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Monday, December 9, 2013

Q&A Monday - Immigration, garbage collection, and Las Cumbres, Panama

Hey everybody, happy Monday! Yesterday was Mother’s Day here in Panama. It’s celebrated on December 8th in celebration of the Feast of Immaculate Conception, which is honor of the Virgin Mary. We had a great time. I cooked dinner and a lot of mamas came over.

So, I have one day in between Mother’s Day, and Victoria’s (my daughter) birthday tomorrow. I’m gonna use it wisely and answer readers’ questions.

I’m really excited guys. Panama For Real is growing at a great pace. At the time of writing this, we have 104 newsletter subscribers and 432 likes on Facebook. We’ve also found our “go to” attorney, which is awesome. This guy, Edgardo J. Matteo Barsallo (goes by Gary Matteo), seems to really get it. He understands what we’re doing with Panama For Real, that we’re not interested in ripping people off or making a quick buck, and he’s ready to be our wingman for any Immigration related issues, and has even promised a discount for our readers. And his firm handles just about any other issues you can think of.

Please, if you contact him, let him know that Chris at Panama For Real sent you. You can reach him at or If you want to check out his firm’s website, go to

So let's get the Q and A going.

Gunnar asked (via contact us on PFR website), 

"Great site and some of the best write-ups on Panama that I have seen (incl. the various books one can purchase)!

"I have been looking through the various neighborhoods in Panama city for a while now (Internet + spending a few weeks total in the country). We have been looking for homes that provide lots of green-space (somewhat close to nature) and have property-lots that have a decent size. Paired with the requirement of not living in a pre-planned suburban-style cookie-cutter development, the available choices in Panama City become extremely scarce.

"Cerro Azul, as in your video, is nice but a tad far away. Ancon Hill looks nice but virtually no availability and VERY expensive. Same is true with some places in the Reverted Areas. There were some nice places in Veracruz/Majagual but then you have the issue of crossing the bridge to get kids to school etc, plus some of the infrastructure gets slightly more basic.

"One of the few places we discovered that is relatively close to the City and fits the requirements is Las Cumbres. Thus my question - What is your take on Las Cumbres? While there are some expats living there is does not get mentioned that often on the various Panama related sites.

"Thanks a lot!"

I replied:

"Thanks Gunnar for your kind words and for checking out the site. Yes, I'm familiar with Las Cumbres. My wife's uncle lives in Villa Zaita, which is right next to Las Cumbres. I like Las Cumbres a lot, and as you stated, it's a place slightly removed from the city, but not too far away. If you ask most Panamanians, they'll say, "No way, Las Cumbres is too far." But it's really close, actually. It just seems far because it's not right smack dab in the middle of the city. 

"Las Cumbres is an area that's very hilly, most of the homes aren't cookie-cutter, and there's a lot of land, so finding a backyard shouldn't be difficult. My daughters used to go to a school there, an all-Spanish Catholic school, so we drove back and forth quite a bit. 

The new Metro train station at Los Andes, near Las Cumbres

"Las Cumbres is also close to Los Andes, a budget shopping area and they're supposed to be building a mall next to that shopping center too. Plus, you'll have easy access to the Corredor Norte (a major toll highway) as there's an exit right there next to Villa Zaita and Las Cumbres.

"At some point I'll visit Las Cumbres and do a PFR Location Report and Video on the area."

Michael asked (via contact us on the site): 

"Can I get quite a bit of my Pensionado accomplished from David through a lawyer?  We might prefer to live in the interior or highlands; at least site ourselves in that part of the country at first. 

"Is there immigration office, US embassy satellite offices and DMV services in David (or other interior cities) that can handle this business?  Or is occasional trips to only PC simply the inevitable to accomplish the Pensionado."

I replied: 

"Hi Michael and thanks for writing. You can definitely take care of your DMV, driver's license, in David. You'll find those offices all over the place. You might even see some small Immigration offices, but as far as I know, to take care of the paperwork for your pensionado, or any other Immigration paperwork related issues, you'd need to visit Panama City. 

"If you hire a good lawyer, a lot of stuff can be taken care of without you there, then you just show up when your physical presence is required. 

"Contact Gary Matteo, our "go to" Immigration lawyer,  for the specifics. I think the pensionado process is pretty cut and dry. He should be able to hook you up, even if you're living in David. Get in touch with him at

"Hope this helps."

John asked (via comment on the PFR site):

"Chris, I am thinking of visiting there at some point, maybe retire in the near future, I noticed in your monthly budget you stated blood pressure and Diabetic supplies, So im taking it you are a diabetic? well so am I ( type 1 ) my question, how well do you get along over there with it, and how good are the doctors over there, and are you a native or from the U.S. thanks in advance for info."

I replied:

"Hi John, thanks for checking out the site. Yes, I'm beginning stages diabetic, so I just take a pill once per day (Metformina) and one pill (Zestril) for blood pressure. 

"One of the good things about Panama is I can get this medicine without a prescription. Of course, it's good to keep seeing the doctor to make sure you're getting the right dosage, but in the States I'd have to go see the doctor just to get a new prescription, then go to the pharmacy. You can buy both meds here from the pharmacy with no prescription. 

"Plus, you can buy most medicines here by the pill if you want. So if you're running low on cash and you just want to buy 5 pills for blood pressure, you can do that. That's very helpful when a doctor prescribes you just a few days worth of a cold medicine. In the U.S. you'd be forced to buy the entire box. 

"The doctors here, from what I've seen, are excellent and they're not afraid to diagnose a problem. I'm from the U.S., born in Tulsa, Oklahoma, but raised all over the place. I moved to Panama so my wife could be closer to her family, and because it seemed like a great adventure. So far I'm lovin' it!"

Michael asked (via email): 

"Hi Chris, I was wondering if you could help me.  My fiancĂ©  told me that I need to bring a document that proves I am far I cant find any such document that exist.  Is this what you had to do when you got married? and if so where do I get such a document?"

I replied:

"Hey Michael, yes, she's correct. Here they just go to the civil registry (Panamanians) to get a certificate proving they've never been married. I'm not sure where you'd get this in the States. I've read about people having it done at the embassy here, but I'd definitely recommend having it done before coming just to make sure you're not caught up in any red tape. I'd check with the office of Vital Statistics (I think that's what it was called in the States...where you get your birth certificates and marriage certificates and stuff like that).

"I'm married to a Panamanian, but since we got married in the U.S., and came to Panama already married, I didn't have to do this. 

The U.S. Embassy in Clayton, Panama

"Here's the web page of the U.S. Citizen Services section of the U.S. Embassy here in Panama. It has their contact info and stuff on there. If you can't figure out how to get the paperwork in your home state, try contacting them to see if you can take care of it here in Panama. That page is:

"Good luck, man!"

Rich wrote (via contact us on the PFR site):

"Just a quick note ... your "About Us" page still links to Amazon for your first book, which is--apparently--no longer available there?  At least, not at the link you provide.  Get that link updated so people can actually buy your book(s)."

I replied: 

"Hey Rich, thanks so much for trying to buy my book. Sorry for the inconvenience. I recently parted ways with my publisher, which led to my book suddenly disappearing from the virtual shelves. 

"So I just need to reformat the book, fix a few minor errors, and then re-publish it. I'll publish it myself this time around. I took it out of the sidebar, but forgot I'd mentioned it in the "About Us" page. 

"Also, I finished the first draft of the second book, so that'll be out soon too. Thanks again for trying to buy my book. I'll let everyone know when it's back up on the shelves."

Michael asked (via contact us): 

"How does Panama deal with trash/garbage collection and landfills?"

I replied: 

"Panama does use landfills and garbage collection is fairly dependable. The bill is combined with your water bill. 

"Garbage collection isn't like you might be used to back in the States or wherever you're from. You don't just put a large plastic container out by the street. Or in the Naperville (suburb of Chicago) area, where you had to buy stickers from the supermarket and they'd only collect bags that had the pre-paid stickers on them. Here, most homes have a metal garbage collection basket out near the street.  

"I've found that it's also a good practice to offer small tips or even sodas or something to your garbage men. If you take care of them, they're more likely to take care of you when you have large items you need to get rid of.

"And, keeping it real, I have to mention that in some areas, especially in the lower income areas, mostly because people don't want to pay for trash collection, people just create their own garbage collection points in the neighborhood and everyone tosses their garbage there. Like in the photo below. This forces the city to pick up the garbage in order to keep the streets clean. 

An unofficial garbage collection point

Also, I've seen in local newspapers that in certain areas (again, mostly the lower income areas), the garbage collection doesn't happen as frequently as it should, or not at all, which angers the residents, and they toss their garbage out by the street. I know the government recently purchased more trucks, and newer ones, to help with the collection process. 

"Some people, especially the older Panamanians, burn a lot of their garbage. You'll see these little smoke pits in the yard. So when you're driving down the street and you see a small fire going, don't be alarmed, it's probably just someone burning their garbage.

Some people still burn their garbage

"In Rio Hato, I met a woman who buried her garbage on her land. She burned what she could burn, and the rest she buried. So some people still stick with the old ways, but most just have their garbage collected (usually once per week)."

Marc asked (via comment on the PFR site):

"Hi Chris,

"I am a French Canadian living in Bali, Indonesia and I am going home on January 12, 2014 to prepare my application for a PENSIONADO VISA. You are quite the ambassador! Panama seems to be the right place for me, the permanent residency option is great and it looks much cleaner than Indonesia. Asia is great to visit but I think Central and South America are probably best to live, anyway this is my impression at the moment.

"Chris, you can help me with the name of a good lawyer and an idea of the cost for the visa application? P.S. Would love to meet you and your family. Thank you so much for your help and take care."

I replied:

"Thanks Marc. Wow, Indonesia. You’re definitely making your way around the world. Yes, I have a great lawyer to get you in touch with. I've mentioned him a few times in this post. Just email him at and he should be able to give you all the help you need with the Immigration process."

Tracee asked (via comment on PFR site): 

"Please tell me more about the Work License. Do you have to get it if you are working privately for someone? Where can I find more information about it? Thank you!"

I replied:

"Hi Tracee. Yes, you’ll need the work license to be employed legally in Panama. You might find companies willing to pay you under the table, and you can work freelance (online jobs and stuff) without the license, but having one will make your life a lot easier here. 

"If you have questions about which visas allow you to obtain the work license, contact, and I'm sure he can get you moving in the right direction. Thanks Tracee."

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

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