Five Complaints and Five Praises About Living in Panama

I am normally a positive person who likes to focus on the good and positive in life and living.  However, as we all know, nothing and no one is perfect.  There is no Shangri-La place to live in the world. When choosing a place to live, whether it is to work or retire, it is best to do some research first. That is why I am writing this article for those of you looking to move to Panama.  I have lived here in the Boquete area, in the Chiriquí Highlands for over 13 years and for me the positive outweighs the negative, which is why I choose to stay here.
Carnival in Panama – Best Places In The World To Retire – International Living
My husband and I left the USA in 1994 when we sold our house in California and moved to Costa Rica.  We had visited Costa Rica before deciding to move there and subscribed to the English-language “Tico Times” newspaper, but there was no internet and websites like Best Places in the World to Retire to do research, so we had to learn the hard way about some of the cultural differences that can impact one’s lifestyle. When we moved to Panama in 2004 I found the same five complaints that are inherent in Latin culture. So, here they are:
  1. Barking Dogs and Roosters
I like my sleep and need it.  I find it very annoying that some people let their dogs bark all night long. Mind you not all Panamanians do this, but some do. And the roosters can crow all night long.  I just can’t sleep with that, even with ear plugs.  Especially in neighborhoods where homes are closer together you will find  dogs tied up and chickens and roosters running freely about.  My suggestion to avoid living with this is: DON’T PURCHASE A HOME OR LAND TO BUILD ON until you do plenty of research about the neighborhood. 
I opted for my dream home to build on plenty of land so no one could build on top of me and put their dogs or roosters close to me.  So, now I live with the sound of the river and the birds, except on holidays, which brings up my next complaint.
  1. Firecrackers and Loud Music
Barking dogs in Panama – Best Places In The World To Retire – International LivingIn Panama, the people enjoy their holidays and they have plenty of them. They like to party and they love their music LOUD.  I know when I was a kid growing up the 70’s I liked my rock ‘n roll played loudly, so I understand, but Panamanians don’t ever grow out of this phase when it comes to their music and parties. They are LOUD.  So, this can be an annoyance and disturb your sleep on holidays if you live near or in a town or neighborhood.  Again, my solution to that was to build on acreage with a river so when I do hear the music and firecrackers it is in a distance and not “in my face,” so to speak.  I turn my ceiling fan on over my bed and sleep like a baby.
If you want to live near a town or in a neighborhood, just be prepared to live with the noise on holidays, go on a little vacation to somewhere quieter if the noise bothers you, or maybe you would just like to join in the festivities.
  1. Value of Time – The Mañana Syndrome
As North Americans, we are taught (at least I was) to value our time; “time is money”.  I don’t like to waste time. I value my time. In Latin America (not just Panama) the culture has a different outlook on time: “Why do today what you can do tomorrow?” People can sit on their porches or lie in a hammock and do nothing for very long stretches of time.  I guess I’m just too much of an “A Type” personality and I don’t like people wasting my time. Now, this could happen in North America too, but it is much more prevalent here in Panama.
For example, you have an appointment for the Internet people to come install or repair your Internet. They say sometime in the morning they will arrive. They end up coming in the afternoon or the next day. In some cases, I have heard friends complain they were without Internet for over a week before the company came to fix it.  This happens here with a lot of services and you just have to get used to it.  If I am waiting for a service provider to come to my home I know I need to be home all day and not make any plans to do anything else but to wait for them and keep busy with my things to do around home.
My solution to this problem has been that over the years I have learned which companies to go with for different services and to use the more reliable (and prompt) ones. This comes with the experience of living here but you can also ask people who have lived here a long time who are the best at what they provide.
Sometimes in retail stores the cashiers will take what seems like forever and that drives me nuts, but hey, that is part of living here.
  1. The Service in Some Restaurants
This is a complaint I have found is just inherent in the Chiriquí Province of Panama (where Boquete is located).  In the 10 years we lived in Costa Rica, the service in the restaurants was excellent. The Costa Ricans (Ticos) are way ahead of Chiriquí Province in tourism so have learned that good service brings good tips and happy customers. The same is true for the many times I have visited Mexico. I always found the service in the restaurants there to be excellent. The same is true in Panama City; great restaurants and service.   But not so in Chiriquí.
Dousing people with a hose at Panama Carnival – Best Places In The World To Retire – International Living
The only explanation I can find for this is that tourism and growth of population is relatively new to Chiriquí and the owners or managers of many restaurants here do not know how to train their help to give good service. Many times you will enter a restaurant and just sit there and wait a long time for the wait staff to get your order. Then when you do get your order they just throw the plate down and walk away before you can ask for the silverware they forgot to give you or to bring the salt or pepper that is not on the table. I have gotten out of my seat many a time to go get my waiter or waitress to get me something they forgot or neglected.
However, having lived here in the Boquete area for 13+ years I do find this happening less often, while more and more restaurants are opening up in the Boquete area that provide much better service. This makes me happy because I love to go out to eat in a nice, good restaurant and we have many of them now in Boquete.
  1. Lawyers and the “Mañana Syndrome”
I moved here to Central America in 1994 and worked up until 2013 when I “retired”.  I worked mostly in real estate sales and in 2006 made my own rural development, River Ranch Farms Panama. In Central America, you need a good lawyer to execute a real estate transaction.  I cannot tell you how many lawyers have killed my deals or made my life miserable with their procrastination getting paperwork done and transactions closed. This can be so frustrating.
I know there are good and bad in any profession anywhere in the world, but many of the lawyers here think they have all the time in the world when people are waiting for them to get their work done.  I can write a real estate sales contract in English or Spanish in a matter of an hour or two. Why does it take some lawyers here weeks or even months to do the same thing? A friend of mine here who also worked in real estate development and I would remark how consistently we would have  to say to the lawyers here, “Did you do it yet?”
Still I have found some good lawyers to work with here who did get things done and properties sold, but sometimes it feels like I have to do their work or be on top of them to do their work but I am not getting paid for my time to do that. And, as you know (see #3 above,) my time is valuable to me.
  1. No Property Taxes or Low Property Taxes
Where in the world can you live with no property taxes or very little property taxes for a nice home on a good size lot or acreage?
My husband and I completed building our dream home at River Ranch Farms in 2009. At that time Panama had the 20-year tax Home in Boquete with iron gate – Best Places In The World To Retire – International Livingexemption on new residential construction.  When we finished our home, we filed the value of the home with the DGI (Dirreción General de Ingresos) and the public registry and received our 20 year tax exemption.  If we were to sell the property, the tax exemption stays with the property and the new owner. The land acreage we purchased is in a rural area so it was valued very low in the public registry and we pay no property taxes on the land. In Panama, if the land is valued under $30,000, the owner pays zero property taxes.
Recently the government of Panama revised their property tax laws very favorably with very low property tax rates while still maintaining the property tax exemptions for new residential construction for 15, 10 or 5 years, depending on the value of the construction.
The property tax law is involved so I won´t get into the details here but if you are interested in learning more contact me and I can get you the information. It is a huge benefit of living here, especially if you come from an area with relatively high property taxes (like pretty much everywhere in the US and Canada).
  1. Senior Discounts and Immigration Laws
Since we became retirement age and collected our US Social Security and VA pension while living in Panama we were eligible for the retirement residency, called, “Jubilado” or “Pensionado”.   We do have a good lawyer in Panama City (despite what I wrote above about some lawyers) who got us our Jubilado residencies within 6 months of application.  With a Jubilado residency, you are entitled to all kinds of discounts on many goods and services including but not limited to: airfares, hotel stays, electric bills, Hand crafted door made in Nicaragua – Best Places In The World To Retire – International Livingdoctor visits and hospitalizations, prescriptions, movie theaters, restaurants, and more.  This can add up to quite a bit of savings! I never thought it would be so great to get older!
For younger people who are not of retirement age or with pensions, Panama has very favorable immigration laws and residencies available where one can work or own one’s own business. A good law firm can explain the many kinds of residencies available and the requirements.
  1. The People
I loved the Costa Rican people for the 10 years I lived there and though Ticos speak differently and have some different customs, I love the Panamanian people as well. The people in Panama for the most part are warm and friendly and fun to be around. I have many Costa Rican and Panamanian friends. What I enjoy most about their culture and ways is their love for life and family.
Panamanian people are helpful and will stop if your car is broken down or you need help. When I lived in California I was afraid if someone would stop to help me because you don’t know what kind of lunatic that person could be. I do not live with that fear here in Panama and in the 23 years I have lived in Central America I have been helped on the road and in other predicaments and have never feared for my life or safety and have never been attacked. I feel safe here. I did not feel safe in the USA.
  1. Skilled Craftsmen and Maid and Garden Service
In our 13 years living in the Boquete area my husband and I built five homes.  From the experience of building these five homes we have met many skilled craftsmen who do excellent work. These are people who not only do a great job and show up on time, but produce a good product.
Here you can get wood workers to build you furniture, doors, kitchen cabinets, bath vanities, even wood ceilings if you want at a fraction of the price it would cost you in North America or Europe. We have even found here in Panama and Costa Rica hand carved wood doors at a cost of $350 per door. Unheard of in the US or Canada!
Hand crafted iron gate on home in Boquete, Panama – Best Places In The World To Retire – International LivingWe also have a very good welder. I love our welder. He can make any fence railing decorative sturdy and also at a fraction of the cost it would cost in North America or Europe.
Then there is my maid. I love my maid, Gloria. She is like a sister to me. She cleans my house twice a week. She does floors, bathrooms, windows, even our laundry and irons for US $15 / day.  (The official currency in Panama is the US dollar.)  I could not afford that when I lived in the USA.
Then there is the availability of really good gardeners that can do all your gardening for only $20 / day. 
Having a maid and gardener that I can afford gives me more time to do things I would rather do than clean house and mow the lawn!
  1. The Natural, Unspoiled Beauty
Where I live in Chiriquí Province is about half way between the quaint town of Boquete and the city of David. Boquete offers a great variety of good restaurants, nightlife, live music and social events. David offers lots of shopping, as well as restaurants, medical facilities and hospitals.
Dogs in a pristine river in Boquete, Panama – Best Places In The World To Retire – International Living
We are in the mountains so we have clean air and cooler temperatures than at sea level. We don’t need AC or heat, which saves on electric bills.
I have two rivers on my property that are crystal clean. There is no manufacturing or industry polluting the environment here and I grow my own organic vegetables and fruits.  There is lots of wildlife and I enjoy seeing and hearing all the birds.
Where I live it is not crowded with people and traffic, yet I can be in the city of David in a 25-minute drive or the town of Boquete in a 25-minute drive.  I have the best of all worlds because I get to live in nature, pay no property taxes, and get all my senior discounts.  Then I can go once a week to the city of David for my grocery shopping, lunch with friends, or doctor visits or if I choose, I can be in the town of Boquete in 25 minutes and eat at excellent restaurants or go hear live music in one of the bars and go dancing. What more could a girl want!
Oh, and there is one more thing I enjoy here: the miles and miles of unspoiled trails I can use to ride my horses.
Kjersten Van Horn riding her horse with a friend in Boquete – Best Places In The World To Retire – International Living
Pictures, from top:
  • Carnival in Panama
  • Barking dogs in Panama
  • Dousing the crowd with a firehose during Carnival in Panama
  • The home we built in the Boquete area of Panama
  • Hand carved door (This one is from Nicaragua, but you can get some like it in Panama-- great craftsmen!)
  • Hand crafted iron gate at the front of our home in the Boquete area of Panama
  • One of the two pristine rivers on our property with one of our dogs posing
  • One of my favorite things to do in Panama-- riding horses on beautiful, natural trails with my friends

Next Building a House in Panama

Best Places In The World To Retire