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Trouble in Paradise

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As many of you know, we recently completed an Epic Journey driving from Picton, Ontario Canada to our winter home in Santa Clara, Panama.  Over twelve thousand miles through 9 countries, visiting dozens of retirement destinations along the way.  After an exhausting, but exhilarating journey, all we wanted to do was relax and wind down. Upon our return to our Panamanian home, we found that all was not quite well in paradise.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 04 May 2010 18:55 Register to read more...

Tourists from Canada up 60%

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This article was published on Roberto
Canadians are discovering Panama at a faster rate than any other group says Panama’s tourism authority.

Last Updated on Thursday, 09 December 2010 22:59

Living in an RV in Panama

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Here is an e-mail from a member interested in living in an RV in Panama. Roberto

Q: Hi Roberto,

My husband and I have just recently begun thinking about retiring to Panama.  I'm just now beginning to do some research, but I have a question.  What is the feasibility of purchasing some land in Panama, digging a well and building a septic system, then pulling a 5th-wheel trailier from the U.S. to park on the land and live in?  Is this a viable plan for living arrangments down there?  What issues regarding taxes, fees, regulations, etc. do you know of that might impact us if we wanted to do this?  Any info you can give me will be greatly appreciated.  Thank you so much, and I LOVE your website!

Best regards,

A: Dear Terie,
There is no reason why you could do exactly as you indicated you want to do. Here are the issues I see:
1) Panama charges 30% import duty/taxes on vehicles entering Panama (20% if you are a Pensionado)
2) You will need an electrical hook up - not sure if Union Fenosa (the electrical company) would have any issues hooking up to a trailer - I don't think so, but worth checking.
3) The doors/windows on an RV are fairly easy to break into. I would consider parking it either in an RV Park (XS Memories in Santa Clara is the only one I know) or inside a gated community. You might consider re-enforcing the doors and windows with metal bars for extra security if you plan on leaving it unoccupied for any period of time. Petty theft/break-ins are a fact of life in almost every Central American, Mexican or for that matter any big city in Canada and USA.
4) The well and septic are no problem. Land is available at reasonable prices all over Panama. (ranging from $1.50 a square meter to $60 a meter or more near the ocean). 
Plan on coming down for a month to look around, see what areas you like, and scout possible land purchases. 
A few hints: Make sure the property is titled. Use a good lawyer - and a legal real estate agent (with a number).
5) Read The Epic Journey on our site for information on driving from USA to Panama - also, visit - Chris and Kristin (our newest investigators's) site with comprehensive information on driving in Central America. Don't drive at night.
Those are my thoughts. Hope they help.  Let me know when you are arriving. Roberto
Last Updated on Tuesday, 04 May 2010 18:49

Chocolate mentioned in The Panama Star

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Hiding the truth is soft larceny

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On line hustlers setting traps for fools conveniently forget the warts on beautiful Lady Panama
Panama Star Yesterday I wrote about some of the scam artists that populate Panama, preying on new arrivals, ideally their fellow countrymen, believing that national bonds are some form of guarantee of trustworthiness. Today, we turn to another kind of scam, that of hard sell promoters of real estate and Panama living who, by exaggeration, omission of unpleasant facts and misrepresenting essentials like the cost of living are practicing soft soap robbery.

These are the people who offer expensive seminars, for the gullible, unable to do their own research and will guide you to the cheapest places in the world to retire, but put on their blinkers when it comes to issues like corruption and crime. They run web sites and (for a healthy fee) offer the “latest” report on Panama living like a projected GDP growth of over 3 percent. (The latest projections indicate maybe one percent).

BUDGETING. Some even give you a sample budget. Try this for example, Condo fees (maintenance) in Panama City “$100 a month.” Is that one room with no running water in the middle of Chorillo, or a bathroom in Punta Pacifica? A quick check with friends came up with the average of $200-$250 for moderate sized apartments. A less than 100 square meter apartment near (not on) Avenida Balboa $175. Couldn’t track anyone paying $100.

MAID IN HEAVEN. Then there was the cost of a maid. $150 a month. No mention of paying Social Security, or how many hours a week the maid would be working for such a magnificent stipend. The writer, with a couple of years of Panama living as a qualification, says she and her husband pay her maid $300 (again no mention of Social Security) because she does laundry and ironing.

CULTURE. But then there is a wonderful cultural life, the Ballet, the National Orchestra. How many performances a year? When is the Ballet season? And outside of the city?

CRIME WAVE. There is a convenient silence on escalating crime, the worry of Panamanians and expats alike. Why mention an American killed in his garden by intruders a couple of weeks back? express taxi-robberies starting at major shopping malls; car jacking; tourists being robbed within shouting distance of the presidential palace; a public official gunned down by robbers in front of the Controleria. Wrong place, wrong time. An American woman murdered, chopped into pieces and carried away in a suitcase.
Not quite the blissful life that the promoters present.

HEALTH CARE. When it comes to health care the statements (similar to those selling medical tourism) go overboard. They took a hit recently when a young woman fro Texas died after liposuction surgery in Chiriqui. And the cost? Imagine a site aimed at Canadians saying that the the cost of hospital care is cheaper in Panama. Cheaper than nothing?

ALTERNATIVES. For those who don’t get suckered into one of the rose tinted scenarios , there are fortunately a few alternate sources. Sam Taliaferro , a developer of renown in Chiriqui, is not afraid to speak the truth on the economy, the Canal expansion, crime and corruption, and for this has been excoriated by the denizens of tourism and real estate.

More recently on the scene is Robert Brown, known affectionately by his Panamanian staff and neighbors as Roberto Chocolate. Robert is a Canadian who parleyed a career in marketing to becoming one of the most successful fund raisers for the arts in North America.

He was an early victim of over sell by one of the expat hustling companies, whose owners have been moving around the world, looking for fresh fruit to pick.

During his time in Panama, his home has been invaded three times. Once he confronted intruders with a paint gun loaded with frozen paint balls. That created a splash and a little pain to remember his visit by. That aside, he is a lover of his new country, actively engaged in the local community and already working on a major fund raising activity to focus attention on endangered Panamanian wild life.

In the meantime he devotes a lot of energy to telling it as it is on his web site, giving praise where it is due, listing scammers and those wearing blinkers. He gets some 10,000 hits a week.
He recently got into hot water at a presentation in Toronto where he dared to mention some of the Panamanian facts of life that every one should be aware of before making the big move. For people like Sam and Rob, let’s be thankful. In the meantime lest you think Panama is a hell hole, it’s not. But like all beauty, it has its flaws.


Last Updated on Tuesday, 04 May 2010 18:51

Tourist Insurance plan cancelled to pay for city garbage

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 This article appeared today in Roberto

The much touted health insurance plan for visitors to Panama has disappeared under a pile of garbage.

 The $3 million that the Tourism Authority had set aside to implement the plan has been transferred to the new national waste authority (ANA) as the government scrambles to find funds so that the clean up body can begin operations in December.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 07 December 2010 14:39

Some banks in Panama refusing Americans

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 A number of banks who have worked with American clients in the past, namely Banco General, Creditcorp and Global Bank are no longer accepting account applications from US citizens unless they meet a very strict set of conditions. 

This self-policing seems to be a response to the US Congress discussions regarding the US/Panama Free Trade Agreement. Many in Congress call Panama a tax haven and argue a treaty should not be signed unless Panamanian banks repeal their banking secrecy laws.

Several banks, including Banvivienda and HSBC, have recently announced that they will discontinue renting safety deposit boxes to the public.  Customers who rent safety deposit boxes currently will have until the end of the year to clear out their belongings.


Last Updated on Tuesday, 04 May 2010 19:05

Vehicle taxes/duty in Panama

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Q: My car is a one-year old Honda Odyssey which I paid $43,000 for new. It now has 22,000 kilometers on it. What tax will I owe if I import it to Panama?

A: The basic formula used by aduana is 5% ITBM and 5% ISC of the price new. (This is why you need a good agent to negociate the clearing of the vehicle).  

So, your car that cost $43,000 new will have taxes of $4,300. Add 10% if you are not a Pensionada - another $4,300 for a total of $8,600.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 04 May 2010 18:49

Cumana Bistro in El Valle

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New Bistro opens in El Valle



A friend surprised us last week with a visit to a little bistro, tucked away on a side road in El Valle. Nestled between La India Dormir mountain and the hot springs, Cumana (the name means “where the rivers flow together”) is in a converted home.

Opened in February 2009, this twenty-five seat bistro is only open Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays.

You have a choice to sit inside where the former living room was, out on the porch or outside on the tented patio. There is live music most nights. As it was a sunny afternoon, we elected to sit under the tent.

The last time we ate with chickens and cats underfoot was in Provence in the south of France, and the experience here was equally pleasant.

The menu was pre-fix with three choices of appetizer, main and dessert for $25. Vegetarian options were available for each course.

The food was beautifully prepared, fresh, interesting and well presented. The menu changes frequently, so I will not describe each dish, but suffice to say it was one of the best meals we have had in Panama.

Sven Schiffer (German) and his Panamanian wife Vivianna, while not being papered chef’s, certainly know - and love fine food. Their choices were smart, healthy, interesting and at times risky, but they pulled them off with panache.

An example: a balsamic reduction over shredded arugula with a brandied lamb pate on Parmesan toast and home-made red pepper jelly. Not something I would ever have thought of - but it was brilliant.

My appetizer was outstanding - baked apples with cheese, bacon and confited jalapeno. I found the crab croquette with a green peppercorn mayonnaise a little salty, but my Dutch wife felt it was perfect.

Although this is their first restaurant, Sven seemed perfectly at home - which he was! He knew when to sit and talk and when to let his guests enjoy their meal. He is a charming, gentle man with a gift for making people feel comfortable.

The food - especially the use of spices was superb. Our rosemary stuffed chicken was divine.

One thing we all commented on was the sauciness of their sauces - something we have not found a lot of in Panama.

The three course dinner was $25. Wine: we chose the excellent Navarro Correas Chardonnay $25.

Future plans call for the construction of overnight Yurts with indoor fire-pit beside the riverbanks, an outdoor patio and expanding the very narrow entry gate.

To get to the Cumana Bistro, drive the main street through El Valle, past the large white church, go through the s curve and as soon as you have crossed the bridge, turn hard left. Follow this pot-holed road to the cut out of a chef sign.

Check it out before it becomes so successful you'll need reservations. Right now you don’t need them, but I suggest you make them anyway - just in case:

Tel: 6667 - 5001

E-Mail: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

OR This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

Tell them Roberto Chocolate sent you!





Last Updated on Tuesday, 04 May 2010 19:09

Panama flying high as a hot destination

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This is an article published in: Roberto

Panama flying high as expanding hub for international airlines
By Adrian Barry

British Airways (BA) is the latest in a series of European based airlines to consider direct flights to Panama, to take advantage of its predominance as a hub for Latin America.

BA wants to use Panama as stopping point, following other airlines from Latin America, Japan and Canada who want to access Central and South America.

The airlines’ interest is fueled by an increase in tourists visiting the Isthmus, the siting of more multi national companies in Panama City, and the increased traffic generated by the Panama Canal expansion, and other major projects bringing in specialists and managers from oversees.
The boom in hotel construction is expected to prove a boon to package tour operators.

Iberia has direct flights to Madrid

Iberia, which plans to merge with BA on Monday ( November 29) established in October a direct flight from Madrid-Spain. KLM has increased its flights from Amsterdam to six a week and by 2011 will fly daily.

Condor recently began direct flights to Frankfurt, Germany.
BA will begin flying to Puerto Rico in March 2011 and their planning includes a Panama stop.

The carrier is studying using the Tocumen hub for passengers to make connections to other destinations throughout Latin America.

Direct flights to FrankfurtBritish Airways, before privatization, was known as BOAC. Cynical passengers translated the acronym to Better on a Camel, and BA later as Bloody Awful. But other carriers got similar treatment TWA an American trans-Atlantic carrier(Try Walking Across), SABENA of Belgium (Such a Bloody Experience, Never Again) and Air France (Air Chance).
BA has recently been involved in strikes and disputes with flight crews, as it seeks to streamline its operations, but its public image is radiant when compared with discount flyer Ryan Air, about which disgruntled users have created a website to report problems, but the carrier still dominates in Europe.

KLM moving to daily flights to Amsterdam

Ernesto Orillac, advisor to the Panama Tourism Authority says that an agreement has been reached to promote in the UK a package that includes stays in Puerto Rico and Panama, using connections offered by Copa Airlines.

Copa recently joined the Star Alliance airline network of which BA is a member, making code sharing easier.
Between January and September reached the country about 9300 British tourists, representing an increase of 15% over the same period last year.

Other airlines that have recently established direct flights to Tocumen are Tame of Ecuador, Venezolana de Aviacion, and Dutch Antilles Express from Curacao.

Japan Airlines (JAL) is considering direct flights from Tokyo, and Copa, one of the few airlines in the world to remain profitable during the recession is working with Canadian authorities on a direct route to Toronto, Canada.

EDITOR: The COPA deal with Toronto is signed, pending Pearson's allocation of the time slots for landings. Expect flights to commence in March 2011.


Panama Star - "Manly Pleasures"

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The grand master himself - Simon Soto/2 Fotos 


Following Hemingway in the Panama wilds

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Panama Star Ernest Hemingway once said: “In order to write about life, first you must live it”. So live it I must, but I’ve decided I am going to have some fun along the way.

My artist wife has settled in for a long day of sketching which frees me to discover Panama’s more masculine pleasures.

Venturing forth from my secure, gated property, I enter an unknown jungle.

Strange animal sounds erupt, startled by my presence. The heat is intense. Huge black vultures circle ominously overhead. I am a stranger in a strange land.

Mano-a-mano, I will face the wilds of Panama.

To quench my raging thirst I stop at the local tienda and buy beer and a bottle of Ron Abuelo’s finest rum.

Hunger strikes hard. This is a hunger that will not be sated by mere food. What I need only comes raw.

I recall a secret place. The wise ones whisper its name: Parrillada Mindi.

I was taken there many moons ago in search of the perfect, succulent ceviche. My hunting instincts are finely honed, and I uncover my prey exactly one kilometer due south of the supermercado in Anton.

I enter this non-descript thatched-roof bar to find the grand master himself, Simon Soto stooped silently over his counter, preparing his addictive concoctions.

Three-time national champion this magician of lemon curing skillfully transforms simple shrimp into a medley of flavors that explodes in the mouth. Like an addict I devour my fix, and demanded a “to go” cup.

I press on to the outskirts of Penonome in quest of the manliest of all pleasures – the perfect cigar.

The pungent smell of tobacco wafts by as I enter Costa, home of the handmade Panamanian version of the Cuban cigar – identical, according to Martin Aparicio, Costa’s Cuban-born owner, to their outrageously expensive Cuban cousins.

The rolling process is reminiscent of a bygone era, which gives me a strange sense of comfort.

Legend has it that the originals from Cuba are rolled on the thighs of virgins.

Martin asserts that everyone involved in the rolling of these cigars was, at some point, a virgin.

Carefully placed in its form, a fine cigar is born.

A perfectly rolled cigar jauntily protruding from my jaw, I follow the balneario sign on Penonome’s main street down a paved road to the Rio Cocle del Sur, and rented a boat for five bucks.

I am floating peacefully down river, not a soul around as far as the eye could see.

Fishing rod in hand, cold beer and ceviche at my feet, I took a swig of fifteen-year-old rum and a puff on my fine Cuban cigar. I ponder my looming column deadline.

I have found my place.

My cell phone rings. Do I answer? What would Ernest have done? An exotic bird suddenly shrieks, a mocking commentary.

Papa Hemingway was wise. He didn’t own a cell phone.

Rob Brown, is known to friends and neighbors as Roberto Chocolate, and can be reached at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it


Letter to the Editor


Rob Brown, Your lines were the most entertaining, deive, and funny I had ever read. I hope you will be writing again and again for "Our Eyes Only". It was fantastic and so enjoyable. Thank you so much!

Copyright 2009 Panama Star, S.A. Todos los derechos reservados. La Estrella de Panama: (507) 204-0000 Fax: 227 2394
Last Updated on Tuesday, 04 May 2010 19:06

What do I need to move to Panama?

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The following is a response to a number of questions sent in by a member about to move to Panama, however the information applies to anyone considering a move to The Isthmus.



Last Updated on Tuesday, 04 May 2010 18:50 Register to read more...

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