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Monday, January 20, 2014

Monday Q and A - Dealing with diabetes in Panama, affordable rent, home security, life in Pedasi, and much more...

Hi everybody,

Good Monday morning. I’ve gathered enough questions to do a Monday Q and A today. I hope everyone had the chance to see the Isla Taboga written report and video at Panama For Real. If not, just click here on the words “report” or “video” to be taken to them. I had a lot of fun on the island and will definitely be going back with the kids soon.

We’ve got some interesting questions this time around, so let’s get started. 

Bill (via email) wrote: 

"Hi Chris. I see you're starting to deal with diabetes. I have been insulin dependent for almost 40 years and I need to find out what out of pocket costs for insulin pens or vials and syringes might be in Panama. My health is great but acquiring an individual insurance policy is not likely as I have this "pre-existing" condition. Anyway, it sounds like you're type 2 (or pre-type 2) but I thought you might be able to give me some direction or a contact to talk to. 

"Also, any idea what the cost of blood glucose monitoring test strips cost in Panama? We are likely to retire outside of Panama City (we really like Pedasi) and want to verify I would have access to diabetic suppliers outside of the city."

I replied:

"Just got back from the supermarket. I stopped by the pharmacy, had a chat with the pharmacist, and got a little bit of info for you. Hopefully this helps. 

"The insulin costs $20.39, that's for 100UI, 10ml (does that make sense?). Syringes are $.15 each. Test strips depend on which machine you're using. The pharmacist showed me 3 brands and they varied in price from $32-$37 for a box of 50 strips. This is at the Rey supermarket pharmacy, which is also run by Farmacia Metro. You can probably find better prices at the smaller pharmacies. 

A pharmacy in Pedasi

"To address your other concern, I love Pedasi. It's one of my favorite places in Panama, but it is small town life. A new hospital is on its way to Pedasi and you'll even find a Centro de Salud clinic  and a pharmacy there. Still, if you weren't able to purchase what you need in Pedasi, you could probably pick it up in Las Tablas, which is about a 30-minute drive. I know Las Tablas has a lot of little pharmacies. Worst case, you might have to travel another 30 minutes to Chitre, which is the biggest town in the area (has a full size mall, several large supermarkets, etc.)."

UPDATE, after posting this, one of our Facebook friends and readers, David G., made the following comment, which I think is important to know: 

"Christopher, I just thought I'd let you know that the market for glucometers is pretty limited. Most people will be better off purchasing another glucometer in Panama where you can be sure to get the testing strips. Otherwise, you have to order it online and it can be a pain in the ass."

So, make sure you pick up a back up meter if you're planning to move outside of Panama City, just in case it takes awhile to get a replacement. Thanks David! 

Lord (via comments on PFR site) wrote: 

"Hello, I love your site, videos, and attention to detail you place on both. It has been very informative. My wife and I are planning to move to Panama and we are visiting in April to get an idea of where we would like to move. We are looking in Chiriqui and the suburbs of Panama City. We are on a really tight budget though, $500 per month for a rental. Can you give us some suggestions for areas to move?"

I replied:

"Hey Lord, thanks so much for checking out the site. Great question. To be honest, it would be hard to find something in the city or very near the city for $500 or less per month. It's possible, but you probably wouldn't want to live in those areas. The closest you'll get to Panama City is probably Arraijan. If you search there, just be careful as I've heard there are some really nice areas and some not-so-great (meaning not-so-safe) ones. I've met quite a few people living out there though, and they seem to like it. Maybe some of our readers living in that area can write in, in the comments below, and let us know what you think. 

According to, at the time of writing this, 
this 2-bedroom home in Penonomé was going for $500 per month

"Here's a link to some homes I found for under $500 there: Remember, website info changes constantly, so the info on that page might change by the time you get there. If so, just change the search info in the left sidebar back to $500 or less and search again. Also remember that it's hard to find deals online. You really need to get out on the road, find a place you're interested in, then really dig in and see what you can find by word of mouth. 

According to, at the time of writing this,
this 2-bedroom home in David was going for $300 per month

"David is the second largest city in Panama and I often see rentals in that area that would fall within your budget. Kris at is an excellent source for all things in that area. I even pick her brain sometimes about living in David. My sister-in-law lives there. I like it, but they say it's hotter than Panama City (and PC is hot). I'm sure you'd find homes in the smaller towns along the Pan-American Highway as well. If you spend some time in towns like Penonom√©, Chitre, Las Tablas, Anton (not El Valle de Anton), probably Rio Hato...most small towns will have what you're looking for, but it's hard to find anything online in those towns. It's all about word of mouth or maybe even searching the post-it boards at the supermarkets. 

"Plus, you really need to find a place you're comfortable with. You'll see. When you find your place, you'll just know. Hope this helps."

Nevla (via comments on the PRF site) wrote: 

"Happy New Year, Chris! Enjoying your well-written articles. The Taboga report brought images and memories of visits with family when i was a child. Tell me, what do you know about Panama Pacifico? It's purported to be a new city clost to Panama City. I'm being told it's a great place to live."

I replied: 

"Hi Nevla, thanks for the kind words about our site. I'm glad you liked the Taboga report. I honestly don't know a whole lot about Panama Pacifico. It's built on the old Howard Air Base, on the other side of the Bridge of the Americas. 

Had a great time on Isla Taboga, only an hour ferry ride from Panama City

"I know that a lot of companies are starting to base their Panama operations there (it's home to over 160 businesses right now). The homes are supposed to be very nice and I just read on their website that they have a new, free, mall shuttle that will take residents (you'll have to have a specific Panama Pacifico resident shuttle card) from Panama Pacifico to the Multicentro Mall, Mutiplaza Mall, and Albrook Mall. That's pretty cool and would definitely make getting back and forth a lot easier. I'll definitely hit that area soon for a location report and video, but in the meantime, the Panama Pacifico website offers a lot more info:" 

Helena (via Facebook, after reading my comment that said, "Was watching a zombie movie with the kids the other day and got to thinkin' in Panama, we'd be pretty safe with the bars on our homes' windows. That is...unless a zombie was inside the house, then we'd be screwed") wrote: 

"From your travels, do all parts of Panama require bars on the doors and windows? What about Pedasi?"

I replied:

"No, a lot of places, especially in the interior, don't require that kind of security. It's common to see in Panama City though, especially in the older homes or in the neighborhoods anywhere near the lower-income areas. 

An old fashioned security system 

"It's just a security system. Kind of like when homes in other places install electronic security systems. It's an affordable security system.

No need for bars on the windows in Pedasi

"In regards to your question about security in Pedasi, I spoke with a couple of cops there the last time I visited (actually my wife did since the conversation took place in Spanish) and they assured us that they'd been on post for about a year, and during that year there was exactly one crime, and it was a domestic dispute. 

A home in the Costa Pedasi development

"You see homes of all income levels, shapes, and sizes in Pedasi. Some are in brand new gated communities and some are just single-family homes in the town center, but there's no need for the barred up security in Pedasi.

Live music and large pitchers of sangria at Restaurante Smiley's in Pedasi

"Most of what takes place there is probably just drunken gringos stumbling home from Smiley's on a Friday night after a couple of their gigantic pitchers of sangria."

Lisa wrote (via comments on PFR site):

"How long before your kids were fluent in Spanish? Were they in a mostly Spanish school right away? You said they changed schools, so not sure if it was a language issue."

I replied:

"Hi Lisa, thanks for writing. No, it wasn't a language issue. The first school we enrolled them in was called Instituto Cultural. They had a Spanish side of the school and an English side. My daughters attended the all-English school (all English except the Spanish class and folklore class). I really just didn't like the way the school handled things. For example, my daughter went through I think 3 teachers in one year. The teacher would show up late, the pool was always dirty, and parking was a nightmare. Other people seemed to love the school, so maybe I just had bad luck that year. 

"The second school was an all-Spanish Catholic school, where my wife was practically raised, and again, just not the greatest leadership. We had a serious bullying issue there. A 16-year-old girl was tormenting my then 8-year-old daughter and no one would do anything about it (I think her dad was someone important or something like that so they wouldn't kick her out or really do anything at all). Now, my daughters are in their 3rd school (the boys will be starting there this year), an all-Spanish school (except for their English class) and they're fine. 

"I seem to be the only person who has had serious issues with a couple of schools here, so I'm not slamming the school system or anything. Many of the schools are great. The school they're in now is fine. 

"So...that was the long way to answer your question, lol. My oldest daughter had the hardest time with the language barrier. It took her a couple of years to really grasp it (and she grew up hearing it quite often). My youngest daughter started kindergarten here (in English), but just soaked up the Spanish like a sponge when we switched schools. Then again, learning the colors and putting puzzles together from the beginning in Spanish is probably easier than being thrust into multiplication, science, and other difficult subjects in a totally different language. 

"If you're able to afford to put your kids into one of the good English based schools, I'd advise you to do that. My daughters understood quite a bit of Spanish when they got here from hearing my wife and their grandmother speak Spanish to them. It's important for your kids to learn Spanish when living here, of course, but even most English programs will have Spanish classes, plus they'll be surrounded by Spanish speakers in everyday life so they'll learn. Hope I've answered your question. Thanks again for getting involved with the site!"

Darryl wrote (via comments on the PFR site, he's referring to the cost of living article here):

"Two quick things (thanks for the article by the way). Your ability or inability to speak Spanish can impact your budget a bit. For instance, my Spanish is poor and I live in La Boca and I can spend between $150 to $200 per month on taxis.

"Also, as for entertainment, you mentioned Zona Viva (which I believe has a different name now). that place actually might be the best deal in the city. I was getting $0.50 beers and $1 rums. Not the safest place around though."

I replied:

"Great point about the taxis. I won't even get into taxi until I've asked the cost for where I'm going. If I don't like what they say, I laugh and tell 'em to get bent. Usually after a couple of taxis I'll find a driver who isn't trying to rip me off.

"I was with my daughters once and wanted to get from Multiplaza Mall to Multicentro, which is almost right across the street. I could easily walk it, but I had my daughters with me, so I figured we'd take a cab. The first driver told me $5, and I not-so-politely told him to take a hike. The next driver did it for I think $2, which was still kind of a rip off.

"Later, when leaving Multicentro, I flagged down a cab, and the first one that pulled up had an honest driver. I asked how much to get from the mall to my house in Chanis, and I was shocked. He actually pulled out a chart, checked it, and told me $3. In the end, I gave the guy $5. So he got a $2 tip just for being honest. 

Zona de la Rumba on the Amador Causeway

"By the way, you're right about Zona Viva. It's actually called Zona de la Rumba now. And with the big convention center on its way, right there behind it, I wonder if it will disappear altogether. 

What they're building right behind Zona de la Rumba

"At least at Zona Rumba you can usually get in to the clubs without paying a cover charge. Calle Uruguay is getting ridiculous. Some of those clubs charge like a $10 cover. I refuse to pay just to go into a bar or club. Thanks for getting involved with the site, Darryl."

Iam Seniornerd (via Facebook) wrote: 

"Hey Chris. I think you're doing a fabulous job of getting information out to us who may be thinking of long-term visits to Panama. I really like the up-to-date'ness of what you're doing. Question: Do you plan to put out something on Expat communities? Thanks in advance." 

I replied:

"Hey Iam Seniornerd (I'm sure that's not your real name, lol). I'll eventually put something together about expat communities, once I've visited enough towns. I'll put together some sort of report I'm sure. At the moment, I wouldn't be able to, as I don't have footage of many of the towns with a high concentration of expats. 

"So, as I keep hitting the towns, I'll be sure to mention which ones have a large expat community, and then once I've visited them all, I can put together a good video/report. I mention expat communities a lot in my blog and when answering peoples' questions. 

"Off the top of my head, the main expat hotspots right now are Boquete (in the mountains of Chiriqui), Coronado (on the beach), Pedasi (also on the beach, but with a good mix of foreigners), El Valle de Anton, David...and of course quite a few live in Panama City (mostly in El Cangrejo/El Carmen/Obarrio area, Punta Pacifico, Costa del Este, Marbella, Casco Viejo, and San Francisco. If anyone else wants to add to this, please do in the comments below." 

Karen wrote: 

"Here's a question for the 'Stay At Home Gringo.' If someone were visiting Panama and wanted to have a cell phone for calling and texting the U.S., what's the best way to do that? I know you can have your phone unlocked and purchase some kind of no-contract plan. What would that type of cost be vs. purchasing (or renting) a cell phone when they got there?"

I replied:

"It's pretty easy. You just bring your phone with you, take it to one of the little cell phone stores (the generic ones not the actual cell phone service providers) and get your phone unlocked. I got my daughter's Samsung Galaxy unlocked and I paid about $30. They had to keep the phone overnight though. The cost and maintenance time depends on the type of phone and how busy the technician is. 

"That's the easy way to do it. Then you just buy a chip from one of the major cell providers, which can oftentimes be bought at the same store where you got your phone unlocked, and buy prepaid minutes. I buy the $5 cards. 

"I'm not sure how this would work if you're just visiting Panama and need to go back to the U.S. I'm not sure if having it unlocked would cause any problems with cell phone provider in the U.S. or Canada or wherever else. If any readers have had issues with this, please write in and let us know how it goes when you return home. It's definitely a good idea if you're planning to move to Panama anytime soon as you'll need your phone unlocked once you're here anyway." 

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

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