high-speed corridor. Two excellent international schools are located nearby among amenities like dry cleaners, gyms, bike shops, and florists.

There are several Athanasiou shops in Panama, including in Costa del Este. The high-end retail-restaurant boasts specialty olive oils, red wine vinegar, and coffees—all locally grown and processed. If that isn’t enough to bring you in, you might want to consider the desserts and bistro offerings.

With so many employees moving to Panama and specifically Costa del Este, it is sometimes difficult to find the perfect residential property, simply because of inventory fluctuations. Currently, however, there are some great options for both the investor and the resident.

Because many of the employees will be stationed temporarily in Panama, rentals are in high demand. Parkside is a 50-story residential high-rise, with 42 residential floors consisting of units ranging from 1,000 to 1,400 square feet. These one- and two-bedroom units are ready for occupancy, but inventory is low. Amenities include a running track, sports court, infinity pool, children’s play area, open terraces, and a grand ballroom. This property is perfect for renting to the expat executive as there is on-site property management, with the possibility of a rapid return-on-investment.

Matisse is more directed to the wealthy Panamanian and international executive, with only two apartments on each residential floor. The complex rises 52-stories and maintains 24-hour security, multiple social areas, and assigned parking. The Occupancy Permit was just received in mid-2019 so these amazing homes are ready for occupancy.

Casa Bianca is a relatively new concept in Costa del Este, since the residences are built in a modern colonial style with three and four stories. Casa Bianca is geared more toward families.

Arcadia and Casa Bianca broke ground in recent months, which means the units are not currently available for rent or occupancy, but it does mean there is attractive pre-construction pricing. Arcadia is perfect for international employees with its impressive list of upscale amenities, open floor plan and smaller one- and two-bedroom units. As soon as this 46-story building is completed, there will be individuals seeking rental options at Arcadia.

Casa Bianca is a new concept for Costa del Este and it has been one of the most talked about new residential projects in the area. As opposed to a modern striking high-rise building, Casa Bianca will have ten unique residences in three- and four-story buildings. This type of residence is designed in a modern colonial style with balconies, green space, and arches. Pools and social areas will be perfect for young families.

Generation Tower is designed for tourists, executives, conferences attendees and, to a lesser extent, individuals looking for a permanent residence. Still in the planning stages, Generation Tower residences are being offered at amazing prices until ground is broken. The property is especially attractive to investors as a Condo Hotel for short- or long-term residences. It will provide all the features of hotel living, with a price point perfect for long-term living.

Santa Maria is one of the most upscale areas of Panama City, with its gated community, luxury hotel, and exclusive 18-hole Nicklaus-designed golf club. Adjacent to Costa del Este, La Vista on the Green residences are stunning and located just minutes from Panama’s international airport. While inventory is low, there are some residential units still available in this 30-floor complex. Multiple pools, sweeping views, and 24-hour security are just some of the amenities offered here.

The Santa Maria, a luxury hotel steps away from the LaVista on the Green residences. The 18-hole Nicklaus Golf Club is only for use by property owners and guests of The Santa Maria Hotel.

I am always encouraged by how happy new international employees are once they settle into life in Panama. On Glassdoor, a website dedicated to having employees post about their employers, the overall rating for working in Panama routinely ranked higher than all other Central and North American employers, with the exception of high-demand and high-compensation, companies such as Google, Facebook, Apple, and Microsoft.

One employee at Adidas Panama, posted recently that “Adidas is a good company. It is cool to work here. They develop their employees. The work environment is good, people are nice and I absolutely love the Panamanian attitude.” A Dell employee in Panama wrote “I love all the opportunities I am receiving. They support the individual and provide a wonderful working environment.”

Betzalel Kenigsztein, COO of Liberty Latin America, said, “Selecting Panama City as the location for our Operations Center reinforces our strategy to drive operational efficiencies across our platform to support our organic growth over the coming years. We look forward to leveraging Panama´s economic stability and its profile as a logistics hub in the region with great physical and digital connectivity to continue to deliver innovative products and services to our customers.”

The Arcadia project has broken ground, but fortunately for investors, pre-construction pricing is still in available with developer financing.

Kerry Scott, SVP for Liberty Latin America, will lead the staffing for the new Panama regional headquarters and will personally move to Panama City. She has lived and worked various positions in London, Qatar, the Netherlands, Denver, and the United Arab Emirates. “Having visited Panama on numerous occasions, I have always been impressed by the people I have met, its great infrastructure, and importantly, its connectivity across Latin America and the rest of the world. I am looking forward to calling Panama home,” said Scott. “This will be an exciting new challenge to further expand LLA’s presence, foster a positive culture that drives business performance, and create moments that matter for our customers.”

Sounds like the Panama I know: a place with great growth and investment potential. I’d love to discuss investment and real estate possibilities with you!

For residents of Casa Bonita, one of the most popular hangouts is an open-air infinity pool with sweeping views of the Panama Canal.

Resort-style chairs and loungers allow for easy conversation and panoramic views of the ocean, mountains, and rain forest. I love relaxing there at night when the temperatures are cooler, but my favorite time to enjoy the scenery is during the rainy season: watching storms sweep over the city and the Panama Bay is breathtaking.

The other evening just as the rains were beginning to lighten, I overheard a conversation between two new residents. “Do you think it’s the mini-bar, pesticides, or just unrelated deaths due to natural causes? Is it safe?” I knew immediately that the conversation was about the recent deaths of tourists in the Dominican Republic.

The social area located on the top floor of Casa Bonita offers stunning views of the Panama Canal, mountains, and rainforest. One of my favorite places to hang out!

I turned to see a gentleman who had recently purchased a residence in the building. In his late forties, he works for a logistics company headquartered outside Houston. Business often brings him to Panama.

“You’re in the know! Tell me the inside scoop,” he said, motioning for me to join the conversation. I smiled. “I’m a lot better at knowing what’s going on in Panama than in the Dominican Republic, but at this point I’d definitely caution travelers against breaking into the mini-bar!”

Returning to a more serious tone, I reflected on these misfortunes. A string of incidents like this would be a hot topic of conversation anywhere, but perhaps particularly so in the Caribbean where many countries are dependent on tourism. “I feel for the families of those who’ve died,” I said, “and also for the Dominican workers. Fewer people visiting the DR will undoubtedly impact many people’s living.”

My guest mused, “I think most of the deaths occurred at all-inclusive resorts. If everything is included, you’d probably be more apt to raid the mini-bar.”

“True, but what about everything going on in Costa Rica? The government recently confiscated 30,000 bottles of alcohol that had been tainted with methanol. They’re saying at least 19 people died during June and July, after being poisoned by drinking inexpensive alcohol,” I said. “These were people aged 32 to 72 and most of them were in and around the capital city of San Jose, not in all-inclusive resorts!”

I considered all the data points. At first, I assumed that these tourist deaths were flukes. It is difficult to make connections between these incidents: many of the tourists were healthy and there’s a wide range of ages. In Costa Rica, some were locals.

Neither the local governments in the Dominican Republic and Costa Rica, nor the US State Department have issued warnings about visiting or vacationing in either country. Costa Rica is under normal advisory warnings, and the DR was recently listed as a country where “increased precaution was needed,” but that was simply because of the presence of drug trafficking and had nothing to do with the possibility of tainted alcohol or pesticides. I couldn’t help but mention that the US State Department ranks Panama as one of the safest countries in the world, but then I started to consider other factors that could impact tourism safety.

There is of course an inherent risk in travel. Being well-traveled myself, I brought up the perhaps little-known fact that all cruise ships have protocols in place to handle passenger emergencies and even deaths. “If you’re on a cruise and hear the announcement ‘Operation Bright Star,’ followed by a location, that means there is a medical emergency at that location. If you hear ‘Operation Rising Star,’ then someone has passed away,” I explained. “Even on cruise ships where there are comparatively few risks, staff are prepared in case of incidents like these.”

When I’m not enjoying the social area at Casa Bonita, another favorite is the Pearl Club, which is only open to residents.

My visitor wasn’t convinced. “Are you telling me you think these deaths in the Dominican Republic and Costa Rica were just people who happened to be vacationing there when it was time for them to make the final passage?”

I returned to my previous stance—I’m an expert on Panama, not the Dominican Republic or Costa Rica! “It seems like a lot of deaths,” I admitted, “and I’m sure they will be fully investigated. What I do know for sure is that there haven’t been any similar deaths here in Panama. No one is confiscating tainted alcohol. We’re lucky that there are regulations in place to protect our well-being in ways that your average tourist wouldn’t think about, such as making sure our liquor is clean.”

There are some real bargains for tourist interested in traveling to the Dominican Republic!

Once I start bragging on Panama, I just can’t stop! I continued: “We’re a very advanced country. For example, Panama is now banning the use of plastic bags in all retail and grocery outlets. Even the United States hasn’t been able to ban plastic bags, but here in Panama we are actively addressing environmental issues. Clean beaches, highly regulated food pipelines—all of this contributes to Panama being a first-rate Caribbean tourist destination.”

“No plastic bags?” he responded with a smile. “Seriously?”

“By January 2020, our warehouses won’t even be able to use plastic, and we are a hub for distribution,” I said proudly.

Panama is close to the equator, so it gets dark here fairly early. It was just around 6:00 when the lights started coming on after the rain storm. Before heading inside I turned again to my visitor and added, “I will say, the Dominican Republic has some great rates for all-inclusive vacations. I saw an advertisement offering 77% off to anyone wanting to stay four nights or more.”

The gentleman laughed. “That’s a great deal, but I think I’ll stick to Panama.”

Since I’ve been in the business of Panamanian real estate for more than a decade, I have seen a lot of promotions come and go.

These incentives will normally include something extra in the deal for buyers. On occasion, it has included offers as simple as upscaling the French sliding doors from the living room to the balcony. Other times, it has been cutting the price on units that, for whatever reason, have not been claimed in a building that is mostly sold.

Fishing boats launch every night from this location, just outside Royal Palm. When they return with the days’ catch, you can get corvina for around $2.00 a pound.

Incentives normally last for a short period and they usually are the result of multiple factors. A new building is ready to break ground and its older sister building has a few units left unsold; more projects than usual have started for a builder and they want to finish an older project and move workers and the focus elsewhere. Then, there are always a few odd-shaped units that are perfectly wonderful but only for a small audience. I always liken those units to size zero clothes. There are only so many people who can wear a size zero!

I have a lot of investors who wait for really good promotions and upscale sliders are rarely enough. They look for ones that make a real financial difference because they are mainly interested in the return on investment (ROI) and are rarely going to be the occupants. They know the builder is probably taking a loss just to move property. They can rapidly figure if the opportunity is one that will fit in their portfolio. I’ve made a lot of calls that have started with the line: “There are just a few units left and I can go as low as …”

Royal Palm is a stunning building shaped like the hull of a ship with two towers connected through open-air common space on each floor. It is absolutely beach front, located on the shores of the Pacific Ocean. The list of amenities are some normally reserved for buildings with a much higher price point. Five pools, including an infinity pool that overlooks the ocean, multiple social areas, 24-hour security and wrap-around balconies with the option of combining units for larger families.

I love this building and not just because it has been one of Panama’s fastest selling complexes. I like the way the reception area pays homage to the rich history of Panama, by installing tiles unique to the old capital city, Casco Viejo. I also like that it is only 50 minutes from Panama City and yet, it seems like a different world. Breezy, peaceful, relaxed and laid-back.

The pools at Royal Palm are especially lovely and are located overlooking the Pacific Ocean! If you don’t care for a particular one, there are four more to choose from!

Royal Palm is perfect for both individuals who plan on living in their units as well as investors seeking to rent their property. The building has always been reasonably priced (especially for an absolute beach-front location) and the units have been selling at a steady pace ever since the project was announced. Therefore you can imagine my surprise when I received the news that a special promotion was going to be placed on all units in Royal Palm.

Some of the units at Royal Palm can be combined, providing an ideal footprint for family gatherings and entertaining. The ocean facing kitchens are hard to beat!

I can’t provide exact pricing here but imagine units costing between $181,000 to $445,000 and a financing plan through the builder with interest rates ranging between 0.75% and 4%! I did the math and with a certain percent down, investors would need to rent their units for only one day a month to have their costs covered. I’m all for letting someone else pay my mortgage!

Taking a family to spend only one night in a hotel at Disney World could be more expensive than the monthly mortgage payment on something that you would own. I know air fare to Orlando is inexpensive from most US cities, but did you know round trip direct flights from Miami to Panama City only run about $250? From Ft. Lauderdale, a round-trip ticket goes for as little as $166 and a flight from Hartford is only $247.

I don’t know how long this promotion is going to last, but I can say it’s the best I’ve ever seen in more than a decade of selling real estate in Panama. There are only so many units unsold. This promotion is the result of several factors coming into play and I’m pretty stoked. I can’t wait to discuss various packages I can put together for investors and owners at Royal Palm.

If you want a view like this, give me a call to discuss the amazing special financing promotion we have currently on remaining units at Royal Palm.

I love going to the Amador Causeway. It’s just a three-mile strip of palm-tree lined roadway connecting the Pacific Ocean islands of Naos, Perico, Culebra and Flamenco.

The causeway snakes from the bustling urban streets of Panama City, into the Pacific Ocean where it guards the southern entrance of the Panama Canal. Along the Amador roadway, mostly on the connected islands, there are stunning views and unparalleled options of activities for individuals of all ages.

Sunsets over the Amador Causeway are simply stunning. The roadway connects four islands and those islands provide a perfect place for all kinds of fun activities including restaurants, museums, night life, paths for jogging, biking, rollerblading and taking in the views of Panama Bay and the Panama Canal.

It wasn’t always a vibrant and inviting recreational mecca, but rather a US military complex built when the Americans needed to find somewhere to dump the 258,000,000 cubic yards of dirt and rock cut out to build the Panama Canal. The buildings were painted dull, nondescript colors with fences and little boxes to accommodate guards who controlled the area around the clock. There are still a few military installations but mostly the land has been reclaimed and turned into an activity mecca for Panamanians and tourists alike.

Soon, the Amador Causeway is going to become one of the most visited places in Panama. There are two projects currently under construction, which will deliver jobs and world-wide exposure to Panama. The two projects cost more than 358 million USD and will result in a new convention center along with a double-pier cruise terminal capable of welcoming two mega-ships daily and up to 10,000 passengers. The convention center will accommodate 20,000 daily visitors and will be the largest convention facility in Central America.

Currently thousands of passengers enjoy cruising through the Panama Canal, but not many stop to actually enter or visit our beautiful country. Even cruise operators signal that Panama is not really a port of call. “The Panama Canal portion of the trip focuses on the transit itself, with onboard lectures as ships make their way through the locks. Within the rest of Central America, put on your hiking boots and head for the rainforest or kick off your shoes and hit the beach,” is currently being marketed on the popular website of Cruise Critic. Soon, cruise passengers will see there are plenty of reasons to put on their hiking boots or water-gear for kayaking and beach going in Panama!

This month, it was announced that Norwegian Cruise Line was the first to contractually agree to use Panama City as a “Home Port.” That means cruises will begin and end in Panama, with passengers arriving and departing through Panama City. This will increase the time and dollars spent on tourism in Panama.

I also noticed recently that new “excursions” are being touted on the web site of various cruise lines who previously only offered an on-board discussion of the Canal. The upscale, all inclusive Regent Cruise website describes one excursion as:

“Two Oceans By Rail-Dome Car—This completely unique tour could easily be the highlight of your trip. Just imagine traveling down the tracks of the first transcontinental railroad in a beautifully restored and richly adorned domed railcar, while viewing what is widely considered to be the 8th wonder of the world; the Panama Canal, as well as spectacular Gatun Lake and the extraordinarily beautiful flora and fauna of the surrounding countryside. Adding to all of that, the unrivaled experience of traveling from one ocean to another, crossing the amazing continent of the Americas in just one hour!

If you go to the website of the popular Princess Cruise line, you will be immediately faced with a lovely photo of a Princess ship traversing the locks of the Panama Canal, along with touts for having the “Best Cruise Itineraries”.

Princess Cruises offers a total of nine options for passengers wanting to see more of Panama than just the canal. There are tours of Casco Viejo, the Aerial Tram & Soberania National Park, Kayaking on the Lake of Gatun, Monkey Island and a visit to the home of indigenous, Embera Indians—just to name a few.

The cruise terminal, located on the Amador Causeway will be able to accommodate two mega ships daily, carrying some 5,000 cruise passengers. A total of 6,000 jobs are estimated to be created to accommodate the influx of visitors.

The new cruise pier should start welcoming guests at the end of 2019 and the pier needs to be ready because people are already booked and looking forward to seeing Panama. According to the Panama Maritime Authority, there are already more than 60 berth bookings for the state-of-the-art terminal with world-class baggage handling, digital messaging and plenty of restaurants and art galleries.

In addition to the cruise ship pier, Amador Causeway is soon going to become the Convention Capital of Central America. A new convention center is scheduled to open later this year, with an area of 190,000 square feet of open space. Another 5,000 square feet will be available for smaller conferences and there will be 1,650 square feet dedicated to banquet halls and small meeting rooms. Adjacent to the center will be parking for more than 1,700 vehicles. At full-capacity, there will be enough space to accommodate 20,000 people per day.

The new convention center located on the Amador Causeway in Panama City will have all the most modern technology for convention goers.

The other day I was biking along the causeway and I started thinking what an additional 30,000 individuals crowded onto this narrow strip of land would mean to people like me. Did I want to dodge convention goers and groups of tourists getting on buses to take some excursion? Of course, YES! It is going to mean millions of dollars and thousands of jobs. It will increase the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of every Panamanian and it will allow the world to see the beauty and safety of Panama.

The new convention center will accommodate up to 20,000 people and 1,700 parked vehicles once it is completed this year.

Vehicle traffic is already restricted to one side of the causeway allowing both visitors and citizens alike to enjoy leisurely walks, bike riding, jogging and even rollerblading There are buggies to rent, lots of vendors offering local food specialities, drinks and unique art. I’ll still be able to eat fresh lobsters pulled hours earlier from the waters of Bocas del Toro. The views of the Bridge of Americas and the boats transiting the Panama Canal will still be stunning. Soon, I’ll just be able to share it with more people!

I love cycling with my friends (I’m in the middle with the pink top) along the open spaces of the Amador Causeway and the Pacific Bay. There is always too much to see and enjoy!

It’s an exciting time in Panama as we welcome our new President, Laurentino “Nito” Cortizo; elected May 5th to serve a five-year-term, beginning July 1, 2019.

This will be Cortizo’s only term as president, since Panamanian law prohibits anyone from succeeding themselves. Cortizo is the seventh democratically elected president after the fall of dictator Manuel Noriega in 1989 and with this election, Panamanians have illustrated they are becoming more at ease with their rights of demanding accountability from elected officials.

Nito Cortizo will become the President of Panama on July 1, 2019 and will accept a single-term of five years. He ran on the platform of making government more transparent, graft-free government projects and reviving a robust economy.

Panamanian voters can and will surprise you! In 2014 they elected Juan Carlos Varela who was thought to be an outside dark horse. This year Cortizo, who was predicted to enjoy a landslide victory, squeezed out a nail-biting win by less than two percentage points. Voters seem to be sending a strong message to candidates that they are being watched and they need to deliver on campaign promises.

Cortizo ran a campaign promising better economic times for all Panamanians. Ricardo Martinelli, the president prior to Varela, delivered explosive growth for the country sometimes outpacing the per-capita growth of China and always coming in much stronger than every other Latin American country. That growth slowed dramatically under Varela—from over 11% annually to somewhere around 3%—and Panamanians have felt the economic squeeze. Varela will leave office with only a 15% approval rating and Cortizo knows he needs to focus on the economy.

A fan of American football, Cortizo and his wife often travel north to watch the University of Texas Longhorns.

The 66-year-old cattle rancher says he wants to start developing a better relationship with the United States as well as continuing Panama’s newly focused partnership with China. “We need, and we have asked, the United States to look toward the region more — the region, not just Panama,” Cortizo he said in an interview with Reuters before voting on Sunday. “The United States is our strategic partner, our main strategic partner, but this relationship has to improve,” he continued. He also noted that China, while important to Panama, “must realize “the relationship (between China and Panama) must be one of respect.”

Cortizo was educated in the United States, primarily at the University of Texas, receiving both an MBA and Ph D. After his studies in Austin, he remained in the United States working in Washington DC. There he met his wife, a native of Puerto Rico, who was studying literature. They have been married for over 34-years and have two grown children, both of whom carry US Passports. Consequently, he feels a strong relationship with the United States and recognizes having the United States as a strong partner is vital to rapidly growing Panama’s economy.

Additionally, Cortizo looks to improve the education system for all Panamanians, reform government organizations by making them more transparent, eliminate corruption, grow tourism, generate more employment, attract investments and fight poverty and inequality. He also pledged to create ministries of culture and women, to make agriculture an affair of state, and to punish companies guilty of corruption. To accomplish everything on Cortizo’s list will be an amazing feat, but according to him, each one of his initiatives will build on the next agenda item.

The Viceroy Hotel in Boca del Toro, is one of the more luxurious accommodations in Panama and features 42 private overwater villas along with an amazing list of amenities.

For example, Panama has wonderfully varied vacation options—from all-inclusive luxury hotel packages, costing less than $1,500 per person for food, accommodations, drinks, golf and even air fare from the US and Canada, to ultra-lux accommodations costing more than $1,500 per person a night, just for a bungalow over the water. But, the majority of Americans don’t think about Panama as a vacation destination. In a recent study, over 86% of vacationers from the US reported they “knew almost nothing about Panama, other than there was a canal.” Cortizo’s team promises Panama will be appropriately marketed to the US and there will be an influx of vacationers driving as much as $500 million to the Panamanian economy.

The Viceroy Hotel in Boca del Toro, is one of the more luxurious accommodations in Panama and features 42 private overwater villas along with an amazing list of amenities.

According to Cortizo’s team, the tourism industry is just one example of how he plans to bring explosive growth back to Panama. Tourism is expected to grow rapidly and create more than 6,000 new jobs in the first year alone. When new jobs are generated Panama’s economy grows, more funding is available for education and new investments in large-scale municipal projects are funded.

It’s an exciting time in Panama and it looks as though the explosive growth, which we have not seen in several years, may be back on the horizon. I’ve watched Panama go from a dependent country, to a strong global leader and I now expect, in the next five years, there will be even more exciting things for all of Panama.

social areas panama

The other day I was enjoying dinner at one of my favorite Coronado restaurants, Luna Rossa, when I ran into a group of retired expats enjoying the great food and drinks.

It was a group of about ten, who were seated at a communal table so I took the opportunity to ask them a few questions.

“How do you like living in Panama?”, was my first question and it resulted in chuckles and smiles.

Leaving For Chile

The first gentleman, who appeared to be in his sixties, motioned to his wife and said, “tomorrow we are leaving for four months to go and kick around Chile. Nice of everyone to turn out and celebrate our next trip,” he continued, raising a glass of pinot noir. I wondered how leaving was a positive response to living in Panama.

pasta panama
The food at Luna Rossa is always a treat when I’m in Coronado. The fresh pasta is made on site and they have access to all the catches-of-the-day when the fishing boats come in after a night of work.

“Panama gives us a wonderful, affordable base to travel the world,” his wife said. “We just spent three months in Southeast Asia. Singapore was great to visit, but you’d need to be very, very wealthy to have Singapore as a base,” she laughed. “Two beers cost $30!

“We enjoyed Vietnam and Cambodia, but you couldn’t find common things like toothpaste. In Panama, it’s pretty much just like what we enjoy in Canada.”

“Everything is safe here so when we lock the door and leave, we know people are around if something happens,” she continued. I smiled thinking it would be a luxury to take long visits and really get to know a country.

“Another thing that people don’t think about when they are planning a home base is how accessible the airport is. Let’s face it, Tocumen International Airport is the hub for Central America. They have over eighty direct flights going all over the world including Frankfurt, Paris, Sao Paolo and Amsterdam. The other day someone booked a direct flight to Los Angeles for less than $275 round trip and we went direct to Paris last year for $650 round trip,” he continued.

A Beauty Consultant

“I have a business in skin care,” said a woman who appeared to be in her late forties. “I’m one of those people who take orders for moisturizing cream and products that boost the growth of eye lashes. I do everything pretty much on my phone and the rest is on the computer,” she continued, motioning expressively with her hands.

“My time is my time, so I can pick my kids up from school and have a snack ready for them when we get home. I’m a single mother and Panama allows me to provide them with an incredible bi-lingual education, a great varied lifestyle, plus income to travel. I make enough that we would be okay in the States, but here, there is just more disposable income and less drama.”

network marketing
Running a network marketing business involves not just selling a product, but also mentoring others so they are also successful. For one expat, this is working perfectly in Panama.

“I sell products and I get a commission on the products I sell. It’s also called Multi-network Marketing, because I also receive a revenue stream from other distributors on my team. I work with them every day, planning promotions and helping them with marketing. The products are fabulous and I’m finding there are plenty of Panamanian women interested in products that protect their already fabulous skin.”

“I’m pretty pale,” I said immediately. “Maybe we should talk about those products.”

“Absolutely! See, it’s easy if you work the business and you know your products are absolutely first rate. Not everyone has to work a nine to five!”

We’ll Be Here When You Return

Another couple seemed anxious to contribute information about their Panama life. “We don’t want to pick up kids from school because we’ve done that. We don’t want to wander around South America or Southeast Asia. We’ve traveled a lot in our 60 years of marriage, so we’ll just be here when you return,” said a man who laughed easily.

social areas panama
Social areas abound around the areas where expats reside in Panama. There are numerous pools, plus plenty of golf courses which are very compelling not to mention warm weather.

“We love the people in Panama. They are simply kind and non-judgmental,” his wife offered. “Before we decided to retire away from our children, we always laughed about keeping lots of friends around, so someone could go and pick up our prescriptions. We didn’t want to be dependent on the kids. They have their own life, their own kids and their own careers. In Panama, we don’t have to rely on friends, because we can provide employment for someone to clean our condo and run errands. It’s really inexpensive.”

“I like the warmth,” said another. “I think my joints do better and that makes it easy to play 18 holes of golf. I’ve made a lot of friends, in the four years since I moved to Panama. I think if someone is going to retire in another country, they sort of have a can-do, adventurous attitude. I like that.”

But, What About The Internet?

Keeping in touch with the grandchildren is easy from Panama since the internet is quite good.

I was thanking everyone and getting ready to leave, when a woman from the next table grabbed my attention. “The internet is fantastic,” she said. “Anyone who needs to use the internet, it’s just fine. We FaceTime with the grandkids and stay in touch easily. It’s not exactly like being down the road, but it’s close.”

The Internet brought on a round of comments. “It’s gotten so much better in the last few years,” said an older gentleman. “I remember when it was slow, but now I don’t see any difference from what we have in the United States. Some guy on our floor rents properties he owns in Miami through the internet. He’s always looking at his phone.” 

Simply Pleasant

The evening turned out to be incredibly pleasant. Everyone interacted easily and laughed hard. The food was wonderful and the wine flowed from bottles purchased at the restaurant and some brought in by a guest, who enjoyed no corkage fee. “Have a great time in Chile,” I said as my eye caught the incredible pastry case.

chemistry panama
For one expat, the volunteer opportunities are very rewarding. “I taught chemistry to high schoolers in the US, and in Panama I can take those skills, couple them with my love of art, and then help these students learn that chemistry rocks!”
adventuras

There are some people who enter your life and leave you incredibly improved.

For me, it was a visiting professor at university who took an interest in me and essentially changed my life. After more than two decades had passed, I recently received a text from him asking for a few “tips” on what to do in Panama.

According to the text, he has been reading my blogs for years and “keeping up with my comings and goings”. I smiled at the thought and wondered why he hadn’t reached out earlier. “We stumbled on an incredible $250 round trip airfare from Los Angeles to Panama City, so we’ll be there in a couple of weeks,” was his reply. He always was a sort of a no-nonsense person!

My mind started rolling as I stared at the message. Where should they stay? Which restaurants should I recommend? What areas are must-sees? How can I help in making a perfect vacation?

A Limited Number Of Tourist Options

When I arrived in Panama over a decade ago, there wasn’t much of a tourist industry. People came to see the Panama Canal – an engineering marvel. Then they maybe rented a vehicle and drove to El Valle to see the El Nispero Zoo and Botanical Gardens. We had hats and plenty of molas for take-home gifts, but being a tourist in Panama was pretty much left up to individuals with a strong sense of adventure and their own ideas of what might be interesting.

hats and molas
Molas, the fabric art of the Kuna Indians, is indigenous to Panama and has long been a favorite item purchased by tourists visiting the country. The Panama Hat is also a tourist friendly gift, but despite the name, the hats are generally not made in Panama, but rather Equator.

New Ways To See The Panama Canal

Of course, I immediately thought of the Panama Canal and figured I would suggest the all-day tour that takes visitors from the Pacific Ocean to the Atlantic Ocean in about nine hours. After negotiating the three sets of locks, visitors arrive in Colón and then take an hour bus ride back to where the adventure started. I had done this particular trip several times and knew it was a long day, on a boat, without a lot of action. Remember to bring a book, I thought to myself.

Transiting the Panama Canal is on a lot of bucket lists and there are several companies that offer the trip daily, but it’s somewhat expensive ranging from $185 to $250 per person. The price includes breakfast and lunch buffets, as well as regular announcements about interesting spots along the route. The thing I remember most about the trip, was that we passed the prison where Manuel Noriega spent his last days. The prison looked hot and humid, nestled in the rain forest, and they explained there was no air conditioning.

Activities Other Than The Canal

I decided to continue researching what might be available in terms of places and activities – I was quickly amazed. There were plenty of offerings by local companies, but also by international tour operators I had no idea were now in Panama. Where had I been?

While perusing the Gray Line website I read “Since 1910, Gray Line has been a trusted provider of traveler experiences and sightseeing tours in the world’s most sought-after locations.” So, Panama was considered a “sought after location!” I liked it!

colon panama
While there are two piers accepting cruise ships in Panama, the one most often used is Colón 2000. That pier links directly to shops, restaurants and the second largest duty-free zone in the world. The cruise ships dock right next to the Panama Canal adjacent to the large ships awaiting their turn to transit.

I thought the tours might be limited to the Canal, but that is not the case! There are tours around Panama City, the old city of Casco Viejo, day-trips to Portobello on the same train used by the Gold Rushers in the 1850s, as well as shopping trips in the duty-free zone of Colón. Bird watchers are encouraged to visit the Soberania National Park since it was billed as “one of the best places in the world for bird watching”.

I decided I needed more information, so I called the Panama specific telephone number listed on the beautiful Gray Line website. I asked if business was good enough to support multiple tours and the reply was a laugh.

“We have cruise ships docking at the relatively new Colón 2000 pier almost every day in season as well as plenty of other days during the year,” said the local manager. “The more popular excursions are often sold out weeks in advance. We try to add buses, but there is a limit to what we can do. We are adding more tours all the time,” she continued.

Lots Of Active Adventures!

The Gray Line manager directed me to Adventuras 2000, a Panamanian company who partners with Gray Line by providing more active excursions. Their website was simply fun and made me want to sign up for everything!

“Panama takes its parties seriously and 2019 could mark the country’s most evolved fiesta yet,” the website proclaimed, quoting from an article about Panama which was published in Vogue magazine. “Panama City—the oldest continuously occupied European settlement on the Pacific coast of the Americas—is turning 500. Ancient walls, glassy skyscrapers and a mix of African, Native Panamanian and Spanish cultures have all played a part in forming the frenetic Miami of Central America.” I knew I needed to read the entire Vogue article and then send it on to my friend.

adventuras
Luxury touring buses make daily stops at most hotels picking up tourists ready for a great adventure! “Water?” questioned one of the guides as people filed out of the five-star Westin at Playa Bonita.

Adventuras 2000 offered catamaran tours to Taboga Island, day-trips to the San Blas Islands, which is an archipelago of 365 islands, hikes through the rainforest and tram rides in Gamboa. I had no idea that somewhere each night in Panama City, women and men dressed in native costumes and danced for tourists. During the dance, tourists dined on traditional foods while learning about the wonderful history of Panama. At this point, I really didn’t know exactly what to offer my friend and his wife, in terms of “tips” for a week’s vacation in Panama. 

Eco Lodging Under The Radar

isla palenque
Paddle boarding is part of the attraction of staying at Isla Palenque. The gourmet meals, prepared with ingredients grown on the island and sourced from the ocean, is another reason!

When I moved on to check out what I might suggest for lodging, I stumbled on new and incredibly wonderful resorts. Isla Palenque is nothing short of amazing. It recently opened with only eight modern casitas and a six-bedroom villa. Rates run from $500 to $1,000 per person a night, depending on the season. It’s over-the-top all-inclusive with three-meals a day and every possible type of water sports.

I was pretty sure my friend wouldn’t want to spend $2000 a night on lodging (he was coming in high season), but it was good to know Panama had such luxurious options. I didn’t even bother telling him he would have to take a 45-minute flight to David—after arriving in Panama City—and then a 90-minute boat ride just to check into Isla Palenque. It’s so under the radar that Hollywood types and billionaire hedge fund managers are the most frequent guests.

Islas Secas
The villas at Islas Secas are scattered among the lush vegetation and has more monkey residents than humans.

Another, similar resort located 20 miles away from Isla Palenque, Islas Secas, only accommodates 18 guests at a time. There are one-, two- and four-bedroom villas available at $1,000 per night for each individual. Of course, everything is included, even the use of their 34-foot fishing boat, complete with captain and first mate!

Not For Everyone

I know that kind of luxury is not for everyone, but it gave me a real sense of security knowing people, who can go anywhere, elect to go to Panama! I was going to stick with the Westin Playa Bonita for lodging, or maybe the American Trade Hotel in Casco Viejo where more reasonable rates apply.

With so many activities from which to choose, I found myself pondering the day-long Canal transit because it seemed like a real time commitment. Then, someone suggested a Jungle Land Tour. You are picked up at your hotel and taken to the public boat dock on Lake Gatun. I learned the boat cruises you around Lake Gatun and then they bring you right next to the ships transiting the canal. I like the idea of being eye-level with the ships and experiencing the size difference, but mostly I think you’d get a great perspective of how the Panama Canal works. They could always go later to the Miraflora Visitor’s Center, have lunch or dinner and watch more big boats!

The Jungle Land Tour doesn’t stop with checking out the big ships, they also take you to the only floating lodge in the history of the Canal. Lunch and then an afternoon of swimming, fishing, kayaking, reading would round out the day, for about $100. Amazingly, I wasn’t going to suggest the full transit of the Canal!

floating lodge
The floating lodge was very appealing for an easy day out of the city.

Where To Eat?

I was very aware of the vibrant food scene in Panama. I didn’t think I’d find many surprises and I didn’t. I routinely suggest taking in the dining experience at La Vista. This is a special occasion affair which starts with sipping champagne and a 30-minute ferry ride to the Island of Taboga. Once on the island, you are taken to the 28-seat open air restaurant where you enjoy six-courses of international cuisine. Of course, there is live music and lots of wine and cocktails!

donde jose
All the ingredients used at Donde Jose are locally sourced.

I mused the calendar since La Vista only serves on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights and I decided I wanted to take my old friend to Donde Jose. With only 16-seats and hidden behind an unmarked door. The place is booked solid for weeks in advance, so I hoped I still had time. There is no better food in Panama. When you go to Donde Jose, you eat what is on the tasting menu. All 16 diners are served at the same time and every course tells some part of Panama’s history. Should we book for the 7:00 or 9:30 pm seating?

I also considered the Jazz Club in the American Trade Hotel and Salvaje, a fun sushi restaurant with an incredible rooftop bar. I made a mental note to book reservations for cocktails around 6:30 pm to enjoy the stunning sunset.

Too Much In One Sitting

When I finally closed my computer, I realized there was way too much to consider all at once. I thought I could respond with a quick text about the Canal, maybe a few of my favorite restaurants and a resort quality hotel. I owed this professor so much, I wanted to do this as completely as I could.

I started by sending my friend, the New York Times article about Panama being the number four place, of 52 places to visit in 2019. That was quickly followed by the Vogue article entitled “Why Panama Is The Place To Go In 2019”.

I was excited to learn more about how my country had evolved into such a “hot” travel destination. I was a little embarrassed I hadn’t kept up! I think I should test a few of these places before I make any suggestions. Maybe, I’ll start with checking out the rainforest and end with the Sunday brunch at Gambo Rainforest Resort!

arcadia panama

Anyone who is familiar with large real estate construction projects, knows it takes time to go from pre-development to construction and then operation.

There are a lot of moving parts, which is why I was a little surprised when I heard two very large and very different projects broke ground last month In Costa del Este.

I have waited anxiously for the big earth movers to appear on the lot that has boasted a sign signaling where the 46-story Arcadia residential tower will be located. I smiled broadly when the machines appeared and told myself it would be a little juvenile for me to clap my hands. Then, I realized a second project, Casa Bianca, had also begun construction. I admit I did a little clapping—and dancing.

Hitting A Bullseye With Market Research

Market research is one of the most important aspects in real estate development. You must consider where the needs will be in four or five years and then you have to figure what the desires will be long-term. It’s one thing to fill a need, but another to fill that need with something desirable. Predicting the future, planning the answer and executing that plan requires incredible insight. If you don’t hit the target needs, your project can and will stall.

arcadia panama
The Arcadia tower will have retail and restaurants in the lower floors, coupled with shared spaces for residents such as a business center, 24-hour security and a theatre.

When the Arcadia tower was announced, short-term rentals, or condotels weren’t really “a thing” in Panama, even though they had enjoyed success in cities such as Las Vegas, Miami and Napa Valley. Condotels provide individual investors the convenience of owning property that can be operated as a hotel or as a rental condominium.

Units are individually owned, but when the owners are not present, the unit can become part of the hotel room inventory and treated as a condotel room. These rooms are managed by an on-site property manager who does everything from checking people in and out, to cleaning and maintaining the unit. The rental income off-sets the cost of the unit, provides a steady revenue stream and allows the value of the unit to increase over time.

Need For Short-Term Rentals Skyrocketing

As more and more international companies establish a presence in Costa del Este, the need for short-term rentals has skyrocketed. Arcadia seems to be coming on-line at just the right time. The Westin Hotel in Costa del Este is frequently sold out, as it enjoys an 86% occupancy rate mid-week. While the market is hot for hotel rooms, condotels are even hotter. They offer short-term rental options, along with amenities associated with condominiums, including a private laundry, more living space and full kitchen.

Arcadia is attractive to investors, but it also addresses the rise of young professional Panamanians, who want to live where they work. “I love the idea of being able to walk to work,” said a woman in her mid-thirties, who recently landed a marketing job with an international shoe company. “When my unit in Arcadia is ready, I won’t even need a car,” she said.

“Everything Is Here!

pre construction
Pre-construction pricing along with builder financing has made Arcadia very attractive.

“Everything is here,” she said. “An upscale food market, restaurants, dry cleaners and retail are all within walking distance. My parents don’t understand, well, they didn’t,” she laughed. “I’ve shown them all around and they now call Costa del Este, the ‘new Panama City’ even though it’s still Panama City.”

“The pre-construction pricing made it possible for me to purchase in Arcadia,” she said. ‘Since I won’t be able to move in right away, I received a fabulous price on my one-bedroom home. I made the down payment, secured financing through the builder and now I’m going to watch my new home come to life.”

The market research seems to have been spot on for Arcadia, as interest from investors and individuals alike, has been unprecedented, which is why I was a little surprised when I heard the residential project of Casa Bianca had also been fast-tracked.

A New Concept In Living

While Arcadia will join a number of existing high-profile residential towers in Costa del Este, Casa Bianca will have residences in three- and four-story buildings. The Arcadia units are compact with one- and two-bedrooms, containing around 800 square feet of living space. Casa Bianca will offer ten unique floor plans with approximately 2,200 square feet, three-bedrooms, three and a half baths and maid’s quarters.

casa bianca
Casa Bianca offers a more traditional lifestyle for families and individuals who don’t need all the amenities of hotel-style living. The homes will enjoy a park-like setting with pools, bar-be-cue areas and lots of green space.

Lately, I have been working with a number of relocation managers who are charged with finding homes for executives and their families who are being transferred to Panama on a temporary basis. I was thrilled to see Casa Bianca break ground because the residences there will offer a completely different lifestyle than what will be found at Arcadia.

“These are some of our most valued employees,” said a woman who needed four homes, preferably in Costa del Este as soon as possible. I scrambled to find rental homes in some of the already occupied residential towers such as Parkside but knew this was only going to be a temporary answer. “They all have families and young children,” she explained. “They want a place with space and fun spots for the children to play.”

Addressing The Needs Of The Whole Family

casa bianca beds
With the Matisse tower nearing completion, the relocation manager with whom I was working, was pleased with the upscale option for executives with trailing families, but still wanted an option from tall-building living. “The super power pillows are a nice touch,” she laughed as she signed the contract, “but hurry up on Casa Bianca.”

The woman seemed a little frazzled with all the details. “These four employees will be critical to our success in Central America, I need to keep them happy,” she explained.

“They are going to love it in Costa del Este,” I began. “There are tremendous schools, lots of green space, wide boulevards and a lively expat community.” I went on to mention the residences of Matisse which have about 4,000 square feet of living space and only two apartments per floor.

“I need Casa Bianca today,” she said and soon we were talking about time lines, pre-construction pricing and how the company should just purchase a few units in Casa Bianca for the next time she needed upscale residences for executives with families.” Shoot me the prices and floor plans,” she said quickly. “I’ll look like a hero!”

I wanted her to look like a hero. Once again, market research seemed on target, but with a different target. It’s great when everything comes together. I think I’ll clap my hands.

Sydney

As an Australian, I’ve always thought we were lucky to celebrate the new year almost before anyone else on the planet.

There are a few islands and some parts of New Zealand & Russia who ring in the new year a couple of hours before we do in Sydney, but we’re among the first. Music, good food and lots of wishes for the new year accompanied by amazing fireworks.

The latest celebration was extra special for me because I was actually in Australia. As I stood looking at the fireworks in Sydney Harbour, I couldn’t help but think about all the positive things that happened in Panama in 2018.

Sydney
Sydney knows how to throw a New Year’s party with fireworks, music and lots of kissing! The Opera House is a perfect backdrop for the 1.5 million spectators who gather to personally watch one of the greatest pyrotechnic shows on earth.

The Fourth Bridge

While there has been talk about building a fourth bridge over the Panama Canal for years, the funding was secured in 2018, the construction bids were awarded, and construction began just outside Panama Pacifico.

4th bridge panama
The fourth bridge will be constructed north of the Bridge of the Americas and will connect the capital city with the interior of the country. There will also be an observation deck and restaurant.

This bridge will change the face of Panama. With six lanes for vehicles, traffic will be eased going into and out of Panama City. The bridge will also have much of the third Metro line which will connect people in all parts of Panama City from Albrook Mall to Tocumen International Airport, Playa Bonita and Panama Pacifico.

A feasibility study is currently being conducted to examine the impact of building a railway system connecting the third line of the Metro to an above-ground rail system. This would take passengers from Panama City to David, the second largest city in Panama located on the border with Costa Rica. Building a train across the entire country is certainly years away, but the initial steps began in 2018.

Because the bridge is rapidly becoming a reality, employees will soon be able to easily transport in and out of Panama City. Many Panamanians work in Panama Pacifico, the old Howard Air Force Base. Panama Pacifico has special zoning to encourage international companies to locate their regional offices and distribution centers there. It even has a small international airport there with flights to South America.

Royal Palm Becomes A Reality

royal palm panama
Construction of the Royal Palm residences was completed in 2018 and the first residents began taking possession in the third quarter.

Twenty eighteen will always stand out in my mind as the year the stunning beach-front residential complex, Royal Palm, began accepting residents. It was years in the making, but well worth the wait. With five pools, a number of social areas, sports court and dramatic views over the Pacific Ocean, Royal Palm now redefines the offerings for beach living in the Coronado / Nueva Gorgona corridor, just 50 minutes from Panama City.

Royal Palm is perfect for individuals seeking to purchase investment property because of its dual appeal as a long-term home and a beach rental property. Residents and guests all enjoy hotel-quality amenities along with the private beach facing the Pacific Ocean.

Estee Lauder Companies Make A Statement

The development of Costa del Este, the upscale area of Panama City continued to grow at a dizzying pace. Progress on the second Johns Hopkins International affiliated hospital continued to take shape next to the Town Center shopping complex and major construction on the new JW Marriott was completed. Medical tourism continued to grow and draw an international clientele. A group of upscale medical offices was also completed this year.

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ELC President Daniel Rachmanis accepted a welcoming handshake from Panamanian president Juan Carlos Varela.

Last year marked the 130th multinational company to open offices in Costa del Este. On November 30, 2018, the president of The Estee Lauder Companies (ELC), joined other dignitaries in announcing the opening of their regional Center of Excellence in Costa del Este. There will be over 200 employees working at the local office which will oversee the Central American distributor markets.

Working and Living in Costa Del Este

The employees of the companies who locate to Costa del Este, tend to want to also live in the area. To meet that need, several residential towers were announced or began construction in 2018. Even with additional residential options entering the market, there was no decline in interest from investor groups or individuals.

One residential development, Generation Tower, will operate as a condo hotel and was especially well-received in 2018. Investors liked the idea of turn key operations with on-site property management, a marketing team and managers overseeing daily operations. Generation Tower was so named because the design of the building caters to all generations, from the young professional to retirees. Amenities at Generation Tower include everything from conference areas, to upscale restaurants and mixed-use retail, exercise clubs and extensive social areas.

Arcadia Getting Down to Business

Arcadia, a 46-story residential tower, continued to spark a great deal of interest from investors wishing to capitalize on the booming business of executive relocation, the growing medical tourism market and an explosion of new employees. Arcadia is attractive to young professionals, investors, transferred executives without families and middle-class Panamanians.

For wealthy Panamanians and transferred executives with families, the 52-story residential tower of Matisse became the perfect answer in 2018. With only two units per floor, complete with maids’ quarters, a private entrance, gourmet kitchens and stunning balconies overlooking the Pacific Ocean, Matisse, is exceptional.

What If I Don’t Want A Residential Tower?

One of the more surprising developments in the 2018 real estate market of Costa del Este, occurred when it was announced, Casa Bianca was under construction and almost completely sold. While most new residential options are in towers, Casa Bianca, will have three and four floor structures, a great deal of green space, play areas for children and multiple pools, all set in a modern colonial setting.

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The residences of Casa Bianca were a new concept for Costa del Este, but one that took off immediately.

Panama Remains One of The Best Places to Retire

Panama was again named in 2018 as one of the best locations for retirees by multiple media outlets, including TIME magazine, AARP and Business Insider. Additionally, Panama was named by the New York Timeslist of “52 Places to Go In 2019”. While the standard positives, such as the best retiree program in the world and a lower cost-of-living routinely places Panama at the top of most retirement destination lists, it was the multiple new offerings for vacations that prompted The Times to tell people to go to Panama for vacation.

“Two new Pacific island resorts are expanding Panama’s west coast appeal, not far from the marine preserve around Isla Coiba. Cayuga Hospitality recently opened Isla Palenque in the Gulf of Chiriqui, with eight over-water casitas and one villa on a lush 400-acre island,” said the article published on January 10, 2019.

New Resorts Offers Luxury Vacations in Panama

Marriott International made a large investment in Panama City in 2018 when it acquired the hotel properties located in what was formerly Trump Ocean Tower. The 369-room and 41-suite, five-star hotel is the tallest structure in Panama City and has been rebranded as a luxury JW Marriott.

The $80 million Ritz Carlton resort is being built on the third largest island located in the, 200 island Archipelago, in the Gulf of Panama. The Ritz Carlton resort will create 275 long-term jobs.

In early 2018, Marriott introduced The Santa Maria, A Luxury Collection Hotel & Golf Resort located in the Santa Maria section of Panama City. The hotel is a five-star urban property, featuring 182 luxurious guest rooms and suites with authentic Panamanian design elements. Surrounded by extraordinary views of the Championship Nicklaus Design golf course, the resort has three restaurants, a state-of-the-art spa, a fitness center with rejuvenating natural light and an outdoor pool overlooking the best golf course in Central America.

Marriott is further growing their presence in Panama with plans to open three more properties by 2021, including the Ritz Carlton Reserve on Las Perlas which is slated to open in 2019. The Pearl Island resort is 45 miles south of Panama City and is only accessible by boat, helicopter or private plane. When completed, the hotel will be an open-air resort offering 86 intimate rooms, twenty villas and some private homes with a range of select luxury amenities including, a lavish spa, private beach club, swimming pools, restaurants, an 1,800-square-foot pavilion and boardroom with ocean views, and access to a world-class marina.

Finding Lincoln Road in Panama City

youth day panama
Panama will begin welcoming an estimated 500,000 visitors when World Youth Day 2019 is celebrated primarily in the Cinta Costera section of Panama City January 22-27. Pope Francis is scheduled to address the attendees and hold an open-air Mass.

In 2016 in Krakow, Poland, Pope Francis officially closed World Youth Day and announced the next gathering would be held in Panama in January 2019. In 2018, the Panamanian government announced a $28 million infrastructure project that would be completed before Pope Francis came in Panama.

The project includes Latin America’s only Smart City, which provides an improved experience by gathering electronic data and responding with personalized options. Inspired by the Lincoln Road section of Miami, the area will offer upscale retail, open air gathering spots, a pedestrian mall and a wide variety of restaurants and coffee houses.

Along with the improved infrastructure, the twin towers of the Uptown complex will offer private residences, rental options and condo hotel rooms. Uptown is the only high-density residential project located in the new hub and it will be located in the area of Calle Uruguay and Avenida Balboa.

Being Part of The World Cup!

world cup panama
Many Panamanians were on hand in Sochi when the national team took to the field in their first-ever appearance in The World Cup.

It would be difficult to overestimate the pride most Panamanians felt when the national soccer team participated in the World Cup for the first time this summer. The Panama National Football (Soccer) Team took to the field in Sochi, Russia for its historic initial game with Belgium in July 2018. Belgium won 3-0, but the Panamanians were ecstatic to be among the 32 qualifying teams. Since 1978 the Panamanian team has tried to qualify for every World Cup. In celebration of their 2018 qualification, Panamanian President Juan Carlos Varela declared a national holiday. School children and adults danced in the streets until well-past sunrise.

Welcoming President Xi Jinping of China

Panama continued their world stage appearances, when the President of China, Xi Jinping stopped to visit Panama in December 2018 and sign a long list of initiatives and business agreements between the two countries. The visit established stronger ties with the Chinese, who are the second largest user of the Panama Canal.

At a news conference with Panamanian President Juan Carlos Varela, Xi told the gathered Panamanians “In recent years…Panama has enjoyed rapid growth, vibrant markets and improving living standards. It has become a most habitable place in the Americas to live and a promising land of opportunities for investors. Seeing such progress, I am truly happy for Panama and wish Panama new and still greater accomplishments in its future development.”

In 2018, China was the second largest trading partner with Panama, second only to the United States. As Panama continues to grow economically, they solidify their position as the de facto business capital of Central America.

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The two leaders were accompanied by their wives in Panama City during initial formal greetings between China and Panama.

An Impressive Restaurant Scene

In 2018 the world-renowned Fodor’s Travel listed Panama City as having a dynamic food scene. Their publication noted, “It’s not quite New York or Paris, but Panama City’s restaurant scene is impressive. Panamanians like to eat out, and enough of them have incomes that allow for regular dining on the town, which has resulted in a growing cadre of restaurants.”

Three out of four restaurants named by Fodor’s as the best of the best are located in the old city of Casco Viejo. These included Manolo Maduero and The Dining Room at the American Trade Hotel. These stylish dining spots offer everything from a nightly 8 to 10-course tasting menu to incredible fresh seafood caught just off the Panamanian coast.

Other top restaurants included Donde Jose, who tells the story of Panama through their cutting-edge cuisine and 1985 which is aptly named for the year the French Bistro was opened. 1985 is located in the only building in Panama City that resembles a Swiss chalet. Patrons have been enjoying their cuisine for three decades.

Discriminating Food Is Just One Aspect

Our growing restaurant scene paints a picture of Panama’s evolution, but that isn’t the only indication of growth. 2018 was exceptional for Panama in many ways. I could go on and on about the major road improvements happening all over Panama and the Amador Causeway Convention Center playing a large role in positioning Panama as a convention city destination! In May, the Panama Canal reported they achieved a new tonnage record, when a total of 1,231 vessels crossed the water route with 38.1 million tons of goods. It’s been two years since the Canal was expanded and we continue to play one of the most pivotal roles in international shipping.

panama canal theatre
The 625,000-square foot, $194 million, Amador Convention Center highlights the best of Panama City, touting views of the skyline, Bridge of the Americas and Panama Canal. It will feature three halls for conventions and exhibits as well as a 63,000-sf theater and 138,000-sf amphitheater.

A Booming Economy

It is projected that the Panamanian economy will grow 6.3% in 2019, while the economy of Latin America and the Caribbean will average just 1.2% growth, according to the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean. Each day, I continue to marvel at how far the country has grown in the last ten years. Things seem to happen faster and faster. A new restaurant here and there and another multi-national company asking about housing for their employees. Riding the Panamanian wave is very exciting!

popemobile

For months, Panama had been getting ready to welcome Pope Francis for World Youth Day 2019 (WYD).

The conference, which will bring an estimated 500,000 visitors, opens on January 22 and ends six days later on January 27th. The Pope will be in Panama for almost the whole conference, arriving one day after the official start, but leading the closing ceremonies with an outdoor Mass at the Cinta Costera.

panama traditional dress
Panamanians will be wearing the traditional dress when they welcome visitors to World Youth Day 2019.

Hotels are booked solid, security is tight, traffic seems more and more congested on a daily basis and every where you turn there is some visual reminder of World Youth Day. Banners, flags, plastic grocery bags, even flower gardens have new plants reflecting the WYD logo. The Panamanian pride is already at fever pitch, so I can’t imagine what it will be like when the Pope actually arrives.

A Country Committed

School children are preparing to perform indigenous songs and dances, adult women are making sure their native dresses are perfect, prayer beads are being assembled in church basements and Panamanian flags are being sorted and readied for distribution. Individuals from every walk of life are volunteering for duties that range from greeting visitors at the airport, serving as temporary tour guides, acting as liturgical staff, answering phones and supporting emergency health centers that now dot downtown in anticipation of the visitors.

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Young Panamanians are ready to perform their volunteer duties during World Youth Day 2019.

Too Many Popemobiles!

I always thought the Pope traveled with his own Popemobile, but I was mistaken. There are many Popemobiles, including two currently sitting in Panama. According to the Vatican, it’s an honor to “provide” a vehicle for the Pope, when he visits a foreign country. There are very strict rules and exact specifications about how the vehicle is built, such as having moving steps and a 360 degree turning chair, but the visiting country has discretion about the exact make and model. Consequently, there have been Mercedes Popemobiles as well as Jeep, Range Rover and Fiat models.

popemobile
There are many Popemobiles, and even though there are two in Panama, neither will be able to drive up Calle Uruguay, because that multi-million dollar area is only for pedestrians.

The “official” WYD 2019 Panamanian Popemobile, is a double cabin Ford Ranger XLT which was donated by Distribuidora David, a Panamanian company, who sells Ford cars and trucks. Tri-Star Central America, another Panamanian firm, designed and refitted the vehicle according to Holy See’s specifications. This Popemobile was celebrated as having been made “with only Panamanian hands” and was thought to be the only Popemobile going to WYD 2019.

In late December a Colombian Air Force plane touched down at Panama Pacifico International Airport and delivered another officially sanctioned Popemobile. It was a gift of the bishops of the Colombian Episcopal Conference. They said they sent it to be in solidarity with the Panamanians.

This new Popemobile was a Chevrolet, donated by a different religious group from a country other than Panama. Everyone smiled when it arrived but the archbishop of Panama, José Domingo Ulloa, told the press the second Popemobile was “a surprise” and the Panamanian vehicle “will be the official one”. I’m going to be watching closely to see if the Chevrolet ever makes an appearance!

Popemobiles Not Allowed

The one thing concerning the Pope’s arrival I have been watching closely is the progress on the new $28 million pedestrian mall which has always been slated for completion prior to the Pope’s visit. From my vantage point the new project is coming along nicely, and like everyone else, is getting ready for the Pope’s visit.

After everyone has left, this urbanization project will become the epicenter of Panama City’s night life. There will be open-air restaurants, upscale retail and a mix of residences, but the one thing it won’t allow for, is the Popemobile making its way up the street. It’s just for pedestrians!

Patterned after the Lincoln Road Mall in Miami, this new area, will be the first “Smart City” in Latin America. The $28 million urbanization project will welcome the Pope and his 500,000 friends, but that will just the start of what will become an amazing addition to the capital city.

Uptown is the new residential complex which will be built within the urbanization area. This two-tower ultra-modern structure has been granted a special license for short-term leases, allowing condo hotels and rental units along with all the conveniences of a hotel in apartment-style living. One tower will be devoted to short-term rentals while the second will be devoted to long-term rentals and full-time residents.

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Uptown will anchor the new structure which got a head start toward completion because Pope Francis came for a visit.

Because there is simply not a lot of space left for massive residential towers inside Panama City, Uptown has been receiving a great deal of attention from investors and new residents alike. I only wish we had a few units ready to rent, as I hear visitors to WYD 2019 are booking in Coronado and Nueva Gorgona, which is 50 miles outside the city!

Closed Schools And The US Embassy

There is no question, Panama is once again enjoying being on the world stage. That being said, managing this historic event has had its challenges. Fortunately, schools in Panama are out for winter vacation but the US Embassy is closing entirely during the WYD 2019 celebration.

“Due to operational concerns related to World Youth Day and the Pope’s visit, such as unusually congested traffic and road closures in the vicinity of the Embassy and throughout Panama City, the Consular Section at the U.S. Embassy in Panama City will temporarily close…” the embassy staff told US Citizens via email.

The Canadian Embassy, located in the middle of WYD 2019 activities in Punta Pacifica, seems to have more of an appetite for crowds and will remain open.

Getting Used To The World Stage!

After Panama’s appearance this summer in the World Cup and the president of China stopping by in December to sign a number of trade agreements, many citizens are feeling Panama has finally arrived. This year will mark 20 years since Panama reclaimed the Panama Canal and gained the upswing in monetary profits. The Pope’s visit is just one more indication that Panama is rapidly becoming a world player. I love all the national attention and am very happy the world is beginning to see just how special Panama has become.

panamanian independence day

Recently, I was at a party in the States and found myself making small talk with a wide variety of interesting people.

Waiters moved seamlessly with small trays of appetizers and bottles of wine ready to pour, complete with small cloths draped perfectly over the non-dominate arm. Explaining I lived in Panama with an Aussie accent was good for at least ten solid minutes of discussion, but the discussion didn’t end with me. Many of the guests wanted to know more than just how I landed in Panama.

A woman, who appeared to be in her mid-50s, was especially interested in striking up a conversation. “I teach English as a second language,” she began as she moved closer to me. “I’m sure we’ll get some Panamanians, but we haven’t had any so far. A lot of Guatemalans and people from Honduras,” she continued, looking at me for a response. “With the Panamanians, what should I know about their background?”

panama kids
Teaching English as a second language to immigrants entering the United States provides for both the children, their families and future employers.

I appreciated her interest in addressing the whole child who would need to know English, as well as other useful skills, to survive living in the United States as an immigrant. I also knew I needed to correct what she must think of Panamanians. “You most likely won’t have anyone from Panama,” I said with a smile. The woman looked at me as if she was judging whether or not I must be mistaken. “Why won’t we see Panamanians?” she asked pleasantly. A couple of others joined the conversation.

Panamanians Aren’t Seeking Asylum

“Panamanians aren’t seeking asylum. We live in a democracy, have good schools dedicated to teaching English as a regular part of the curriculum, a solid middle class and many social programs for anyone suffering misfortune. We also don’t have as many drug problems as you would find here,” I said referring to the United States. “And certainly not as many drug issues as you would find in Mexico. Panama City is clean, the water system is superior, the transportation is exceptional and there are enough jobs for everyone who needs to work.”

“Really”, she responded as she took a sip of a lovely looking cabernet. “But, I thought the people seeking asylum were coming from Central America. That they were escaping rampant violence and starvation.”

Misconceptions Exist About Panama

I wanted to be careful because these were educated people. No mistakes. I was standing in a beautiful home in a pleasant Midwestern neighborhood. They were obviously well read but basic misconceptions still existed. “Those seeking asylum are individuals who are in fear because of their personal situation in their home country. Religious persecution, threats from drug cartels—that sort of situation. They fear for their lives and those of their families. That simply does not exist in Panama,” I continued.

I smiled, making sure everyone knew I was not offended or making any judgement. “If you flew into Panama City today, not knowing where you were landing, you probably would not guess it was in Central America. While Mexico has lovely sections where people are safe and flourishing, there are also areas of extreme danger with rampant murders and drug influence.  People don’t blink when someone is murdered. They want better for their children, for themselves. Panama City does not have that kind of violence. Our skyline is filled with skyscrapers, well-maintained roads and people generally don’t fear walking about at night. Panamanians don’t want to leave Panama because of violence. Panama is a very safe country.”

She looked back at me and smiled. “Well then, I won’t be looking for any Panamanians showing up in my English class,” she continued while tipping her glass toward me.

Not Completely Different Than In The United States

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Panamanian president Juan Carlos Varela recently announced “the thousands of Venezuelans that have arrived to Panama … has led officials to implement new measures ensuring the job security and safety of permanent residents.”

An older gentleman inched forward perceptively, “If no one is leaving Panama, why aren’t people walking to your borders like they are in the United States?”

“Actually, Panama is experiencing some of the same challenges with immigrants as the United States and I guess other countries like Germany and Greece. We have a lot of people wanting to come to Panama. Especially from Venezuela where, right now, people don’t have enough to eat. Colombia is next door, but it’s not a good landing spot for the Venezuelans because the Colombian economy isn’t strong. Panama is the next logical place. We speak their language, many of the individuals seeking work in Panama have immigrated several times, continually looking for something better. Most of the countries in South America tend to go in and out of chaos. Panama is a stable democracy with a booming economy and jobs.”

Soft music played in the background. “How do you handle the influx of immigrants,” another man asked. “As you may know, it’s a hot topic here in the United States.”

citizenship
Almost everyday, a variety of individuals are granted United States citizenship through a variety of different ways.

Same UN Commission For Refugees

“We live and abide by the same standards as the United States because we are a participating country of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees,” I explained. “There are protocols dictated by that commission. But, in practicality, we had to make changes recently when so many people started coming to our door. It used to be the government was pretty lax on visitors who entered. For tourists they could just make a weekend of it, by going to Costa Rica and upon returning their visa clock was reset. Now, if your papers aren’t in order, you have to leave for a much longer time, like 90 days. That isn’t practical for people who really live in Panama so pretty much everyone I know have their papers in order.”

“Once in Panama, are there jobs for the immigrants?” a woman asked. “Do they strain social services?”

“You cannot compare the refugees coming to Panama with those coming to the United States,” I began while considering the table in the next room. It was groaning from delicious looking offerings. “Our numbers are smaller, our costs are less and you can live inexpensively. Lots of beans and rice. Our medical care is some of the best anywhere and yet it is pennies on the dollar compared to your costs. We have a great deal of charitable work. Churches and other groups help people get settled. Fewer people though,” I said.

So Many Influences

“Basically, we are a schizophrenic nation,” I laughed. “Panama, because of our geographic location, with that beautiful Panama Canal, has seen lots of different nations and people come and go. The French have a strong footprint because they started the Canal, and the Chinese workers were brought in to build the Canal and there are many, with a Chinese heritage, who have lived their entire life in Panama. We celebrate independence days from both Colombia and Spain. It would be difficult to estimate the influence of the United States. We embrace many different cultures, religions and basically have a live and let live attitude. Of course, we need to take care of our people and not strain the system, but right now Panama is in a good place.”

panamanian independence day
The Independence Day parade, which goes down Avenida Balboa is filled with bands, the military and beauty queens. While it is nice to demonstrate the pride of Panama, it’s also just another day to celebrate!

There was a pause so I grabbed the opportunity. “I could talk about Panama all day,” I began, “but I’ve been looking at that dining room table. I’ve enjoyed the small bites that have been passed, but those little sandwiches look inviting,” I concluded and moved quickly.

My friend moved toward me as we both dipped a shrimp tail into cocktail sauce. “What have you been talking about all this time,” she inquired. “You’ve not stopped talking and I was worried you’d be bored!”

“Everyone had lots of questions about Panama, refugees, our economy,” I explained.

“You just couldn’t help yourself could you,” she said laughing. “A favorite subject. Panama. Panama. Panama.”

When the President of China Xi Jinping came to visit Panama, it was a very big deal.

One could say he was just on this side of the globe, but that really wasn’t the case. The Panamanian President, Juan Carlos Varela, didn’t just serve Xi some of the world’s best Geisha coffee, they also signed a raft of business deals which solidified Panama’s role as a strategic partner with China and allowed Panama to diversify their independence even further.

The two leaders were accompanied by their wives in Panama City during initial formal greetings between China and Panama.

Lots Of Celebrating 

Gran Diablo dancers greeted the Chinese visitors upon their arrival in Panama City.

There was a lot of pomp & circumstance on the evening of December 2nd at Tocumen International Airport where President Xi and his wife, Peng Liyuan, were greeted by Panamanian President Varela and his wife, Lorena Castillo. Children waved flowers and flags of the two countries while Xi and Varela reviewed the guard of honor. Local performers danced in native Panamanian dress while others wore Gran Diablo costumes representing the struggle between good and evil. It was an amazing show of support for the Chinese leader as well as recognizing the long-standing relationship between the two countries.

Of course the Chinese have been part of Panama for over 160 years when the first workers came to build the Panama Canal. Today, there are many Panamanians with a Chinese heritage and they are a strong part of Panama’s economic environment. 

“Opportunities For Investors

In an earlier written statement, Xi said, “In recent years…Panama has enjoyed rapid growth, vibrant markets and improving living standards. It has become a most habitable place in the Americas to live and a promising land of opportunities for investors. Seeing such progress, I am truly happy for Panama and wish Panama new and still greater accomplishments in its future development.”

The visit of Xi was a broad statement about the commitment China has made to advance progressive initiatives in Panama. It included non-reimbursable aid, which will fund infrastructure projects throughout the country. Other accords included joint initiatives concerning education, tourism and a memoranda of understanding on commercial activities.

Panama’s Largest Trading Partner

Earlier agreements had been signed when Varela visited China last year after Panama officially cut diplomatic ties with Taiwan and established a formal alliance with Beijing. China is important to Panama and is Panama’s largest supplier to the Colón Free Trade Zone and the second biggest user of the Panama Canal, surpassed only by the United States. As of April 2018, China was Panama’s largest trading partner with $6.34 billion USD followed by United States with $6.12 billion USD in trades.

The Importance of Panama

While China is certainly a big player on the world stage, Panama is small but incredibly powerful because of the Canal and its role in international logistics. To continue to grow and solidify Panama’s role as the de facto business capital of Central America, Panama needs to continue to compete effectively on the world stage, weighing the advantages of all its suitors including China and the United States.

I genuinely enjoy working with all my clients from around the world, including this recent group from China who hammed it up during lunch at the Playa Bonita Westin, located adjacent to the Panama Canal.

There Was Concern 

Of course the visit was met with concern. Would China attempt to change Panama’s freedoms and commitment to a solid democracy? Their actions will play out over the years but it is safe to say Panama is in a position to manage all countries, especially those who command such a large presence in the world economy. Because of our gifted geographical location, we celebrate multiple independence days; countries have fought to control Panama for years. Today we are a different country, much stronger and in a position to sit at the global table as a full partner. We are able to offer incredible opportunities for Panamanians and investors from around the world while taking care of our interests.

Come visit us in Panama! Check out my website for more information: https://www.lizlarroquette.com.

I have always enjoyed showing Casa Bonita to clients from around the world.

They are beautiful homes which overlook the Panama Canal. I also never get tired of watching the boats queue up and wait their turn to move from one ocean to the other. The Canal is simply the most incredible engineering feat and a large part of why Panama is so strong economically.

A Sister Building Announced

Indoor jacuzzi tubs are just part of the Pearl Club Spa which is exclusive to the residents of Casa Bonita and the five-star Westin hotel located in Playa Bonita.

The Bonita residences have been extremely popular, so it was no surprise when it was announced that a sister building was to going to be added. Part of the reason for the new project is because the new fourth bridge is now under construction and slated to span the Canal with six lanes of motor traffic, two metro lines, bike trails and pedestrian paths. The bridge will go a long way in eliminating traffic congestion from Panama City to Panama Pacifico, Playa Bonita and the interior of the country.

Currently you can take an Uber for $11 and go from Casa Bonita into Panama City in 15 to 20 minutes, but the new bridge will open up the area to workers, residents and visitors. Casa Bonita shares amenities with the Playa Bonita, a five-star Westin hotel that includes a fabulous Clarins Spa and gymnasium.

A Lux Setup

It’s a pretty sweet setup just steps from Casa Bonita. I admit, sometimes I take it a little for granted, but the other day I was reminded of Casa Bonita’s specialness. Forget that you have the Canal, which never grows old; the stunning sunsets; the flora and fauna which are some of Panama’s most beautiful and a private beach that begs you to take a walk. Amenities are over the top, including a pool with a waterfall that looks out over the Pacific Ocean and 24-hour concierge services.

The view at Playa Bonita is always stunning, but as day becomes night, the view is even more incredible.

Choppers And A Motorcade

I was waiting for a client the other day when I suddenly heard choppers overhead and then a fast approaching motorcade into the Bonita compound. The helicopters were not the ones I’m accustomed to seeing going in and out of Playa Bonita. I regularly use the Empresas Bern company helicopters there to maximize my clients’ time when looking for property, but those are relatively small and can only accommodate four individuals. The helicopters overhead were large and Army green and carried multiple people. 

Visiting Panama And Staying Here

Waiting for China’s president on Playa Bonita. Not a bad gig!

The motorcade had big white SUVs and several motorcycles with flashing lights as it wound its way from the front gates to the Mediterranean-Greek buildings of Casa Bonita. At that point, I remembered the President of China, Xi Jinping, was in Panama meeting with our leaders including the Panamanian President, Juan Carlos Varela.

Xi was not the first president to stay at Playa Bonita. Not long ago, I was making my way to the Pearl Club pool and I looked in the gym and former US President Barack Obama was working out on a treadmill. He was in town for the Summit of the Americas in 2015. I immediately thought of reaching for my phone to snap a photo, but quickly thought differently when I saw the German Shepherds and a man with a rifle on the roof.

Security With A View

If there is someone needing security while in Panama, a helipad for easy ins and outs, along with beautiful views of the Pacific Ocean, then they will be staying at Playa Bonita. I’ve watched movie stars and rap artists come and go, along with kings and political dignitaries. The US Vice President Mike Pence was visiting Playa Bonita and participating in meetings with Panamanian dignitaries when he had to address the terror attack in Barcelona in 2017. That wasn’t an ideal way to show the world some of Panama’s most beautiful areas, but it did illustrate that Panama is a player on the world’s stage.

Everyone needs to see the Panama Canal at least once and it’s a pretty good idea to take in the views of the Pacific Ocean from a beach chair at the Pearl Club. If it’s good enough for kings and presidents shouldn’t it be good for you? The prices will surprise you and the original building is on sale to make way for the new sister building that will materialize shortly.

I’d love to take you around via a helicopter that, while not as large and commanding as the one used for President Xi, large enough to enjoy a stunning overhead view of the Panama Canal and the skyline of Panama City.

For more information about Casa Bonita and what it’s like to live in Panama, take a look at my website: https://www.lizlarroquette.com/casa-bonita-property.

My job puts me in contact with some incredibly interesting people!

I find that individuals who are looking to live—even part time—in another country are individuals with incredibly interesting back stories.

I recently helped a client who works as an opera singer house-hunt in Panama. “I’ve been given incredible opportunities,” she began as we sat down to lunch after a long morning of looking at properties. “Europe, North America, Asia. I can’t imagine what I did to deserve this life,” she laughed.

Researching On The Internet

Of course, as soon as we parted company, I found her online and listened to one of her more famous recordings. I smiled when I thought about our earlier conversation, as we walked around a residential unit in Casa Bonita.  I recalled her telling me her husband was going to love the view out of one of the bedroom windows.

Last week, I showed properties to a couple of brothers who were both professional athletes. They wanted to purchase a home for their mother and were incredibly detailed about what would be the best residential option. Money didn’t seem to be a major consideration but having a grocery within walking distance was. “She has a domestic helper,” said the younger brother, “but she wants to be able to purchase her own groceries. I immediately began discussing Costa del Este, where everything is within walking distance.

Different Things Seem More Compelling

A team from STRI came to Panama to study the way orcas attacked the tails and fins of humpback whales. The entire team was incredibly interesting!

It’s great watching my favorite NFL players on an easy Sunday afternoon, and while listening to music and being able to put a face to the voice is exciting, for me, those stories are not the most compelling part of my job.

I clearly remember the day I met a researcher who just received a copy of The Bulletin of Marine Science where he had a published article. I know he identified some kind of new species or something, but his intellect was so out of my range, I kept our discussions to square meters and amenities! He was clearly a science rock star so I wasn’t surprised to learn he had two different Ph.Ds. from Harvard University.

1,400 Researchers Every Year

It’s not common knowledge, outside the scientific community, that the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI), is located in Panama. Annually some 1,400 researchers and students come to Panama to do work and study everything from tiny insects to photosynthetic algae. There are more species of birds and plants in Panama — a country the size of South Carolina — than there are in all of Canada and the United States combined.

The fellowships being offered through STRI range from three years to three months and carry a stipend of $50,400 annually with an additional $16,000 for laboratory expenses. The individuals associated with these programs are incredibly interesting! 

Convincing You To Want Turkey

I had no idea someone in Panama could convince people in Philadelphia they wanted a turkey hoagie, but I saw it all go down.

“We just moved $40,000 worth of flavored water in Philadelphia,” I heard the gentleman I was meeting, say into the telephone. “Now, we are looking at the data for low-selling cold cuts.  Too much deli turkey. We can set the marketing by this afternoon,” he continued and then pushed the red button on his phone and looked up with a smile.

“Too much turkey?” I asked.

“Someone bought way too much deli turkey for the Wawa stores in Philadelphia and we are tracking it,” he responded. “It’ll be gone by Sunday! Turkey hoagies will be on sale in about an hour.”

Later, I learned my new client was in charge of data which is driven at convenience stores through both their rewards program, general sales and inventory. When there is too much turkey or water at even an individual store, marketing kicks in and immediate special promotions are launched to increase sales and move inventory.

International Business Trends Playing Locally

International business trends will almost always produce a variety of new clients. Panama and China established diplomatic ties in 2017, following Panama breaking their long-standing relationship with Taiwan and both countries have opened embassies in the respective countries. More than 28 new trade agreements have been signed between the two countries covering everything from tourism and agriculture to aviation. There is even a current impact study looking at the feasibility of China building a modern railway from Panama City to Costa Rica!

I enjoyed watching a group of Chinese visitors to Panama line up for a photo at the Playa Bonita Westin complete with Panama Hats and a local “devil”.

More Living Space But Cooler Woks!

Naturally, as the projects between the two countries grow, there have been, and will continue to be, a number of high-level executive transfers. These include families who are thrilled at how much living space we have in Panama. In describing the Matisse residential tower in Costa del Este as a possible residential option, the Chinese did not blink at the fact the building had 52 stories, but they were stunned each unit was around 4,000 square feet. They tell me living space in Beijing is tiny and expensive, but of course there are 23 million residents, compared to Panama City’s 1.4 million.

We Have Ovens, Dishwashers And A Clothes Dryer!

I have found there are a lot of other things about Panama that surprise the Chinese initially. First, a trip to our international airport from Costa del Este is only about 20 minutes compared to well over an hour on a good day to Beijing’s Capital International Airport. Apartments in China generally do not come with an oven, microwave, dishwasher or clothes dryer. If an apartment has a balcony in China, it is rarely used as a balcony, but is almost always enclosed to add space for storage and clothes drying. I love to see clients stand in awe on an open balcony looking out over the Pacific Ocean.

I never know what I will learn in any given day and I consider myself very lucky to have the opportunity to come in contact with incredibly interesting individuals. Panama is rapidly becoming the international hub for business in Central and South America. The Estee Lauder Companies, just signed a 10-year lease for office space to accommodate the 240 employees who will work in Panama. Our strategic location and solid government will continue to allow us to grow and attract all kinds of people and projects. I can’t wait!!

I have quoted the prices for condominiums located in the towers of Royal Palm many times.

While the prices are very attractive, many people still ask “What’s it really like to live in rural Panama?” Immediately the word rural jumps out and I wonder if Panama’s largest beach community should be considered rural.

When talking to people who are interested in the new residential complex, I assume they have seen photos of the stunning views from the wrap around balconies and floor-to-ceiling windows. Maybe they have read about the five pools and the beautiful social areas that sit adjacent to the Pacific Ocean. Maybe they have even dreamed about what it would be like to fall asleep listening to constant sounds of waves coming ashore.

The Ever-Developing Beach Community

The Riba Smith, is a specialty market with plenty of North American brands. Plants and fresh flowers are also sold there.

It’s difficult to keep up with the ever-changing Coronado-Gorgona beach area. When attempting to paint a picture of daily living, I normally begin by pointing out its proximity to Panama City and Tocumen International Airport. “About an hour,” I say and then add, “but sometimes traffic can be difficult, especially if it is a national holiday and a lot of locals drive out to take advantage of the beach.”

“The area is very expat friendly so you have people from around the world. More Canadians than Americans,” I explain, “but you have Europeans and more and more people from South America moving into the area.” I always add that because there are so many non-Panamanians, English is widely spoken.

“There are four American-style grocery stores to shop at,” I continue. “There is the Riba Smith, which is the smallest and a bit more high-end with mostly North American brands. The Super 99 and El Rey are much bigger with a very wide assortment of goods including many of the exact same brands you’ll find in similar stores in the States and Canada. You will see lots of expats at both stores along with Panamanians. There is organic food, fresh meats cut by the butchers on-site, all types of cleaning and laundry products, a very large assortment of wine and liquor along with a deli and on-site bakery,” I continue adding that the wine is considerably less expensive in Panama than in North America.

A Store With Virtually Everything

“A great local option Is El Machetazo.” The Panama-based store is much like a Super Walmart with three floors of everything from groceries to washers and dryers and clothing. “You really can find everything at the Machetazo, and the prices are very reasonable.”

I explain you can buy reasonably priced products at El Machetazo, if you want higher-end products you should consider going to the Novey, which is a hardware store located in the same mall as the upscale Riba Smith. The other day, I told a caller my last purchase at the Novey was a Weber grill. I could almost feel the smile through the telephone.

Fresh Fish Every Day

Fresh fish is brought in everyday and made available for individual purchase at the fish co-op.

There is a fish co-op that is within walking distance of Royal Palm. “Every day, you will be able to watch the boats go out as the sun is setting over the Pacific Ocean and in the morning you can watch as the fishermen unload their fresh catch. There are lots of local restaurants who have purchasing arrangements with the local fishermen, but there is always enough for individual purchases. They cut it into fillets at the co-op. The corvina or sea bass goes for about $2 a pound and it’s always good.”

Farm To You Vegetables

I explain there are farmers who sell their vegetables and fruits on the side of the road and a short drive into El Valle will take you to an outdoor market that sells everything from vegetables just pulled from the ground along with art and freshly brewed coffee. I often mention that I like to go to the El Valle market about once a week, and everything is always so fresh.

The market in El Valle always offers fresh produce thanks to the fertile soil that was once a volcano.

Panama’s Convenient Medical Care

The friendly staff of the Felipe Motta Wine Store and Deli are very knowledgeable on wines, liquor and beer. At the store in Coronado, they also carry a wide selection of imported cheeses and fresh baked bread.

“There is a clinic if you need medical care,” I continue, “and all types of specialty physicians in Coronado. A visit will normally run about $15 and almost everyone in the medical profession speaks English. The pharmacies are incredibly inexpensive compared to prices in the States and you receive the exact same medication in the packaging from the drug company. Most of the grocery stores have a pharmacy, but there are also several free-standing ones.”

Giving Back

I explain there are all types of social activities in Coronado-Gorgona. “The expats you’ll find at the beach, generally love to give back. There are plenty of volunteer opportunities ranging from helping out at the local animal shelter to volunteering at a local orphanage,” I continue. “There are clubs like the Rotary and many people play golf daily,” I explain.

The closest large shopping area to Royal Palm contains a variety of restaurants such as the Grand Deli Gourmet shop and the Big Lobster restaurant. There is plenty of retail including upscale furniture and interior decorating shops.

“There are also all kinds of happy hours and special promotions aimed at the expats,” I tell people about the area. “There is a movie theatre and just about every type of restaurant from fast food to more upscale. There is a relatively new Greek restaurant and a fabulous Italian place called Luna Rosa.”

The beach community loves pets, especially dogs and cats. “The beach is perfect for long walks with your dog and there are many options for pet care including veterinarians and groomers.” 

I tell individuals their lifestyle can be very similar to what they currently enjoy. Some prices are lower and some things like milk and orange juice are about the same. Gasoline is a little more expensive in Panama, but you won’t have any trouble finding people to repair your vehicle or just put on new wiper blades.

Dry Cleaners, Massages and Ice Cream

I absolutely love a good gelato and there is a fantastic shop on the Pan American Highway outside Nueva Gorgona, where the stunning condos of Royal Palm are located.

“We have a dry cleaner, spas with inexpensive massages, tennis courts and ice cream stores,” I point out, “and the people you will find in Coronado-Gorgona are generally very interesting. You may meet someone who was born in the Himalayan Mountains and another person who is an expert in off-shore logistics, another who speaks six languages and a fourth who is a retired cardiologist and loves golf.”

I tell people the water is very clean and safe to drink, the electricity steady and the internet much the same as you’d have in the United States. We have cable television and good schools. Everyone has a smart phone, but our cell numbers have one extra digit—eight instead of seven and then the area code. Your experience with places like the dentist and hairdresser in Panama will be similar to that of the states. We have the clubs for jogging, ample cycling trails and beautiful golf courses to enjoy. That being said, we aren’t known for our snow skiing.

A Completely Different World In Just Hours

The other outstanding thing about retiring outside of Panama City and on the Pacific Ocean is that you can be in a completely different environment in just a few hours. “In addition to the cosmopolitan and cultural offerings of Panama City, you can take a 50 minute flight and be in one of the world’s best surfing spots, Bocas del Toro. You can hike to the top of a volcano, play a round of golf there and then get back on the road and find a lovely Swiss restaurant nestled next to the rain forest.

“Your daily life in this area is totally up to you,” I tell people. “There will be things you’ll need to get used to—like the fact we don’t have door-to-door postal service or that everyone is almost always laid back even when you think they should be a little more reactive. You can hire domestic help to clean for you very inexpensively and if you want to read all day you can. If you want to cook gourmet meals, you absolutely can. If you want to travel, Panama is a perfect base with international flights leaving every day for top spots in Europe, North, South and Central America. You can be as social or as alone as you desire. We really do have it all in the beach community in Panama. Come on down and discover the totally accessible residences of Royal Palm.

Bocas del Toro is an archipelago of islands located in the Caribbean and is on the other side of Panama from Coronado-Gorgonia. It’s much closer to Costa Rica than Panama City. There are hostels and stunning residences, luxury hotels and plenty of water-based fun.

Last week was pretty much a whirlwind.

I’m not sure if it was the volatility of the stock market in the United States, the fact that work on the fourth bridge over the Panama Canal began in earnest, the rapid progress being made on the $28 million urbanization project in downtown Panama City or the fact that pre-construction pricing on the Arcadia residential tower in Costa del Este will be ending soon.

I know that is a lot to put into one opening sentence, so let’s step back and unpack everything that is happening in terms of real estate developments. It really is a very exciting time in Panama and I’m running just to keep pace!

The Fourth Bridge!

Currently, the fourth bridge is probably the most exciting and certainly the most expensive project in Panama. A total of $1.42 billion in USD has been approved and raised to build an additional bridge spanning the Panama Canal and connecting Panama City with the interior of the country. Today, the Bridge of the Americas, carries almost six times the number of vehicles each day than it was originally designed to accommodate. Since that bridge is the primary mode of transportation coming in and out of Panama City, there is no question many frustrating minutes have been spent on the fourth bridge.

Of course there are ways to minimize that traffic if you have flexibility, but the fourth bridge will open constant and easy access to Panama City to and from areas such as Panama Pacifico and Playa Bonita as well as all the beach communities along the Pacific Ocean. When completed, the bridge will have six lanes for motor traffic and a third line of the Metro will run along both sides of the highway and adjacent to the pedestrian paths and cycling lanes. There will even be a restaurant and observation deck located on one of the pillars supporting the structure. With the fourth bridge, several communities will become even more attractive to investors and individuals seeking outstanding real estate opportunities in Panama.

A Private Beach and A Planned Community

This private beach is shared by the residents of Casa Bonita and the five-star Westin Playa Bonita Resort. Once the fourth bridge is completed, residents will have easy access to Panama City. Even today, it’s only a $9 Uber ride to the some of the area’s best restaurants.

Playa Bonita is a private beach, just fifteen minutes outside Panama City and it will be one of the most impacted areas once the bridge is completed. The beach is shared by residents of Casa Bonita and the five-star Playa Bonita Westin Hotel and Resort. Casa Bonita, a residential tower that offers stunning views of the Panama Canal, the mountains and rainforest, is home to international families, wealthy Panamanians and expat executives working in the city or in nearby Panama Pacifico.

Casa Bonita has been completed for some time and there are a few residential units—mostly one-bedroom and the largest penthouses—which remain unsold. Lately, the developer has been willing to negotiate some of the lowest prices ever offered on these popular homes, sometimes even better than pre-construction pricing.

Howard Air Force Base

The residents of Panama Pacifico enjoy a wide variety of outdoor activities including tennis and numerous football leagues for the young and not-so-young alike!

In addition to Playa Bonita, Panama Pacifico will benefit greatly from the fourth bridge. This planned, mixed use community is the original Howard Air Force Base, which includes an international airport, 3,450 acres, 40% of which is dedicated to green space and a host of other amenities such as medical offices, a grocery store, multiple international schools, a variety of restaurants and specialty retail shops.

You can find just about any type of living arrangement in Panama Pacifico from small studio apartments to expansive single homes. There are currently approximately 40,000 residents and most of them enjoy the various recreational areas including a variety of pools, children’s play areas, forest trails, tennis courts and jogging paths.

A Pedestrian Mall

Construction is in high gear for the new $28 million USD urbanization project located just off Avenida Balboa in the heart of Panama City.

While the fourth bridge is certainly exciting, the development of the new pedestrian mall located on Calle Uruguay at Avenida Balboa in the heart of Panama City, is moving toward completion at a dizzying pace. Pope Francis is set to visit Panama for World Youth Day in late January 2019 and governmental officials made the promise to have the new urbanization project completed by that time giving the project a sense of urgency. Roads are being bulldozed and redesigned for open-air restaurants and high-end retail along with infrastructure providing greater spaces aimed at safety for pedestrians. To envision what the area will eventually look like, think Lincoln Road in Miami.

There are residential towers slated to be developed in this newly urbanized area. Appropriately named Uptown, they will not be finished in time for the Pope’s visit, but the project does promise to be amazing. It has been a long time since new residential construction occurred in the heart of our capital city and this project is unique in several ways.

A Variety Of Floor Plans

The residential towers will offer a variety of floor plans ranging from one-bedroom to three-bedroom homes and units can be combined for even a larger living space. The Uptown residential towers will cater to individuals wishing to live within Panama City’s newest entertainment district. It’s also attractive to investors who want to capitalize on the project’s special licensing for long and short-term rental. Currently, hotels are the only structures offering short-term rentals in Panama City, but Uptown will have on-site property management and the ability to act as a hotel, but with additional amenities like a full kitchen.

Pre-construction pricing and developer financing is available for the Uptown project and has been especially attractive to investors looking for additional revenue streams.

An Increasingly International Population

The excitement is building in Costa del Este as the area continues to attract an increasingly international population. I often enjoy lunch at one of the many great restaurants located in the area, and I am always amazed at the diversity of the individuals around me.

While a number of middle-class professional Panamanians are moving into Costa del Este, the main growth continues to be the employees of the more than 130 multi-national companies who have established offices there. The area carries special zoning that is advantageous to business spurring the growth and development. A perk of Costa del Este that is very distinct from Panama City is that it is located close to all the modern highways and Tocumen International Airport.

The restaurants in Costa del Este are as varied as the international clientele. It just may be better than the United Nations.

Like Uptown, Arcadia a residential tower in Costa del Este, will be able to offer both short- and long-term options along with home ownership. Many of the existing residential complexes in Costa del Este have three and four thousand square feet with maids’ quarters. The Arcadia building will offer much smaller options and is designed to be attractive to the transferred executive as well as young Panamanians looking for an easy lifestyle with lots of amenities.

With An 86% Occupancy Rate

Currently, the only residential space in Costa del Este offering short-term rentals is The Westin Hotel, which has an average mid-week occupancy rate of 86%. With on-site management, Arcadia is a great investment for individuals wanting to profit from the booming short-term rental market.

As if that wasn’t enough to make Arcadia attractive, the new Johns Hopkins International affiliated hospital is under construction there, answering the growing need for medical tourism. Individuals coming for treatment are often looking for short-term rentals with the amenities of a home making it easier for them and accompanying caregivers.

Pre-construction pricing is still available for Arcadia as well as owner financing, but that will not be offered much longer as ground-breaking approaches.

The Need For Diversification

I’m never sure what the American stock market is going to do, but I am hearing from more and more of my clients they feel the need for diversification. I attempt to keep fairly current on the market, but lately I can’t make any sense of the wild swings. More than a 500 point loss one day and a 400 point gain the next day. Is it just a needed correction or are we in for a long-term fall?

If I could predict what the American stock market was going to do, I would buy low and sell high and live happily ever after. Given I can’t, I welcome individuals to consider diversifying some of their portfolio in Panamanian real estate. The options are wonderful including close-out pricing, pre-construction pricing, developer financing, tax abatements, the opportunity to get in before the bridge is complete, it’s a wise investment opportunity with income stream possibilities. Let me know if you have any questions. I’d love to show you around everything happening in Panama, and don’t forget the Pope is visiting the last week of January!

Having grown up in Sydney, I speak with an Australian accent.

I’m also fair skinned and blonde, so last week when I was waiting in the Atlanta airport for my flight to Panama City, I understood why the young woman sitting next to me never imagined I had lived in Panama for the past ten years.

“Have you been to Panama before,” she inquired slowly. I nodded affirmatively. “I live there,” I said returning her cautious inquiry with a smile.

“You do?” she responded with a bit of surprise. “What’s it really like,” she asked. “I’ve been a little worried about what we would encounter.” I immediately wondered why she was going to Panama and how it was that she couldn’t find just about everything possible about Panama on the internet.

Seeking Medical Treatment

After a bit of conversation I learned the young woman, somewhere in her mid-twenties, was on her way to take her mother for stem cell treatments in Panama City. Her mother sat quietly in a wheel chair parked not far from the gate. She looked tired and much older than someone in her forties.

The Stem Cell Institute in Panama is located at the at Hospital Punta Pacifica, which is Johns Hopkins Medicine affiliated.

“My mother has suffered most of her life from Rheumatoid Arthritis.” she said. “I’ve never really known her without RA and she has had limited mobility most of my life. It’s incredibly painful,” she said as she played with her phone and dangling ear buds. “It just gets worse,” she said.

“It’s an autoimmune disease where the immune system turns on itself and first attacks the lining of the joints and then the joints themselves. It’s all very destructive on the body,” she said. “We’ve tried just about everything but my mother’s organs are now being affected. Her physician in Michigan said going to Panama was our best bet because we could receive embryonic stem cells. We’ve tried drugs like Humira, Enbrel and Orencia, but they really didn’t help all that much and even if they helped a little, the relief stopped pretty quickly.” The young woman looked tired and a bit resigned.

The stem cells are injected and while the injected site gets pretty sore, the overall process isn’t all that painful. Patients of all ages are treated in Panama.

I listened carefully, struck by the fact she always referred to the disease in the plural as if she also suffered with RA. “I think you’ll really like Panama,” I began attempting to change the subject to a more positive note. “It’s going to be warm and I think that might be nice for your mother!” She smiled and nodded.

“The winters are particularly difficult for her. We’ve talked about moving but my mother is a professor in Women’s Studies at the University of Michigan. She lives to teach, even if it is often difficult for her to get to class.”

“In what part of the city will you be staying,” I asked, thinking she might like some good restaurant suggestions.

Hotel and Breakfast Part Of The Package

“The Stem Cell Institute in Panama provides us with a hotel stay at the Hilton on Avenida Balboa,” she answered. “We get breakfast and unlimited internet, someone will meet us at the airport and then will take us to her appointments. Everything will be on an outpatient basis. It’s mostly injections. We will be here about a week and then it’s return to Ann Arbor where we’ll wait to see if it was worth the trip.”

The Stem Cell Institute in Panama puts together a package for those seeking medical treatment and arrange for a room at the Hilton near the hospital. They also have someone meet the patient and family at the airport.

I knew Panama City had been increasing their offerings around medical tourism and the fact the Johns Hopkins International affiliated hospital in Punta Pacifica was highly regarded. I routinely meet people who have received joint replacements and several others who elected to have dental treatments simply because the cost is so much less in Panama, but I hadn’t heard about receiving a treatment in Panama that was not available in the United States.

“Is this treatment experimental?,” I asked, realizing she really just wanted to talk and probably already was pretty sure Panama would be welcoming and positive. I liked this woman and found her to be warm and articulate.

Allowed But Not Available

“Well yes and no,” she countered. “A few years ago they lifted the ban on embryonic stem cell research, but the actual treatments really are not available to patients even though it’s known that stem cells derived from an umbilical cord are very beneficial. Those cells have the ability to morph into just about any kind of good cell you need anywhere in the body. In the US you can receive stem cells taken from your own body and then grown in a lab, but adult cells are no where near as beneficial as the cells derived from an umbilical cord.

After a quick internet search on my phone I learned, The Stem Cell Institute in Panama, was producing the umbilical cord stem cells that could change into any type of cell needed in the body and those cells were being used in the United States. This Panamanian institute had received an investigational new drug (IND) designation from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and that some patients in the US were receiving the Panamanian drug/cell under the “single patient compassionate use rule”, but that it was primarily limited to families who could afford to pay the extraordinary out-of-pocket expenses.

I didn’t get to speak to the young woman much any more as we started to board the plane and she and her mother were one of the first to be taken down the jet bridge. I felt a bit of pride swell in my chest, when I knew people were coming to my country from the United States for life changing treatment.

Growing Medical Tourism

The second Johns Hopkins International affiliated hospital is currently under construction in Costa del Este and there are already a slew of medical and dental offices, laboratories, radiology offerings and out-patient surgery suites located on the top floors of the Town Center Mall.

It’s not just that medical treatments are adequate in Panama, but it’s that some of the most developed treatments and research are being carried out in Panama. I read that health insurance did not cover the stem cell treatment, but then I read the procedure in Panama started at $23,000 for adults and $15,000 for children. A friend, who is a medical doctor in the United States, told me the cost for that would start at about $184,000 in the US and there wouldn’t be a hotel room with breakfast included.

“It’s still considered experimental,” said my doctor friend. “It’s really only available to the wealthy in the US, but it’s a real answer if someone knows about The Stem Cell Institute in Panama,” he continued. “I hope you never need the treatment, but if you do you are in the right place.” I smiled.

Hospital Punta Pacifica is highly regarded and offers all types of medical care in downtown Panama City.

The other day I was traveling with clients when we crossed the Bridge of the Americas.

There are three bridges which connect our bisected country, but the Americas is the most used. We were traveling east leaving Panama City on our way to view some property before they returned to Mexico. I’ve never grown tired of the absolute thrill of taking that bridge up and over the Canal but sometimes, when I have a lot on my mind, I don’t pause and acknowledge its’ awesomeness. The Panama Canal is simply amazing and I am always humbled when I look at it. 

Focusing On Time and Traffic

“We are going to stop to look at Casa Bonita first,” I said as we merged onto the bridge. The bridge is always busy with maintenance work, buses, and lots of commuters. “Then we’ll be on to Costa del Este,” I continued laying out our day. My clients were being moved from Mexico City to Panama by the company the husband worked for. I knew we had to make the most of this day so I was concentrating on time and traffic.

The Bridge of the Americas spans the Panama Canal and is situated so you can easily watch ships prepare to transit the Canal.

“Oh” said the female client as she caught her breath and moved a bit closer to the windshield. “I didn’t think it would be like this,” she said. “It’s so much more than I expected.”

I wasn’t sure what she had expected, so I smiled and looked over at her marveling at the sight. “I’ve been on some pretty impressive bridges,” she began. “Remember, when we were in San Francisco,” she said to her husband, turning to catch his gaze from the the back seat. He returned the smile. “The Golden Gate,” he said simply. “It’s pretty amazing.”

“I know,” she said, “but it just goes over water. Look what’s going on down there! It’s the Panama Canal.” Large cargo boats as well as small sail boats sat side-by-side, ready to transit from the Pacific Ocean to the Atlantic Ocean. It’s nice to see my country in someone else’s eyes.

From 9,500 Vehicles Daily To 50,000

The Pan American Highway is only broken in Panama.

The Bridge of the Americas is a workhorse. It was designed to carry about 9,500 vehicles a day when it was completed in 1962. Today, it’s more like 50,000  vehicles and, as you can imagine, often times a real bottle neck.

“Panama has another bridge, the Centennial Bridge, which opened in the last 15 years, but it is located more toward the mid-way section of the Canal and does not really connect Panama City with the western part of the country,” I continued explaining as traffic and transportation is always important when considering property. “The Centennial Bridge does however keep you on the Pan-American highway which runs for about 19,000 miles from Prudhoe Bay, Alaska to Ushuaia, Argentina with a small unnavigable break at the Darien Gap in Panama,” I said.

“You mean you can’t drive from say Mexico to Brazil?” she questioned. “Sort of,” I responded, “but at the Darien, you’ll have to hire someone to transport your vehicle by water,” I said as we began our descent. “The Gap is about 66 miles of swampland and forest.”

Let’s Talk Traffic!

“Let’s talk about the traffic,” said the husband. “To go from a design to carry 9,500 cars a day to somewhere around 50,000 is pretty significant.” He said.

“There is no question traffic—on the bridge as well as times in and around the city—can be difficult. Lots of people go to work early and others stay late to avoid the worst of it, but the good news is we are getting a fourth bridge”, I explained.

The third bridge located on the Atlantic side of Panama is called Centarrio Bridge and it connects the northern part of Panama City to the interior of the country. It was just completed recently and it is a beauty but it services as completely different area.

A Fourth Bridge Is Coming

“The fourth bridge is going to completely change the transport picture in Panama,” I said. “The bridge won’t just be a six lane highway, but it will also support two additional monorails which will be the Number Three metro line. That will ease traffic congestion on the Bridge of the Americas, plus people will have the option of taking the metro. The project also allows for foot traffic and bicycle lanes.”

The new bridge should be completed in 2022 and it will support multiple transportation styes include foot and the metro. Each metro train will have a total of six cars.

“When will this be complete?” asked the wife. “The projected date is 2022,” I responded, but quickly added, “It’s a complicated project, but it’s supposed to take three and a half years and we are at the point of starting to dig. It’s a 1.42 billion dollar project. Just getting the bids and the consortiums sorted has taken years,” I continued.

We were now traveling along a two-lane road that would quickly take us to the beautiful Greco-Mediterranean style residential tower of Casa Bonita which shares amenities with the five-star Playa Bonita Westin Resort. The road to the resort is quiet and it’s runs along the Bay of Panama.

“The new bridge is going to be beautiful and functional,” I said. “There is supposed to be a restaurant perched on one of the pillars and I’m just waiting for that to open,” I said laughing.

The Restaurant Scene

“Speaking of restaurants,” said the husband. “Are there places to eat out here or will we need to go into the city. No offense, but I certainly wouldn’t be ordering wine if I thought I had to drive over the Canal.”

Sharing Amenities With The Westin

“I think you might want to walk,” I said. “The Westin is a short walk from the residential tower and they have a multitude of restaurants which includes everything from a daily buffet to a steak house, sushi and burgers! They will even deliver to your apartment in Casa Bonita, but with Panama Pacifico so close, the options are endless.”

Panama Pacifico is a planned community filled with international companies, green space. The new, fourth bridge, will also make it easily accessible.

“How will the traffic be from Casa Bonita to 3M in Panama Pacifico?” came a question from the back.

“It’s not really walkable,” I began, “but you almost could.” Panama Pacifico is such an incredible master planned community with so many expats, great schools and green space. It’s the old US Howard Air Force Base and it’s 3,450 acres. Something like 40% of the project will be dedicated to the natural environment so you will be working in a fabulous area and then you should come home to a fabulous place,” I continued as I brought the car to a stop and a doorman came out. I smiled and introduced my passengers before handing over my keys and walking into the lobby of Casa Bonita.

Moving Again

“I wasn’t all that happy when he came home and told me we were moving again,” she said. “I’m tired of picking up and moving every three to five years, but he tells me this is going to be it, so we need to be sure about our home.”

I smiled as I walked them to the high-speed elevators. I knew this was going to be a perfect fit.

If you’d like to see more of where my clients from Mexico decided to buy, go to my website at: https://www.lizlarroquette.com/casa-bonita-property/.

Purchasing a piece of property now takes 23% longer than it did in 2016.

I wasn’t particularly surprised that it was taking people longer, but that it only takes people about 65 minutes to decide if a property is right for them, as opposed to the earlier 53 minutes. I should add, they found that people need to visit a property 2.4 times, with an average of 27 minutes for each visit, before deciding to sign on the dotted line.

According to the article, the longest time is generally the first visit and then a follow-up second trip to reinforce the initial decision. The statistics varied slightly for different areas on the globe, but when individuals were considering property in a foreign country, that time went up only slightly to about 78 minutes.

No Reason To Rush!

I’ll take as long as any client or broker needs to make the right decision. The worst possible thing is to rush a decision.

The last thing I think people should do is rush into a decision about buying property. Take as many visits as you need to feel comfortable. It’s a commitment and usually represents a large investment and a prominent portion of an individual’s overall portfolio. I am happy to work with any client or broker, who needs time to look at every option. Taking time always helps ensure the decision is right.

This research only considered how long it took someone to make a decision about a particular property, not the actual decision to buy. That made me feel better because no one should take less than a couple of hours to decide on buying property. The research referenced that much of the increase in time hinged on the uncertainty with Brexit as well as less narrow factors such as over-all economic uncertainty world-wide, the political climate in the States, Germany and China as well as the fact many younger individuals didn’t want to own property at all. I wanted to add to the research that everyone should come and feel what it is like before they even think about buying!

Come Stay Awhile!

When thinking about buying in Panama, I always encourage people to visit and try it out before even considering a long-term purchase. If the property is going to be a retirement home, maybe on the beach, then renting for several months is my best advice. You really can easily try before you buy. Lots of people invest in a property where they want to eventually locate, but rent the unit to help pay the mortgage prior to moving in. That’s a win, win in my opinion.

Do your research including chatting up people at the pool. Envision living somewhere long term.

Things change dramatically when it’s an executive who has been ordered to relocate, as opposed to a personal decision. Deciding what property to purchase usually doesn’t take 2.4 visits or even 78 minutes if people have already come to the conclusion that buying is a better option than renting. Even then, I encourage people to slow down.

Looking At All The Angles

I am obsessive about research and I love the internet. I try to look at all angles about every available property so I can provide as much information as needed to make an informed decision. Buildings have personalities and even though they may be less than a mile apart, with a very similar amenities, there are always distinct things to consider. With a variety of people living in a building, the personality of the building becomes distinct and unique.

Answering All The Questions

Renting for months is rarely the case for relocating executives, so I try to carve out as much time as I think they will need and get everything into a tight package of information. The list of questions is almost always long, especially when executives have trailing spouses and maybe children. What about schools? Proximity to Tocumen International Airport? Can we find live-in help and what is that going to cost? Where do we find good deals on furniture? How do we set up a bank account and what about the telephone and internet?

I may not hand deliver you to the bank or translate your needs to a service provider, but I know great people who do that every day, all day long. I also don’t think you should worry about setting up hotel arrangements when you come into town for a property tour. If you book in the wrong area, we may be wasting a lot of time in rush-hour traffic. That is not a good situation for anyone.

Try Before You Buy!

I love explaining our “Try Before You Buy” program where we encourage people interested in a particular property, to stay at one of our buildings without charge. That way you can get the feel of the property, measure the commute and maybe see what the night life is like. People around the pool generally love to talk and most expats, as well as Panamanians, are very friendly. We encourage you to take your time and chat, sit back and imagine something long-term. For more information on this program, please visit my website: https://www.lizlarroquette.com/try-before-you-buy/.

Bottom line, buying property is generally a big decision. Take your time. Expect someone like me to be able to make finding the facts just a little bit easier. I can arrange a stay for you, a pick-up at the airport and a fast helicopter ride to get you to and from various properties.

The Pope is coming to Panama in January!

Everyone in Panama is gearing up for his visit and his 500,000 followers who will also be coming at that time. Hotels are completely booked and churches are already training volunteers to perform duties during World Youth Day 2019. Pope Francis will give opening remarks to the crowd in the middle of the Cinta Costera while thousands gather around. There will be more congestion than during Carnival.

Welcome Pope Francis to Panama City. I really am excited you’ll be here! But I have one question: if it’s a five-day event why is it called World Youth Day?

Making Things Happen!

The Pope makes things happen. While the Panamanian president, Juan Carlos Varela, was tweeting about how he “shares the joy and excitement of the Panamanian people” about the Pope’s visit, I was being briefed on a new residential project that probably would not have happened if not for the Pope.

Panama doesn’t move all that fast on some projects and there really is a “mañana attitude”, but when Pope Francis punched his ticket to Panama City, projects long talked about, but not  necessarily moving forward, suddenly starting moving. One of those projects, a 28 million USD public works project, will upgrade infrastructure and turn a Panama City neighborhood into a pedestrian mall filled with all types of restaurants and retail, green spaces and open-air gathering areas.

Happening And On Time

The new Uptown residential complex will be home to both long- and short-term renters and residents.

“In time for the Pope,” became a rallying cry around the project. It is currently on time and should be ready to welcome some of the 500,000 visitors in January.

Included in this project, which was designed much like the Lincoln Road pedestrian mall in Miami, is a two-tower residential complex which was granted a special license for short-term leases. This will allow for rental condotels which provide the conveniences of a hotel in apartment-style living. Thanks to the Pope, that special license was issued and the upgrade was accomplished quickly.

It’s been a long time since we’ve had such an exciting project in Panama City.  One tower will be devoted to short-term rentals while the second will be for long-term rentals and full-time residents. The floor plans will come with one-, two- and three-bedroom units, all with ensuite and a long list of amenities. 

 Dreaming About Urban Life

I know I won’t be moving anytime soon, but I have to say I’ve found myself dreaming about living right in the middle of so much excitement. Open air restaurants, great shopping, steps from all kinds of transportation and views of the water.

So, I’m feeling a bit better about World Youth Day 2019 and young people flooding the streets of my city! I’m sure we’ll all live through the excitement and then we’ll be left with at least one completed infrastructure project.

Experiences Vs. Things

It’s good to open your world to outside possibilities. The other day I read in The New York Times that the newest generation entering the work force really isn’t interested in owning property at all. They want experiences over things and that initially depressed me, until I thought about how they would need to reside somewhere between having all their experiences. Maybe they’d want to live in the beautiful residences of the Uptown complex, nestled among green spaces and restaurants in the heart of Panama City. That would be a great situation for investors of Uptown. Lots of renters. The two buildings will each have 24-hour security and an on-site management service.

The clean upscale infrastructure around Uptown will be complete in time for the Pope.

Uptown is still in development and there is wonderful pre-construction pricing. If interested, take a closer look by going to my website: https://www.lizlarroquette.com/uptown/. It really is an exciting project. I’d love for people to come check out the investment potential but maybe sometime other than January 22-27.

Thanks Pope Francis. Welcome to Panama!

Did you know some of the best coffee in the world is grown in Panama?

Panama tops many great lists. It’s one of best places to retire, it has the fastest growing economy in Latin America and has one of the world’s coolest neighborhoods.But, even I was surprised when I was told Panama is where the world’s best coffee is grown! Wasn’t Juan Valdez Colombian?

$118/Pound For Coffee

It was my mother who tipped me off to this fact when she called and asked if I could bring a few pounds of “true” Geisha coffee, which is only grown in Boquete, Panama, by a single farm, Hacienda La Esmeralda. She told me in Australia the coffee was selling for $118 a pound and that it was currently unavailable. “Seriously?,” I said in disbelief. “Coffee from Panama is over one hundred dollars a pound?”

The coffee “cherries” grow on trees not native to Panama, but rather Ethiopia which were planted here some 80 years ago. It was the unique combination of the soil, rain, breeze, typography and sunlight in Boquete which produced the distinct flavor found no where else.

“Most expensive in the world” she responded, “if you don’t count roasted beans that have passed through some small animal in Indonesia or elephants in Thailand” she said. My mother went on to say that while the pooped-out coffee beans, also known as Kopi Luwak, cost around $160 a pound because of the protracted production process, the Panamanian coffee was the most awarded coffee in the world. “Pretty much always number one.” she added

The Best Coffee In The World?

“How do you get to be the best coffee in the world?” I had decided I was going to challenge her just a bit. “Isn’t coffee something like wine and people have different opinions about what really tastes the best?”

“Sure,” she responded. “As a matter of fact, coffee is ranked just like wine—on a 100 point system and, like wine, anything in the 90s is considered exceptional. This Geisha coffee is said to have a light, lemony flavor—almost like a good tea. They have received scores as high as 96,” she ended. “It depends a lot on the roasting which is done by different companies, but I read that a Geisha coffee roasted in Connecticut is selling for $18 a cup in New York. The beans, the roasting, it must be pretty good!”

A much larger amount of coffee is produced in various countries in Africa and South America, but currently the best does come from Panama and it’s not just the Geisha. There are also the Elida, Harpy and Carman Estates, who produce some of the finest coffees in the world.

Plenty Of Great Coffee Shops

Feeling sure I could arrange to send my mother some Panamanian coffee, I went to Amazon and found a London coffee maker who would happily send her a 6.7 oz box for $60. Of course, it was not eligible for Prime shipping! I decided to drive to Boquete and stash a few bags in my luggage!

Not that I ever really questioned it, but my mother was right about the coffee and as a result we have a plethora of great coffee shops in Panama City. I’m not talking about lots of Starbucks, (although we have that too) but small, independent shops that are serious about their coffee and who are definitely hip and trendy. Sometimes, while I’m using their free internet, I catch myself staring at all the cool people with lots of body ink. Recently I noticed Geisha coffee was not listed on the menu chalkboard, even if the printed menu said it was carried. “Subject to availability,” said my waiter. “We have a waiting list and it always sells out almost immediately.”

These small coffee shops roast locally and pair the coffee with some great bakery goods and handmade treats, but it’s the coffee that is normally the star. Unido’s is one of my favorites because they feature six different coffees made from beans grown in Panama. They also have great breakfast sandwiches and salads. Since I spend a lot of my time in Costa del Este, I was thrilled when they opened a shop there.

Judging The Quality Of Coffee

There are lots of cool independent coffee shops in Panama, including one of my favorites, Unido’s.

“So,” I started again with my mother, “how can you judge how good a cup of coffee tastes if you add six creams and six sugars into the mix?” I heard her laugh all the way in Australia.

“Serious coffee drinkers don’t add anything. Mostly it’s people who pull up to the McDonald’s drive through. People add cream and sugar because the coffee tastes bad. This coffee doesn’t taste bad,” she continued. “Can you imagine a barista’s face if you ordered an eighteen-dollar cup of coffee and added cream? Maybe later, you might consider ordering a Pappy Van Winkle, 23-year bourbon and mixing it with Coke!” I started to think I had sent her over the edge, but I knew she was smiling.

No Cream And Bourbon Straight Up

There are definitely “cupping protocols” in coffee rating!

“OK, nothing added and bourbon straight up,” I said realizing I wasn’t a real coffee drinker even though taking a gulp of the dark liquid was one of the first things I did each morning. “Guess that would be like putting salt on food before you even tasted it,” I added, knowing that was one of my mother’s main pet peeves.

“No additives are in play with true ‘cupping protocols”, she said into the phone and I stared, not responding verbally at first. “Cupping protocols,” I finally said. “There are cupping protocols?”

Becoming A Q Rater

“Of course. Not just anyone can be trusted to rate coffee,” she responded. “There are courses, diplomas, certificates. Not quite as difficult as becoming a sommelier because there are five levels to wine and currently only two with coffee. Both have an introductory certificate and I’m thinking of becoming a Q Rater. That is someone with a basic knowledge of coffee,” she said.,“which is why I wanted you to send me the world’s best so I would have a knowledge of how high the bar is set. To be honest it never occurred to me the best coffee would come from Panama,” she added with a little laugh. “I don’t think a lot of people immediately think Panama when they think coffee.”

I knew she was right and I smiled. “Lots of surprising things about Panama,” I added. “I’ll just add great coffee to the list,” knowing I better get to Boquete quickly.

“You know it’s a little different in the United States,” said a woman in her sixties.

“We expect the building to be, if not completely finished, pretty close to being finished. We think we should be able to walk through and clearly visualize the residential space, but in Panama you show me a small billboard announcing a project that will supposedly be built sometime in the future. And, you want my money before you break ground,” she continued laughing. “What guarantee do I have? You must be really good at having people trust you!”

It certainly wasn’t the first time I had heard this feeling expressed, especially with clients from the United States. Canadians are much more at ease with the concept since much urban construction in Toronto is sold as pre-construction. Great Britain sells plenty of pre-construction as does much of the European Union

Know How The Process Works

“You should be exceptionally careful,” I said smiling. “There are a lot of wonderful things about buying early, but you have to do your research and make sure you know exactly how the process works.”

“So what research should I be conducting?” she asked cautiously.

Know The Builder

“The main thing to consider is the builder’s reputation,” I said standing in front of the Arcadia sign in Costa del Este, an upscale suburb of Panama City.

The sign and supporting marketing materials touted a futuristic structure with 46 floors, a long list of amenities and luxury appointments with a perfect location overlooking Central Park. You could almost feel the kind of vibrant life-style that would be occupying the residences.

royal palm
The sign announcing the Arcadia residential complex was not especially inspiring, but the surrounding buildings vibe of Costa del Este certainly looked promising.

The sign was a little sad but it confidently proclaimed a stunning high rise was coming to the dusty burnt field soon.

“The response to this project was intense. All permits have been secured. We’re just waiting to hear when groundbreaking is scheduled, but Arcadia is coming soon!”

“But what about the builder?,” my client reiterated. “What should I know about the builder?”

Forty Years Is A Long Time

“The developer of the Arcadia project is Empresas Bern,” I began. “They have been in business for 40 years and they are the most respected building developer in Panama. It is a family run company that has worked over the years to further develop Panama, providing jobs and opportunities for Panamanians. They have completed over 160 projects, not counting a total of nine hotels. Empresas Bern is also building the Johns Hopkins international affiliated hospital located just on the other side of the park,” I said turning to point in the mall’s direction. “You couldn’t pick a better developer than Empresas Bern.”

“OK. I’ll go along with the great builder concept, but why would I buy something that is going to take years to materialize?” she asked.

When Pre-Construction Is Not For You

“If you need to move into property right away, pre-construction projects are not for you,” I explained. “I have units in Parkside right over there that you could move into this week. But if you are investing for the future, there are lots of reasons pre-construction might be a great option.” I said.

Builders always have a standard layout for the units in a new tower, but often those can be changed when a buyer purchases during pre-construction. This gives the buyer a multitude of personalization options.

“Who doesn’t like buying something that is brand new and perfect? When you buy early, it’s easier for you to negotiate with the builder exactly what you want. A second bedroom? An appliance bonus? A different door leading to the balcony?” I said. “Negotiate on just about everything!

The Very Best Price

“There will never be a better price than when a project is in pre-construction. When the project is completed, pre-construction buyers realize immediate equity. A condo that sold for $330,000 before occupancy should be looking at about $30,000 in equity when they take possession,” I continued.

“You also get the best location and layout. You know, when you are thinking about going on a cruise and you are out about 18 months. Normally, you can snag that cabin with the veranda that is close to the middle elevators for the best possible price. Makes a lot of difference, but if you are a late comer you might have to settle for a view of the life boats and have to start out 10 minutes early just to make dinner because you are located at the end of the ship. You are also likely to pay a higher price for that less desirable cabin,” I laughed and she joined me.

Looking Long-Term At The Neighborhood

“It’s also important for you consider the neighborhood and where it will be in a few years. Property ownership is a big deal so you want to buy in a hot market,” I said, turning around to show the beauty of Costa del Este.

Costa del Este is a planned community with wide boulevards, parks and green spaces. Over 130 multinational corporations have located operations there.

Joggers were  along the foot paths and trails, automobiles were driving down the wide boulevards and the Town Center Mall was alive with people. “

“This is the hottest part of Panama City and it’s perfectly located between the international airport and downtown. All the electrical wiring is underground, the schools are the best and Costa del Este even has their own water supply and processing system.

Considering The Ability To Rent

“Arcadia has a license for short- and long-term rentals if you don’t live in Panama full time, you can rent it and work with an on-site property management company that does everything for you—from finding renters to checking people in and out and making sure everything is maintained,” I continued.

“I’m not saying you should sink every penny into Panamanian real estate” I paused to laugh. “I’d love to sell you a lot of real estate, but it’s my suggestion that you consider the diversity of having a place in Panama which is a secure country, with a US dollar-based economy, growing faster than almost every other country on the globe. Keep money in the market, have cash on hand but, buying pre-construction, with a solid builder, is something to consider,” I concluded.

When the stunning twin towers of Royal Palm, a residential complex in Nueva Gorgona, officially opens its doors on August 21, Michelle and Dean Faust of Scottsdale, AZ will be the first to take possession of a new Pacific Ocean facing home. “We are ready,” said Michelle who admitted to having everything lined up as soon as the paperwork is completed.

“We sign the paperwork on Tuesday, we have things to do in Panama City and then the appliances will be delivered and installed, the furniture comes in, other things are scheduled and by Saturday we expect to be sleeping in our new home in Royal Palm! I can’t wait to go to sleep listening to the waves of the Pacific Ocean.”

Even though moving is hard work, Dean and Michelle Faust were all smiles when taking possession of their new residence at Royal Palm. “It was an easy decision for us,” said Michelle about deciding to make Royal Palm home.

Situated directly on the ocean, the Royal Palm complex consists of two towers connected by a common social area and ascending space connecting the 28-floors of the first tower and 21-floors of the second tower. All residences enjoy ocean views and access to a long list of amenities such as pools, a sports court, sauna, children’s play area, jacuzzi and rooms for large social events.

“Royal Palm was an easy decision for us,” said Michelle as she gave a little laugh. “When we walked in and saw the view, we were pretty much sold on it immediately. It was amazing,” she said.

Michelle, who spent most of her professional years as a pharmaceutical representative and Dean, a retired family practice doctor, were not new to the concept of living abroad. Their decision to purchase in Royal Palm was based on years of experience. “We built a home in Costa Rica in 2005,” explained Michelle, “and we had some great times and definitely great friends, but crime in Costa Rica continued to rise and the cost-of-living also kept going up. It’s exciting and romantic to say you live in a jungle, but the reality is that it’s often times very hard.”

The view from the Faust’s balcony is what convinced them Royal Palm was the place to spend part of their semi-retirement.

The fact that Royal Palm could offer a lock and leave option, was very appealing to the Faust’s because they plan on living six months in Arizona and the rest of the year in Panama. “During the winter season in the States, the weather is absolutely perfect where we live in Scottsdale,” she explained. “We want to enjoy that and then come to Panama from May through October,” she said, but quickly adding, “that is just the opposite of what many Panamanian property owners and visitors experience.”

Michelle and Dean are in the unique position of taking advantage of the fact they live in an area in the United States where the time frame for perfect weather is also the time frame of high season for individuals wanting to rent in Panama. “Most people want to come to Panama from October to May, but that is not our case because we live in southwest United States. We are planning on making our home available for rent when we are not in Panama,” Michelle said. “Many Canadians and people living in the northern part of the US don’t want to contend with the cold weather so they winter in Panama,” said Michelle.

With that concept in mind, the Faust’s decided having a second unit in Royal Palm was a perfect investment so on the week Royal Palm starts to welcome residents, Michele and Dean will be taking possession of two residential units. “We will primarily rent the second condominium full time, with the exception of when we need an extra bedroom for family and friends,” she explained. “Royal Palm was just too much of a good thing. Not only did we get a really attractive pre-construction price for our larger residence on the fifth floor, we managed to take that even a bit further with the investment unit on the 11th floor.”

The Faust’s haven’t completely retired so the idea of actually managing rental units in Panama wasn’t exactly an option. “My husband is a part-time adjunct professor at Midwestern University’s Glendale AZ campus and I have started a new business doing content and copy writing for marketing clients,” Michelle said. “I can take my work with me anywhere, so I often write from Panama. I’ll be starting a blog, Panama Passage, which will document our experiences here,” she explained.

So when they are not in town, how will the Faust’s find renters and keep their units in top condition for people wanting to visit Panama from around the globe? “There are a number of people who do property management around Coronado and Nueva Gorgona, and while we haven’t decided on exactly who will be helping us with the rentals during our time away, we have a number of excellent choices,” she explained. “I can do some of the management when we are here, but we really want professionals who have the connections.”

Since the Fausts have not completely retired, Michelle is looking forward to completing marketing projects with good internet and a view of the Pacific Ocean.

While the on-site restaurant and the convenience store located within the Royal Palm complex will not be open for it’s first occupants, things are taking final shape around the property. “It has taken a bit longer than we expected but it worked out well for us,” said Michelle. “When we first started looking at Panama as a more desirable option than Costa Rica, Royal Palm hadn’t broken ground, we hadn’t sold our Costa Rica home and everything was in flux. Along with all that we even sold our home in Arizona and downsized there too! Watching Royal Palm go up from the shores of the Pacific Ocean was exciting, but it also gave us about 18 months to get everything in order,” she explained. “The window of time worked well for us,” she said.

“Now when I walk around the Royal Palm property I can easily visualize everything coming to life. It’s so lovely here, the common areas are beautiful, and the pools are just so inviting with that ever-present sun sparkle. I have such a sense of peace here, so if everything isn’t perfect the minute we move in, I know it will be soon. We’ll forget any frustrations because just listening to the sound of the ocean waves is worth everything.”

When the Faust’s first told people they were moving part-time to Costa Rica, “they thought we were a little crazy,” she laughed. “No one else in our family had ever done anything similar and to this day, I’m not sure any of them would, so our moving to Panama isn’t so strange. This life isn’t for everyone,” she said. “The climate, the food, it’s different. I actually have favorite foods in Panama that I enjoy here and when I get back to the States, I have favorites I can’t find in Panama. It’s a good give and take.”

As a family physician, Dr. Faust is not concerned about medical care in Panama. Michelle noted “with Johns Hopkins building a second internationally affiliated hospital in Panama City, that tells you something important. We haven’t had any problems medically but by all accounts the care is good and the price is very nice. We had our teeth cleaned the other day and the price was great and the care as good as you’d get in the States.”

With five children between them and four grandchildren, the Faust’s look forward to family times together in Panama. “Dean’s youngest son, who is preparing to go to his first year of college in San Diego, is with us now,” said Michelle. “We will get him to the airport the day after we take possession of the larger unit in Royal Palm and then all the kids know they have a place to vacation that is rent free,” she said. Michelle also noted that “the son who is here now, helped a great deal with our decision to choose Panama and Royal Palm. He had been with us all during our time in Costa Rica so it was good to also get his measure of things.”

The social area of Royal Palm is inviting while providing a nod to Panama’s rich history by combining modern furnishings with historical Casco Viejo style floor tiling.

Michelle says there are many differences between Costa Rica and Panama including the fact it’s a longer flight to Tocumen International Airport in Panama City from Phoenix as opposed to the airport in San Jose in Costa Rica. ‘It takes about seven hours as opposed to five, but just getting to San Jose took us three hours of driving and here we can be at the here airport in 90 minutes. Tocumen is also a hub and we enjoy traveling so we have a lot more direct options for South America and Europe,” she said.

“We are finding it very easy to make friends and we find that people who are expats are already  a bit different and adventuresome. We all stick out because we look and act differently,” she said. “but everyone is accepting and we love the fact every day is an adventure.”

Once the Faust’s have the keys to their new units firmly in hand, and some furniture delivered and functional, they are planning on a celebratory dinner. “Probably at Cafe Med in neighboring Coronado,” she said. “It’s right off the highway about a block or so in and the food is primarily Mediterranean. It’s high quality with exceptional service in an open-air setting. It’s laid back, but great food. We really enjoy it, but there are lots of good restaurants right here so we aren’t sure. We are just excited about getting settled in Royal Palm.”

Arcadia, a 46-story residential complex in Panama City’s high-end district of Costa del Este, is preparing a detailed timeline for breaking ground.

The project will offer a variety of residential options, including condotels, one and two-bedroom homes, retail stores, restaurants, and a long list of amenities and business meeting spaces.

“We have completed all the arduous details for getting such a large project off the ground,” said Jose Manuel Bern, CEO of Empresas Bern, the project’s developer. “We are excited to begin an aggressive plan for moving forward. Interest has been unprecedented so we are anxious to deliver everything this multi-functional project has to offer.”

Liz Larroquette, one of the lead sales executives on the Arcadia residential project, is shown here discussing plans for the 46-story tower with the project developer and Empresas Bern CEO, Jose Manual Bern.

Arcadia is located in Costa del Este, overlooking Central Park and is only steps from Town Center, the hub of the social district in the area. “Town Center has been crucial to the area’s development and since it’s opening in 2017, the need for additional residential options has continued to develop,” continued Bern. “These options are not limited to the full-time resident, or even individuals looking for a short stay” he explained, “but also for the transferring international executive who will be in Panama for a couple of years. We also know that Panamanian professionals who want to live long-term in Costa del Este, are seeking homes such as those which will be on offer in Arcadia.”

Arcadia was the first project in Costa del Este, to receive a license for short and long-term rentals. Consequently, rentals can be offered for a single night or up to several years. “The Bern corporation is currently building a Johns Hopkins international affiliated hospital in Costa del Este.” said Bern. “There are currently over 130 multi-national companies with executives and employees working in the area. People seeking medical care, others looking for a short-term residence or individuals visiting the area for business are all looking for something like Arcadia,” he said.

Arcadia will be structured as a condotel, which allows individuals to own a full-service vacation home, a residence or a real estate investment. Rentals will be handled by an on-site property management company. This provides a seamless process for the renter and the investor. These residential units will be rented like any other hotel room, but will come with full kitchens, open concept living and enclosed bedrooms with ensuite bathrooms. Long-term residences will be able to enjoy a hotel-like lifestyle with a variety of social areas, pools and restaurants.

“I am fully aware people often ask why it takes so long to get started on a project such as Arcadia,” said Bern, “but to make sure everything is right you have to do your due diligence with everything. Which property management company is right for Arcadia? What amenities the potential residents will need? What will make the project a strong income producer while also building equity for owners?” said Bern. “It has always been our philosophy that we needed to know we were doing things the best way possible and that takes time.” he said.

“Historically, Avenue Balboa was the center of Panama’s red hot real estate development, but we are seeing that shift to Costa del Este and it is exciting to be in the middle of that change and to see what it will mean to the country as a whole. Arcadia is a signature project and we are very excited for it to physically begin to take shape,” concluded Bern.

Pre-construction pricing is still available for individuals interested in owning a piece of Arcadia and they can find more information at https://www.lizlarroquette.com/arcadia-2/.

It’s Officially Move-In Day for Royal Palm Occupants!

The Panamanian government recently issued the occupancy permit and the process of handing out keys and finalizing paperwork has begun. Individuals who purchased one and two-bedroom condominiums are beginning to move into the beautiful complex located in Nuevo Gorgona, directly on the Pacific Ocean.

“It’s very exciting to watch this stunning structure come alive with people,” said Lead Sales Executive Liz Larroquette, who heads the project for the developer, Empresas Bern. “It has been a long time coming, from the initial renderings to this absolutely beautiful and functional building, but it has been worth the wait,” she continued while walking among the picture-perfect landscape and sparkling swimming pool.

“It would be impossible for someone to take this view for granted,” continued Larroquette, motioning to the Pacific Ocean that sits just beyond the building. “There isn’t a time of day that I don’t love taking in this view.”

Once the common areas are developed, the individual units will be turned over as quickly as possible. “All the units will not be opened simultaneously,” said Larroquette. “We have a dedicated bi-lingual team working with the new owners to develop a schedule which is both manageable and cognizant of the needs of the owners” she explained.

Two flawlessly designed towers offer up to 28 levels of elevated space, creating the perfect location for fun and relaxation by the ocean. In part, the project was designed for families. Some apartments have larger balconies while others can be designed to accommodate up to four bedrooms. Smaller units are perfect for an investment with rental possibility.

“Many of the units are already sold,” said Larroquette, “but we still have some ocean facing and single bedroom units that would be perfect for renting. Occupants even have the option to take units with 70 square meters and add a second bedroom. This variety of layouts attracts occupants of all kinds including expats, retirees, investors, families and young professionals,” she said.

Individual owners are working with Royal Palm’s on-site staff to add the finishing touches to each residence and ensure financing and paper work is in order. “Owner financing is still available and move-in special pricing is an option along with great tax incentives,” said Larroquette. “That won’t last long, but we are working hard to make this the most attractive option in the Coronado-Gorgona area.” Negotiations continue for the on-site restaurant the perfect complement to Royal Palm’s long list of amenities.

Just 50 minutes from Panama City and 10 minutes from grocery stores, retail, restaurants and medical facilities in Coronado, Royal Palm fulfills the promise of absolute beach-front living at an affordable price. For more information, visit our Royal Palm page: https://www.lizlarroquette.com/royal-palm-property/

arcadia photo

All of life is a balance. There are days when I am so busy I forget to eat. There are other days when I worry about why my phone isn’t incessantly ringing.

It’s the nature of the real estate business and it can make you crazy! It’s not always easy finding that perfect piece of property for each individual client at an exact time.

lizreading
There are days when I spent an enormous amount of time going through documents, some of which have not been put online, to find the perfect property.

Sometimes you are not busy and you have too much inventory. Other times, inventory is low and it seems all clients are looking for something you don’t have or for the same thing. This is when balance and patience are true virtues.

A Slow Time

Things have been slow lately. For the past few months, the economy in the United States has been stagnant after enjoying a very rapid rise with the stock market. It’s the rainy season in Panama and most days we have rain prompting many expats to take vacations elsewhere. The European Union is in turmoil with Brexit, Germany is experiencing challenges over immigration and other EU countries are currently struggling with internal issues. Not as many people are retiring as predicted and global business in Panama is exploding with growth.

All these factors, some of which seem contradictory, have contributed to a slow period. The explosion of local global growth has caused exhausted inventory in Panama, while expats are distracted. All of this also provides great opportunity, but you need balance.

The Arcadia Option

I was thrilled to hear we anticipate breaking ground this year on the Arcadia residential complex in Costa del Este. This 46-story residential building offers one and two-bedroom options and is the first building in the area to be granted a license for short-term rentals. With an on-site management company, it’s very attractive for an investor looking for strong return on investment (ROI).

Arcadia also helps me provide options for executives moving into the area looking for both rental and owned residences. Young, middle-class Panamanians working in the area seek similar options as well. Now that work permits are being secured and ground-breaking is around the corner, I have great inventory for everyone to consider. Before, while Parkside is similar and an immediate option, there has always been limited inventory and small differences in the two buildings.

arcadia photo
Arcadia offers a lifestyle for all generations with retail and dining options along with park-front residential home and all the amenities of a hotel.

A Perfect Location

Arcadia’s location is perfect. It’s about a two-minute walk to Town Center which has everything from great retail shopping to wonderful restaurants. The new Johns Hopkins international affiliated hospital is under construction there and scheduled to open in 2020. While there is also a JW Marriott hotel being built into the Town Center complex, there will be many individuals seeking medical treatment who will prefer renting in Arcadia. They will have kitchens and all the amenities of a hotel with attractive longer-term options.

Social events happen most days in Costa del Este and the green space is perfect for a healthy, active lifestyle. Of course, because ground hasn’t broken, there is great pre-construction pricing on the Arcadia project. You can build sizable equity by committing to the project early and waiting to take possession. For more information, you may go to my website: https://www.lizlarroquette.com/arcadia-2/#

Inventory In Panama City!

It has been a long time since I had good inventory in the city center of Panama City, but we recently heard a residential project has been green lighted more quickly than anticipated. The city has been working on an $8 million upgrade that will result in improved infrastructure, new roadways and an open-air pedestrian mall with restaurants and retail. The new mall will be ready for Pope Francis’ visit for World Youth Day in January 2019.

panama market
When thinking about the new open-air residential district in Panama City, think Lincoln Road Mall in Miami. The new area will be where Panamanians, expats and visitors go to eat, shop and be entertained.

In conjunction with that government project, a two-tower residential complex has been approved for construction. One tower will serve as a long- and short-term rental building, providing investment opportunities and the other will be for owner occupancy in one of the most upscale areas of the capital city.

Investment opportunities in this building are not even being sold, but individuals can secure a spot with an “interest option”, with terrific pre-construction pricing and the opportunity to take advantage of several early discounts. Interest has already been incredible, so I am very excited about having that inventory to offer clients.

Stunning Royal Palm

Many people are interested in the beach and while I have had some open units in Casa Bonita,   which is located just fifteen minutes from Panama City, we have almost sold the entire building. There are some discounted units left in Casa Bonita, but I’m excited to announce an exciting new beach-front property, Royal Palm! Occupancy permits for this property, located in Nueva Gorgana, will be issued soon.

The beach-front residences at Royal Palm are simply stunning and affordable.

It is imperative for clients to know what they are looking for and what things are negotiable or non-negotiable. It’s my job to listen and weight the options. I know where units exist or where they are going to exist. There might be a unit in an essentially sold-out building, but for whatever reason, one or two units are still available at terrific pricing. I know Panama real estate!

If you want beach-front, there is no reason to discuss city living. Some individuals may need something right away because they have a family, some are investors who can wait and others plan on living 365 days a year in a unit and want it now. I’m just happy inventory is loosening up and there are deals to be had.

When the US economy is booming, people have money and when it’s not booming individuals have more opportunity for discounts. It’s all about balance! Take a look at my website for more information and don’t forget to call or drop me a line. https://www.lizlarroquette.com/

Deciding to relocate to another country is a huge step.

You can research for years and still not be totally prepared, because it’s often the little things that pose the biggest hurdles to your acclamation. I always encourage clients to visit for long periods of time before deciding if moving to Panama is right for them.

The other day a friend of mine returned from a couple of weeks in London and she said: “you know the biggest thing I really enjoyed was having the sun rise at 4:30 in the morning and it still  being light at 9:00 at night.” I thought about that for a while and strange as it may seem, I would agree that I miss that change in the rising and setting of the sun. Panama is simply too close to the equator for there to be much of a change. It’s pretty much 12 hours of light and 12 hours of dark. Should that be a deal breaker? Probably not, but it is worth considering.

The Lack Of Changing Seasons

I was warned about the lack of changing seasons when I first considered moving. Everyone was quick to point out that Panama was the one spot on the globe where you could watch the sun rise over the Pacific and set over the Atlantic, but few mentioned it was summer all the time. No snow. Never a freezing temperature. That could be a good thing or a bad thing. I tend to like not having to rotate my clothes and knowing it’s always going to be warm. There is the wet season vs. the dry season, but I hardly notice the changes. The weather is pretty much the same.

No Mail. No Addresses.

Panama Packages
Packages are shuttled from Miami to Panama City by expediting companies which provide individuals in Panama with a US mailing address. It can be costly and, as Panama matures, you can find most products locally.

There are other differences which one should consider. Like the fact is there no postal service. No mail. I have friends in the States who claim they could stop getting mail and never miss sorting through the circulars and bulk mail which is delivered at least six days a week. I have to caution them that not having mail delivered touches lots of different things.

For example, no mail, no address. I listened quietly the other day when a client was attempting to visit their lawyer. “The building diagonal from the sushi restaurant?” I heard them repeat slowly and I smiled inwardly. I knew a taxi driver would be able to get them to the correct spot, but not having a real address was a bit unnerving to the unaccustomed. When it comes to addresses, there tends to be a lot of descriptive geographical instructions which requires a bit of trust and easy acceptance that I don’t always find in North Americans.

Who’s Going To Deliver My Amazon Orders?

No mail service also means no Amazon. I find many people are so used to Amazon delivering just about everything to their front door, that not being able to easily activate Amazon Prime is a big deal. You can order from Amazon, but it’s expensive. Some people have a mailing address through a local shipping business such as Mail Boxes Etc. or a UPS store. You are given a personalized address which is normally located in Miami and it’s simply a shipping hub. Handlers accept mail and packages on your behalf and then reroute them via plane to Panama City. The packages are then delivered to your local store waiting for pick-up.

Panama Amazon
You don’t often see that amazon smile in Panama unless it’s arrived by way of the underground network of expats!

There are several stores in Panama City, but there are also ones throughout Panama including Coronado and Boquete. Normally you pay a monthly fee for the address and then by the gram, so if you are ordering anything remotely heavy, you start to pay a hefty price.

Because people tend to come and go from North America fairly routinely, there is sort of an underground network among friends that shuttles packages back to Panama from a trip. “I almost always have an extra suitcase that is filled with things from Amazon” laughed a friend the other day. “It’s amazing what people want and order, and I’m always happy to help out a friend if I’m on a trip.”

A Wide Access To Most Products

I also know that after a few months in Panama, the need for Amazon delivery lessens. People get accustomed to what they can find in Panama and they are surprised at how they thought the things they couldn’t live without, quickly disappears. Ten years ago the need for shipping was much greater because there wasn’t the wide access to all kinds of products, which we now enjoy. Today you can find just about anything in Panama.

Robust On-Line Banking

Panama Bill Payment
Many local Panamanians continue to go in person to pay bills for things such as cable, electricity or water, but more and more most bills are paid via Panama’s robust on-line banking system.

Not having mail also impacts the way routine bills are managed in Panama. Banks have a robust on-line presence for the transfer of funds, but many locals still line up in the grocery stores or banks to pay in cash. Many of the bill payment centers have few hours, speak only Spanish and only accept cash. Electrical and water bills are often hand delivered and it is pretty much on the backs of consumers to remember to pay everything from the cable to home association dues at a particular date either on line or in person and in cash.

Don’t Expect Service From The Appliance Store

How warranties are serviced for things like appliances is also often times confusing for outsiders. “I bought upgraded appliances,” began a woman who recently purchased a refrigerator that didn’t work upon delivery. “I assumed the company from whom I had purchased the refrigerator would come out and make things right,” she said. “It was a brand new GE appliance that should have worked.”

Stores selling things such as appliances, do not fulfill warranties, but rather an outside company must be called, an appointment made and then work may, or may not be started on a timely basis. “They only came to Coronado once a week, they were always booked and I really needed a refrigerator,” she continued. “It was absolutely the most frustrating situation. I really learned to embrace the Mañana code of living,” she said. “Today, all the appliances are working perfectly, but it has taken a while to come to terms with the fact you wouldn’t just call the store where you purchased the appliances and have someone out that afternoon”

Becoming Easy With The Day-To-Day

But, for everything challenging or different, I find there are other things which make life easier in Panama. Domestic help is less expensive and the warm temperatures tend to slow people down. Mañana is not always a bad thing. Local residents are almost always helpful and friendly even if they don’t speak any English.

Help Is Always A Request Away

Of course, with a little efectivo (cash), you can hire individuals to pay your bills either on-line or in person. Individuals are willing to negotiate the best possible price for services such as cable and internet while also keeping you current with things such as home owners dues and electricity. It’s not especially costly and it keeps everything smooth. Many times, just having someone negotiate a better cable rate saves you time and money.

Panama is on the fast track to becoming a first world country. English is being widely taught in all schools and products are flowing onto the shelves of stores throughout the country. A completely digital world will reduce the need for paper mail and things will move more quickly. We are on the world stage when it comes to culture, finance and sports. Our infrastructure is developing quickly and transportation is world class.

Twelve Hours of Light And Dark Won’t Change

I’ll always desire the longer days of sunlight I can experience in London, but I’m not sure I’d trade their long, grey days of cold and wet, for the routine bright blue skies of Panama.

There is a lot about London to love, but it is often overcast and rainy for long periods.
Panama Soccer Fans

There was no question Panama was stoked for the 2018 World Cup, which just ended in Russia.

Fans traveled to support the team and they filled stadiums in Sochi, Nizhny Novgorod and Saransk. Just about every sports bar and gathering environment from La Palma and Panama City to David and Bocas del Toro had the games blaring from every possible television as fans embraced the excitement and drank libations.

Panama Soccer Fans
Panamanian fans, pictured here outside Fisht Stadium in Sochi before the game with Belgium, were some of the most vocal and enthusiastic.

But earlier, when the national team was announced, the 23 players who completed the final roster left some of us scratching our heads and mumbling “who?” When a country qualifies for the World Cup they are able to select members from various teams world-wide, who meet the FIFA rules for eligibility of that particular nation. So the final Panamanian team was not necessarily made up of players who had been competing in Panama, but of people who had a “national connection” to Panama.

Today There Are Many Options For Representation

According to FIFA you can choose what country you represent in the World Cup, but you must meet certain criteria. Some of which include being born in the country or in a territory of that country, representing the country of your biological parents or grandparents or if you have lived continuously for at least five years after the age of 18 years. Once you declare your residency, on a senior level, you generally have to stick with that country. It’s not always easy, because today there are many athletes who have multiple national allegiances.

The final Panamanian National Team was filled with players who earned their living from clubs outside Panama including ones in New York, San Jose, Seattle, Houston, Spain, Chile, Peru Honduras, Mexico, Guatemala, Columbia, Belgium, Slovenia, Romanian and Costa Rica.

A Sleight Of Hand?

But, if you are thinking this was some sleight of hand to bolster Panama’s competitive edge in Russia, think again. Panama was one of nine teams of 32 total who fielded no foreign-born players. The international roster of players was more an out growth of not having enough professional opportunities within Panama, as opposed to whether or not they were Panamanian.

Of the 23 team members playing for Morocco, 17 of their players were not born in Morocco. Eight were born in France, five in the Netherlands, two in Spain and one each in Belgium and Canada. The players were all of Moroccan descent, but they had mainly played for European clubs from their earliest soccer education.

Migration Patterns Changing Sport

The new world stage is rapidly changing and much of that is due to migration patterns. Never before have there been so many people moving from one nation to another. On France’s 23-man roster at this year’s Cup, 17 are the sons of first-generation immigrants. Other successful European squads are also stacked with talent from sons of immigrants or recent migrants themselves, notably Switzerland and Belgium.

Alonso Edward Panama
Sprinter Alonso Edward won a gold medal for Panama in the XI South American Games. Panama won a total of 10 medals in the games. He was born in Panama City in 1989 and he is of Jamaican descent on his mother’s side. He could run for either country, but has chosen Panama.

Panama learned a great deal about how to better compete on the world stage and part of that was how the final roster should be filled. Every team would want to have a Cristiano Ronaldo play for them, but he played, not for Spain, where he is a national hero and star of the Real Madrid team, but for Portugal, the country where he was born. When World Cup 2022 rolls around, will there be other talented players who were born in Panama? Or someone whose mother or grandfather was Panamanian?

Gifted Athletes

Panama has long been known for turning out gifted athletes, mainly in baseball. Because of limited local opportunities on the biggest stages, most of those exceptional talents were forced to go to other countries to play and train. After participating in this World Cup, there will be more opportunities for these athletes to stay home and play every day with national pride.

Panamanian soccer players are not the only athletes eager to represent this country. There were 55 athletes on the Panamanian team at the XI South American Games recently held in Bolivia and a number of them were not born in Panama. Carolena Carstens was born in the United States, but has dual citizenship because her mother is Panamanian. She is a gifted taekwondo athlete and was the flag bearer for Panama in both the closing ceremonies of the 2016 Olympics in Rio and the opening ceremonies of the games in Bolivia.

Carolena Carstens Panama
Carolena won the gold for Panama in the X South American Games and the silver if the XI Games. She was born in Chicago, Illinois and now lives and trains in Spain, but competes for Panama.

As Panama continues to grow and develop as a first world nation, more opportunities will exist for athletes. There will be more money for training and more events to showcase that Panama is so much more than a canal!

While there are still plenty of big name national teams in the mix at the 2018 World Cup, Panama is no longer among them.

Panama struggled during the three matches they played in the Group Phase against Belgium, England & Tunisia. They scored two goals with 11 goals scored against them. Despite their challenge, the Panamanians learned a great deal from their initial World Cup outing.

It’s A Very Different Level

“When the Panamanian team entered Fisht Stadium in Sochi before their first game, it was apparent they were fairly stunned,” she began telling me with a smile. “They would give a little laugh and punch a team mate with a gesture that said ‘wow’ and then pause as if they had gone maybe farther than they were allowed,” she continued. “The coach knew his team’s experience level. He had coached the Colombia and Ecuador national teams to World Cups. He made a special request to the FIFA officials to let his team on the field prior to their first game. No other team did that, but he wanted them to get the feel of such a big venue.”

Panama coach, Hernán Darío Gómez, admitted his team did not have the same resources as many of the other teams competing in The World Cup.

She went on to explain that the Panamanian team was certainly a rags to riches story.

“The Germans play every game in similar stadiums,” she began. “They almost always go to the World Cup. Their personal autos were shipped to Russia so they would be more comfortable if they wanted to take a drive. The average salary of one of the ‘local’ clubs in Germany, Bayern Munich, is 6.75 million USD. Their highest paid player, Franck Henry Pierre Ribéry, is paid almost 13 million USD annually.” At this point she was shaking her head. “Lionel Messi, the star for Argentina, is pulling in an excess of 33 million USD annually. And, for the record, Germany went just as far as Panama did in the World Cup. They didn’t even get out of group play,” she continued.

Roman Torres, aged 32, was one of the leaders of the Panamanian team.

“One of Panama’s star players, 37 year-old Blas Pérez, was making about $215,000 annually when he played for Vancouver and last year his contract wasn’t renewed. Roman Torres, captain of the Panamanian national team, plays for the Seattle Sounders and makes about $645,000 annually.”

My friend noted that it wasn’t just the salary difference, it was so much more between Panama and the other teams. “Egypt, Iceland and Iran were also at a disadvantage with talent, but not resources. They had money, a lot of money, and Panama did not!’

The Same Shoes And Shirts

“The Panama players were pretty excited Adidas was supplying all the uniforms and shoes, so at least they were equal there,” she began. “No one shipped anything special to the Panamanian team, like a car or anything, they were just happy to be practicing in such wonderful facilities,” she said.

“Panama doesn’t have the money or the support at home. We are better known for producing great baseball players. Our players come from local clubs in the United States and other countries. We don’t have one amazing stadium accommodating 45,000 fans. Not one in the entire country. Our team does not have the resources or experience, but we are just getting started,” she said.

The Best Fans

“Our fans are some of the absolute best,” she continued. “I could not believe how many Panamanians came to Russia to support the team. They were well-mannered and educated. Of course there was a lot of beer throwing and beating on anything that would make noise, but the Panamanians know how to support and I was proud to be part of the crowd.”

“All the fans were pretty respectful,” she began to explain. “The Russians simply do not speak English and they found it hard to communicate. They were a bit smug too, because it was in their home country. The Brazilians are so passionate and the Germans feel entitled. They were so stunned when they were sent home! The Spaniards are a great group. Beer-loving, singing and everyone came with face paint. The Belgians are blonde,” she laughed. “Physically and in personality. They are so very nice, but so very blonde. The Panamanians spoke English, laughed hard at themselves and believed Panama could win it all!” My friend shook her head.

“That’s how inexperienced the fans were too—Panama was not going to win much of anything other than the right to be there among the big soccer dogs. I had small hopes of doing better against Tunisia, but Belgium and England? That was a tough draw. Panama had nothing to be ashamed of!”

The Panamanian fans were in Sochi, Russia when their national team took to the World Cup field for the first time in their country’s history. The team had never been on such a world stage.

Lessons Learned

One of Panama’s lessons of the World Cup was that they are not really ready to play at that level.

“We need the infrastructure—the arenas, the training, equipment, the coaches and a feeder system within the local Panamanian schools. Now that we know what is out, Panama will make it happen. When they do, we’ll be back. We won’t settle for just being there, we’ll be serious about winning.”

She also said Panama was not shocked at how much more they needed to really compete, but they were shocked at what wouldn’t work on a world stage.

“The team knew they were in over their head and they came out a bit thuggish,” she said simply. “They knew they didn’t score easily and to be honest, I was a bit surprised when they made two goals. I could easily see them going the entire tournament without a goal, but you can’t bully your way to victory!”

“When they felt their only option was defense, they saw the yellow cards stack up. That’s not the way you win at the World Cup. The other coaches weren’t just worried about winning, they also didn’t want to get hurt,” she explained. “That was a bit embarrassing.”

Not An Embarrassment

“There will be some questions about doping and how the Russians disregarded many of the FIFA mandates,” she continued. “That will come after the end of the World Cup, but Panama will not be part of that discussion. Panama conducted themselves in a professional manner and they were gentlemen. They may have shown their ‘in awe’ faces, but they always had respect for the game, for the fans and for the World Cup. I personally can’t wait for the next round of competition and World Cup 2022!”

Look for another big bus with the Panamanian flag at another World Cup. The team and the country are just getting started!

My friend, at the World Cup, called shortly after Panama lost their opening game 3-0 to Belgium.

She wasn’t torn up about the loss because the Belgians are one of the top ranked teams in the world. Instead, she was elated that the international press covering the game kept commenting on how many Panamanians were in the stands.

“The crowd was heavily Panamanian,” she said. “And there were about 60,000 seats. Maybe the Belgians thought this would be an easy game so they would wait until later in the tournament to attend, but they were completely outnumbered.”

They Were Everywhere!

Panamians filed into Fisht Stadium in Sochi, Russia in support of their team!

“I was even a little surprised as I was coming into Fisht Stadium,” she admitted. “Everywhere I turned, there were flags and shirts and plenty of Panamanian scarves waving in the afternoon sun. They had come hours before the game to party and represent. You’d see clumps of them dotting the area between the stadium and the Black Sea where temporary food stands were filled with people sporting Panama shirts. The atmosphere was electric!

“The Panamanians were very well dressed, even in sporting clothes. They spoke English very well and had fun posing for photos with each other and some of the stadium workers. It was just a wonderful afternoon.”

“Then, I heard a guy from the European press say, ‘I thought they would be selling tickets at a discount to the Russians, because there would be so many empty seats.’ said my friend with a tone of irritation. “I let that one pass, gave him a look and moved on,” she explained.

“’It’s hard to tell,’ I heard another say and I started to listen closer. “Tell what?” I asked myself and then I realized they were referring to the fact the basic colors for Panama were the same colors for Russia and they were assuming they were making a mistake about the fans and assuming they were Russians filling empty seats.”

I was beginning to enjoy the suspense of my friend’s conversation and laughed. “So what turned out to be the deal?”

Why Are The Panamanians Here?

One journalist actually thought the Panamanians were mainly the Kuna Indians and that almost no Panamanians would be present for the game!

“I asked a couple of them in the press corps about why they thought Panamanians wouldn’t be here to support their team. After all, we called a national holiday when we won the right to be in the World Cup.”

“What did you ask?” I questioned, knowing how strong my friend can be if provoked.

“I asked them what they knew about Panama,” she replied. “Like why wouldn’t the fans be here at this historic game?”

She went on to say the men writing international news stories replied something about Panama having a canal which the French and Americans had dug and that one had a grandmother who had a mola, so he knew about the Kuna Indians.

“I started to laugh, because I knew these men would have been in for a lesson!”

That Was 1914! 

“So I had a little sit down with them.” said my friend. “I explained that though the Americans may have finished the canal in 1914, but we had just doubled it and there was so much more to Panama than the canal. I was pretty incensed,” she continued. “I explained how Panama City was the de facto capital of Central America and that over 130 international companies had offices in Costa del Este alone. Also, I mentioned that the economy in Panama was one of the fastest growing in the world.”

She continued almost too fast to understand. “One guy actually asked how the Panamanians would have gotten to Russia. I told him those direct international flights to New York, Madrid, Geneva and Frankfurt would have been enough for the fans to get out of Panama and on their way to other parts of the globe,” she said. “I actually started to feel sorry for the guys. They really didn’t know. I could see the surprise on their faces and then one asked if those international flights were just for the World Cup.”

I looked at him and said “Every week those flights go out whether we are in the World Cup or not! How do you think all those international business people get around!”

A Panamanian Middle Class? 

The Panamanian National Team made an extra stop so the players could see where they would be playing as the coach felt the 60,000 fans and the size of the arena might be intimidating for a first-time team! Panama is now over that.

My friend explained that one of them asked if there was a middle class in Panama. From what I could gather, she started going a little lighter on them because they really didn’t know the Panama of today. She began to take pleasure in telling them about how “first world” the entire country was rapidly becoming. That Panama was safe and beautiful and there were plenty of locals who could afford to go to Sochi for the game.

There were very few people in Panama that didn’t stop, in some way, to watch the game against the powerful Belgians—either in a local bar, at home, or in the stands at Fisht Stadium. The people of Panama celebrated and it was a marvelous opportunity for the world to see what Panama is rapidly becoming.

The First, But Not The Last!

It may have been the first time Panama participated in the World Cup, but it will not be the last. My friend was very pleased with how the Panamanians had played.

“We played a very respectable game. The Los Canaleros have no reason to hang their heads. Panama frustrated the Belgians for the first 55 minutes of the game, but it was very humid in Sochi and it looked as though they got a little tired. The yellow cards started to stack up because Panama was fighting so hard.” she continued. “I think the team learned a lot during this initial match-up. I also think they will be a bit more calm now that they have this first game out of the way! We’ll be more prepared when Panama goes against England on June 24.”

Dries Mertens scored the opener for Belgium against Panama, but only after a very hard fought 55 minutes. The Panamanians will be a force in other World Cups!

“I listened to Belgium’s coach, Roberto Martinez, at the Press Conference immediately following the game and he was very complimentary of Panama’s play. He said he was delighted with the win against Panama. After all, Mexico defeated Germany earlier and the other first-timer, Iceland, worked to a draw in their first game against Argentina,” she said seriously. “He also noted he had worried during the game about injuries because Panama is such a physical team. You want to keep them a little worried!”

Multiple Languages!

She also said she was very impressed that the Belgium coach did not use the earphones during the press conference immediately following the game. “Just about everyone uses the headphones that automatically translates the questions and answers into whatever language is desired, she explained. He had no trouble in English, Spanish, French and he answered in depth and with insight!”

There was another thing my friend observed and that was how well the Panamanian press conducted their interviews. “They were front and center, the first ones to be called on and their questions were thoughtful and in-depth. Every Panamanian should be proud. I know I am and I’m just waiting for England in a few days. Panama is here to stay!”

Enthusiasm is mounting over Panama’s first World Cup appearance!

I am extremely excited to announce that I will be able to bring you exclusive information and insight about local fans who go to Russia to support the team, as well as insider information about the competitions and Panama’s ultimate fate.

I’m not going to be able to make the trip myself, but I have a close friend who has been selected to “volunteer” at the 2018 World Cup. When she first mentioned she’d be going, I had no idea how difficult it was to get a “volunteering” gig. There were a total of 175,000 applicants for the 15,000 unpaid positions. It took four Skype interviews, an English proficiency exam, passing 57 on-line courses and a commitment to travel to and work in Russia for five weeks without compensation. But, when I heard she would be in the middle of the action, I immediately jumped on the idea she could feed me information which I could pass along!

Check Out The Inside Scoop On The Website

I will be getting new data from her several times a week, which I will pass along directly via my website: https://www.lizlarroquette.com/. My contact lives part-time in Panama so she knows the country, loves the people and is just as excited as everyone else! She had a Panama World Cup t-shirt long before I saw them popping up in stores in Panama City.

Liz Blog
To keep up with the action, focused entirely on Panama, go to the special section on the website devoted to Panama’s performance in the World Cup.

“I am actually shocked I was selected,” my friend explained. “The competition was tight and since I’m originally from the States, my soccer knowledge is not as robust as some of the other applicants from places like Germany and Brazil! I don’t speak Russian and when they tested me for my English knowledge, I only rated ‘Intermediate’ even though I have a masters degree in English. My first thought was to question who was grading the test, but I decided to remain silent. I only needed an intermediate ranking to remain competitive.” 

Who Knew They Needed Volunteers?

I wondered how one would even know that big events such as the World Cup even needed volunteers, but my friend explained; “lots of these events wouldn’t be able to manage successful competitions, if it weren’t for volunteers. I’ve done the PGA and the Senior PGA and hopefully I’ll be in Tokyo for the 2020 Summer Olympics. I started holding a sign that said ‘Quiet Please’ on the 12th hole at Valhalla when Tiger Woods won the PGA in 2000. Getting the World Cup will totally beef up my resume.”

So what all is involved in getting a behind the scenes pass at the World Cup? “You have to be pretty confident and just keep trying. They discourage you. Once you are selected, positive things begin to happen,” she explained. “When we were just applying, they told us we would have to pay for our own place to stay for the five weeks, plus get yourself to the venue where you are assigned and that there wouldn’t be any meals provided. I started doing the math and it was a big decision to continue the process.” 

Russia Snapchat Photo
All the volunteers will be provided with credentials which will allow free transportation throughout Russia on all trains, buses and the subway. It is also the ticket into see the games although the volunteers are told to turn their backs on the action and concentrate on the needs of the working journalist.

My friend was accepted in the media department in Sochi, where Panama will play its first game on June 18th in Sochi against one of the strongest teams, Belgium. “I will work a total of 18 days in the various media areas around Fisht Stadium. Sometimes those days are 15 hours long. We do everything from holding the microphone when a star of the game is being interviewed for television, to making sure there is cold water in the coolers for the journalists. Not everything will be glamorous,” she laughed.

It’s Not Easy Being A Working Journalist

“I’ve been a working journalist for much of my career,” said my friend, who is now semi-retired. “I know what the media people are facing. It doesn’t matter if you are tired, or not feeling well, you have just so much time to write and file your story. There is a lot of pressure to get it right. You have to depend on volunteers to run research for you and to make sure everything is working. Things like the internet and the photos being delivered in a timely manner. Many of the volunteers are very young—college kids in their 20s—so I think my age and experience will help me be successful. When you have been a journalist, you know getting the facts straight is paramount! Those guys from The New York Times, Sports illustrated and Getty Images will appreciate my old wisdom and thoroughness.”

The good news is that my friend will have access to all the photos and statistics of the games being played by Panama and those will be coming my way so I can post them on the website. Even when they are not playing in Sochi, she can pull anything from the other 10 stadiums where games are being played.

Just Stay In The Olympic Village

“Once we were selected for the team,” she said, “things began to get easier. All of a sudden I wasn’t shopping for an inexpensive place to stay for five weeks, but rather I was assigned a free room in the old Olympic Village from the 2014 Summer Olympic Village. It looks pretty nice as it overlooks the Black Sea and the gym is to die for!

Adidas Gear
Uniforms are provided and laundered every 24 hours so you always have a clean outfit. Even if you have sneakers you are comfortable with, Adidas, is a sponsor so you must wear their shoes!

“They give you clothes—including branded tennis shoes no one wants to actually wear, but rather just keep—and they do your laundry every 24 hours so your uniform is clean and pressed. We get to eat in the Media Cafeteria and all transportation is complimentary,” she said laughing. “We have to honor the partners of the World Cup like drink Budweiser beer, eat McDonald’s and drink Coca-Cola. I’m not a beer drinker, but I’m stoked about the cell phones we are being given by a sponsor from China. I guess they also leave vodka in everyone’s room. That should be interesting with a bunch of 20 somethings,” she said with a broad smile.

From All Over The World

“I’ve been chatting with various team members on internet apps and they are from all over the world. Only three of us are from the United States, but others are from Argentina and Brazil, most of the European Union countries, England, China, African nations—it’s pretty cool. Most want to jockey around schedules so we can each have enough time to get on the train and go to see games in other venues. I’m planning on visiting Panama’s training facility outside Moscow and going to their games against England and Tunisia. I’m pretty excited about my non-compensated work!”

My friend told me the Sochi media team would be working from June 4th until July 9th, which included 24 hours of on-site training before the shift even began. The Sochi venue would be closed after July 9th and moved to Moscow where the championship games would be played.

Many of the Russian volunteers don’t get to work in media, but rather are assigned as hosts providing insight into the culture of Russia and the best things to do while visiting.

An Honor For Panama

“I’m thrilled Panama is in the competition at all,” she said. “It’s a great honor to be included, but to get to the finals would be an amazing accomplishment for Panama. Iceland is the only other team in the competition who has never been on the World Cup stage before and teams such as Germany, Belgium and England are strong favorites, but if Panama is in the mix at all—watch out for some great inside information!”

As my friend packs for her trip to Russia, which takes her on connections through Chicago, London and Moscow before landing in Sochi on a Siberian Airlines flight, she is trying to think of everything she might face. “I have some Rubles and extra security on my computer and personal phone, a small pharmacy if I come down with any malady, my Russian Visa was tough but it’s pasted in my passport and I have health insurance just in case I need to be repatriated,” she continued laughing. “It’s going to be a great experience and I’m so glad I can share it. Viva Panama!”

I found myself staring at the image of what appeared to be a very large airport.

I didn’t know it was Beijing’s international terminal, the world’s largest and most technologically advanced airport in the world. I didn’t know that it was just one of many stunning structures currently under construction world-wide by the design firm Foster + Partners. As I started to read about the projects, I was taken from Beirut to London, Chicago and Dubai, Singapore, Venice and Panama City. Yes. Panama City.

Among The Most Elite

I smiled when I saw Panama among the most elite and I realized I had been drawn to the image of the airport because the same group of architects who designed the Beijing structure, also designed the new South Terminal at Tocumen International Airport. Our airport, scheduled to be completed by the end of this year was just as stunning as anything else on the page.

Panama Airport
The new South Terminal is designed to reflect the Panamanian landscape, evoking a unique sense of place to welcome visitors to the country. At the heart of the new airport is a lush open garden, planted with the trees and flora of Panama’s tropical forests, visible within a curved glass enclosure.

We were playing in the big leagues!

Because I know and love Panama, when I read about a competition date, I always mentally question the reality of something actually being finished on time. On projects this large, delays are often the norm and not just in Panama. However, when I read the new South Terminal would be needed to welcome the million plus visitors to Panama City expected for World Youth Day January 22-29, 2019, I felt comfortable we would see the ribbon cut by the end of 2018.

Pope Francis Is Coming

The Pope
Don’t underestimate the power of the Pope! His scheduled visit for World Youth Day in January 2019 should ensure various construction projects will be completed on time including the airport expqnsion.

Everyone is very excited about Pope Francis coming to Panama as part of World Youth Day and since the visitors will mainly be coming by airplane, Tocumen, and its beautiful new terminal should be ready and welcoming.

The total cost of the airport expansion is estimated at 800 million USD and it will add almost a million square feet to the existing floor space, increasing passenger capacity to 25 million by 2025. Today Tocumen handles 16 million travelers annually. Currently bids are being taken for the custom furniture needed in the passenger areas.

Direct Flights Everywhere

Panama City has always been known as the “hub of the Americas”, but this new terminal will solidify Panama’s position as the de facto business capital of Central America. Copa Airlines has its main hub at Tocumen and has direct flights to Miami, Toronto, Mexico City, Washington, Buenos-Aires, Boston, Denver and Havana, just to mention a few. Other airlines with operations out of Tocumen International Airport, include Lufthansa, Air France, Avianca, Air China, LOT Polish Airlines, Turkish Airlines, American, Delta, United, KLM, Iberia and Air Canada.

Construction of the project has been pretty dramatic because of the design which embraces a comprehensive environmental strategy. Openings in the roof will allow sunlight to penetrate every corner of the terminal and measures have been employed to reduce the need for cooling.

Even after marveling at the Panama City project, I continued to study all the famous designs of Foster + Partners. With 48 active construction sites they are constantly brining to life new buildings, hospitals, office complexes, museums, bridges and even boats and furniture. They are changing the face of our planet for the better and I’m just thrilled Panama City is among the very best.

No one was more of a design perfectionist than Steve Jobs, the founder of Apple, so when I saw Foster + Partners had recently completed the design of the new Steve Jobs Theatre in Cupertino, California I knew Panama’s airport would be as perfect and striking as the renderings.

The car pulled up slowly and the woman at the wheel took time cutting the engine and unlocking her seat belt.

She looked over at her passenger and smiled. The two were easy together, but older than I had imagined. She was slight in her navy slacks and navy and white striped cotton top that sported gold buttons. He seemed more hesitant in well-tailored slacks and a polo with the immediately recognizable “Master’s” yellow logo on the left corner.

When they entered the office, I smiled quickly. “Did you have any trouble getting here?” I could tell immediately they liked the air conditioning.

Smooth Sailing into Costa del Este

“No, once we got the rental car and onto the highway, finding Costa del Este was simple and fairly quick,” she said warmly. “It’s really easy to get around once you know about the Panapass and Corredor Sur.”

Because we had spoken several times on the phone, I knew she and her husband were looking for both a retirement property and additional residential space for their two children and four grandchildren. They seemed conflicted about just how much space they needed and if they wanted to be closer to the city or further out in the beach communities.

Liz Website Screenshot
I always encourage people to go to my website and read about Panama when researching the possibility of buying property.

“Did you have a chance to look at the website,” I inquired referring to my website which contains a lot of basic information about Panama. https://www.lizlarroquette.com/. “Are you any closer to knowing what properties might be best for you?”

The gentleman spoke quickly, “I was born in Panama and lived here until I was about a year old. I’ve never been back. I always have to write Panama down as my birthplace on forms like getting a passport. My father was in the service and worked as an engineer in the Canal Zone,” he continued without seemingly taking a breath. “I hadn’t thought about Panama much in the last fifty years. I never thought about coming back but we’ve had a bit of a financial setback and all of a sudden Panama looks better and better.” 

Assuming The Business Would Be There

There was a pause and then the woman spoke. “We just always assumed the business would be there. It had always grown. We didn’t watch it enough and we weren’t as nimble as we should have been. We should have sold it, or brought the children in sooner. It’s not going to be there for our children,” she explained. “That boat has sailed and we didn’t get on it.”

I didn’t know exactly how to respond. Should I ask about the business, the available properties, the ages of the grandchildren? I just smiled and waited as they seemed to want to talk. Work through what they were considering. I had plenty of time.

Shifting Markets In A Technological World

“We owned, well we still do own, a check printing business. You know the ones where you can have Mickey Mouse printed on them or maybe some smiling angels. They were very popular,” said the woman as she began looking around at the busy streets just outside the big glass windows. “We didn’t diversify into chip card migration or get into the cloud-based governance, and compliance solutions for banks. We could have. We had the relationships. We just continued to print checks. Then the banks stopped providing so many checks. The color circulars we’d put into the newspapers stopped working. It used to be someone would automatically order 200 checks when they opened an account. Now, they might get 25 checks and never order any more checks,” she stopped and looked over at her husband and smiled.

Most people pay bills on-line or with a debit card so the need for writing checks has sharply declined, leaving the check printing business needing to diversify.

“People don’t write very many checks any more. Grandmothers will send a check in the mail for a child’s birthday or you might have the one-off to the handyman, but we should have looked into providing pre-paid or refillable cards. I remember when people stood in line at the bank to cash their checks, do you know anyone without direct deposit? Even the US Government direct deposits social security payments.”

We spent the next five hours touring and discussing the differences between Casa Bonita, just outside the city and the residences at Royal Palm, located directly on the Pacific Ocean in Coronado-Gorgona, about an hour’s drive from Panama City. Fortunately we were able to take the helicopter to Royal Palm, which gave us more time to tour.

I left them at the bar at the Westin resort in Playa Bonita. They were tired, but satisfied they would be able to purchase two residential units and by customizing the inside they would have both a retirement home and a welcoming place when the children and grandchildren came for a visit.

A Disappearing Golden Egg

I couldn’t help but think about having a good business and the market just changing so dramatically. I wasn’t sure I knew where I might have put my check book. I tried to think about the last time I had actually written a check and couldn’t remember. An unhealthy chicken with a small golden egg came to mind and then I considered the Panama Canal.

Panama, the country, is very dependent on the Canal. Not only is it much of our identify, the money derived from that single revenue stream pays for a lot. The new bridge, the metro system, the educational system, the safety net programs for the elderly are all possible because of the Canal.

For as long as I can remember, there has been talk about the possibility of a canal being built in Nicaragua. Most predictions dismiss the idea as being unrealistic and a nightmare for the environment. It would need to be three times as long as the Panama Canal and cost 50 billon USD. I don’t think we need to worry about a competing canal in Central America, but I do think there might be other threats.

A Shifting Transportation Market

The Hyperloop One pods will move the same cargo containers as is currently being moved through the Panama Canal. Just take a look at the Maersk containers in the background!

Just as the check-writing business shifted, could transporting goods also change that dramatically? I wondered if Panama might consider other options related to the shipping market as opposed to relying on the Canal remaining the cash machine? 

If you study the Virgin Hyperloop One website you’ll see they claim they “will reinvent transportation to eliminate the barriers of distance and time. Hyperloop One will move people and goods, and unlock unprecedented value for governments, businesses, and consumers.” When someone talks about reinventing the transportation of goods, Panama needs to be listening and joining the conversation.

Hyperloop One is a dream of none other than Elon Musk of SpaceX and Tesla fame. Recently, Richard Branson, who has been transforming passenger travel for decades with his series of Virgin travel-related companies, joined Musk and others in taking Hyperloop One to the next level. What started as a three-person team in a Los Angeles garage is now testing sleek pods in the Nevada desert and countries and investors are lining up to make a global network of pod travel a reality.

Changing The Face Of Transportation

The fundamentals of Hyperloop are straightforward: high-speed travel in a low-pressure tube to reduce resistance and drag, and the use of pods, rather than train sets, for on-demand, point to point travel. These tubes will not be limited to a short route from New York to Philadelphia, but rather will span oceans, countries and mountains. Hyperloop One is shooting to span the globe.

Two years ago the Virgin Hyperloop One Global Challenge was announced, which called for comprehensive proposals to build hyperloop networks connecting cities and regions around the world. Eventually more than 2600 teams registered, and 35 proposals from 17 countries were declared winners. Panama was not among the winners, but the route between Mexico City and Guadalajara was. When Hyperloop One goes mainstream, packages and people will travel between the two Mexican cities in 37 minutes as opposed to the five hours and 20 minutes it takes today by truck. The first routes are scheduled to be operational by 2021.

Eight Hours vs. Minutes

Unmanned ships now carry containers in the China Sea and they are being tested for transatlantic voyages. How will that impact the Panama Canal? Will we be ready?

Today, it takes eight hours to traverse the Panama Canal. How will rapid pods moving at 700 miles per hour change the needs of international shipping?

Once I made the leap from people not writing checks, I couldn’t help but think about the driverless trucks they are testing in North America and the unmanned cargo ships recently launched in Shanghai by a consortium working to standardize how unmanned ships will operate.

No Need For Humans At The Dock

The Port of Rotterdam is widely regarded as one of the most technologically developed in the world. Today they have unmanned cranes unloading ships stacked high with containers. If humans are involved at all, they are doing their work, via a joystick, in a sleek office a distance from the ships and containers. How will all this impact Panama?

The Port of Rotterdam, was designed and constructed to be the most technologically advanced and safest in the world automated container handling facility. The largest vessel processed at the port was the Marstal Maersk, which carried 18,300 containers.

When I drive over the Bridge of the Americas or go anywhere near the observation deck at the Miraflores Locks, I am struck by both the people working in the area and the automation of the “mulas” which pull the ships into place.

Meat, But No Need For Livestock

The other day, I met a friend for lunch and he explained he was reading a book called Clean Meat. It seems there are several companies in North America already developing food—everything from milk to steak—without the aid of livestock. Well, just a few cells is now enough. It seems cows may have just achieved the ultimate outsourcing.

“You absolutely can’t tell the difference,” he said, showing me a photo of a tasty-looking hamburger! “I think the chicken looks even better,” he glowed.

“So the containers that go through the Panama Canal won’t be carrying goods like meat and poultry because you can just grow it where it’s going to be consumed. My mind was already back on how various developments could change the face of the Panama Canal!

Clean Meat
Everywhere I turned, my life was changing at a pace so rapid I didn’t feel as though I could keep up. Meat and chicken without livestock, was just a small part of the changes! I mentally made a note to read Clean Meat!

My friend smiled. “Don’t get ahead of yourself, Lizzy” he said referring to a nickname few could get away with using. “The Panama Canal will be needed for years to come. And, the good thing is that Panama is rapidly evolving into a service-based economy. Look at all the international companies locating in Costa del Este!”

Rapid Growth In Panama

I nodded, thinking how rapid the growth had been for Panama City. In just a few years it had become the business center of Central America.

“At first I was disappointed the Hyperloop hadn’t chosen any sites in Panama to start building a route,” I said carefully, “and then I realized, it was because we weren’t so over populated. Mexico City is a traffic nightmare and the routes in India were also attempting to control congestion.”

Not So Much On The Fake Burgers!

I still wasn’t sure about eating fake hamburgers, but I did start feeling better about the explosion of technology around the Panama Canal. “Actually things are rocking for Panama,” I continued. “We will always have that gift of geography and however things morph in the shipping and transportation world, we’ll be there along with also being a financial center.”

Golfing In Panama Is As Varied As Panama

There are golf courses in the city, on the beach and 3500 feet in the air in Panama but there is really only one that is so exclusive you have to buy property around the course and then be invited to join a limited-member club. If you don’t want to do that, just make a reservation at the stunning Santa Maria luxury hotel, pay the greens fee and motion for the cart.

Why Condo Hotel Rooms Are Needed In PanamaCosta Del Este

It’s important to know what it takes for a location to support condo hotel rooms before you start thinking about investing. They have worked well in Miami, Las Vegas and Orlando, but will they work in Costa del Este? Discover all the reasons the market is exploding in the de facto economic center of Central America.

When The Website Needs A Redo!Tocumen Airport

The idea was that clients and brokers needed more information in an easy-to-research format  about all things Panama and especially about the current real estate market. It took months and a team to put together the new Liz Larroquette website, but we think we’ve provided a lot of needed information. I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Panama Continues To Enjoy The Ride

The 2018 World Cup Trophy Tour, sponsored by Coca-Cola, touched down in Panama City recently and Panamanians continued to enjoy the fact their National Team will be participating in the global competition for the first time. Fans met the trophy at every stop which included a trip to the Panama Canal and having President Juan Carlos Varela raise the trophy in celebration. Where the trophy will go for the next four years will be decided July 15 in Moscow when the finals are played after a month-long competition involving 32 teams. The Panamanians will take on Belgium in Sochi Russia on June 18. Stay tuned for regular reports from this exciting competition.

Tocumen Airport

I’ve been telling myself for more than a year that my website wasn’t keeping pace with my clients’ needs.

Tocumen Airport
The new terminal at Tocumen International Airport in Panama City is taking shape as the country prepares to accommodate 25 million passengers annually and act as a transportation hub for the Americas.

I regularly post blogs and keep information on various properties updated, but with Panama moving so quickly, I knew I wasn’t providing enough information. This was true because people who would initially reach out to me on the phone or in person often had no idea what Panama was really like. The two words, “third world” came up a lot.

It would be difficult for anyone to actually keep people updated about Panama. Things are moving that fast. The international airport is adding a new terminal that is both cutting edge and beautiful. The second line to Panama City’s subway is nearing completion and millions of dollars are going into improving the highways throughout Panama. Bids for the new bridge spanning the Panama Canal are being tendered and English is guaranteed to be taught in every public school.

Preconceived Notions

Most individuals have preconceived notions about Panama and it rarely includes a cosmopolitan city with a stunning skyline; a country with five star accommodations and restaurants that rival counterparts in London, Hong Kong and New York. Or, a country with a thriving business center dotted with signs announcing offices for multi-national businesses. Many are not sure about our beaches and how they have sweeping views of both the Pacific and Atlantic with amazing resorts and luxury condominiums. In the interior of Panama, there is a beautiful community thriving inside a volcano. Further out in the countryside are some of the best surfing curls in the world and don’t forget the organic vegetables and fresh fish.

The Canal and The Papers!

Of course people know about the Panama Canal, but that brings up memories of Teddy Roosevelt playing cowboy among the imported workers with lots of mosquitoes and earth being moved around. The Panama Papers is another well-remembered topic, so people now equate Panama with the perceived notion that oligarchs and billionaires from around the world are hiding money among various tall buildings and mounds of legal papers. Brown paper bags may also be involved and I think people believe there are lots of black SUVs with tinted windows and large men in dark shades. 

Men in Panama
I haven’t seen a lot of men hanging around SUVs with tinted windows but that doesn’t mean people don’t think they are everywhere in Panama.

Of course Panama is all that and more although I haven’t seen very many large men with their eyes covered and averted. What I have been seeing are lots of construction cranes dotting the skyline, especially in Costa del Este. When we began planning the new website, we foolishly thought it would be easy to reflect what Panama is today. Quickly it became apparent the project was going to be much larger than my earlier effort. The new site needed to be a much larger source of up-to-date information because now the audience included brokers from around the world, investment firms and families who were relocating with trailing spouses and children in addition to retirees from North America.

When Clients’ Needs Change

Dentist Panama
Panama and specifically Costa del Este is rapidly becoming a medical destination for everything from knee replacement to dental reconstruction.

My original website worked well when first introduced. I wrote about how to eat organically and what was involved in obtaining a driver’s license and pensionado status. Those things are still important, but so is the progress on the construction of the Johns Hopkins International affiliated hospital now under way in Costa del Este. It’s the second such affiliated hospital in Panama and now there are medical offices being built and condo hotels going up which will provide short- and long-term rentals for individuals coming to Panama for medical treatment. It was no longer just about how you could get good healthcare in Panama, it was now explaining why you would want to come specifically to Panama for great health care.

I love Panama because it has allowed me to grow along with its’ own growth. Ten years ago, I spent time with expats looking for an inexpensive retirement home, most likely somewhere near the beach. Today, I am comfortable with the same type of client but I also spend time with international investors who are looking for several floors of a new condo hotel tower where the least expensive option is somewhere around two and a half million USD.

More And More Available Properties

Over the years, the list of available properties have grown considerably so my website also needed to expand. Now there are condominiums on the beach and residences over looking exclusive golf courses. We have a new complex planned for Costa del Este which is unlike anything else in the country. Families are looking for homes with maids’ quarters and multiple amenities including ballrooms used to celebrate Quinceaneras and weddings. Infinity pools are everywhere.

Panama School
The facilities at the International School of Panama are world class, offering an International Baccalaureate based education for students from around the globe.

With Panama’s prime geographic location, multi-national corporations are lining up to locate offices here. At one time families worried Panama would not be a good location to raise a family and today, families who have received the transfer to Panama are thrilled, once they see what Panama has become with first-rate international schools and a soccer team headed to the 2018 World Cup. I knew I needed to tell today’s story and tell it visually so people could be properly informed.

So Many Steps

Liz Panama
No shot is simple when you are trying to create a website that tells a story accurately. Everything is considered and the team effort moves slowly.

The are many steps in building a new website and it all starts with planning and mapping the site. Then you decide how to tell the story. It was obvious videos would be needed but should it be drone footage or from cameras on the ground? What words would be required to tell each story? What kind of photography was best to convey the message needed for every aspect.

Planning morphed into days of filming, lining up talent and bribing friends to appear on camera. Outlined copy for each property had to be matched to images. Cropping and editing and voice overs in a studio took more time than I ever imagined. Copy was read over and over attempting to eliminate any typos.

My biggest concern was appropriately conveying the passion that is found in Panama and in the Panamanian people. I love this country. The music, the traditions, the faces of the children all needed to be just right. I think we did it, but I’d love to hear from you!

New Site
Please visit my new website at https://www.lizlarroquette.com/ and let me know what you think!

“I’m not even sure what the correct name is” 

A gentleman from Mexico  who was interested in investing in property in Panama asked this. “I’ve heard it called a condotel, a hotel-condo and a contel and now you just said condo hotel.”

Fortunately the man was smiling when he asked the question so I smiled back. “I’m pretty sure I’ve used all of those names,” I said as I extended my hand, “but it looks like condo hotel is going to fit for now—at least in Panama. I think people need a little more of an explanation than condotel or contel,” I said being totally charmed by this well-dressed and compelling man.

“Basically it is an upscale residential building, which is legally a condominium, but operated as a hotel. Guests have all the high-end amenities of a hotel, but they are staying in a condo with a full kitchen and laundry. These units are offered for short- and long-term rentals through on-site property management and a front desk.”

Condo Hotels Have Been Around For Decades

Condo hotel projects initially were popular in places such as Miami Beach and Las Vegas. Today, Panama is leading the way.

I should have known my handsome businessman with perfect English probably didn’t need such a basic explanation, but I continued noting that condo hotels were not a new concept. “They have been around for decades,” I said, “but it was in 2000 when the concept really took off in the South Florida area, mostly in Miami and Miami Beach. Today they are very popular around resorts in Orlando, Las Vegas and Myrtle Beach, Now, Panama, Canada and Dubai are leading the condo hotel trend.”

I went on to explain that “condo hotels in Orlando might come with a water park and convention facilities, where others in Las Vegas might have a casino and high end dining. It depends on why people are coming to the area,” I explained.

“Why are they coming to Panama?” asked my client who had earlier told me his name was Santiago, but that I should call him Santi.

“There are several reasons,” I explained to Santi. “We have a real demand for these properties. One reason is over the last ten years, the Panama City suburb of Costa del Este has emerged as the business capital for multi-national companies doing business in Central and South America. Executives who come here for business, start by checking into that Westin Hotel located just down the street and then they soon want a more normal lifestyle. A kitchen, a place to leave their tooth brush.” Santi shook his head in agreement.

“I certainly know how hotel living gets old pretty quickly,” he said still smiling. “I travel a lot.”

Female Executives Like The Arrangement

Generation Tower will cater to individuals and their support individuals who come to Panama for medical procedures. It will have medical offices and laboratory facilities in addition to the condo hotel rooms.

“After they have been coming here, they may be transferred full time and they are comfortable in the condo hotel. Often times the executive elects to take a long-term rental agreement initially and they skip the hotel completely. Female executives especially like the condo hotel arrangement. They feel safer with familiarity and 24-hour security. The guards know them by name and not just a hotel room number.

“We have every possible amenity here in Costa del Este but some of our condo hotel properties have retail space and high end restaurants located in the property, and most have shared business centers with printers, high-speed computers and meeting rooms.”

Santi smiled, but quickly added, “you said there were several reasons the condo hotels are in high demand here. What are some of the other markets attracted to these units?”

Medical Tourism

“To the left of Town Center,” I said, pointing to the upscale retail mall located just across the street, “the construction you see is for the new Johns Hopkins International affiliated hospital. There will be a medical mall attached to the facility where individuals will come for cutting-edge treatment. Physicians and support staff will have offices, plus shared facilities such as imaging and pharmacy. People have been coming to Panama to receive treatments for everything from knee replacements to gastric bypass for some time now. Companies have started sending their employees here because the care is rated so highly and the cost is dramatically less. This is actually the second Hopkins hospital in Panama.”

“Medical tourism,” mused Santi. “I guess people who come, travel with family and other support people who need a place to stay and they will want a kitchen.”

“Exactly,” I said. “The patient typically is discharged from the hospital after a few days or the procedure was performed on an out-patient basis,” I said. “They stay, on average, a month and they really don’t want to stay in a hotel setting when they are recovering. Executives end up staying a year or even more.”

Santi began walking around the sales center looking at the various properties currently in development in Costa del Este. “How many of these condo hotels are here?” he questioned.

Only Sold To Investors

“There is Generation Tower which is being sold only to investors and only in units of full floors.  That will be right next to Town Center and the medical mall. Arcadia has been granted the license to function as a condo hotel and it has generated the most interest of any project here in Costa del Este, in part because of its’ location right in the middle of the community and adjacent to the big park. There may be some staying in Arcadia who are here seeking medical procedures, but we think the audience will mostly be business professionals.

“Initially condo hotels were marketed as a way to off-set the price of owning a vacation property with hotel amenities. So, people had a nice place to stay when they came to a community they enjoyed and all the other time they rented the place and off-set the cost of ownership,” I said. “We are seeing a lot of people from the States interested in owning a property, but never using that property personally. They finance the unit with their 401(K) and manage to earn a much higher return on investment than they would traditionally. If you finance with 401(K) money, you can never stay there personally. It’s against the law,” I continued, realizing I was over explaining as I saw his face say “I’m from Mexico”. I rapidly returned to the local condo hotel options.

Popular With Expats

Parkside COndo
Parkside offers short- and long-term rental options with 24-hour security and concierge.

“Parkside is currently functioning as a short- and long-term rental complex and is most popular with expat executives and their families. We have a few full-time owners, but generally those owners are companies such as Johnson & Johnson who rotate executives. They all like having the hotel amenities including someone who accepts packages and the dry cleaning.”

I asked if he wanted a bottle of water and he nodded, accepting the cold beverage. We had been discussing property for over two hours. “I heard there was going to be a JW Marriott,” he mentioned nonchalantly. Obviously he had done his research. I wondered if I had explained too much.

Looking Forward To The JW Marriott

Costa Del Este
The area is highly sought, due in part because of it’s green space and wide boulevards.

“We are really looking forward to that becoming a reality,” I said. “The JW will be located near Town Center and Generation Tower. The Westin Hotel, here in Costa del Este is so often booked, I have to really scramble for some of my clients,” I continued as I pointed out the green and blue glass structure which was the Westin.

“Costa del Este is a planned community so we have wide streets and underground wiring. Independent power grids and water systems. Green space is everywhere and valued. Families love the schools and there is so much to do. Traffic can be a problem during rush hour but generally people walk or ride bikes,” I continued my virtual tour as we stood in the sales office that was centrally located with glass windows that looked out and around Costa del Este.

The Pope Is Coming

Youth Day
World youth Day, complete with a visit from Pope Francis is coming to Panama January 2019!

“I heard the Pope was coming to Panama. Think he’ll need a condo hotel?” he said laughing. “I’d love to have the Pope stay in one of our condo hotel rooms. He’ll be here for World Youth Day in January of next year. We are expecting over a million visitors. Rooms will be hard to find! But, for the Pope, I think he’ll have access to a complete mansion, with lots of guards and views to die for!”

Santi continued asking questions about how people made reservations and how the units were marketed. “We have an exclusive agreement with Corporate Stays and they are a leader in condo hotel management. Not all of the projects require you to use Corporate Stays, but it’s a nice option. They do everything from checking people in and out to making sure the pipes are functioning perfectly. They also ensure the guests have tickets to the best cultural events. We want everyone to be happy in Costa del Este,” I said as Santi got up to leave.

I Couldn’t Manage To Get A Room For Tomorrow.

Westin Panama
As nice as The Westin is in Costa del Este it’s often times hard to get a reservation and long-term visitors seek amenities such as a kitchen and laundry.

“I’ll need to see the financials,” he said slowly. “Do you have time tomorrow?” I nodded a yes. “I managed a room at the Westin for tonight, but they were booked the rest of the week.”

“No problem,” I said quickly. “I’ll have a condo hotel lined up for you tomorrow. How long are you in town?”

“Long enough to tour the properties and get a feel for why people would want to live here. It seems like a young part of town! It’s making me feel a little old!”

“It’s definitely hip and trendy, but you’ll fit right in. It’s cosmopolitan and it almost vibrates with excitement.”

“When I come down, will I be able to golf?”

I was recently asked this question. I wanted to respond, “I don’t know,  do you know how to play golf now?” but I didn’t. I did wonder, however, if the gentleman had done any research about Panama before picking up the phone and calling me. It’s always summer in Panama, we have pretty much 12 hours of daylight, 365 days out of the year and we have numerous resorts with the word “golf” in their name. We are a huge retirement destination and lots of retirees like to play golf every day.

“There are several options for playing golf” I said pleasantly since I had already consumed a cup of coffee. “Do you know what area of Panama you are interested in exploring because there are golf options on the beach, in the city and in the mountains. I can make all kinds of suggestions.”

“I’m with P&G” he responded, referring to the international company of Procter & Gamble which has regional headquarters and a large workforce in Panama. “My office will be in Costa del Este so I was wondering about courses in that area. I know it sounds a bit silly, but golf is the one thing that keeps me centered. If I could have a nice course close to the office or close to home, I would love it!”

A Golf Course In Costa Del Este

Costa Del Este Golf
The Santa Maria golf course has the skyline of Costa del Este as a back drop.

I smiled thinking of the ultra private Santa Maria Golf and Country Club, a stunning 18-hole Jack Nicklaus designed course with views of the ever developing Costa del Este skyline. “There is a golf club very near to where your office will be, but it’s very exclusive,” I offered. “You know membership is limited and by invitation only. To be a member you would need to own a residence in Santa Maria, a gated community sitting adjacent to Costa del Este,” I continued trying to paint an accurate picture.

“How long does it take to get from Costa del Este to Santa Maria?” he continued without pausing. “It’s about five miles so count on ten minutes depending on traffic and time of day,” I said.

“If I don’t want to be that exclusive, what are my options?” he inquired.

A Course The Americans Left Behind 

“Well, you have the Summit Golf Club which is located in the Canal Zone and was left by the Americans when they occupied the Panama Canal. Obviously, it’s a pretty old course, but well maintained. It was designed by Jeffrey Meyers and is well ranked, but not as high as Santa Maria. It’s actually lovely because it is located in a rain forest and the views are stunning—especially in the mornings.” I could hear him making notes.

“There is also the Golf Club of Panama that is in the city. It’s fairly close to Costa del Este, but you could get some traffic during rush hour. I’m not as familiar with that course, but I hear good things about it,” I continued as I stared at the computer after Googling golf in Panama. “I see where Panama has been a member of the International Golf Federation since 1972, so we aren’t all that new to the game.”

“Are there golf tournaments in Panama?” he asked and was now sounding a bit more hopeful. “I guess I could look all of this up, but I like getting the view from someone in Panama,” he explained.

The Canadians vs. The World

Omar PGA
Omar Tejeira is a Panamanian who is currently playing on the PGA Tour.

“Well, there is the annual Canadians vs. The World championship” played at the Coronado Golf and Beach Resort, located about an hour’s drive from Panama City,” I laughed, “but I guess you weren’t asking about a bunch of retirees playing for bragging rights!” I paused just long enough for him to know I had a sense of humor.

“I guess you wanted to know about big time competitions sponsored by the likes of Lexus, Claro and BMW. We’ve had all of those and the Panama Championship was completed in February of this year. I actually watched part of that on the Golf Channel and some American won. That is an annual part of the web.com tournament. The good thing about Panama is that we are a small country and it’s just easier to get up close and personal to the action.” I love that part about Panama.

“Supposedly, the very best course is the Mantarraya Golf Club and it’s located next to the Royal Decameron Resort, about 90 miles from Panama City. There are several courses in that region—five in total—which is very close to the Pacific Ocean. Several of the resorts have an agreement with the golf club and it’s very popular. It has a ranking of 9.0 from the “Best Courses” folks. People from all over the world play that course,” I continued.

$75 Green Fees On The Weekend

“Pretty expensive?” my caller inquired. “About $75 on the weekend in high season. Fifty on week-days,” I said. “You are kidding,” he responded. “Maybe I should think about Santa Maria if golfing is that reasonable.”

“The green fees are about twice that at Santa Maria, but if you become a member, you can just golf forever. There are some great places to buy in Santa Maria and then you’d live on the golf course and have the right to at least apply for membership,” I continued.

Go To The Beach Or Mountains

Panama Golf Course
Playing atop a mountain is like playing on top of the world and Lucero, Panama’s highest golf course delivers. Sitting almost 3500 feet above sea level in the highlands near Boquete

“On weekends or for a weekday treat go out to the beaches and play those courses. Vista Mar has a nice course and Buenaventura Golf Club is an 18-hole Nicklaus designed course that is a long course because it really combines the natural surroundings with the course. Lots of bunkers and water features.”

Then, I remembered the course in Boquete. “There is another fabulous course in Panama and it’s nowhere near the beach or the city. Lucero Golf and Country Club sits on top of a mountain and about 3500 feet above sea level. The weather is cooler and the surroundings are stunning. Boquete is worth the drive even if it didn’t have this outstanding golf course.”

Sold On Panama And Golf

Santa Maria
As a guest of the hotel, you have the right to play golf at the exclusive and highly rated golf course.

“Ok—I’m sold on golf in Panama which is really nice considering I love golf and I’m moving to Panama,” continued my caller. “I guess I want to go back and discuss Santa Maria. I’m single and if I want to put my money into golf then let’s discuss how I can play a few rounds and then consider the essential step of owning property to be able to join.”

“You are in luck,” I said quickly. “While the only people who can play regularly at Santa Maria are property owners and individuals who have been invited to join, all you have to do is stay at the hotel in Santa Maria, pay the green fee and test the waters. Look up The Santa Maria—it’s part of the luxury collection of the Marriott/Starwood hotels. You’ll spend around $150 a night, but it’s a really stunning place. If you can’t get a reservation on your own, let me know, I’ve got a couple of connections!”

“What are the residential prices like in Santa Maria?” he continued as I could hear the clicking of keys on the computer.

Interesting Neighbors

“Expensive,” I said quickly. “But worth every penny. It’s luxurious, there is every type of amenity from infinity pools for adults and separate pools for children, there is fine dining and plenty of room to entertain. The neighbors are interesting.” I could hear him laugh.

“You know your friends will want to come visit. You’ll need at least a couple of bedrooms and lots of places to stack your sticks. You are going to love Panama. Let me know when you can come down and I’ll help with the details,” I continued. “Did I mention Santa Maria is just minutes from Tocumen International Airport?”

“Thanks” he said warmly. “I will be hitting that airport fairly often and hopefully the greens at Santa Maria.”

Royal Palm Nearing Completion

The stunning twin-towers of the Royal Palm residential complex located directly on the Pacific Ocean in Nueva Gorgona is nearing completion with the first units anticipated to be delivered to owners in late July. Occupancy permits are being processed and legal paperwork executed. Social areas are receiving final landscaping and the on-site convenience store and entrance hall have new tile work, reflecting the history of Panama.

“The tile work is really a great touch,” said Liz Larroquette, who leads the sales effort on the project. “This tile work is reminiscent of what you find in Casco Viejo, which is the ‘old city’ of Panama. It seems like a small thing, but it really blends the old and new, giving the area a rich, authentic feel,” she said.

The twin towers of the Royal Palm residences is especially striking at night. Here lights reflect off the calm waters of the Pacific Ocean.

“Almost all of this project is complete” continued Larroquette. “We are in the home stretch! The social area is just stunning with the infinity pool looking out over the ocean and we are in final talks with the organization who will operate the on-site restaurant,” she said. “But, like most big construction projects, there have been some challenges.”

Royal Palm, and all other Panamanian construction projects, including the new terminal at Tocumen International Airport and the second line of the Metro, was forced to shut down when negotiations on a new four-year contract between SUNTRAC, the union for the construction workers’ of Panama and CAPAC the employers’ guild, did not reach an agreement and a strike was called.

“There was absolutely nothing we could do and we were shut down for a month,” said Roxi Guerra, head engineer for the Royal Palm project, about the strike. “We resumed work as soon as possible after the contract was signed, and now, we are doing absolutely everything to make these final weeks go as quickly and smoothly as possible,” she explained.

The twin towers of Royal Palm share an entrance hall which has a nod to “Old Panama” with beautiful Casco Viejo style tiles on the floor.

Larroquette reported there were a few ocean-front two bedroom, two-bath units still available for purchase and on some floors limited side-by-side units existed for possible combination into larger residences. “We are anxious to put together units which fill the needs of every type of client,” said Larroquette. “We absolutely love Royal Palm and want the owners to be thrilled.”

The view of the swimming pool overlooking the Pacific Ocean is nearing completion and the on-site restaurant operator is in final negotiations.

Larroquette also explained that Royal Palm’s introductory pricing would end soon. “These prices would normally be gone by now, but with the strike, we were given more time to offer pre-occupancy pricing,” she said.

“I can only hope when everyone sees how stunning Royal Palm actually is, the wait won’t seem as long. The building is still going to be sitting right next to the Pacific Ocean, the views will be breathtaking, all the amenities in place and we will love sharing the beautiful sunrises and sunsets at Royal Palm.”

While it’s not necessary for Panama expats to have a local bank account, there are some advantages:

  • Your funds will be more readily available
  • You’ll save money on the international fees your current bank might charge
  • You’ll have a “safety net” in the face of a North American banking collapse or crisis
  • You can more easily transfer money between international accounts
  • You can collect interest on your savings (in some cases, the interest rate can be higher than in your current institution.)

If you decide to open a bank account in Panama as a foreigner, you’re going to need certain documents.

The process itself is simple; however, it can be difficult to find up-to-date requirements in English. Panama has evolved a lot in the last few years, and there’s a lot of outdated information out there.

After reading this article, you can rest assured that you have the most current requirements. Why? Because I did a little detective work to make sure of it (if you can call drilling a bank manager “detective work,” that is.)

The following are the most recent requirements for opening a bank account as a foreigner in Panama.

Requirements for Opening a Bank Account in Panama as  Foreigner:

  • Copy of valid passport (valid meaning not expired)
  • Copy of second identification
  • Fully completed application form provided by the bank
  • Minimum opening amount of $1,000
  • Minimum monthly average of $250 (checking account) or $1,000 (savings account)
  • Proof of income: (i.e work certificate, tax return, work contract, job reference letter)
  • 1 letter of reference from banking institution showing you’ve had a bank account for a minimum of 3 years.
  • 1 letter of professional reference (in my experience, they are rather “loose” on this. Most use a current or former employer or colleague)

Having these documents will allow you to open both a checking account and/or a savings account.

What’s the difference between a checking account and a savings account?

The difference between the two is much like in North American institutions.

checking account (Cuenta de Corriente) is meant for day-to-day purchases and can be tied to a debit or credit card, such as VISA or Mastercard. As a foreigner, you must have a minimum monthly average of $250.

A savings account (Cuenta de Ahorro) is meant for long-term savings and will accrue interest over time. As a foreigner, you must have a minimum monthly average of $1,000.

Which Bank Should You Use?

Panama is the banking capital of Central America, and as such there are dozens of banks to choose from.

Still, I generally recommend one to my clients, and that is Multibank.

After 7+ years in Panama, my opinion is that Multibank is the most foreigner-friendly. Why?

  • They allow foreigners to open bank accounts (not all Panama banks do)
  • They usually have someone on-the-clock who is fluent in English
  • Their website is easily navigable and available in English
  • They have an excellent attitude towards foreigners and overall customer service.

It’s worth mentioning that most of my experiences have been within the Coronado branch. Coronado has a particularly expat-friendly atmosphere, and this is reflected by the level of service (and language flexibility) you’ll find in the area’s businesses.

The Process: What Can You Expect?

Though it may seem intimidating to open a bank account in a foreign country, the process itself is quick and painless.

Once you have all the required documents, you can open the account in one quick visit. The Multibank in Coronado is very efficient and has excellent customer service.

You’ll have to fill out a form with the usual information (Name, address, passport number, etc.) The associate helping you will make extra copies of everything and enter you into the system.

Useful Links

  • You can visit the English version of Multibank’s website here.
  • In this article, I have listed the requirements for opening a checking/savings account as an individual, rather than as a corporate entity or legal foundation. To view that information, visit the Mutlibank checking and/or savings account page.
  • On this Consumer Banking page, you can see (in English) all of Multibank’s financial services, including additional types of accounts (such as business or kids’ accounts), loans, credit/debit card information, and other services.
  • Multibank doesn’t make their application form available online, though if you want to get a head-start on filling yours out you can email my personal contact Nidzia at nidzia.Rodriguez@Multibank.com.pa and she will email you a copy. Nidzia works at the Coronado branch, is fluent in English, and extremely helpful.

My Final Thoughts and Suggestions

  • Though expats in Panama can get by without having a Panamanian bank account, I believe it’s wise to open one. The process is easy enough, and it’s more convenient (and potentially safer) than relying 100% on your home bank.
  • Multibank is the most foreigner-friendly bank in Panama.
  • Because Coronado is a particularly expat-centric town, the Multibank here tends to provide even better customer service than what you’ll receive in Panama City.

There are expats in Panama right now who are paying less for healthcare, insurance, and prescriptions than they ever have in their adult lives.

They’re not compromising on quality, either. Panama boasts the most modern healthcare system in Central America, with many first-class hospitals and a vast network of fully bilingual, highly specialized doctors.

Even without health insurance, medical care in Panama is considerably lower than in the U.S or Europe. Still, if you’re living here full or even part-time, insurance is something you’ll want to consider.

Health Insurance Options: A Breakdown

Just like in the U.S, the amount of options on health insurance can be overwhelming at first.

The information isn’t always available in English, making it difficult to research all the different companies, plans, and policies.

You needn’t worry about doing the research and translations yourself, because I’ve taken the time to do it for you.

For this article, I’ve interviewed Priscilla Mcleod of Priscilla McLeod & ASOC., S.A, who has over 37 years of experience as a top insurance broker. She also has an excellent reputation and track record of helping guide expats to the best insurance plans.

Here’s what she had to say.

Which Hospitals in Panama City are Best for Expats?

Panama City has dozens of hospitals and clinics. Some are more likely than others to have bilingual doctors and the most advanced equipment.

According to Priscilla, the hospitals most preferred by expats include:

  • John Hopkins Hospitals (Punta Pacifica)
  • Clinica Hospital San Fernando (there is now also a branch in Coronado, Panama)
  • Hospital Paitilla
  • Hospital Nacional
  • Hospital Santa Fe

What Are The Different Health Insurance Plans?

In Priscilla’s experience, most expats in Panama choose between two main policies:

  • Local HMO
  • International Insurance

Local HMO’s

Local HMO-style policies offer coverage only in Panama. It’s most preferred by expats who don’t plan on traveling much outside of Panama, and/or are keeping the insurance plan of their home country.

Coverage varies widely, generally between $300,000 to $500,000 for a lifetime benefit.

Deductibles range from $300 to $500 annually, depending on your premium.

Similar to many insurance plans in the U.S, with a Local HMO policy you are limited to a select group of doctors, hospitals, and labs.

If you do decide to go outside the group you are reimbursed for only 60% of what would have been paid to the preferred provider.

An important note for those expats in their golden years: Panama local HMO companies will only accept new applicants up to age 65. If you are over 65, you will have to look into one of the two International companies that cater to 65 and up (see below.)

Summary

  • Panama-based coverave only
  • Coverage: $300,000-500,000
  • Deductibles: $300-500 annually
  • Limited to select network of doctors and hospitals

International Insurance

As the name would imply, international insurance plans cover you wherever in the world you may be.

These plans are best for expats who travel frequently, want higher coverage, and/or want a wider network of doctors and hospitals to choose from.

Within Panama, you can choose any doctor or hospital. Outside of Panama, you must stick with pre-approved networks to receive maximum coverage.

Coverage varies between 1million, 2 million, 2.5 million, and 5 million for the life of the policy.

Deductables fluctuate between $1,000-5,000+ annually, depending on your premium.

Priscilla has dubbed International Insurance plans “New Generation policies,” in light of the dawning culture of people who travel frequently and/or have multiple homes throughout the world.

She says these policies have become increasingly popular over the last few years, as families and individuals have become more transient and understand that, outside of Panama, $1 million for healthcare isn’t necessarily that much!

Summary

  • Worldwide coverage
  • Coverage: $1-5 million
  • Deductibles: $1,000-5,000 annually
  • Within Panama, you can choose from any doctor or hospital
  • Outside of Panama, you’re limited to select network of doctors and hospitals

Insurance Companies

International

  • PALIC*
  • WorldWide Medical Assurance Corp*
  • Alico (rrecently acquired by Palic)
  • BUPA
  • Sagicor

*Palic and WorldWide are the only companies that will accept new applicants up to the age of 74. Other companies set the cut-off point at age 65.

Panamanian

  • ASSA
  • Compania Internacional de Seguros, S.A
  • SEGUROS MAPFRE
  • ASEGURADORA ANCON
  • SEGUROS VIVIR

What is Needed to Obtain Health Insurance in Panama?

  • Copy of passport and/or Panama residency card (Friendly Nations Visa, Pensionado Visa, etc.)
  • Medical history for pre-existing conditions
  • Men need a recent PSA exam, while women need to have had a recent mammogram
  • Some companies require you have Panama residency or remain in country for minimum 10 months per year
  • Most companies (with the exception of PALIC and WorldWide) require an in-Panama medical examination, performed by one of their approved networks.

What is the Process for Obtaining Health Insurance Like?

If you’re working with an Insurance Broker like Priscilla, the process is fairly simple and painless.

The insurance broker will help you to decide between local or international insurance. From there, he or she will help you narrow down which plans are best for you, according to your age, lifestyle, budget, and any pre-existing conditions.

The insurance broker should help you complete the application, and set up any necessary medical appointments for you.

Afterwards, he or she submits the necessary documents. According to Priscilla, the evaluation process takes about two weeks. Once it’s completed, you come and pick up your insurance cards and additional paperwork.

Other Important Details about Health Insurance in Panama

  • Pre-existing conditions are not covered.
  • Most companies will only accept new applicants up to age 65. The other two, PALIC and Worldwide, will accept up to age 74.
  • Most companies, with the exception of Palic and Worldwide, require a complete medical evaluation, in Panama, before accepting. Palic and Worldwide will review your application and decide whether or not you must take one.
  • Most companies require you to have a Panama residence (such as your friendly nartions or pensaionado visa) or have proof that you reside in the country at least 10 months per year. This is because the rates in Panama are so much lower than in the U.S or Europe.
  • Elective treatments or surgery must be pre-approved to be covered (and they may not always be. Plastic surgery is an example of something that is not often covered.)
  • Premiums rise with age, and you can expect an increase in premium when moving from one age bracket to another (age brackets vary depending on the company. Increases also vary, but generally range between 5-15% depending on your particular case.)

My Final Thoughts and Suggestions

Having interviewed Priscilla extensively on the subject (as well as having gone through my fair share of related experiences over the last 7 years in Panama), a few takeaways come to mind:

  • It’s not hype: No matter the plan, health insurance in Panama really is much more affordable that in U.S or Europe.
  •  With so many companies, plans, and variables, it really is in your best interest to consult an unbiased professional. A broker like Priscilla works with all insurance companies and plays no favorites for which one you choose. This ensures she’s working in your best interest.
  • While going with a broker is better idea than trying to figure it out yourself, not all brokers are created equal. As with any weighty professional relationship, make sure you’re working with someone with a strong track record who comes highly recommended, ideally by other expats.
  • North Americans are used to being able to find pretty much whatever information they need online. This is not always the case in Panama, where companies don’t invest as much in their online presentation (and even less often in English.) Get used to the idea that you won’t always be able to find every last detail on a website; and recognize that a real-life expert will often offer better advice than an anonymous webpage, anyway.

Property owners in Coronado are sitting on some of the most valuable real estate in the country.  

The formerly anonymous beach town experienced record growth over the last decade. Homeowners and investors smiled with satisfaction as they watched their property values grow along with the community. 

Today, Coronado is the preferred choice for anyone seeking a turn-key option on the beach. For those looking to invest in an up-and-coming community, they’re finding it just 10 minutes up the road in the “Next Coronado.”

That’s how insiders are referring to Nueva Gorgona- the ambitious beach town just 50 minutes from Panama City. Having won the eye of investors with its ideal location and supreme beauty, Nueva Gorgona is gearing up to match the remarkable growth of Coronado.

If you want to invest in Panama’s next big beach town, you want to familiarize yourself with Nueva Gorgona. This series of articles will help you do just that.

Featured Articles

[img_text_aside style=”2″ image=”https://www.lizlarroquette.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/nueva-gorgona-coming-of-age-thumbnail-medium.jpg” image_alignment=”right” headline=”The Coming of Age of Nueva Gorgona” text=”The Coming of Age of Gorgona is almost exclusively recognized by those in the know: observant locals, well-informed expats, and especially those with longstanding experience in Panama real estate.” alignment=”left”][/img_text_aside]>>>Read more about Nueva Gorgona: A Coming of Age

[img_text_aside style=”2″ image=”https://www.lizlarroquette.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/coronado-VS-gorgona-panama-thumbnail-200.jpg” image_alignment=”right” headline=”Playa Coronado VS. Nueva Gorgona: What You Need to Know” text=”If Panama’s Gold Coast were a sports team, Playa Coronado and Nueva Gorgona would be the MVPs.When deciding which MVP you want to be rooting for (i.e investing in)- you need only answer these two questions. ” alignment=”left”][/img_text_aside]>>>Read more about Playa Coronado VS. Nueva Gorgona

[img_text_aside style=”2″ image=”https://www.lizlarroquette.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/2-Gorgona-Ripple-Effect-thumbnail-wide-600-200.jpg” image_alignment=”right” headline=”The Ripple Effect: Why Development in Gorgona is Good News for Everyone” text=”Suburbanization can often have a negative impact on the original inhabitants of an area. See why this won’t be the case for Nueva Gorgona, and how the entire community stands to benefit from the area’s upcoming rapid development.” alignment=”left”][/img_text_aside]>>>Read more about The Ripple Effect

[img_text_aside style=”2″ image=”https://www.lizlarroquette.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/Nueva-Gorgona-Panama-entrance-thumbnail-med.jpg” image_alignment=”right” headline=”5 Reasons Nueva Gorgona Has the Best Spot on the Map” text=”Anyone keeping a close eye on coastal real estate in Panama knows about Nueva Gorgona. Learn why Gorgona has become such a promising place, and why investors- both local and foreign- have started to take note.” alignment=”left”][/img_text_aside]>>>Read more 5 Reasons Nueva Gorgona Has the Best Spot on the Map

More Articles

How Hard is it to Buy Organic in Coronado?

My Favorite Way to Spend a Weekend in Coronado

FAQ About Raising Kids in Panama

You Want to Move to Panama. Your Spouse Doesn’t. Now What?

“I wasn’t exactly thrilled when my husband came home and announced we’d be moving to Panama,” said the woman who had just gotten off a direct flight from Chicago to Tocumen International Airport in Panama City. “The only thing I knew was the obvious fact there was a canal,” she continued as I smiled and nodded in her direction.

I’d heard similar statements many times in the past. Generally it was pretty easy to change people’s minds and I silently looked forward to chatting with her about life in Panama. I was a little surprised when I found out her biggest concern was food.

More Than Plantains and Rice

Food Panama

Fish or chicken with rice, or the Panamanian staples of plantains or yuca are common, but there is so much more to Panama than chicken and rice!.

“We are foodies,” she continued seemingly a little distraught in her explanation. “I freelance food centered articles for several top magazines in the States, so I Googled Panamanian food almost immediately upon knowing for sure we’d be moving,” she said. “The search results weren’t good. My search turned up fried plantains and a steak house in Columbia. There was some mention of chicken and rice,” she continued. “I certainly don’t want to have to go to another country for a steak,” she said, now laughing.

“Just like everything in Panama we are a mix of cultures and that carries over into our foods,” I began. “It’s true that indigenous Panamanians like their plantains, chicken and rice,” I continued smiling, “but, I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised when you actually experience the Panamanian food scene today.”

Lots Of Gastronomical Influence

She didn’t seem convinced. “Because of the importance of our geographical location we have been almost always occupied and therefore been influenced by many other cultures. The French were here for a long time and they brought Chinese workers to build the canal; you can’t underestimate the importance of the Americans, who just gave us back our land in 1999! The Spaniards were a huge influence on all of Latin America. If you are going to limit your food ideas to the indigenous Panamanians you will be very limited. We have just about everything,” I said.

Coste del Este: A very new and well planned area of Panama City filled with bars and restaurants. They even have an IHOP, for your pancake cravings…

As we went along the green area in Coste del Este, where I was showing her property to rent or purchase, she noted that the area seemed very new. “Everything is so perfect,” she said.

“Coste del Este is new and it is well planned,” I began. “This area was presented to the public in 1995 and has since grown into a somewhat affluent section of Panama City. A lot of expats and young business people working for multi-national companies live here. Lots of green space and all wires are underground. It’s pretty hip and trendy. I thought it would be perfect for you,” I said.

Think Casco Viejo For Exciting Food

Panama Dining

The sandstone courtyard at Tomillo’s restaurant in Casco Viejo is a charming spot to enjoy some modern Panamanian fusion cuisine.

“And what about the food scene here?,” she countered. “Coste del Este is young and vibrant and the restaurants reflect that. You have sushi and Italian, international and wood fired pizza. The food is good but if you are going to write about the emerging food scene in Panama, I think you’ll have to do some driving and get back mainly to the old city of Casco Viejo.”

I wanted to be completely honest and paint a very clear picture for someone who called herself a foodie. “We are an emerging food scene. You should be excited to experience the explosion,” I began. “I think you’ll have so many articles to write, your editors will be sick of hearing about all the great food things in Panama. I’m sure you have enjoyed a great tasting menu,” I said as she stood stock still in the park in Coste del Este and looked at me as if someone living in Panama wouldn’t have enjoyed a tasting menu or two.

A Tasting Menu For $75

“One time I was visiting Las Vegas and my friends and I wanted to really experience great food so we booked a table at Joel Robuchon and found out the price per person was $435 and that didn’t include wine or gratuity. That was a lot,” I added for emphasis. “We almost chocked, but the food and service were perfection!”

She smiled. “Wasn’t it the best food ever,” she said letting me know she had actually been to this star-studded eatery. “Vegas has come a long way!”

“It was great,” I countered, “but a bit over the top. It was 16 courses and by the time I hit about course 12, I was so done,” I laughed. “I did like that the caviar was included. Another time I ate at The French Laundry, which was considerably less at about $295 a person, and they charged us extra for a couple of shavings of truffle. Those are special occasions for sure.”

Chef Jose O. Carles from restaurant Donde Jose

The woman seemed to relax. “So you know what I’m talking about,” she enthused. “What can I expect in Panama?”

“A lot,” I said simply. “I’d consider Donde Jose’s which is in Casco Viejo. Chef Carlos believes Panamanian food is just developing and he is a large part of the new food scene. I remember him saying once that Panama didn’t have a strong food identity, but that was changing. Jose tells the story of Panama through food and he uses endemic ingredients,” I continued.

“His restaurant is easy to miss because there is no signage. You have to know where you are going and knock on the door,” I continued. “I can help you with that and you’ll need reservations well in advance. There is room for 12 people at tables and four more at the ‘chef’s table’. The four lucky people not at tables get to watch as Jose cooks and tells you the story behind each dish. Drink pairings will cost around $40 and the tasting menu goes for $75,” I said with a smile acknowledging the difference in price from the previously discussed eateries. “Your editors will love the article,” I said with a smile.

Can You Say Michelin Star?

“Then we have the Michelin starred chef at Madrigal, also located in the old city of Casco Viejo. The chef is Spanish, but he really incorporates traditional Panamanian food into his dishes. I know it sounds just wrong, but I find the lamb tacos pretty unbelievable,” I explained.

Maybe the roof top pool area at Coronado Golf would be a perfect place to blog about Panama’s emerging food scene!

My new client was beginning to relax so I went on to explain that another chef—two starred by Michelin—had arrived at the Hotel Las Americas Golden Tower in Panama City. “The views from the 29th floor are also amazing but we are still waiting for the restaurant to open,” I said.

“You should also consider Caliope,” I began, now thinking about where I wanted to eat next. “We need to stop talking about food. I’m starving,” I laughed. “You are going to find so much to write about here in Panama and the good news is that the food scene is so new and so hot. Everyone will want to read about what’s happening. As a foodie, this is a great place. Now let’s talk about where you’ll sit while writing. What about Parkside? You can write while enjoying tremendous views. When you are finished, play a round of golf. You’’ll have all the amenities,” I said as we continued toward the beautiful high rise. “You are going to love it here, food and all!”

People collect “stuff”. Lots of stuff, so when it comes to relocating either for retirement or a job transfer, most ask me for advice as to whether they should move furniture or sell it all and start over.

Conway stores in Panama are part of the American retail giant, Target, but there are noticeable differences. It’s a good option when decorating your new Panamanian residence!

Of course my answer is always “it depends” and it does, based on multiple factors. For Baby Boomers, I find they often have an odd attachment to their stuff. They believe their children will one day wake up and want all the furniture, rugs and cooking pans they grew up with. Most of them won’t.

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[thrive_text_block color=”light” headline=””]In case you’re a hawk-eye and catch the dates on some of the comments below…this article was originally published December 2013 and I updated it article in its entirety June 2015. [/thrive_text_block]

By the time my clients get to me, they’ve looked into the Panama VS Costa Rica debate. Granted, those I advise on matters of real estate tend to be the proactive type, the sort of people who educate themselves on decisions as big as moving to or investing in a different country.

Always within their thorough research is the Panama VS Costa Rica Conundrum. These neighboring countries have been stealing the hearts and addresses of foreigners for years- and for good reason. Both are blessed with warm weather, breathtaking landscapes, and a tropical lifestyle that is coveted by many and attained by the luckiest.

Though similar in many ways, Panama and Costa Rica have their fair share of differences- with pros and cons on both sides of the border. I looked very closely at both before making the decision to place my bets in Panama. And I did so not due to a lack of good qualities on the Costa Rican side, but because my personal values and priorities were best met in Panama.

Yours may well be different, and I’m not here to tell you that one is better than the other. I’m here to explain, without favoritism, some of the key differences between the two.

Real Estate

Advantage: Panama

Originally, real estate was more likely to be pricier in Panama. Those who got into Costa Rica early enough were rewarded with beautiful properties at an appealing price. Certainly, many have found their fortunes, or their dream homes, in Costa Rica.

Today the market has changed. The word has long been out about Costa Rica’s “Pura Vida” lifestyle, and publicity comes with a price. In fact, as of December 2013, the CentralAmericaData report announced that Panama had actually surpassed Costa Rica as a retirement destination, and rising prices in Costa Rica were cited as the primary reason.

The announcement may be misleading, however, as Panama real estate isn’t the bargain it once was. While you may get more bang for your buck in Panama, don’t come here expecting to snag a beachfront condo for under $200,000. Not as expensive as Miami, surely, but not exactly chump change, either.

In my opinion, the greatest distinction between Panama and Costa Rica real estate is less about the price and more related to quality. Foreigner-friendly homes in Panama are of a different caliber- in construction, luxury, security, and long-term value. The quality is much more aligned with what foreigners are accustomed to and expect.

From an investment standpoint, Panama properties are also more likely to deepen in value when compared to those in Costa Rica. This is thanks to Panama’s rapidly growing economy- with the country’s 2012 GDP growth rate at a booming 10.7% verses Costa Rica’s 5.1% (Source: World Bank.) Consequently, Panama’s middle and upper class is growing at an astounding rate, as is the influx of foreigners.

As you’re well aware, a strong middle class is the backbone of any country, and a key player in the trends of the real estate market. Combine that with Panama’s vast significance on the global scale, and the market is as stable as you could hope for.

Safety

Winner: Panama

As a foreigner, you are more likely to be targeted in Costa Rica than in Panama. I don’t care if “your brother’s friend’s uncle vacationed there once without a problem. I’m not talking about individual occasions, I’m referring to a phenomenon that I’ve been keeping an eye on for almost a decade now- on both sides.

The tourism sector in Costa Rica took off long before Panama’s- and crime against tourists is an all too common offense. The cost of living in Costa Rica rose significantly, partly as a result of foreigners, leaving many locals resentful of outsiders. Countless Panamanians have found jobs and opportunities within Panama’s tourism and expat market, leaving less hostility between the two groups. Not all Panamanians like the presence of expats, but at worst you’ll find them to be indifferent.

Luckily, the crimes against foreigners in Costa Rica tend to be theft-related as opposed to violent, with car robberies and pick-pocketing being the most common of complaints.

While Panama is not completely barren of crime, foreigners are rarely the victims. Besides the tendency of Panamanians and expats to co-exist peacefully, the areas that foreigners visit and live are kept especially safe, with security measures and police presence keeping any rogue criminals away.

Beauty

Winner: Costa Rica

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and as far as this beholder is concerned Costa Rica wins the title. Tourism has long been Costa Rica’s primary source of revenue, and the government has done well to preserve the natural zones that keep visitors flocking in.

That’s not to say Panama isn’t beautiful- many of its beaches, mountains, islands, and rainforests could be (and are) postcard material. But Panama has only recently surfaced as an international destination- and the government has some catching up to do on maintaining the lesser-visited areas.

Trash, for example, is a serious problem in Panama, especially in the city and some of the poorer communities. It’s not uncommon to be driving and see someone toss a soda can out the window. This is partly due to negligence and partly to lack of education. It seems the government has finally caught onto the problem and is beginning to take action- but they’ve still got a long way to go.

Healthcare

Winner: Panama, but close call

Panama wins this one, though only slightly. Panama City has a variety of modernized hospitals, many of which are affiliated with hospitals in the U.S. Doctors in Panama are trained according to international health standards, and many of them are fluent in English. Healthcare costs in Panama are substantially lower than in North America.

Healthcare in Costa Rica is also modern and quite affordable. Still, it isn’t quite as technologically advanced as in Panama. For instance, the most technologically advanced hospital in Latin America in located in Panama City. Panama also offers retirement benefits and insurance plans that brings the cost of health care even lower.

Cost of Living

Winner: Panama, hands-down

Cost of living is subjective in nature, depending much on habits and lifestyle. Still, given the same set of each I would venture to say that a person living in Costa Rica would spend more money than if living in Panama.

When it comes to daily expenses like food, retail items, and especially imported products, Costa Rica is more expensive. The famous Panama Canal is largely to thank for keeping the cost of “things” in Panama down- often the same or even less than in North America. Costa Rica, on the other hand, gets many of its products through the Panama Canal- and are hit with an additional import tax at the border.

Keep in mind that, for either country, the more expensive items tend to be discretionary ones. Staple foods like rice, beans, coffee, locally grown produce, and certain meats are inexpensive whether you’re in Costa Rica or Panama. It’s when you start to buy imported good and specialty items (think Doritos, frozen meals, ham from Spain, and brand name clothes) that the price goes up.

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All in all, both Panama and Costa Rica are phenomenal places to live. The advantages and disadvantages each of them pose are of varying importance, depending largely on where you’re at in life. Therefore, it’s impossible for me to say which is the “best,” as there is no best- only different. I’ve met individuals who were perfect for Panama, and others who were more suited for Costa Rica. Which one are you? I don’t know, but if you get in touch I’ll be happy to help you figure it out.

You would think that after so many years in Panama, I’d have become jaded to the exquisite effects of High Season by now. But with each and every tropical December I find myself joyfully reminded of why I’m so lucky to call this place home.

High season brings, along with its balmy breezes and prevailing sunshine, a swarm of new faces to Panama’s Gold Coast. The property seekers amongst them come to me with their questions about Panama, not just real estate (though there’s much talk about that) but about the Panama lifestyle as a whole.

After all, it takes more than 4 walls to make a happy home or investment, and more than a few street signs to form an alluring community. As always, it is my aim to provide you with a comprehensive, 360° view on what Panama has to offer you, both personally and professionally. Luckily, there’s much to say about both.

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Are investment ‘rules of thumb’ different in Panama? What special considerations does the Panama real estate market necessitate? Find out with these 6 need-to-know traits

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Whether you’re here for a month, a season, or a lifetime, having a cell phone in Panama will simplify your life.

Setting up your Panama cell phone is fairly simple process. There are, however, several different ways you can go about doing it.

This article will tell you everything you need to know about your options for having a cell phone in Panama. You’ll also learn exactly where you need to go (and what you need to say) in order to get the arrangement that’s right for you. 

Locked VS. Unlocked Cellphonesunlocking cell phone in panama

First, you need to determine whether the phone you’ll be using is locked or unlocked. In order for it to work in Panama, it must be unlocked.

A locked phone has special software installed that “locks” that phone into one service provider. If you were to try to use another company’s cell phone service, it wouldn’t work.

An unlocked phone has no such software. If you insert and activate a SIM card that is made for that phone model, it will work.

How to tell if your phone is locked

If you received your phone for free or at a discounted price when signing a contract, it’s going to be locked to that specific provider.

If you’re not sure because you bought your phone second-hand, you can find out by teaming up with a friend whose phone is unlocked.

Place your friend’s SIM card into your phone, and call that friend’s number. If your phone rings, then it’s unlocked. Otherwise, you’ll get an error message.

How Can You Unlock Your Phone in Panama?

The good news is that a locked phone isn’t structurally any different from an unlocked phone; it simply has software that must be removed.

(The exception to this rule is with phones operating on a CDMA network rather than a GSM network. T-Mobile and AT&T use GSM, while Verizon and Sprint use CDMA.)

You have 2 options for unlocking your phone:

1. Do it yourself.

Depending on your phone model, unlocking can actually be quite simple.

Google “How to unlock (your phone model)” and you’re likely to find step-by-step instructions.

2. Pay someone to do it.

In Panama, there are many “tiendas de electrónicas” that offer cell phone unlocking services for about $15-30. Depending on how busy they are, it can take as little as an hour.

You can find these stores throughout Panama City; they’re typically small, unassuming shops with signs in the window advertising various electronics.

Unless you’ve spotted one in your neighborhood or have a friend you can ask, you might just want to head to the mall. Multicentro and Multiplaza Mall are two favorites for expats, and they’re located in convenient places in Panama City.

Which Service Provider Should You Use in Panama?

Just like in North America, there are several main service providers, and also like in North America, there are people who curse and/or swear by all of them.

The different providers are:

  • Cable & Wireless (+MasMovil)
  • Claro Panama
  • Digicel Panama
  • Telifonica Moviles Panama (Movistar)

The rates between each company are very competitive, so you should make your decision based more on speed and coverage.

All the providers work well near Panama City, but once you move further away some providers will work better than others. Digicel and Movistar are usually voiced as having the best coverage, especially by those who spend time outside of Panama City. But again, you’re going to find people who swear differently in one direction or another.

Here’s a breakdown of the average speed and reliability for each company.

Cable & Wireless Panama (MasMovil)

mas movil speed panama

Claro Panama

claro speed in panama

Digicel Panama

Digicel Speed in Panama

Telefonica Moviles Panama (Movistar)

Movistar Speed in Panama

The Best Option for Expats

Most expats choose pre-paid cards over having a contract. They find it easier to set up and less of a commitment.

Prepaid cards, or tarjetas prepagos, are inexpensive and can be found just about anywhere.

You can buy cards for varying amounts, usually $3, $5, $7, and $15.

$20 a month is all many expats need to get by. Unlimited data is $15 dollars a month, and about $5 in “talking minutes” will last most expats just as long.

Contracts

If you spend a lot of time talking on the phone (and plan on being in Panama for awhile) it might be worth your while to get a contract.

Personally, I have a contract. I spend a lot of time on the phone with clients, helping to find their perfect condo and guide them through the sales process. Since I’m on the phone more than most, it’s cheaper for me to have a monthly contract. I also like knowing that my prepaid minutes aren’t going to “run out” while in the middle of a phone call.

Where to Go

To Get a SIM Card or Sign a Contract

Before you can do anything (contract or prepaid), you’ll have to get a SIM card from that service provider.

In Panama City, the easiest place to find them is at any of the malls. Look for either Digicel, Claro, Movistar, or +MasMovil store. (Usually, if one is there- they’re all there.)

You can also get a SIM card at some electronics stores, but for the contract you’ll have to go to the actual provider.

In Coronado, all the major cell phone providers have locations on the second floor of the Coronado Mall, above the Super 99.

To Get a Prepaid Card

You can buy a prepaid card for any of the service providers at most general stores: “Chinos” (what we call convenience stores), supermarkets, grocery stores, and of course, the service providers themselves.

Big names like El Rey, Riba Smith, Machetazo, Super 99, and Farmacia Arrocha, will always have these cards.

You’ll find all of the above in both Panama City and Coronado.

Useful Phrases for Setting Up a Cell Phone in Panama

Here are some phrases that will help you communicate while setting up a cell phone.

Unlocking a Phone:

Necesito para desbloquear mi telefono.“I need to unlock my telephone.”

Getting a SIM Card:

Tengo que comprar una tarjeta SIM.“I need to buy a SIM card.”

(They might just hand you the SIM card for you to insert yourself. In that case, you probably want to ask:)

Puede usted hacer por mi?“Can you do it for me?”

Asking for a prepaid card:

Una tarjeta de (Mas Movil/Claro/Digicel/Movistar) por favor, por ($3,$5,$7,$15) dólares.“A ____ card, please, for ____ dollars.”

Other helpful phrases:

Usted me puede mostrar? = “Can you show me?”

(This is helpful the first time you’re putting minutes on your phone. Look over their shoulder as they do it so you can remember for next time.)

Cuanto va a costar? = “How much will it cost?”

Lo siento, no hablo mucho español = “I’m sorry, I don’t speak much Spanish.”

(This is a go-to for when you don’t know what else to say. Try to say it politely– and remember, a smile goes a long way.)

Refilling Minutes and Data

To add more minutes to your phone, you buy a prepaid card at any of the stores mentioned above.

Each card will have a scratch-off code to enter on the back. Follow the instructions on your card; they’re easy to understand even if you don’t speak spanish.

Entering that code will activate however many dollars worth of minutes you purchased. These minutes will be used up by either talking or web surfing, unless you assign a certain amount of minutes to data.

If you plan on using the web on your phone, be sure to take the following steps. Otherwise, your “talking” minutes will be used up very quickly.

How to Assign Minutes to Data

After adding minutes to your phone, you have to take an extra step to assign some (or all) of those minutes to data.

Dialing a certain code will active the data subscription sequence. In it, you’ll decide whether you want to purchase data for 1, 3, 7, 15, or 30 days ($15 gets you 30 days.)

The code differs between service providers:

  • For +MasMovil, dial *456# send
  • For Claro, dial *111# send
  • For Digicel, dial *111# send
  • For Movistar, dial *888# send

After hitting send, you’ll be guided through an on-screen setup process which is easy to understand without knowing Spanish.

After you add your data, I recommend making a note on your calendar of when it’s about to run out. Most providers will send you a text message 1-2 days before to warn you, but it’s good to have your own reminder set too. You wouldn’t want to be in the middle of a GPS route when all of the sudden your data runs out!

When I know a resident has successfully moved into their new beach property, I often stop by with a bottle of wine or a plant just to make sure everything has gone smoothly and whether I might address any problems. I was making such a visit when a client from the United States was finishing up her unpacking and I noticed a stack of magazines.

“I can’t keep up with them,” said the woman as she smiled and gestured toward the pile of read-ing material. “I know I will miss English magazines in the printed form after a few months, but until then, I have a lot to keep me busy.”

While we talked, I looked over at one of the magazines which was turned over, leaving a full back-page cover advertisement in view. After a decade in Panama, I can easily recognize our main city’s skyline. Who could miss the “screw” building, even if the familiar bow of the Trump Tower is not present.

But, even then, when I realized the magazine was the venerable news periodical Time, I thought I must be mistaken. Time is a US publication. As I pulled it closer, there was a Panamanian face looking back at me and a headline, “Why A Bank Should Care About A Ride To Work.” Citibank, founded in 1812 as the City Bank of New York, was touting their partnership with the “Govern-ment of Panama” by funding the new mass transit system in Panama City. The ad bragged about the bank’s relationship with Panama, dating back to 1902 when Citibank provided funds to develop the original Panama Canal.

The single full-color advertisement told me a great deal more than just the fact funding for the new subway had come from a North American financial conglomerate. The ad addressed the unprecedented growth in Panama, the acknowledgment that Panama was progressively thinking about reduced greenhouse gas emissions and that we enjoyed forward-thinking leadership. I couldn’t help but reflect, “wow, they are really taking notice of us publicly!” I smiled.

Panama, as a country, and Panama City especially, has been on a growth tear. Our Gross Do-mestic Product (GDP) grew at a rate of 9.5% in 2012 and that was followed with a still impres-sive rate of 5.57% in 2013. This year, The International Monetary Fund (IMF), says the rate will be even higher. But, it is the projected sustained rates for 2015 and 2016 that are especially noteworthy. The IMF is conservatively projecting GDP growth in the 9-10% range for both years. Panama is clearly the place to be for investments, comfortable living and first-world amenities.

As I placed the magazine back on the stack of unread glossy publications, I couldn’t help but pat myself on the back. I have endured more questions than I care to remember about my decision to move and raise my family in Panama. I am a native of Australia and, while I love my home country, I have winced more than once at their arrogance when comparing themselves to Cen-tral and Latin America. I am quite sure I hit the lottery when I moved to Panama a decade ago.

According to leading economists, Panama’s growth will mainly be driven by investment and pri-vate consumption. With an unemployment rate of 2.9%, the main concern will not be growth but successfully managing that growth.

I have never been one to shy away from a challenge, but today, I feel some pressure when it comes to managing my own growth. Because I make my living selling high-end properties to in-dividuals from all over the globe, it has become increasingly necessary for me to keep up with what is happening in all of Panama. Everything seems to be at warp speed. Property is selling at an incredible rate and inventory is shrinking. With 76.4 million Baby Boomers retiring in the Unit-ed States and another 32 million doing the same in Canada, I am fielding calls about what is available now and in the next few years. The secret about retiring comfortably in Panama is no longer a secret.

Empresas Bern, the leading Panamanian real estate developer, has a new development in Nue-va Gorgona, located about 50 miles from Panama City, which has 28 levels and is located right on the Pacific Ocean. It offers the best in absolute beachfront living and is be a fabulous place to call home.

However, because of increased demand in the upscale market, Empresas Bern is moving for-ward with an ultra-luxury 33-story building inside the exclusive gated community of Coronado. Punta Vela offers the best of everything for the few who get to call it home. It is located adjacent to the upscale Coronado Golf, combining synergies and infrastructure. I know there is only so much space in Coronado and Punta Vela will be the crown jewel within the confines of the Coro-nado community.

There are many other projects in development up and down the Pacific coast, but Punta Vela has assets other locations cannot manufacture. Everyone wants to be in Coronado where the grocery stores are convenient and compete for your business, the single family homes are per-fectly manicured, the restaurants are first-class and the International School offers college prep courses in a diversified environment. There are only so many residences for sale in Punta Vela.

Other residential projects will have some amenities, but Punta Vela will have every amenity. A gracious entrance, a roof top lap pool, a residents’ social area on the fifth floor leading to a large pool along with well-appointed common areas and a staff trained to offer the finest concierge services. Every over-sized balcony will offer amazing views of the mountains and the endless waves of the Pacific Ocean. Spacious one- to three-bedroom units will have floor to ceiling vis-tas, master bedrooms with ensuite bathrooms and open-concept living areas.

I know there are many areas in the world which can provide an enviable residence, I just don’t know of any other place that can provide the kind of residential living Coronado can proffer to a wide spectrum of nationalities, with a strong infrastructure and projected growth for a reasonable budget. There is a lot to be said for seizing an opportunity when it is on an upward growth trajec-tory.

I am sorry I didn’t ask to keep the Time magazine. I think the advertisement represents a huge turning point for Panama. The time when a United States company stopped to tout the relation-ship between two countries, both at a cross roads.

The increased popularity of Panama’s healthcare system is driven in part by the country’s world-class hospitals and affordable health insurance. Foreign residents of Panama can expect to pay significantly less for health insurance in Panama.

Hospitalization, surgery, dental care, and standard medical care are less then half the average cost in the US and in Europe. Plans for people under 60 run about $600-$700 per year, while those over 60 pay slightly higher premiums.

With reduced rates also come reduced co-pays and doctor’s fees. The average doctor’s visit can be expected to be up to 50% less than it would cost in the U.S. Coverage for larger procedures ends up being split 20%-80% with the patient covering 20% of the cost.

Surgeries that cost around $4,000 in Panama can cost over $10,000 in the US. Many procedures that fall in the outpatient category require only a co-pay of typically less than $100.

Expats in Panama can go about obtaining health care in a few different ways. There are private plans that are effective solely in Panama, and International Plans that a variety of companies offer. Some American health care plans are also accepted in different Panamanian hospitals.

Local HMO’s in Panama are available for foreigners, many of which offer full reimbursement of services performed by in-network providers. There are also international HMO’s that work similarly to local HMO’s, but also work outside of Panama amongst certain participating hospitals and doctors.

Another option is an international policy with a health provider outside of Panama. Many hospitals also offer membership plans. These plans offer reduced prices on services performed at that specific facility.

With costs up to 50% less and sometimes covered in full, as well as state of the art medical facilities and English speaking doctors, Panama health insurance has become an incredibly attractive option for foreigners. While living in Panama may come with its own set of pros and cons, we can confidently add healthcare to the pro side of the list.

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I’ve got a secret.

I live in Playa Coronado, the coastal destination that all the international publications are talking about. There are only a few footsteps between my backyard and the beach.

Though I love my community, I find myself sneaking off to Playa Malibu- Nueva Gorgona’s secret shoreline 10 minutes up the road- at least once a week.

You see, Playa Malibu holds a special flavor of beauty unlike anything else on the Gold Coast. Its rolling green mountain backdrop offers a breathtaking view from sunrise to sunset.

Playa Malibu also offers an uncommon level of seclusion. Gorgona is an up-and-coming town, following in the footsteps of Coronado though still a few years behind. It has a certain amount of secrecy to it- and more than its fair share of allure to savvy investors.

Coronado’s headstart on Gorgona has it rolling in shops, restaurants, and a thriving expat community. I need only to step onto the beach to see friendly, familiar faces- old friends, new acquaintances, the fun-loving children (furry or human) of each.

Such a tight-knit community is part of what makes Coronado so great.

Sometimes, though, I’m in the mood for solitude.

I want a place that’s tucked away from the crowds yet easy to get to, a place that inspires me with both its beauty and serenity. For me, that place is Playa Malibu.

Running along Playa Malibu, it’s easy to see why Empresas Bern selected it as the site for Royal Palm, the company’s newest beachfront project. The way the colorful mountains merge into the ocean makes it unlike anything else on the Gold Coast, and the beach is near pristine.

Some days, I jog for miles without hearing anything other than my own breath, the rolling tide, and the seagulls high above.

Doubtlessly, the addition of Royal Palm will bring a new wave of residents to Playa Malibu. The resort-style development is alluring and innovative- with ultra-modern apartments, lavish social areas, and panoramic views. In fact, pre-sale units at Royal Palm have already begun to sell.

(This is largely due to Empresas Bern’s status as one of the most trusted developers in Panama- with over 125 successful projects to date. They’re one of the few companies that people are comfortable buying units in pre-sale with.)

Yet even with the addition of Royal Palm, I have confidence in Playa Malibu maintaining its uncommon state of serenity.

The beach is vast enough to offer pockets of privacy. A mere 10-minute walk (or 5 minute ride on ATV …or horseback) and you’ll find yourself at the start of an untouched beach break where the mountains, mangroves, and beach collide.

The dramatic tides in this particular spot ensures nothing can be built there. I like to think of it as nature’s way of safeguarding her own chunk of real estate.

So, if you ever find yourself in Coronado on a particularly busy weekend, and you think to yourself “The whole neighborhood is out, but where is Liz Larroquette?”

I just might be leaving a fresh footprints on Playa Malibu.

 

My husband and I once dragged our children to one of Panama’s indigenous communities.

Don’t worry, we weren’t selling them or anything (although, after a few backseat squabbles the idea did cross my mind.)

Rather, I wanted them to see the other side of Panama…and, in contrast, really recognize and appreciate all that they have.

A forgotten part of Panama

Panama is, in many ways, still a developing country… a reality that’s easy to forget when we’re lounging in our luxury condos 20 floors above the sea.

Then, you learn (for example) that 5.5% of Panama’s population is illiterate, and you’re reminded that not everyone lives quite so lavishly.

Panama has achieved incredible economic growth over the last decade. Middle to upper income-level families, as well as the ever-growing foreign population, have benefited enormously.

But some parts of Panama, such as the tucked-away indigenous communities, were left behind.

A renewed responsibility

Now that Panama has proven to be on a steady upward path, the government is expanding its priorities. One big item on the list: Better education and literacy for all.

This month, Panama has relaunched its literacy program with high ambitions. Rufino Huertas, the National Literacy Director, said the program aspires to reduce the number of illiterate people in Panama from 5.5% to 3% over a five-year period…a lofty goal considering how undeveloped some of those communities are.

According to Huertas, “…it is a very ambitious goal, but we can achieve it if we have the support of all the sectors that are involved.” (The program is an extensive collaboration of multiple government institutions.)

I’d like to tip my hat to the Republic of Panama for recognizing the importance of education in its people, and taking a step towards improving it.

There’s still much to be done to assure quality education for the lesser-known regions of Panama. Doubtlessly, there are always the naysayers who cry “too little, too late.” However, the government has to start somewhere, and to me this is a sign of good things to come.

 

Imagine driving in Panama City with 15,000 less people on the road.

How about 30,000 less?

I’m not pulling your leg. That’s what’s in store for Panama, thanks to an additional line soon to be added to the Metro rail transit system.

Panama: A Transportation Trailblazer

If you were in Panama this past year, you doubtlessly got wind of Panama’s new Metro rail system. Inaugurated April 2014, the Panama Metro is Central America’s first-ever subway system. Its launch was a big deal—and a raving success.

The current metro route runs between Los Andes and Albrook.
The current metro route runs between Los Andes and Albrook.

Line 1, the currently existing line, runs a mostly north-south rote, from Los Andes to the Albrook bus station. The whole trip takes a mere 23 minutes…. A major improvement compared to the near-hour it could take depending on traffic.

Panama Metro System Line 2: Expanding Routes & Expectations 

This month, President Juan Carlos Varela announced the addition of Line 2 to the Metro—a route running from San Miguelito to the Nuevo Tocumen neighborhood.  Construction will begin Jan 2015 and is expected to finish 2017.

The new route will run between San Miguelito and Nuevo Tocumen. (These are driving directions...the actual metro map is not yet available.)
The new route will run between San Miguelito and Nuevo Tocumen. (These are driving directions…the actual metro map is not yet available.)

With 16 elevated stations, 21 kilometers of track, and the capacity to move 15,000 people per hour in each direction by 2019 (up to 30,000 thereafter)…Line 2 will be yet another game-changer to Panama’s transportation system.

Expected Impact

If you’ve been unlucky enough to be stuck behind the wheel during rush hour in Panama City, you understand the massive potential of this project.

As in any major megapolis, traffic in Panama City is horribly congested during the morning and evening rush. The Panama Metro system is part of a major national plan to improve transportation in and around Panama City; it’s expected to benefit more than half a million people.

Good News for Beach-Dwellers

Even those of us living on the Gold Coast have reason to rejoice. Though beach communities like Coronado and Gorgona are virtually traffic-free, many residents make the occasional trip to Panama City to enjoy its thriving shopping, nightlife, and restaurant scene.

Distance-wise, it’s an easy drive between Panama City and the Gold Coast. I’ve made it in as little as 50 minutes. That’s because I know never to leave between 8-10 a.m, or 4-6 p.m!

With the Metro system aiming to drastically alleviate that traffic, the commute will become even easier. Which is fantastic for those of us living at resort-style developments such as Coronado Golf, Casa Bonita, or Royal Palm.

After all, once the metro is transporting 15,000-30,000 people an hour…that’s a lot less people to share the road with.

 

Guest Post by Greta Sherman

House Hunters International told us almost immediately we probably wouldn’t be chosen.

An automated response informed us they receive thousands of applications each year and less than 100 are selected. The form email also explained that other factors, (over which we had no control), would play a significant role in the selection process. Was Panama interesting? Had it already been featured too many times?

People would be selected on what the producers were currently looking for—maybe older couples, or singles, families with children, people of color.

So you can imagine our surprise when, nine months after the initial application, we received an email asking if we were still interested in pursuing the possibility of being featured in an episode of HHI.

Of course, we had already begun the process of our international move, but sure, why not answer a few more questions. A photo had been part of the application, so they knew we were two Caucasian women in our early sixties and we had selected Panama as our retirement destination.

Why Us?

As it turned out, we were exactly what they were looking for, in large part, because our buying experience had been pleasant and successful. House Hunters International doesn’t feature stories with poor outcomes. They didn’t know everything at first, but after hours and hours of answering questions, telling them in a thousand different ways our experience had been positive, providing the producers with a screen test and stacks of photos, our show was green lighted.

No international move, especially when you don’t speak the language, is easy, but things went much easier for us than most because we stumbled onto a realtor who listened to what we needed, presented us with options, laughed as many things turned to mush and eventually found us the perfect place for us to call home.

We had spent a month in the Casco Viejo section of Panama City and we were convinced that was where we wanted to purchase. We knew our $500,000 budget would be stretched but we loved the resurgence of the area, the unique restaurants and cultural aspects of the old city. And while the views of the Pacific Ocean from Casco are stunning, there really isn’t a beach. Panama City meets the ocean with big black rocks.

Headng to Coronado, Panama

Our research informed us that the first true beach community was an hour away, so we rented a car and started out, over the canal with it’s giant boats queued up and then along the PanAmerican Highway.

The traffic was hideous, horns honked non-stop, the “Hell Cat” buses belched black smoke, giant pot holes appeared three feet from perfect asphalt and various forms of vehicles—pineapple ladened trucks, tiny Russian imported cars, large BMWs, concrete churning machines, F-150s loaded with tanned faced field workers and long-haul 18-wheelers ll made their way going somewhere between 90 and five miles an hour.

We learned to weave, pray and keep our wits on high alert. 

We pulled into Coronado, which is a gated community, and the guard had enough pity on us to raise the gate. We drove to the first high-rise building we could find and asked about available property. The guard smiled and pointed to a couch. We sunk into its leather and tried not to think about our return trip. We were exhausted and it was only noon.

Meeting Liz

In only a few minutes a tall, striking looking woman walked in with a Subway sandwich in a plastic bag and a big smile. “I’m Liz Larroquette” she said with a delightful Australian accent and an extended hand. “I was just getting lunch, but it can wait,” she continued. “How may I help you?”

We had not made an appointment. It was lunch time. We didn’t speak the language and we weren’t sure what we wanted. Liz communicated in rapid fire Spanish to the guard, handed him her sandwich and sat down. Her English made it possible for us to be exact, her Spanish allowed her to move among the other employees with ease. We felt the drive fall away from us.

I am always leery about telling sales people how much I want to pay for something. Somehow the product you want usually ends up costing just that much or a little more. We had researched real estate in Panama but the swings were wide. Homes would be listed from considerably less than $100,000 to others asking in the millions.

Liz didn’t seem to care as much about the budget we wanted to spend, but rather what would make us happy. Then she told us the facts. “Lots of people come here after reading articles about how you can live in Panama for $1,000 a month. And you can, but it’s not very realistic. Some things are less expensive here, it’s a great life, I’m raising two children here and I love it, but I don’t do it on $1,000 a month.”

She explained that property prices in Casco Viejo were rising on a daily basis. “You want a two bedroom place there, then we are talking $600,000 to $700,000. I drive into the city and get my ‘city fix’ fairly regularly, but we’re talking a lot of money to live there. I can show you lots of property there, but you might be interested in a few other places.”

The Hunt

Knowing we loved the city, she showed us a high-rise condo, on the beach and only a 15 minute drive from the city, priced around $500,000 that was stunning. We were close to signing on the dotted line, but she tossed aside the glossy colored brochure that talked about a grocery on-site and the 18-hole golf course. “These things are not a reality yet” she said. “It will be, this is a fabulous property, but I want you to know you’ll be driving over the bridge for groceries for a long time. It has yet to be developed.”

We ended up buying a lovely two-bedroom place on the 30th floor of Coronado Golf. The final cost was $238,000—less than half what we had been prepared to spend. Many realtors wouldn’t even have shown us a place that far under budget.

We wanted upgraded appliances and she arranged for us to get credit for the appliances we didn’t want so we could spend that money toward our dream kitchen. We hammered her for an archway to be created to open up our space and she made it happen. She convinced us we didn’t want a second bedroom, but rather a larger living space with a sweeping view. We wouldn’t have thought of it and she was
exactly right.

We didn’t like the door to the balcony and she arranged to make the change. Every time we slide the space fully open and we drink in the view, we silently think of Liz.

After the sale, she helped us find a lawyer to start our “Pensioniado” process which allows expats to bring in furniture and a vehicle without taxation along with airline, hotel and restaurant discounts. When we didn’t understand why we couldn’t get electricity, she called and translated our needs. The electricity was turned on. The cable was next and the bank after that.

Liz is a ball of action. Sometimes you have to remind her, but when you do, she listens, she advises honestly, she makes things happen and she is the reason we are settled in a foreign country, looking at the ocean while the small fishing boats go out at night. She is the reason we didn’t spend too much.

We could not have made the transition so easily without her advice and unwavering support. The filming of our HHI episode took five days and was shot in both Panama and our hometown of Louisville, KY. It required permits on top of permits, legal documents and magic to happen.

While we did a lot of the work ourselves, it was Liz, long after the sale, that either got the permits signed, translated the need or sent us to the right people.

Seven months after the HHI film team rolled into Panama from New York, Liz joined us at a friend’s place and we watched privately what we had accomplished. Not just the show (which HHI claims is one of the funniest), but a full life in a foreign country with many extraordinarily interesting friends from all over the world.

I just received an email from a local Panamanian bank telling me if I use their Visa issued cards, I could possibly win a trip to Russia to watch Panama compete in the World Cup

Just use your Multibank Visa and you could join the Panamanian National Team in Russia where their opening match will be played June 18th against Belgium. How exciting would that be?

Because I have been doing a great deal of research about Panama’s role in this incredible sporting event, I also receive blasts galore hawking t-shirts and other merchandise sporting the Panamanian flag and the World Cup Trophy.

There is also the “Be There With Hyundai” slogan contest. All you have to do is come up with the best slogan to be displayed on the bus to be used for the Panamanian National Team. If you garner the most votes, from on-line voting, you’ll win one of 32 grand prizes which includes round trip airfare for two to Moscow, three nights at a luxury hotel, plus tickets to see Panama compete. You also would be given the honor of escorting the team to their match.

I’ll Start Begging Now!

I entered the slogan contest, but won’t know if I moved up into the voting phase for a couple of weeks. They only select the top three slogans for voting, but if I’m among the top three I’ll be begging for votes.

Four Million Spectators

The Federation Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) has been working hard to get ready for the expected four million spectators who will attend the first 63 games leading up to the championship game to be held in Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow. It is difficult for me to even think about the Panamanian team playing before a capacity crowd of 81,000 screaming spectators. Of course, they will only see that many fans if they are in the finals. While I’m thrilled Panama is participating in the World Cup, it would be a real underdog accomplishment if they made it to Moscow on July 15th. Panama’s first game will be in Sochi against the Belgium National Team and there will be 47,659 people in the stadium. Still a lot of spectators! I’m hoping lots of Panamanians are able to make the trip. For those who can’t, I’ll be reporting!

I really want to get the call that my slogan has been chosen as the winner for the Panamanian bus. If you see “Viva Panama—The Isthmus With Kick”, you’ll know I’m going to be escorting the team!

175,000 Applications For 15,000 Spots

The month-long tournament could not be held without an army of volunteers. Yes, I said volunteers. These are people who are not going to be paid to work for a minimum of four weeks, with championship days running 15-hour work shifts.

“We had 175,000 applications for 15,000 spots,” said a representative of the 2018 World Cup Volunteers Program. “It was a very complicated process and it took several months for us to make the appropriate selections,” she continued.

According to FIFA, the applicants had to fill out an on-line form, complete with photo just to start the process. An English proficiency test was taken by all applicants, followed by two Skype interviews with FIFA officials in Moscow. With a seven hour difference from Panama City to Moscow, some calls were early morning.

Fifty-Seven On-Line Courses

After short-listing down to about 30,000 individuals, the hopeful volunteers had to complete 57 on-line courses ranging from the various facts about Russia and the 12 different venues, to what receiving a “Yellow Card” in a soccer match would mean to a player.

Zabivaka, the wolf is the mascot for the 2018 World Cup. It’s nice he is sporting Panama’s colors!

Another round of on-line interviews were conducted to narrow the 175,000 applicants to the final 15,000 who will be working in Russia as a volunteer. As volunteers, FIFA provides a place to stay in a local hotel for the balance of the assignment. Breakfast is included as well as a meal during working shifts. All other expenses are the responsibility of the volunteer, including air fare to Russia.

Not A Bad Gig

“It’s not a bad gig” the FIFA official told me. “These volunteers will be given uniforms they will be required to wear while on duty. Included are Adidas tennis shoes which will sport the World Cup logo, a ball cap, jackets, backpacks, shorts, polo shirts, sweaters and sweatshirts. I loved hearing that Adidas was a Corporate Partner, since I’ve worked with so many of their executives who have been transferred to Costa del Este and the Central American headquarters of Adidas.

“We also have deals with some of our other partners to make life easier for the volunteers during down time. Coca-Cola, McDonalds and Anheuser-Busch will provide products. And, well, there will be vodka!” she said with a laugh. “It is the Russian national drink!”

I am excited about reporting on the World Cup, but I’m a bit anxious too. One of the best things about being from Panama is that we really aren’t anyone’s enemy. Panama will be playing England and U.K Prime Minister Theresa May has already confirmed that no members of the royal family or government ministers will be traveling to the tournament. That is in response to political tension between Russia and England. I feel certain all the necessary precautions are in place, but safety will be on every fan’s mind. I do think, wearing the Panamanian red, white and blue will go a long way toward safety.

One Of Thirty-Two Teams

The fact Panama is one of 32 teams in competition is amazing. I see us competing on the world stage in more venues every day, whether it is The World Cup or an international economic summit.

Excitement is building and each day brings something new from small children asking for a stuffed World Cup Mascot to more and more opportunities to win a trip to the big show. I’m in! All in and I can’t wait. Viva Panama—the isthmus with kick!

I have always felt there was only one place like Panama and that was Panama itself.

First, there is the unique geography. We are just a small isthmus linking the two Americas, and because the geography is so important to trade routes globally, Panama has had to fight for centuries to gain true independence. Today, we have that independence, but so much of who we are is a reflection of our earlier occupiers. We are a young country and thought to be third world, but the importance of our location is allowing us to rapidly become a destination of significance.

I recently had a client who was being transferred to Panama City from his home in Singapore and I rapidly learned Panama might not be as different as I once thought. The more he spoke of Singapore, the more parallels I discovered. It was like meeting a long-lost sister your parents failed to mention. Could it be that Panama will be the next Singapore?

I will be honest, I didn’t know very much about Singapore, but as my client and I drove from Panama City to Playa Veracruz and on to Costa del Este looking at properties where his family would soon call home, I learned a great deal. Mostly it all surprised me.

Many Similarities

“The weather is pretty similar,” he said as we walked from Casa Bonita to the five-star Westin Resort for lunch. “I looked it up,” he continued, “Singapore is only 89 miles or one degree from the equator. Panama City is a bit further, about nine degrees, but both are pretty warm year-round.”

He told me he was pleased about the weather saying his three girls really were island children and if the temperature dipped into the seventies they thought it was freezing. “They’ll be fine,” I interjected “it’s warm in Panama. We have a rainy season and a dry season, but overall the sun shines most days.” He nodded in agreement.

A Small City-State

I learned Singapore was smaller than Panama and was a city-state consisting of only 239 square miles. Relatively speaking both countries are tiny even though Panama has 29,157 square miles, but it is less than the size of the state of South Carolina. The population of Singapore was 3.55 million in 2016 and in Panama, the total was 4.05 million that same year.

Singapore as a city is more dense than Panama City, but both skylines are dotted with skyscrapers overlooking great bodies of water. The buildings are new and shiny with the logos of multi-national corporations.

Panama City’s skyline reflects it’s importance as the de facto financial capital of Central America.

 

 

Singapore’s skyline is not that different from Panama City’s.

But the small size of the two countries was not what I found interesting and comparative. Singapore is a dazzling example of growth and economic importance globally. It is clean and progressive with world-class schools and medical facilities. Most multi-national companies have a presence in Singapore and their airport is the best in the world. There are four official languages of Singapore—English, Mandarin, Malay and Tamil—but since 1966 all students were mandated to be bi-lingual, with English the language of education and business. Virtually everyone speaks English.

On May 10, 2017, the president of Panama signed into law Panamanian students would received a bilingual education.

Learning English Is The Law

“Are you aware that it is now law in Panama that school children receive a bilingual education?” I asked. “Panama is the first country in Central America to mandate that English is taught in public schools. The law was enacted just last year by our president Juan Carlos Varela.”

“The ability to speak the international language of business was key to Singapore becoming the capital of commerce in much of Asia. If Panamanians speak English, then they will also be on the world stage. Singapore took care of the important elements,” he continued. “Things such as education, employment, health care, infrastructure, quality of life,” he continued.

I have always believed Panama would rapidly move from a third world country to first world, but as I spoke with my client, I became almost obsessed with what factors took Singapore from a backwater island the Malaysians didn’t want, to a world power in a single generation.

The Importance Of Geography

“Our geography is important,” began my client. “Singapore is a very important trade route from Asia to the rest of the world. Of course Panama is in a similar situation with the Panama Canal, but location was only one of the keys to Singapore’s growth,” he continued.

“We were originally part of Malaysia, but on the morning of August 9th, 1965, the Parliament of Malaysia voted 126–0 in favor of expelling Singapore from the federation,” he said, “hours later, the Parliament of Singapore passed the Republic of Singapore Independence Act, establishing the island as an independent and sovereign republic. It was not a stellar time in our history. Malaysia did not want us and we were so small and the people undisciplined, but we had an incredible leader in Lee Kuan Yew.”

“How did he do it?” I questioned. “How did he take something no one wanted to something everyone wanted in less than fifty years? Property in Panama holds only a fraction  of what the same property would be worth the worth in Singapore.” I let the dates roll over in my mind. Singapore gained true independence in 1965 and Panama regained control in 1999. Singapore was 35 years older.

A Loving Strict Parent

“Today, you can’t even purchase chewing gum in Singapore because it is thought gum would detract from our cleanliness,” he continued providing an example of how far Singapore had evolved.

My client paused and gave me a little small smile. “In the early years, there were some things that went down that probably weren’t all that savory or legal. You know, people would just disappear, but generally Singapore became Singapore through good fortune and discipline. English was mandated and the citizens were held to a higher standard.

Almost immediately we became a member of the United Nations. We wanted to play on the international stage. We made the most of our location.”

Panama has been a member of the United Nations since 1945. Recently President Juan Carlos Varela address the international body calling Panama “the bridge across the world.”

Unemployment, Health Issues, Crime

“Much like you had in Casco Viejo and other areas in Panama, there were squatter settlements in Singapore. Unemployment, health issues and crime were difficult. Look at Casco Viejo today. It’s stunning and that has happened in the last decade. Where squatters once sat, there is now a luxury hotel. There are a lot of similarities when you consider today’s low crime and high employment in Panama City,” he said.

I silently considered the growth of health care in Panama with a second Johns Hopkins affiliated hospital being built in Costa del Este, the medical offices with labs and imaging facilities being built to accommodate medical tourism growing in Panama. “What about health care,” I asked as we drove along the wide streets of Costa del Este.

“Everyone receives great care,” he began. “Of course there are private hospitals that the ultra-rich access, but people from all over Asia come to Singapore for all types of cutting edge procedures. It is now just assumed, healthcare is a right not a privilege. Other countries envy our health care.

Money Means Good Infrastructure

Money has poured into Panama through the doubling of the Panama Canal, allowing us to build modern infrastructure such as the underground metro system and our multiple public transportation options including sleek new buses. The water system is being improved, millions are being spent to upgrade the highways. Could Panama be the new Singapore and become first world in a decade?

“I wasn’t thrilled when I first heard I was being transferred to Panama City,” my client said honestly, “but it is sort of like I have been transported back to when Singapore was first starting out. Look at the wide streets in Costa del Este and not an overhead wire in sight. Singaporeans are very aware of the physical beauty of their country. I think Panama is similar.”

“What about the people?” I asked after nodding at the pink flowers lining the street. “I mean who is Singapore? Do the citizens have a certain look? Demeanor?”

“Singapore is populated by mostly people with a Chinese heritage, but we have a lot of Persian Indians and individuals from Malaysia. Plus, we are like Panama with a large international population. We are a melting pot,” he explained.

“Forget going back to the 15th century. Let’s start with the fact we were part of the British Empire in 1819 and one of our most famous hotels—Raffles—is named after Stamford Raffles, who was the Lieutenant Governor of the British Colony which was Singapore. They created the Singapore Sling there and you can still order it today,” he laughed. “It’s not very good!

Wanted For The Location

“The British wanted us for our location as did the Dutch in the 17th century. We sit at the most southern tip of the Malay Peninsula and we are the most important shipping route in Asia. Does that sound familiar?” Of course he was referring to our most valuable asset, the Panama Canal!

“We are also a product of other cultures. Panama also has a lot of Chinese influence,” I said. “When the French attempted to dig the Panama Canal they brought in Chinese workers and their descendants are here today. I know it’s a sweeping generalization, but I think all the convenience stores in Panama are owned by the Chinese. You cannot measure the influence of the United States. We don’t even have our own currency except for a few coins. Everything is the US dollar,” I said as we arrived at the fifty-two story Matisse tower.

Raffles Hotel in Singapore

American Standard Hotel in Panama City

The famous Raffles Hotel (left)  in Singapore is a reminder that Britain once ruled the island as it is named after the first Lieutenant Governor, Stamford Raffles. The new American Standard Hotel (right) in Panama City, is a nod to the Americans who directed the construction of the Panama Canal from this hotel.

American Standard Hotel in Panama City“I think you are going to love this location,” I said returning to my mission of finding this client the perfect location for his family. “These condominiums have just under 4,000 square feet,” I said while he stopped stock still. “Only two units per floor,” and my voice trailed as I looked back at him staring into the building.

A Lot Of Room

“Four thousand square feet,” he echoed. “I can’t imagine having that much room. Singapore is a tiny country. We aren’t even allowed to drive a car unless we have purchased a permit for something like $100,000 to own a car. Of course after you receive the permit to have a car, you have to buy the car!”

“Two parking spaces will come with the unit and no permit required,” I laughed, now thinking it was Panama two and Singapore zip! “Your little island girls will love the view of the Pacific Ocean and Panama Bay as well as the pools in the building. We may not be a Singapore yet, but we are well on our way,” I said with confidence. “It’s good you are investing today, because you never know who we’ll become,” I said as we walked toward the gleaming structure. “Who would have thought…” I said silently to myself.

“Is Costa del Este Panama City or is it something else,”

said the voice over the phone. “I’m being transferred to Panama City, but my office is in Costa del Este and many of the places I’d like to live seem to be there too. When I look on the map it’s not clear.”

I knew exactly what he was telling me. Sometimes Costa del Este appears as part of Panama City and yet it’s not. It’s sort of a suburb, but, very self-contained. When you are coming from Tocumen International Airport you can see and feel the separateness; Panama City here and Costa del Este, off to the east, mainly surrounded by water.

An Upscale Section of Panama City

“Costa del Estes is an upscale section of Panama City,” I began in explanation, “but it is it’s own place too, separate and distinct. I’m not surprised your company’s offices are in Costa del Este as over 130 multinational corporations have offices and headquarters there,” I continued.

“I’m still confused,” he said. “Part of Panama City but separate and distinct?”

“Coste del Este was pretty neglected until around 1995,” I said. “Neglected might be a nice term as it was pretty much a garbage dump with mangroves and jungle before millions of tons of rock and soil was poured filling in the area that is today’s Coste del Este, about 766 acres total. Much of the earth that was extracted to build and widen the Panama Canal was used to fill in the space and now it’s one of the most upscale areas of Panama City,” I continued.

A Garbage Dump?

The only American style football field in Panama is located in the Filipe Motta Park in Costa del Este

“Can you tell it once was a garbage dump?” my caller asked. “I don’t want to work in a garbage dump and certainly not live there!”

I had to laugh. “No, no, there are wide streets, a three-mile-long boardwalk where people jog and walk their dogs, bike and stroll along the lush greenery and water fountains. It’s very idyllic.”

“Why is it separate from Panama City?” he continued. “Is that a good thing or a bad thing.”

Limited Ways In and Out

“There is only about four ways in and out of Costa del Este and one of those is a marine bridge.   Unlike many of the other neighborhoods in Panama City, where the lines are blurred, they are very distinct for Costa del Este,” I continued.

“In light traffic, it’s about five minutes from the heart of Panama City and 15 minutes from Tocumen International Airport. Really, the best of both worlds. If you wanted, you wouldn’t have to leave Costa del Este for anything. There are se veral grocery stores with wide aisles and inventory that reflect what you’d find in North America. Medical care, great schools, spas and car dealerships, everything.

The residences of Parkside are ideal for expats working in Costa del Este. The 50-story tower is filled with amenities, 24-hour security and within walking distance of everything Town Center has to offer in terms of retail, restaurants and night-life.

“Because Costa del Este was pretty much a clean slate when development began, the area is now well planned with underground wiring and lots of green space. It has it’s own water processing plant and any of the single-family residences are in gated communities. Now, the development is explosive with 50-story towers providing every amenity to people from all over the globe. ”

“I’m not sure how long my transfer will be,” said the caller. “I’m not sure I want to buy unless it makes sense in the long term. I’m single and I don’t want a big apartment. I saw some of the condominiums in Costa del Este were like 4,000 square feet with maids’ quarters. That sounds out of my range and way too big!”

A Girl For A Guy From Jersey?

“There is everything in Costa del Este. One bedroom units to rent or buy with every possible amenity from infinity pools to roof top gardens and someone at the front desk 24/7. For people bringing a family, there are children’s play areas and units with bedrooms and baths for everyone. A family can use 4,000 square feet, but probably not you.”

“Just me”, he replied. “Maybe I can find the girl of my dreams in Costa del Este,” he laughed. “You know someone beautiful and just looking for a guy from Jersey.”

When my client asked if there were available single women in Costa del Este, all I could think about was the electronic sign outside Town Center where a model waves people into the Felix department store.

“There are lots of great women and men right here,” I continued not wanting to offer things I couldn’t deliver. “Lots of people really enjoy living here because there is so much going on. People jog along the boulevard daily, there are green spaces, a big central park, great retail, restaurants and hip and trendy places for people to meet and enjoy individuals living here from  around the globe. There are also local Panamanians. I love the speciality grocery that caters to singles by offering prepared foods for take out along with wines from around the world. And, fresh flowers. That might come in handy if you find that perfect girl!”

I began to think he had a list in front of him and he was checking things off as his next question was about the internet. “Of course—high speed,” I said waiting for a follow-up.

“Can you catch a first run movie in English?” he said. “My Spanish is limited.”

“Movies, hot yoga, bike trails, golf courses, Spanish lessons—you might never leave.”

Even Uber Drivers

“I have to leave and go to the airport,” he said, “but I already know it’s an easy commute from Costa del Este and there are enough Uber drivers,” he laughed. “I thought Panama was third world!”

“Certainly not in Costa del Este,” I said. “We are hipper than Jersey. When will you be coming down,” I said with a smile.

Every time I open my mouth, it is readily apparent I wasn’t reared in Panama. My Aussie accent  (even in Spanish) is punctuated by the fact I maintain a painfully fair skin tone, not readily accustomed to the hot sun generated for a country located just a few degrees north of the equator. Nonetheless, I am more than a little excited about Panama’s inaugural appearance in the World Cup, being held this summer in Russia. I can’t wait to scream “GOAL!” when the Panama National Team scores.

While the United States failed to secure a place among the 32 teams, Panama and tiny Iceland are two countries who will be there for the very first time. Neither Panama nor Iceland are leading contenders to win the overall competition, but they are expected to make gallant runs with hopes to go deep in the tournament.

This Big Deal Is Complicated

This is a very big deal for Panama! The Panama National Football (Soccer0 Team has tried to qualify for every World Cup since 1978, and when they finally advanced, after 80 years, the day after the victory was declared a national holiday by Panamanian President, Juan Carlos Varela. School children and adults danced in the streets until well-past sunrise; in Panama City to Chitre and David, Chame and La Chorrea. It is still difficult to describe the national pride that was on display after winning a trip to the World Cup.

The reigning World Cup champion, Germany, is expect to be in the semi-finals along with powerhouse teams such as Brazil, France and Argentina, but there is real hope Panama could survive the first round of games and then move on as one of the final 16 teams.

Daria Gomez
Panama’s coach, Dario Gomez (in blue), celebrates with Roman Torres after beating Costa Rica and securing it’s first-ever slot in The World Cup.

 

A Bit Obscure And Subjective

Almost everyone in Panama understands the fundamentals of soccer or, as they say in Europe, “football”, but knowing the ins and outs of how the 32 teams actually make the cut, or how they are placed in their “Group” for initial play, is fairly obscure and subjective. It can be reduced to how many goals a team has scored all year or against another particular team. Russia, ranked around 65th in the world is playing simply on the fact they are the host country!

Because the 32 teams who eventually qualify for play, are subjected to such a complicated process, it can take more than three years to decide who will play in the World Cup. Qualifying is fluid and depends on so many factors, it’s hard to keep track, but over 209 countries from the six confederations—Asia, Europe, North America/Central America/Caribbean, Africa, Oceania, and South America—started the qualifying process after the 2014 World Cup which was held in Brazil. The competition is played only every four years; after the 2018 World Cup in Russia, the next World Cup will be held in 2022 in Qatar.

England, Tunisia and Belgium!

With the 32 teams, there will be eight “groups” comprised of four teams each. Panama is in Group G and will play against England, Belgium and Tunisia. This is a tough bracket, (decided  via random drawing) but there are others which are even more difficult. Belgium and England are predicted to emerge from Group G, but I’m thinking it might include Panama!

Fisht Stadium
Panama will open it’s first-ever World Cup game in this 47,659 seat open-air stadium in Sochi.

Panama will have their first game against Belgium on June 18th in Sochi. There are 11 different venues throughout Russia where the games will be held, but Panama’s first effort will be in the beautiful Fisht Stadium, the site of the opening and closing ceremonies of 2014 Winter Olympics. It’s going to be dramatic.

Belgium is ranked as one of the top five teams on the planet, so the game will be a challenging one for Panama, but certainly not impossible. Nothing is impossible in the World Cup! After the game with Belgium, Panama will play England on June 24 in Nizhny Novgorod and against Tunisia June 28th in Saransk. All the games will be televised so I can already envision the bars and restaurants, as well as most homes in Panama, with all eyes focused on the games. Viva Panama!

I’ll Be Reporting—Games, People, Players!

As one of Panama’s leading lifestyle bloggers, I feel strongly that I should provide an in-depth look at how Panamanians celebrate the World Cup, who goes to the games personally, the outcomes of the various matches and how Panama appears on such a world stage. I will be posting blogs throughout the World Cup, with interviews of the players and personal stories about individuals who go to Russia and represent our country. Let me do the work for you, with stylized writing you can only get here! My reports won’t be canned statistics, but rather what makes Panamanians and Panama so very special.

Roman Torres
Keep an eye out for Roman Torres as he will be instrumental if Panama is to advance.

 

Not A Level Playing Field

The World Cup is not a level playing field and Panama will feel the difference. I want to report how the Panamanians respond to the different factors impacting the outcome of the World Cup. For example, each country will have a Team Base Camp (TBC) located somewhere in Russia. There are qualifying factors such as the type of training facilities available and how far the TBC is from a major airport (it can’t be more than an hours drive away), but basically each team has a TBC assigned by the World Cup’s governing body, FIFA, and then agreed upon by the individual countries, but there are major differences.

Panama’s TBC will be in Saransk and their training facilities and hotel will be at the Olympic Sports Center. While Panama feels lucky to have such a superior TBC, it should be noted that powerhouse Germany usually just comes to a host country and builds a world-class facility for their team which they completely control. They eventually just abandon that TBC after the World Cup and don’t care about the cost. England, one of Panama’s first opponents will be training in St. Petersburg, selected because they can take over an entire hotel, concentrate on the peace and quiet of the area and train without distraction. It may take them a little longer to fly to their competitions, but their players will be well-rested and ready to perform.

Viva Panama!

I believe in Panama and am beyond excited for the World Cup. To say I am anxious about posting reports about the happenings in Russia would certainly be an understatement. If you want to make sure you know every time I post a report, sign up for my newsletter so I can make sure you are regularly alerted.

Let’s all say “GOAL!”

Selling real estate is a personal endeavor. People, with whom you are advising need to trust and it isn’t easy to gain an individual’s trust in a short amount of time. It rarely manifests quickly. I work hard to let people know who I am by writing regularly, answering emails quickly and succinctly and attempting to listen carefully for hints of what they need, so I can gain insight into what might be the best situation concerning their real estate needs in Panama. 

Knowing What They Want

Some people are easy, have done their research and present, ready to discuss what they already know they are seeking. Others have a difficult time making decisions; they are unsure of even the questions which need to be asked. The largest portion of people who are looking to invest and perhaps live in Panama, are somewhere in between. They may know what they think they want, but it might not be totally realistic. For example, it’s always going to be warm in Panama. If you need a sweater, it’s generally because someone maximized the air conditioning! And, you really can’t obtain a dinner for two, including wine, in a five-star restaurant for ten dollars. Those meals don’t exist, regardless of what is written on some obscure website.

Realtor Panama
It’s often better for the clients, if there are two real estate professionals involved—one knowing the clients and the other knowing the properties.

Too Intrusive Or Just Making The Sale

If you want to help people, you are often times caught between them thinking you just want to make a sale or feeling you are being too intrusive by asking a lot of questions. Just like the individuals, with whom I work, the answer lies somewhere in between. Yes, I want to make a sale, but I don’t want to make it at the expense of someone else. I want to make the sale that is the right sale.

I have a friend who is a banker and he always says his decisions about who qualifies for a loan and who doesn’t, is much easier than my occupation of selling real estate. “When I make a mistake,” he says, “I sometimes have to write off the loan, I take some heat from the board room and then everyone moves on. When you make a mistake selling a property, you have to encounter them in the elevator, the grocery and on the street. There is no simple way to correct the mistake and it is often uncomfortable for a very long time.” My banker friend is so right!

Keep The Agent You Trust

Most people have a relationship with a real estate agent. Probably not in Panama, but they may know someone close to home. They may be personal friends, or their children play on the same soccer team, they attend the same church or they sold them their first home. Those agents have built trust over time and I am the last individual to ever think I can replace or out maneuver another agent who knows their client well. I’d much rather work with another real estate professional, than make a mistake.

There are many ways to combine the strengths I have knowing the ins and outs of Panamanian real estate, with other individuals who know their clients’ individual needs. Everyday I work with real estate brokers and together we usually make a very strong team for the client.

Where Is That Parking Spot?

Sometimes, it might be the broker who knows the important questions to ask and other times it might be me. For example, a client may want easy access to the elevator. On the face of it, that seems simple enough, but securing a residence close to the elevator might not be enough. What about the random parking spot assigned to the unit? It might be halfway down a ramp. If you aren’t aware of how the parking spaces are assigned, you may not even think to ask if the parking spot is close to the elevator too. The new residence may be perfect, but it certainly will get old if one needs to lug groceries up the ramp twice a week.

If I have the opportunity to work with a broker, who knows a client well, it makes everyone’s job easier and goes a long way in assuring success for the client. I’m always happy to hear from a broker, especially if they need some insight on Panamanian real estate.

Specials And One-Time Opportunities

Casa Bonita
Casa Bonita is a beautiful building and it’s no surprise it’s almost completely sold, which sometimes translates into great deals for buyers.

Often times, I also know of specials which are going to be offered weeks in advance. For example, Casa Bonita, an up-scale residential building located adjacent to the Westin Playa Bonita just 15 minutes from the heart of Panama City, is almost completely sold. Currently the developer wants to close out the property and is offering a sizable reduction in price for one-bedroom units. It’s a great opportunity that I can share with brokers from all over the globe.

I am always briefed on pre-construction pricing and when that pricing is going to be unavailable.  It may be before the project breaks ground, or it may be well into construction. There are many factors the builder may consider. Sometimes there is the unusual unit that has failed to sell and it might be subject to a reduced price. I know when the construction incentives are going to be offered as well as how a building is selling.

Moving Quickly

Working with brokers allows me the opportunity to move quickly for a client, secure the very best deal and put together a residence, or investment, which really works for each purchaser. There is no competition, but rather just getting the best outcome for a client based on two separate, and equally important, bases of knowledge.

The Kitchen

The gentleman was very specific when he arranged an appointment to look at investment opportunities in Costa del Este, so I was only slightly surprised when he walked into the sales center. He didn’t really frown, it was more that he didn’t smile. His button down shirt was crisp and fastened all the way to the top of his chin. Everything was neat and controlled. I had a quick thought of Forrest Gump, the movie character played by the American actor, Tom Hanks.

Forrest Gump Photo
My client looked a bit like Forrest Gump, from the movie with the same name and he made me smile!

I extended my hand and he looked down toward the floor, accepting my offering hesitantly. “Did you have trouble finding the office?” I said with a smile and he shook his head negatively. “Your directions were very explicit” he said while taking a seat across from me. I returned the smile.

Ordering Breakfast

“I’ll need to improve my Spanish” he said without explanation and then continued. “I couldn’t make myself clear when ordering breakfast this morning,” he said, looking at me directly, “about the difference in whipping eggs and scrambling them,” he continued. “It’s really easy to whip them and it makes a great deal of difference.” He seemed oddly assured when discussing eggs.

I considered the possible difference and couldn’t exactly envision what he was suggesting. Whipped versus scrambled? He caught what must have been a momentary passing of confusion on my face. I didn’t want to comment about my lack of culinary skills or my disinterest in eggs.

Working In A McDonald’s Kitchen

“I’ve worked in the kitchen of a McDonalds restaurant for about 40 years,” he offered.

“The fast-food restaurant?” I said, thinking of the Panamanian hamburger offering, the McNifica? He nodded.

“We have rings where the eggs are contained on the griddle. To cook whipped eggs all you have to do is give them a couple of tosses with the fork and they stay moist and smooth. Velvety. Scrambling eggs means beating them, and more times than not, they become hard and over cooked. Rubber,” he ended, putting both hands on my desk and finally smiling.

McDonalds Cook
Cooking eggs at a McDonalds involves rings and after 40 years, a man really knows how to crack and cook one perfectly.

All I could think about was the fact he had said he had worked as a cook in a McDonalds restaurant for most of his adult life. Eggs were not the only thing I was confused about. How could a McDonalds cook afford a multi-million dollar investment in real estate? I began recalling our earlier conversation about what he was looking for.

Making Quick Judgements

“So you wanted to discuss Parkside?” I said cutting right to the chase. “Parkside offers units rented most often to executives of multinational companies while on assignment in Panama. Individuals may purchase as little as a single unit,” I said, attempting to go low. “A few individuals want to live there themselves, but mainly Parkside is an investment. A management company does everything needed on site and simply deposits the appropriate amount into the owner’s bank account,” I continued without much fanfare. I considered whether a McDonalds cook could have saved enough for a single unit. 

Parkside Panama
Parkside units offer an immediate turnkey investment because the building is completed and rental units are maintained by a management company.

Listen To Me

“I also am very interested in Generation Tower,” he countered. “There wasn’t a lot on the internet, but I have read everything I could find and Generation Tower, is the one in which I am most interested,” he continued. “I think you have pre-construction pricing that looks favorable.”

Generation Tower
Generation Tower will be a stunning building located adjacent to the new Johns Hopkins affiliated hospital and in the heart of booming Costa del Este.

“Generation Tower is a project aimed at the international investor who wants to realize good return on investment, but the initial entry fee is purchasing an entire floor,” I said. “The concept of individual owners of various rental properties, used sometimes as hotel rooms, is popular in Europe and the United Kingdom and just now entering the Panamanian market.”

As I pulled out a slick brochure on Generation Tower, I nodded. “Since we are only selling floors in that project, even pre-construction pricing starts around $2.5 million per floor,” I said thinking this would at least give him pause. It didn’t. It was not the first time he had been judged inaccurately and he smiled.

Estimated 10% ROI?

“You have a management company in place to handle the details of renting, repairing anything needed, to do all the marketing, checking people in and out,” he said with a steady gaze. “I read you estimated approximately 10% return on investment?” Our conversation began to be a bit like a tennis match. A serve and then a return volley. I was beginning to enjoy the exchange, but I remained a little skeptical. 

With A 86% Occupancy Rate Next Door

“This project will be adjacent to the Johns Hopkins affiliated hospital,” I began almost forgetting he was giving me egg cooking lessons minutes earlier. “We feel there is a great market for individuals who come to Panama City for medical procedures, or who are in town on business and need to rent more long-term. The Westin, just a block away, enjoys a mid-week occupancy rate of 86%, so we know there is a demand,” I continued. “These units will be around 750 square feet and will have all the amenities of an apartment. A full kitchen,” I explained as I opened the brochure, “pools and close proximity to everything Costa del Este has to offer.”

“How committed is the developer?” he responded. “One time I was looking at a project in China and they didn’t sell enough units and I had a very hard time getting my initial investment back,” he asked.

“Oh, the developer is completely committed and it will materialize, we have already had so much interest that the project is solidly on track. Generation Tower has enjoyed incredible interest and investment,” I countered. “But, if you are concerned about pre-construction investment, think about Parkside, it’s completed and already has a number of tenants.”

Not My First Time

He smiled. I waited. “I’m interested in both,” he said. “And, I’ll help you out here,” he almost laughed. “It’s not the first time someone thinks a McDonalds cook might not have the funds to invest in such a project.”

I wasn’t sure how to feel. I was a bit embarrassed, but then I also didn’t want to appear foolish. I almost always have to qualify a buyer, but then the old adage “don’t judge a book by it’s cover,” came to mind.

Purchasing One Of The First Franchises

“In the early sixties my father was one of the first people to invest in a McDonalds restaurant and then a second and a third and so on. My mother thought he was nuts and that Ray Kroc was just a great salesman, but in the end it turned out well. I have two brothers and a sister; we all worked in the restaurants. I just happened to really think knowing what went on in the kitchen was the most important place to be. My sister liked the marketing. We have been lucky but none of us think of our share of the inheritance as really our money. We all worked hard, but I don’t want to actually spend any of my inheritance as I think I should be passed along to the next generation. I want to live off the money, but keep the money whole.”

“What did you learn from the kitchen?” I asked beginning to really like and respect the man across the desk from me. “Basics,” he said. “You should never get too far from your business and you should realize what you are asking of your employees. Kroc always said the operation was ‘fool proof’, but it’s not. You have to keep everything running smoothly and nothing is fool proof,” he laughed.

It’s All In The Drinks

“You know, I’ve always wondered how McDonalds could afford the dollar menu,” I countered veering off track, but the access to inside information was so compelling. “Is it real food? I mean how do you offer a sandwich for a dollar? There is the bag and paper it’s wrapped in and the labor costs?” I really had wondered for a long time how fast food restaurants managed to keep prices so low.

“It’s the drinks,” he said simply. “It costs me pennies to serve a Coca-Cola™ and that accounts for a great deal of the profits. It balances or believe me, we wouldn’t be offering anything that didn’t work toward profit.”

I mulled how many times I had run through the McAuto of a McDonalds and ordered a Diet Coke™. I’d been contributing to the bottom line.

Generation Tower For The Next Generation

Hotel Panama
Generation Tower will offer all the amenities of a full-service hotel, but will be individually owned and operated by a management company.

“I think Generation Tower would be great for you,” I began, because if you invest in the property, the initial investment would increase in value, securing that investment for the next generation, but it would also provide a regular revenue stream. The management company does everything and we are looking at around a 10% ROI. That way you have an income to live on, but your investment is just increasing in value,” I explained.

 “It’s also good you are considering some units in Parkside. That project is completed and we have big companies who have done due diligence, securing homes for their executives. Johnson & Johnson, Adidas and Proctor & Gamble, just to name a few. There are over 130 multinational companies with operations in Panama City, many of them centered in Costa del Este. Parkside will give you an immediate revenue stream.”

He moved closer to the desk and asked for a series of financials. He seemed equally at ease with the numbers as he did explaining whipped and scrambled eggs. He moved quickly and confidently and I wasn’t surprised when he asked to visit a third project, one that was currently under construction.

“I want to see the kitchen of your operation,” he said. “The employees, how the construction is going and the materials being used. I want to see how the eggs are going.”

The gentleman was very specific when he arranged an appointment to look at investment opportunities in Costa del Este, so I was only slightly surprised when he walked into the sales center. He didn’t really frown, it was more that he didn’t smile. His button down shirt was crisp and fastened all the way to the top of his chin. Everything was neat and controlled. I had a quick thought of Forrest Gump, the movie character played by the American actor, Tom Hanks.

Forrest Gump Photo
My client looked a bit like Forrest Gump, from the movie with the same name and he made me smile!

I extended my hand and he looked down toward the floor, accepting my offering hesitantly. “Did you have trouble finding the office?” I said with a smile and he shook his head negatively. “Your directions were very explicit” he said while taking a seat across from me. I returned the smile.

Ordering Breakfast

“I’ll need to improve my Spanish” he said without explanation and then continued. “I couldn’t make myself clear when ordering breakfast this morning,” he said, looking at me directly, “about the difference in whipping eggs and scrambling them,” he continued. “It’s really easy to whip them and it makes a great deal of difference.” He seemed oddly assured when discussing eggs.

I considered the possible difference and couldn’t exactly envision what he was suggesting. Whipped versus scrambled? He caught what must have been a momentary passing of confusion on my face. I didn’t want to comment about my lack of culinary skills or my disinterest in eggs.

Working In A McDonald’s Kitchen

“I’ve worked in the kitchen of a McDonalds restaurant for about 40 years,” he offered.

“The fast-food restaurant?” I said, thinking of the Panamanian hamburger offering, the McNifica? He nodded.

“We have rings where the eggs are contained on the griddle. To cook whipped eggs all you have to do is give them a couple of tosses with the fork and they stay moist and smooth. Velvety. Scrambling eggs means beating them, and more times than not, they become hard and over cooked. Rubber,” he ended, putting both hands on my desk and finally smiling.

McDonalds Cook
Cooking eggs at a McDonalds involves rings and after 40 years, a man really knows how to crack and cook one perfectly.

All I could think about was the fact he had said he had worked as a cook in a McDonalds restaurant for most of his adult life. Eggs were not the only thing I was confused about. How could a McDonalds cook afford a multi-million dollar investment in real estate? I began recalling our earlier conversation about what he was looking for.

Making Quick Judgements

“So you wanted to discuss Parkside?” I said cutting right to the chase. “Parkside offers units rented most often to executives of multinational companies while on assignment in Panama. Individuals may purchase as little as a single unit,” I said, attempting to go low. “A few individuals want to live there themselves, but mainly Parkside is an investment. A management company does everything needed on site and simply deposits the appropriate amount into the owner’s bank account,” I continued without much fanfare. I considered whether a McDonalds cook could have saved enough for a single unit. 

Parkside Panama
Parkside units offer an immediate turnkey investment because the building is completed and rental units are maintained by a management company.

Listen To Me

“I also am very interested in Generation Tower,” he countered. “There wasn’t a lot on the internet, but I have read everything I could find and Generation Tower, is the one in which I am most interested,” he continued. “I think you have pre-construction pricing that looks favorable.”

Generation Tower
Generation Tower will be a stunning building located adjacent to the new Johns Hopkins affiliated hospital and in the heart of booming Costa del Este.

“Generation Tower is a project aimed at the international investor who wants to realize good return on investment, but the initial entry fee is purchasing an entire floor,” I said. “The concept of individual owners of various rental properties, used sometimes as hotel rooms, is popular in Europe and the United Kingdom and just now entering the Panamanian market.”

As I pulled out a slick brochure on Generation Tower, I nodded. “Since we are only selling floors in that project, even pre-construction pricing starts around $2.5 million per floor,” I said thinking this would at least give him pause. It didn’t. It was not the first time he had been judged inaccurately and he smiled.

Estimated 10% ROI?

“You have a management company in place to handle the details of renting, repairing anything needed, to do all the marketing, checking people in and out,” he said with a steady gaze. “I read you estimated approximately 10% return on investment?” Our conversation began to be a bit like a tennis match. A serve and then a return volley. I was beginning to enjoy the exchange, but I remained a little skeptical. 

With A 86% Occupancy Rate Next Door

“This project will be adjacent to the Johns Hopkins affiliated hospital,” I began almost forgetting he was giving me egg cooking lessons minutes earlier. “We feel there is a great market for individuals who come to Panama City for medical procedures, or who are in town on business and need to rent more long-term. The Westin, just a block away, enjoys a mid-week occupancy rate of 86%, so we know there is a demand,” I continued. “These units will be around 750 square feet and will have all the amenities of an apartment. A full kitchen,” I explained as I opened the brochure, “pools and close proximity to everything Costa del Este has to offer.”

“How committed is the developer?” he responded. “One time I was looking at a project in China and they didn’t sell enough units and I had a very hard time getting my initial investment back,” he asked.

“Oh, the developer is completely committed and it will materialize, we have already had so much interest that the project is solidly on track. Generation Tower has enjoyed incredible interest and investment,” I countered. “But, if you are concerned about pre-construction investment, think about Parkside, it’s completed and already has a number of tenants.”

Not My First Time

He smiled. I waited. “I’m interested in both,” he said. “And, I’ll help you out here,” he almost laughed. “It’s not the first time someone thinks a McDonalds cook might not have the funds to invest in such a project.”

I wasn’t sure how to feel. I was a bit embarrassed, but then I also didn’t want to appear foolish. I almost always have to qualify a buyer, but then the old adage “don’t judge a book by it’s cover,” came to mind.

Purchasing One Of The First Franchises

“In the early sixties my father was one of the first people to invest in a McDonalds restaurant and then a second and a third and so on. My mother thought he was nuts and that Ray Kroc was just a great salesman, but in the end it turned out well. I have two brothers and a sister; we all worked in the restaurants. I just happened to really think knowing what went on in the kitchen was the most important place to be. My sister liked the marketing. We have been lucky but none of us think of our share of the inheritance as really our money. We all worked hard, but I don’t want to actually spend any of my inheritance as I think I should be passed along to the next generation. I want to live off the money, but keep the money whole.”

“What did you learn from the kitchen?” I asked beginning to really like and respect the man across the desk from me. “Basics,” he said. “You should never get too far from your business and you should realize what you are asking of your employees. Kroc always said the operation was ‘fool proof’, but it’s not. You have to keep everything running smoothly and nothing is fool proof,” he laughed.

It’s All In The Drinks

“You know, I’ve always wondered how McDonalds could afford the dollar menu,” I countered veering off track, but the access to inside information was so compelling. “Is it real food? I mean how do you offer a sandwich for a dollar? There is the bag and paper it’s wrapped in and the labor costs?” I really had wondered for a long time how fast food restaurants managed to keep prices so low.

“It’s the drinks,” he said simply. “It costs me pennies to serve a Coca-Cola™ and that accounts for a great deal of the profits. It balances or believe me, we wouldn’t be offering anything that didn’t work toward profit.”

I mulled how many times I had run through the McAuto of a McDonalds and ordered a Diet Coke™. I’d been contributing to the bottom line.

Generation Tower For The Next Generation

Hotel Panama
Generation Tower will offer all the amenities of a full-service hotel, but will be individually owned and operated by a management company.

“I think Generation Tower would be great for you,” I began, because if you invest in the property, the initial investment would increase in value, securing that investment for the next generation, but it would also provide a regular revenue stream. The management company does everything and we are looking at around a 10% ROI. That way you have an income to live on, but your investment is just increasing in value,” I explained.

 “It’s also good you are considering some units in Parkside. That project is completed and we have big companies who have done due diligence, securing homes for their executives. Johnson & Johnson, Adidas and Proctor & Gamble, just to name a few. There are over 130 multinational companies with operations in Panama City, many of them centered in Costa del Este. Parkside will give you an immediate revenue stream.”

He moved closer to the desk and asked for a series of financials. He seemed equally at ease with the numbers as he did explaining whipped and scrambled eggs. He moved quickly and confidently and I wasn’t surprised when he asked to visit a third project, one that was currently under construction.

“I want to see the kitchen of your operation,” he said. “The employees, how the construction is going and the materials being used. I want to see how the eggs are going.”

HEADER TEST

Panama has been talking about building a fourth bridge for some time. Recently, it was announced that awarding the final contract for the next bridge, was being postponed once again. Big structural projects such as the construction of a bridge, doubling the width of the Panama Canal, building a new airport, creating a subway system or improving the highways throughout the country always seem to never match the original timeline. The projects I’ve just mentioned are on-going or completed and none of them went off without a revised timeline, so I’m really not concerned about the delay on the new bridge.

Unprecedented Growth

Normally one company cannot fulfill all the needs of a multi-faceted contract so consortiums are formed to bid on the work. One company may design the project, another will do the actual construction and a third might provide financing. That complicates the judging of the various bids and often times lengthens the timeline. Lately, Panama has been on an almost unprecedented streak with infrastructure projects and there are times when I wonder just how much development Panama can absorb simultaneously. Revising timelines on these projects sometimes gives us a little breathing room, even if the projects are exciting.

Panama infrastructure Fourth Bridge

The fourth bridge will be built with two inverted Y structures to accommodate vessels transiting the Panama Canal. The construction will be completed without impacting canal traffic.

A developing nation

Panama is regarded as a “third world” country, but when I discuss Panama, I prefer to use the term “developing nation” as opposed to “third world” because that is exactly what Panama is—developing. Our world changed when we regained control of the Panama Canal from the United States in 1999 and since that time we have exploded with growth.

As almost everyone knows Panama completed the massive project of doubling of the Panama Canal approximately a year ago. There were dire predictions around the project including that the tugs which stabilize the passing ships weren’t going to work. They are working just fine. Other doomsday predications included giant leaks in the walls of the locks and ships being damaged because of instability during transit. Everything is working well and the additional traffic has generated a great deal of income which is being used to fund other large infrastructure projects.

From stable to positive

In the last quarter, Moody’s Corporation, a New York based global company which provides credit ratings, research, tools and analysis to markets all over the globe, improved the credit rating of Panama and changed the outlook of the country from stable to positive. While stable is a good rating, a positive rating is exceptional for a developing country. Moody’s went so far as to suggest they could upgrade the rating even further, if debt consolidation goes a bit better than predicted.

In changing the rating, Moody’s said “Panama’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth rate continues to outperform peers, supporting its economic strength” and that Panama’s “debt trend will improve over the coming years supported by fiscal consolidation and compliance with the fiscal rule.”

Moody’s notes that it expects the central government deficit to narrow over the coming years supporting a decline in the government debt ratio. They predict that part of the deficit reduction will be driven by the higher transfers from the Panama Canal Authority (ACP) that those additional funds will average 2.5% of GDP in 2017-20 compared to 1.8% in 2016.

A world leader in flags!

Ships Registered in Panama

Panama registers more ships than any other country in the world including the United States and China.

In addition to obvious financial drivers in Panama, there are other areas in which we excel almost without notice. For example on October 17, 2017, Panama quietly opened three new international offices where ships of various countries can apply for a Panamanian flag. Currently Panama is the world leader in flagging ships.

These new offices are part of a strategy focused on supporting the growth of the Panamanian ship registry which has recently entered into profitable and non-traditional emerging markets such as liquified natural gas vessels and yachts. The Panama flag has historically only been recognized by the large number of bulk cargo ships, but today, Panama is diversifying its business plan. The new offices in Dubai, Manilla and London join existing offices in Miami, Piraeus, Istanbul, Singapore, Busan, Imabari, Seoul and Tokyo, along with Panama City.

Good news for investing

All of this is good news for people investing in Panama. While the widening of the Panama Canal was a defining event, the opening of the fourth bridge will be life changing for many Panamanians and expats who have decided to call Panama home.

Traffic in Panama City

Traffic in Panama City can be frustrating, but the addition of a fourth bridge should help ease congestion.

The bridge will ease traffic congestion and will connect west Panama to Panama City with six-lanes for vehicles and two additional monorail lanes dedicated to the third subway line. The monorail will use Japanese technology and be the first of it’s kind in the Americas. The $1.2 billon USD project will to take 42 months to complete.

Today traffic can be difficult, especially during rush periods when people are coming into or leaving the city. The first of eight proposed subway lines has been in operation since April 2014 and today carries up to 200,000 passengers daily. The second line is scheduled to be completed December 2018 in time to accommodate the expected one million individuals descending on Panama City for the Catholic World Youth Summit in January 2019.

Connecting within the city

The bridge will carry the third line and when completed, will connect an area near Tocumen International Airport, on the outskirts of Panama City, with the Panama Pacifico area. This will reduce traffic congestion and make it easy to traverse the city, the canal area and other residential locations with ease. Currently the cost for a ride is .35 cents, .24 cents for seniors and .17 cents for students. The cost of a single ride tickets in New York City is $3.00!

Amador Terminal Restaurant

Dinner and drinks anyone? I can’t wait for this restaurant to be open..

I know it sounds silly, but one thing I am really excited about is the proposed restaurant that is slated to be located on one of the legs of the fourth bridge. The upscale eatery is to be strategically placed so diners can arrive easily by metro and then sit in comfort while gazing out at the boats queuing up to transit the canal. I’m already planning a party so come on down and join me!

Better roads outside the city

Canal Fourth Bridge panama

Designers of the fourth bridge utilized as much space as possible for green areas and parks. The area will be a magnet for families and others to enjoy the park-like setting!

In addition to the fourth bridge and the subway system, the Panamanian government just released about $100 million dollars to upgrade the roadways in Panama. Everywhere I turn I see some other big project manifesting before my eyes. It’s hard to remember the Panama I found when I moved here a decade ago.

Each residential project gets a little more expensive and the full range of amenities continue to be standard in all the new high rises, but you can still secure a condominium on the Pacific Ocean for less than $200,000. These won’t last long and there are tax abatements and builder financing. Investment opportunities abound in Costa del Este with everything from large residential units to condotels. Casa Bonita, the beautiful Mediterranean-Greek architectural designed building will be within minutes of the fourth bridge. The developer is anxious to close out the building so the prices are great.

Costa del Este Casa Bianca

Costa del Este offers high rise apartments, ‘Condotels’ and low-rise luxury villas like Casa Bianca

There is a lot happening in Panama and relatively inexpensive prices are still around so consider joining me before they open that restaurant under the fourth bridge.

Helipad Casa Bonita

Knowing where you want to retire is a huge decision, requiring a great deal of soul searching and reflection. When people come to me for advice, I take it very seriously and I work hard to help find the perfect place. It is my experience, when someone makes a poor choice, it is either because they didn’t ask enough questions or they didn’t ask the right questions.

There is no judgement; just observation. The most common questions I get are about cost. How much it takes to buy or rent a retirement home is certainly important, but so is how you envision your actual retirement. I find that people are not going to be happy, even if they can live well inexpensively, if they are miserable about other things that come along with retirement.

Are you really ready to stop?

Enter your text here…

Senior Couple Yacht Ocean

The statistics must be right about there being millions of Baby Boomers in the United States who have recently retired or planning to retire soon. I think it’s like 10,000 a day and fortunately my phone continues to ring with inquiries about what it’s really like to live in Panama as opposed to one of the retirement meccas in the States such as Florida, Arizona or Nevada. Cost is always a factor, but recently I’ve had more inquiries about, healthcare, education, the environment, transportation and social engagement opportunities.

Most of my inquirers quickly ask whether Medicare, the federal health insurance program for people who are 65 or older, is accepted in Panama. The answer, of course, is that Medicare only covers treatment and health services in the United States. With very few exceptions you will not be able to access your Medicare coverage anywhere outside the United States.

Looking Through the Wrong Lens?

Health Care In Panama

On the surface, that would seem like a fatal flaw for moving to Panama, but it’s not. Because healthcare is such a contentious issue in the States, people immediately recoil at the answer and tend to dismiss their ability to retire anywhere other than somewhere in the United States because they need the government-provided health insurance. I am quick to offer, that they may be looking at things through the wrong lens.

Healthcare is excellent in Panama. Many of the physicians are trained in the most prestigious medical schools world-wide, the hospitals are well appointed and English is widely spoken. The difference is that the costs are dramatically less. I had a client, from the States, tell me her prescription for high blood pressure was $437 a month and without Medicare, she would be hard pressed to afford it long-term. In Panama, the cost was $27.45

Excellent Healthcare

The facilities are excellent and all the equipment needed for testing and care is readily available in Panama. The Johns Hopkins affiliated Hospital Punta Pacifica, is considered the best in Central America and they readily accept some US insurance as well as health insurance purchased in Panama. The private hospitals are frequented by expats, but so are the public facilities. Individuals can obtain memberships in the several public hospital systems which ensures treatment will be provided.

No Medicare in Panama

Money Health Insurance

Crunch the numbers on the cost of healthcare – it could cost you less in Panama, even if you can’t use Medicare here.

Bottom line, you won’t be able to use your Medicare insurance in Panama but you will be able to replace it for less money, without compromising quality. Because each retiree is unique when it comes to their individual Medicare coverage, I never attempt to answer all the questions, but rather refer everyone to the government maintain Medicare website. (https://www.medicare.gov) Some people will need to pay for Part B while others have it covered. Having secondary insurance through their retirement makes also a difference. I had a client tell me she was paying about $165 a month through AARP to cover the gap in her Medicare coverage and I couldn’t help but think that was more than she would pay in Panama for complete coverage. So, when you think you cannot live without Medicare, think again. Plus inexpensive health coverage is very important for individuals who haven’t reached the age of 65 and you can also find that in Panama.

Lots of Considerations

Royal Palm Nueva Gorgona

Royal Palm, located about an hours drive from Panama City offers stunning views and amenities for a fraction of what it would cost in the United States.

Of course healthcare isn’t the only thing to consider if you are thinking about living outside the United States. Housing is generally less expensive in Panama as opposed to the States, but like anything else, it depends on where you choose to live.

There are plenty of million dollar condos in upscale Costa del Este, and then you can get into an absolute beach-front property for under $200,000 with plenty of amenities. Royal Palm boasts views of the Pacific Ocean along with stunning pools and social areas at prices you can’t replicate in the States. Decide how you want to live and then make a plan to find it in the best place for you on the planet. I think you’ll find Panama at the top of your list.

A Pleasant Social Scene

The social scene in Panama is warm and embracing. Panamanians in general are very welcoming, but I find that most times expats form strong relationship among other expats.There are always new people coming and going and from a variety of countries. It’s never just about age, but rather the fact someone is new and different. Groups will have retirees as well as young families who have been transferred to Panama for business.

Panama Will Provide Some Surprises

Panama Metro Line

Panama has the only metro system in Central America and it will soon consist of three lines.

The United States is a first world country and it shows in the infrastructure. Roads are almost always good, the electricity is functional, fast food restaurants are on every corner and you know exactly what you are going to get when you order that combo meal number three. In Panama there are surprises. Roads are getting better, but if you venture very far from Panama City, or even on the back roads of the city, you will experience potholes and tight parking spaces. Panama City boasts the only metro in Central America and there are plenty of fancy new public buses.

Panama City, until recently, has always received the lion’s share of the infrastructure dollars. Now, roads out in the country are beginning to be repaired and built to higher standards, but it’s still a bit of the wild, wild West. I don’t have a problem with the challenges because they are relatively few. The Internet works well in the city and towns with a good number of expats and it gets better every day. You can drink the water, garbage is picked up regularly and phones work just fine.

A Bit of a Barrier

If you don’t speak Spanish, the language can be a challenge because everyone doesn’t speak English. If you try to use a few Spanish words, Panamanians are quick to respond with a smile and plenty of hand gestures. The current government is very committed to having a bi-lingual population within the next 25 years and lots of money is being allocated to make it happen. Teachers are being trained in the States, Canada and Great Britain and they are coming home to a mandate to teach the next generation how to speak English.

Shopping Cart elevator

I had to get used the shopping trolley elevators at the local store, El Machetazo!

Panama is a foreign country and there are things which will be “foreign” to anyone who moves here from the United States. The food will be different even if the grocery stores are large and carry just about everything you can find in the States. And, if you are taking the escalator up to the second floor and have a shopping cart, you’ll need to park your cart in a contraption that will automatically move the cart while you ride next to it. Different, but efficient. You can certainly get the hang of it while enjoying more for less. More view for less. More wine for less. More medical treatment for less. Think about it!

As the dramatic twin towers of Royal Palm have taken shape on the edge of the Pacific Ocean in Nueva Gorgona and the construction crane has been dismantled, the sharply reduced pre-construction prices are also being eliminated. Initial owners are scheduled to receive keys to their units within the first quarter of 2018 and final touches are being made to the one- two- and three-bedroom units, while the occupancy permit is being processed. Once the building begins receiving owners, pre-construction pricing will be unavailable.

“This has been an incredible project,” said Liz Larroquette, the lead sales agent for the luxury beachfront property. “I have been selling property in Panama for ten years and with Royal Palm, I think we found a real sweet spot for the average consumer looking for a place that was not too expensive and yet offered all the amenities, not to mention the breathtaking views. Everything is right on the beach.”

Royal Palm by Empresas Bern offers absolute beachfront access for less than many locations in the US and Europe

 

Larroquette explained that properties in Panama, “have always been a bargain in comparison to most retirement locations in North America and Europe.” While checking on the progress of the social areas, Larroquette said, “like all good things, the outstanding properties at rock bottom prices haven’t lasted forever in Panama. I’ve seen a lot of change in ten years, but Royal Palm is somewhat of an exception.”

“Located about an hours’ drive from Panama City and the international airport, Nueva Gorgona has remained less developed that other Panamanian hotspots,” said Larroquette. “It is however, just a five-minute drive to the well-developed beach community of Coronado. You have everything you need here at the beach. In Coronado you have tons of restaurants. Everything from a five-star special occasion place to road-side fondas. Dry cleaners, physician offices and a clinic, numerous grocery stores and speciality shops. There is also an international school, massage and wellness centers, salons and spas and veterinarian care.”

Standing on the balcony of one of the beachfront apartments, you can see the architects vision in designing the building in the shape of a ship hull.

 

The twin towers of Royal Palm, which mimic the shape of a ship’s hull, stand 28- and 21-floors respectively. The towers share a common hallway and amenities including a lap and infinity pool, a multi-sport recreational area, restaurant, two social areas, a sauna, fitness area, party room and children’s playground.

The bathroom finishings are modern and clean, perfect for a beachfront property.

Larroquette notes that even though the promotional pre-construction pricing will be ending, there are still some side-by-side units available. Multiple units may be purchased together to form a single residence for large or multi-generational families. “The residential units of Royal Palm have sold rapidly, but there are a few beachfront and side-by-side units available,” said Larroquette. “These won’t last long now that the building is nearing completion. Last year was a banner year, so while there are a few of each type left, I expect them to go quickly with the building being is in its’ final stage.”

Modern and stylish in design, apartments like this 70m2 unit are still available at pre-construction pricing.

 

As the construction crews tile the last units, tests the elevators and build out the reception area with double height glass panels, plans are underway for providing a wellness center and offering paddle board surfing and other water sports. “Many of the units were bought as investments,” said Larroquette. “When the owners are not enjoying their units, they may be used as short- and long-term rentals. Often when people are on vacation, they look for amenities such as paddle-boards to take full advantage of the beach location, so we will be looking at additional amenities to fulfill the needs of everyone.”

Spectacular ocean views up and down the Pacific coastline await the residents of Royal Palm

 

Larroquette noted that, “Royal Palm is unique, both in its location right on the beach, five minutes to a commercial center and yet the prices are within reach. It is attainable for families, retirees or as an investment property. Panama City is experiencing incredible growth. There are a lot of million-dollar residences in Costa del Este, a real city hotspot and there are stunning beach properties at Playa Bonita, but Royal Palm is luxury within reach. I sort of hate to see it come to completion,” she said with a smile and the backdrop of the Pacific Ocean.

Calendar on beach

Often times I get calls from individuals interested in buying property in Panama and they tell me they have only one week to visit the country, see if they like it enough to invest and then view all the options available for purchase. As much as I like to sell property, I have to tell them immediately it’s not enough time. Some will argue they have done all kinds of research on the internet and Panama has checked most of their boxes. While I feel sure that may be true, I simply repeat, “a week is not enough time. You must feel Panama. You need to see if it fits you individually!”

Which Big Body Of Water Suits You?

People are generally surprised when they see the number of modern high-rise buildings in Panama City.

Panama is a blessed strip of land that can give residents and visitors almost any kind of geography. Do you prefer the Caribbean Sea over the Pacific Ocean? We have both! There is a rainforest minutes from Panama City and the only one in the world which is right next door to a metropolitan center. Are you looking for a large city? Panama City alone provides a number of living situations from the vibrant historical sector, Casco Viejo, to a new, planned community with all the first-world amenities in Costa del Este. There is a beach community just over the Bridge of the Americas as well as other beach communities along the PanAmerican highway in Nueva Gorgona and I encourage people to continue doing internet research, but I also tell them they must come to Panama. See what it is like flying into Tocumen International Airport. Many people tell me they were surprised to feel the heat and humidity upon walking out of the airport, even late at night. It’s hard to research a feeling over the internet and the heat in Panama is real.

Imagine Welcoming Family To Panama

The firm selected to complete the design of the new Tocumen Airport is one of the most highly rated in the world, with buildings on six continents including the Bloomberg European Center, the Circular Quay Tower in Sydney, the Russia Tower in Moscow and the Apple store in Singapore.

I tell people as they walk out of the airport they should try to imagine how they might feel welcoming family and friends to Panama. When they arrive will they be impressed, scared for your safety, happy you are safe? How long did it take to get to Panama? Will it be too much after the newness has worn off? Is it too expensive to go back for important events and visits?  Think weddings and other life milestone family occasions! Unless you don’t want to socialize and then it doesn’t matter. The fact Panama is easy to get to and from the United States and Canada has always been a real plus in my mind.

I tell people considering Panama as a new destination that I think they will be surprised once they have arrived, even after all the research. Tocumen International Airport is currently under construction and the expansion is just one of the many well-funded municipal projects underway in Panama. When the new terminal is completed, it will reflect the Panamanian landscape with a welcoming open garden, planted with the trees and flora of Panama’s tropical forests. They say it will evoke a unique sense of welcome, removing the anonymity of an international hub experience often felt at other airports. It’s beyond just first-world, it will raise the bar for international airports globally.

Financing From The Canal

The Amador Causeway is a narrow land-bridge, built with rocks excavated during the construction of the Panama Canal, that offers restaurants, bike paths and outdoor activities.

The revenue received from the Panama Canal (even more now that it has doubled in size) finances other projects such as the new subway system, a comprehensive water treatment facility and the development of the recreational area, the Amador Causeway. There are social programs in place to enhance the lives of Panamanians and an ambitious program to provide English skills for all students throughout the country. These initiatives benefit the citizens as well as those interested in making Panama home.

After arriving at the airport, wave down a driver and relax as you are transported into the city. See how you feel when you look at the impressive sprawl that is Panama City. Look at the water on either side of the highway as you glide along the well maintained roads. Notice the ease in getting through the toll booths with everything automated. Notice the new cars and the people driving them. Imagine your self in one of those cars. I encourage people to ask themselves if they would be comfortable.

Imagine Being A Resident

I tell people to try to imagine being a resident. In your mind’s eye envision living on one of the floors of a modern high rise, walking to a restaurant or shopping in one of the many malls or American-type grocery stores. Will you have friends over for drinks before walking to a nearby restaurant? Will you seek out the jazz clubs or would you be more comfortable sitting on your balcony overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Where in Panama might you feel comfortable? Imagine your life here! Not on vacation, but everyday!

Picturing Day-To-Day Living!

Would a local restaurant not suit you or would you find it welcoming? We have all types in Panama, but it is important before you move to know your comfort level. 

Since Panama City is ranked as one of the top ten Latin American cities for dining, I tell people to think about eating day-to-day. When visiting, don’t think of it as a vacation, but rather a reconnaissance mission. Did you find enough variety in both price and diversity? Would you be eating out a lot, or did you visit the many groceries and compare cost and selection? There is every possible type of restaurant from Italian, Mexican, American to Indian and Middle Eastern, but that is not day-to-day living. I love the Brazilian steak focused restaurants and the wonderful Asian offerings, but I mostly eat food in my home. Imagine that when you are doing your research.

You Shouldn’t Live With Low-Level Anxiety

The Do-It-Center stores in Panama have a wide variety of items, but probably not as many as one might find in the United States.

After spending the night were there enough English speakers to make you feel comfortable? Were there too many things which confused you causing low-level anxiety? Could you imagine yourself walking along the La Cinta Costera in the mornings or jogging as the evening sun goes down? Are you comfortable with the people? They probably look different from you.

Rent a car and start driving. See how you like the traffic. Look at the stores and know if you are going to feel secure leaving your favorites such as Home Depot. Imagine walking into a DoIt Center with a real list. Will that be enough or will you feel the selection is not adequate? Look at the prices and the quality of the offerings. If you move to Panama, you will need to go to a hardware store eventually. I tell people often to remind themselves this is not a vacation. It’s important research. It’s your research.

Non-refrigerated Eggs And Limited Recycling

eggs broken in nest

Eggs as a dealbreaker? That was one I hadn’t heard before, but it goes to show why you can’t do all your research on the internet!

One time, I had a woman who was so sure she wanted to move to Panama that she bought a condominium sight unseen. I encouraged her to visit first, but she was sure. After nine months she called and wanted to “return” the condo. “You can’t just return it,” was my reply and she quickly gave me a list of things that made her feel “uncomfortable” including the fact eggs aren’t refrigerated in Panama. Without going into the reasons eggs are perfectly fine in Panama, I began to guide her on what she’d need to do to put her real estate on the market. Another individual from Germany was reasonably horrified there wasn’t a more robust recycling effort in Panama. “We recycle everything,” she said with just a tone of superiority, “it’s really hard to get to used to the fact not everyone even recycles glass bottles. It’s actually horrifying,” she told me. I felt as though I had let her down, but lack of refrigerated eggs or recycling glass bottles is not something I would immediately think to tell someone.

Making The Judgement Call Yourself

What I know, after years of helping people find their next home, is that I cannot know what is right for them individually. They have to make that judgement call. They have to come to Panama and visit and put Panama on like a piece of clothing. Is it too scratchy? Can they move in it comfortably? Does it make them feel good? Does it fit? Come on down for a little research and see if Panama fits!

“Do you have AA meetings in Panama?” came the question from a 68-year-old man from Ohio. His eyes were a crystal blue and intense. “I’ve been sober for 37 years and there really isn’t anything more important to me than having the ability to attend regular meetings,” he continued.Just like not suffering from say, diabetes, I don’t carry the burden of being an alcoholic. That is not to say that alcohol abuse has not touched my life. I have watched friends struggle with the physical addition of drugs and alcohol, as well as members of my family. I’m just lucky to have dodged that particular bullet. Nonetheless, I was well aware of AA meetings in Panama because I get that question more times than you might imagine. The far-reaching help and hope provided by that organization has made an unbelievable impact world-wide and certainly in Panama.

Plenty Of Meetings

There are plenty of English speaking AA meetings in Panama City and also English meetings in the Coronado area.

“There are plenty of meetings,” I said, “and all types of meetings. There is Al-Anon and Alateen meetings for those friends and family members, including teens, who are impacted by the alcoholic.” I was pretty sure I didn’t have to cite the fact that for each alcoholic there is, on average, four additional people affected.“Are all the meetings in Spanish,” he continued to press for information. “My Spanish spans about that of 150 words!” A little laugh punctuated the statement.“Lots of English only meetings,” I jumped in quickly. “I do know the Grateful Hearts meetings in the city, designed for LGBT meeting goers, is in both English and Spanish and most everyone who attends is bilingual, but I think that is the only meeting that isn’t conducted in only English or only Spanish.”We continued driving to the property he and his wife were most interested in seeing; Royal Palm, is a new beach-front property located in a community situated along the Pacific Ocean about an hour outside Panama City, in Nueva Gorgona. “Are all the meetings just in Panama City?” said his wife, Mary from the back seat. “I’m 18 years sober myself. I think it would be too difficult for us to make regular trips into the city for meetings. Maybe we should be looking there, but I really wanted the beach,” she mused.

Meetings At The Beach

Meetings in Coronado are held in convenient locations

“There are meetings right in Coronado” I explained. “That is about a ten minute drive up the PanAmerican Highway from Nueva Gorgona. That’s where you would most likely do the bulk of your shopping. Several of the grocery stores are there, the hardware stores, medical providers and restaurants.”As we clipped along the highway, I mentioned that I knew meetings were held both in the shopping center located right before turning into the gated community of Coronado and at the Coronado International School. “It’s not every day of the week in the beach communities,” I explained, “like it is in Panama City, but there are three or four meetings a week and I know the members of the group go out to dinner together fairly often.”The man seemed pleased with the information and he sat a little easier while looking at the mountains and blue skies as we continued down the coast. “One of the hardest things we have had to consider is leaving the people we sponsor,” he said. “They are family and a huge part of our life. We did a lot research on line about meetings, but often times that stuff is old and not relevant any longer. I just wanted to make sure,” he continued.

Relevant And Current

Group meeting

Leaving home doesn’t mean you have to leave your support network behind

“I have heard those same comments from other people who have decided to retire in Panama. It’s relevant and it’s current,” I said. “Maybe there are other people waiting to become like family,” I said while smiling. I liked the honesty of this couple. “Think about other opportunities you could have if you lived here. New people to sponsor, using your 37 and 18 years of sobriety to lead and help a new group of people. I know the national convention of AA for Central America was held last year in Panama” I explained. “There are meetings in many places in Panama including El Valle, which is a community built in a volcano and just up the road a bit further than Coronado. You’ll want to buy your vegetables there at the farmer’s market,” I added. “More meetings are held in David which is much closer to Costa Rica. Panama is still developing, but we are far more advanced than many other hot international retirement destination,” I continued.“You will have opportunities to study the ‘Big Book’, attend closed meetings and sponsor individuals,” I said. “What a wonderful way to make new friends and develop a supportive social circle,” I said with a smile.

Royal Palm Panama

The social area at Royal Palm will be a way to meet new friends

Two-Bedrooms Facing The Ocean

Royal Palm Panama

Did someone say ‘Spectacular Ocean Views’? The views from Royal Palm are unsurpassed!

“We need two bedrooms facing the ocean,” he began, changing the topic. I silently considered the beautiful two-bedroom units still open in Royal Palm, even though the development had been selling rapidly.“I have this one young woman who has been sober for seven years. She’s a critical care nurse at the Children’s Hospital in Columbus. Graduated with honors from Ohio State University,” said Mary from the back seat. “She’s like a daughter and she’ll be the first to visit, but there are more, so we’ll need a guest room. Maybe we’ll start a meeting in Nueva Gorgona and meet near the beach,” she said with a smile.“Sounds perfect,” I agreed. “Do you want a high floor looking out over the ocean,” I questioned.  “Absolutely,” she said quickly. “I’m always aware of my struggles,” she said. “But, with AA I’ve been able to more fully enjoy things such as a great sunset over the ocean.”I couldn’t have agreed more.

Medellin and Panama Skyline at night

It’s not often I discover a place expats are considering as a possible retirement location which makes me pause and take a closer look. I’m fully aware of the pros and cons of most every location being touted as a “top retirement destination” from Belize and Costa Rica to Portugal and Malta, but lately I’ve been hearing a lot about Colombia and in particular the city of Medellin.         

At first I would just smile, because Colombia has long been known as the murder capital of the world, and I hate saying anything unpleasant about another location. I like to just point out the differences. But, there was also the 52 years of civil war including a great deal of gun running, not to mention the cash crop of marijuana that is everywhere. School children harvest the crop  in the afternoons once their studies are finished.

World’s Largest Producer of Cocaine

Most alarming to me has always been the fact Colombia is the largest producer of cocaine in the world and 90% of the drug seized in the United States (US) comes directly from Colombia. According to William R. Brownfield, Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement for the US, cocaine production increased 130% in Colombia from 2012 and 2016. It’s hard not to mention those facts while looking someone in the eye when they are considering something as big as relocation.

People celebrating Colombian peace deal

The people of Colombia celebrated when the Peace Deal with the FARC was made in 2016

But, lately I have been inundated with articles and personal information about the “Medellin Miracle” which claims there has been a total turnaround for the country of Colombia and especially the city of Medellin. Supposedly the 52 years of war has come to an end. In November 2016, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, came to a peace agreement with the Colombian government and they have put down their guns, and reinvented themselves as a new political party. The previous revolutionists were placed in 26 special transition camps scattered across the country before being reintroduced to civilian life. Many are worried the peace agreement will not hold. If all you have ever done is fight and carry a gun, how easy will it be to start dropping by Starbucks for socialization? Not to mention the fact most FARC members have little or no education.

Spring Like Weather Every Day

Cable Cars Medellin

I’m not a big fan of heights, but this does look like a fun way to get around Medellin!

Medellin is a city blessed with year-round spring like weather, it is home to several universities and boasts more museums than many US or Canadian cities. The transportation system is clean, modern and inventive. One area, previously so gang-ridden people never left their homes, is now serviced by speculator outdoor escalators. To accommodate part of the city’s location, half way up a mountain, gondolas are used as inexpensive public transportation. A ride to work provides some commuters with breathtaking views of the valley below.

Colombia, along with Panama, has coast along both the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea. The city of Medellin is about two hours’ drive from the beaches?, but there are other small beach communities dotted along the coast if one is seeking absolute beach-front living. These towns, such as Playa Blanca and Tagnaga, offer something between being totally over crowded (especially in high season) to almost deserted. And, like Panama, there are lots of small islands off the coast providing visitors and residents alike with a perfect get-away. In all, there is 1,020 miles of Caribbean and 1,360 miles of Pacific coastlines in Colombia.

Landlocked And Two Hours From The Beach

Geographic map of Colombia

Medellin is nestled in the mountains, and is about a 2 hour drive from the nearest beach

While Medellin is landlocked, Panama City is located directly on the water. Panama City  beaches are not swimmable unless you go about 15 minutes outside the city and over The Bridge of the Americas, which during rush hour can be daunting. Once over the bridge, there are a couple of high-end resorts sitting on a public beach. Not only is it swimmable, it also offers breathtaking views of the Panama Canal. Other than that, about 50 minutes from the city provides Panamanians with the option of absolute beach-front living in Nueva Gorgona and Coronado, which are a couple of well-developed but not over-crowded beach communities.

Colombia’s English—Not So Much!

An important aspect of comparing Colombia and Panama is the fact you can function very well in Panama without speaking Spanish?, but you may not fare as well in Colombia outside of the main cities and tourist areas. A report published in 2013 noted the startling fact that most of the English teachers in Colombia cannot pass the International Beginner English Speaker Exam, much less, fewer than 5% can speak English on an Intermediate or Expert level. Panama is poised to produce a generation of intermediate speakers as the government, several years ago, instituted an ambitious plan to require English to be taught in all schools.

Parkside building Costa del Este

Rent in Medellin is less expensive than places like Costa del Este in Panama, where rental rates are rising due to the influx of multinational companies.

Medellin is less expensive than Panama, but not by much. You can rent a two-bedroom condominium in the heart of the city for about $1,200 a month and that will come with a doorman and a stunning infinity pool. You can also rent a perfectly acceptable two-bedroom apartment for $500 a month. In Panama there are still good deals to be had, but with an influx of multinational businesses locating in Panama City there is a demand for newer apartments suitable for executives with all the modern conveniences and luxuries. Better deals can be found but mostly they go unadvertised or are out in the beach communities.

Inexpensive High Speed Internet, Fish and Groceries

Strawberries

One of my favorite things about visiting Medellin is the range of fresh local fruit that doesn’t grow in Panama – $5 for a giant bag of ripe, juicy strawberries!

In the cities, and to a lesser extent in the rural areas of Colombia, internet is high speed and inexpensive. Groceries are very much the same as in Panama offering both large, well-stocked supermarkets and farmers who sell vegetables and fruit on the side of the road. Fresh fish is abundant, inexpensive and high quality. Both countries have speciality markets offering everything from beef, lamb and pork, along with organic products.Healthcare is also good in Colombia as it is in Panama. However, Panama has a much larger and well integrated healthcare delivery system for most of it’s residents where Colombia provides healthcare mostly in or near urban centers. 

Waiting For Joint Commission

Like so many other things, Colombia’s healthcare is not as progressed as Panama’s. For example, the major healthcare providers in Colombia such as Pablo Tobon Uribe Hospital, are waiting to be accredited by Joint Commission International. Joint Commission measures the commitment, level of care and safety of care provided by individual hospitals. Hospitals in Panama, such as Hospital Punta Pacifica, affiliated with Johns Hopkins Medicine in Baltimore has been accredited by Joint Commission since 2011.

Pacifica Salud Towncenter Panama

The new John Hopkins affiliated hospital in Costa del Este has broken ground, enhancing Panama’s already solid health care system

Both countries have the option of purchasing health insurance at a reasonable price and approximately 75% less expensive than found in the United States. Prescription drugs are inexpensive and in many cases do not require a doctor’s authorization. Doctors are more plentiful in Panama, in part because Panama’s population is much smaller than Colombia’s. Colombia has about 47 million citizens, where Panama’s population was 4.1 million in 2016.

I think many North Americans and Europeans would be surprised at the beautiful skyscrapers in both Panama City and Medellin. The cities are well developed with constantly working electricity and smooth roadways. There are high end shops and cutting edge restaurants. For residents who used to hop a plane to Miami for shopping, now flock to both Panama City and Medellin although Panama City tends to have more options.

Introducing Molecular Gastronomy

Wounded guerrilla fighters can find a training program at El Cielo as part of the chef’s desire to find peace in his home country of Colombia.

In Medellin you can find lunch for $2 or a 20 course tasting menu at a restaurant called El Cielo, which is guided by a chef with experience cooking at what has been widely touted as the best restaurant in the world, El Bulli in Spain. That chef is a native of Medellin who has returned home and now has restaurants in Bogota and Miami in addition to Medellin. It is hard to quote a price for what averages as a four-hour dining experience in El Cielo because of the fluctuating Colombian Peso, but it’s certainly under $100 with wine pairings.

Juan Manuel Barrientos, isn’t just firing up gourmet meals in his three restaurants, he’s introducing molecular gastronomy foods to Colombia and on the side he has created a project which loosely translates to “In El Cielo, We Are Cooking Up Peace in Colombia”. In addition to bringing his food to areas of major conflict he also trains former guerrilla fighters as sous chefs and for other functions in food service. Everyone in Colombia wants peace.

Corruption Still Practiced

Colombia has always been heralded as having a democracy, but it would be impossible for one  not to question whether that democracy is valid. Colombia’s government is layered with corruption. For example, on June 26, 2017, Colombia’s top anti-corruption prosecutor, Luis Gustavo Moreno Rivera, was arrested in Miami for taking a $132,000 bribe to discredit a witness and tie up prosecutors.

The fact that Panama’s ex-President, Ricardo Martinelli, was arrested recently in Miami indicates Panama is taking steps towards anti-corruption.

Panama is not a stranger to similar activities but that appears to be in the past. The freely elected President of Panama, Juan Carlos Varela, by all accounts has led a crime-free life since being elected in 2014. Of course the previous President of Panama, Ricardo Martinelli was arrested in Miami by US Marshals on June 12, 2017 and now faces extradition to Panama, charged with extorting $45 million from the people of Panama. He is currently detained at the Federal Detention Center in Miami, but just the fact he has been arrested, indicates great progress on the part of the Panamanian attitude towards corruption.?

USD vs. Colombian Peso

Colombian monetary notes

The first time I saw a 50,000 Colombian Peso note I thought I was rich! But its value in USD is less than $20.

The Panamanian currency is the US dollar and it remains stable while there is volatility with the Colombian peso. There can be sizable swings for the peso. In the past year alone, the peso has reduced in value 20.7% according to The World Bank. You can look at that in two ways: everything from eating out to renting an apartment is less expensive when your base currency is the USD Canadian dollar or the Euro or if you have purchased property in Colombia, all of a sudden it’s worth a lot less.

A Tolerant Nation

Cathedral Plaza Botero

There are some beautiful churches to be found in Medellin, like this Gothic Cathedral in Plaza Botero.

Colombia is a tolerant country. In 1991 the citizens voted to remove the Roman Catholic Church as the official religion. While the parish church is still central to many communities in Colombia, freedom of religion is guaranteed. There are larger numbers of the Jewish faith in Panama, but about 10,000 practice Judaism in Colombia along with Buddhism, Evangelical Christian, Muslim, Mormon and Seventh Day Adventist, just to name a few. And, like in Panama City there is a vibrant LGBT community in Medellin. For the most part citizens of both areas embrace a live and let live attitude.

Inexpensive Flights To Medellin

Viva Colombia plane on tarmac

Airlines like Viva Colombia and Wingo offer cheap return flights from Panama to Medellin, and other destinations in North and South America!

The International airport serving Medellin is located approximately 45 minutes away in the city of Rionegro. While it is not as developed or with as many flights as Tocumen International Airport in Panama City, there have been major improvements in infrastructure and there are direct flights to the United States, Europe and South America in addition to all domestic spots in Colombia. It is notable that US carriers such as Jet Blue will take you from New York to Medellin for $445 round-trip! It’s about a three-hour flight to both Ft. Lauderdale and Miami and equally impressive fares can be secured. Panama has more direct flights, but the prices tend to be higher. Bogota has a larger airport with more connections.

Best Chicharrón In The World

Maybe the best chicharron is served in Medellin.

Recently, The New York Times ran one of it’s “36 Hours In…” articles featuring Medellin and it touted the libraries and museums, as well as a “lunchtime stop at La Gloria de Gloria, a casual corner restaurant that serves up some of the best chicharrón in, quite possibly, the world.” The article also noted that strangely for a country known for growing some of the best coffee in the world, “it’s surprisingly difficult to find good coffee in Colombia (most of the best is exported), and locals usually drink tinto — a weak brew of inferior beans.” Starbucks opened their first two shops in Medellin in late 2016, and there has been some independent local competition to the many coffee shops appropriately named Juan Valdez.

Parque Lleras in Medellin is a popular spot for nightlife, with bars, nightclubs and restaurants lining the streets around the park.

But if the coffee is weak in Medellin and Colombia, the salsa music and dancing is not. On almost any given night, you can easily find couples of all ages dancing and grinding to the beat. Everyone, it seems is a professional dancer and it’s acceptable to just sit back and enjoy the show. Craft beers have recently been introduced in Colombia to go along with the cold cocktails and the easy-to-drink and inexpensive wines from South America. 

Panama has all this, with the exception of the preponderance of high-energy salsa bars. In their place are cool jazz clubs, more North American influence and a wider variety of high-end restaurants.

Marijuana As The Answer

Harvesting Medical Marijouna in Colombia

A PharmaCielo scientist working the plants outside of the company’s headquarters in Medellin. Marijuana could be the cash answer for Colombians.

One possibility for Medellin and Colombia is the cash crop of marijuana. Colombia has the perfect climate, landscape and geography to cultivate weed, not to mention its year-round, near-the-equator growing season. After the peace treaty with FARC was signed, the Health Ministry legalized medical marijuana. A Canadian-based company, PharmaCielo, with Colombian headquarters located just outside Medellin, received the first license from the Colombian government to manufacture cannabis products. Some fear this will not be good for the small mom and pop growers but the government is promising to pay more than they previously earned illegally. If things don’t go well, there are possible violent ramifications. 

Columbia is attempting to turn it’s back on being known for civil war and murder and build a modern world with hip restaurants, a vibrant young arts scene with big pharma companies churning out cannabis products faster than coffee. They aren’t there yet. Just this year, 2017, the US Department of State issued a warning about just traveling to Columbia:

“Organized political and criminal armed groups are active throughout much of the country and their methods include the use of explosives and bomb threats in public spaces. Violence associated with the armed groups occurs in rural areas as well as Colombia’s major cities, including in the capital. These groups are heavily involved in the drug trade, extortion, kidnapping, and robbery. Violent crime is a threat throughout Colombia. Kidnapping remains a threat, although U.S. citizens are not specifically targeted” 

Still A Dangerous Place

Fourth Bridge Over the Panama Canal

The Panama Canal provides the ability to invest in new infrastructure, like the fourth bridge over the canal connecting Panama City and the thriving Western regions

In so many ways Medellin and Colombia remind me of Panama twenty years ago. Progress is coming fast and furious and the population is young and vibrant. I want to see the country and in particular, the city of Medellin, stabilize and explode with growth. I cannot let go of the fact Colombia is a dangerous place. I know the FARC have put down their guns, but the agreement was only reached in November of 2016 and peace is not fully implemented. Cocaine is still king and with that comes guns, violence and death. The peso is volatile and not pegged to anything as stable as the US dollar. There are almost as many people in Medellin (over three million) as there are in all of Panama and there isn’t an engine of money financing infrastructure and social program, the Panama Canal. Who will pay for all of the infrastructure?

For my part, I am going to hang back and watch Colombia hopefully grow and mature into all the promise it shows. The rent might be inexpensive, along with some of the restaurants, and I love to visit there, but the stability and relative safety of Panama is a better fit for me!

People collect “stuff”. Lots of stuff, so when it comes to relocating either for retirement or a job transfer, most ask me for advice as to whether they should move furniture or sell it all and start over.Of course my answer is always “it depends” and it does, based on multiple factors. For Baby Boomers, I find they often have an odd attachment to their stuff. They believe their children will one day wake up and want all the furniture, rugs and cooking pans they grew up with. Most of them won’t.“I had this beautiful cherry three-cornered cabinet” a woman lamented to me the other day. “It was my grandmother’s and it’s really very beautiful. I had dreamed of giving it to my son and his wife, but they said they didn’t have room for it,” she continued. “I don’t think that actually is the truth, but I didn’t want to question my daughter-in-law!”

But, I love This Piece

You might want to think twice before shipping your grandmother’s French sofa to Panama, but that silver ice bucket you acquired in Paris might be stunning overlooking the Pacific Ocean.

Things such as a family heirloom are the items most difficult to resolve concerning next steps for the possessions. Of course you need to decide what is really a true family heirloom and what isn’t. If you have a real connection with something, you might want to consider saving it, but you also want to think long and hard about moving it to Panama. There are lots of companies who will ship a container of furniture to Panama but it will cost around $15,000 if you shop carefully. That’s a lot of money for used furniture that might not fit into your new Panamanian lifestyle!!Because everything coming into the country has to be verified, you can’t do the packing yourself. Approved companies have to sign off on what they actually put into the boxes and ultimately the container. The Panamanian Government allows for up to $10,000 worth of personal goods to be brought into the country without taxation, but you have to have gone through the pensionado visa process prior to accepting the goods. Expect to spend about $2,000 on lawyer fees to get your pensionado status and you still might have to pay some taxes depending on who is manning the dock when your container arrives.

Small Things Are Ideal

Usually I encourage people to select a few things that really mean something to them and see if those items can be packed into suitcases. A small dish picked up when traveling in Cambodia might be the perfect container for your Panamanian keys; a framed picture of the family in Machu Picchu will complete a room. The rest of the stuff can be donated to various charitable agencies and given to people who really will use your things and you can take a big tax deduction. Sell some of the bigger items and pocket the money for purchases to be made once you arrive in Panama.

Sell, Give, Donate

The residences at Casa Bonita are beautifully designed but you might find your decorations don’t match as well as some of the local products.

I had one family tell me they realized their grown children didn’t really want their stuff and after a few frank discussions, they decided to sell some things, then have an open house where family and friends could come in and take whatever they liked and everything else was donated. “We had a great time doing it and now I get notes from friends saying how much they are enjoying that rug or the ladder back chair I thought I couldn’t live without.”Another thing I have noticed is that during the time it takes for furniture and other goods to arrive in Panama, many people have already decided they didn’t need that sofa or the spices from Dean and Deluca. “We waited two months for things to arrive and then everything seemed a little sad when it was unpacked. It was just out of place,” said one gentleman who moved from Canada. “We should have sold it! We were already settled with things we had found in Panama.

“Do you have Target?”

But, it’s one thing to sell everything and start over and another to actually purchase everything here and have things completed timely and arranged cost effectively . “Do you have a Target?” is the question I most often hear. We don’t have a Target but we do have Conway which is actually Target South America. They even use the red circles in their logo and they have many of the same items as you would find in North America, but with some variation, including a much larger selection of furniture.

Conway stores in Panama are part of the American retail giant, Target, but there are noticeable differences. It’s a good option when decorating your new Panamanian residence!

But shopping in Panama is so much more than replicating your Target experience in the States. There are wonderful stores spread all over Panama that sell furniture and other items you’ll need once you relocate. One store in Coronado imports unique pieces from all over the world, with a specialty for all things Bali. They’ll negotiate on price, but you’ll need to know what you are doing to get the absolute best deal.

Knowing The Location Of That Perfect Sofa

If it seems overwhelming for you to search out that perfect sofa at the perfect price, you might want to consider individuals who do that work for a living. They will do as much or as little as you want in terms of preparing your new home for occupancy. It’s a lot less expensive than you might imagine and it’s always cost effective. These are individuals who speak Spanish, have relationships with all types of stores and usually get a great price discount.In addition, they do the leg work for you on things which, frankly, are impossible for you to do yourself. I had a couple who came in with a real gung-ho attitude and they attacked everything from opening a bank account to buying furniture and getting cable and Apple-TV in their new condominium. “We thought we did a really good job getting cable and then found out we were paying more than twice what the locals were paying for the same service,” they later explained. “We know we stick out as a couple of pale faced ex-pats, but we ended up giving a friend, who is Panamanian, $50 and she immediately saved us that much in one month. It’s just the way it is and there is little incentive in offering what is viewed as wealthy privilege any type of deal!”

Taking On Cable Onda In English!

Do you really want to take on Cable Onda by yourself when you don’t need to? They only speak Spanish.

If you are buying a place to rent out, it makes turning that into reality much easier if you can just tell someone to go and purchase everything that is needed, from the beds to the tableware. You’ll probably save money just on the discounts arranged by the professional.

Working It Into The Package

I urge all of my executives who are relocating to work in the services of a furnishing solutions consultant into their relocation package. If a company needs to you move, the least they can do is make it as easy as possible. These professionals know where the good stuff is located and what is the rock bottom price. One of the most trusted in the business is AGleeson Consulting Services. I strongly recommend her for any type project. She is organized, thorough and funny. Take a look at her website: https://agleesonconsultingservices.com/. She will also answer any questions you have such as where is the best coffee sold to how much you should be paying that local woman to come in a clean once a week!

Don’t Go It Alone

There simply is no reason to go it alone. And, little reason to consider dragging everything from home to your new life in Panama. One last disclosure: I have no interest in AGleeson Consulting. She doesn’t even buy me coffee when we meet up. It is all about making it possible for my clients to make the best decisions and to settle into Panamanian life with the fewest headaches!

If you are considering relocating to Panama, either for retirement or business, it’s very important you experience a physical visit before making a commitment. When people tell me they have done enough research to make them positive about relocating to Panama, I’m quick to point out one can read anything on the internet. Panama is expensive. Panama is inexpensive. The beaches are beautiful. The beaches are dangerous. The traffic isn’t so bad. The traffic is a nightmare. The truth lies somewhere in the middle, although I always think the beaches are beautiful and not at all dangerous.Along with the strong suggestion about a physical visit, comes another suggestion; rent a car while you are here so you can experience living like a local. It can be expensive, but it is an important step. It’s also a little terrifying because traffic in Panama City can be a nightmare—especially if you want to cross the Bridge of the Americas during rush hour.

Great Public Transportation

The Metro in Panama is clean, efficient and expanding.

Panama City has great public transportation. The subway is efficient and clean. There are plenty of taxis waiting to be hailed, Uber offers everything from a quick shared ride to a helicopter escape and the buses are modern and clean. But, all of that is in Panama City. If you are planning on living in Panama City and are comfortable with public transportation, then you might be able to skip renting a car, but most people need to embrace the flexibility of having an automobile.

It may seem like a simple task to reserve a rental car, but in Panama there are things you need to know before typing in your credit card numbers. You’ll see prices starting around $7 a day and going up to much more for an “exotic” vehicle. In Panama, you will not get a rental car for $7 a day. Once here, you’ll find there are staggering add ons which will double and triple the price you have been quoted. You can reduce the final price if you know how to work around what they’ll be telling you at the rental counter.

Hertz And Avis Aren’t Interested

Render Tocumen Airport

Most major car rental companies are available at Tocumen Airport but they aren’t the best option for long term rental.

Big car rental companies such as Hertz and Avis are not especially interested in the customer seeking to rent for months. The idea that you should be able to get a better price by renting long-term is not in their business model. Consequently, the price you would get from them will be higher than other, just as reliable, rental car companies. Hertz and Avis need to have a presence in Panama because, as the de facto capital of Central America, hundreds of individuals arrive daily at Tocumen International Airport (PTY) for a quick business trip, needing a car just for a couple of days. These renters are not budget shopping so they’ll pay a higher price. Hertz and Avis don’t want to have their cars tied up long term when there are plenty of short-term renters willing the pay the price.So what should you do to get the best possible deal for a rental car? There are a lot of variables to consider.

Staying 120 Days

Just for comparison, let’s say you want to stay 120 days in Panama and you aren’t sure which community might be perfect for your next home, so you’ll be doing a lot of driving and exploring.  Everyone will give you unlimited kilometers, but check to make sure. Let’s say you arrive November 2nd and return the car March 2nd, staying during high season and high demand season for rental car companies. You’ll fly into PTY and will pick up the car at the airport. Easier to transfer all that luggage you’ll be bringing.

Rent a car and explore the beautiful Pacific Coast!

The German based rental car company Sixt, is a possible option, as is National which is US based, but more aimed at the pleasure driver than other national car rental companies. They are also very well established in Panama. There are a couple of local rental car companies, Coronado Cars and Gold Coast Auto, which operate out of Coronado and are completely focused on the long-term renter.

An Older Car?

Price is certainly important, but it shouldn’t be the only factor. I know everyone is used to always renting a new vehicle, but if that isn’t important, taking a vehicle with a couple of years and kilometers on it, might save you a bundle. The rental cars are well maintained so you shouldn’t worry about break downs or maintenance.After research, I decided to compare in this blog, Sixt and Coronado Cars. Sixt appears as the best option for a big, branded international rental company. Hertz, Avis and National all priced out much higher. Coronado Cars presented as the best for a locally based company.

Gold Coast Autos, is another reputable local car rental provider, although it does not offer any add-ons, or have the ability to reserve on-line. It does not have a pick-up point at Tocumen, but meets renters at their accommodation in the Coronado area. They do rent everything from a SUV to a small compact for the flat rate of $250 a week and it includes insurance.

Renting The Right Vehicle

The Hyundai Tucson is a typical rental in Panama and easily navigates the some times challenging roads.

While all the rental companies offer smaller compact vehicles, I recommend, if you are looking to explore and for a few more dollars more, a larger SUV.

The roads in Panama City are fine for a small automobile, but if you go over the bridge you’ll be much happier with a vehicle that can withstand pot holes and rougher surfaces. And, unless you really like shifting gears an automatic transmission is very nice.

The Hyundai Tucson or Kia Sportage are very popular in Panama and they provide for five passengers and enough luggage space, so we’ll compare that option along with an automatic transmission.

If It’s Not Printed There Isn’t Any Insurance

The first thing you’ll be hit with is the fact Panama requires third party insurance. Unless you can produce a written document stating you are covered, you will not be able to leave with a rental car unless you buy insurance through the rental company. Most North American car insurance is not valid in Panama. Many visitors arrive and claim their credit card provides insurance and it probably does. However, if you read the fine print, you’ll see there are variances which might render that insurance void. The car companies know all the tricks and will work hard to deny that you have coverage.

Most major credit card companies car insurance but will only provide coverage for 30 day rentals.

Both American Express and Chase Visa, like most standard credit card companies, will provide insurance, even in most foreign countries, when you use their card for the rental, but it will only be good for rentals of 30 days or less.

So, in addition to contacting the credit card company prior and arranging for them to send you a hard document indicating you are covered, you will also need to rent the car in four separate transactions—each of the four months of the 120 days you will be in Panama. Many companies will not guarantee that you’ll have the same car or will juggle the rentals to accommodate the 30-day rule and you’ll need to go back to the airport for each transaction along with a new printed document taking responsibility for the insurance. If you are covered, you must have a written document stating that and it must be in either English or Spanish, even for a German rental car company.The base price for the Hyundai Tucson is $22.04 a day through Sixt and it is $30 a day with Coronado Cars. Coronado Cars automatically includes third party insurance in their daily pricing and Sixt charges for insurance at the rate of $11 a day, bringing their daily rate to $33.04.

$180 Pick-Up Fee!

Because Coronado Cars is located in Coronado, about an hour outside Panama City, they do not have an airport location. If you want to pick up the car when you arrive at Tocumen, you’ll need to pay an extra $90 each way for Coronado Cars to bring the vehicle to the airport and meet you once you walk out of arrivals and then pick-up the car at the airport after you leave. Sixt does have an airport location so renters would not incur the extra $180, but they do have a “Premium Location Fee” for being at the airport. This will be charged at 12% of the overall rental balance and usually is more than $180.

You Need The Panapass

All the toll roads in Panama are automated and are paid with a Panapass.

Panama has a wonderful network of roads in and around Panama City and some of those roads carry a toll. Tolls are only paid electronically and if you don’t have a “Panapass” you will not be able to drive on those roads.

I’ve seen a lot of stunned drivers pull up to the toll gate and not know what to do when they have been stopped for not paying the toll. The drivers usually just sit frozen and the few agents posted at the automated gates, often times don’t speak English. Rapidly cars start to pile up. Honking and screaming usually begins well before the driver figures a way to back up and out of the lane. Panapasses are not sold at the toll booth so it’s generally a bad scene. You’ll absolutely want to rent a car with a Panapass!Needing a Panapass is exacerbated by construction around the airport. The Metroline 2 construction is in full swing and you pretty much have to take the toll road just to leave the airport. Sixt charges $6.99 a day for unlimited Panapass usage and Coronado Cars charges $5.00 a day.

A Smart Phone and A GPS

One thing I really like about Coronado Cars is the fact you have the option of renting a smart phone with the Waze navigation application, so along with a navigation tool, you also get a telephone. I personally would stay lost without a GPS or Global Positioning System. Sixt also offers a navigation tool, but it is not a phone. Coronado Cars rents their system at $7.00 a day and Sixt rents theirs for $9.34 a day. You can, of course, use your personal phone if you have international calling and wifi. If you don’t need a navigation system but need a phone in Panama, Coronado Cars will rent a basic cell phone for $3 a day.

Having the use of a smart phone as part of your navigation system is a real plus unless you can use your own phone from home.

When you consider that it is relatively inexpensive to rent a condominium looking out over the Pacific Ocean for 120 days, adding a rental car is a big consideration. I recommend it highly however, because you will need the freedom to explore Panama as a country and a possible new location. It’s a big decision about where you want to take the next chapter in your life and you’ll need all the tools to do the research.So if you rent a Hyundai Tucson through Sixt with a Panapass, navigation system and third party insurance for 120 days in high season, your bill including the required 7% tax and premium location fee, will come to $6,550.20. If you rent through Coronado Cars with third party insurance, a smart phone with Waze, a Panapass, 7% tax and both a pick-up and drop-off at Tocumen International Airport, your total bill will be $4,948.75.The problem with Coronado Cars is they have a limited supply and their cars book up quickly in high season. Sixt, and any of the other national car rental companies have more inventory and the ability to transfer cars from other locations. The price difference is considerable so think about booking early.

It’s important that I add, I don’t have any financial interest in Coronado Cars, Gold Coast Auto or Sixt. I do think it’s nice to share local information that otherwise would be hard to access and that is somewhat the case with Coronado Cars and Golf Coast Autos. Renting locally also gives you the option of knowing someone is available to answer questions and provide support during your stay in Panama.

Happy researching!

feet sticking out of a car

Satellite image hurricane

“I want to visit Panama but not during high season,” came the first comment. “I was all set for November and then realized it would be hurricane season,” was the second. “I always have bad luck when it comes to weather so I figure if I’m visiting Panama in November, there will be a hideous hurricane,” continued the caller.

Hurricane Irma wind

The recent spate of devastating hurricanes has caused chaos and untold damage.

The man was in his fifties and looking for a beachfront condominium where he and his wife could eventually retire. They lived in Houston and had just recently endured Hurricane Harvey. “It’d really have to be seriously bad luck for you to experience a hurricane while visiting Panama,” I said with enough seriousness to know this couple didn’t want any joking about flood waters and soaked drywall. 

“There has only been one hurricane to make landfall in Panama and that was Martha in 1969. It was a really freak occurrence.”

No Hurricane Planning Needed

“Seriously?,” said the caller. “I figured I’d need to plan around hurricane season and that would put me well into December since it’s been a much more intense hurricane season this year.”  There was no need to mention Harvey or Irma and the damage each storm had inflicted on the United States.

Too Close To The Equator

Stunning surf curls are easily accessible from anywhere in Panama.

There are so many reasons Panama is an ideal place to live and invest, ranging from a less-expensive lifestyle to having easy access to everything from beaches and rainforests to stunning surfing curls. The fact we are located too close to the equator to allow for hurricanes to gain enough strength to form or even maintain strength if they first formed off the African coast, is just one more reason it’s easy to purchase property and then not worry even if you live full-time elsewhere.

When you purchase in Panama, with an eye for the future, it’s definitely a plus there aren’t hurricanes, earthquakes or even a threat of a volcano eruption.

Lots Of Good Earthquakes

Map of earthquake zone

Panama was far from any effects caused by the recent earthquakes in Mexico.

Actually there are a lot of earthquakes in Panama but they are small, oftentimes only detected by the scientific community and positive in that they regularly release pressure along the Panama Fracture Zone. These small quakes reduce the chances of an earthquake that would actually cause damage. Most of the earthquakes which do occur are far from Panama City or beachfront property such as Royal Palm, located in Nueva Gorgona, about 50 minutes from Panama City. That was the property I was planning to suggest to the caller and his wife.

There are plenty of tall structures in and around Panama City and none have sustained damage due to an earthquake. When the small quakes occur it’s almost always in the Province of Chiriqui close to Boquete in the region closest to Costa Rica. We rarely feel them in the area around Panama City.

Loving the Volcanoes in Panama

Climb Volcan Baru

The climb was tough, but we made it to the top of the volcano for an amazing sunrise.

The volcano situation is one of my absolute favorite parts of living in Panama. For a BIG birthday—ending in a zero—I talked my friends into hiking up the only actual volcano in Panama, Volcán Barú. The volcano last erupted in the 16th century so I felt pretty safe making the assent. It’s also surrounded by a national park covering some 35,000 acres. The climb was difficult and one of our group actually couldn’t complete the hike.You can hire a driver to take you up the approximately 11,000 feet in two hours via a four-wheel vehicle (or to pick you up mid-way!), but it’s great fun to climb it on foot in about six hours. Once you have reached the top you can sometimes see both the Caribbean Sea and the Pacific Ocean. It just depends on how clear the weather is that day.

“So no earthquakes to be concerned about,” began my caller after I had bored him with the details of Panama’s geography. “No hurricanes and no active volcanos,” he continued.

Not Getting Ready to Blow!

Peak El Valle Panama

Climbing the side of the crater in El Valle is a popular hike, but is also home to many like this local man who found us on the climb up

“Well, Volcán Barú is active, but there is no indication it is getting ready to blow,” I countered. “We do have another volcano in Panama but it’s inactive. People live on the floor of the volcano and it is the largest inhabited volcano crater in the world. The town is El Valle and there are about 6,500 residents; they are mostly indigenous. It’s cool there and the markets are somewhere you’ll want to visit often when you visit or move to Panama.” I could tell I had maybe provided a bit more information than he really wanted to know. Maybe I should have left it at nothing to worry about!

“We want the beach,” he began again. “You know where you walk out and the sand almost immediately hits your toes leading to the water.” I knew where he needed to be.

Royal Palm Was Going To Be Perfect

Royal Palm offers absolute beach-front living!

“Well we have a stunning property that is perfect for immediate investment and while you’ll have to walk past the pool and other amenities before your toes hit the sand, it is absolute beach front living,” I began again. “It’s currently under construction and the first units are expected to be ready for occupancy the first part of 2018.” Of course I was referring to one of the most recent projects along the Pacific coast of Panama, Royal Palm.

“So if I don’t have to worry about a hurricane doing damage when we aren’t there, an earthquake bringing down the building or smoldering lava,” he said, now laughing and getting into the spirit of Panama, “we’d like to be on a top floor.”

“That’s perfect,” I continued. “Royal Palm has two towers one with 19 stories and the other with 24. They all have floor to ceiling glass windows that allows absolutely stunning views of both the Pacific Ocean and the mountains,” I said.

Straight Up The Volcano

“Not the volcano?” he questioned. “No, but El Valle, with the cooler temps and wonderful markets is just up the PanAmerican Highway and straight up the side of the inactive volcano,” I explained.“We are ready to come down and take a look,” he continued, “and I guess it doesn’t matter when we decide to book the trip.”“Go ahead and come in November. That way it’s just the start of the season and beautiful as always. I can’t wait to show you Royal Palm and you can stop by and visit the Biodiversity Museum on the Amador Causeway. You know, study up on why you shouldn’t worry about investing in Panama.”

Volcan Baru peak

Royal Palm Gorgona

Royal Palm, the twin-towered residential complex under construction in Nueva Gorgona, is currently on schedule and is expected to begin accepting new residents in the first quarter of 2018. Individuals will be able to take possession of their new one-, two- or three-bedroom units as soon as the building occupancy permit is obtained.

“Everything is on track for the building to be completed by the end of December,” said Liz Larroquette, the lead sales agent for Empress Bern, the real estate company developing Royal Palm. “We don’t have any concerns about the building occupancy permit and all the materials to finish the entire structure are on-site. There will be some very happy people starting the new year in what are really stunning condominiums.”

The nautical inspired building boasts two towers with 19 and 24 floors, multiple social areas and pools, a fitness center along with a multi-purpose basketball and tennis court. The oceanfront two-bedroom models feature wraparound balconies which look out over the Pacific Ocean. The other units all have ocean views and easy beach access. Designed to mimic the hull of a ship, the towers jut out toward the ocean, while tucked next to mountains, providing stunning views in every direction.

Royal Palm Gorgona

The absolute beach-front condominiums Royal Palm are nearing completion and residential occupancy is expected as soon as January 2018.

According to Larroquette, the first ten floors are currently being tiled, have electrical cabling and plumbing completed, insulation and balcony treatments are being installed. “The chief engineer on the project said even some of the windows have been sealed, which is often one of the last steps in completing a unit,” she explained.

Royal Palm Gorgona

Units located on the first ten floors are nearing completion including water tight floor-to-ceiling windows.

“The elevators are ready to go in as soon as the machine rooms are completed and the emergency generator is installed,” Larroquette said. “Another nice thing about this complex is the rooftop reserve water tank,” she said. “In Gorgona, the area is protected by mountains and  located in the ‘dry arch’ so always having access to clean fresh water is a necessity.

The residents will absolutely enjoy living here and I’m so excited about it all coming together. It’s actually more beautiful than I imagined when we first introduced this project,” she continued with a slight laugh.

Royal Palm is located on the Pacific Ocean just 50 minutes from downtown Panama City and 10 minutes from the well established beach community of Coronado. Located within a few minutes’ drive are several grocery stores, a variety of restaurants and physician offices along with a well-equipped clinic.

Royal Palm Gorgona

The Third Floor Social area foundations are laid, with the finishes to be completed by the end of December 2017

“You have absolutely everything you need right here,” said Larroquette. “Furniture stores, salons, fast-food and casual sit-down restaurants, the local fish co-op is right here with daily catches that have been pulled from the water hours before. One of Panama’s largest malls is located just down the PanAmerican Highway and yet, with Royal Palm, you are right on the beach and off in another world,” she explained.

“It’s hard to imagine that you have both an almost meditative beach environment, yet are so close to everything to maintain an easy lifestyle,” she said.

“Because there are a wide variety of price points available from $220,000 to the high $400,000s, many units have been sold, but we do have a few side-by-side options still available so larger families can combine the units to increase the residential space,” said Larroquette. “Investors have also been very keen on this project as the units are an attractive option for the booming Panama rental market,” she explained.

Royal Palm Gorgona

Workers are busy keeping the project on schedule for completion at the end of December 2017.

“It’s also a perfect way to pay for your retirement home,” said Larroquette. “People in their 30s and 40s are buying units, planning to rent them and making mortgage payments years ahead of their plans to retire. Property values continue to increase and the view never goes away,” she said.

“Once you have an ocean view, you always have that view!”

In addition to the finishing touches going into the individual units, the foundations for the pools on the ground and third floors have also been completed. “We are just waiting for the final touches and then it will be a matter of adding some water and waiting for the first residents to jump in, beach ball and all,” said Larroquette. “It’s a very exciting time at Royal Palm.”

The absolute beach-front condominiums of Royal Palm stand majestic over the Pacific Ocean coastline.

To learn more about Royal Palm, Liz Larroquette can be contacted via email at liz@empresasbern.com or phone, 507-6981-1717 in Panama or 214-736-9253 in the US.

“I wasn’t exactly thrilled when my husband came home and announced we’d be moving to Panama,” said the woman who had just gotten off a direct flight from Chicago to Tocumen International Airport in Panama City. “The only thing I knew was the obvious fact there was a canal,” she continued as I smiled and nodded in her direction.

I’d heard similar statements many times in the past. Generally it was pretty easy to change people’s minds and I silently looked forward to chatting with her about life in Panama. I was a little surprised when I found out her biggest concern was food.

More Than Plantains and Rice

Food Panama

Fish or chicken with rice, or the Panamanian staples of plantains or yuca are common, but there is so much more to Panama than chicken and rice!.

“We are foodies,” she continued seemingly a little distraught in her explanation. “I freelance food centered articles for several top magazines in the States, so I Googled Panamanian food almost immediately upon knowing for sure we’d be moving,” she said. “The search results weren’t good. My search turned up fried plantains and a steak house in Columbia. There was some mention of chicken and rice,” she continued. “I certainly don’t want to have to go to another country for a steak,” she said, now laughing.

“Just like everything in Panama we are a mix of cultures and that carries over into our foods,” I began. “It’s true that indigenous Panamanians like their plantains, chicken and rice,” I continued smiling, “but, I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised when you actually experience the Panamanian food scene today.”

Lots Of Gastronomical Influence

She didn’t seem convinced. “Because of the importance of our geographical location we have been almost always occupied and therefore been influenced by many other cultures. The French were here for a long time and they brought Chinese workers to build the canal; you can’t underestimate the importance of the Americans, who just gave us back our land in 1999! The Spaniards were a huge influence on all of Latin America. If you are going to limit your food ideas to the indigenous Panamanians you will be very limited. We have just about everything,” I said.

Coste del Este: A very new and well planned area of Panama City filled with bars and restaurants. They even have an IHOP, for your pancake cravings…

As we went along the green area in Coste del Este, where I was showing her property to rent or purchase, she noted that the area seemed very new. “Everything is so perfect,” she said.

“Coste del Este is new and it is well planned,” I began. “This area was presented to the public in 1995 and has since grown into a somewhat affluent section of Panama City. A lot of expats and young business people working for multi-national companies live here. Lots of green space and all wires are underground. It’s pretty hip and trendy. I thought it would be perfect for you,” I said.

Think Casco Viejo For Exciting Food

Panama Dining

The sandstone courtyard at Tomillo’s restaurant in Casco Viejo is a charming spot to enjoy some modern Panamanian fusion cuisine.

“And what about the food scene here?,” she countered. “Coste del Este is young and vibrant and the restaurants reflect that. You have sushi and Italian, international and wood fired pizza. The food is good but if you are going to write about the emerging food scene in Panama, I think you’ll have to do some driving and get back mainly to the old city of Casco Viejo.”

I wanted to be completely honest and paint a very clear picture for someone who called herself a foodie. “We are an emerging food scene. You should be excited to experience the explosion,” I began. “I think you’ll have so many articles to write, your editors will be sick of hearing about all the great food things in Panama. I’m sure you have enjoyed a great tasting menu,” I said as she stood stock still in the park in Coste del Este and looked at me as if someone living in Panama wouldn’t have enjoyed a tasting menu or two.

A Tasting Menu For $75

“One time I was visiting Las Vegas and my friends and I wanted to really experience great food so we booked a table at Joel Robuchon and found out the price per person was $435 and that didn’t include wine or gratuity. That was a lot,” I added for emphasis. “We almost chocked, but the food and service were perfection!”

She smiled. “Wasn’t it the best food ever,” she said letting me know she had actually been to this star-studded eatery. “Vegas has come a long way!”

“It was great,” I countered, “but a bit over the top. It was 16 courses and by the time I hit about course 12, I was so done,” I laughed. “I did like that the caviar was included. Another time I ate at The French Laundry, which was considerably less at about $295 a person, and they charged us extra for a couple of shavings of truffle. Those are special occasions for sure.”

Chef Jose O. Carles from restaurant Donde Jose

The woman seemed to relax. “So you know what I’m talking about,” she enthused. “What can I expect in Panama?”

“A lot,” I said simply. “I’d consider Donde Jose’s which is in Casco Viejo. Chef Carlos believes Panamanian food is just developing and he is a large part of the new food scene. I remember him saying once that Panama didn’t have a strong food identity, but that was changing. Jose tells the story of Panama through food and he uses endemic ingredients,” I continued.

“His restaurant is easy to miss because there is no signage. You have to know where you are going and knock on the door,” I continued. “I can help you with that and you’ll need reservations well in advance. There is room for 12 people at tables and four more at the ‘chef’s table’. The four lucky people not at tables get to watch as Jose cooks and tells you the story behind each dish. Drink pairings will cost around $40 and the tasting menu goes for $75,” I said with a smile acknowledging the difference in price from the previously discussed eateries. “Your editors will love the article,” I said with a smile.

Can You Say Michelin Star?

“Then we have the Michelin starred chef at Madrigal, also located in the old city of Casco Viejo. The chef is Spanish, but he really incorporates traditional Panamanian food into his dishes. I know it sounds just wrong, but I find the lamb tacos pretty unbelievable,” I explained.

Maybe the roof top pool area at Coronado Golf would be a perfect place to blog about Panama’s emerging food scene!

My new client was beginning to relax so I went on to explain that another chef—two starred by Michelin—had arrived at the Hotel Las Americas Golden Tower in Panama City. “The views from the 29th floor are also amazing but we are still waiting for the restaurant to open,” I said.

“You should also consider Caliope,” I began, now thinking about where I wanted to eat next. “We need to stop talking about food. I’m starving,” I laughed. “You are going to find so much to write about here in Panama and the good news is that the food scene is so new and so hot. Everyone will want to read about what’s happening. As a foodie, this is a great place. Now let’s talk about where you’ll sit while writing. What about Parkside? You can write while enjoying tremendous views. When you are finished, play a round of golf. You’’ll have all the amenities,” I said as we continued toward the beautiful high rise. “You are going to love it here, food and all!”

Moving Boxes

I meet a lot of people who are considering a move to Panama. People respond to my blogs, I lead tours for people considering a move and somehow people looking for help finding the right home here ferret me out. I’ve worked hard to build a strong reputation as someone who will give the truest answer, even if it means missing out on a sale.

Panama is lovely, exciting, growing, sophisticated but young, urban and rural, gawky and yet a smooth developing metropolis. Panama is a teenager holding a balloon that fits the famous Dr. Seuss line: “Oh, the places you’ll go!”

But, Panama is certainly not perfect and being a teenager, it can make you crazy, so when an individual or a family tell me they are ready to move, I start to ask questions. I have several standard ones I would encourage everyone to think about before coming to find the perfect residence.

Do You Like Hot Weather and Rain?

Food Panama

There is plenty of rain in Panama and it is hot!

If you don’t, Panama is not for you. The fact we have miles and miles of shoreline on both the Pacific and Atlantic oceans, beach areas provides wonderful breezes and stunning sunsets and sunrises, but it’s warm—like really warm much of the time. Panama is just a few degrees north of the equator. It’s hot, but there is plenty of air conditioning.

We don’t really have four seasons. It’s more like two seasons—rainy and then not so rainy. Panama invented rain, but you can elect to live within “the dry arch” which is a little dip in the coast line on the Pacific side and lined by the Bell Mountains, which enjoys moderate rainfall. Think of the beautiful absolute beach-front condominiums in Nueva Gorgona, Royal Palm.

Why Are You Moving?

Lots of people will tell me how important family and friends are and I am quick to point out that most people won’t actually come to visit. Know that if you make the move, visiting will be on your shoulders. Panama is very accessible to most North American cities and it is on the eastern time zone, so it’s easy to go back and forth. Most likely you’ll need to make new friends for everyday sociability. Panama is loaded with expats who have a wide variety of interests so identifying people you enjoy shouldn’t be a problem.

Will You Want To Work?

Royal Palm Panama

Perhaps this could be the view from your new ‘home office’ at Royal Palm by Empresas Bern?

Panama has strict rules governing who can work in Panama. If you are starting a business you will need to hire nine Panamanians for every one non-Panamanian you have on the payroll and that includes you.

Most expats who work in Panama, work via the internet. I know of several individuals who manage rental properties via their phone and a good number more do various types of writing from their condos overlooking the ocean.

The internet is good in Panama City as well as some outlying areas such as Coronado and Nueva Gorgona. If you can run your business from anywhere, Panama is a perfect location for an inexpensive set-up. One expat told me she was selling children’s clothes via her website that appeared to be located in Boston. Her biggest enjoyment was being able to meet the boats, at the fish co-op, coming in from a night of fishing. “I love buying corvina for a few dollars a pound when it’s being sold in the states at Whole Foods for $29.99 a pound and it’s fresher here.”

Will You Be Comfortable In a Spanish Speaking Country?

Many people who consider moving to Panama have been told English is widely spoken and in many situations that is correct, but Panama is a Spanish speaking country. You will be frustrated when attempting to set up your internet account or pay utility bills if you have little or no ability to speak Spanish. Ordering at many restaurants will require a lot of pointing and gesturing and finding just the right tool needed to fix a leaky faucet will require patience.

It’s not always easy but learning another language is very rewarding.

The current government in Panama knows English is the language of business and there is a big push to train teachers and in turn, students in being fluent in English, but it is going to take a while for English to be widely spoken even in Panama City. In areas, such as Costa del Este, where many multi-national companies are located, English is spoken as often as Spanish.

Will You Need Domestic Help?

Live-in domestic help is a new concept for Panama. Just about all of the new construction in Costa del Este comes with a bedroom/bath combination area designed for live-in help, but that tends to be unique to a multi-national, upscale area. Because of the Friendly Nations Visas, many of the young professionals transferred to Panama, come with long-term live-in domestic help considered part of the family.

Live-in domestic help is a new concept in Panama, but more and more residences have separate maid’s quarters.

Unlike many European or Asian countries where there are government-sponsored programs for placing domestic help with families, there are none of those in Panama. An English-speaking nanny or domestic worker will be difficult to find, but not impossible.

Household Panamanian help usually work on a per-hour basis without living in the home. Depending on the number of hours an individual is hired to work, the hourly rate can go from $3 to $7 per hour. The minimum rate for 48 hours, which is six days a week and normal in Panama, is $416 monthly in the Panama City region. The country is split into two zones, with the higher population areas such as Panama City and Colon, getting a slightly higher rate.

How you find help is mostly through referrals and will become easier once you have established yourself in the community. You will need to remember Panamanians love holidays and they often take advantage of the many national holidays which are free from work.

How Will You Manage Your Money?

Money housed in US banks is relatively easy to access through ATMs and credit cards. If you currently have a bank account where Social Security monthly payments are being deposited you can manage your money either through regular ATM withdrawals and working exclusively in cash or you can open a Panamanian bank account and simply write a check on your American bank and deposit it in your Panamanian account. There will be a bit of a time lag, but it can be done.

I always suggest setting up a Panamanian account, but it’s never as easy as opening an account in the States. You will be required to present more paperwork—such as official Social Security documents, utility accounts and other monetary accounts—but there are banks willing to work with expats.

Coming to Panama with a credit card that allows for free international transactions will save you a great deal of money and pain, but you’ll need to tell the issuing bank to flag your card as being used in Panama or you’ll alert fraud alarms with every transfer.

What Type of Area Are You Seeking For Your Home?

Casa Bonita offers the closest swimming beach to Panama City—only 15 minutes away, over the Bridge of the Americas.

Panama has just about any type of living situation from the most upscale residences in Panama City and Coste del Este to completely living off the grid on a remote island close to Costa Rica. There are no swimming beach areas in Panama City proper, with the exception of the Casa Bonita complex that is a residental building just over the Bridge of the Americas. It’s only about 15 minutes from Panama City, but it enjoys a beach area that is part of two five-star resorts.

If you are thinking about living on a beach, there is no better place that Nueva Gorgona which is just 50 miles west of Panama City. There is an absolute beachfront complex called Royal Palm which is just now nearing completion and selling fast. The residential units overlook the Pacific Ocean and enjoy close proximity to Coronado which has multiple grocery stores, restaurants, healthcare care providers and a hospital.

If you enjoy looking at the water, but not actually getting into the water, then you might want to consider Coste del Este which is a new planned community built on reclaimed land taken during the construction and expansion of the Panama Canal. There are a number of wonderful residences, including the 30 story Parkside building, and La Vista, located on the Santa Maria Golf and Country Club. The units in Parkside provide all the amenities of city living with wonderful water views close to shops, the main highway arteries and the international airport.

Maybe you have been dreaming of retiring or living on a beach or in an urban environment, the wonderful thing about Panama is the fact this small country truly has it all. It’s just a matter of considering all the data points and finding the perfect spot for you individually.

What Will You Be Doing For Health Care?

Healthcare and insurance in Panama are much less expensive than in most countries.

Medicare, the Canadian Health Care and many commercial health policies do not work in Panama so you will need to find other personal insurance for health care in Panama. Many expats try to keep one foot in their “home” country by returning for routine health care, but that has proven to leave people vulnerable. Even with the most careful planning, emergencies happen requiring immediate care. Healthcare in Panama is much less expensive than most other countries, so emergency care may not bankrupt you, but it’s advisable to simply buy a policy that is accepted at any of the very fine hospitals located throughout the country. Just like the healthcare, insurance is also much less expensive and as you integrate into the Panamanian culture, you’ll be glad to have established options for healthcare needs.

Does Safety Concern You?

Panama is one of the safest countries on the planet according to the US State Department. There is crime certainly, but Panama City and other smaller cities such as Nueva Gorgona and Coronado, are rated much safer than most large cities in Canada or the United States. You’ll need to refrain from flashing expensive jewelry in certain sections of Panama, but generally you are safe to walk at night and enjoy everything the country has to offer. Panama doesn’t even have the drug traffic found in many other countries.

Are You Comfortable With Change?

Photo of worker looking at widened canal

Panama’s rapid development does create some growing pains.

If you are not comfortable with change, Panama might be a stretch for you. When you consider Panama gained their final independence when the US government handed over the keys to the Panama Canal in 1999, the country really is just a teenager. There are growing pains and because of Panama’s rapid development, things are often in a bit of flux. For example, it used to be common knowledge you could get your tourist visa renewed just by going over the border and staying a few days. As Panama develops, they now have a real policy that requires for visitors to have their papers in order.

I find a lot of expats from Canada and the United States expect a different level of customer service than what is often found in Panama. I try to tell people considering a move to Panama, they might want to chill a bit. People don’t always honor service appointments and they often times will start a job and then disappear for a bit. “Mañana” is a common phrase for much of life in Panama. It used to drive me nuts, but now I’m rather fond of the laid-back attitude.

Are You Planning on Living in Panama Full-time?

This is one of the biggest things to consider when you are considering a move to Panama. Some people sell everything and arrive ready to go “home” only for weddings and funerals. Others will rent for several years, staying three to six months at a time, before they decide to commit. Either way, or somewhere in between, is the correct answer, you just need to think about your comfort level and that of your family. Moving to another country is more demanding than most people realize. It takes a bit to fully settle into a new lifestyle. Having as much information as possible will help you consider the right approach for you.

Bottom line, my advice is to ask yourself the tough questions so your next move is the perfect one.

The young woman standing in front of me was the picture of health. She was wearing a trendy Lululemon outfit that showed off her toned body and when she smiled a dazzling set of white teeth flashed. “I’m being transferred from Thailand,” she began as her blond ponytail bobbed in the afternoon sun. “Elephants, inexpensive tailored clothes and rice.”

Until that moment, I hadn’t given Thailand a lot of thought, but the one time I had visited the beautiful beaches, spicy food and graceful women had left an impression. “Well, that is quite the transfer,” I said slowly. “You don’t look Thai.”

Skyscrapers sky clouds

Many international companies have offices in Panama City and the amenities are developing fast to keep up.

“No, no I’m from Cincinnati,” she laughed. “I’ve been working in the international division of a company headquartered in my hometown and I’ve had the opportunity to grow my career and travel with the company. It’s been great and while I loved Thailand, the traffic and overpopulation in Bangkok really was getting to me so I jumped at the chance to take a transfer to Panama. I actually have a degree in Spanish, but I’ll need to put in a lot of work before being functional in the language. I never did get the hang of the Thai language,” she said and then bowed deeply with her hands together. “Sa-wùt dee kà” she said and I knew it was the traditional greeting. I liked her immediately.

“This is my first visit to Panama,” she said, “and I really want to ask a lot of questions about the lifestyle. I just never thought much about Panama before this opportunity came up. My parents are pretty happy I’m moving so much closer and that I’ll be on the same time zone. That half way around the world was difficult for communicating and visiting,” she continued.

What About The Fitness Of Panama?

The beautiful Cinta Costera in Panama City is very popular for walking, running and biking.

“I know this is going to be a strange question,” she began. “I feel certain I’ll be able to find a great place to live as she looked around at the tall buildings in Coste del Este. “There are all kinds of great restaurants right here and plenty of places to jog, but I really want to know about the fitness of Panama.”

It took me a minute to think what she meant exactly. Most people looking to transfer to Panama were full of questions about the different areas to live, how to open a bank account and get permanent residence status, but this woman wanted to know about the fitness of Panama?

When You Do Ironmans

“I should have been a personal trainer,” she began, “I love to work out. I love the knowledge of how to get the very best from my body. I do Ironmans.”

There are numerous triathlons of varying length and difficulty in Panama every year.

“I’m impressed,” I responded. “I do some of the shorter triathlons when they are in Panama City, but never a full Ironman. Swimming is my Achilles’ heel. With training, I think I could manage the 26.2 miles of running and 112 miles of biking, but a 2.4 mile swim might be the end of me!”

“Not a lot of people do triathlons,” she graciously responded. “I guess you’d be able to advise me on places to work out. That was what I meant about the fitness of Panama. The people in Thailand are generally not fed well enough to need to do a lot of working out. Except for a very few, most need to put on pounds. There are a lot of gyms that cater to men but woman just really don’t exercise. They are so thin and eat so little and they think it is unattractive to have any type of female muscle. I usually tried to get day passes at some of the Western hotels when I wanted to do something other than run or bike, but I certainly was the oddity.”

People In Panama Are All Shapes And Sizes

Fitness Panama

Many of the newer buildings in Panama are built with an in-house gym, and fitted out with modern equipment for their residents.

I had collected my thoughts enough to answer this interesting woman. “First, there are a lot of expats in Panama with more arriving every day. There are something like 135 multinational companies located here and they transfer a lot of executives from all around the world so you have all kinds of people in all kinds of shapes and sizes. In the Parkside residential building over there,” I said as I turned to face Central Park and the vibrancy of Coste del Este, “there is an amazing gym which is just part of the amenities of living in the building. You’ll find that in pretty much all the towers where people live.”

“But is it like one treadmill and a few weights,” she laughed. “I figured I’d need to join a gym to really work out.”

Amenities Include Fully Equipped Gyms

“They are fully equipped. You also would have Casa Bonita as a place you might want to consider living because it has the Pearl Club where Barrack Obama worked out when he was visiting Panama,” I responded. “He commented on the great facilities and I’m thinking he’s seen a lot of great facilities,” I smiled.

The Pearl Club at Casa Bonita is an excellent facility with state of the art equipment.

“But I get your point about the people. I guess I could just sum it up by saying that Panama is wealthy enough that people need to work out. Pretty much everyone has more than enough to eat so they need to worry about exercising. Out in the country you might have people working the land and not eating a lot of protein, but basically Panama is a well-fed society. There are cross-fit gyms, yoga studios and enough pools to swim laps all day. I can help you with finding the perfect gym for you as soon as we figure out which of these lovely residential options will work for you. There will also be lots and lots of like-minded females for you to have plenty of work-out buddies.”

“I’m loving this,” she said. “I guess I thought Panama would be a lot more third-world, but we could be anywhere in North America—well except most of the signs are in Spanish! I’ve got to forget working out and concentrate on my Spanish.”

“Puedo ayudarte con eso también,” I said.

Playa Bonita Residences Panama
Piles of paper small man
Colourful Panama sign
Cruise Panama Canal
Doctor with Stethoscope and sunset
Panama and Portugal flags
Royal Palm Nueva Gorgona
Town Centre Costa Del Este the New heart of Panama
Tap drop ocean
Skyscrapers palm tree

Last year I wrote about why booking too far in advance can be dangerous for your business, and this concept of margin so eloquently captures what I had recognized had been my problem: I was so booked up with clients.

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In a professional context it often happens that private or corporate clients corder a publication to be made and presented with the actual content still not being ready. Think of a news blog that’s filled with content hourly on the day of going live. However, reviewers tend to be distracted by comprehensible content, say, a random text copied from a newspaper or the internet. The are likely to focus on the text, disregarding the layout and its elements. Besides, random text risks to be unintendedly humorous or offensive, an unacceptable risk in corporate environments. Lorem ipsum and its many variants have been employed since the early 1960ies, and quite likely since the sixteenth century.
Text risks to be unintendedly humorous or offensive, an unacceptable risk in corporate environments. Lorem ipsum and its many variants have been employed since the early 1960ies, and quite likely since the sixteenth century.

Done? While there’s not necessarily a “correct” answer here, it’s most likely you split the bugs into four clusters. The spiders in one cluster, the pair of snails in another, the butterflies and moth into one, and the trio of wasps and bees into one more.

That wasn’t too bad, was it? You could probably do the same with twice as many bugs, right? If you had a bit of time to spare?—?or a passion for entomology?—?you could probably even do this same with a hundred bugs.For a machine though, grouping ten objects into however many meaningful clusters is no small task, thanks to a mind-bending branch of maths called combinatorics, which tells us that are 115,975 different possible ways you could have grouped those ten insects together. Had there been twenty bugs, there would have been over fifty trillion possible ways of clustering them.

With a hundred bugs?—?there’d be many times more solutions than there are particles in the known universe. How many times more? By my calculation, approximately five hundred million billion billion times more. In fact, there are more than four million billion googol solutions (what’s a googol?). For just a hundred objects.Almost all of those solutions would be meaningless?—?yet from that unimaginable number of possible choices, you pretty quickly found one of the very few that clustered the bugs in a useful way.

Us humans take it for granted how good we are categorizing and making sense of large volumes of data pretty quickly. Whether it’s a paragraph of text, or images on a screen, or a sequence of objects?—?humans are generally fairly efficient at making sense of whatever data the world throws at us.Given that a key aspect of developing A.I. and Machine Learning is getting machines to quickly make sense of large sets of input data, what shortcuts are there available? Here, you can read about three clustering algorithms that can machines can use to quickly make sense of large datasets. This is by no means an exhaustive list?—?there are other algorithms out there?—?but they represent a good place to start!You’ll find for each a quick summary of when you might use them, a brief overview of how they work, and a more detailed, step-by-step worked example. I believe it helps to understand an algorithm by actually carrying out yourself. If you’re really keen, you’ll find the best way to do this is with pen and paper. Go ahead?—?nobody will judge!

There are several variations on the algorithm described here. The initial method of ‘seeding’ the clusters can be done in one of several ways. Here, we randomly assigned every player into a group, then calculated the group means. This causes the initial group means to tend towards being similar to one another, which ensures greater repeatability.

An alternative is to seed the clusters with just one player each, then start assigning players to the nearest cluster. The returned clusters are more sensitive to the initial seeding step, reducing repeatability in highly variable datasets. However, this approach may reduce the number of iterations required to complete the algorithm, as the groups will take less time to diverge.An obvious limitation to K-means clustering is that you have to provide a priori assumptions about how many clusters you’re expecting to find. There are methods to assess the fit of a particular set of clusters. For example, the Within-Cluster Sum-of-Squares is a measure of the variance within each cluster. The ‘better’ the clusters, the lower the overall WCSS.

 

About Creation

I have a rule. After every podcast, I write down 10 things I learned. I don’t know if anyone else does this. Do you do this? Some people make illustrations. They send me what they’ve learned. It’s a creation of a creation of a creation. A drawing of a podcast of someone’s life.But I broke my rule. It’s been over a month. And my brain is digging for the lessons from my interview with the creator of WordPress. I think I have Alzheimer’s. Matt was 19 years old when he started WordPress. It was 2003. Now WordPress.com gets more traffic than Amazon.com.The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times both use WordPress. I use WordPress.I wanted to know if it’s still worth the time and effort to make your own site. He said it is. That’s how you break out…“We’re trying to revitalize the independent web,” Matt Mullenweg said. He’s 33 now. “It’s not like these big sites are going anywhere. They’re fantastic. I use all of them, but you want balance. You need your own site that belongs to you… like your own home on the Internet.”This is part of Matt’s code. Not WordPress’s “code.” Matt’s like a robot. I mean that as a compliment. There are many signs of this: language, ability, he’s very exact.

Done? While there’s not necessarily a “correct” answer here, it’s most likely you split the bugs into four clusters. The spiders in one cluster, the pair of snails in another, the butterflies and moth into one, and the trio of wasps and bees into one more.That wasn’t too bad, was it? You could probably do the same with twice as many bugs, right? If you had a bit of time to spare?—?or a passion for entomology?—?you could probably even do this same with a hundred bugs.For a machine though, grouping ten objects into however many meaningful clusters is no small task, thanks to a mind-bending branch of maths called combinatorics, which tells us that are 115,975 different possible ways you could have grouped those ten insects together. Had there been twenty bugs, there would have been over fifty trillion possible ways of clustering them.With a hundred bugs?—?there’d be many times more solutions than there are particles in the known universe. How many times more? By my calculation, approximately five hundred million billion billion times more. In fact, there are more than four million billion googol solutions (what’s a googol?). For just a hundred objects.Almost all of those solutions would be meaningless?—?yet from that unimaginable number of possible choices, you pretty quickly found one of the very few that clustered the bugs in a useful way.Us humans take it for granted how good we are categorizing and making sense of large volumes of data pretty quickly. Whether it’s a paragraph of text, or images on a screen, or a sequence of objects?—?humans are generally fairly efficient at making sense of whatever data the world throws at us.Given that a key aspect of developing A.I. and Machine Learning is getting machines to quickly make sense of large sets of input data, what shortcuts are there available? Here, you can read about three clustering algorithms that can machines can use to quickly make sense of large datasets. This is by no means an exhaustive list?—?there are other algorithms out there?—?but they represent a good place to start!You’ll find for each a quick summary of when you might use them, a brief overview of how they work, and a more detailed, step-by-step worked example. I believe it helps to understand an algorithm by actually carrying out yourself. If you’re really keen, you’ll find the best way to do this is with pen and paper. Go ahead?—?nobody will judge!

 

Interior Design

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Creativity is the key

Even core Calypso project team members had to get over our intimidation. None of us were strong JavaScript developers. But as each day passed our experience built, we made mistakes, we reviewed them, we fixed them, and we learned. Once we had the project moving, we set better examples for other engineers, and shared our knowledge across the company. Developers have increasingly adopted SSGs because they are faster, more secure, and less complex than WordPress, and they typically fit in nicely with version control platforms like GitHub and Bitbucket. David Walsh (edit?—?although the post is on David Walsh’s blog, it was actually written by Eduardo Bouças)There are several variations on the algorithm described here. The initial method of ‘seeding’ the clusters can be done in one of several ways. Here, we randomly assigned every player into a group, then calculated the group means. This causes the initial group means to tend towards being similar to one another, which ensures greater repeatability.An alternative is to seed the clusters with just one player each, then start assigning players to the nearest cluster. The returned clusters are more sensitive to the initial seeding step, reducing repeatability in highly variable datasets. However, this approach may reduce the number of iterations required to complete the algorithm, as the groups will take less time to diverge.An obvious limitation to K-means clustering is that you have to provide a priori assumptions about how many clusters you’re expecting to find. There are methods to assess the fit of a particular set of clusters. For example, the Within-Cluster Sum-of-Squares is a measure of the variance within each cluster. The ‘better’ the clusters, the lower the overall WCSS.

The structure of the dendrogram gives us insight into how our dataset is structured. In our example, we see two main branches, with Humpback Whale and Fin Whale on one side, and the Bottlenose Dolphin/Risso’s Dolphin and Pilot Whale/Killer Whale on the other.In evolutionary biology, much larger datasets with many more specimens and measurements are used in this way to infer taxonomic relationships between them. Outside of biology, hierarchical clustering has applications in Data Mining and Machine Learning contexts.

The cool thing is that this approach requires no assumptions about the number of clusters you’re looking for. You can split the returned dendrogram into clusters by “cutting” the tree at a given height. This height can be chosen in a number of ways, depending on the resolution at which you wish to cluster the data.

 

Finish

So, sure. Maybe you buy into the notion that the future is static. And maybe you also believe it’s going to be mighty difficult for WordPress to wean those self-identified WordPress developers onto something that’s not PHP, but the WordPress team is not not dumb, and they’re not standing still. With the release of Calypso, they completely re-wrote the admin portal for WordPress using NodeJS and ReactJS whose output is of course, STATIC!In other words, the WordPress team has started to disrupt itself and has moved to JavaScript and GitHub version control. The challenge is going to be convincing hundreds of thousands of PHP developers to follow suit.

The structure of the dendrogram gives us insight into how our dataset is structured. In our example, we see two main branches, with Humpback Whale and Fin Whale on one side, and the Bottlenose Dolphin/Risso’s Dolphin and Pilot Whale/Killer Whale on the other.In evolutionary biology, much larger datasets with many more specimens and measurements are used in this way to infer taxonomic relationships between them. Outside of biology, hierarchical clustering has applications in Data Mining and Machine Learning contexts.

The cool thing is that this approach requires no assumptions about the number of clusters you’re looking for. You can split the returned dendrogram into clusters by “cutting” the tree at a given height. This height can be chosen in a number of ways, depending on the resolution at which you wish to cluster the data.

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