Contact Me

If you'd like to contact me directly, you can send me an email at

Monday, December 2, 2013

Monday Q&A - Pensionado Visa, fresh market shopping, employment, and ATMs in Panama

Good morning,

It's time for another Monday Q&A. I've received a few questions over the past week, and I'll make sure I get to them shortly. I just wanted to also let you know about a couple of things. First, I posted the new PFR Location Report on Condado del Rey, one of the nicest Panama City suburbs you've probably never heard of. You can read that report and see the video by clicking here. It's 100% free.

A sneak peek at Condado del Rey

Also, I'll be live on The Breakfast Show with Gerry D at 89.3 Cool FM, this Wednesday, December 4th, at 9:15am. The show runs from 7am-10am Monday through Friday. You can check out their website and listen to the show if you miss it at

Alright, now let's get down to business.

Patrick asked (via Contact Us on our site):

"I'm planning on applying for a visa sometime next year, and I qualify for both the Pensionado (retiree) visa and the spouse of a Panamanian visa. I have no intention of working or shipping household goods to Panama. I just want to be able to live in my Panamanian home more than 180 days at a time, and would like to have a Panamanian driver's license. 

"My biggest concerns are which visa is cheaper/easier/quicker? Do you have any thoughts on which visa would be preferable?

Chris replied:

"Great question. Let me start by saying that I'm no Immigration expert, so I don't know all the ins and outs, but I've done the spouse thing and I can tell you that if I met the requirements, didn't need to work, and could do it all over again, I'd go the pensionado route in a heartbeat. 

"The benefits are awesome and the process just seems so much faster. And with the pensionado you only have to show proof that you've got $1,000 per month income coming in for the rest of your life (retirement, disability, etc.)

The Immigration building

"Both routes are going to cost you some money because the process itself costs quite a bit, plus you'll need an attorney. You can try to do it yourself, but I'd always recommend using an
attorney. You'll need one for signatures anyways.

"I'm not sure which is cheaper, to be honest with you, but I think because of the time it takes, the pensionado visa process probably ends up costing
less as well. I posted this link the other day on our Facebook page, which is to a page created by the Panamanian consulate in Canada. I love the way
they break everything down on here.

"We've just found a couple of attorneys we're going to be recommending to people. They both speak English and are excited to work with us and our readers so let me know if you'd like me to get you in touch with one of them.

"Thanks again for your email, Patrick, and thanks so much for checking out our site.

Kay asked (via "Contact Us" on our site): 

"Hi Chris, It feels good to discover your blog, it does give out so much valuable information for people like us, moving to a new place but don't know  much about it.

"I read on one of your recent FAQ posts that some fresh markets are all over Panama City, however, my boyfriend and I are new to this place, we are living on Via Españia, do you mind telling me about a popular fresh market place we can go visit? 

"Also, do u have any information if I want to buy some whole wheat flour in Panama City? Thank you very much for your time."

Chris replied:

"Hi Kay, Thanks so much for checking out our website and for emailing me. Ok, so there are fresh markets everywhere, but surprisingly, in your area, there aren't very many, lol. You'll find a lot of them in lower income areas. The good news is that the largest of them is not too far from where you're at (you said Via España, so I'm assuming near the casinos, El Cangrejo/Obarrio area right?).

At the Mercado de Abastos

"The largest outdoor market in Panama City is called Mercado de Abastos. It's in the Ancon area on Calle Curundu. You can take a taxi and walk through, but you're much better off with a car as you'll end up buying so many fresh tomatoes, pineapples, potatoes, and everything else you can imagine. I suppose if you were to take a small cart you'd be ok, but if you have access to a vehicle, make sure you take it. You'll find tons of bargains there. 

"If you weren't already aware, there's also a Mercado de Mariscos (seafood market) near Casco Viejo. You can't miss it. It's right at the end of the Cinta Costera and you can definitely smell the fish. Plus you'll see the seagulls all around it.

At the Rio Abajo market

"In Rio Abajo (the other end of Via España) there's a fairly large market, but you'll want to be careful traveling into that area. I'm comfortable going there, but my wife won't go anywhere near it, lol. She claims it's dangerous. 

"Your question about whole wheat flower. I'm not sure. I bet Deli Gourmet would have that. They're like a mini Whole Foods here. I'm not sure where you're located exactly, but in the Multicentro Mall (the one on Balboa near the Cinta Costera) you'll find a Super K, which a Kosher market. I bet they'd have whole wheat flower. There's another Kosher market in Punta Paitilla. I don't shop at the Kosher markets, but I think they'd have whole wheat flower. I hope this helps." 

"Oh yeah, here's the Facebook page of that big mercado I mentioned."

Jay asked:

"Hello Chris, I found your blog about living in Panama. I was wondering if you worked.  I am curious about moving to Panama but i'm wondering what the job situation is like down there.  I'm from Virginia and I do not speak Spanish very well.  I have a cousin that moved down there and is actually making his way but I'm nervous about it.  In Virginia I do Accounts Receivable / Accounts Payable but I don't how I'd be able to find a decent job down there considering I don't speak Spanish.  

"I was wondering how you or people you know may have come down there and found decent jobs.  Just a thought.  I appreciate any input you can give me."

Chris replied: 

"Hi Jay, thanks for reaching out to me. There are tons of jobs in Panama, but most don't pay very well. It's a whole different ball game down here. With your English, you could land a job at a call center immediately. That's what I did when I first moved here. I worked for a Sears project here and actually became a trainer, training all new hires. The pay is only like $700 per month though. Then you can usually earn bonuses and stuff. It's tough when you don't speak Spanish. I don't either. I worked for the call centers, then for Dell, then an online publisher.

"The other thing is, you need to get the work license. There's a new visa that makes it much easier to do that. It's nicknamed the "fast track" visa. You'd need to speak with an attorney about that kind of stuff though as I don't know a whole lot about it. You can find some under the table kinds of jobs, but most companies will want you to have the work license. I'm not sure how your cousin is doing it.

This large fortress (the building behind the cone) 
is where you to go get your work license

"Another option is teaching English. I did that for a little while and there are several schools in town, some require proof of a degree or a certificate showing your teaching experience, while some are just willing to hire native English speakers. Most will require that you're already here though before they'll even consider hiring you. Too many people try to set up a job before coming here and then never show up, so most companies won't deal with people still in the U.S.

"Other expats work freelance with online jobs or get involved in the tourism arena. Some are photographers or write articles for travel magazines and stuff like that. 

"If you want to check out what jobs are available, try these two sites:

You can also go to google and type in Craigslist Panama Panama (put Panama in twice). Then check the jobs section on that page. Watch out for scams though."

If anyone out there is looking to hire English-speaking professionals, let me know so I can tell Jay and others like him. Just shoot me an email at

Todd, who've I've spoken with several times on asked a good question the other day in one of the forums. 

He asked:

"Are the ATM's fixed and safe for U.S. credit cards and debit cards?"

I didn't reply on the forum, but I'll reply here:

"This is an excellent question and one I'm sure many people are concerned about. First off, there are plenty of ATM's in Panama City. And your credit/debit card should work here.

"Two Banco General machines have ripped me off. One took $10 after telling me that it didn't have cash. I'm sure I could've fought it, but since I was using my U.S. card and it was only $10, I didn't bother with the trouble (stupid I know).

"The second time it happened, I was actually using a Banco General card. The machine said that it didn't have cash (then later I found out that it did deduct the $100 I was trying to take out). Since I had an account with that bank, I just filed a complaint and the money was back in my account very quickly. So my advice to you is try to use any machine other than a Banco General one.

"I've also had a few experiences where my card didn't work in a machine. I think it was an HSBC machine that kept giving me trouble. It just kept telling me that it didn't work and I needed to contact my bank. I just went to a different ATM instead.

"So you might experience a few strange situations, but none should be anything serious. You'll rarely experience any issues and when you do, most of the time you'll just find that the machine is out of cash or that your card doesn't mesh well with it, so you'll just have to find another machine. 

"One thing to watch out for is the fees. I've thought a lot about changing my "back home" bank because of their ridiculous fees. Every time I go to an ATM, with my U.S. debit card, I pay $3 to the local bank who owns the machine. Then I pay a $5 international withdrawal charge and a 3% international fee. So if I take out $100, that's like paying 10% in fees. 

"That's something you have to take into consideration. The same thing goes when I use my debit card at a store. When I first moved here, I bought a few appliances, like a washer, dryer, and a refrigerator. At the time, my international fee was 5% (it's 3% now). So every time I spent a substantial amount of money, I'd get hit with a hefty fee, and that adds up quickly.

"One last thing to know. Not every town has an ATM machine in Panama. Most do. Almost all do. In Portobelo, I didn't see a bank, but there was an ATM machine. My advice is if you plan to visit small towns, take cash with you when you leave Panama City. And make sure you have small bills as many of the fondas and small stores might not have change for a $20 or larger."

Well, that's it for this Q and A session. Thanks for reading and I hope some of this helped.   

If you haven't already, check out our new website at It has a ton of info.