Articles Related to Christmas in panama

I was surprised when we arrived to discover that Panama's French school had 75 students, many, also surprising to me, Panamanian. Why would a Panamanian family, living in Panama City, choose to send their children to a French-language, French-curriculum school? I still don't know the answer to that question, but today dozens more Panamanian families are opting for this approach to educating their kids.

Of course, all the students at Paul Gauguin aren't Panamanian. Jack is one of the few Americans. In addition, there are kids from families that call themselves Spanish, Mexican, Colombian, Irish, English, German, Chinese, Japanese, Canadian, and, yes, French. The parents of these wandering youngsters are in Panama as entrepreneurs, like Lief and me, or because the international companies they work for have placed them here. And, again, their numbers have increased four-fold while we've been part of the charming community they create.

L'Ecole Paul Gauguin is growing, and Jackson is growing with it.

Jack came to me this week to tell me he needs a red Santa hat and a green polo shirt. Would I please find these things for him at the mall this weekend?

"Ah, for your Christmas pageant?" I asked, excitedly. "Great. When is it? Dad and I always really enjoy the show."

"Parents of the older kids don't really come to it, Mom," Jackson responded. "Only the parents of the little kids come to watch. I just need you to get me the hat and the shirt."

Our first year in Panama, Paul Gauguin's Christmas pageant took place in the 300-year-old Teatro Anita Villalaz in the center of Casco Viejo's Plaza de Francia. Even back then, when the student body was much smaller than it is today, it made for as eclectic a collection of small children as you might ever find. Jackson introduced us to his friends from all over the world, some have names I couldn't pronounce even after Jackson repeated them for me three or four times. Finally, embarrassed for me, he gave up, suggesting that, if I have something to say to a particular child, he'd be happy to relay the message for me.

Some of these children, then and now, have lived in three or four other countries already, though they've only barely begun their little lives. Most speak Spanish and French; others also speak English, Italian, German, Japanese, Chinese... They switch among languages effortlessly and manage to communicate among themselves cheerfully and with far less misunderstanding than you might expect.

That first year, on stage in the grand old theater on the Plaza Francia, the young but worldly bunch from Ecole Paul Gauguin, Jackson among them, performed Christmas songs in Spanish, French, and English, including some we recognized and many we didn't.

"Children in Palestine and children in Israel, children from the Americas and also from China, this day, let us think only of Christmas," began one song in French.

At Jackson's birthday party last month, I had a chance to speak with some of his classmates' moms. Some have husbands working with the UN and other international organizations who have been posted in Panama for a year or two. Others are here for work related to various of this country's many infrastructure projects. They and their children have migrated to Panama from Mexico City or Caracas, Buenos Aires or Santiago, Paris or Madrid...

Lief and I worry sometimes about the life Jackson is living. Born in Ireland, he's since lived (and gone to school) in Paris...and now Panama City. He's an American by birth though his only experiences of the United States are his annual visits to see his grandmother and cousins in Baltimore. If you were to ask him, Jack would tell you that he's Irish, with the second passport to prove it. I wouldn't call him American or Irish or French either, though the parents of his friends are shocked always to discover that Jackson's parents are American, not French. "But Jackson is French, is he not?" they ask us, trying to make sense of Jack's perfect Parisian French in the context of our American English.

"No, he's American, like us," I explain, not sure how else to describe him.

Jackson is a little guy without a country but embracing the world. And, at the French school in Panama City, he's found about 300 other little guys and girls just like him who, one evening each year, join together to fill the tropical night with the sound of Christmas songs from around the world.

Will we embarrass Jackson too much if Lief and I crash this year's show this Friday?

Kathleen Peddicord

P.S. What else this week?

  • When we lived in Ireland, our house sat on 6 acres of land. Up a small hill behind the house was an area that had been, in a previous life, a kitchen garden. We restored the garden, after we discovered it, and planted everything from strawberries to carrots, lettuce, and tomatoes. It was a lot of work, both to re-create the garden and to maintain it.

A kitchen garden alone won't keep a family fed, though. We restored one outbuilding on the property into a chicken coop, with the help of my father-in-law, and started raising chickens. We planted fruit trees to create a small orchard. And we looked into raising a few cows, mostly to fatten them up in the fields and sell them.

We didn't buy the property with the intention of turning it into a self-sufficient farmstead, and, in truth, if we'd had to survive off our 6 acres, we would have starved to death. Mostly because we were busy working. We didn't have the time to keep up with the gardens or the chickens, and we never figured out the cows, as the government, we discovered, regulated livestock to the point that we would have needed a permit to raise even a couple of cows if our intent was to sell them to a butcher.

Today we own various bits of land in different countries, but most of it either isn't suitable for farming or is owned with partners. We're getting serious now about changing this, about expanding my flag planting efforts to include a farm somewhere, something bigger than 6 acres.

At the tail end of the last time it made real sense to buy a farm in Argentina (about 2006), I found a 1,000-acre property in Tucuman province. The property was fertile and lush and, with a price tag of US$600,000, a bargain for productive land in that country at that time. You could still buy ranch land in Argentina back then for as little as US$50 an acre, but productive land was going for US$1,000 an acre or more. Alas, the timing wasn't right for me, and I had to pass on the purchase. Today, with Argentine politics more complicated even than is typical for this country, I'm looking instead at farmland in Uruguay, Chile, and Belize...

  • Every day, we receive hundreds of e-mails from readers wondering about their own situations. Would Belize make sense for me? Would I be happy in Panama? I'm debating between Costa Rica and Uruguay...could you comment, advise? Should I be looking at France...or Ireland? Thailand or Malaysia?

Unfortunately, it's almost impossible for me to respond productively to most of these questions. Should you consider Ambergris Caye or the Cayo (two very different options in Belize)? Would you be happier in Coronado or Las Tablas (two beach choices in Panama)?

I have no idea. Only you can make these determinations. It's a matter of knowing yourself...

  • While we've been in planning meetings this week here in Panama City, the mail has been piling up. Therefore, today, let's dig straight into the Mailbag:

"Kathleen, my wife and I now have an account at Caye Bank in Belize, thanks to you. Do you have a bank in Ecuador you would recommend?"...

  • This week we began our annual Countdown To Christmas coverage. Our first 'tis the season offering featured a very unlikely place to spend the holidays, as remembered by Correspondent Paul Lewis...

Sikukuu (literally, the Big Day) is how you say Christmas in Swahili, lingua franca of Kenya and the whole East African coast. The Sikukuu I have in mind saw me, many years ago, as a young army officer in the deserts of Northern Kenya, not far from Lokitong, near Lake Turkana. I was part of a force from the King's African Rifles, then Kenya's army, sent to protect local Somali tribesmen (whom we had just disarmed) against attacks by neighboring Merille tribesmen from over the border in Ethiopia who were still well supplied with weapons left behind by the Italian army after World War II.

As a result, the eve of that Sikkuu was no time for celebrations, preparing feasts, or even Midnight Mass. Instead we planned to lay an ambush for the Merille, suspecting they might try a surprise night attack on our camp in the hope of catching us unawares. "They probably think we'll all be pissed (that is, drunk). So we must be ready for them," our commanding officer had said...

PLUS--From resident global real estate investing expert Lief Simon:

Argentina is one of my favorite places to spend time. The lifestyle choices are diverse and, for me, all appealing, from big-city living in Buenos Aires, one of the world's great cities, to the cowboy's life in the Pampas and many options in between.

One choice that is particularly appealing in this country is life among the vines. The vineyard life in Argentina is as romantic and richly rewarding as you imagine it to be, but you can tap into at a fraction of the cost of enjoying a similar lifestyle in wine country in California or Europe.

Argentina is the fifth-largest wine producer in the world. Chilean wine may be more known in the United States, but that is largely because, until recently, Argentina consumed most of the wine it produced itself. Over the past decade, however, Argentine vineyards have grown and expanded, and exports have increased in turn.

As the vineyard industry in this country is maturing, it is also expanding to include wine country tourism. Many vineyards in Argentina now offer tours, wine-tasting rooms, and restaurants. One winery I visited last year had been designed specifically for tourism and as a venue for special events, with a bar, restaurant, and even an art museum. The winery building was laid out to maximize tour potential, while still being efficient and functional, showcasing the Argentine vineyard lifestyle.

A colleague, an Argentine, is also tapping into the expanding vineyard tourism industry. He has conceived and is well into building a vineyard surrounding a residential development in Valle de Uco, one of the biggest wine areas in Argentina, about an hour-and-a-half from Mendoza city. Mendoza in general is Argentina's most important wine producer thanks to its unique terroir and Andean snowmelt irrigation. This is a region of extraordinary natural beauty, clean air, and 300-plus days of sunshine each year.

The design for La Morada de los Andes has incorporated residential lots among 1,000 acres of vines, 4.5 acres of which have been set aside for lot owners. As an owner here, you will be able to reap the rewards of the wine the grapes from these vines produce, which should be about 5,000 bottles annually.

The idea is for lot owners to be able to enjoy the entire living-among-the-vines experience, including enjoying the fruits of their own vines, without having to make the investment of time, money, or effort to run their own vineyard operation.

If you've been reading my reports for any time, you know that one of my regular recommendations is to buy what you see. In this case, the developer put in the infrastructure before he started selling lots. Buying what you see, therefore, means buying completed roads, water, electricity, and even access to a beautiful clubhouse, in a dramatic setting, with the Andes Mountains as the backdrop.

In addition, the vineyard has been fully planted.

One of the best parts about the Mendoza region of Argentina is that it is, on one hand, remote and private, yet, on the other hand, lively and full of opportunities for distraction and diversion. In February is the annual folklore festival; in November is the Fiesta de la Tradicion; and, probably of greatest interest in this part of the world, come March are the annual harvest festivals.

Day to day, you could go hiking in the Andes, mountain biking, horse riding, even skiing in winter, though you'll have to travel a bit for that. The city of Mendoza, with a population of more than one million, has restaurants, theaters, and, on the weekends, an artist fair on the main square (I bought a custom-made knife on my last visit).

What does it take to buy into this lifestyle? Lots at La Morada de Los Andes start at less than US$100,000, and all lots are more than ½ acre. With just 83 lots in total, you'll have neighbors, but you won't feel crowded. And again, the infrastructure is in, so you could begin building your house right away. The developer can manage the construction for you, or you could arrange it on your own.

The best part is that the developer doesn't need cash from sales to put in the infrastructure. As a result, he's able to offer very flexible financing packages. You could buy your vineyard lot today with no money down and payments over two, three, or four years at 8% interest. Finance a US$100,000 lot over four years, and your payment would be less than US$2,500 a month. Or you could make a down payment, and the developer would finance the rest at no interest.

HOA fees are expected to run about US$165 a month, but the developer is waiving those until 2014. As an owner, you'll enjoy the annual wine allocation I mentioned earlier, which is 30 bottles per year for each lot. Any surplus bottles will be sold to help offset the HOA fees.

On top of that the developer is offering Live and Invest Overseas readers a US$5,000 discount, at least for the first 20 lots purchased. Nine lots have already been sold, meaning the next 11 buyers can save US$5,000.

Argentines enjoy their wine and their parillas. Once you've experienced the lifestyle that goes along with these things, you'll understand why. For more details, you can inquire here.


Kaitlin in her sundress and Jackson in his T-shirt and shorts had wrapped their arms around themselves to try to stop the shivering.

"Most of the year, they store meat in here," the man explained. "Then, in November, they convert the room to a tree house.

"This is the best place in Panama to buy a Christmas tree," he went on. "They bring the trees in here as soon as they're delivered from Canada.

"I've been living in Panama for 40 years. Moved here from California when I was young. We buy our tree here every year. Everywhere else selling Christmas trees around Panama just sits them out in the heat and the sun. Plus, the trees here are bigger and rounder than you find anywhere else. Take one of these home, unwrap it, and let it thaw out, and, tomorrow, your whole house will smell like a pine forest."

I was sold. Besides, we were all too cold to spend much time deliberating. We told the young Panamanian standing by to help that we'd like four of the tallest trees he had, took one more deep pine-scented breath, and then ran back outside to the tropical sunshine.

We loaded the four trees into the back of our truck and then drove around town to deliver each to its holiday home--one to Kaitlin's apartment, one to a friend's apartment, one to the office, which the staff will help trim tomorrow, and one to our house, which we'll decorate today.

Our parka-clad friend was right. This morning, the house smells like a pine forest.

Kathleen Peddicord

P.S. If you also happen to be in the market for a Christmas tree in Panama City, the place to go is Tzanetatos off Transistmica. Wear a coat.

P.S. What else this week?

  • "'¡Bájense!' said the man in the green fatigues, as he told us to get off the bus," writes new Latin America Correspondent Lee Harrison. "And just in case the two Americans on board were slow to understand, he waved his machine gun at the door while looking our way.

"'Hombres aquí...mujeres allá,' he said, as he and his group separated the male and female passengers for frisking purposes...even though all the available friskers were guys.

"I looked in front of the bus and saw that they'd dragged a large, freshly cut tree branch across the road to stop traffic. I also noticed a tiny Colombian flag sewn on to the back of their camouflage shirts, just below the collars, telling me--with relief--that they belonged to the Colombian army...the good guys.

"So, after a brief frisking and an inspection of the bus (to make sure there were no bombs on board), they let us proceed on our way to the colonial city of Popayán.

"This was the Colombia that I came to know during my first extended stay, back in mid-2006..."

  • Reason Not To Retire Overseas #1: "I can't afford it."

Your nest egg has been marginalized in recent years, and you're thinking there's no way at this point that you can afford to entertain these notions of living or retiring in a new country.

Here's the truth: You can't afford not to. I mean this both literally and figuratively.

You could take my advice and launch a more comfortable, more interesting, safe, pleasant, even adventure-filled life in a number of places around the world that I introduce to you in these dispatches on a budget of as little as US$1,200 per month or less. In some parts of Panama, Colombia, Thailand, Nicaragua, Malaysia, and Ecuador, for example, you could live comfortably on a budget of less than US$1,000 per month. I'd be surprised if you can't afford that.

But here's the real point: You owe it to yourself to go find out for yourself just how affordable and, more important, just how fun and adventure-filled a new life in a new country can be. I say again that, cost of living aside, you can't afford not to do this.

Reason Not To Retire Overseas #2: "It's not the right time..."

  • Panama City is no longer a cheap place to live. Life in Panama's capital city can be affordable (depending on your interpretation of that idea), but it's no great bargain. Rents are down from the 2008-2009 highs, but, realistically, you're still looking at US$1,000 a month for a comfortable place in a good location. Other costs, from groceries to household help and from restaurants to movie tickets, have risen steadily during the three-and-a-half years we've been living here to the point that, again, today, cheap is no longer a word I'd use to describe them.

However, as I point out often, Panama City isn't Panama, and Panama beyond its capital can still be a super-bargain destination.

Panama Editor Chris Powers features one of the country's most affordable locations in this month's issue of my Panama Letter...

  • "My husband Billy and I have been proponents of medical tourism for decades," writes retire early expert Akaisha Kaderli ( "The value and convenience of medical treatment in other countries has made a considerable impression on us over the years.

"Recently, a friend who lives in Dallas gave us a side-by-side comparison of seeking medical care for a skin condition both in Dallas and then in Bangkok, Thailand. His side-by-side comparison of the two experiences really hit the point home.

"Here's how our friend told us his story..."

Also This Week...from Resident Global Real Estate Investing Expert Lief Simon:

Double-digit yields are scarce these days, but I've found a few property investment opportunities promising this level of return for my Marketwatch members over the past year...and many of these have to do with agriculture and productive land.

The productive land investment I'm perhaps most excited about right now is in Brazil.

Over the years, I've shied away from recommending real estate investment in Brazil for a couple of key reasons. The main one is the language barrier. There is a general lack of English-speaking support for any investment activities in Brazil. Another is the complications associated with getting your money in and out of the country.

I know investors who have gone into Brazil and done well, but they have either bought in Rio (back in 2003/2004 when I recommended it), where you can find English-speaking agents and attorneys, or they taught themselves Portuguese before entering the market. One friend, for example, who taught himself the local language, bought and flipped a house, organizing the sale so that he was paid outside Brazil, eliminating any concern about repatriating his profits.

That's one strategy. But I wouldn't call it a straightforward one or one that would work for everyone.

The other small investors I know who have invested in Brazil real estate have struggled. That's why, when the agricultural investment I mentioned above was first brought to me, I was as interested in the structure of the offer as I was in the investment return.

The opportunity I'm talking about is to do with coconuts, specifically a coconut plantation on this country's northeast coast.

The developers are British, working with local Brazilian partners. The first thing that got my attention when I began looking at this closely six months ago was that these Brits speak Portuguese (one was raised in Portugal). In addition, one of the British developers also lives in the country full time.

The team behind this spent three years scouting various opportunities before deciding to focus on coconuts and then another year putting together their initial coconut plantation offering. They've done their research and their due diligence and are well invested personally at this point. That's important.

The group's first plantation sold out in a matter of weeks. This prompted the quick decision to put together a second plantation on adjacent available land. They launched their second plantation at our Retire Overseas Conference in Orlando, Florida, in October. In the six weeks or so since, they've sold over 50% of this new offering.

The appeal is undeniable, and I'm more sold on this the better I get to know the development team behind the project and the more I learn myself about coconuts as an agri-investment opportunity.

The benefits of working with a big, experienced team that will manage your investment (in this case, your coconut trees from planting through harvest) is multi-fold and critically important. Sure, you could buy some land and plant some coconut trees yourself, but what would your chances of investment success be? I'd say slim to none. Throwing in with a big plantation like this makes what could be a complicated investment turn-key and mitigates or eliminates many of the potential risks.

What risks remain?

Language: As I've mentioned already, management at the development company speaks English as well as Portuguese. This obviously makes it much easier for you to understand what's going on with the plantation and to be able to ask questions and get answers without a translator.

Getting your money out: The management company has set up a process to ensure that investment funds are properly recorded with the government on the way in. This means that you should have no problem repatriating your profits on the way out. The important thing is that, for this investment, making sure your money gets in and out of the country without interference is the management company's responsibility, and they've worked out the systems to make that happen.

Currency: In the long-term it's impossible to know which way currency rates (any currency rates) will go. Your coconuts will be sold in Brazil in reals. That means your profits will initially be in the Brazilian currency. You could convert the reais into some other currency and wire the money out as it is earned, or you could keep your return in reais until you need it. This would allow you to manage exchange rates over the short term. The bottom line, though, is that this is an investment that comes with currency risk. I believe it is offset to some degree by the commodity risk/price of the end product - the coconuts and their derivatives. The coconut products - water, meat, and oil - all have a global demand.

The investment opportunity is straightforward. You invest in a minimum of 2 hectares of land that the management company will plant with coconut trees for you. They will look after your trees, manage the ongoing harvest of the coconuts, and sell the coconuts to the processing plant. Then they send you your profits on a bi-annual basis.

The cost of the 2-hectare investment is currently US$55,000. The conservative projections of the developer show that this investment is expected to generate a net annualized ROI of 17.53%, including all costs and expenses, even Brazilian taxes. This is another reason I like these guys and I like this offer. It is turn-key in every regard. They're even going to make sure your local tax obligations are taken care of. In Brazil, this can be another opportunity for complication and hassle.

That net return figure is based on the first coconuts being sold in year four, as it takes three years in the ground before trees begin to produce coconuts and it will be a year before the trees will be delivered by the nursery company (72,000 hybrid coconut trees have been ordered).

Once the trees are fully producing, after year six (five years in the ground), the net annual yield on your original investment will be 35%. That's impressive.

The trees produce for 60 years, but production declines after 40 years, so the management company is planning a tree replacement program. They will switch out older trees for new ones so that production is not interrupted.

The management company takes 30% of the revenue after direct crop-care expenses are deducted. This aligns their interest with yours, as the more money they make, the more money you make.

Again, few property opportunities available right now have the potential for double-digit returns. A net annualized lifetime ROI of 17.53% and a net annual ROI of 35% once the trees are producing fully? These are numbers to get very excited about. The only way to beat them would be to do a large project on your own.

The other reason to like this opportunity is because it generates cash flow relatively quickly and for the very long term. Unlike a timber investment, for example, you don't have to wait for one big harvest many years down the road to see your return.

For more information on the current coconut plantation offering, get in touch here.

The second plantation is selling as quickly as the first. Fortunately, the second plantation is twice as large, so more units are available. Still, if this idea interests you, you should follow up sooner rather than later as the developer is planning to raise prices in the New Year.

Again, more information here.

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Kathleen Peddicord

Kathleen Peddicord is the founder of the Live and Invest Overseas publishing group. With more than 25 years experience covering this beat, Kathleen reports daily on current opportunities for living, retiring, and investing overseas in her free e-letter.

Her book, How To Retire Overseas—Everything You Need To Know To Live Well Abroad For Less, was recently released by Penguin Books.

Read more here.


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