How Do I….

** Please note: As with the rest of my blog the following are guidelines either gained through personal experience or through research on the experience of other Ex Pats.

Learn Spanish?

Many people and websites will tell you that you don’t need to learn Spanish to live in Panama.  While this may be true for the city, I have my doubts.

In the campo we could not get by without at least a little Spanish and being able to conjugate verbs and string together sentences is important if you want to interact with all the new neighbours and friends you’re going to meet.  You’ll find that the locals will appreciate that you are trying to learn to speak their language even if you do boob it up occasionally…or even a lot.  We didn’t begin taking Spanish lessons until we had lived here several months, something that I now regret but when I look at where we started and how we’ve progressed I’m amazed.

Learning a new language helps keep your brain cells active. By joining in a group language class you can meet new people and have someone to practice with.  And learning can be fun, even if sometimes it is difficult.  If you’ve made the journey to expatriate then you’re already out of your comfort zone.  Why not take it a few steps farther?

Spanish Verbs

This is the link for Buena Vida the language school we go to.  Taking classes will give you a good foundation for learning Spanish. They even offer one on one classes via SKYPE if you’d like to get a head start before you come to Panama. And the bonus is that you are learning from people who know all about the area, the people and their customs.  (Ingrid also keeps a blog about our area.  Be sure to go and take a read.)

This is our favourite translation website.  It also offers fantastic lessons and flashcards that you can use.  I wish would have found it so we could have had a jumpstart.

Duolingo is another free website that is fun to learn and practice with once you’ve begun to build your vocabulary.

Online Free Spanish is a cute site to get the basics down.

¡Es fácil! is a good website to practice with once you’ve begun conjugating verbs. 

A good Spanish/English dictionary is good to have.  Sometimes you need an online one and Reverso is pretty good.

Digital Dialects offers some fun games for beginner to intermediate learners.

There are many more free and paid language learning services and apps on the interweb.  These are but a few on offer.  There are some further sites suggested in the “comments” section below and if you have a favourite feel free to add your own comment!


Re Register/ Change Vehicle Registration?

If you purchased a new vehicle it’s likely that when you bought it the dealership arranged for registration and insurance for you.  If you used an expediter to buy a used vehicle he/she would give the service of getting the documents changed into your name and perhaps assisted with registering the vehicle.  But the next time it’s all up to you…

  1.  Renew the vehicle insurance.
  2. Get the revisado documentation. There are many tallers in the Las Tablas/Chitre area offering the service but we use the one across from Makro Centro.  It’s a small taller (red building with tires out front) next to the Delta gas station on the main road out of Las Tablas.
  3. Present the vehicle insurance, your ownership papers and last year’s registration documents at the Revisdado for the vehicle inspection.
  4. The vehicle inspection consists of going into the back garage and getting a picture taken of the front, two sides and back of the vehicle.  The woman in the office will give you the instructions as well as a small walkie-talkie before she sends you to the back.
  5. While you are getting the pictures taken she’ll be processing the paperwork for you.
  6. Return to the office and pay the $15.90 for the documents to pick up your plates.
  7. Let her know if you want the plates mailed from wherever the vehicle is registered i.e. Panama to her office.  She will call you when they arrive to come and pick them up.  There is an extra charge for this service as well as the mailing costs.  This usually takes a week or less, but if they don’t arrive before the end of the month as long as you have the paperwork in the vehicle that says the registration is in process you are legal to drive.
  8. If you want to change the place where you pick up your plates for the following year i.e. from Panama to Pedasi let her know.  There is a fee for this paperwork also.   Make sure you have cash with you; you’re paying for more transactions as well as the registration for this year and the revisado documents.
  9. Once you have the change paperwork approved from Panama from the revisado office (she will likely call you to come pick it up), you can take it to the municipo office in Pedasi and confirm with them that you want your registration for the following year to be sent to their office.
  10. Next year, go through the insurance and revisado process again but if you’ve completed the change paperwork then you can pick up your plates in Pedasi at the municipo office.



Apply for the “E” (Extrajeno) Cédula?

  1. Required documents “E” Cédula: Two passport photos, two copies of your passport, two copies of your pensionado card and two copies of the resolution statement from your pensionado visa.
  2. Go to Servicio Nacional Migracion/Immigration on on Tumba Muerto in Panama.  This is the same place you got your Pensionado paperwork processed.
  3. Tell the receptionist what you are there for and get a number.
  4. Sit in the waiting area and wait for your number to be called.
  5. When your number is called hand in your accumulated paperwork.
  6. The worker will enter you into the immigration system and ask you to return in 30 days.  No fees are paid at this time.
  7. After 30 days go back and pick up the paperwork, a stamped, authenticated copy of approval.
  8. Take the paperwork to the Tribunal Electoral, on Avenida Cuba (General Directorate of Certificates Cl 33 and Av Cuba Tel + (507) 507-8074).  The entrance is at the side of the building.  Once inside go to the far right and follow the salida signs to the stairs or elevator to the second floor.
  9. On the second floor go down the short hallway through the glass doors to the end of the hall. Go to the last door on the right labelled extranjeros.
  10. Present your documents to the worker who will stamp them and send you downstairs to the first floor the fee of $65.00.
  11. Return to the second floor to turn in the paperwork where they will process the documents.
  12. The worker will ask you to proofread the completed documents to ensure accuracy.
  13.  You will be sent back downstairs for fingerprinting and a photo.
  14. The photo office will tell you when to come back to pick up your cédula or you can have it sent to your local Electoral Tribunal.
  15. It will take about one week for the cédula to be processed (allow for mailing time if you are picking them up locally instead of in Panama).  When picking up the cards you will need all the paperwork and receipts.  You will then be required to touch your finger to the fingerprint screen for identification purposes.
  16. Once this is completed you will have a Panamanian cédula.


* Once you receive the cédula you may want to change documents such as your car title and get a new driver’s license with your new cédula number.  The back of your new cédula card has a magnetic strip on it that has all your identification and a digital copy of your thumbprint.  You will not have to change it again now that your cédula is a Panamanian number and not your passport number.


Get to Isla Iguana?

I’ve written two articles outlining the beautiful Isla Iguana Wildlife Refuge, a 58-hectare wildlife and white sand beach reserve located 5 kilometers off of Playa el Arenal. You can find those posts here and here.

Here is how you get to this beautiful, tranquil spot:

  1. Make sure you pack your necessities.  A bathing suit, towels, snacks, drinks, sunscreen, snorkel gear and a camera*.  There is nowhere to buy any of these items once on the island.  Make sure any cell phones, cameras, wallets or documents are in a plastic or dry bag.  You may also want to bring small chairs, a sun umbrella and/or a good size blanket or mats.  Just remember you have to carry everything with you.
  2. Go to Playa el Arenal beach.  It is a five-minute drive by taxi or car from the Terpel Station at the entrance of town.  The road to the beach angles off from the station.  If you want to walk it will be about a 30-45 minute trek, or you can also rent or borrow bicycles in several places around town for a minimal fee.
  3. Once at the beach there is a large covered area painted blue in the middle of the parking lot.  Here is will you will find the immigration officials that will process the paperwork before your trip.  This will take a few minutes.  You likely won’t have to wait long to be approached by the expeditor in charge of the boat captains, if you haven’t already arranged for a specific captain to meet you at the beach one will be assigned to you**.
  4. Make sure that you take your passport (or a copy) with you, if you are a resident/citizen of Panama then your cédula or residency card is required.  Your documentation will be checked twice by two separate immigration officers and will be recorded, you will also be asked your age.
  5. The price of the boat ride to the island is $70.00; most of the boats can seat six to eight people.  Payment is expected upon your return to the main land.  The captain will give you life jackets and will stow your gear in the boat box.  Make sure to keep your camera out if you want it. The captain will stay on the island with you all day with the other boat captains.  Let him know about what time you think you’ll want to leave; it’s o.k. to give a time range.
  6. Once you arrive at the island, the captain will try to bring the boat in as close as he can but you will still need to walk through the water to get to the beach.  Drop your gear***at your chosen spot and then you will need to go to the ANAM white building among the trees down the beach to the left.  There you will pay the entry fee and will be given a receipt the cost is: Tourists/Non Residents $10 US, Panameños/Residencias $4 US.
  7. The captain will bring his own lunch  and water but it is nice to offer anything extra that you might have to him while you are having your lunch.   Make sure that you pick up your garbage and either take it with you or put it in the garbage barrel.
  8. There is a walking path from one side of the island to the other.  The beach the boats land is Playa el Cirial, Playa el Faro in on the other side and is smaller and rockier.  You can also swim there but the waves are higher.  The walking path continues over the rocks to the left as you approach the beach and then cuts back into the tree line.  This is the area where the frigates nest.
  9. When you’re ready to leave let the captain know and you’ll do the trip in reverse.  Pay the captain and if you are feeling generous give him a tip.

*  You’ll see sea turtles in the area from April to September, Frigate Birds nest and breed during the Wet Season, Humpback Whales and Dolphins can be spotted between June and November and there are various other types of marine life and coral in the waters around the island.

** Ask at your hotel/hostal if you are concerned about the boat ride, otherwise it is quite safe to go and have a captain chosen for you, they all have several years’ experience ferrying travelers to and from the island.  Arrangements can be made through different tour operators in town, there may be an extra fee involved.  You can also go with others that are planning the trip to keep the cost down as long as you are in agreement with the amount of time you are spending on the island.  Please remember that this is a source of employment for the boat captains and during slow season they often will not make much money.

*** It may be best to leave at least one person with your gear while you pay if the beach is busy. Safety is not much of a concern but don’t leave your common sense on the mainland.  It’s also not a good idea to stray off marked paths as the island was once used as a bombing range and there are several holes and craters in the bush.

Isla Iguana

22 Responses to How Do I….

  1. janna hill says:

    Thanks for the tiny lesson and the link to SpanishDict.
    P.S. your photos were entertaining.

  2. indacampo says:

    Gracias! I’ve left this page kind of orphaned and instead started using links through words in my posts. It got to be a bit cumbersome putting everything here. I’m having fun with my new camera too. Now to get more lenses and experiment more…

  3. Loca Gringa says:

    Here’s another resource for you.


    • indacampo says:

      Gracias, now have it bookmarked! You know what drives me crazy though? The ads that are geared toward location. I always get the ads for one of the gated developments here. Phhhhhffff!


      • Loca Gringa says:

        Meh, ads shamds, the only real way to learn the language is through immersion anyway, claro que si, claro que yes, claro que oui!

      • indacampo says:

        LOL! Right, coming from the Prairies I’m not exactly fluent in French but I’m amazed at how much I’ve actually absorbed and get French words confused with Spanish ones!

      • Loca Gringa says:

        Jejeje, OMG, I am fluently bilingual in French and English and it confounds me in Spanish. I now find myself speaking a mix of all three as here the Haitians in the community all speak French and Spanish. Bahahaha, it’s a riot!

  4. Marie Nicole says:

    I’m learning it here in Bahia de Banderas near Puerto Vallarta. I find Spanish has as many dialects as there are neighborhoods in Spanish countries… 😉

  5. last31at31 says:

    I love too…I have found that every dialect of Spanish has its peculiarities. I still don’t know what a “neutral” accent is, LOL

    • indacampo says:

      LOL! And in the campo forget it. They have their own slang, facial expressions and dialect. But such nice people, even when we can’t understand what they’re saying! 🙂

  6. tobyo says:

    hola otra vez. I have a page on my blog that has a bunch of links for learning Spanish. I thought I’d point it out to you in case you’d like to check it out. Meanwhile….espero que disfrutes de aprender español 😉

  7. Trev Page says:

    I’m fluent in English to picking up Spanish is actually pretty easy. I can’t speak it fluently yet but I have little trouble reading it. Rosetta Stone software is a fantastic tool for learning a new language.

    • Trev Page says:

      Damn, I meant to say I’m fluent in French. My brain is still on vacation…

    • indacampo says:

      LOL! French speakers do pick up the language quicker but there are a few works that sound the same as Spanish words but mean entirely different things. 🙂

  8. Hi, (sorry I don’t know your first name) 😦
    Just found your blog, such a great and informative blog. We are coming back to Panama for the third time in January for another month to seriously look to move here. We live in Kelowna, BC and have been retired for 10 years. We don’t want to live in a place just like home, or else why leave such an amazing part of BC. You write from the heart and I will be following your posts.
    This is my blog if you want to come over and say hi!

    • indacampo says:

      Welcome! You’ve been blogging for much longer than I have, love all the colorful pictures.

      Our friends just returned to Vernon in June and I traveled with them. It’s a lovely piece of Canada.that I hadn’t been to in a while. I told them that I could think of worse places to land but they’re still not looking forward to their first winter home. 🙂

      I will return to explore your blog further!


      • Dagmar Leuenberger-Swift says:

        Hi Karen, I am sure your friends will enjoy this beautiful fall we are having. We have good friends that live at a Predator Ridge in Vernon and go up to visit them quite often. I imagine coming back to Canada they will miss Panama, at least the winters here in the Okanagan Valley isn’t as harsh as other places in BC. We are looking forward to coming back in January to look around once again. In the meantime, I will continue to read your blog. Happy 1st day of Fall from BC. The sunrise here this morning. Dagmar


      • indacampo says:

        While I was there in June my girlfriend and I looked quite comical in our long pants and long sleeved shirts. My amigo however was quite happy as he suffered in the Panama heat. 🙂

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