Focusing On The Negative

Focusing On The Negative

“I am an experienced traveler, and I have lived in Panama,” writes reader Samuel F. from the United States. “Why don’t you talk about the negatives of the country for foreign expats?

“Here are some:

“Merchants won’t accept US$50 bills. This means their currency is in question. They won’t buy machines or markers to identify a fraud.

“Water and electricity problems are most definitely looming in Panama City because of the overbuilding.

“Banks and lawyers pray (sic) on expats because of the language barrier and procedures for escrow.

“Most elderly lose money and eventually move back to the States when their health fails.

“The light system of crossing streets is non-existent in some areas. One must cross at one’s own risk.

“There is a major transitory population and major drug money in Panama.

“Panama is always susceptible to being politically unstable.

“You are doing people a disservice not talking about these negatives.”

Maybe you’ve had a bad experience in Panama, dear reader, that has colored your view of things here. Some of your points, though, I have to say, I can’t quite follow.

For example, right. You aren’t going to be able to spend a US$50 or US$100 bill most places in Panama. But you aren’t going to be able to get one out of an ATM machine either or even from a bank unless you request it. Don’t bring US$50 bills with you and don’t ask the bank for any, and you should be fine. I don’t see a bigger issue.

Frankly, I’m not sure what you could mean by your concern over Panama banks preying on expats. I’ve dealt with at least eight different banks in this country. They’re careful, conservative, and cautious. They want references and lots of notarized supporting documents, etc., for nearly any transaction, which can be a pain in the neck. They charge points up front when you borrow from them to buy real estate, as do banks everywhere in the world. Dealing with them, I’ve felt hassled, but never preyed upon.

I’ve developed a system for crossing the street in Panama City. I look for a male Panamanian, the biggest I can find, and I position myself on his down-traffic side. When he crosses, I cross.

Panama City will continue to experience growing pains. The infrastructure in the city is being seriously tested. The expansion of avenida Balboa and the new city bypass will help with the traffic troubles. Other infrastructure woes will emerge. But, watching the Panamanians deal with the frenzied growth of their capital city over the past dozen years, I’ve been impressed. They address problems as they arise, and they work quickly. The avenida Balboa project was completed in two years.

Lots of drug money flowing through this country. No argument there. You and I might have different ideas about how or why that’d be a problem.

Elderly expats in Panama losing their money. I don’t know any, and I’m not sure I can imagine how that’d come to pass–unless you put your money into a forex “investment” or other local scheme. Yes, this happens, here as elsewhere. If a deal sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Messieurs Madoff and Stanford reminded us of this recently in big ways.

Finally, political stability. I chose to print this letter to the editor today, because today, as Panama Circle Members Liaison Marion de Mena reports below, Panama inaugurates its new President Ricardo Martinelli. It’s a public holiday, and great fanfare has been planned.

Panamanians are proud people, proud of their republic, proud of their democratic process, and excited about the new president they elected in May with a record turnout at the polls and by a wide margin.

I have no crystal ball. Could Panama struggle again, sometime in the future, through a period of some less stable political process? Anything’s possible. But, living here, hearing Panamanians speak fervently, even ferociously about how committed they are to this country’s growth and continued prosperity, it’s hard to imagine.

Kathleen Peddicord


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