Panama Q & A

Welcome to Learn About Panama Q & A

This is an archive of our original Q & A discussion from our old site. As you have probably already noticed ‘Learn About Panama’ is all new with fresh content and an easier more responsive way to ask questions and get them answered not only by PanamaMark but by others in the Learn About Panama Community. There is some great content here on the archive and if you have a specific question to post or simply want to check out the most recent Panama Q & A please visit our – Panama Q and A – page.

Hey Mark, What’s the best Visa program, the Pensionada, the $200k + Real Estate, or another and why? Tom

A – The Pensionado is the best all round visa to get. It’s the cheapest, fastest and provides the most benefits. The only exception would be if you plan on starting a business based in Panama i.e. one where you would be hiring employees.

You may want to check out this page for some really good information about Residency which explores a variety of ways people come to discover and move to Panama – the Free Report, Panama: The World’s Top Retirement Residency Haven– Even If You’re Not A Retiree  is an excellent resource!

I am planning a trip to Panama in April. I would like to have access to cell phone service while I am there (10 days). What would you suggest I do to have cell phone communications while I am there? My existing US cell phone (Verizon) will not work in Panama. Steve

A – Go to this page on my site: Passport  – Read the info. and then take the link to order a Prima Passport. Not only does the passport include a free cell phone for the duration of your stay, you also get VIP greeting at the airport. This isn’t just a welcome cocktail but real VIP treatment – you sit in a lounge and sip on a drink while they take care of your customs and immigration clearance. This is such a great deal! I really wish these guys were around when I first started visiting Panama. It would have made life so much simpler and saved me tons of time and money.

Editors Note: Unfortunately, The Prima Passport is not being offered anymore. I am working with some people to revive the program but I don’t think I’ll have things in place by the time of your trip. Be sure to subscribe to the blog here as you’ll get notice as soon as we have something put together – it’s going to be great!

Is there a middle class that is employed and has money to spend? Les

A – Yes. This is one of the defining differences between Panama and most other Latin American countries. Panama has a substantial middle class and it’s growing more each day. In Panama City you will find shopping malls, movie theatres, restaurants and more. They aren’t filled with “Gringos” but they are filled with well dressed, happy and personable middle class Panamanians. In Boquete, Bocas del Toro, the Azuero Peninsula – basically all over the country there are growing middle class neighbourhoods. Many of these people are enjoying a growth in their standard of living through employment opportunities which have been created by ex-pats moving to Panama. The vast majority of ex-pats are retirees so they are buying real estate, building homes, purchasing cars, furniture, and improving the tourism business as they invite friends and family to come and enjoy Panama.

I’m looking for a 2 to 3 bedroom condo/apartment in a fairly developed area close to the ocean with relative access to air transportation. What are the options – prices. location etc. Paul

A – You’re not alone Paul! This is a very popular option for many and a great investment, either as an income property or a retirement spot that has very low carrying costs. Next Thursday, April 5/07 I am do a live tele-class with Real Estate expert Lou Castillo. We are going to discuss this very topic. Watch your inbox for details about how you can listen in. As for locations with access to transportation that is another beauty of Panama. You have your choice of Panama City area, the Chiriqui Highlands or Bocas del Toro on the Caribbean. All have regional airports for easy access. For prices expect to pay around $130K and up for quality American standards construction and amenities. Don’t forget to listen in next week as I’ve discovered one of the hottest deals going in Panama which may jut fit you bill!

Hello, a person who has recently returned from Panama told me that crime is on the increase there. What are your thoughts on this? Is a person still relatively safe when visiting there or moving there? Thanks, Maylene

A – Great question Maylene and one which is typically on the top of most minds. YES, Panama is very, very safe. In fact it is probably safer than where ever you are currently living. That said just like any place where people have settled on this planet there are areas to avoid. Toronto, New York, Los Angeles, Seattle, Vancouver, London, and big cities like Panama tend to have neighbourhoods which attract a certain criminal element. These are not places you would want to visit anyway’s. Here are a few tips and areas which some travelers have commented on: Clark writes: “The Darien Province is a poor province and lacks everything from running water to adequate services for the average tourist. If you are a tourist in the region, you won’t be joined by many. The closer you get to Colombia, the more dangerous it gets.” Bottom line: avoid the Darien. Quime writes: Panama was given one of the highest rankings for tourist safety from the Pinkerton Intelligence Agency. But as with any foreign destination, it is not advisable to walk around the streets flashing your money or valuable belongings. Panama is probably safer than where you live now. Recently, a government study on crime in Latin America found Panama with a lower crime rate than Costa Rica, which is typically thought as the safest Latin American country to travel to. Some neigbourhoods : El Chorrillo, San Miguel or San Felipe are not safe to walk alone.” Snoopy9109 writes: Panama City has a beautiful coastline along the water and a lot of tourists tend to walk from Casco Viejo to Amador along the waters edge. The problem is, one has to walk past a dangerous area, Chorrillo. DO NOT WALK BETWEEN THE TWO SPOTS. TAKE A TAXI, it only costs $2 to $3.” Bottom Line: If you are in Casco Viejo or any other area of the city for that matter, and feel uncomfortable look for the Tourist police, there are many on the streets either walking or cycling. There are plenty especially in the Casco Viejo area. I was lost once and had one stop me from entering a dangerous area. He then proceeded to wave over another officer on a motorcycle who then escorted me out of the area. Now that’s what I call, ‘To Serve and Protect’!

Hello, Could you tell me the name of the hotel in Boca Del Toro that you recommend? Thanks, Chris.

A – Sure Chris, it’s the Swan’s Cay Hotel. It’s funky and different but I love it! You can read more about Bocas in my Letter here – Bocas del Toro

We are coming to Panama on May 9th for 10 days. We are checking it out with the thought of moving there. We are flying into panama city and are then flying to Boca Del Toros. we are avid divers would love to find a future Cozumel with out the hurricanes. What is the best way to get back to Panama City and see prospective places to live like Boquete and David. I would like to rent a car but I found huge 1 way drop off fees. Thank you for you help. PS Your CD was enjoyable – Also from Chris.

A – Glad you enjoyed the CD Chris. When I first went to Panama I had never heard of Boquete or the highlands. I was in search of a Caribbean Tropical Paradise! Fortunately, one of the people I had been chatting with recommended a visit. This little side trip changed everything for us! Anyhow, you’ve heard my story here’s how to do it. To get the most of Panama I recommend thinking of it as three very different countries within one. Plan your trip as a triangle. Start in PC and then head to Bocas or David (up to Boquete). Then skip over to the other coast. We went PC to Bocas then over to David and a drive up to Boquete. Then back to the airport in David for our return flight to PC – closing the triangle. It’s a great way to see a large portion of the country and it’s diversity. There are Fly n Drive specials offered by the regional airlines. You won’t need a car in Bocas, you wouldn’t want one in PC but in David it’s really handy. You need a car to effectively see what Chiriqui has to offer. Also, I strongly recommend an investment in the Premium Passport – it will save you much more than it costs – Go to this page Passport Read the info. and then take the link to order the Premium Passport.

Editors Note: Unfortunately, The Prima Passport is not being offered anymore. I am working with some people to revive the program but I don’t think I’ll have things in place by the time of your trip. Be sure to subscribe to the blog here as you’ll get notice as soon as we have something put together – it’s going to be great!

Hi Mark, I am traveling to Panama This June 26, with a return July 3rd. I am taking my wife and her sister Cristy and husband Carlos of Mexico City, as well as a close friend Robert. They are initially visiting as tourist, and my wife and I are interested in living in Panama as Pensionado’s. I lived in the Curundu area for 6 years back in the 19 60’s and have always wanted to return to live. I have talked with the Consulate of Panama in San Diego California. They inform me that it takes an Attorney from Panama, to file the proper forms that are then forwarded to them to be finalized, all at a cost of around $1200 or so. Does this sound right and is there a better way? Thanks Mike

A – Hey Mike, sounds about right. Get a meeting with a lawyer in Panama on this first trip. They will break everything down for you and tell you exactly what you need to put together for them. There is no other way and you definitely do not want to DIY – like most things in Panama. I’m just going over all of this in the next book of my series so you can read about it there too. Also, in another question (below) I recommend a good lawyer. Read on and enjoy Panama!

I am interested in buying a piece of property in Boquete (I think), but I hate strong wind. I have heard there are five micro-climates there. Can you tell me what they are and what areas they are in? Thank you. Shannon

A – Hi Shannon. Great pick and my favorite area of Panama! It took me two years and three moves to figure this one out. There are multiple micro climates in this area. Wind is a summer (dry season) phenomenon so it’s best to visit in late January or February so you can determine where the winds are acceptable to you.

Hi Mark – like to know about medical insurance in Panama – how that works. We are US citizens and don’t have overseas insurance, please help. Lydia.

A – I recommend you get in touch with Kevin Bradley, kevin@panamakevin.com phone 507-263-6450. Kevin is the best broker in Panama and specializes in handling Ex-Pat insurance needs. When you talk to him say Hi! for me.

What Panama law firm do you recommend to set up a family foundation and Intl Business Corporations? Ted

A – I recommend – Mario Fonseca Imendia of FONSECA & ASOCIADOS, a family firm established in 1975. They are located in the Banking centre in the Credicorp Bank Building, 6th floor, suite 604, phone (507) 210-1510, email: mariofi@cableonda.net

I’m preparing to purchase pre construction property in Panama City (San Francisco area), is this a good area? I was told to be careful about purchasing pre construction because you are consistently asked for increasingly more money than was stated initially (what to do if this happens). Is it best to use lawyers from Panama when purchasing property there? Eunice

A – Yes, San Francisco is a nice area just minutes from the banking district. It has been one of Panama´s most exclusive sectors for many years. Influential business owners and political leaders have their primary homes and offices in San Francisco. As for pre-construction it is important to do your Due Diligence – just like anywhere but more so in a foreign country. What track record does the developer have? Are they established with the major banks and are the banks offer financing on the project. If so that’s a good indicator that the developer is stable. Using a lawyer from Panama is not only a good idea it is your only option. This again is a universal truth – work only with professionals who are licensed in the country you want to do business in. Any lawyer who is not licensed in Panama has no business even commenting on a transaction there. See my comment above for a good law firm in Panama.

Editors FYI – Although Columbia has done an incredible marketing and branding job with their Juan Valdez campaign most people don’t realize the best coffee in the world comes from Panama! Go here to read Specialty Coffee Association of America Reveals Worldís Best Specialty Coffee

Hi Mark: Can we buy/own a car before we have a permanent visa? Suggestion for a dealer/insurance broker? Norman

A – Hey Norman, thanks for your question about cars. The answer is no, you can buy whatever you want, whenever you want! There are more and more ‘snow birds’ in Panama who just come down for a few months of the year. They purchase cars too and leave them parked at their residence (I only recommend this if you are in a secure gated community with some one to watching over your property). For a good car dealer it depends on the area of the country you settle in. I certainly recommend buying from a dealer close to where you will be buying your property. The largest dealership change in the country is Ricardo Perez Toyota. Toyota, Mitsubishi and Nissan are the brands you want to look for. Japanese cars rule in Panama with Toyota being number 1. They are the easiest to get serviced and for getting parts. Stay away from North American brands. For the best insurance agent in Panama see my comment above regarding Kevin Bradley.

From the Rumour Mill – For over a year the rumour has been active regarding Sea World -or- Disney coming to Panama. The real story which started this rumour is about the Ocean Embassy Group. Last week the W2P team went to Panama City and did an in-depth interview with members of the Ocean Embassy staff–zoological experts in marine wildlife, who are seeking to bring a world-class marine education and environmental awareness project to Panama. Listen to Window 2 Panama to see what the reality is behind this project that has created so much controversy among well-meaning but misinformed animal rights activists. Featured show of the week: 7:00am / 11:00am / 3:00pm / 7:00pm / 11:00pm /3:00am – Mark Simmons, Executive Vice President of Ocean Embassy, gives us a look at their Dolphin Center project. Mark and the Ocean Embassy Team are moving forward to bring a unique experience to Panama by focusing on preserving our oceans and precious marine life. They will do this by educating and inspiring people through innovative interactive experiences with dolphins and other marine life. Listen to the interview and visit their web site at www.oceanembassy.com.

Editors Note: The Window2Panama online radio program regrettably no longer exists. We are investigating the current status of the Ocean Embassy project. 

Greetings Mark—This is a GREAT IDEA ! I will be arriving Panama CityAirport and have looked into Car Rentals at Airport! Every body quotes mea price and presents me with a list of Insurance Options. Very nice if were familiar with local requirements and what options are highly recommended for good reasons as opposed to options that sound necessary but may be a waste of money. Also, I thought I recently read something about car rentals that came with necessary insurance included—but I am unable to locate this type of rental. Any help will be appreciated. Thanks Don

A – The car rental insurance game can be confusing – here there and everywhere! It’s true there is a required insurance which is automatically charged. If you have a credit card with the CDW option you can save some money by using that. Renting a car is really a pretty quick and painless process. The painful part is navigating around the cities and getting out of Panama City! Be sure to refer to my Letter about that for specific instructions on how to get out of the city. The last time I rented a car in PC it cost me $197 for a week from Hertz – rental $113 and CDW with my cc was $84. I also found the rental staff to be very nice and helpful – no ‘Orlando style’ aggression! I would strongly recommend you order a Panama Map for delivery to your home before you go. The rental agency maps are about as useless as the ones we get here and you may find it a challenge finding a good road map (it took me 6 months!) once you arrive in Panama City.

Is it feasible that one might find a home among the locals (somewhere near/between Boquete & David)? I lived for 27 months in Guatemala near the El Salvador/Honduras border (with the U. S. Peace Corps)1988 – 1990. I am currently 75 y/o, excellent health, and have just quit working. Only income is $827 per month, plus about $65,000 in savings. I don’t see how I can possibly afford the gringo subdivisions! Also, is there any ‘net site where I could possible meet other older people who find it necessary to re-locate to live on current income? I have visited Panama a couple years ago and loved it! Many thanks! Harriet

A – Yes, Harriet I believe it is feasible. Another area you might consider is Volcan. I think it is quite feasible for you to purchase a small home from your savings and live very comfortably on your income. You might even consider getting a roommate and charging them a small rent. I know of a few mature adults in Boquete with similar finances who have a lovely lifestyle. They simply couldn’t afford to stay in the U.S. You might try searching ‘yahoo groups panama’. There are a number of forums there. Another suggestion would be a trip to Panama. Spend a few weeks getting to know people in Boquete and Volcan. The Ex-pats are an easy going group of people who really bend over backwards to help.

Mark, I visited Boquete and Panama City for 2 weeks last month. I plan to spend next winter renting something in Boquete. However, I am concerned, as a single woman of 60, whether there is enough to do to keep me occupied. I currently live in Mexico. For 20 years I’ve experienced life in a 3rd world country. There are too many gringos here now and I am ready to move on. Panama seems like utopia except for the dearth of activities (yoga, volleyball, singles events, lending library, whatever) for someone like me. What do you think? Regina

A – Hi Regina, I can appreciate your concern. When we search for a place like Panama we are often looking to escape the frenetic American lifestyle – too busy to talk, too busy to think, too busy to just stop! The laid back allure of Panama draws one in. You need to be aware of the change and know that it will be stressful at first. After a while you will settle into a new groove by getting involved with other ex-pats and local residents. Ex-pats tend to be very sociable and active in their communities. When you were in Boquete did you meet any? Where you able to get a few e-mail addresses? This can be a great way to get the pulse of a community. Write to people who have already made the move and discover what they are doing to stay active. You may want to check out these sites to get a feel for the Panama Ex-Pat lifestyle – The Boquete Times

THE TOURIST VISA 1) Is it true the Panama government has changed the term of a tourist visa? I read that it is now only good for 30 days with possibility of requesting a 30-day extension. Do you think this is a permanent (and negative for those of us interested in exploring Panama with idea of relocating). 2) Can a person in Panama on a Tourist Visa purchase a car?

A – 1) Yes, this is true. New changes have reduced the tourist visa to 30 days with a 60 day extension available. However, the change was done, as often happens in Panama!, hastily and without proper consultation. IPAT – the ministry of tourism wasn’t even aware of it! That said there is a very heated debate going on in Panama right now. The developers have organized and are meeting with government officials this week. I believe we will see some very positive things come from this. One of the many things that is a major positive in Panama is when the public speaks – and they have about this issue – the government moves quickly to change. Please check back regularly as I will post news here as soon as it comes available. 2) Please see above for my response to another post where some asked the same question.

Editors Important Update on Tourist Visa & 20 Year Tax Exemption Issue

Paul McBride, CEO Prima Panama, S.A. reports in the Prima Panama Blog – ” We received a call this evening from an influential Assembly member to say that both the tourist visa regulations and the 20-year tax exemption were going to be addressed in a special session of the legislature scheduled during mid-July. We have been told that the tourist visa will be extended back to the previous 90-day policy (without the need of extensions) and the 20-year tax exemption will be valid until December 31st, 2007. This action will give us time to thoroughly address the concerns of the government, private industry and you, our clients, to ensure that the final legislation will be fair and equitable for everyone involved. Simply stated, this is great news. As soon as the new laws are passed, we will post the information immediately.”

I will be in Panama in Sept. Are they requiring vaccinations? What is the new length of time a tourist visa is good for? Have they revoked the 20 yr property tax exemption?How much are property taxes, and what percentage of your purchase price are they? Shannon

A – Hi Shannon. You may want to check out the ‘Pathway to Panama’ Tour. We are planning one for September. Click here To Learn More! No, vaccinations are not required. There was a poorly worded bill which was vetoed by the President. Essentially the bill will be reworded to properly reflect vaccination requirements only for visitors from countries where highly contagious diseases are currently found. It will not apply to most developed countries so, no worries there. Currently the new tourist visa is valid for 30 days with a 60 day extension available. See above for more on this ongoing debate. It looks like the the visa will be returned to it’s original 90 days any time now. They have not revoked the property tax exemption law. The law was simply amended. Any construction completed by the end of this year will still have a 20 year exemption. After that it is on a sliding scale of 15 – 10 – or 5 years of tax exemption depending on the ‘declared’ value of the construction. Again, this is being hotly debated and is likely to change. There is tremendous pressure and lobbying being done by the developers to have the changes rescinded and the original law of 20 years exemption reinstated. This has been going on for almost 10 years now. They have always put a deadline on the 20 year exemption and in the 11th hour it gets extended. Also, note that the law has never been ‘revoked’ and never will be. Anyone who currently has a 20 year exemption always will. Panama is a democratic republic so the rule of law prevails. A few other important notes – there are plenty of new homes, condos and developments available with the 20 year exemption. Also, there are new developments which have still been granted the 20 year exemption even though there buildings are not complete. There is a special law whereby developments which have been designated as tourist infrastructure continue to receive the exemption status. Keep checking back here for up dates.

What’s the best way to acquire real estate in Panama now while prices are still lower if the person(s) can’t retire for another 6 years or so? And would it be better to buy land and wait to build until retirement, or go ahead and build and rent the property out until retirement and moving to Panama?

A – I would definitely recommend investing now as Panama Real Estate will continue to appreciate in value. As for how you want to go about that it is really dependent on a number of your personal needs and wants. You can certainly buy land and wait to build until you retire. However, like everything costs are sure to rise so you would be saving money by building now. Also, it depends on where you want to eventually retire. Are you thinking a large plot of land (a finca) to build on -or- are you thinking a condo or home on a lot in a development where you will have neighbours and amenities? Purchasing in a development now can be a real advantage as Panama has a shortage of rental properties relative to it’s growing tourism industry. A condo, town home or home in a development with services and amentities, like golf,tennis, a pool, etc. can be a wise investment as your rental income helps to pay or in some cases can completely pay for your future retirement home.

Full time maid. I have read that we have to be careful on this issue regarding labor laws. If we offer lodging and food to a full time maid, what are the long term ’employer’ obligations we will be subjected to? More specifically: medical care, medication, maternity vacation etc? Norm.

A – Yes, Norm it’s true you have to be careful whenever you hire anyone in Panama. The labour laws are unreasonably skewed in favour of the employee and you can get hooked. A common expression in Panama is, “You didn’t just hire a maid you just adopted her and her entire family for life!” That said, don’t let this scare you off. One of the best things we can do as ex pats is hire locals for everything – get a maid, get a gardner, get a driver. It is one of the most respectful things you can do and it pays dividends. These people, who would otherwise not have work, are now able to provide for their families and they are grateful. They watch out for you and your property as though it were their own. Just be sure to hire properly. You want to interview, check references and check around about the applicant and their family locally. Then get with a good lawyer – one who knows the labour laws well – and have them draw up a proper employment contract. In reality you want to ‘sub-contract for services’ rather than ‘hire an employee’. The lawyer will give you guidelines to follow to insure the relationship is exactly as spelled out. This will include termination and the signing of a new contract within a specified period of time.

To get familiar with the area, we would like to rent a place for a few weeks and use this as a base for automobile explorations. Would love this place to be on the beach, either Gulf or Pacific. Where do you suggest? Primitive or lower end accommodations would be preferred. Thanks Dennis.

A – Dennis, if you are just looking to have some fun and travel around the country this is easy to do. Staying in one spot won’t do much for you. You will only get the flavour of a very small segment of the country. I recommend driving around and seeing as much of the country as possible., It is so diverse and until you experience it all, you won’t know what rings your bell. Panama is very safe, the roads are great and the people very friendly and helpful. Rent your car in PC but make sure you have a good road map. The ones they give you suck! Don’t count on finding one there either. It took me 6 months before I finally found a decent road map in a small snack shop in PC! I suggest you order one before you go. Scroll up on this page for a box with some recommended resources – there I have placed a link to a map you can order through amazon. As to where – anywhere and everywhere west of PC. Avoid east, the Darien unless you are a thrill seeker and into taking risks. Also, the city of Colon is not worth going to unless you are in the duty-free business. You might consider traveling west to the Playa Blanca area for a night or two. A side trip up to the market in the mountain town of El Valle for a night. Then west and south onto the Azuero Peninsula. Spend a couple of say exploring this wonderful area. Look for a small spot, past Pedasi and out at the tip of the Peninsula, called ‘Playita’. It is a gem! After Azuero I typically book it through to the province of Chiriqui – about a 4 hour drive. There is juts not a lot to see or do in between – no mans land. In Chiriqui you might want to explore the beaches around Las Lajas. Go to the end of the road – the beach is directly in front. Make sure it’;s low tide and then drive out onto the beach. Turn right (west) and drive for about 1km down the beach. There you will find a funky little place called Las Tres Palmeras (the 3 palms). You can spend quite a few days in Chiriqui – check out David (hot); Boquete and Volcan (cool). At the town of Chiriqui you can find the highway (theres only one) over to the Caribbean coast. From Chiriqui Grande you can take your car on the ferry to Bocas del Toro. I don’t really recommend this though as you don;t need a car in Bocas. The alternator is going to Almirante where you will find secured parking and taking the water taxi. That is a fun trip which can be compressed into 1 week but really deserves 2! Enjoy.

Editors note – My apologies. I’ve been busy traveling and doing some additional research to improve this page. I’ve added some additional lens over at Squidoo that you may want to check out over ta squidoo.com. I’ve also been working on my Facebook and YouTube pages so watch for some new postings there too. Now on to your questions!

Mark, Do you think real estate on the Caribbean side of Panama will appreciate in the next 5 years and developments will ever flourish in that area ??? Will more “rights of possession properties” become “titled.” Drew

A – Hey Drew! Yes, Yes and yes! I can’t believe how long it has taken for people and business people in particular to discover the Caribbean coast. Bocas has had it’s share of attention but I believe the growth there is limited because it is island based community. Resources will always be limited and the island lifestyle is only attractive to some. I believe the coastal areas near Colon and Portobello will see significant growth. Also, Yes, we will continue to see more ROP land becoming titled. Probably the best resource I can think of which includes a comprehensive analysis of Panama Coastal Property Opportunities is the Panama Starter Kit. It has everything you need to know to realize all the advantages and upsides of living and investing in Panama. If you Act now you can save 35%! 

Do you have to deposit an amount of money in a banque account in panama or buy property to move there? thanks Cora

A – It really depends on your intentions. No you don’t have to deposit money or buy property to move to Panama. However, you will need to apply for a visa if you plan on living there full time. If you have a pension of $500 or more per month than you can easily obtain a Pensionado Visa. With a visa you are free to travel and rent throughout the country and stay as long as you like. The visa gives you ‘Residency’. No purchase neccessary!

We are coming to Panama on Nov 8 for 10 days. We plan to rent a car and travel to look for property or houses in the Altos Del Maria area. We do not speak spanish, I am concerned, is this doable without getting into trouble? I have ordered a map but other than that we have no idea where we are going. Any hints on where to stay, etc? Thanks! Ann Marie

A – Hi Ann Marie, and I thought we were spontaneous! Panama is a predominantly Spanish speaking country especially when you get outside of the city. However, people are very friendly and helpful plus it is very safe, so don’t stress. Make sure you have a Spanish/English dictionary handy and the cell phone with help line will be a real asset – for more on what resources you want to have on hand – here are my suggestions – Panama Travel. Read all about it and follow then follow the links. Trust me! For one they meet you at the airport and do all of the customs and immigration paperwork for you – that is a god send. Also, you will get a few nights on the beach at Coronado (close to Altos del Maria) for free – and don’t think it is some kind of Timeshare presentation set up – it’s not. In Panama they are very laid back. If you are interested in Coronado someone will help you if not you get to enjoy the free accomodations and the amenities. Most importantly is that they loan you a cell phone with a free help line. That will be invaluable in finding accommodations on the fly. The Passport has many additional benefits – hotel discounts, legal advice, even discounts if you buy something. These more than pay for the passport. By the way – Prima is not my company. I just think they are doing an awesome service for people checking out Panama so I recommend them. These folks will also help you plan your trip through the country and will get you reservations, hotel discounts, etc. Check out Coronado, be sure to hit the market in El Valle on Sundays, continue on and check out the Azuero Penninsula – in particular look for a little place called, “Playita” outside of Pedasi. Here’s a little taste –

 

Then continue on to the province of Chiriqui and go straight up to Boquete. You will want to compare Boquete with Altos. Pay particular attention to the amenities in both areas – i.e. shopping, entertainment, restaurants, etc. Many people in Boquete know me so be sure to let them know you are my friend – that may get you an extra discount or perhaps just an extra smile! Look to stay at Isla Verde – on your left off the main street just as you enter the village. Or the Boquete Garden Inn; Valle Escondido Resort or Los Establos if you want luxury. If you’re fluent in Spanish, have already done this trip, don’t want to stay free at Coronado, don’t want a phone and don’t like asking for help than this probably isn’t for you. However, I have done all of the above and still think it is an awesome service. Kind of a no brainer in my opinion but it always amazes me how many people would rather save the $200 and then pay out hundreds more when they get there plus go through all of the aggrivation! Anyhow, I hope this helps and wish you all th best. Good luck have a great trip and drop me a note when you get back!

How safe would it be to drive to Panama from the states? Thanks! Cora

A – I can’t say I would recommend it. I have met many people who have done it and most say they would not do it again. That said they arrived in Panama safe and sound. I believe you need to be a real adventurer. I would suggest you would want to be pretty fluent in Latin American Spanish. You will need to be prepared for border bribes and the potential for petty theft the entire trip with the exception of Panama. Also, you want a tough vehicle as (other than Panama) the Pan American highway is pretty rough until you reach Panama. Once again, I have not done it. So, I suggest you do a lot of research. Check out these two books – just click on the links . Hope this helps!

Driving the Pan-American Highway to Mexico and Central America: A Complete Guide for Do-It-Yourself Planning and Driving Through Mexico and Central America
and
99 Days to Panama: An Exploration of Central America by Motorhome, How A Couple and Their Dog Discovered this New World in Their RV

I have visited panama many times in the 1980’s. i have never been to contadora, i see homes there, do you know what living there is like? tks James

A – Hi James, I have to be honest and say I don’t know a great deal about living on Contadora. I do know it has a long history of having weekend type ‘homes’ frequented by wealthy Panamanians. Like any island living it is quite different. You will need to be prepared both financially and emotionally for that kind of living. i.e. frequent flights to Panama City for shopping, etc. Perhaps owning a good size boat (Yacht).

Editors note – check out the pics from my visit to Contadora in my Letter from Contadora.

I have 2 children, 11 and 14 , what about bilingual schools and standard of education, universities? Amanda

A – The standards of Education are excellent but I need to preface that statement with, “In Panama City”. There’s the ‘International School’ the Balboa Academy, Academia Interamericana and the Greek school to name a few. These are excellent private schools for elementary and secondary education. Of course there is the University of Panama which hosts students from all over the world. This is from the U.S. Department of State website – “More than 65,000 Panamanian students attend the University of Panama, the Technological University, and the University of Santa Maria La Antigua, a private Catholic institution. Including smaller colleges, there are 14 institutions of higher education in Panama. The first six years of primary education are compulsory, and there are about 357,000 students currently enrolled in grades one through six. The total enrollment in the six secondary grades is about 207,000. More than 90% of Panamanians are literate.”

Hi Mark — I’m wondering if you know anything about bringing pets to Panama. I have a 1.5 year old yellow lab, and I couldn’t leave her behind! Thanks for your help! Lawrence

A – Yes. Get in touch with JOSE SAENZ. He offers: Transportation, Transfers, Tours, AND Pet Importing Support (Home Quarantine Process). For more information you can e-mail Jose at bocasfrog@yahoo.com or call him cell (011-507) 6-614-7811.

Editors Note – This is an archive of previous Panama Q & A discussions. To ask questions and join the current conversation please visit our new Q & A page – once there scroll to the bottom to leave your comments and questions.

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