Monthly Archives: March 2014

A Tale of Two Famous City Regions: Part 3

A Tale of Two Famous City Regions: Part 3

This is my Part 3 serial comparison of the “quality of life” in the Greater Ottawa/Hull Region including satellite towns such as Kanata and Orleans with the Greater Panama City Region (including Coronado). Both regions contain somewhat more than one million residents and there is typically a 60 minute drive to the “center”.

The basis for this rather atypical comparison is as follows:

  • Coronado, Panama has been rated as “the best place in the world” to live/retire for North American and European “expats” by many well-known international web sites and news media.
  • Ottawa is frequently rated as having the highest “quality of life” for any city in the world see http://www.numbeo.com/quality-of-life/rankings.jsp and various international agencies.
  • A very high percentage of expats living/visiting Coronado happen to be Canadians.
  • Having lived permanently in Coronado since 2005, and having lived/worked in Ottawa for about 20 years, I could be considered a relative expert for this comparison.

The main components of a typical “Quality of Life Index” are as follows:

  1. Your Purchasing Power
  2. The Consumer Price Index
  3. Your Property Price to Income Index
  4. The Quality/Cost of Health Care
  5. Your Safety/Crime Index
  6. Your Traffic Commute Time
  7. The Pollution Index

My first two postings addressed the first four indicators for “quality of life” which are primarily (but not entirely) economic and financial in nature including “health care”.

But what about crime and personal safety?

Crime and personal safety are a major consideration for anyone living anywhere.

For comparison purposes, crime rates are always measured as the number of events per 100,000 people. The main crime categories are “homicides”, “crimes against the person” (assaults, muggings, rape, kidnappings, armed robbery etc) , and “crimes against property” (primarily theft without the victim being present).

Homicides and Panamanian “Red Zones”

The homicide rate per 100,000 people in the Republic of Panama has varied between 18 to 20 in recent years. In the Ottawa/Hull area it is less than 2. The Republic of Panama rate, however, includes homicides in distant Colon (on the Atlantic side) accounting almost 30% of all homicides which if excluded would reduce this number to about 12-13.

The great majority of homicides in Panama occur in well-known “red zones” (Colon is a Red Zone). There are perhaps 5 or 6 well designated “red zones” in Panama City. The typical victim of a homicide in Panama is male, between the ages of 16 and 28, engaged in some indictable activity, and spending time in a “red zone” between the hours of 8 PM and 2 PM. Most sensible people stay out of designated “red zones” at night. There are also “higher risk” areas in the Ottawa/Hull area.

On an anecdotal basis, I asked a Canadian friend (who has owned property in Panama since 2006) his opinion concerning the number of “expats” who have become a “homicide statistic” since 2006. His “ballpark estimate”, which coincides closely with my own thinking, is that there have been approximately 12 expat homicides in the past 8 years. Considering that there are approximately 100,000 expats in all of Panama, this would work out to about 1.5 expat homicides per 100,000 per year which is basically identical to the Ottawa/Hull homicide rate.

There is an excellent web site by Don Winner which focuses on expat crimes in Panama as a resource. My friend was quick to note, without any prompting, that ‘lifestyle” might account for a significant portion of these expat homicides. Some expats think of Panama as the “wild west” and lead a “cowboy” lifestyle. This approach can get you into serious trouble almost anywhere and particularly in Panama.

“Crimes against the Person” is the most important category by far

Given that one is able to control the impulse to visit a “red zone” at night (wearing gold jewelry, flashing a wad of bills and slightly inebriated), “crimes against the person” are by far the most important crime category to analyze.

“Crimes against the person” include “attempted murder”, rape, assault, armed robbery, kidnapping etc. The definition of these crimes is about the same in both countries.
In Ottawa there were 542 such “crimes against the person” per 100,000 people in 2012.

In the same year 2012, in the Ottawa Region, “crimes against property” (e.g. theft) were 2925 per 100,000.

The official report from Ottawa for 2012 (excluding Gatineau/Hull) can be verified at:  http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=1&ved=0CCkQFjAA&url=http%3A%2F%2Fottawapolice.ca%2FLibraries%2FPublications%2F2012-2011CrimeStats_City_of_Ottawa_data.sflb.ashx&ei=KO0iU9CtE8T5kQeCn4HYAQ&usg=AFQjCNHNk-XpSavmnru0_YGOJ_h9JJ9h3g&sig2=TOu384G_Kcy3b1fg13dK-A&bvm=bv.62922401,d.eW0.

All Statistics are simply Lies, Lies and more Lies

A famous man once said everyone has the right to his own opinion but not to his own facts.
For those people who believe that crime statistics are “lies, lies and more lies” used by inept governments to hide inefficiencies and/or to promote tourism, one should note that both Canada and the USA publicly state that only about 50% of all “crimes against the person” and “against property” are reported. The same is true for Panama. This error rate is obviously not the case with homicide statistics as you have to somehow account for the body!.

Panama crime statistics remain more difficult to analyze because there is no official police report that can be easily downloaded like the one in Ottawa and certainly not a report for the Coronado/Panama City area exclusively. Continued research will be conducted and any ideas would be appreciated. I will endeavor to interview the local Chief of Police on this matter.

One well established web site www.nationmaster.com, using statistics generated from internationally recognized agencies including the UN, provides a reasonable comparative report on “total crimes” for Canada and Panama. But it is rather dated.

The population of Canada is 10 times larger than Panama (35 million to 3.5 million). NationMaster reports that the number of “total crimes” in Panama was 21,058 during the same year that “total crimes” in Canada were 2,520,000. Considering that the Canadian statistics are reasonably accurate, one would have assumed that Panama would have about 250,000 “crimes” (based on population size) rather than only 21,058. These statistics are quite old so they are only “indicative” at best. More research is needed.

Another report “Crime and Punishment around the World: [Four Volumes] edited by Graeme R. Newman” notes that for 2006 the following statistics were available in Panama per 100,000 population: auto theft (19) drugs (86), major theft (545), robbery (38), rape (24), and major assault (36). The only problem is that these crimes are not categorized as “crimes against the person” as opposed to “crimes against property”. Lumping all crimes together Panama had a rate per thousand that is only 25% that of Ottawa (about 700 rather than 3000).

Without having more first class statistics available, my view continues to be that “crimes against the person” per 100,000 in the Coronado/Panama City region remain substantially lower than in the Ottawa/Hull area. I will looking for more “official” data including anecdotal evidence of this view and reporting back to you.

A Tale of Two Famous City Regions: Part 2

A Tale of Two Famous City Regions: Part 2

This is a Part 2 comparison of the “quality of life” available living in a peripheral town (such as Kanata or Orleans) within a 45-60 minute drive to “downtown Ottawa” with Coronado which is an approximate one hour drive to Panama City. Both areas have approximately 1.5 million residents.

Why Perform this Ridiculous Comparison?

1. Coronado Panama is regularly selected by the top rated “offshore living experts” as being simply “the best place” in the world to live/retire for North American and European “expats”.

2. Ottawa is regularly selected by most international and economic organizations as providing one of the highest “quality of life” environments for any city in the world. http://www.numbeo.com/quality-of-life/rankings.jsp .

3. A very high percentage of expats moving to Coronado happen to be Canadian who could have easily selected Ottawa (or Vancouver or Calgary) for their retirement rather than distant Coronado Panama.

4. I have been living permanently in Coronado since 2005 making me a relative expert on this area.

5. I have also lived/worked on a permanent basis in the Greater Ottawa Metropolitan Region for about 20 years providing me with considerable experience concerning the “quality of life” in Canada’s capital.

This is Part Two of my “serial posting”. An edited and expanded version of these postings will become available shortly as a “free eBook” for members only. The “free book” will in turn be expanded into a full sized “eBook” for sale on Amazon.

Main Components of your Quality of Life Index (see Numbeo.com above)

1. Purchasing Power
2. Safety Index
3. Health Care
4. Consumer Price Index
5. Property Price to Income Index
6. Traffic Commute Time
7. Pollution Index

Of these 7 primary indicators, three are economic indicators. “Purchasing power” is typically the most important indicator for “quality of life” especially if you happen to be living on a fixed income. If you cannot afford to buy a house, go out to a good restaurant, see the latest ballet show, or even buy gas for your expensive car then what’s the point of living there.

Check out Singapore with its very high per capita income where almost any new car will cost you more than $100,000 and a medium sized, new condo about $1,000,000. Air pollution is intense during certain months of the year although health care and safety indicators are excellent. On a “happiness scale” Singapore recently showed up as one of the unhappiest countries in the world. On balance, not a great place to retire! I know because I lived in Singapore for about 4 months.

“Cost of living” is very important and in Coronado one can easily live on about 40% of what it will cost living a similar lifestyle in a peripheral town near Ottawa with about the same commute time to the downtown core where one can enjoy all of the metropolitan pleasures and services and where the jobs are plentiful.

So what is Purchasing Power?

When you order a 12 ounce domestic beer in most restaurants in the Ottawa area and you will pay between $6 and $7 dollars. Buy the same size domestic sized beer (as good as Canadian beer according to some of my Canadian friends) in an equivalent Coronado restaurant and you will pay about $1.50 and sometimes $2.00. That is the essence of “purchasing power” with a fixed income.

Visit a garage in the Ottawa area for a car repair and you will probably be charged about $80 to $100 per hour for services plus parts. Visit a local garage in the Coronado area and you will be charged between $15 and $20 per hour (plus parts). When is the last time you had a timing belt changed on your SUV with all the parts for $110?

Hire a maid to clean your house for an 8 hour day in the Ottawa area and you will probably pay $150 to $175. In Coronado you will be charged about $20 to $25 for the same 8 hour day. The same is true for a gardener. A plumber or electrician might charge $50 per day.

Visit a nice restaurant in the Ottawa area and order two, 12 ounce rib eye steak dinners with all the trimmings, plus dessert and two local beers and one would expect to pay more than $100 plus 15% tax and 15% tip. In Coronado, a similar quality restaurant will charge you perhaps $35 at the top end with taxes and tip included without any pensioner discounts.

Hire a taxi, visit the dentist, buy a full set of clothing for the entire year, buy cable TV services and you will find the same comparison. It is definitely NOT all about the money or purchasing power, but it does bring a smile to your face when the bill is presented.

We have a Canadian guest who recently dinged the back fender of her rental car. In Halifax Canada she estimated the cost to repair at $1000+. She brought the car to a local repair shop near Coronado and paid $125 for a first class repair job which was completed the same day.

Other Dimensions of “Quality of Life”

Money is only one measure of quality of life. There are many other interesting and important dimensions to this measure that most people would instinctively understand but which are often too subjective for easy measurement?

What about the weather? Personally, I prefer the warm tropical breezes in Coronado with a glass of wine chatting with friends on our terrace to the harsh winters of Ottawa. But some people enjoy bundling up in their expensive parkas for a stroll outside, they relish the thought of skating on the Rideau and they eagerly await the opportunity to cross country ski in the Gatineau Hills. Who am I to judge? The winter of 2013/2014 should have been a veritable treat for them!

What about happiness? This is another highly subjective indicator which could be discussed endlessly but certainly impacts “quality of life”. Why would one choose to live in a very sad country? Panama was recently identified as the happiest country in the world (http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2251272/Latin-America-worlds-happiest-region-Panama-Paraguay-boasting-cheerful-people.html).

Without doubt there are some major gaps in the “Quality of Life” indicator and I will discuss these issues in my subsequent postings.

A Tale of Two Famous City Regions

What a Stupid Comparison!

How and why would anyone ever try to compare Ottawa, the capital of Canada, with perhaps 1.5 million residents living within a circle of say 60 miles with Coronado with an approximately equal population living within a similar 60 mile diameter (including metropolitan Panama City)?
To be totally fair, living in Coronado about a one hour drive to Panama City should be compared to living in some of the peripheral towns such as Kanata or Orleans in the Ottawa Region from which it is frequently a one hour drive to the downtown area.

Some will quickly conclude that this has to be the classic “apples and oranges” comparison that we all learned so well in kindergarten is impossible to make. But bear with me and keep an open mind.

The Rationale for this Comparison

The basis for this comparison is as follows:

  • Coronado Panama has been selected by many “offshore experts” and internationally acclaimed publications as one of the best places in the world to live and retire for “expats”.
  • Ottawa is typically selected by many important international organizations as having the highest “quality of life” for any city in the world (although Vancouver is often rated equal or higher).
  • The majority of expats moving/visiting Coronado just happens to be Canadian although Canada has only one tenth the population of either the USA or Europe. These “Canadian expats” could have more easily selected Ottawa as their best place to live/retire rather than Coronado.
  • My wife and I have been living permanently in Coronado since 2005 and could be considered reasonable experts in understanding this area.
  • My wife and I have also lived/worked on a permanent basis in the Greater Ottawa Region for about 20 years and could also claim a certain expertise concerning the “quality of life” in Canada’s capital.

This will be my first planned “serial posting” which will become a “free eBook” for members and later a full book for sale on Amazon. I have selected approximately 50 points of comparison (and/or difference) between these two “regions” and each serial posting will review a number of comparison points.

The Major Consideration

This first posting will review the major consideration for moving from the Ottawa Region with the undisputed highest “quality of life” to Coronado

  • The cost of living

Cost of Living

The cost of living for a similar lifestyle in Coronado has remained at approximately 40% of our budget in the Ottawa Region for at least the last 8 years. In fact, when living at the 40% level, I would have to say that our “quality of life” in Coronado is substantially better than in Ottawa.

We live directly across the street from a beautiful Pacific beach (Playa Serena) where both toddlers and surfers enjoy the 80 degree water and waves all year. Our private swimming pool (which cost $5000 in 2006 to construct under my supervision) is equally available day and night for 365 days a year.

In the Ottawa Region we lived on beautiful Lake MacGregor with perhaps 75 days for swimming if you were very determined and could endure the black flies and mosquitoes. In Coronado, I get a mosquito bite perhaps once every 6 months although we occasionally spray our property.

Domestic Help

In Coronado, we can easily afford a maid and gardener whenever we wish at about $20-$25 per day (not per hour). A plumber or electrician might cost $40 to $50 for a full day of work rather than $60 to $75 per hour. In Ottawa, I do not recall that we every hired a maid or a gardener. I understand that in Ottawa a maid will charge about $20 per hour.

Municipal Taxes

Municipal taxes in Coronado are very low. Less expensive new houses or condos in Coronado are fully exempt from taxes for up to 15 years. I remember that 20 years ago the taxes on our modest Britannia three bedroom house in Ottawa were higher than our current taxes in Coronado and I would guess that we have at least five times the property here in Coronado.

Dining Out

A good lunch or dinner for two in Ottawa can easily run $75 to $100 area whereas last night we went to one of our favorite restaurants in Coronado (El Chef Rincon) and paid about $20 total for a delicious salmon steak and a wonderful filet of chicken breast with full vegetables and two beers. The tip was extra at 10% and I have to confess that we received a 15% discount because of “pensioner” status in Panama.

Earlier this week I was invited to lunch by some good friends from Calgary. We went to Leonardo’s Steak House (about 2 miles from our house) and ordered two steak dinners with all the trimmings plus a full sea bass (about 14”) again with all the trimmings and three sodas (we were both driving). The total cost was $25. Try that in Ottawa. This was a clean, well-appointed new restaurant with air con although we had to fetch our dinners at the counter which was not a great inconvenience.

The Cost of Booze

Some Canadian friends quickly comment that the price of all alcoholic beverages in Coronado are a mere fraction of what one would pay in Ottawa. And just to make it very easy, Coronado has a 24×7 first class grocery store that sells everything from Grey Goose vodka to the best imported wines at any time the spirit moves you (so to speak).

A good Chilean wine sells in the $6 to $8 range. A liter (not a quart) of almost any alcohol sells for about $10 to $12. A case of 24 Balboa beers (very similar to many of the better Canadian beers) sells for about $12 net after you return the bottles.
In a local Panamanian bar expect to pay 75 cents for a 12 ounce Balboa beer (although the music volume can be a bit overwhelming at times) in contrast to your average about $7 beer in a similar Ottawa “establishment”. This of course would right next to the place where I can get my SUV car washed inside and out by hand for $5.

There is even a very inexpensive but acceptable Chilean, dry table wine that sells for $3.15 per liter (“Clos”). It is surprisingly good and attracts a rather unusually large Canadian following after the usual eyebrow raising.

Health Care and Medical Attention

It is rather difficult to compare health costs since in Canada virtually everything is included in your annual tax bill.

Here in Coronado my wife and I pay less than $2000 per year for very good health care insurance at a five star internationally accredited hospital (San Fernando Clinic and Hospital) located less than 2 miles from our house. If I were to require a hip or knee replacement it would probably be scheduled within a week rather than in 18 months as is often (but not always) the case in Canada and my cost, out of pocket, would be about $3000. The same time period would typically be required to schedule a heart bypass and my out of pocket cost would be about $5000.

I recall that my mother in Canada usually had to wait 6 months for an appointment with her various medical specialists whereas in Panama my “wait time” for a specialist is typically less than one week and often only 2 or 3 days. Your out of pocket cost to see such a specialist would be about $12 with insurance or about $40 to $50 if you choose to “self-insure” yourself. The specialist is English speaking, typically trained in the USA or Europe, and examines you in clean, modern facilities. Sometimes, but not always, these specialists are available in Coronado.

Prescription drugs in Panama are about 30% less expensive than in Canada and we have a pharmacy open 24×7 within 2 miles of our house. I even get a discount on vitamins. This last week I had a rather standard blood test which verified about 20 key indicators. My cost (after a 20% discount) was $6.80 and it took exactly one hour to get the results. This was a full cost cash payment without any assistance from my insurance plan otherwise my cost would have been about $2.00.

There are three high quality, modern Dental Clinics in Coronado. A crown or root canal will cost about $350 to $400. A filling about $40. A cleaning about $30.

There is much more … but you get the idea.