How We Walked Outside La Caja

**Disclaimer:  This page has a transcript based entirely on our personal experiences and opinions and is only offered as such. **

** Updated 11/05/2014:  I have made a change under the Gathering Documents section. **

 

1.  Taking the First Step

“Step outside the box” is somewhat cliché but how else do I get across that when we decided to retire to another country we really had to take a good look at what our comfort zone was?  Chucking it all and moving away from friends, family, our jobs, our coffee place and everything we’d ever known was not a step taken lightly and was a serious emotional and financial commitment.  We didn’t have buckets of money to waste and our goal was to live comfortably within our means.  That meant trying to improve our life, not end up in financial ruin.  Our story is about living a middle class life and making a plan.  We started out with six, yes six, possible places to consider!  Being the anal retentive person that I am I built a spreadsheet with comparisons for all six so we could take a look at everything in black and white.

We began by asking ourselves, and asking ourselves, and asking ourselves (you get my meaning) was: “Do we really want to do this?”  This was something we did through the entire process.   Part of that also meant that were we both on board and this was a team effort.  If we had done a mental check in with each other and if one of us were having second thoughts we would have put the brakes on the process regardless of where we were.  Communication is very important through the process.

Our second step was research.  Our spreadsheet evolved from the realization that we shouldn’t get set on just one place.  That maybe the first destination we had in mind wasn’t as perfect as it could be.  Our research and spreadsheet showed that no one place is ever perfect and certainly Panama  isn’t the place for everyone but it made our short list.  Comparing the cost of living, immigration/residency regulations, ease of access to home, infrastructure etc. was what helped us build our list.  We did our research using the internet reading blogs of people who have gone before us,  sites devoted to moving overseas and yes, good old-fashioned books.  The library, second-hand bookstores and Indigo/Chapters are a good source of written material and most travel book companies carry “Living In ________” books.  Surprisingly our first choice did not make the short list.  Research really did pay off in our case.

Once we had narrowed it down to two places, Panama and Nicaragua we decided on a time line for a visit.    After all anything can look good in pictures. We thought three weeks in each country would give us enough time to help us make our decision.   Before we departed we had some idea of the areas in each country we wanted to visit.

2.  Our Research Trip

We booked our research trip with a travel agent. Usually we make our travel arrangements ourselves on-line but in this case the trip was going more complicated and it would have been more time-consuming to do it ourselves.

We left in mid-October…the height of rainy season. We spent three weeks exploring Panama first. We had researched the various regions of Panama but the beach was calling us. We’ve lived landlocked all our lives and loving the sea and the sun that was at the top of our priority list.

We spent part of the first week exploring Panama City and getting a feel for the people and the culture…and the driving habits. We decided that we definitely did not want to live there! Too busy, too congested, too crazy!  I described it to my friends back home as Toronto without traffic signals.  The Panama Canal is a wonder that everyone should see and the city is full of culture and other sites.  It is a wonderful place for people who like the hustle and bustle and the modern conveniences but we decided it wasn’t for us.

Bridge of the Americas

The second week we drove down towards the Azuero Peninsula.  The first day of driving we met the first big rainstorm since we had been in Panama.  It was like a monsoon and had me clutching the door of the vehicle as we maneuvered our way out of the city onto the Pan American Highway.  We only went as far as Coronado that first day as we wanted to explore a beach area closer to the city.  We quickly decided that it wouldn’t be the place for us.  There seemed a few condo towers either built or under development in the area and it looked nice enough to have a weekend home but not quite our style.

The following day as we drove through the little towns in the countryside it was obvious to us that this was the real Panama.  Rolling fields of sugar cane and maize, green hills and grazing cattle.  Once we arrived at our exploration base we spent most days driving the back roads of the area on our own and a half a day with a real estate agent looking at about a half-dozen houses on the market . We originally intended on spending five days in the area we chose to explore but there was a fiesta on the weekend to honour the patron saint of the town.  The people that we met insisted that we had to stay at least until the fiesta was over to get a feel for the town when there was a party going on.  We stayed two extra days.  Of course the festivities were nothing like what Carnaval is like but we enjoyed soaking up some of the culture and traditions all the same.

After leaving the Azuero we went back to Panama City to use it as a base to explore some of the smaller towns surrounding it.  We took day trips to El Valle de Anton – where we did the zip line, Gamboa, Veracruz, and we explored other areas such as the Amador Causeway and Balboa.  By this time Panama was celebrating Independence Day(s), Flag Day, etc.  The celebrations and parades in November are many.  We found that the local television stations were mainly reporting on the day after days of parades!

Sloth on the road to El Valle

At end of our three weeks in Panama we both agreed that we were probably wasting time with the trip to Nicaragua.  After much discussion we decided we’d go anyway because then we would have a benchmark for comparison.  We could look at Nicaragua as a vacation and not part of our investigation.

Upon our arrival in Nicaragua it was clear to us that the country was at least ten years (if not more) behind in infrastructure.  The country is still recovering from years of instability and we knew the first day that it didn’t feel “right” for us.  We agreed to carry on with our trip as tourists and explore some of the locations we had seen on the internet that appeared to have homes that would be suitable for us.  In the case of Nicaragua it was definitely don’t believe everything you see.

Nonetheless we explored the country visiting the crowded, bustling city of Managua where it wasn’t unusual to see ox carts instead of cars transporting people and goods on roads that were badly in need of repair.  After Managua we visited the colonial city of Granada and climbed a church tower to get the most fantastic view of the city and the surrounding lake.  We stayed three days at Laguna de Apoyo at The Villas at Apoyo right on the lake.  The resort is on a hillside and it is one of the most beautiful places that we’ve ever been.

Granada

From there we went to down to Rivas and the Tola Coast.  We didn’t realize how far Tola was from Rivas or how bad the roads would be.  The area was lovely and there was a bit of development going on along the coastline.  We also visited San Juan del Sur from our base in Tola.  While doing research San Juan del Sur kept popping up as one of the places to retire and surf in Nicaragua.   The town itself is beautiful as it sits on a lovely bay where the views from the surrounding hillsides are breathtaking.  It seemed to live up to its pictures on the internet but the real estate prices for anywhere but out in the country were very high for what Nicaragua had to offer.  It also seemed to us that the town seemed to lack somewhat in local flavour.  There was a cruise ship in port the day that we were there giving the town a somewhat carnival like atmosphere with street vendors everywhere trying to sell various wares.  There is a healthy abundance of amenities mostly geared towards visitors and ex-pat residents.  We spent a week in the Tola area relaxing and enjoying the beach and then went on to León.

Sunset Nicaragua

In León we stayed at the Hotel el Convento.  As the name indicates this is a former convent converted into a lovely little boutique hotel.  León is a beautiful little university city full of colonial homes and churches. The city was full of young people I imagine because of the universities.  There is a huge marketplace in the town centre.  We likened it to a Nicaraguan Walmart where you could get almost anything that you would need.  We didn’t need to use the vehicle at all in the city and it has many interesting cafés and restaurants and a couple of modern supermarkets.

We used León as a base for exploring the north beach areas.  We really had high hopes  because we had seen houses on the real estate websites that seemed to be quite nice and reasonably priced within our budget.   We visited the Poneloya and Penitas beaches and a few smaller areas a little more off the beaten track.  Once again disappointment reigned but we continued our vacation.  We visited the Ruins of Leon Viejo there we learned more about the history of Nicaragua and the León area.  A guide took us around and we gained more insight into Nicaragua and its people.  There was a beautiful view of the two volcanos from the old Fortaleza hill on the lake.

We concluded our trip to Nicaragua by returning to Managua and taking back our rental truck.  We took the last few days before we returned home to relax at a hotel close to the airport.  There were several graduation parties while we were there as it was close to the end of the school year.  We found that Nicaragua itself is a land of contrasts.  Volcanos and beaches, haves and have-nots, twenty-first century and eighteenth century.

3.  Returning Home and Regrouping

After our return home we had a lot to think about.  We had already sold our house so we committed to moving somewhere be it a smaller house anyplace in Canada or really following through on our plan.  We agreed that Panama seemed the place and that we were going to buy a modest resale home in our chosen area.

In the meantime the holidays were fast approaching and we had many things to do. Formulate a game plan, gather documents for residency and decide when we were going back to Panama to look for a place to live.  We agreed that there was no point in going back to Panama until the New Year as we would not be able to get any business done with all the upcoming holidays.

As part of our regrouping plan while we were waiting to return to Panama we decided to take a vacation.  We had always loved the South Pacific and the area had been part of our research.  One of the problems was that it was so far away from home and it seemed that property prices just kept climbing every time we looked at real estate.  We decided to book a trip to the Cook Islands, one of the places we had visited and fallen in love with in the area.  As soon as we booked our trip we received an email from the real estate agent who had taken us on the half day tour that a house we liked had come back on the market.  We didn’t let our emotions rule our heads and we decided if the house was ours then it would still be available when we returned to Panama.

Having now lived in Panama for over four months as of this writing I can truly see how this step is vital to a successful move.  We have seen many people come to Panama and rush in to buying land or committing to working with a developer only to have their dreams shattered or to get deeply frustrated with the process ruining their health. From our first research trip we decided we definitely did not want to build or be in a gated community.  Everyone has their own reasons for wanting to do those things but it was not something we wanted to do.

We took our vacation and returned at the end of January ready to commit ourselves to obtaining residency and moving to Panama.  We gave ourselves a timeline for having this completed by mid-February to early March.

4.  Gathering and Preparing Documents for Residency

In the case of our residency we were applying for a Pensionado Visa based on the spousal unit’s Government of Canada Pension.  I’m not going to get into the semantics of what this Visa “gives” you other than indefinite residency once you’re approved.  The rules and laws change so often in Panama and I don’t want to mislead anyone.  One thing we did find out was that we were not permitted to bring a vehicle into the country duty-free anymore.   Some of the information that we had was out of date.

We required the following documents:

  • A police check each from our national police agency the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.  We visited our local headquarters and it took about half an hour to complete and we walked out with papers in hand.  Note: It is now required that you have a security check completed by the RCMP, not your local police force. You must also have fingerprinting done when completing the documentation for this.  These documents are only good for three months.  In Alberta we paid no fee for this service nor did we have to wait however; every Province has different contracts with the RCMP, please check with your local office for more information.  Here is a link in regards to payment for fingerprinting with the RCMP but some additional fees may apply.  Please check with the Panamanian Embassy in Ottawa for further documentation changes.  You may contact them here;
  • An original marriage certificate – I requested a new one from our Provincial Government at our local registry as I had no clue where ours was in our storage.  This also took less than a week to come back; and
  • Confirmation of pension letter from the Department of National Defence this took less than a week for us to receive.  A telephone call resulted in them sending three original copies for us.

The next step is to get the documents authenticated.  As Canada did not sign the Hague Convention we do not have an Apostille process but rather follow the original process.  We lived in Western Canada, nowhere near any embassies or consulates.  Getting the documents authenticated and approved required stamps from both the Canadian Government and the Panamanian Embassy or Consulate.  At first we discussed taking a trip to Ottawa to get it all done and not wait the weeks or months it would take through the mail service or by courier.  After some research I found a company in Ottawa that could complete the process for us for a fee and we could put everything in their hands.  The company we used was ALS Canada .   (Note: By using an expediting service you may save some heartache later.  They often will catch missing forms for you and make sure that everything that is required to be notarized and authenticated is in order.) From the start this company was professional and helpful.  They have different fee structures for different needs and kept us informed via email through each step our documentation was going through.    The whole process from the first contact with ALS took just over a week and we found that we received very good value for the fees charged.

Return to Panama to Purchase a Home and Begin the Residency Process

a)                 We waited to take our trip back to Panama until after Carnaval.  We had everything ready to go but we probably would have no place to stay either when we got there or would we have been able to get any business completed.  We booked our trip for 15 days to give us time to get our residency application started and find a house.

Most information that you will find about retiring or moving to a foreign country will tell you to rent in your chosen area for at least six months.  We didn’t follow those rules because we didn’t want to put any of our limited resources towards paying rent.  It is probably a good idea to do that though and there are several people in our new community who would have gained some valuable insight if they had spent more time renting and not leapt into buying.

We contacted the real estate agent that gave us the tour the first time we were in Panama and told him we were coming back to buy.  We set up an appointment to have dinner our first night in town and he made an appointment with a local lawyer for us.  Unfortunately we missed our connecting flight into Panama because our plane was delayed.  It was a mad rush when we landed the next day to get our rental car and get on the road as we had appointments to keep the following day and we were still in the city five hours away.  We decided not to try to drive all the way but stopped in Coronado about an hour outside the city.

The next day we travelled the remaining distance and met with the real estate agent.  Keep in mind that Panama has no MLS system and real estate agents do not need licenses.  There are very few exclusive listing agreements for the sale of homes.  The same home can be listed by multiple agents for different prices.  The home owner also may decide to sell their own home despite having an agreement one or more agents.  The agent we used had come with several word of mouth recommendations from people we met the first time we visited.

A few of the homes that we visited originally were still listed for sale.  We went back and revisited three of them.  The spousal unit had taken several pictures the first time we were in the homes, something that we highly recommend even when buying a house in your own country.  We were fortunate that the renters in two of the houses were home.  We asked their opinion on several of the deficiencies that we saw in our pictures and we received honest answers.  The fourth home we saw was still under construction but close to completion.  Immediately we decided that it was the one for us.  We’d have a new home without the hassle of building and the finishes could be completed within our schedule.  Our agent told us to think about it overnight and the next day with our minds still unchanged we made an offer and started the paperwork.

We were fortunate that our new neighbors allowed us into their home to see what the finished product would look like.  Although our home was a little different in size and colors at least we could see what some of the finishes like woodwork and lighting would look like.  We were able to pick out our own paint colors while we were there although the house inside and out was only painted one shade.  We had to pay a 10% down payment on the house and agreed to a further two payments after.  As soon as we agreed that we were going to buy the house we were asked if we wanted the keys, something that we weren’t used to so we were quite surprised.  We decided to leave all the keys in Panama with the builder.

b)                 Anyone applying for residency must by law use a Panamanian immigration lawyer to shepherd you through the immigration process.  We used the same lawyer in our new community for our real estate transaction and our immigration.  Our lawyer in town took all our documents and forwarded them to her associate in the city who assisted us through the process. Our local abogada was quite pleased at the thoroughness of the documents that we presented.  Here is where spending the money to have an expert help us paid off.  We returned to the city to begin our residency process.  We found that the residency went very smoothly as the associate knew the system inside and out.

The abogada in the city was very efficient in shepherding us through the immigration process.  We were required to have pictures taken offsite from the immigration office for our file and fill out a multitude of forms and get a doctors certificate.  She spent time with us in the immigration office waiting with us for our number to be called.  I can only equate the immigration office to something like a walk in medical clinic in Canada.  So many people crammed into one spot all waiting for hours on end.   We spent about five days in a hotel waiting for everything to go through and made two trips to the immigration office waiting for documents to be processed.  It helped that we had a return ticket back to Canada and that we had a deadline so there was a sense of urgency.  We were required to surrender our passports to our abogada to have paperwork completed.  When we went back to the immigration office the second time it was to have our temporary cards issued and to have the pictures taken for them and our abogada returned our passports.  We left Panama with our temporary cards and our abogada aadvised us to also pay an extra fee of $50.00 each to get a multiple entry visa in our passports.  The multiple entry visas were worth the extra cost because it’s the first thing the immigration people look for when you’re leaving or entering Panama while your residency is in progress. (Note:  The multiple entry visa alone requires two business days to process.  In total we were without our passports for almost five days.  In my opinions it’s best to start the process on a Monday so you have everything completed by Friday.)

5.  To Move Furniture or Not?

That is the question dear Soon to be Expat.  If you go back to the beginning of our journey to settle in another country you’ll note that when we sold our house we didn’t know where we were going to live.  At the time we were fairly certain that we wanted to be in the South Pacific so before we stored our furniture we gave away most of our small electrical appliances because the voltage was different.  When we decided that Panama was the place we had to lay out a few bucks for a few things but that’s o.k. we got all matchy poo poo for some things and decided that we could do without a few others.

The next thing to do was to figure out if we should bring only personal items (consolidation in a shared shipment) or a 20 foot or 40 foot container full of “stuff”.  After visiting some furniture stores on our trip to buy the house in March 2012 we decided that yes, we did want to bring some furniture with us.  We had given much of our furniture to our children but we did want to bring a pullout couch and some chairs and we had stored our bed and most of our other everyday items.  We also found out that the deal for bringing a vehicle to Panama every two years duty free as part of the Pesionado Visa had been rescinded.  We had planned on bringing our Jeep with us but decided it was too old to bring and pay duty on.*

We took a look at what we had in storage and estimated that we had enough to fill a 20 foot container.  Before we even sold the house I contacted a couple of shipping companies and they had come out and given us a quote to move to the South Pacific.   Almost any national moving company has an overseas shipping division so it’s just a matter of finding the right company.  We had two companies come out to take a look.  We ultimately chose Starline Overseas MovingWhy?  Because the agent that was assigned to us gave us different shipping options to help with our costs, was excellent at answering any questions promptly, had a huge amount of patience with me and was as enthusiastic about our move as we were.**

Our container with the bulkhead built.

Our container with the bulkhead built.

We ultimately chose to pack everything ourselves and have the company load the truck at our storage unit.  We ended up not having a full 20 foot container so the movers had to build a bulkhead to keep everything in place.  Are there some things I wish I would have brought?  A few months into it, yes.  Now, nine months down the road?  Not really.  Are there some things I wish I wouldn’t have brought?  At the time, again no; now, the biggest things that we shouldn’t have brought are our cheap Ikea tables that were full of mold and mildew underneath all through Wet Season.  We’re now getting some solid wood tables made in the same style to replace them for not many more dollars.  Don’t get me wrong, I love Ikea products all our living room furniture is Ikea; but there are some things that are not suited to a tropical environment.

Our furniture was due to arrive in Panama the first week in May, but  ended up arriving two weeks later than it was estimated.  I guess that’s why it’s called an “estimate”.  Our Starline agent affiliate here was Canal Movers & Logistics Corp. and this was arranged completely by our agent in Canada.  Our Canadian agent acted as the intermediary for our required destination documents and forwarded them on for us.  We also didn’t have to worry about any other associated fees at the Port of Vancouver.  We were required to pay some extra customs charges in Panama but we were told about them before our shipment left Canada.

When our furniture finally arrived in Panama it took five business days to clear customs.  Our agent in Panama looked after the customs clearance but my passport (as the shipper) was required.  I could have provided a notarized copy but chose to leave my original with the agent.   It was returned to me when the furniture arrived at our house via the jefe of the movers.  Our furniture was delivered right to our door and unpacked by the moving company.  The workers were wonderful.  There was minor breakage and damage but we were very impressed at how little.  We’d had more of our things broken and go missing on cross country moves than we did for this move.

I have friends who moved here with nothing more than a few suitcases and who bought everything here.  I know others that have moved with two or three 40 foot shipping containers.  To each his own, move more or less what your budget allows. If we had it to do over would we ship furniture again?  Probably, we had a good experience and it’s nice to have our personal items around us, they make us feel like this is our home. And it is.

*We could have fit the Jeep into the container and some days we wish we would have brought it.  Ultimately though, the parts would have been difficult to get if it had broken down, it wasn’t suitable as our primary vehicle and we certainly don’t need two cars here.

** The cost to move furniture and effects will vary depending on where you live in the world and where you’re shipping it to and where the nearest port is.  I’m not going to provide a cost break down for our move.  The company you select should offer different shipping options and levels of insurance for your goods.

6.  Saying Goodbye and Hello

Not everybody was jumping for joy when we announced that we had decided to move somewhere warm and started looking for that “place in the world” where we could be comfortable and live on a fixed income.  There were some people who were positively thrilled that we were able to realize a dream and other who were gloom and doomers.  No matter what the destination is and no matter what the reason, taking the big step of moving to a foreign country should be carefully considered before jumping in with both feet.  We took into consideration our aging parents and our children which is one of the reasons we ended up in Panama rather than the South Pacific.  I remember my mother telling me that it was my life to live and it would be selfish of her to ask me not to go.  That made it a little easier to say goodbye.

There are probably some people who think that we are loco and I’m sure some still don’t get it.  I think that once the naysayers realized that we had done our homework and that we were going ahead with our move, the objections, for the most part, fell away.  When the planning eventually reached the stage where the movers were booked and it was happening we still didn’t believe it ourselves.  Even to this day we look at each other and can’t believe we are actually living in Panama.

We have been extremely fortunate to have met some great people who were and still are very helpful to us as we meander our way through our first year of living as transplants to Panama.  One of the things that helped us was to make friends with people “on the ground” that have blazed the trail before us.  In fact we’ve had several people who have been wonderful at sharing their experiences with us.  We learned not to be timid about asking others for help.  Muddling through the intricacies of buying a vehicle, getting our driver’s licenses and getting our utilities set up were all done with help.  Hopefully we’ll be able to “pay it forward”.

And how is life in Panama?  We love the easy pace, the people and the weather.  Is it frustrating some days?  Yes, no place is 100% perfect.  Do we miss our friends and family in Canada?  Yes, pretty much every day.  But, we’re thankful that we are able to realize this adventure.  And for the rest of the story…follow the blog.

Sunrise out our back door.

Sunrise out our back door.

The following is a resource list provided by El Gordo.  Again, this is based on his personal experience and is meant as a guide and not as a check list.  Please check to ensure that the document requirements have not changed.

Moving to Panama From Canada Resource List

1.  Lawyer in Panama (PC and Pedasi)

Berta Sanchez – Sanchez and Sanchez: Tel. 011 507 6671-3807, 011 507 6000-5283

E-mail:  balic259@gmail.com

2.  Accountant in Canada                             Tel.  250 381-3151

Andrew Jackson                                             Fax.  250 381-3475

Trenholme and Company                            E-mail:  amjackson@trenholme.ca

3rd Floor, 1007 Fort Street

Victoria, B.C.  V8V3K5

3.  Process Server in Ottawa                        Tel.  613 225-1808

Maplesoft Legal Support Services Inc.        Fax.  613 727-0843

Suite 100, 408 Churchill Avenue

E-mail: lss@maplesoftgroup.com (First letter is l not i)

Ottawa, Ontario  K1Z 5C6

4.  Authentication of Documents

Authentication & Service of Documents Section (JLAC)

Foreign Affairs & International Trade Canada

125 Sussex Drive

Ottawa, Ontario  K1A 0G2

5.  Canadian Food Inspection Agency

Form RDIMS 2114877

HA General Dogs and Cats (Amended June 21, 2010)

There is another form like this but is only in English and French.  This form also has Spanish.

6.  Panama Consulate                                   Tel.  604 365-7173

Sylvia Navarro                                                Cell  604 365-7173

Suite 2200 1050 West Pender                     E-mail:  consul@panamaconsulatebc.ca

Vancouver, B.C.

7.  Shipper in Canada                                    Tel.  1 877 232-0204

World Cargo                                                   Tel.  1 604 232-0204

Unit 112, 5200 Miller Road                          Fax.  1 604 270-7797

Richmond, B.C.     V7B 1K5                            E-mail:  dane.croft@goworldcargo.com

Attn:  Dane Croft

8.  Receiver in Panama                                 Tel.  011 507 431-5590

Global Cargo Express                                    Fax.  011 507 431-5591

Colon, Panama                                           E-mail:  gerencia@globalcargopty.com

Attn:  Jose Luis Pitti

Process for Moving to Panama From Canada

 A.  Lawyer

The process for moving permanently to Panama from Canada is complicated and if done improperly can take a long time.  A lack of Spanish further complicates the process.  We use Berta Sanchez (#1 above) as our lawyer.  She has offices in Panama City and Pedasi and is fluent in English as is her assistant Roxanna.   Berta is thorough and extremely competent.  Her specialty is real estate and contractual law.  She has an associate in Panama City who specializes in immigration.  Within four months of moving to Panama we had our permanent visas.

B.  Accountant

We use Andrew Jackson (#2 above) as he is very knowledgeable on Canadians living abroad and applying for non resident status.  We also used him when we lived in Abu Dhabi.  The key is finding an accountant who understands the tax laws on residing abroad.

C.  Documentation Required for Moving to Panama

The following is required for moving to Panama: copy of marriage certificate, criminal record search for each person and a letter from your pension provider proving you will have a life time pension income.  All of these documents must be notarized and then sent to Ottawa for authentication.  In Ottawa they are essentially stamping that the notary is indeed an official notary in Canada.  Send the documents by courier to Maplesoft Legal Support Services (#3 above).   Make sure you enclose a return self addressed empty courier envelope so they can send the documents back to you. They will take the documents to Foreign Affairs to be stamped.  You can send the documents directly to Foreign Affairs (#4 above) but it will take approximately forty-five days to get the documents back.  Maplesoft walks in and has them stamped immediately.  Make sure you get in touch with Sylvia Navarro (#6 above) at the Panamanian Consulate in Vancouver prior to doing any of this to ensure the documents needed haven’t changed since we moved.  There is also a Panamanian Embassy in Ottawa for those who live closer to Ottawa than Vancouver.   Once you receive all these documents they need to be stamped by the Panamanian Consulate in Vancouver or the embassy in Ottawa.  Take your passports with you when you go to the Consulate or Embassy.  Please note there will be costs associated with all these steps.

D.  Documentation Required for Taking Pets to Panama

The following is required for taking pets to Panama.  No earlier than ten days prior to leaving Canada the pet must be inspected by a veterinarian in Canada.  If the pet is inspected earlier than the ten days before leaving the forms will not be accepted.   The following documents are needed from the vet:  Health (Sanitary) Certificate, Certificate of Vaccination and Certificate of origin.   Also you must take a blank copy of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency International Health Certificate for Dogs and Cats (#5 above) for the vet to fill out.  This form can be downloaded from the Canadian Food Inspection Agency web site.  Make sure you download the form that has Spanish as well as English and French.  Copies of the forms our vet filled out are included as attachments as is a copy of the Panamanian requirements for importing small animals to Panama.  Once these forms are all filled out you must take them to the nearest Canadian Food Inspection Agency Office to be stamped and signed by the Inspection Agency Veterinarian.  The completed and stamped forms must then be stamped at the Panamanian Consulate or Embassy.  All the completed forms must be with the pet when you arrive at the Panama City Airport.  Make sure you notify the Panama Airport veterinarians of your arrival date and time.  This must be done at least three days prior to your arrival.  The details on how to do this are in the attached document on importing small animals into Panama.  Please note there are costs associated with all these steps.

E.  Shipping Personal Effects and Furniture.

There are a number of shippers and receivers that can be used.  We used World Cargo (#7 above) to ship our goods and they were received in Panama and the container delivered to our rental house in Pedasi, Panama by Global Cargo Express (#8 above).  We were happy with both of these companies though you may want to receive quotes from other companies.  Our container was shipped from Vancouver, B.C. to the port of Balboa in Panama City.  All packed boxes must be numbered with the contents inside written on the boxes.  You must also have a container contents list made up with all the numbered boxes and contents written on the list as well as all other contents in the container (furniture etc.)  Contact your shipper for further details.

Our advice is to talk to your Panamanian lawyer, Canadian accountant and Panamanian Consulate or Embassy before starting the process.  They will be able to make the journey through the process much easier.

56 Responses to How We Walked Outside La Caja

  1. oldsalt1942 says:

    Excellent post! I had planned on retiring outside of the States for years. Deciding on Panama came about a bit as a fluke. A friend and I were discussing where we’d like to go for our vacations and I said “I think I’d like to go to Panama. I’ve always wanted to go through the Canal.” Investigating the possibility of getting on a yacht (I was a former yacht captain in another life) as a line handler I discovered all the things Panama offered to retirees, and I qualified!

    I made three exploratory trips to Panama before making the final move. I spent some time on the Azuero and visited Pedesi. While I liked Pedesi it was a bit too “tranquilo” for my taste, though PC was WAY to frenetic for me as well. If I wanted to live with high rise buildings where everybody speaks Spanish I would have just stayed put in southeast Florida. I DID like Chitre, however and when all was said and done it was my second choice, but it lost out to Chiriqui and David.

    I’m quite happy in the little pueblo of Boqueron. I’m the only gringo in my neighborhood and I absolutely love it here. None of my neighbors speak English. Oh, they all know a few words of my mother tongue, but they can’t put them together to form a sentence. To say that my Spanish has improved a great deal is an understatement, and wherever I meet Panamanians they all compliment me on my grasp of the language. Of course they’re just being polite as the Panamanian people are. I’m a LONG, LONG way from being fluent in Spanish, and I never will be. But I’m happy being PROFICIENT with it and being able to talk to the natives.

    Perhaps someday I’ll take a little side trip to Pedasi and we can have some prawns at El Gringo Dusek’s restaurant.

    • indacampo says:

      Joe sold to John Brock and Ermelinda Castro a couple of years ago and it’s now Smiley’s. They’ve done a nice job with the place. There’s live music Tuesday’s and Friday’s. There’s a nice mix of locals and gringos. You should come for a visit and see if the burg has changed any!

      I know we’ll never be fluent in Spanish either but we’re a long way from where we were are year ago. We can get our message across now and I can understand most of what’s said but I sometimes have difficulty with the campesino español!

      Thanks for reading! 🙂

      • Joe Dusek says:

        I did not sell I rent to John Brock.. He does a great job!

      • indacampo says:

        LOL Joe, this is an old one. I now know that you rent to John and Erme. And yes, they do a great job!

      • Linda Michaud says:

        Ida, thank you so much. We are moving from Winnipeg to Pedasi in July. We have arranged to have our goods shipped to Panama City. We will not be there in person (unless necessary). Can Global Cargo Exxpress pick them up in Panama and take them to our home in Pedasi? Do I have to mail my passport to them? Our builder is Roy Caduri, you probably know him. He said he could send a driver to Panama City to collect our items and bring back to the house. Only about 100kgs (no furniture). We don’t have pensionado yet, so there will be duty. Would this work, ie Roy’s driver or Global Cargo Express, which would you suggest? See you at Smiley’s. Linda Michaud

    • Just finished reading this. Super. thanks. By the way we are currently in David exploring the possibilities. Would love to hear from OldSalty and maybe have a visit while we are here until the 5th. We hope to retire maybe here in David. I would want to run a small business as a certified natural health practitioner and my other half as a retired U of C English teacher would like to teach English.

      • indacampo says:

        Well thank you for reading! Good luck with your research. And if the weather is anything in David right now as it is here you’ll be sweltering. 🙂

  2. Hola!
    My husband and I are in the research stage and I found your blog to be very informative and enjoyable. We live in Sacramento and are thinking of moving abroad in 1-2 years. We have not visited Panama yet. Our short list includes Panama, Ecuador, and maybe Colombia. What I like about Panama is the convenience and lower prices of air flights to/from the US.
    We would like to visit, next January or February, for 10 days and see both the Azuero Penisula area and some of the Boquete highlands area. We like ocean views and 70-80 degrees temps, love coffee, and may have to do some work to support ourselves. Can you tell me some “inns” where we should stay in order to explore the region?
    Gracias,
    Merrill Ann (and Steve)

  3. c.c.cappon says:

    this is the best information I have found on my searching. Thank you so much. Though I am from TheNetherlands and some things are quite different, the overall information and the way you described how you had looked for and found a place to live is helping a lot. I too had to choose from 2 or 3 countries. As soon as I have sold my house I will move to Panama. Lived in Chitre for 3 months. Not sure where I’m ending up. But I will be Azuero or around Penonome.
    I will follow your blog.
    Suerte, Carina

    • indacampo says:

      I like Penenome. The mountains are close but you don’t have to drive forever to get to the beach. There is a few more conveniences there than what we have here and it is closer to the city. I also like Chitre although it is a little impersonal for me. Although again, more conveniences.

      I don’t know what kind of expat community there is in Penenome, last I heard there wasn’t much of one. Having at least a few people with a similar background does make the transition to a new country a little easier. I think we have a nice balance of locals and people from all over the world here.

      Good luck wherever you end up and thanks for commenting and reading! 🙂

  4. Lecurita lawson says:

    Hi, Great info… Do you have any info on churches in the area? We have been discussing this move but would want to continue attending church services. Any English speaking?
    Thanks, Creta

    • indacampo says:

      There are many different denominations in the community, the main being Catholic. The services are a bit different than what I’m used to, the priest talks a lot more and he’s not afraid to chastise the congregation in a more traditional manner.

      Just off the top of my head I can think of a few churches in town, Jehovah Witness, Baptist, Evangelical… and here may be more that I’m not aware of. I’m pretty sure that they are all strictly Spanish speaking as this is a very small community. In the city there may be English services.

  5. Earl says:

    Hi and thnx for your blogging! Friends were talking about Panama as a retirement option. We live half the year in Arizona but avoid the hot summer. We too wondered if Panama was a fit, for us and the dogs, year round. Being from the Pacific coast, in Canada, we can seem too get the real facts on the weather. Yes it should be warm but, being in a rainy climate in Canada, what is your take on how much rain is there? I read other stories, I believe were yours, and it seemed the volume of rain may deter alot of outside activities?? There is also mixed information when comparing the Caribean to the Pacific sides, of Panama, regarding rain and cloudy skies. ??

  6. amforte66 says:

    What a great post and fabulous source of information. This was so interesting to read…what a process and adventure it must have been! Panama sounds amazing. When we are ready to retire, I’ll have to try to convince my husband to take an exploratory trip. He went to Jungle School in Panama when he was a cadet at West Point so his memories are a bit jaded.

    • indacampo says:

      My hubby did Jungle Warfare training in Panama with the Canadian military. He says it has changed immensely since his time here. 🙂

      Thanks for stopping by!

  7. Jessie says:

    Hola:
    My husband and I bought some land in El Munoz (next to Las Tablas) last year. We are working on getting the land ready for the construction of our house. We would like to know if you know any architect? We are planning to built a simple 2 bedroom two bath house. We will be in Las Tablas in June, are you living in Las Tablas? Would love to meet with you and chat, we are presently living in New Westminster, BC. Thank you

    • indacampo says:

      We live in Pedasi.

      What kind of house are you looking for? Are you looking for a more typical Azuero house or something more “Panamanian” modern with the drop ceilings etc. ? There is a fellow in town here that comes highly recommended. He can take your ideas and put them on paper for you. Our house (pictured above) was designed by him. It’s not a grand size but it is a two bed, 2.5 bath house.

      • Jessie says:

        Thank you very much for your answer, we have been to Pedasi a couple time. We are interested to meet with this architect. We will be in Las Tablas from June 4 to 7 – we have a meeting on June 5 pm. We will be back for a week starting June 13. Would you like to meet with us if you are available. We will like to meet with this architect also. Thank you

  8. Tania C says:

    Well done!
    When I get close to retiring I would be looking at retiring somewhere other than home.
    It’s amazing what you’re capable of doing when you’re determined. 🙂

  9. Pingback: Blogging 101, Day Eleven: Be A Good Neighbor | Casually Short

  10. nelvael says:

    Thank you for the very interesting and informative post. I will be returning to Panama sometime at the end of Fall or beginning of Winter. I can barely wait!

  11. kogape says:

    Great article. Learned a lot without hype. Panama is on our short list. We would like a life close to the beach. We live near Dallas/Ft Worth TX now.
    Are there long term rentals in your area? We are looking at a possible move in about three years, but for sure would like to visit first. Thanks again. Doug and Diane Fraser

    • indacampo says:

      Hola!

      Rentals depend on many things; the time of year, your price range, and what kind of accommodation you’re looking for. Our area is certainly not one of the cheapest but it’s also not one of the most expensive areas to rent. For the first time in a long time we’re seeing “Se Aquila” signs in some of the smaller Panemeño tipo houses around town but there are also a few more expensive places. So there is something for every budget depending on what you’re looking for.

      Good luck with the research and thanks for stopping by!

      KA

  12. Kathryn Vaughn says:

    Hi there! Thanks for all the great info. We are in final stages of moving to PTY from Montreal – visas & cedulas acquired, bank accounts opened, apt. rented, etc. Now the daunting task of deciding what gets moved with us. Question: did your Canadian moving company have the connections on the Panama end, or did you have to locate a moving company in Panama to unload your container and move it to your new home? We have met with an excellent Panamanian customs broker recommended by our lawyer and will use her services to get our goods through customs. Any guidance you can give would be much appreciated.

    • indacampo says:

      Our moving company was fantastic. They contracted with a moving company in Panama that looked after everything for us, we had no contact with a customs broker, they looked after it all.

      Once the shipment had cleared customs the company sent the container and three men who unloaded everything at our door. They would have also unpacked for us but having moved several times with the military we didn’t want everything all over the house so we did it ourselves. They did insist on making sure that the television worked before they left. I can’t say enough good things about the service we received. 🙂

      • kathryn.vaughn@sympatico.ca says:

        Thanks so much for this valuable info. Because your experience on the Panama end was so positive, I’m going to contact Montreal movers that belong to the same association in hopes that I’ll find someone reliable and fair on this end. Date: Mon, 15 Sep 2014 19:12:59 +0000 To: kathryn.vaughn@sympatico.ca

  13. Christine Rose says:

    Karen this is amazing!!
    i applaud you and your ‘spousal unit’ for this amazing journey!!
    THANK YOU for sharing!!!

  14. Irene Lee says:

    Awesome details. Thank you! We are in Alaska so our process would be a little different but this is a great help. I love your process for visiting and deciding on where to live. We won’t retire for another 10-12 years but we are researching now so we have something to base our decisions on when it come time (cost of living changes etc.). Thanks!

  15. Bob says:

    Great article, Thanks. We plan to be in Panama and Pedasi in late Feb 2015 to look around. Not that we are very interested in buying a condo in the project, but it would be good to have the marina in Pedasi, so I will ask you. What is the status of the Villa Marina Condos project – their web site says 1st quarter 2016? Is there currently a marina in Pedasi or will this be the first and/or only one? Where does one moor or dock a boat if there is no other marina? Thanks. Bob St Augustine, FL

    • indacampo says:

      I’m sorry, I don’t know much about this project, the infrastructure or money behind it other than it has been in the works for a while. There are several large projects in the area that have yet to get off the ground or have taken a long time to develop. It’s best to exercise due diligence in regards to any investment and you have the right idea of coming to see for yourself.

  16. Gabi Roberts says:

    Hi,
    We are thinking of Pedasi! 🙂 I would be moving there with my son..it is dependant on a job right now. I would like to ask a few questions? 🙂 Firstly we have cats…we would be driving as we are at the moment in Mexico…do you know if it is the same paperwork at the border? I know about the 10 day health cert from a vet, they are all up to date on vacc and micro-chips etc…I didn’t really understand about the paperwork that had to be blank and then filled out by a vet in Panama? Also I am driving a van. At the moment I still have to pay Canadian Car Insurance….as well as Mexican..once the vehicle has been out of Canada then I can reclaim…am I better off selling the vehicle in Mexico and then buying something in Panama or driving through?
    And…I found your blog through another blog 🙂 And they said to ask you about rentals? Could we find something in Pedasi or close by? I really hope to hear back from you 🙂 Love the blog so helpful and just what we needed to read as we are at a dividing road with choice at the moment
    Regards Gabi

    • indacampo says:

      I don’t know if they would keep a vet on staff at the border if you were to drive. I know that there is a very small window of time for the certification to be valid. I’ve heard very good things about this pet relocation service and although at least one person told me it was pricey (everything is relative) I know many people have used this serice so it may be worth checking in to: http://www.goldenfrog.net/pet_relocate.htm They may be able to tell you more about border crossing arrangements and/or arrange for a vet at the airport should you wish to fly with your pets.

      As for driving through I’ve heard good and bad things about bringing a vehicle in. I recently saw on an Expat page that someone drove a vehicle to Panama and was ordered to remove it from the country or pay an exorbitant import tax. I also know of someone who doesn’t have residency and just drives with her US plates on her vehicle and goes to Costa Rica every three months to restart her tourist visa. My personal opinion is that it’s a roll of the dice if you don’t have residency already that allows for import of a vehicle. You may want to check with the Panama Embassy or Consulate in your area for further information.

      As for rentals there are more than usual available in the Pedasi area right now depending on what you are looking for. Our area is more expensive rental wise because one of the main industries in tourism. Wet Season is coming on and the Snowbirds have left. Also a lot of people who were waiting for their houses to be built have moved into their new homes. I don’t manage rentals but I would recommend sending a message to this person as she manages rental properties and helps people find rentals: https://www.facebook.com/karla.pollard?fref=ts

      Good luck with whatever you decide to do!

  17. Liz says:

    I really enjoyed reading your blog. We visited Panama about 5 years ago and started the yo yo thinking of shall we move there or not. We have finally decided to take the plunge and intend to visit in October to see areas we may potentially live in. Meanwhile we have our business on the market and will move when it sells.
    Perhaps you can help me with one question, I know from reading you have to get a background screening, We are UK citizens who have lived in the USA for 20 years on an E2 investors visa. Do we apply to the UK or the USA for our background screening? The E2 visa is an non resident visa that allows you to live legally in the USA whilst running a business and we are considered residents of the USA for tax purposes.
    We have USA and UK drivers licenses but only use our USA one.

    • indacampo says:

      I would check with your closest Panamanian Embassy or Consulate for that information just to make sure that you are getting your paperwork completed correctly. I would imagine that due to the length of time you have spent living in the USA that you would be required to have your security check completed by the FBI. You will also need some of your documents authenticated in the USA and others in the UK i.e. marriage certificates, birth certificates etc. Good luck!

  18. Liz says:

    Thanks for your reply, that is what I thought may be the case.

  19. Cold Canada says:

    Hello! I am really enjoying this blog. Can I ask you about general medical insurance? Do most Canadian expats give up their Canadian medical insurance, given that they are out of the country for 6 months or longer? Or do you supplement your Canadian insurance with private medical insurance obtained in Canada? Or do you purchase completely separate Panama medical insurance in Panama? Just trying to sort out medical insurance from a Canadian perspective if I relocate to Panama. Any insight from your experience would be greatly appreciated! .

    • indacampo says:

      We have had our Public Service Health Care Plan (supplemental insurance) and our federal government dental plan converted to international insurance that specifically covers us while living in Panama. It’s one of the perks of SU having served in the military for 30 years. We don’t pay premiums for Alberta Health Care (Alberta has no premiums) but I believe that is does expire after you’ve been out of the country for six months. I know some people who have purchased catastrophic insurance from international companies or companies specifically targeting ExPats. Some people take the approach that health care here is so cheap that they wing it and take their chances. For instance my visits to emergency when I had Dengue were $2.00 which I didn’t bother sending a claim in for. I would like to suggest that you research this question at the ExPats in Panama Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/groups/2397416901/) or the Canadians in Panama page (https://www.facebook.com/groups/2361122601/) both have a search box for topics to bring up threads that have been previously covered and I think you’ll find some useful information to help you decide what to do. Good luck and thanks for reading!

      • Liz says:

        The Ex Pats in Panama is now a closed group which can only be accessed by an invitation from a member. I would be interested in joining this group, would you be willing to invite me to join if you are a member?

      • indacampo says:

        I’ve sent off the request. The admin’s will need to accept you afterwards. 🙂

  20. Liz says:

    Thank You

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  22. Todd Mcgowan says:

    Hi to both of you and congratutions on the move!! I know Eric from 3VP and miss the big guy lol 🙂
    I left Canada 2.5 years ago and have been travelling since mostly split between Europe and Mexico where I am for next 6 months.. I’m in bucerias just north of Puerto Vallarta, great place and have been coming here for last 7 years. All in all love the lifestyle! Awesome to see your perspective and I wish you all the very best! Keep up the awesome work!

    • indacampo says:

      Thank you for reading and commenting Todd. I’ll let Eric know that he is missed, it will warm the cockles of his heart. 🙂 I think that deep down unless you are a die hard winter outdoors-man every Canadian wants and little sunshine and warmth after the first month or two of the snow falling. It’s great to be able to realize the dream. We’re definitely not rich monetarily but the experiences that travelling and living on a limited budget are deeply rewarding. We went to Puerto Vallarta after Eric’s second tour to Afghanistan, it’s a lovely area. Best to you too!

  23. Vicky says:

    Wow, huge move brave people and what an excellent post, informative and fascinating. I shall follow your Panamanian life with much interest, glad to have stumbled on your blog via Photo101 – good luck and keep blogging it all.

    • indacampo says:

      Thanks! It all seems so distant now… LOL! And I stray often from just Panama things, we forget that what is normal for us might not be normal for most people. 🙂

  24. Bob Shapland says:

    Great post of your experiences in moving here. We just moved to Pedasi last December, 2015, currently renting in El Limon and building on the road to Playa Arenal. We’ve been working on this move for over two years and it was finally realized!

  25. Oscar says:

    Great website! Thanks for sharing all this information.
    I have two questions:
    1. what other countries did you have on your list besides nicaragua and what did you find about them, that made you cancel them from your list?
    2. do you know anything about the school in pedasi? i want to move with two kids and wonder if it is possible to get some “higher” degree there and not just 6 years of school and then some simple job.
    sorry about my english… i am from germany.
    thanks a lot,
    oscar.

    • indacampo says:

      Oh, let’s see if I remember: Uruguay, Ecuador, Dominican Republic, Vanuatu, USA, New Zealand. Some were eliminated because of distance from Canada, some were eliminated because of the residency requirements or lack of availability of staying longer than six months.

      There is a school that goes all the way up to ‘high school’ in town. Most foreigners that send their kids to it supplement their learning with courses by correspondence. There is also a private bilingual school in Las Tablas (CADI) and a private Montessori school (Azuero International) in Venao.

      Hope that helps. 🙂

  26. Oscar says:

    Thank You!
    And…did You consider Colombia or Mexico too? Or, if not, have You been there before or after Panama? If yes, what is worse there so that You like Panama more?
    4 more other questions (hope i do not bother You too much) 🙂 :
    1. what do You think, how many foreigners live in Pedasi? When i was there for a few days, i only saw 1. 🙂
    2. And about the little “tropical” island: is it a MUST to rent a boat there or, when You live there, is it possible to have an own boat and go there? Or is it forbidden? I mean, lets say You like the island really much and like to go there once or twice a week, then 70,- $ is quite expensive in the long run.
    3. About the climate:
    I liked the warm weather in Panama, but it was A LITTLE outside of my personal comfort zone. 34 degrees is ok, but maybe 30 would be nicer. But i would rather live closer to the whater and not in the mountains.
    So i compared a lot climate website about the weather within Panama. It seems like Chitre is the hottest area, on the other side, not so much humidity. And it looks like in Pedasi it is a little cooler than in Chitre. And not so windy like in David in the beginning of the year. What do YOU think about that? Maybe, on the other side, 2 weeks of Panama is just not enough to get used to that heat?
    4. i looked for real estate in Panama and especially in Pedasi. I would like to rent first, because of the risk, maybe my family and me will not like the place in the long run, getting ripped off and so on. But on encuentra i see a lot of houses in David, in PC, but Pedasi almost nothing. Of course it is a lot smaller, but how can i find a house there? Or is there just not so much on the market, so that you just have to take, whats available?
    Thank You very much and greeting from Germany,
    Oscar.

    • indacampo says:

      We have been to Mexico, and no we didn’t consider it. It seemed like residency was a little difficult compared to Panama and we had safety concerns. If we had reflected on it we would have wanted to be around Puerto Vallarta. Colombia was just emerging as a retirement destination when we were doing our research 5-6 years ago and Medellin was being touted as the next great place. We didn’t want to be in the ‘land of eternal Spring’ and there were too many unknowns at the time. Now, it probably would have made our list instead of Nicaragua. 🙂

      You are correct about Chitre being hotter than Pedasi. I’m always surprised at how hot it is when I’m there, you’d think I’d be used to it by now. I think part of the heat issue is that it doesn’t get the ocean currents and breezes. I find David the same way. And you are correct about needing more time to acclimatize, although. some people really have difficulty dealing with heat. I would say that it takes anywhere from three weeks to six months to get used to it. Our temps are usually around 30° but during Dry Season this year we did have some really hot days. Once the thermometer drops around 26° I start getting chilly, and I’m from Canada, so that demonstrates how well I’ve adapted.

      You can take your own boat to Isla Iguana, but you’d still have to pay the park fee to get in as it is a national park. You’d have the weigh the cost of boat ownership over the long run but if you plan on doing a lot of fishing or traveling up and down the coast it may be worth it for you.
      Regarding rentals, Airbnb, Craig’s List or word of mouth are always the best way to find rentals. I would trust Airbnb above Craig’s List. Once you know when you need your accommodation for joining Facebook pages such as Pedasi Post, Pedasi Buy and Sell or Panama Sales and Rentals can assist you also. All you have to do is post what you’re looking for, where and your price range and you’ll have people come out of the woodwork.

      There are foreigners here, both in town and out of town and the number of Europeans seems to be increasing. Once you get to know a couple of people it starts a domino effect. And your children will probably make friends quicker than you will. 🙂

  27. Oscar says:

    thanks a lot!!!
    i just checked medellin…seems like crime is still a big topic there…so nothing for my wife and 2 children. the facebook idea is good…thank you!

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