Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Panama - How It Really Stacks Up - Part 1

I don't want to be one to give up early, but it is starting to look like this Panama thing is a some sort of ruse!!! Everything I read / heard, which included BusinessWeek, Forbes Magazine, Smart Money, and for Heaven's sake even Home and Garden TV said that Panama was one of the Top 10 International Retirement Places. The key factors that influenced these publications (as I understood them were)

1. Low Cost of Living
2. Comfortable Climate / Life Style
3. Safety
4. Low Taxes
5. Access to Affordable Healthcare

Everyone is saying that Panama is the next Costa Rica. So far, not too many of these things are coming true; worse yet some of the ones that could be argued as true....are changing for the worse rapidly. I'll try and elaborate on what I have seen so far and you can decide for yourself.

Let's start with what is by far Panama's largest city which happens to be named Panama City, Panama;

  1. In terms of low cost of living - it seemed that condo's were routinely offered for sale at $250,000 for 2000 sq. foot apartment. Now this might be considered a bargain in New York City.....but for most Americans it is an outrageous price. Only 18 of 381 cities in the US had a median condo price at this level.

  2. They say you can hire a maid down here for $160 per month, so everyone has a maid. Well this may be true, but there are a few probs with this as well. First, the maid will live with you 24hrs x 7 days per week. Secondly, maids and most categories of labor here are asking for minimum wages, as they can no longer live on the wages being paid. This is in large part because we Gingos (and Western Europeans) have run the cost of living up. Relative to maids, gardners, etc. there is a story here in Panama about a man who hooked a huge fish, the fish fought very hard, but the man didn't give up. After a long battle the fisherman asked himself, "do I have the fish or does the fish have me?". So they say it is with "hired help" down here; its not clear who has who.

  3. In the heart of Panama City, near the Presidential Palace, is Casco de Viejo. This is a very old area with some very nice architecture. However, most of it is under reconstruction. The good news is they say it will be finished in 2020. The bad news is to get there you have to drive through slums and condemned buildings with hookers on every other doorstep. I am not necessarily against legalized prostitution, but it ain't a pretty sight at $12 per hour (which according to our taxi was the going rate). I guess you get what you pay for - but this looked like more than I could stand. The driver also told us that the "girls" had to go to a clinic once a week (on Wednesday's) to be checked and certified - I don't care what the examiner's job pays - I ain't interested.

  4. In terms of safety, we were warned by Panamanian police not to leave the 4 to 6 square block area where they patrolled, near the Presidential Palace. Even though I showed them my tattoos and told them about my experience in mixed martial arts and my college boxing career - they still advised against getting out of their sight. It was interesting to me that the preferred method of robbery here is still from behind with a knife to your throat (I read this in a travel guide). At least here in Panama they still have a strong sense of tradition!

  5. In terms of comfort Panama City, Panama is very warm, in fact it is damn hot. If my sister were writing this, she'd say "Panama City is hotter than a three-balled tom cat!" and she'd be right! Worse yet, it is also so humid that everyone you see is "sweatin' like a bastard at the family reunion". I saw a couple of New Yorkers who had the misfortune to get an unairconditioned cab from the airport to our 4.5 star hotel. These poor boys looked like they had been rode hard, and put up wet. Not a pretty sight; but not that serious. With a cold shower and air conditioning these guys will probably stop sweating by early tomorrow morning anyway.

  6. In terms of investment, Panama City might not be a very good choice, especially right now. There were 15 building cranes working on 50 story apartment complexes there, and none of them were moving. Most of the people, who I ever knew who would want to live in a 50 story complex, lived in New York, City. New York has Broadway, Sports, Fine Dining, Museums and every aspect of culture you could name. New Yorkers' would be pretty disappointed with Panama City. My bet is it will probably be a very long time before Americans get stupid enough to pay these prices, but with Americans you can never tell. As P.T. Barnum once said, "there's a sucker born every minute". I am sure P.T was right. However, not every sucker born has a spare $250,000 in his pocket.

  7. Finally, the country is now having to look at changes in its tax laws to pay for all of these infrastructure improvements. I mean, when you have a goal of moving in 10's of thousands of Americans - they expect stuff - like roads, police, garbage pickup, etc. So there goes your cheap tax rates.

Don't get me wrong. We are having a great time. But everything here is not exactly as advertised. I think we will have to think twice before we plunk down a quarter of mil. for one of these joints. Northeast Texas keeps sounding better. I'll keep you posted.

All the best,

Your faithful foreign correspondent,


PS. After Nancy read this I cleaned it up a lot....so you can't really trust it anymore since I had to "sugar coat" it for Nancy.

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