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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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