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.
What has kept you here all these years since?I am drawn to wild and elemental places, and that's the connection I've made in Panama, to the natural environment. There are obviously challenges and frustrations that go along with living in such a remote and undeveloped place, but, for me, the raw potential of this kind of environment makes it worth it.Before Venao, I lived in Bocas del Toro. That part of Panama reminded me of Hawaii 20 years ago. Great surf and relaxed island lifestyle. I met my wife in Panama City, and we had a long-distance relationship for about a year while I was in Bocas. Then I moved to the city to be with her, but that didn't work for me. I prefer to be in more rural surroundings.Finally an opportunity presented itself for me to manage a development project on Playa Venao. I jumped at the challenge and haven't looked back since. My front yard is one of Central America's most consistent waves, and my backyard is a tropical paradise. Playa Venao is a really special part of Panama. My wife and I discovered it in 2005. We used to drive down on the weekends to surf. We'd camp on the beach. Eventually, we bought a piece of land in the foothills overlooking Isla Cañas. My plan is to turn it into a permaculture farm one day.I like the buzz that is developing in this area, like being part of it. Tourism is increasing, people are arriving to open small businesses. Development is progressing from Pedasi south along this coast.Venao and Tonosi are still quite remote, though, aren't they? What is it like to live there?More expats are moving to this part of Azuero all the time, and it's much easier than it used to be to get what we need. We can get some things in nearby Pedasi. It's about an hour's drive to Chitre for "big city" supplies and services. I keep a condo in Panama Pacifico, near Panama City, for when I get cabin fever.Do you miss anything about the United States?My family, of course, but not really anything else. I have friends and family all over the States and get back a couple of times a year. Plus friends and family come to visit us on average once a quarter.What is your biggest day-to-day challenge?Bureaucracy. Every time you want to get something done officially, you have to allow two or three visits. It is easier now than a few years ago—more transparent and easier to get business done—but it is still frustrating. You need to bring all of your patience and flexibility with you.What is it that keeps you here?Life is a lot less structured here—more relaxed, not so intense. It feels like going back in time compared with life in the United States. I feel it keenly whenever I go back to the States. Everything there is so controlled and structured. Seriously unrelaxing.Kathleen PeddicordP.S. Today we open registration for our 2015 Live and Invest in Panama Conference, the only Panama country-specific event on our 2015 calendar.The first-come, first-serve VIP places are filling in record time. If you'd like to grab one, 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.
Did you have any other criteria that contributed to your settling on Panama? Yes. I wanted to be within a day's travel of home—preferably less than six hours away—so I could leave in the morning and be back in Toronto the same afternoon or early evening. Another of my main criteria was government stability—no coups in recent times anyway. I discovered that Panama uses the U.S. dollar and that it seemed to be much more Second World (as opposed to Third World) than I imagined. I found that Panama ticked most of the boxes. I came here seven times before deciding to give it a try on a more permanent basis. Why Pedasi specifically? One of my loves is sailing. Pedasi is a fishing and coastal town with nice beaches and a boating culture. The focus, though, in Pedasi, I've found, is sports fishing. Sailing is actually in its infancy along this country's Pacific coast. It's much more popular on the Caribbean side in Colon and Bocas del Toro. There are so many islands and archipelagos off Panama's Caribbean coast that offer wonderful opportunities for sailing. Did you come here with the intention of working? Not specifically, but I am very sociable and active. Can't stand being sedentary. I can fly planes. I had two restaurants in Sarnia and enjoyed that business, so I thought about starting a small hotel. Having had experience in the catering and hospitality business, it was a natural first step. Everything I do is considered, so I looked at what was missing in Pedasi. I came up with a shortlist of businesses: a fresh food market, a bakery, and a fish market. Pedasi is too far from the main sources for daily produce deliveries, and I am not sure I could handle the fish market smell every day. I found there were quite a lot of small hotels in the town already. That left me with the bakery idea. There is nowhere like the shop I've opened in town—healthy breads and US$5 lunches! Business is good and getting better every day. My clientele is 90% expats and 10% locals, but this side of the business is growing. I do what's called the second rising and have a range of healthy, German-style breads—multigrain, several cereals, light and dark rye. I cook all the pastries, cakes, and dulces (sweets) myself. What was your main barrier to entry? Really, it was skepticism among fellow expats and suppliers. For example, my supplier of bread mixes is German. His only outlet outside Panama City is in Coronado, which is getting very populated now. He was downbeat and unsure of Pedasi and my plans, but I said, "You have to come and see the community down here." He came. He saw. He agreed. I ordered. Now, I look forward to every day with too much to do. My chocolate cake is popular, made from 100% cocoa. I also do a mean carrot and orange cake and cinnamon bun. One of the most popular things I do is a US$5 dollar lunch package. Locals and expats love these, as they do my breakfast muffin with pepper jack cheese, bacon, and egg. Has Pedasi changed since you arrived? Yes it has. There are many more restaurants and hotel rooms. I supply a few of them. One of Panama City's most colorful Spanish restaurateurs, Manolo Caracol, has just opened an organic place here. Do you miss anything living in Pedasi? I have a grown-up daughter and two grandchildren. Of course I miss them a lot. I get back about two or three times every year. As I mentioned, I am a very sociable person, and I miss the parties I would throw back in Toronto. There's no comparison down here I am afraid. Although one of the reasons I chose Pedasi was for its tranquility, that sleepy coastal town feel. As it turns out, the community here is very vibrant, and I have made some great friends. I am an avid theater-goer, so I do miss that. How did you settle into the local community? I rented a place for three months to orientate myself. Then an opportunity presented itself to buy my home from the Canadian couple who owned it, so I took it. Really the local and expat community has been so kind and welcoming. I like to get involved in things, and we do things like organized litter pickups. I am surprised and pleased to see that many more Panamanians are joining in. If you had to name a worst part of living in Panama, what would it be? The terrible discourtesy of driving here. Even if you show them another way, they won't do it. There is no system of priority. "It's all about me" is the only driving code of conduct in Panama. Bureaucracy is a pain, and it's irritating that it's all geared toward the government being able to squeeze a little more money out of us. Police corruption is also difficult to deal with, but it's a lot less prevalent now, and I know this is a focus of the new administration. I am involved with a "vigilante" group (neighborhood watch) trying to make a difference to community security. The local police has been nothing but supportive to the community. Then there's the garbage problem. It's endemic everywhere, up and down all the highways. People never seem to learn that their actions are having a direct effect on other people's lives and health. We are trying to educate, and it is finally beginning to get through. What's the best thing about living here? I would not have stayed if it were not for the people here in Pedasi. They have been so helpful to me. The Panamanians have been incredibly welcoming. What advice would you give to someone thinking of doing what you did? Plenty of people said, "A bakery in Pedasi? How stupid can you be?" Actually, I hadn't asked for their opinions. My attitude was always build it and they will come. I did it, and they are coming. For me there is no grey area. One of my mottos is, "Because I can and I want to." So I suppose my advice would be to follow your passion. There is a very good book called "Feel the Fear and Do it Anyway." Anyone thinking of making a move like I've made should read it. Kathleen Peddicord P.S. We're finalizing the program for our next Live and Invest in Panama Conference, scheduled for April 13–15, 2015. It will include many expats like Valerie who've reinvented their lives and rescued their retirements by relocating to Panama. In addition, we'll introduce you to entrepreneurs taking advantage of this country's pro-business climate, along with every resource, expert, and professional you should know if you're considering the idea of investing time or money in this country. After more than 15 years investing and doing business in Panama ourselves and more than 6 years living here full-time, we know Panama like nobody else. And we're more bullish on what this little country at such a turning point in its history has to offer than ever. Come, let us show you what we're so excited about. Let us show you Panama. We'll begin taking registrations for this, the only Panama country event on our 2015 calendar, within the week. Meantime, you have a brief window to get your name on the list for VIP perks. Do that here now.
Continue Reading: Realities Of Living In Belize
Kathleen Peddicord'sNew Book
An Expert Guide To The Advantages And The Challenges of Investing In Real Estate Overseas..." Learn More
Sign up to receive free dailydispatches from the "Guru of Overseas Retirement and Opportunities"
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.
Sign up for the Overseas Opportunity Letter
Receive our editor's latest research reports...absolutely FREE!
The Best Places For Living And Investing in the World for 2014
Receive a FREE copy of
The Six Cheapest Havens
To Retire In 2014
Discover the six best places in the world right now to live better and retire well...on as little as US$700 a month!
“We will not share or rent your email address to or with anyone else, period!”
Hey, I'm already a reader of Kathleen's e-letter. I don't need to see this popup ever again.