"I'll serve," I replied, reaching for a towel to tie around my waist as an apron and a pitcher to fill with water. By now the dining room was full, and our tour-goers were visibly unhappy. I set the tables as quick as I could with the mismatched china we found in the kitchen cabinet, poured water all around, and took orders (fried versus scrambled), while Josianne fired up the gas stove. We served eggs, toast, juice, and tea that morning to our 40 guests and made it out the door in time to meet the bus scheduled to take us on our first property-viewing appointment of the day. If you were among the 40 participants at that long-ago event, thank you. You're a good sport. I hosted the second conference of my career a year later in Belize. Again, Josianne was my cohort. Infrastructure isn't Belize's strong suit, even today. But 30 years ago this was a seriously undeveloped, unappointed little country. After two days of meetings in Belize City, we wanted to take the group south along the coast to look at beachfront lots and houses for sale. We needed a bus to transport the 50 of us. The bus we'd organized in advance was promised to be "modern." The bus that showed up outside our hotel that morning was an old U.S. school bus with broken windows, torn seats, and balding tires. The best thing that could be said about the bus was that it was there, on the scene, as expected, at 8 o'clock that morning. The same wasn't true for the real estate agent who was to act as our tour guide for the day. The guy finally showed up an hour-and-a-half late and, Josianne and I realized quickly, drunk. We knew Belize well enough to know that substitutions were not an option. The bus was the bus and the agent was the agent. We either went off with them for the day or we cancelled the day. We loaded the group and set off. The road we traveled was dirt (today it's paved). As we had no air conditioning, we opened the windows for ventilation. But, with the windows open, the bus filled with dust from the road. With the windows closed, temperatures became unbearable. So we pushed the windows down when the air became stiflingly hot and back up when the air became stiflingly dusty. Josianne and I reviewed an itinerary for the day with our agent guide, who we positioned in the front seat so he could give instructions to the driver. Then we wandered up and down the aisle chatting with our tour-goers, trying to keep spirits up in spite of the transportation discomforts. The things I didn't know back then about managing conferences and leading tours could have filled an encyclopedia. One of the things I didn't know but have learned since, for example, is that you don't, at any time, want to hand over control of the group to a drunk real estate agent. After two hours had passed, Josianne and I became concerned and walked up front to check in with our intoxicated friend. The guy had passed out. We shook him awake and asked how much longer until we'd arrive at our destination. The guy looked at us, at the driver, at his lap, out the window... After a few long minutes, something finally registered and the guy began yelling at our driver. We'd missed our turn, Josianne and I came to understand, which was an hour-and-a-half back up the dusty road we'd just traveled. Now what? Turn around? No. Better to continue on to our next stop. This, the agent explained, was another hour in a different direction. "Where can we go for refreshments?" I asked the guy. "We need to take the group somewhere they can use a bathroom and buy drinks and snacks." He knew a place, he said, and gave the driver new instructions. About 20 minutes later, we pulled up to a roadside shack alongside a river. We unloaded the bus. Our group used the facilities and ordered bottles of Coke and water, then stood in the shade of a big mango tree. The morning had been a bust, but the drinks and the shady respite cooled and calmed everyone down. Onward. But where was the real estate agent? He wasn't in the shop. Our male tour-goers assured us he wasn't in the bathroom. Josianne and I stood, with the group, at the door to the bus trying to figure out what we'd do if we'd lost our guide altogether. Then, out of the corner of my eye, I saw the guy walking toward us. He was stripped down to his underpants and dripping wet. He'd gone for a swim in the river. The agent, carrying his clothes, climbed back on the bus and took his seat. Josianne and I looked at each other, shook our heads, and followed our guide back inside the vehicle, along with the rest of the group. By the time we arrived at our next destination, the guy had put his pants back on and sobered up enough to explain to us all what we were looking at. We toured for several more hours that day then returned late, dusty, and exhausted to our hotel in Belize City. Josianne and I went on to lead tours and conferences together for several years, in Costa Rica, Belize, Mexico, and Argentina. I have more stories from those early years. Ask me about them next time you see me. Some are best told over a cold rum and Coke while watching the sun set. I've been thinking about these stories from a lifetime ago this week as my current conference team has been finalizing our calendar for the next 12 months. Looking through 2015, we'll be returning to old haunts that continue to offer great opportunity for the would-be retiree and investor, including Belize, Panama, Nicaragua, and Colombia. In addition, we've added new destinations of special appeal, including Portugal, which took top spot in our 2014 Retire Overseas Index, and the Dominican Republic, our top pick for retirement in the Caribbean right now. We'll be hosting our annual Global Property Summit in March and our Global Asset Protection and Wealth Summit in October. This year's calendar also includes a first-ever Agricultural Investment Seminar, taking place in July. For our biggest event of the year, our annual Retire Overseas Conference, we're heading this 2015 to the Big Easy, New Orleans. I've learned a few things since those early years, and this much I can promise you: Breakfast will be served every morning, buses will be air-conditioned, and real estate agents will wear pants. Kathleen Peddicord
That's not a high hurdle. The trouble is that you're going to be hard put to find a piece of real estate for sale in this country for anything like US$10,000...or even two or three times that amount.
For it was from this bit of coast, specifically from the town of Portobelo (the featured destination for this month's issue of my Panama Letter), one of the discoveries of Christopher Columbus, today about a half-hour east of Colon, that the 16th- and 17th-century Spanish coordinated the return of their plunder from the New World to the old one. At one time in history, more than one-third of all the world's gold and silver passed through this town, where it was weighed and counted in the mammoth customs house (still standing) before being shipped back to Spain. All this wealth coming and going made Portobelo a tempting target, for both the British throne and British pirates, which explains Spain's investment, four centuries ago, in the impressive fortifications that surrounded Portobelo, including Fort San Lorenzo (also still standing).Alas, the Spanish forts weren't enough to keep the British at bay, and, eventually, the Spanish decamped. They moved their plundering operations from Portobelo to Cape Horn. Portobelo turned from boomtown to ghost town and, in the centuries since, has settled into quiet obscurity.Meantime, a half-hour west, in 1850, Colon was born, in response to Gold Fever in California. The town was established as the Caribbean terminus of a rail line that allowed would-be gold diggers from the U.S. East Coast to cut through Panama as a means of reaching the U.S. West Coast. In this pre-Canal age, this route was far preferable to the alternatives...a journey through Indian Territory or a boat trip through the Strait of Magellan. By the late 19th century and through the start of the 20th century, Colon residents, benefitting from all the Gold Rush cash flowing through their city, earned a deserved reputation as elegant, even posh. The town was home to more than a dozen theaters and cinemas and several cabarets, one of which hosted Evita Peron. As recently as 50 years ago, this architecturally rich city was recognized as a music center and the location of the best Carnaval celebration in Panama. Visiting Colon today you'd have trouble guessing at any of that impressive history. Colon today is home to the country's Free Trade Zone and part of the Panama Canal. The province provides 15% of the country's total GDP. Yet, like Portobelo before it, this city has fallen into utter ruin. Unemployment in Colon is as much as 12%, while it's 3% on average nationwide.We predict, however, that we are on the eve of change in this part of this country and see early signs of emerging opportunity. Colon is the other place in Panama, along with Casco Viejo, where you find a sizeable inventory of colonial-style and architecturally interesting, historically important buildings. Investors have been buying and restoring the old colonial structures in Casco Viejo for 15 years, and prices in that old-town neighborhood have risen accordingly. It's hard now to find a bargain or even a good deal in Casco Viejo.Meantime, nobody's been paying any attention to Colon. The new administration, though, has shown an interest in supporting a renaissance in this city. This has gotten our attention and might be interesting to you, too, if you, like us, appreciate historic architecture and path-of-progress opportunity. Kathleen PeddicordP.S. Registration opened yesterday for our 2015 Live and Invest in Panama Conference, the only Panama country-specific event on our 2015 calendar. Already, half of the first-come, first-serve VIP places have been filled. If you'd like to come see for yourself all that's going on down here in the Hub of the Americas, I recommend that you get in touch now. You can reach our Conference Team by email here or by phone toll-free from the United States at 1-888-546-5169.More details about the event we're planning are here.You can register online here.
Panama's property markets did not crumble in the wake of the 2008 meltdown, and neither did its economy. Panama Canal revenues have surged these past six years, continuing to keep this country cash comfortable. In addition, Panama is enjoying growth in both its financial services and tourism sectors and has established itself as a top tourist shopping destination. Now, instead of flying up to Miami to eat, play, shop, and drop some cash, South Americans with money come to Panama, which is easier to get to and far easier to get into than the United States in this War On Terror age.
Panama's healthy economic state translates to:
Those things in turn translate to a hard-to-ignore option for where to commit yourself, your time, and your money.Panama's economy has expanded by double digits for four of the last eight years. Its current growth rate, projected by the IMF to be as much as 6.6% for 2014, while not double digits, makes it the fastest-growing economy in the Western Hemisphere. Foreign direct investment continues up every year, and unemployment is low and falling (while unemployment is increasing in neighboring countries including Nicaragua, Honduras, and Costa Rica). In 2009, the World Economic Forum Competitiveness Index ranked Panama at 58; in 2013, it ranked Panama at 48. Panama's debt was 41.3% of domestic gross product in 2013, compared with 70% in 2004. This reduced debt burden has led to improved credit ratings. The country's former President Ricardo Martinelli, whose five-year term ended earlier this year, was an important part of getting this country to where it is today. Throughout his time in office, Martinelli targeted key points of concern and key challenges that could impede the country's competitive growth agenda, specifically and especially, for example, traffic in Panama City. The traffic in this country's capital qualifies as among the worst in the world. This is a direct result of the country's economic growth—more people earning more money are able to afford to buy more cars, meaning additional cars on the road every month. Meantime, Panama City's road system was developed when this was a much sleepier place. Something had to give. Martinelli targeted this challenge head on from his first month in office. First, he took the old Diablo rojo buses (these brightly painted old U.S. school buses had been used for local transportation for decades but had become a main source of traffic chaos) off the roads. The prior two governments had said they wanted to replace these buses; Martinelli actually did replace them (well, most of them). In their place today are modern, air-conditioned buses that follow actual routes. Part 2 of Martinelli's plan for addressing the traffic mayhem on Panama City's streets was to build a metro. Again, the previous two administrations had talked about the need for a metro; Martinelli actually built a metro that opened this year. Line 2 is now underway.Looking ahead, where will additional growth come from for this market?
The good economic news in Panama is, in fact, great, but, yes, there are points of concern. Corruption, for example, continues to impede efficient growth and to frustrate investors. This is a key agenda for new President Varela who has, since assuming office in July, already taken on two high-profile political corruption cases involving a minister and a Supreme Court judge.
Kathleen PeddicordP.S. I've been recommending Panama as a top choice for living, retiring, investing, and doing business overseas for more than 15 years, and I'm more bullish on this country's prospects and the opportunities it offers today than ever before.That's' why we're including a Live and Invest in Panama Conference as early on our 2015 conference calendar as possible. We'll begin taking registrations for this important event, scheduled for April 13–15, 2015, tomorrow. Meantime, you have a final window to get your name on the list for VIP perks. Do that here now.
Now that they've reached this important phase of development, the developer is planning a price increase. I'm writing today to let you know that I have talked them into postponing this for Live and Invest Overseas readers. I believe this is one of the best agri-land investment opportunities you'll find right now, and I want to be sure you have a chance to get in on the ground floor, so to speak. I also, as you know, recommend that you buy what you see...meaning you should, if you can, come see this organic mango plantation for yourself. The developer is offering a tour of the property in September and have agreed to hold current pricing for Live and Invest Overseas readers through the dates of that tour. One key risk in any agricultural project is implementation. In this case, at this stage, this risk has been minimized significantly. With planting underway, you can have a higher degree of confidence that your trees will be planted according to the contractual timeline. Another risk for any agricultural project is water, as I've mentioned. Farmers in California are having a rough time right now thanks to the prolonged drought. Panama is in the tropics and enjoys significant rainfall every year. Nevertheless, the developer here chose for his mango plantation land with several rivers running through it, including a river that runs year-round, even through the dry season. They have the rights to take as much water from it as they need. Market risk is something else to consider with any turnkey project. With an agricultural project, this translates to: Who is going to buy your product? Mangos are the most eaten tree fruit in the world. The market is large. That said, the tropical fruit markets in the United States and Europe could be considered in their infancy...but expanding big time. The USDA's figures for mango consumption between 1980 and 2012 show an increase of a staggering 896% (from 0.25 pounds per person to 2.49 pounds per person, on average), and the demand continues to grow. In 2013, mangos made up 39% of this market. Not all mangos are created equal. The agricultural partner of the developer behind the plantation in Panama has created a variety of the fruit that has more meat and is naturally sweeter than most any other mango you'll find. A quality product and a big and growing demand aren't a guarantee that you'll be able to sell your inventory, right? You have to have access to buyers. In this case, the developer already has a 350-hectare mango plantation in production and is selling those mangos to juice companies in Panama. These same outlets have said they'll take as many additional mangos as the developer can produce. Right now those juice companies have to import the vast majority of their mangos for processing, which is far more costly than buying locally grown fruit. While having that ready-made outlet available is great, it's not the most profitable strategy. Therefore, the developer is in discussion with several groups in the United States, from dried fruit wholesalers to grocery stores, lining up contracts for selling your mangos directly into the U.S. marketplace where they would be able to charge substantially more than the local Panama juice companies are paying. Selling directly into U.S. markets would mean a more profitable operation; however, the financial projections the developer has put together are based on selling at local Panama prices. In other words, the projections are conservative. Using those numbers, the projected annualized yield (or IRR) through 15 years (although the project will produce for 60 to 80 years) is 16.52% at the current investment price. The mango trees don't start producing until year four, but, when they do, the annual cash flow is very healthy. By year five, when the trees are fully producing, the yield on your original investment is projected at 30% per year. The investment price is US$33,500 per hectare right now. The developer hasn't finalized the plan for the coming price increase, but it will be at least 10%. As he's sold out phase one already and has started selling phase two, it's been a tough conversation to persuade him to hold the original launch price for a couple of months more for Live and Invest Overseas readers. But, as I said, he has agreed. If you're interested in an agricultural investment and like the idea of mangos or Panama, now is the time to take action. You can find out more here. Lief Simon
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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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