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Thursday, February 6, 2014

Shipping Your Belongings Versus Buying New In Panama

The question comes up often, “Should I pay to have everything shipped to Panama? Or should I just ditch it all and start over fresh?”

In this article, I’ll try to help you answer that question as it was honestly one that drove us nuts when we started planning for our move to Panama. Marlene wanted to take everything with us. We had tons of baby stuff (the boys were just starting to crawl), furniture we loved, and other things we weren’t sure we were ready to part with. I considered just having a few things shipped, like my DVD collection. So we explored all options and several different angles. We considered shipping just a few boxes, we considered renting space in a container, and we checked into the costs of loading a full container. In the end, we decided to ship it all and it was a decision that twisted my stomach into knots throughout the move. Should we have really spent the $7,000 (or around that) to ship a full 30-foot container?

Trust me, when you have to fork over $7,000, it seems like a bad decision. That’s a lot of cash to hand someone, just to move stuff that already belongs to you. Then, I have to admit, once I was in Panama, and I was waiting for our container to arrive, I was satisfied that we’d made the right decision. I couldn’t wait to relax in my comfy king-size bed, or chill out on the sofa in front of my surround-sound system. These were the ;ott;e treats I was used to, like comfort food, and living without them made me stir crazy. Now, nearly 5 years later, I’m back to thinking it might’ve made more sense to just scrap it all and start over from scratch. Over the course of this half-decade, we’ve gotten rid of most of what we brought with us. Some of it we gave to family and friends, some we donated, and some of it just broke down so we junked it.  So, with all this in mind, I set out to investigate some of the stores in Panama City, to find out if I’d made a good investment.  Should I have saved my money and bought here in Panama?

Teaser alert! You’re going to see lots of photos coming up with prices on items, to give you an idea of what it would cost to buy everything here. So if that bores you, and you have no interest in seeing the current prices of furniture and appliances in Panama, skip to the bottom where I get back to the subject of shipping your belongings or buying new.

First, let’s discuss furniture. Furniture is not low cost in Panama. It just isn’t. Overall, furniture is quite expensive here, and most of the time the quality isn’t going to be what you’re used to buying. Don’t get me wrong, you can find some affordable bachelor pad style shelving in places like the Costo furniture store in Metromall, but to buy anything of decent quality, you’re going to spend a little bit. 

Now, I know, you're probably thinking, "Can't you just buy handmade furniture from a local artisan?" Sure, you can, sometimes, if you can find what you're looking for, but even that isn't going to be super cheap. For this article, I'm going to stick with the stores.

I’ve been to many stores that sell furniture, like Conway, which is probably one of the best furniture stores here, but for research purposes for this article, just to give you some photos and ideas of what you’ll be dealing with, I visited the Furniture City in Costa del Este and Econo Precios at Los Pueblos.

Furniture City has some decent furniture, brands you’ll be familiar with, like Ashley. It’s definitely not bargain shopping though, at least not what I’d consider super affordable. I saw the table in this photo (which was one of the least expensive), with six chairs, going for $999.

This sofa and love seat set was priced at $1,149.

This queen-size bedroom set (headboard, footboard, rails, and 2 nightstands) was priced at $1,199.

And lastly, this bookshelf was priced at  $849.

At Los Pueblos, the outdoor shopping center I mention often, EP Furniture (Econoprecios Furniture) is one of the best bargain furniture stores you’ll find. There is a store on Via España in Obarrio, for anyone in that area. Ericka Phillips, who assisted me at EP, is someone you should seek out if you happen to stop by the store. She spoke English and was very nice.

Econoprecios has three floors and you’ll find all sorts of goodies in there. Where Furniture City had better quality furniture, EP had more variety and some unique items. Plus, the prices didn’t scare me so much. I found furniture like this shelving unit for only $179.95.

I noticed they had some pricier stuff, on par with the costs at Furniture City, but they also had a lot of lower priced items that would be better for those shopping on a tighter budget. Here’s an example of one of the more costly items. This bedroom set, which consists of the headboard and two nightstands costs $1,299.

This dresser with the mirror costs $695.

Back to the tighter budget items, this full-size bed (the one on the left, which is just the headboard and rails) was priced at $295.

If you're moving to Panama with an infant, you'll be happy to know this crib was only $175.

The prices on tables and sofas were similar to those at Furniture City. Maybe a little less. This fancy table with six chairs was on the costly end at $1,895.

I like this one, with six chairs, for $1,195.

This cool little dinette set was only $250.

If you decided to leave your sofa and pick up a new one in Panama, you could get this sofa set with the end tables and coffee table for $1,395.

Sometimes you’ll find good deals at the member shopping store, PriceSmart. I found this really cool bunk bed set, with a 3rd bed hidden underneath, for only $479.99.

Moving on to appliances, one thing you need to know about Panama, is that most homes will not come with them. When we bought our house in Ohio, it came with the kitchen completely ready and a brand new washer and dryer on the second floor. For the most part, it’s not like that here. Sure, you’ll find some fully furnished homes for rent/sale, and in some of the newer developments you’ll probably find some units with a fridge, stove, etc., but if you move into any home that’s not brand spanking new, chances are, you’re going to have to bring in your own appliances.

When we moved to Panama, and I had our container packed up, I didn’t bring the appliances. I just figured it would be easier to sell the house without gaping holes in the kitchen. So, when we rented our first house here, we had not a single appliance. I had to go out and buy a washer, a dryer, a refrigerator, a stove, and a microwave. Dishwashers aren’t common here, so that’s something else you’ll need to get used to or have someone set up the connections for you.

So, considering you’ll probably need to buy appliances, let’s talk about the costs associated with that. Most people use gas stoves and dryers here. You can find electric, but your options will be much more limited and your electric bill will be quite a bit higher, so I definitely recommend you go with gas. Plus, when the power goes out, which it sometimes does here, you’ll be glad you went with gas.

To start my appliance prices search, I stopped by Rodelag at Los Pueblos. Rodelag isn’t the cheapest place in Panama, but it’s probably a good place to get a fair estimate. Security was on to me quickly, so I was only able to snap a few photos there. Here’s what I found. This Mabe brand, six-burner gas stove was going for $384.99.

If you’re wondering how much an air conditioner will run you in Panama, remember that most homes won’t have central air. So, if you’re looking to pick up a split unit, which will only cool one room in your house, here’s a photo showing you the costs of the Panasonic units at Rodelag.

You'll notice the prices rise with the sizes, and the larger the room you're trying to cool, the larger the unit you'll need. Here are some Sankey ones on sale.

One place I definitely recommend checking out is called Centro de Agencias. You’ve probably never heard of it and it can be easy to miss. It’s located on Ave. Domingo Diaz (Via Tocumen), near the entrance to San Antonio (on the right hand side just past Los Pueblos if you’re coming from Panama City and headed toward Tocumen).

For anyone who has lived in Panama for awhile, but doesn't know where it is, it's right where all of the smoothie (batido) shacks used to be. They're not there anymore, but right in front of this store was the long line of fruit and veggie shacks. Right now there's a lot of construction going on in front of the store. 

This is the best place I know of (other than buying from someone selling their stuff in a Facebook group or other online garage sale) to pick up lower cost appliances. Centro de Agencias sells new and refurbished appliances. Oftentimes, you’ll notice the cost of an appliance is lower just because it has a scratch or dent it it, like the dent you see at the top corner and lower side of this $235 deep freeze.

What’s great is that the refurbished appliances are marked on the price sticker and inside the appliance you’ll find a form listing exactly what parts were replaced. An assistant at the store showed me that the thermostat on one freezer had been replaced.

This four-burner, Mabe brand, gas stove was priced at only $189. It’s a smaller stove though, great for a small apartment.

This six-burner, Nisato brand, gas stove was $175. I don't know anything about Nisato, but you could buy four of these things for the price of one stove at PriceSmart.

This tiny stove was only $79. Stoves like this are perfect for some of the really small apartments in and around Panama City. Probably not the best stove for making your Thanksgiving Day turkey, but good enough for the daily grind. 

If you need something a little more modern and sleek, this one’s going for $480.

These brand new, Frigidaire brand, 30lb. washer and dryers were priced at $499.95 each. 

So you have something to compare this with, at PriceSmart, a similar new washer, Whirlpool brand, was going for $429, so it seems that the real deals at Centro de Agencias are on the refurbished appliances. The combo unit you see below costs $879 at Centro de Agencias.  

The Whirlpool combo unit you see below was at PriceSmart, priced at $1099.99, so about a $200 difference between it and the one from Centro de Agencias. I don't know all the specs on the Whirlpool unit. Maybe it was larger or had more bells and whistles. 

This regular, Mabe brand, refrigerator was $349 at Centro de Agencias. Similar ones at PriceSmart, Frigidaire brand, were going for a little over $500. I'd never heard of Mabe brand until I moved to Panama, but I've had a Mabe gas stove for over four years now and it still works great.

This bigger one with an ice maker was priced at $899.95.

And they even had mini-supermarket style refrigerators, great for businesses, repaired (or refurbished), going for $660.

I bought a deep freeze from this place when I first moved to Panama and it worked great. The only drawback was the store’s lack of deliverymen. Instead of having an actual delivery service, you either have to haul the appliance off yourself, or sometimes there will conveniently be a guy right outside who will take cash payments to load your appliance in the back of his pickup and take it to your house. That’s what we did.

What’s the verdict? Is it better to ship your belongings or buy everything new in Panama? 

Looking at the prices I’ve listed, I honestly don’t know what's the best decision. I think it depends on the person. It depends on you and what your personal needs are. You could buy the sofa and love seat set at Furniture City for just over $1,000, then go get the full-size headboard and rail set at EP for just under $300, find a cheap mattress, then head over to PriceSmart and get the $500 bunk bed set for the kids. You’re probably just over $2,000 with the mattresses. You get the point. You’d have to shop very wisely though, to replace everything in your home, for under the $7,000(ish) shipping costs.

Plus, one other thing you have to keep in mind, if you're planning to buy a bunch of expensive items in Panama, is the international transaction fee your credit/debit card might carry with it. There are banks out there with no, or very low international fees. When I moved here, I was paying 5% for every transaction. That adds up. So make sure you know what you'll be charged before you start racking up the fees. 

I think the real question is, do you have things in your home now that you absolutely cannot live without in Panama? If you bought an amazing credenza at an auction, chances are, that won’t be replaceable here.  If you’re someone who furnished your home with Ikea stuff (like we did in our tiny apartment in Chicago), you could probably just ditch it and buy everything again when you get here.

It’s the stuff that hits close to the heart you won’t be able to replace, like heirlooms passed down through the generations, boxes of family photos, and old high school trophies. So maybe the decision can be a happy medium. Maybe you ship some of your stuff, packed in with other shipments (share a container), and sell or donate the rest.

Some people have nothing they care to keep. The kids are grown and out of the house, or they’ve just lost most of the important stuff over the years…whatever the reason, they have no desire to bring a bunch of clutter. Getting on a plane with nothing but your suitcase can be an invigorating experience. With no weight on your shoulders, nothing tying you down, you can truly start anew. Some people desire exactly this.

Whatever you do, make sure you shop around, get several estimates from moving companies, and research your insurance options before moving anything. The moving company I went with tried to convince me to go with the 40-foot container, and I was convinced everything would fit in the 30-foot. I can’t remember what the difference was in cost, but I know it was pretty substantial. In the end, I stuck with my gut and went with the 30-foot and it all fit, saving me a couple grand at least.

I hope that seeing and reading about the costs associated with buying everything new, and comparing it with what the shipping companies give you as an estimate, will help you make an informed decision about which route is best for you. Good luck. And thanks for reading. 


P.S. Don't forget to check out for other detailed tips, articles and pointers about living in and visiting Panama. And enter your email address into the field below the red suitcase (in the top right corner of the page) to start receiving our bi-weekly newsletter. 

Monday, February 3, 2014

Monday Q and A, Yacht Communities, VA Disability, Racism, and Much More About Panama

Good afternoon, friends, 

Hopefully you're not too hung over after your Super Bowl party. I just want to say thanks again for all the support we're getting. It's truly amazing, and the emails keep coming in, making the Monday Q and A easy to put together (not so easy to answer sometimes, lol). 

You've probably noticed that I don't do the Q and A every Monday. A lot of that has to do with collecting enough questions and it also has to do with workload. If it's a week that I'm putting together a PFR Location Report or a Kidpats video, I sometimes have to put off the Monday Q and A. So, it's kind of turned into an every other Monday thing. 

If you haven't listened tuned in to The Breakfast Show with Gerry D. on Panama's 89.3 Cool FM, you definitely should. I've been on the show twice and I'm going back this Friday. I'll be on at 9:15am, but the show runs from 7am-10am. If you have a hard time catching the live show, you can always go to, click on the tab that says "This Week", then click on the day of the show you're interested in, then click the picture of the set of headphones. That'll open up a media player you can use to listen to the show. 

Well, let's get started with the questions:

Yazmin, from The Breakfast Show told me about the following event, which is a really important one, and I'd like to share it here:

This is a serious call for help, with an event that should be rockin' as well. The Balboa Rock Fest has joined in the cause for Sebastian Pitti. This little baby boy, only 78 days old when this was posted, suffers from hydrocephalus, and needs an operation that has to be performed in a private hospital, and insurance is refusing to cover it. The total costs seem to be about $15,000. If you're able to donate to this cause, the account number is 04-71-17-016552-0 at Banco General, in the name of Sebastián Gabriel Pitti. 

Here's the Facebook page of the Balboa Rock Fest: and the website: Entrance to the show is free. 

Richard wrote (via email):

"First, thanks for the good information you give, it is helpful. Just wondering, what is the boating community like on the Caribbean side? I've lived on my 47' catamaran for the past 11 years. The beauty of this lifestyle is...if you don't like where you are, pick up the anchor and move!

"The cost of living is less, as is the hassle at times. But the up side is always much better. You always have a water-front view, and you can take your home out with you when you want. Don't need to pack a bag and deal with airports and such. Just my way of living!

"If you could share some incite as to where to have the boat anchored and safety would be most helpful. Thanks for taking the time to read this!"

I replied:

"Hey Richard, thanks for checking out the website and for writing. I'm not all that familiar with the yachting communities here in Panama, but I gathered some info for you.

"The last time I visited Portobelo, which is on the Caribbean side, maybe 2 years ago, I stopped by a place called Captain Jack's Hostel. Captain Jack is an American running a great business in town. He's a very nice guy too. His whole staff was cool.

Marlene in Portobelo

"I interviewed Jack and he told me all about the yacht community that was growing out in the bay. He said every morning he gets on the radio and says good morning to the boat captains, oftentimes inviting them in to use his facilities, to have coffee, or to grab lunch at his restaurant. He could probably tell you more about that community off the coast of Portobelo. 

"The Balboa Yacht Club on the Amador Causeway (not the Caribbean side) is probably a great source of information as well. The only website I found was for the BYC in California. I did find this Facebook page for the BYC Panama. 

Out near the Balboa Yacht Club

"That group would probably be a great source of information and it's an open group. The actual Balboa Yacht Club on the Amador Causeway is going through renovations right now, I think. 

"Lastly, while trying to find a good answer to your question, I came across the following website, which is excellent. It lists all the marinas, many on the Caribbean side. This one is definitely worth checking out.

"I can imagine your lifestyle being one hell of a fun ride. No worries, no stress...just pick up and go. That's awesome, brother. I hope some of this helps!"

Bob wrote (via email):

"I can't thank you enough for you and your wonderful family and the down to earth no-nosense boots on the ground perspective.

"I hope to visit this May if business allows. I'm very much interested in at first semi-retiring in Panama with the intent to extend that more Panama then south Florida as i get older. When we arrive, we will want to look at buying something and also look at investing in a business concept we're excited about.

"For our first purchase, I would prefer something about an hour out of the main city probably beach front living with hopefully an hour drive to cooler elevations. I would much appreciate your recommendations. Also not sure if you can provide this service (no problem if fees are involved)but we would like to meet a truly knowledgeable real estate agent as well as an attorney to establish a foundation and IBC corp. so we open a bank account.

"Chris thanks again and we look forward to meeting you and your lovely family when we come to visit for our first time."

I replied:

"Hi, Bob, and thanks so much for checking out our website and for taking the time to send your email. That's great and it's what makes this whole thing work. My wife smiled from ear to ear when you wrote the part about our 'wonderful family.' Thank you for that. 

"It sounds like you've got a great plan, with the semi-retiring, going back and forth from South Florida to Panama.  

"If you're looking for something about an hour from the city, on the beach, but with quick access to higher elevations, I'd have to recommend either Coronado (which is the most expat-friendly, move-in ready location, but can be a little bit costly) or its surrounding towns, like Chame, Punta Chame, Gorgona, or San Carlos. They're all very close to Coronado, which would allow you to use Coronado's restaurants, supermarkets, and other amenities easily. Santa Clara and that area could be a possibility, but it's a little farther away, maybe an hour and a half outside the city. 

The beach at Santa Clara

"This whole stretch would allow you to go up to the higher elevation towns/neighborhoods of Altos del Maria, El Valle de Anton, or even just up to La laguna, which is supposed to be a very nice lake to hang out at, up in the higher elevation area above Coronado, just above Las Lajas). 

"So you're doing good so far. You know how far you want to be from the city and you know that you want to be on a beach, but still near the mountains. You have quite a few choices now. I'm not sure how specific to your needs the relocation tours are, but it's worth checking into them. Or just come here, rent a car, and stop off at each beach town I mentioned. They're all one after the other on the Pan-American Highway. 

"I'll email you privately to get you in touch with a real estate expert and an attorney.

"I hope this info helps, Bob. And thanks again for your great email and kind words." 

Art wrote (via email):

"I just stumbled upon your site tonight and it is just what I've been looking for.  I've lived off and on in Panama for six years, leaving the last time in 1999.  My Panamanian wife and I are planning to return this December to retire for good.  With my military retirement and my VA disability, we should be fairly comfortable (hopefully!)."

"We are planning on living somewhere in Cocle - renting at first, and then buying a place. We are coming down next month to check out some properties and visit her family.  A couple of questions if I may:  

"What did you not bring with you from the States that you now wish you had?  What did you bring with you that you wish you had left at home?  Did you ship a vehicle?  Do you plan a report on El Valle de Anton anytime soon?  That is one of the places we are considering as well as La Pintada and Altos del Maria.
"Well done on your site!  Very nice setup - you can tell you've put a lot of time and effort into it."

I replied:

"Hi Art, sounds like you guys should be starting off on the right foot with your retirement and disability. By the way, if you have VA disability (you probably already know this) but you'll need to apply for FMP (Foreign Medical Program) in order to be able to see some of the doctors here who handle VA disability. FMP will send you a form listing your disabilities, and that lets the doctors know they can go ahead, treat you, and bill the VA for service. I go to a great clinic who can help you get that process started. And the clinic also handles Tricare if you're still enrolled. You can even set up a PO Box through them, to have packages shipped to a Miami address and brought to Panama for you. Here's the link to their website. Under affiliates you'll see all of the different pharmacies/offices. As a retired military member, this is some of the most valuable info you'll get your hands on:

"This is the first military related question I've had, so I thought I'd share that now. 

"Okay, now...on to your questions.

"What I wish I brought with me? I didn't bring our Dodge Grand Caravan with us because we were still making payments on it. And you can't ship a vehicle that isn't completely paid off. I miss that van and its Knight Rider doors (you know the ones that open and close on their own with just the push of a button). 

"Other than that, I only miss family and goofy things like some of the food. I miss Boston Market, and any Mongolian Barbecue chain. I miss shopping at Target. But as far as actual physical items go, I can get almost everything I need here, or by ordering online. 

Marlene was freezing in El Valle, at night, without a jacket

"I guess I do wish we would've brought some of our jackets. We had really nice cold weather gear and we either gave it all away or donated it before leaving. We knew we wouldn't need it here. In some towns, like Boquete and El Valle de Anton, it gets chilly in the evenings. Plus, you never know when you, a family member, or a friend will be traveling back to the U.S. (or any other country) and a jacket might come in handy. So...bring at least a coat or two. You never know when you might need it. 

"What I wish I would have left behind? This is a tough one. I've been here almost 5 years, and when I first moved here I shipped my belongings. Now, 5 years later, I barely have anything that I brought with me. I just got sick of my things and gave them away. 

"I'm planning to write a post, really soon, about whether or not you should bring your stuff with you or just start fresh and buy everything new. I was definitely glad when my container arrived and everything I was familiar with showed up. It helped make me feel a little more at home. But it ended up costing around $7,000 to get it here. Could I have bought most of that stuff new with the $7,000? I don't know. I'll write about it soon and try to figure it out. 

"One thing you should keep in mind if you are planning to ship your belongings is that most homes here do not come with appliances. You'll find only bare walls. I shipped everything except my appliances because I figured it'd be easier to sell the house without gaping holes in the kitchen. So I did have to buy all of my appliances here in Panama.

"Did I ship a vehicle? No, I didn't. But many people do, and I think, depending on what area you decide to settle down in, that could be the one thing you wish you'd left behind. It really depends on your lifestyle though. I think if I were single (or just married with no kids) and I lived in the El Cangrejo area of Panama City, I'd rather not have a car. It's easy to get around by bus and taxi and finding parking in the city is a real pain. 

"You mentioned going to Cocle though, and that's a whole different story. Out there, you'd probably want a car, as that town is very spread out. Penonomé is a great place, but I'm not sure I'd want to try living there without a car. 

"Will I cover El Valle de Anton? Yes, absolutely. I definitely plan on covering El Valle. I'm hoping to get out there soon. It's a fun place to visit and a great place to live. You mentioned Altos del Maria and La Pintada, which are both supposed to be gorgeous, so I'll be heading their way soon too.

We had a blast the last time we were in El Valle de Anton

"Thanks again for your kind words, Art. I really do appreciate it."

Kerry wrote (via email):

"Hi Chris. Maybe this could be for the next Monday Q&A. I think I read somewhere in the site that when you moved over there you shipped a container of personal items. Could you possibly give us some details, like how you found the transport company, cost, etc? I think a lot of your readers would love to know. Thanks."

I replied:

"Hi Kerry, I did move a container full of my belongings, but that was almost 5 years ago. And it was such a whirlwind time of my life, as a move like this can be for most people. I honestly don't remember how I started researching a moving company. 

"I think I tried the bidding wars kind of websites where companies offer their services and you compare prices, which you have to be very careful about, as going with the lowest bidder is definitely not always the best plan. I did a bunch of research and somehow ended up using a company called Hercules at, which did its part in Ohio and all through the U.S., but once our stuff got to Panama, it was handled by a company called Panama International Packers

"I've heard that you're better off choosing a company in Panama and letting them find their U.S. connection (or Canadian or wherever else). Because it's the Panama side that'll understand how to get things into this country. 

A container ship making its way through the Panama Canal

"I remember paying around $7,000 total, maybe a little more, to complete the process. That was for the 30-foot container. I packed my own stuff though and then let the movers pack a few fragile things (or things I didn't pack well enough myself). In Columbus, Ohio, two guys showed up to finish packing and move everything out. They did it all (a two-story, 3-bedroom house) in one day. Usually, if they have to pack all your stuff (which is probably best if you can afford it as they'll know how to pack everything safely, and they'll supply the boxes and everything), it'll take them at least 2 days (one day to pack and one day to move). 

"I think it took almost two months to receive our belongings. It seemed like the container arrived in Panama fairly quickly, but then there was some sort of strike down at the ports, and no containers were being offloaded. I think we had to wait a week or two more just because of the strike. 

"I wish I could be more specific with all this, but it's just been so long since I moved, back before I ever considered writing about Panama."

Keith wrote (via comments on the PFR site):

"Hey Chris. I wonder if you could give a price listing for San Blas. That would be the ideal place for us."

I replied: 

"I'll definitely be headed to San Blas at some point, but I haven't been in a rush to get there because San Blas isn't a realistic retirement option. It's more like a vacation spot. You can't buy land in San Blas or open a business there, and from what I've heard, you can't even rent long term. 

"It's protected land, protected by the Kuna Yala indians. They don't mind people stopping by for a visit, and I've heard it's very beautiful, but it's not a place you should consider moving to. 

"Just move to Pedasi and take a boat over to Isla Iguana everyday. That would be cool."

Ernie wrote (via email): 

"Hello Chris, I am a 63 year old African American Nurse, considering relocating to Panama for retirement. I am single, I am not rich, and I don’t have a house to sell before moving there. I am willing to live like a Native.

"I guess what I’m asking of you is, is it safe for me? I noticed that when I communicate with an expat and they find out I’m Afro American, they try to discourage me. I don’t want to go over there and be mistreated. I can stay here and do that.

"I’ve read your wonderful blog and I think financially I can live there (in the right location) even though it would be tight. But I have to feel safe and feel welcomed. Right now I’m considering Chitre.

"I trust you will be honest with me and tell me if Panama is for me."

I replied:

"Hi Ernie, thanks for reaching out to me. Yes, of course Panama is great for you, or I should say it can be, you may not like it at all. I have a good friend who's African American. He's an ex-military guy and he's doing fine here (he does have retirement income though). You'll find a lot of African American, and black Panamanian people living here. I wouldn't think skin color would be an issue at all.

"Chitre is a great place. I like it a lot. You'll find some fast food restaurants there and a small theater…so you're not as cut off from the world as you'd be in some other places. 

Cruising Chitre's main drag

"Now, I know I wrote that skin color shouldn't be an issue, and I really don't think it is, but the truth is, there is racism here, just like everywhere else. I've noticed there's a little bit of racism going on between the lighter skinned Panamanians and the darker skinned. I've heard nicknames like "fulo" or "fula," which basically means blonde, passed around. YeYe (I think I'm spelling that right) is kind of a teasing name that means rich person, or like spoiled rich. My wife's coworkers used to call her "YeYe" when she'd bring in a nice bottled water brand or a strange soda from Riba Smith that no one had seen before. Of course, they were just joking with her.

"You'll also notice that terms are accepted here that you would never hear in the U.S. Most of the mini-supermarkets are run by Chinese business owners and you'll hear Panamanians walk into the store and yell, 'Hey China (like cheena), where's the soap?' Or, 'Hey China, how much does this cost?' Or, even worse because it means like little Chinese person, you might hear, 'Hey Chinito, how much does this cost?' The stores are referred to as chinos or chinitos by most people. But most Panamanians don't mean to be derogatory, it's just become an accepted term.

"So racism happens here, but it's not a big deal. I see a military related doctor here, and I think I'm the only white patient he has. Every time I go, I see a group of older African American guys, all of which speak English. Nice guys. I think most of them were either stationed here when the base was open, and came back because they love it, or were born in the canal zone. So, I wouldn't worry too much about the racism thing. And Chitre is a pretty big town. Eventually I'll head down to that area to write about it.

"You should definitely visit Panama first and make sure it's right for you. You'll get a gut feeling. Everyone does. Either you'll say, 'Yep, this is excellent.' Or you'll say, 'I'm not too sure, better look somewhere else.'" 

Lisa wrote (via comments on PFR site):

"Hi Chris. I'm wondering if dental work is affordable in Panama. My children are adults now and I am divorced and struggling to pay the many expenses of living in Connecticut.

"I wonder how realistic it would be for me to stay a month or longer in Panama and start some dental work (I don't speak Spanish).

"Advanced thanks, so glad I found your blog!"

I replied:

"Hi Lisa, excellent question. Aside from regular cleanings, which typically cost somewhere around $20, I haven't had to do any major dental work here in Panama. So, I have no first-hand experience with those costs. I know that it's supposed to be a lot more affordable here than back in the U.S. though. 

Like in Penonomé, even small towns usually have a dentist

"A blogger, and friend, Kris C. at wrote a great post about her husband's trip to the dentist at:

"Click on the link to read all about it. She covers how meticulous the doctor was and tells you the total costs associated with the procedure. Thanks so much for your comment and I hope it all works out for you (at a fraction of the cost) down here in Panama."

Robert wrote (via comments on the PFR site): 

"Which beaches have white sand?"

I replied:

"Hey Robert, you won't find a tone of them in Panama. Most of the Caribbean side will offer white beaches, but the places I can name off the top of my head are Bocas del Toro, San Blas, Contadora (the Pearl Islands), Isla Grande, Santa Clara, Isla Taboga, and the beaches around Pedasi (Playa Venao, Playita, Isla Iguana). I'm sure I'm missing plenty, but those are some of the most popular. Coronado has kind of a cool mix of white and black sand."

Jade wrote (via comments on the PFR site):

"Hello, so glad I found your blog! I'm a teacher in the U.S. and want to move to Panama with my 2-year-old son. I lived in Mexico before and loved it, but don't feel safe there currently. What is the reality of finding work to support my son and I in Panama? Is it 'single mother friendly?' Thank you so much!"

I replied:

"Hi Jade. So glad you found our site. If you survived down in Mexico, you should be fine down here. If you're a teacher, and you have your certification papers, or proof of your degree, that kind of stuff, you should be fine. Panamanian schools seem to always be searching for teachers, all over the country. Especially if you're comfortable teaching English.

"Most of the larger schools, especially the international ones, will require that you have the work license, which might be the somewhat tricky part for you, but it's not all that complicated, especially if you speak with an attorney who handles Immigration issues. One of the newer visas created by the Panamanian government to entice workers to come to Panama makes it a little easier. I can get you in touch with a great attorney if you'd like. Just let me know.

"As far as Panama being 'single mother friendly.' I think you'll be just fine, especially if you move to one of the more expat-friendly areas. I'm not sure if you're wanting to live in the city, but, as I've mentioned many times, Coronado, out in the interior and on the beach, would probably be perfect for you because there are 3 international schools in the vicinity and a lot of expats are already calling the place home. There, maybe Boquete, and of course parts of the city would make sense for you."

Stephana wrote (via comments on the PFR site):

"So, we are planning to venture to Panama to live. My youngest, 9 months, has absolutely no vaccinations of any kind and my 7-year-old had his first round done. I myself haven't had vaccinations since I was a child. Is it required to have all these vaccinations for my children to live in Panama? Not too worried about the school system; thinking about Homeschool rather."

I replied: 

"Hi Stephana. Honestly, you're supposed to get thee vaccines, but many people don't. I think the schools want you to have your children vaccinated, but they don't check your shot records. You have to get a medical form signed off by a doctor, and it's supposed to be the doctor who checks the shot records. 

"Oftentimes, the doctors don't even check it. Most doctors, as far as my experience with this has gone, will see your child and sign off on the form rather quickly. It's all just a formality, part of the process. And if you're going to homeschool your children, I wouldn't even worry about it. 

Matteo would be totally cool with never getting another vaccine...ever
(BTW, he gave me permission to use this photo)

"When you take your kids to the pediatrician, they might ask to see your shot records just to make sure your kids are up to date, but other than that, you probably won't hear much about the vaccinations. It's not like you'll be audited at home or reported by the doctor or anything."

Sarge wrote (via comments on the PFR site, after reading the bargain shopping article):

"Loved the read and those are my kind of shops. Why pay 15 dollars for a 10 dollar pair of jeans? Any dollar stores there, or similar selling items cheaply?" 

I replied:

"Exactly, Sarge. Yes, you'll find some dollar stores, but just like in the U.S., most of them sell a bunch of stuff that isn't quite a dollar. Here, the main dollar store is called Todo A Dolar, but todo ain't a dollar, lol. You'll find a lot of Chinese stores selling cheaper items too."

The Todo a Dollar in Aguadulce

Mia wrote (via comments on the PFR site):

"We're just moving in to the new area near Vacamonte, and are renting an unfurnished house. We only need the basics, and would much rather buy furniture from a cheaper place than Westland Mall or other malls. Do you know if there's anything near Vacamont, or do we have to go to Panama City to find furniture? We'd love to check local crafts people, but really need just the basics like a bed and a few tables to begin with." 

I replied:

"Hi Mia, I honestly don't know a lot about the Vacamonte area. I'll try to help the best I can, and if any readers are living in that area, feel free to help out in the comments below.

Hard to see in this photo (but on the road to Volcan you see a lot 
of handcrafted furniture for sale alongside the road

"I know there's a furniture store at Los Pueblos that's supposed to be fairly affordable, but that's here in the city. It's called Econo Precios. Here's a link to their website: 

I just did a quick search for mueblerias (furniture stores) in Arraijan and here's the list I found. I've been to the Rodelag near my house and they do have some furniture, usually just office stuff though like tables and desks, but it's worth checking out. Here's that list: 

Also, I'm not sure if you'd go for something used, but a good idea is to look on encuentra24 You'll usually find people selling all sorts of things there. Or look in the Facebook groups and There's a glass table with chairs going for $50 on there right now." 

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

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