Articles Related to Panama

April 21, 2014

"Kathleen, my wife doesn't believe we can be safe and have a low cost of living in Belize or Mexico or Roatan or other places that I'm very interested in. She can always find bad news on the Web about muggings, murders, etc.

"How do you address these concerns?"

--Darrell B., United States

If you were to ask my husband for his advice on this subject, Lief might reply:

"Well...you could always make a move without your wife. You could leave her at home..."

And, in fact, that's an option. You wouldn't be the first reader we've spoken with who has resorted to that strategy.

I don't recommend it, though. Relocating overseas shouldn't mean giving up your nearest and dearest.

We get this question often, and, instead, here's what I recommend:

Take this step by step.

Suggest to your wife that you and she take a trip somewhere on your list. A 10-day vacation, say. No pressure. No commitment. Just a vacation.

In most every case I've known where this strategy has been employed to try to adjust the thinking of a reluctant spouse, the result has been positive. If the reluctant spouse keeps even a slightly open mind...and the motivated spouse doesn't push too hard...usually good things result. Specifically, usually, the reluctant spouse has a surprisingly great experience and then is open to a similarly low-key second step...maybe a more extended visit to another interesting place.

This approach can stretch out the decision-making process, but that's OK. It's not a race.

We've had many cases at conferences, for example, where a reluctant spouse has come along for the ride, maybe kicking and screaming at first. Every time I've spoken with said spouse, maybe a couple of days into the experience, the story goes like this:

"I didn't want to come here. And, on the first day, I had a pretty bad attitude. I was sure this was all a waste of time because I was sure I wasn't moving anywhere. But now that I've had a chance to speak with others who are already living new lives in new places and now that I've seen some of the options up close...well, I have to say, I'm intrigued..."

Your wife seems especially concerned about safety. Don't try too hard to argue her concerns away. Instead, again, get her on a plane. Try to get her to go see for herself. What she'll see is that these places that have your interest really are beautiful and appealing. No place is 100% safe, and bad things happen everywhere, but the places we recommend are safer than many places Stateside and certainly not "unsafe."

Sure, if you Google around, you'll find scary statistics—for anywhere in the world. Ignore the statistics and the one-off horror stories.

Get on a plane. Worst case, you and your wife will have a vacation, return home, and move on with your lives. But I believe, based on long experience, that if you can get your wife to take this first small step, you and she will be on your way to the adventure you're dreaming about.

Bon voyage.

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Owners of apartments in the next building we toured don't have to debate whether or not they're comfortable renting short-term, as the HOA documents for this building require all leases to be one year or longer. This was the first time I've heard of a building in Panama City specifically forbidding short-term rentals, but I think this may become more common. As the short-term rental market in this city has expanded dramatically over the last decade, more and more residential (as opposed to investor) owners are fighting back against transient renters in their buildings.

In this second building we viewed one of several developer units still available. The asking price for this 287-square-meter three-bedroom apartment is US$630,000, which works out to US$2,200 per square meter. Similar apartments in the building are renting for US$3,200 per month. That rent would translate to a net annual yield of 5.3%. A smaller two-bedroom apartment on a higher floor is priced at US$2,600 a square meter. The projected annual net yield for this place is a bit higher at 5.6%, based on monthly rental income of US$2,200. In both cases, the yields are in the acceptable range, but buying at the highest end of the current market leaves limited upside for capital appreciation.

The next apartment was in the Trump Tower, which I learned has also banned short-term rentals—despite many original buyers having been sold on the idea of being able to put their apartments in the rental pool of the building's hotel. By all accounts, the hotel is struggling, as is the resale market for this building. Pre-construction prices were as high as US$3,500 to US$3,800 a square meter when Donald launched the building. (Really, he didn't do much more than sell his name to the developer and make an appearance at the groundbreaking.) The apartment we saw is listed at a little more than US$3,500 a square meter fully furnished.

With no opportunity to rent short-term, buying the place furnished could be a negative. It's possible to find a renter for a long-term furnished apartment in Panama (I've rented out my furnished apartment on Avenida Balboa long-term for the last five-and-a-half years), but this market is narrow.

This Trump Tower unit is one bedroom and 90 square meters. It feels a lot like a hotel room (which, again, was really the idea when the building was conceived and launched).

Given the size of the unit and the fact that many units in this building are unoccupied and available, the estimated monthly rent of US$2,100 is high. I'd say drop that down to a more realistic US$1,500 a month. That means you're paying US$3,500 per square meter (beyond the acceptable high-end per-square-meter range for this market) for an investment that might be expected to return you 4.5% net per year.

In other words, this apartment is a pass unless you simply want to be able to tell people you own in a Trump tower.

Those first three apartments are all in buildings at posh addresses. The fourth apartment we viewed is not. This unit is the final developer unit in a building recently delivered in El Cangrejo and much more modest in terms of size and amenities. This project was built for a more local market, but it is priced as though it's on Balboa Avenue. They're asking more than US$2,100 a square meter, which is too much given the location and building amenities.

Still, using the developer's US$1,600-a-month projection for rental income, your net yield for this two-bedroom unit would come in at 6.8%. However, I'd say it's unlikely you'd achieve that rent. Ocean-view apartments on Balboa with better amenities are renting for that much. On the other hand, it's worth noting that there is a strong rental market for El Cangrejo; some prefer to be in this part of the city with restaurants and shopping on Via Argentina within walking distance.

Bottom line? The first two apartments are priced well but would generate only a reasonable, not a great yield. They're question marks as investment properties. However, for an end user they could be right on the mark, depending on what location and what kind of lifestyle you're looking for.

The final two units are simply overpriced and therefore don't make sense for an end user or an investor.

Is that the best Panama City has to offer? No. These four units were chosen as case studies, for educational purposes. Dig a little deeper, and you can find well-priced units in good locations where the numbers work out to net you an annual yield of 8% or even a little better and that come with the potential for steady capital appreciation.

Lief Simon

P.S. This is the kind of thinking and discussion we engaged in over the three days of last week's Global Property Summit. You have 48 hours remaining to purchase the complete set of recordings from the event at a prerelease discount of 60%.

Go here now to find out more about our new Your Dream Home Overseas: The How To Buy, Own, And Profit From Foreign Property Program.

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You don't mind...or, if you do, you're not happy. If you're interested in a lifestyle supported by the diversions and distractions of a big city, Cayo is definitely not for you. If you're delighted by the thought of wide-open spaces where life revolves around the land and where independence and self-sufficiency are prized above all else, then Cayo could be the paradise you seek.

At home in Cayo, the view outside your bedroom window and from your front porch would be of fields and pastures, trees and jungle, rivers and livestock. You'd see Mennonites driving horse-drawn carts and children walking home from school. Everyone going about his or her business, not much bothered by market values, fiscal cliffs, or the mounting deficit. Here, in this land of escape, where life is simple, those things don't seem to matter or even to register.

Living in Cayo, you'd have Internet but maybe not reliable high-speed service. Don't move here if you plan to day trade.

Who Should Retire To Medellin, Colombia?

Medellin is a pretty, tidy city with a near-perfect climate. It's also culturally and recreationally rich and diverse in a sophisticated, developed-world kind of way. On any given day, you could visit a museum or see a tango show. There's opera in season, shopping year-round, and dance clubs, nightclubs, and white-glove restaurants...plus interactive outdoor museum-parks, an aquarium, an amusement park, botanical gardens, a planetarium, a "Barefoot Park" with a Zen garden, and dozens of small, neighborhood parks and treed plazas.

Medellin is an economic and financial center for Colombia, as well as a literary and an artistic one. It's the base for newspapers, radio networks, publishing houses, an annual poetry festival, an international jazz festival, an international tango festival, and an annual book fair. Back in 1971, Medellin was even the venue for Colombia's answer to Woodstock, the Festival de Ancon.

Medellin is a place where things work--the Internet, the metro, street-cleaning, garbage-collection...you can count on these services day-to-day. Taxis are metered, shop-keepers are well-mannered, and the people you pass on the street are well-dressed.

Making this a good choice for someone who wants city life but who also enjoys the out-of-doors (as this is a city best enjoyed al fresco). Medellin is suited to the retiree who isn't interested in hot, humid, or tropical and who appreciates Euro-chic but doesn't want to travel all the way to Europe.

The expat and retiree communities in Medellin are fledgling, meaning that you'd have to assimilate into the local one. This would mean speaking Spanish. If you don't already speak Spanish and don't want to learn, Medellin is probably not your ideal retirement haven.

Who Should Retire To Cuenca, Ecuador?

Cuenca is a colonial city where the cost of living is low and the cost of buying a home of your own is near rock-bottom. The health care is high quality, honest, and super-affordable. As in Medellin, the weather is "spring-like" year-round. Unlike Medellin (which is an emerging retirement haven rather than an established one like Cuenca), the city is home to one of the world's largest and fastest-growing communities of foreign retirees.

On the other hand, you have to remember that, charming as it can be, Cuenca is located in a poor, developing country. In this regard (and many others, too) Cuenca is the yang to Medellin's yin. In Cuenca, as throughout Ecuador, the standards of maintenance for roads, buildings, sidewalks, etc., won't be what you're probably used to and the hassle factor associated with any administrative task will be big.

Expats we know who are happy living in Cuenca are able to consider these annoyances fair exchange for the simple, 1950's lifestyle the city offers. Walking around town (Cuenca is a place where you could live comfortably without owning a car), you'll get to know the shop owners and your neighbors, who will all get to know you, too.

Cuenca will appeal to the expat who wants city life but who also has a sense of adventure and who is up for (rather than intimidated by) culture shock.

Who Should Retire To Puerto Vallarta, Mexico?

Romantic. That might be the best single word to describe Puerto Vallarta. The city also offers shopping and fine dining, boating and golfing, country clubs and community, gourmet shops and designer boutiques...all alongside a beautiful stretch of the Pacific Ocean.

Puerto Vallarta could be called glamorous, but the cost of living and of buying real estate here aren't jet-set. This is one of Mexico's most sophisticated resort spots, with more cachet than Mazatlán and more chic than Cancún. Walking around Vallarta, you get that happy, vacation-time feel that successful beach resorts exude.

And that's the would-be retiree overseas who should consider Puerto Vallarta--the beach-loving soul who likes the idea of retirement as a perpetual, fully appointed vacation.

Who Should Retire To El Cangrejo, Panama?

El Cangrejo is the expat hub of Panama City and a top choice for a comfortable, affordable, downtown-city-living experience. In El Cangrejo, you're smack-dab in the middle of everything Panama City has to offer.

This is one of the few neighborhoods in this city that is walkable and where you could get by without a car. It's also the only neighborhood in this city I'd describe as "cool." Over the years, El Cangrejo residents I've known have included a Chilean artist, a corporate transplant from Canada, many young Panamanians bucking the tradition of living with their parents through their 20s, retired hippies from the States, an entrepreneur from Serbia, and an Irish writer.

Panama City is the region's melting pot, and El Cangrejo is where the most interesting of the many transplants to this town choose to settle.

It's also Panama City's red-light district, the center of its prostitution (legal in this country) and casino trades. El Cangrejo's streets are lined with nightclubs and cafes, restaurants and pubs, plus low- and mid-rise apartment buildings. This isn't flashy Panama City (you find that in the high-rises along Avenida Balboa and in Punta Pacifico) and it isn't power Panama City (that's in Altos de Golf). El Cangrejo could be called the soul of this city, a good choice for the retiree with an open mind...

Who doesn't mind heat and humidity, congestion and traffic, noise and litter. These things, too, are all a part of the scene here.

Kathleen Peddicord

 

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Dear Live and Invest Overseas Reader, 

Where is the best place in the world to retire?

That's a tricky question to answer, so I suggest coming at this from a different angle. Rather than trying to identify the world's top retirement haven, consider instead who's best suited to retire where.

A short list of top retirement options in the Americas right now would include:
  • Cayo, Belize
  • Medellin, Colombia
  • Cuenca, Ecuador
  • Puerto Vallarta, Mexico
  • El Cangrejo, Panama

Which one of these places is the best choice? It depends on who you are.

Who Should Retire To Cayo, Belize?

Belize is a retirement, a tax, and an offshore haven. This is a sunny country where the folks speak English and value their freedom and privacy. Belize is easy to get to from the States, and the people living here are welcoming and hospitable once you've arrived.

On the other hand, this is a small country where the infrastructure is most kindly described as "developing."

The cost of living can be affordable, even low, but not if you want to live a more developed-world lifestyle that would mean buying lots of things not produced locally. Anything imported comes at an inflated price.

My favorite part of Belize is its Cayo District. No infrastructure, limited services and amenities, and little market demand could be interpreted as negatives, but, in Cayo, these things are a big part of the appeal. Once you get to Cayo, you don't mind that there's no infrastructure. You don't mind that the culture is more concerned with country living than consumerism.

You don't mind...or, if you do, you're not happy. If you're interested in a lifestyle supported by the diversions and distractions of a big city, Cayo is definitely not for you. If you're delighted by the thought of wide-open spaces where life revolves around the land and where independence and self-sufficiency are prized above all else, then Cayo could be the paradise you seek.

At home in Cayo, the view outside your bedroom window and from your front porch would be of fields and pastures, trees and jungle, rivers and livestock. You'd see Mennonites driving horse-drawn carts and children walking home from school. Everyone going about his or her business, not much bothered by market values, fiscal cliffs, or the mounting deficit. Here, in this land of escape, where life is simple, those things don't seem to matter or even to register.

Living in Cayo, you'd have Internet but maybe not reliable high-speed service. Don't move here if you plan to day trade.

Who Should Retire To Medellin, Colombia?

Medellin is a pretty, tidy city with a near-perfect climate. It's also culturally and recreationally rich and diverse in a sophisticated, developed-world kind of way. On any given day, you could visit a museum or see a tango show. There's opera in season, shopping year-round, and dance clubs, nightclubs, and white-glove restaurants...plus interactive outdoor museum-parks, an aquarium, an amusement park, botanical gardens, a planetarium, a "Barefoot Park" with a Zen garden, and dozens of small, neighborhood parks and treed plazas.

Medellin is an economic and financial center for Colombia, as well as a literary and an artistic one. It's the base for newspapers, radio networks, publishing houses, an annual poetry festival, an international jazz festival, an international tango festival, and an annual book fair. Back in 1971, Medellin was even the venue for Colombia's answer to Woodstock, the Festival de Ancon.

Medellin is a place where things work--the Internet, the metro, street-cleaning, garbage-collection...you can count on these services day-to-day. Taxis are metered, shop-keepers are well-mannered, and the people you pass on the street are well-dressed.

Making this a good choice for someone who wants city life but who also enjoys the out-of-doors (as this is a city best enjoyed al fresco). Medellin is suited to the retiree who isn't interested in hot, humid, or tropical and who appreciates Euro-chic but doesn't want to travel all the way to Europe.

The expat and retiree communities in Medellin are fledgling, meaning that you'd have to assimilate into the local one. This would mean speaking Spanish. If you don't already speak Spanish and don't want to learn, Medellin is probably not your ideal retirement haven.

Who Should Retire To Cuenca, Ecuador?

Cuenca is a colonial city where the cost of living is low and the cost of buying a home of your own is near rock-bottom. The health care is high quality, honest, and super-affordable. As in Medellin, the weather is "spring-like" year-round. Unlike Medellin (which is an emerging retirement haven rather than an established one like Cuenca), the city is home to one of the world's largest and fastest-growing communities of foreign retirees.

On the other hand, you have to remember that, charming as it can be, Cuenca is located in a poor, developing country. In this regard (and many others, too) Cuenca is the yang to Medellin's yin. In Cuenca, as throughout Ecuador, the standards of maintenance for roads, buildings, sidewalks, etc., won't be what you're probably used to and the hassle factor associated with any administrative task will be big.

Expats we know who are happy living in Cuenca are able to consider these annoyances fair exchange for the simple, 1950's lifestyle the city offers. Walking around town (Cuenca is a place where you could live comfortably without owning a car), you'll get to know the shop owners and your neighbors, who will all get to know you, too.

Cuenca will appeal to the expat who wants city life but who also has a sense of adventure and who is up for (rather than intimidated by) culture shock.

Who Should Retire To Puerto Vallarta, Mexico?

Romantic. That might be the best single word to describe Puerto Vallarta. The city also offers shopping and fine dining, boating and golfing, country clubs and community, gourmet shops and designer boutiques...all alongside a beautiful stretch of the Pacific Ocean.

Puerto Vallarta could be called glamorous, but the cost of living and of buying real estate here aren't jet-set. This is one of Mexico's most sophisticated resort spots, with more cachet than Mazatlán and more chic than Cancún. Walking around Vallarta, you get that happy, vacation-time feel that successful beach resorts exude.

And that's the would-be retiree overseas who should consider Puerto Vallarta--the beach-loving soul who likes the idea of retirement as a perpetual, fully appointed vacation.

Who Should Retire To El Cangrejo, Panama?

El Cangrejo is the expat hub of Panama City and a top choice for a comfortable, affordable, downtown-city-living experience. In El Cangrejo, you're smack-dab in the middle of everything Panama City has to offer.

This is one of the few neighborhoods in this city that is walkable and where you could get by without a car. It's also the only neighborhood in this city I'd describe as "cool." Over the years, El Cangrejo residents I've known have included a Chilean artist, a corporate transplant from Canada, many young Panamanians bucking the tradition of living with their parents through their 20s, retired hippies from the States, an entrepreneur from Serbia, and an Irish writer.

Panama City is the region's melting pot, and El Cangrejo is where the most interesting of the many transplants to this town choose to settle.

It's also Panama City's red-light district, the center of its prostitution (legal in this country) and casino trades. El Cangrejo's streets are lined with nightclubs and cafes, restaurants and pubs, plus low- and mid-rise apartment buildings. This isn't flashy Panama City (you find that in the high-rises along Avenida Balboa and in Punta Pacifico) and it isn't power Panama City (that's in Altos de Golf). El Cangrejo could be called the soul of this city, a good choice for the retiree with an open mind...

Who doesn't mind heat and humidity, congestion and traffic, noise and litter. These things, too, are all a part of the scene here.

Kathleen Peddicord
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"Also," Jerry continued, "you have to be careful about subcontracted labor. We were happy with the work our builder and his crew did themselves. However, our builder used subcontractors for the electrical and the plumbing. Those guys didn't have any idea what they were doing, and the builder wasn't on-site regularly enough to monitor them. I should have been at the building site every day during those stages."

Good advice.

I've told you already about the groundbreaking event we held last weekend at Los Islotes. Saturday morning, the mayor, police chief, and other government officials joined Lief, me, our family, friends, and the Los Islotes crew to throw the first shovels-full of dirt and take a few swipes with a bulldozer. Then we drank a champagne toast and enjoyed a bar-b-que lunch at our rancho overlooking the ocean. It was a great day at the beach, and we really enjoyed the great show of local support.

Then the reality of what we'd undertaken began to settle in.

Monday morning after the groundbreaking, we met with Alberto, who will be our builder for this project. He had questions about some details of the plans our architect Ricardo had provided for him.

"The plans call for all the steel to be sandblasted," Alberto said. "I have to tell you, we don't do that in this part of the country. We don't even have access out here to a sandblaster."

"We'll provide one for you," I replied. "We've been building in Panama long enough to know that we want to do everything we can to guard against rust."

"What about the concrete block?" Alberto asked. "The specs your plans call for, again, aren't really available out here. Local blocks aren't going to be nearly the density you're asking for."

"Right," Lief replied, "the local quality isn't what we want, so our Project Manager Gary is prepared to make his own. He's shopping for a block maker now."

"How big a crew will you need?" I asked.

"At least 15 guys," Alberto replied, "and they'll need to be able to stay on-site."

"Yes, we understand," Lief said. "Gary is scouting out a piece of land nearby Los Islotes where we plan to build some worker housing."

"My biggest challenge right now," Alberto continued, "is logistics. I need to figure out how to get all the materials I'm going to need delivered when I need them."

"We agree," Lief offered. "But Gary has been planning for this for some time. He has some systems in place and can work with you to create whatever others you might need."

"Your plans call for hardwood for the window and door casings and frames. What kind of wood and what finish do you want?"

"Mahogany with a waxed finish," I replied. "Varnishing doesn't work in this climate."

"What about the roof?"

"Red clay tiles. We'd prefer salvaged tiles from an old structure somewhere. Could that be possible?"

"Possible, maybe," Alberto replied, "but I don't recommend it. It's tough enough in this part of the world to lay a roof that doesn't leak under the best of circumstances. Salvaged tiles will have cracks and chips that will make it even harder to make the roof watertight.

"I have to add," Alberto continued, "that I'm a little nervous. Your specs are for a very high-end house. This will be like nothing else that has ever been built in this part of this country. There's nothing else like this on this coast anywhere. I don't want to disappoint you..."

"What do you think?" Lief asked me after we'd left the meeting.

"I think Alberto is a good guy. He has years of experience and lots of connections in this part of Panama. And he has the right sensibilities. He understands our affinity for the Spanish-colonial style and our intention to use only real materials--wood, stone, clay tiles, etc. I think he gets us. And he wants to do a good job. He wants us to be happy.

"So onward," I said.

"This will go wrong a hundred ways," I continued. "We'll have every problem we can imagine and many we can't right now. It will take longer than we expect and cost more.

"In other words, it will be like every other construction project we've ever undertaken.

"But this guy Alberto, I can work with him," I concluded.

"And this time next year, the next 12 months will be behind us, and we'll have our Founder's Lodge."

I can hardly wait.

Kathleen Peddicord

P.S. You can find out more about the long-term plan for Los Islotes here.

 

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On Christmas morning, from beaches, piers, and coves around the country, people of all ages gather to immerse themselves in waters of around 50 degrees Fahrenheit (maximum).

"Swim" is a bit of a misnomer. There is no particular distance that you need to cover, nor any agreed-upon duration you must stay in the water. You simply join the crowd of people running toward and then into the water (cheered on by well-wrapped-up spectators), screaming as their bodies hit the ice-cold sea. A quick splash of the arms and legs, then back in to shore to dry off, wrap up, and enjoy a hot drink or a shot of whiskey.

Wetsuits have appeared on the scene in recent years, mostly among the kids, but it remains an unspoken rule among the hardy adults taking part: Traditional bathing suits only.

Our four Christmases in Paris were all about the lights. Each year, starting in November, Boulevard St. Germain, just a few blocks from our apartment in this city, is strung with tiny white lights. The trees and the building facades are covered with them. Each morning and again each evening as I'd walk Jackson, aged 4 through 8 at the time, to and from school, we'd linger at the intersection of rue du Bac and Boulevard St. Germain as long as possible, looking up and down, up and down, slowly, working to fix that magical view in our memories. "It's a fairy land," 4-year-old Jack declared it one morning. I see it still.

Twinkling lights and decorated shop windows. This time of year, storefronts throughout Paris are draped with pine garland, and displays feature green trees flocked with white and trimmed with red and gold baubles. No one does shop windows like the French do shop windows, and no others compare with the shop windows of central Paris at Christmastime.

My fondest memory of Christmas in Panama, where we've been living for the past five years, is of our son's annual Christmas pageant.

Jackson, now 14, attends Panama City's French school, l'Ecole Paul Gauguin. Four years ago, this meant he went to school with about 75 other children. Today, Jack is part of a student body that numbers more than 600. 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 eight-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 l'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 600 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.

We'll spend Christmas Day this year with my family in Baltimore, my home town. I appreciate the chance to return to the place from which I launched my adventures overseas some 16 years ago at this time of year, the season for remembering and for taking stock. Where will 2014 lead us? I can't wait to find out.

On behalf of the entire far-flung staff of Live and Invest Overseas, please accept our warm and heartfelt wishes for a Merry Christmas, wherever you find yourself enjoying it this year, and our sincere hope that 2014 is the year your far-flung dreams of adventure overseas begin to come true.

All the best from our family to yours. We so appreciate your coming along with us for this ride.

Merry Christmas!

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.

Read more here.

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letters The Best Places For Living And
Investing in the World for 2014