Articles Related to Panama city



All this population expansion means epic infrastructure strains. Cars, congestion, construction, traffic, and delays...they're all dominant parts of both these scenes. In both cities, the effects can be frustrating though far less so in Istanbul where the chaos is more controlled, even genteel. Definitely I'd take a day behind the wheel in Istanbul over a day as a driver in Panama City any...well, any day.

Both Panama City and Istanbul are attracting foreign investor and entrepreneur attention right now, Panama City mostly from North America...Istanbul from Europe and Asia. Increased business activity means expanding economies and healthy though not always convenient employment scenes. In both cities, the working and middle classes commute long distances each day in many cases. The cost of living city-center has outpaced them...but city-center is where the work is.

Which is to say that the cost of living in both Istanbul and Panama City is greater than in the rest of each country. Life or retirement in Turkey and in Panama can be a bargain...unless you want to live life to its potential in either country's capital city. Then you're looking at real-world, not bargain-basement, budgets.

On the other hand, if you're interested in a Euro-chic lifestyle, I'd say Istanbul could be your best bargain option. That's why we're adding it to the editorial calendar for my Overseas Retirement Letter. ORL subscribers can look forward to a complete guide to retirement living in what has become one of my favorite places on earth.

Kathleen Peddicord

P.S. This is the kind of comparative thinking we'll be doing live and with the help of more than 50 retire-overseas experts and current expats from around the world during this year's Retire Overseas Conference taking place in Nashville next month (Aug. 29–31).

The Early Bird Discount remains in effect for this event but not for much longer. Details are here.

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Arriving in Medellin has the opposite physical effects. Your heart slows a bit, your mind settles.

Unlike Panama City, Medellin's cityscape isn't all high-rise condo towers and features nary a single building of glass or steel. From any height (the windows of one of the city's luxury penthouse apartments for example, or the top of one of the surrounding hills), Medellin appears a sea of red clay tiles and red brick buildings interspersed regularly by patches of foliage and flowers. The effect, again, is calming, peaceful.

You can learn a lot about a place both from and by its taxi drivers. They're a top source of getting-to-know-a-city information and insights, of course, but they're also a barometer of the mood of a place. In Panama City, taxi drivers are in a hurry. They honk their horns constantly. They weave in and out of traffic, from lane to lane, pushing for constant progress. They can't abide sitting still or even slowing down. They run traffic lights and ignore “Stop” signs. They also tend to be unhelpful, even rude. A Panamanian friend describes them as “among the least appealing people on earth.” I can think of a handful of exceptions, but, in general, I'd agree with my friend.

In Medellin, the taxi drivers, like their city, are gentler and calmer, happy to stop to offer directions or even to chat. In Medellin, you rarely hear the honking of a car horn, not by a taxi driver and not by anyone else either. It's also worth noting that, in Medellin, taxis are not only ever-present, but also always painted yellow and metered, unlike in many of the places where we recommend you spend time. Again, orderly...genteel.

Medellin is impressively green, with trees, plants, and small gardens everywhere, and remarkably clean. In the central neighborhoods, you see no litter. The metro, a point of pride for the local population, is spotless and like new. At every station and in every train we've ever ridden, I've looked for but have been unable to find even a cigarette butt or piece of gum on the ground.

Panama is working hard to clean up and green up its capital city. The long stretch of parkland along the bay known as the Cinta Costera has dramatically changed the face of Panama City for the better (and is being expanded). Still, while one might describe Medellin as genteel, an appropriate adjective for Panama City might be gritty.

Walking around Medellin, especially outside the central tourist zone, Lief and I feel like an anomaly. This is less and less true, as Medellin becomes more discovered by expats and retirees. However, in Panama City, Americans are everywhere. We have been part of the landscape in this city for a hundred years.

From a cost of living perspective, I'd put these two cities on par...depending on the relative strength of the Colombian peso. Right now, the U.S. dollar is at the upper end of the range it's traded in versus the peso over the past five years. We watch this, looking for opportunities to change dollars into pesos to cover carrying costs for our apartment in Medellin. (Right now, for example, would be a good time to make a dollar-peso exchange if that's an agenda for you.)

In Panama, where US$1 is US$1, this isn't an issue. The American in Panama has no exchange-rate risk to worry about. If you intend to retire on an income fixed in dollars, this can be an important plus.

Both markets offer interesting real estate investment opportunities. The real estate market in Panama City, after settling post-2008, has begun to appreciate again. Today, you can buy the best this market has to offer for US$1,500 to US$2,200 per square meter. A year from now, this will not be the case. Central Panama City values are going to move up steadily from here for the next few years.

In Medellin, meantime, you can buy in El Poblado, considered the best address in the city, for as little as US$1,200 per square meter (resale). In less central, more local neighborhoods, you can buy for less. The real estate market in Medellin reminds me of the market in Panama City when we first began paying attention to it about a dozen years ago.

Panama is one of the world's most welcoming countries when it comes to establishing residency. In Panama, the would-be expat, retiree, or entrepreneur has more than a dozen options for how to establish full-time residency, including the new “Friends of Panama” visa option, which amounts not only to the most user-friendly, turn-key residency option in the world today but also the most user-friendly, turn-key residency option in the history of residency options. Plus, it can lead to a work permit, which is a big deal.

Colombia, too, though, offers good foreign residency options, including one for pensioners and another for investors. The minimum investment requirement in each case can be less than for comparable options in Panama.

One practical matter that is not as straightforward in Colombia as it is in Panama is opening a bank account. It's not possible as a foreigner to open a local bank account in Colombia unless you have a personal introduction to the bank. If someone tells you otherwise, they're speaking optimistically and not from real-world experience.

The alternative is to open an account with what's called a “fiduciary,” the local equivalent of Charles Schwab. Unlike opening a bank account, this is relatively straightforward and a reasonable strategy for dealing with local bills. The downside is that transaction fees can be high.

The other downside to Medellin compared with Panama City is that few in Medellin speak English, whereas, in Panama City, it's possible to get by speaking no Spanish.

In addition, Medellin (again, very unlike Panama) is not a tax haven, and taxes are high. Living here, your tax burden could increase, depending on your nationality, where you hold legal residency, and where your income comes from. The country even imposes a wealth tax (after five years of residency). Note, though, that moving to Colombia with only retirement income should be a tax-neutral event. Colombia, like most countries, doesn't tax foreign retirement income.

Unlike Panama, Colombia imposes exchange controls. These are manageable if you plan and execute any investment in the country carefully and correctly. But, again, they're not an issue at all in Panama.

Bottom line, here's how I'd break all this down...

Panama City Versus Medellin:

Cost Of Living: It's a tie, more or less, depending on the relative strength of the Colombian peso...

Cost Of Real Estate: As much as 50% less expensive in Medellin...

Climate: Way more comfortable in Medellin...

Quality Of Life: This is completely subjective and impossible to pin down. Nevertheless, I'll go out on a limb and say that the overall quality of life is more appealing in Medellin than in Panama City...

Ease Of Residency: Panama is one of the easiest places in the world for a foreigner to establish full-time legal residency, especially if he comes from one of the countries included in the new “Friends of Panama” visa program. However, Colombia is also a very straightforward option in this regard. Certainly, I wouldn't take Colombia off my list for fear of a complicated struggle related to becoming a resident...

Ease Of Banking And Doing Business: Here, Panama wins hands down, with its international banking industry (the exchange-of-information treaty the country signed with the United States in 2010 notwithstanding); its lack of any exchange controls; the absence in this market of any currency exchange risk (as Panama uses the U.S. dollar as its currency); and its greater prevalence of English-language speakers...

Infrastructure And Accessibility: Another tie...

Taxes: Panama is the screaming champion on this score, a true tax haven, while Colombia qualifies as a high-tax jurisdiction, with, for example, a corporate tax rate as high as 33%. Again, though, if you're a retiree making a move with retirement income, you probably don't have to care about this...

Health Care: Top notch on an international scale in both cities...

Ease Of Settling In: Panama City is a kind of halfway house for expats, a very easy and comfortable first step overseas. Medellin is more an emerging expat destination, though it is more discovered and therefore easier to navigate as an expat or foreign retiree all the time...

Which city might be better for you?

I couldn't say. As I remind you often, it depends on your personal circumstances, your priorities, and your preferences. What is your current situation and what kind of experience are you looking for?

I can tell you that we've decided not to try to choose but, instead, have worked over the past few years to incorporate Medellin into our long-term retire-overseas plan.

As a friend in Medellin, another expat who also divides his time between that city and Panama City, put it recently: “Do business in Panama but live in Medellin. That's the ticket...”

Lief and I would agree.

Kathleen Peddicord

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What I Really Think About Life In Panama City

Dec. 22, 2013
Panama City, Panama

Dear Live and Invest Overseas Reader,

Georgia M. wrote from the United States this week to say:

"Kathleen, I see you are planning to move back to Paris. Being totally honest and understanding that all experiences are positive, how would you contrast Paris and Panama City and what are your reasons for moving back to Paris?"

First, before I respond to these questions, an update:

The offer we made a couple of weeks ago on a small apartment in Montmartre has been accepted. Lief is working with our notaire to finalize details of the purchase of this new Paris pied-a-terre (it's but 35 square meters in size, so toe-a-terre might be more appropriate) that will serve as our Live and Invest Overseas Euro-base starting in the New Year.

We won't, though, be moving back to Paris, at least not full-time. Starting in 2014, we'll divide our time between Paris and Panama City, our current base.

Why? Because Paris is my favorite city in the world. It's pretty and romantic. I like pretty and romantic, and Panama City is neither of those things.

On the other hand, I also like contrast and the unexpected. Life in central, historic Paris is what you expect it to be--pleasant. Nothing about life in Panama City is predictable. Both those realities appeal to me, and my ideal lifestyle is one that embraces both the charming and the challenging.

Thinking more practically, how would I compare Panama City to Paris?

The cost of living can be more similar than you might imagine. This is because Panama City is not the super-cheap destination it used to be and also because life in Paris can be more affordable than you expect. Your cost of living in both of these cities is hugely variable.

You could rent an apartment in Panama City for US$1,000 (this is the minimum monthly rent I'd budget for comfortable digs in a neighborhood where you'd want to be based)...or you could rent an apartment in Panama City for US$5,000 per month (in Punta Pacifica or front-line avenida Balboa).

You could rent an apartment in central Paris for 1,000 euro per month (again, this would be a minimum monthly rent) or for 5,000 euro per month, depending mostly on where in the city you choose to settle.

A couple could spend US$200 per month on food in Panama City (shopping at local markets and eating only locally produced items)...or US$1,000 per month (shopping at the U.S.-style Riba Smith grocery store for brand-name food items).

A couple could spend 400 euro on groceries per week or 1,000 euro per month, depending, again, on where and how you shop.

Utilities will cost you more in Panama City than in Paris if you run your air conditioning around the clock (as we do). Transportation, too, can be more affordable in Paris, where you can get most anywhere you'd want to go using your own two feet or a monthly Navigo (metro/bus) pass. A cable/internet package will cost you 40 euro per month in Paris or US$50 in Panama City. You'll spend about US$50 per month on a cell phone in Panama...and about 50 euro per month on a cell phone in Paris.

Your entertainment budget in either city could be the equivalent of US$100...or many times that.

Help around the house is a bargain in Panama City compared with Paris. In Paris you'll pay 20 euro or more per hour for household help, while you can hire a full-time maid in Panama City for US$200 to US$300 per month. In other words, in Panama, you could walk away from household chores forever.

What about Paris versus Panama City beyond the cost of living? Paris is a city for walking; in Panama City, you take your life in your hands every time you set off as a pedestrian.

Both are cities of apartment-dwellers. In central Paris, the apartments can be 200- or 300-years-old. In central Panama City, they're typically two or three years old.

Paris is a city built on a river. Panama is a city built on a bay that opens to the Pacific Ocean at the entrance to the Panama Canal. Both bodies of water define and help to brand the cities they're attached to.

Service is taken seriously in Paris. You should expect good service everywhere. Good service, when you encounter it, is a surprise in Panama, as are (I know I'm going to take heat for this remark) good manners.

On the other hand...

Few places in the world are as dramatically alive as is Panama City right now. It's being reinvented in real time, and witnessing this transition as an insider is an opportunity that Lief and I appreciate and savor. Keeping things in perspective, I think that, years down the road, we'll remember this time on the ground in this emerging world boomtown very fondly.

The other thing we appreciate about living in Panama City is that it means we live and run our business tax-free. That trumps a lot of the day-to-day downsides.

We could not have built the business we've built in Paris, and, frankly, I don't know of anywhere else in the world where we could replicate the team we've assembled here in Panama City. We're in Panama for the long haul...and happily so.

But we're looking forward to regular chances, starting next year, to enjoy the best of both the Old World and the New.

Kathleen Peddicord

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Our second Christmas in Panama City, we asked for help. Where's the best place to buy a tree in this city? We wondered of our friends. A big tree. A fresh tree. We were directed to a shop called Tzanetatos, on Via Brazil, a warehouse with pallets of hams, wine, olives, and other holiday fixings, and, in a giant refrigerated area, fresh Christmas trees, delivered direct from Canada. Ah, this is more like it, we thought as we stood in the refrigerated unit in our short sleeves and sandals, shivering and rubbing our hands together for warmth. We chose the tallest tree they had, took it home, and enjoyed it through the New Year.

We returned to this same spot for our tree the next two years, remembering to wear sweaters. Some shoppers come dressed in snow parkas.

At the start of this month I suggested to Lief that we drive over to see if the place had received its annual tree delivery yet. We've learned that they receive but one shipment each year. When those trees are gone, that's it.

"No, not yet," they told us when we stopped by. "Come back Monday."

We've been living in Panama long enough to know to confirm these kinds of things, so, on Monday, we called the shop. "Yes, the trees are here," the lady on the phone told us. "They've arrived today."

Great. We drove straight over.

"Where are the Christmas trees?" we asked when we walked in.

"Oh, they're not here yet," the woman said.

"But we called. We confirmed. The lady on the phone said the trees arrived today."

"Yes, they've arrived in the country today. They're on the dock. Customs hasn't released them. Come back tomorrow."

The next day, we called again. "Yes, the trees are here," the lady on the phone told us."

"The trees are there in the store?" we asked. Fool us once but not twice, we thought to ourselves.

"Yes, they're here. They're in the store."

We drove over. No trees in sight.

"Where are the Christmas trees?" we asked again, dejectedly.

"They're on the loading dock out back. Not inside yet. You should come back tomorrow..."

The following morning, Lief and our driver Guillermo drove back over.

"I knew right away this time that the trees were finally, fully in residence," Lief reported. "The place smelled like pine forest."

Lief and Guillermo bought two trees, one for home and one for the office. Eight feet tall apiece, they're fresh and fragrant in their stands. We don't have snow, but we do have the scent of pine and fresh needles underfoot.

The season is well upon us.

Kathleen Peddicord

 

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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.

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