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Thursday, November 28, 2013

Understanding the Panama Lottery

Happy Thanksgiving! I've had a lot of email requests from people wondering how to play the Panama Lottery. I didn't get it either, but I get it now! I think I’m ready to play the Panama Lottery and after reading this post, you should be too.

So many times I’ve passed by the people selling lottery tickets in front of the supermarkets and in the middle of the streets. Sellers walk around with books of tickets, knocking on car windows and approaching you in stores. I’ve had someone try to sell me tickets at a McDonald’s drive through and even in a barber shop. Every Sunday and Wednesday, the two days the lottery plays, you’ll see long lines at these lottery sellers’ tables.

People line up on a rainy day for lottery tickets

I’ve bought lottery tickets twice myself, and both times I had no idea what I was doing. I didn’t know how much I could possibly win off of one ticket, and since many Panamanians buy several tickets with the same exact numbers, I knew my potential winnings on one ticket must be substantially lower than what those buying ten of the same ticket would be.

First, let me explain that the lottery, or what's officially called Loteria Nacional de Beneficiencia - LNB,  is probably a lot different from what you’re used to in your home country. What I’m used to, playing the Florida lottery, is walking into a gas station and grabbing one of the multiple-choice-like tickets with the tiny pencil and filling out the dots for the numbers I’d like to play. Either that, or you just tell the guy behind the counter to print you out a random sheet, where the computer chooses the numbers.

Here, the numbers are pre-printed onto the tickets. And the most numbers you’ll find on a ticket is 4 (except for a special lottery I’ll get to later with 5 numbers). And if you want 4 specific numbers, you have to search for that ticket...and the tickets go fast. People line up to buy tickets with their kids’ birthday numbers or numbers they play every single week, early in the morning. So let’s say your favorite numbers are 16 (the age of your first special kiss) and 35 (the age of your special divorce), you’ll need to search for a ticket with 1635 or any other order of those numbers. You can’t just fill out a card with those numbers and receive your ticket.

Before explaining exactly how to play the lottery, let me try to explain how these people selling the tickets get the tickets. The main seller, or what’s called a Billetero, goes to the lottery building (La Loteria Nacional) and buys a book of tickets (he has to be certified by the General Secretary of the National Lottery) and can buy up to 5 books). He puts down a deposit for the book with the understanding that if a winning ticket sells from his book, he’ll get a set percentage of the winnings. Let’s just say 10% to have a number in here. He takes that book of tickets and makes deals with resellers (the people you see actually selling the tickets) and agrees to give them, let’s say 4% of the winning ticket.

Resellers hard at work

These resellers go out bright and early, set up shop, and sell the tickets they have on hand. The tickets they don’t sell, they have to give back to the billetero. He has up until one hour before the lottery plays to return his unsold tickets to the lottery building. The lottery plays at 1pm, so he has until noon to return the tickets and have them discounted from the total he owes for the book.

So how do you play the lottery?

I’m going to mention four different lottery games here. The regular lottery (Billetes), Chances, the Loteria Extraordinaria , and the Gordito del Zodiaco, plus some new games that are being played in Panama. 

The Billetes (regular lottery)

This is the ticket with 4 numbers that you see most often and they cost $1 per ticket. The lottery numbers are picked every Sunday (known as Oro Dominical) and Wednesday (known as Oro Miercolito) at 1pm, live on TV (several channels) and on the radio. Every lottery game has 3 rounds, meaning four balls are pulled out of the cage 3 times. So four numbers are drawn for the first round, then four more for the second round, and four more for the third round. Here’s how the winnings go.
So, as you can see, those people who buy 10 of the same ticket, if they get all 4 numbers in the first round, they win $20,000. It's no Powerball, but it's a nice pot of cash. 

Chances (the 2-number ticket)

These are the other tickets sold for the Wednesday and Sunday lottery drawings. The tickets for the Chances game have only 2 numbers and cost only 25 cents. You use this ticket along with the drawing for the regular lottery, but your two numbers only count on the last two numbers of the 4 drawn. So…

Here are the winnings if your 2 numbers match the last 2 numbers drawn in rounds 1-3. 

Round 1: $14
Round 2: $4
Round 3: $2

So the winnings on these tickets are a lot less, but since they cost only 25 cents, some people buy a lot of them and hope to win $14x the number of tickets purchased.

Loteria  Extroardinaria

Three times per year (in April, August, and December) this extra lottery is played. With this lottery, the winnings are much more, but it has 5 numbers instead of only 4. I don’t know the winnings of every round on this one, but here are the winnings if you get all 5 numbers in any of these rounds:

Round 1: $20,000
Round 2: $10,000
Round 3: $5,000

Gordito del Zodiaco

This game is played at the end of each month, either on the 30th or 31st and has 4 numbers. I only know the winning amount for getting all 4 numbers on the first round and that’s $4,000. So imagine if you bought 10 tickets with the same numbers. That’s $40,000.

Lottery tickets for sale in Chitre

Important extra info about playing the Panama lottery...

With any of these lottery games, if your ticket is lost or destroyed or if the numbers are scratched to the point they cannot be read, your ticket will be considered invalid. 

If you want to have your children pull the winning numbers during any of these lottery drawings, they need to be between the ages of 5 and 8, and you will need to send a request to the Direccion General, and they will then send it to the Secretaria General (General Secretary). Then someone will call you with the date your child/grandchild is chosen to pull the numbers. 

To collect your winnings or to contact the Loteria Nacional call +507-507-6800 or visit the office at: 

Ubicada entre calle 31 y 32
Avenida Cuba y Peru
Horario: Mon-Fri 8am-3:30pm, Sunday 9am-2pm.

Pim Pao! 

I just love saying that. But you have to say it right, with a little yell and a judo chop. 

Just recently, they started selling scratch off tickets, instant lottery, called Pim Pao (or rapaditos). People are going nuts over these things. The winnings range from $.50 to $1,000. You can see examples here at the following link:

Advertisement for Buko Millonario

Buko Millonario

Something else that has sprung up recently, and is all the rage right now, is Buko Millonario, which is played on Saturdays and is pretty exciting. The tickets cost $1 and look a little bit like bingo cards. The 15 numbers are drawn live in front of a studio audience, starting at 5 p.m., Saturday nights. It's played live on TV and is a lot of fun, with entertainers and cool hosts who take their time drawing the numbered balls out of the cage, one at a time, stretching the drawing out for the full hour. The show plays on Channel 13 and on the radio.

Your card has 15 out of 26 possible numbers drawn. If you have all 15 numbers announced, you get to split the major pot with anyone else who has all 15 numbers. So far, no one has won this, and each time the Buko plays, the pot grows if no one wins, so right now it's up to somewhere around $360,000. It's funny watching the show because they announce at the end how many people have won and every time they announce that no one has won the big pot, the crowd cheers, knowing that next week the purse will grow. Each week, 45% of the week's earnings (from sales of tickets) will be added to the purse. 

As you can see from my Buko card in the photo above, I had 10 numbers, meaning I won absolutely nothing. You don't have to get all 15 numbers to win something though. Here are some other ways you can win:

14 numbers - $5,000
13 numbers - $100
12 numbers - $10

To collect winnings, you simply go to the Buko Millionario office in Panama City. If you live in the interior, you'll have to come to the main office in Panama City if you've won the ultimate prize or the $5,000 for having 14 numbers. Any winnings under that amount can be collected at the Super 99 supermarket. 

You'll just have to show your ID card or cedula and fill out the information on the back of the ticket. You have 30 days to claim your prize.

Well, that's all the info I have on understanding the Panama lottery. I hope reading this makes you feel a lot more comfortable with playing the lottery. I know I feel a lot better about it now.

Thanks for reading,


Monday, November 25, 2013

Q&A Monday, Your Panama Questions Answered

Hey guys,

Good morning. It's the week of Thanksgiving and while the stores here in Panama are preparing for Black Friday (Panama started participating last year) I'm going through this week's emails and preparing to answer your questions. We've got some great questions this time around too. I invite you guys to keep the questions coming so I have something to write about next Monday. I'll answer questions coming in from the comments on this blog, the comments on, questions from our Facebook page, and ones I get straight to my inbox. 

So, let's do this!

Albania asked (via Facebook): 

“Do you know where I can take Mandarin classes? I communicate with a lot of Chinese people on my job and I think it would really help if I learned Mandarin.”

Chris replied:

"Excellent question, Albania. I know you're Panamanian, so finding a Spanish-Mandarin class is most likely what you're looking for. I found the following website that lists several classes. For our English-speaking readers, you'd need to contact them and find out if they offer English-Mandarin classes. You'll probably find that some will offer private lessons as they probably don't have a large enough customer base to offer regular classes in English. Here's that website I mentioned: 

Hope this helps."

Greg asked (via email):

"I am glad to have found your blog. I've just spent 12 years in Tulsa and now reside in Ft. Lauderdale. I am looking at retiring to Panama in 2014. My wife and I are in our early 50's. I am researching Coronado as it offers us beach and golf options.

"I am curious if you have an opinion on other areas that we should visit? Our plan is to live in Panama for 6 to 8 months a year and then stay in the U.S. the rest of the year. I am open to suggestions on area etc.

"Also, do you have any idea what the cost of living is like in Coronado?"

Chris replied:

"Hey Greg,

"Thanks so much for reaching out to me and for checking out the site. I feel like I'm reading your email and looking into the mirror. I was born in Tulsa and grew up in the Fort Lauderdale area. I'm glad to hear you guys are headed this way. 

"Coronado does sound like the place for you. I always call it the "Furnished Home" of beach lifestyle options in Panama. Expats have already moved into Coronado and set it up for you, so adjusting should be fairly easy. If you want to be near the beach and need to be near a golf course, that's probably the best place for you...if you can afford it. It's not for anyone retiring on a tight budget.

The beach in Coronado

"Pedasi is my favorite beach area, but it's a small town with no nearby golf course (I think the closest one is in Chitre, about an hour away). So for you, again, Coronado is probably best. 

"If you have any interest in living in the mountains, you have that option too. I know a couple living in Altos del Maria, a mountain community very close to Coronado. The husband is a surfer, so being near the beach is very important, but the wife wanted to live in the mountains. I think it's only about a 20-minute drive down the mountain to get to the main highway, then maybe 15-20 minutes to the Coronado area. So that's a possibility too. When I met this couple, they were in Coronado having lunch, that's how close their home is to the beach.

At one of the beaches near Pedasi

"I have a realtor friend in Coronado, who knows all the best places in the area, and I think might actually own a place in the Golf Resort there. If you're interested in making contact, just let me know. 

"If you want to read more about Altos del Maria, you can check out their website at I'll be headed that way soon with Panama For Real. So a full report and video are on their way. We'll be headed to Coronado and Pedasi too at some point in the future.

"As for the cost of living in Coronado, it's been awhile since I've researched it, but when I visited there last, exactly one year ago as it was in November of 2012, I put the monthly budget for a couple living in Coronado at $2,900. That was based off a realtor telling me you could rent a place for $1,400 per month. I set the grocery costs at $400. So your rent could be much higher than $1,400 and your food costs could be higher or lower. The $2,900 covered everything from entertainment to electricity.

"One of the great things about Coronado is you can live in the nearby towns of Gorgona, Chame, Punta Chame, San Carlos, or Las Lajas if you don't want to live in the actual town of Coronado (might save you a few bucks), and you'd still have access to all the restaurants and gringo get-togethers that take place in Coronado. 

"I know we have a lot of readers living in the Coronado area, so feel free to chime in on the comments section below this post."

Missie (via Facebook) asked: 

"Hello, Mr. Powers. We are a homeschooling family. I am curious about the expat communities and homeschooling. There is very little information on the Internet. Most pages/groups/etc. have had little or no posts in several years. I'm sure there ARE homeschoolers. I am just unsure how to get in touch with them.

"Also, my children are very active in softball and baseball here. Do they do much of that in Panama? If so, what locations should we be looking at to get them involved?

"Thank you so much for your help."

Chris replied:

"Hi Missie,

"Great questions. I don't know a whole lot about the homeschooling situation here, but I know that it does exist...and a lot of families are doing it. In most of the small towns, the expats with kids either homeschool their kids or do half days at the local public school, then homeschool them the second half of the day. 

"I've done a little bit of research for you and from what I understand, there is no set homeschooling program in Panama. So what people do is just find the program they're comfortable with in the States or whatever country they're from, and implement it here. That's probably why you're not finding much about it online.

"A new Facebook friend, Amanda, told me her family uses She said that's a widely used program, along with its sister program  

"Amanda also mentioned that what she loves about homsechooling her kids is that her kids have the option to take so many classes you won't find in schools here (or in many other locations). Plus, since kids learn at different speeds and levels, if you have a child who is advanced or falls a little bit behind, homeschooling programs give you the opportunity to adapt for that.

In Pedasi, some expat send their kids to this school half the day, 
then homeschool them the rest of the day.

"My only concern with homeschooling is that you might not be giving your kids the chance to really get to know their Panamanian neighbors. So if none of their day is spent in the Panamanian schools, I'd at least try to get them involved in some other type of class or program that will help them learn Spanish and get to know their new Panamanian neighbors. 

"Softball and baseball shouldn't be a problem. Those are popular sports here too. Your kids could even play American football here. As far as what locations you should live in, to get them involved, that all depends on what lifestyle you're looking for. We need to discuss this further, probably one-on-one as it can be a long conversation, but in most places you'll find these sports available.

"Thanks again for the great question and for giving me the opportunity to answer it." 

Steve asked (via his comment in the PFR website):

"Would like to know a few things. Where is an established beach town with expats? Also, would like to know what the rainy season is like near the beach. Does Panama have an area that is considered dry? One more question, I'm a vegetarian. Can I find vegetarian items at most stores, or are there any vegetarian stores, or restaurants in Panama?"

Chris replied:

"Hi Steve,

"Thanks for commenting and checking out the site. I'd say the most established beach town (with expats) would be Coronado, hands down (wow, this Q&A session is becoming the Coronado show). Rainy season near the beach is still rainy season, but it comes and goes. It's a lot like South Florida weather. The south-east coast of the Azuero Peninsula is considered the dry zone. Some people claim that's not true, but I stayed in Pedasi last year, during the rainy season (for 3 days) and it didn't rain once. 

Amador Causeway is definitely not in the driest part of the country

"About your vegetarian question. You can find fresh markets all over Panama, every day of the week. So eating well on the cheap is very easy here. Plus, places like Fruteria Mimi (in Costa del Este, San Francisco, and in El Cangrejo) have great vegetarian options. Even the regular supermarkets will have what you're looking for. Punta Paitilla has some great Kosher markets, which could be good options as well, like Super K inside of Multicentro Mall. Most restaurants will have vegetarian sections on the menu. You should have no trouble living in Panama has a vegetarian." 

Fresh produce is easy to find anywhere in Panama

I invite any vegetarians living in Panama to provide some feedback for Steve.

Louis asked (via his comment in the PFR website, after reading my post on ordering at a Panama McDonald's): 

"My question is, when you are in panama, why eat at McDonald's, Fridays, Bennigan's, or KFC, etc., when Mi Ranchito, Costa Azul, Jimmy's, Bon Profit, Balboa Yacht Club, etc. are right there and have great Panamanian food? I usually eat corvina (fish) most of the time with fried yuca."

Chris replied:

"Ha, great point. I have 4 kids, remember? And I have to admit, I do get tired of eating only Panamanian food. I love Panamanian food, but every once in awhile I need a burger or ribs or chicken wings. It's the kids who love McDonald's. We mostly only go to KFC so the kids can play in the play area. It's the best place to take them during the rainy season. Thanks for your question, Louis." 

Well, that's it for this session of Q&A Monday. I think I need a stiff drink after those question, haha. Only kidding. Keep 'em coming.

Thanks again for reading. As always, don't forget to check out, and please...

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Thursday, November 21, 2013

Seeing a medical specialist in Panama City, Panama

Good morning everybody,

During the interview with Michael Drouillard from last weekend, he asked about medical care here in Panama and whether or not I thought the doctors are competent. I explained that I'm very impressed with medical care here and that not only is it extremely cheap compared with what I was used to paying just in co-pays back home, I've found that the doctors aren't afraid to diagnose the problem. 

Because of the fear of being sued for malpractice, and the desire to earn heaps of cash (not all doctors, but quite a few), it's very difficult to get a doctor to diagnose a problem in the States. They'll tell you it might possibly be this problem, but you'll need to come back next week for a checkup, and it just goes on and on. I know there are some doctors checking out the site, and a good friend of mine here in Panama was a nurse, so I'm not saying this to insult anyone. It's just a sad truth and I understand the reasons behind it (the malpractice concerns, not the desire for heaps of money). 

But I have to say that there's a sigh of relief that comes over me whenever I visit a doctor here. In Panama, most doctors will tell you immediately what they think the problem is and most of the time (in my experience) they've been correct. 

I wrote recently about my wife's trip to the doctor near our home and how the bill was only a total of $23 including the consultation and the injection they gave her to help give her immune system a jolt. And I mentioned how I saw a doctor in San Carlos for only $1. If you've checked out any of our Panama For Real videos, I always give a budget breakdown on the costs of living in whatever area we're covering in the video. When I get to medical care, I usually say that the average cost of a doctor visit is about $25 (quite often it's even less). I also mention on the budget breakdown that a trip to the specialist usually costs about $50. That's what I'm going to be talking about in this post.

Centro Especializado San Fernando

My son has eczema, so our regular doctor sent us to see a dermatologist. He referred us to Dr. Tiberio A. Rodriguez Calvo. This is the second time, from two separate doctors, that we've been referred to this specialist, so we knew he must be good. We've been thoroughly impressed by his professionalism and competency. 

His office is in the building behind the McDonald's on Via EspaƱa, where Hospital San Fernando is located, on the 9th floor. Getting to the building is kind of confusing. You have to enter the parking lot right next to McDonald's (it's a big shopping center), take a parking ticket, and then circle around to the Centro Especializado San Fernando. Most of the parking is in the garage under the building.

Marlene waiting with our son

To see this specialist, we only paid $50. We didn't need to show any important paperwork. My wife just filled out a short form. If the form asks for your cedula, and you don't have one, you just write down your passport number, or the number that's on your immigration card. It's as easy as that. The doctor saw my son, confirmed that it was eczema causing his problem, and wrote us a prescription for a skin cream. We don't need to go back and see him unless the cream doesn't help. No $50 follow up just for the heck of it.

Dr. Tiberio A. Rodriguez Calvo

If you'd like to contact Dr. Tiberio A. Rodriguez Calvo, you'll see his contact info in the photo below. He speaks English and is very good at what he does. And while $50 might not seem super affordable, when you consider the average co-pay in the U.S. is probably that or more by now, it's not too bad. Also, keep in mind that the $50 is for the consultation. If he has to do any other procedure, he'll probably schedule you for a separate appointment, and like with any other doctor, the costs vary depending on what needs to get done. The woman seeing the doctor before us paid $100 to get some kind of skin lesion removed. 

Cell: 6615-5399, Offc: 203-7383, email:

I've seen a couple of specialists here in Panama City, and I've never paid more than $50 for a consultation. I have herniated discs and degenerative disc disease in my back, and the last time I saw a specialist, I paid $50. 

Where we got our sons' orthopedic shoes

When we took our kids to see an orthopedic doctor, in Hospital San Fernando (right across the street from the dermatologist), we paid $40 for each of my two sons. It turned out, both of them needed special orthopedic shoes because their feet are pointing inward a little too much (pigeon-toed). We were sent to the place in the photo above (in the same building as the dermatologist) to buy their shoes. I think we paid $60 for each pair of shoes. They took my sons' measurements and ordered the shoes.

Hopefully this article has set your mind at ease about the medical situation here in Panama. Always ask fellow expats and friends to find out which doctors they prefer. The expat community here is tighter than you might think. Everyone knows someone else and that leads to some great contacts. I'm sure that even in some of the Facebook groups you'll find people willing to share their experiences with Panama doctors. I can honestly say that I feel completely at ease with the medical situation here. 

Thanks again for reading. As always, don't forget to check out, and please...

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