Author Archives: rwb13

Uruguay vs Panama Revisited

Uruguay vs Panama Revisited

Sorry about that but, I believe that I got it wrong when I predicted that the financial crisis in Argentina would make a huge impact on living standards and the economic growth rate in Uruguay.

Uruguay appears to have weathered this “second potential Argentinian bond default” with considerable aplomb. In addition, the new transparency banking standards implemented in Uruguay for foreign deposits have significantly reduced Argentinian deposits. A double economic whammy which seems to have been accommodated.

Economist Country of the Year

On a totally different front, the “The Economist” assigned its first “Country of the Year” award in 2013 to Uruguay primarily for its bold legislation on legalizing the consumption AND production of marijuana in a dramatic strike against the global “war on drugs”. Many other governments have seriously considered drug legalization but “wimped out” when it came time for action always leaving it to the “next administration”. Cutting out the criminal “middle man” is probably the only logical solution to winning the “drug war”. Panama, of course, has a greater exposure to drugs than Uruguay. It comprises an integral section of the infamous “drug trafficking corridor” to North America from Columbia, Bolivia and now Peru.

Panama vs Uruguay

Back to the Panama vs. Uruguay issue. Where is it potentially more interesting to live and retire? Panama seems to always claim the top spot with Uruguay quite low on the list with several organizations such as International Living and Live and Invest Overseas.

Here is yet another “check list” for comparison purposes on these two countries:
1. You may find the weather a bit too hot in Panama whereas Uruguay offers “San Diego” type coolness with summers somewhat warmer than San Diego and winters a bit cooler at night with temperatures rarely dipping below 40 degrees.
2. The cost of living in Uruguay is virtually the same as in Panama now that the Peso has declined against the dollar by almost 20% in the last three years. Of course some items such as the cost of purchasing a car (and gas) are considerably higher while other items are lower such as quality medical insurance and housing. Owning your own house with a $30,000 per annum budget is more than ample without denying any pleasures. A per annum budget of $20,000 to $25,000 is also very feasible except in the highest priced areas.
3. The economy of Uruguay remains strong and diversified in spite of the Argentinian and Brazilian slowdowns. Real estate prices have continued to increase. Uruguay has the highest per capita income in Central and South America. According to the latest figures of the World Bank, the per capita income for Uruguay for 2013 was USD$16,351 and for Panama it was $11,037 or virtually 50% higher. The Public Debt ranking by Mecometer based on the percent debt of GDP places Uruguay #45 and Panama #90 (
4. Taxes in Panama and Uruguay are relatively similar and rather low. No inheritance tax, no capital gains tax. Generally no tax on income earned outside the country. In Uruguay there is a flat 12% tax on income derived from real estate. Uruguay still has an annoying global wealth tax but it is being phased out by 2016.
5. It is comforting to note that the same day you are accepted as a “potential permanent resident” of Uruguay (papers not yet approved which can take 3-6 months) you have the “right to work” and the right to receive universal health care (which is ranked better than Panama) and with no pre-existing conditions.
6. In 2014, the World Health Organization rated the quality of health care in the USA at 39, Uruguay at 66 and Panama at 95.
7. A married couple is also eligible for Uruguayan citizenship after only three years of residency. A single person has to wait five years. In Panama a “pensionado” visa is essentially a “glorified tourist” program without rights to citizenship although they now have a new visa leading to citizenship if you come from a “friendly country” and start a business and/or have a University degree and get a job. Never underestimate the value of full citizenship in a country.
8. Educational levels are substantially higher across the board in Uruguay with free university tuition to the PhD level.
9. Cultural activities are more common and sophisticated in Uruguay than in Panama with financial support for cultural activities an integral part of the constitution. For example the famous “Teatro Solis” was opened in Montevideo in 1856 and continues with daily productions to this very day. There are many other “teatros” in Montevideo.
10. The corruption level in Uruguay is ranked #19 (2014) which is exactly the same as the USA. The corruption level in Panama for 2014 was #102.
11. If “not standing out in a crowd” is of any interest to you, Uruguay has a 95% European population primarily from Spain, Italy, France and Portugal.
12. The homicide rate per 100,000 population (2014) in Uruguay is approximately one-third that of Panama (7 vs 19).
13. In Panama, one has to adjust to a permanent “party atmosphere” with very loud music.
14. Garbage pollution along the highways and is much lower in Uruguay than in Panama with a direct impact on the incidence of dengue.
15. The highway/road infrastructure is noticeably better in Uruguay than in Panama.
16. The UN Human Development Index (2014) ranks Uruguay at #50 and Panama at #65.
17. The 2014 Index of Economic Freedom ranks Uruguay at #36 and Panama at #71.
18. Panama is much closer for travel purposes to North America (and Europe) than Uruguay, however, the approximate $500 extra for a round trip ticket and perhaps 6-8 hours of extra transit time is usually not a major stumbling block for most people.
19. Uruguay offers the perfect excuse to visit North America or Europe in the May to September period when the temperatures plunge to an average high of 60-70 and a low of 40-50. Great tennis and biking weather but not great for swimming.
20. Panama offers several excellent locations for permanent living (Panama City, Coronado, Altos del Maria, Bouquete etc) but none have remotely the pizzazz of Punta del Este during its 4-5 month high season and its calmer 7 month off-season still only 1.5 hours from Montevideo pleasures.
21. Montevideo ranks #1 in Latin America for “quality of living” by Mercer.
22. By 2015, Uruguay will produce/consume 50% of its energy from renewable energy resources (wind, solar, geothermal, and biomass) which is one of the highest percentages in the world. Germany was at about 28% in 2014 and the USA at around 13%.

The Weather in Panama (Coronado) versus Canada (Ottawa)

The Weather in Coronado versus Ottawa


  1. In Ottawa, freezing cold weather can be very dangerous while walking or driving. A slippery patch of ice will frequently result in a broken hip, pneumonia and even death in some cases.
  2. In Ottawa, the occasional time when I had a car accident the roads were always very icy.
  3. In extreme cold, say below even minus 15 degrees centigrade, one must be sure not to run out of gas or have a mechanical problem with the car particularly in remote areas.
  4. In Ottawa, your car is slowly being eaten by road salt. I once had the bottom of my Volkswagen Super Beetle just fall out.
  5. Cold, damp weather as is common in Ottawa is not especially good for any arthritic and/or respiratory conditions.
  6. Shoveling your driveway after a heavy snow fall is a major heart attack risk.
  7. During periods of cold icy weather conditions, which can last for weeks at a time, elderly people are confined to their homes breathing reheated air.
  8. Cold weather means wearing a lot of heavy expensive clothing. In Ottawa one requires about $1000 of exterior clothing to dress for a typical January day.
  9. Cold weather in the Ottawa Valley frequently results in “temperature inversions” trapping polluted air. Air quality can be as bad inside as outside.
  10. During Ottawa winters, you will scrape the ice, frost and snow off your windshield every morning and evening unless you have heated garages at both ends.
  11. Cold Ottawa weather means much less time outside walking and enjoying nature and the sunshine.
  12. Cold weather means using your swimming pool for a maximum of three months even with a solar panel or propane heater.
  13. Cold weather typically means that you tend to eat more red meats and fatty foods so your body feels comfortable but of course more susceptible to heart disease.
  14. Cold weather means that you will tend to eat fewer greens, veggies and fruits which are relatively more expensive and/or less available.
  15. For some strange reason, people in Ottawa seem to love the summer months and start wearing shorts and T-shirts in April when temperatures are still in the low to mid-60s.
  16. Many of my friends in Canada become avid “snowbirds” spending up to six months in Florida or some other warm clime every winter. I have never been sure why.
  17. In contrast, in Panama, one spends a great deal of time outside breathing clean air for 12 months a year. Here one can be a snow bird full time.
  18. On the Pacific coast one rarely uses an air conditioner although, 2014 was an exceptionally hot and humid year with daily temperatures about 4 degrees higher than average.
  19. Biting insects such as mosquitoes are almost nonexistent in Panama and by spraying several times a year they are never a nuisance. In Ottawa, I remember visiting places such as the waterfalls at Meech Lake where the deer flies will drive one crazy. We also lived at McGregor Lake, just a bit north of Ottawa, where the black flies in June and the mosquitoes in July would totally ruin the short summer.
  20. In Panama your diet includes local fresh grown vegetables, tropical fruits and “almost” organic meats because the local farmers do not have money for pesticides and hormones.
  21. With such a diet, the average expat will lose 10% of her weight within three months not to mention experience fewer allergies because of the air quality and diet. You just naturally get more vitamin D and exercise here.
  22. In Panama one wears sandals, walking shorts and a T-shirt all year.
  23. In Panama one is surrounded by the most incredible richness of fauna and flora. In 2014, the already well known Biodiversity Museum opened in Panama City. It was designed by world famous Canadian architect Frank Gehry. Why Panama you might ask. There is a good reason. The very large central park in Panama City (just for example) has more varieties of birds than all of Europe. Almost 1000 species.
  24. In Panama the driving is safer in all seasons except at night. Occasionally, however, people will pull off the road during a torrential rainfall which might last at most for one hour.
  25. In Panama there are several different seasons although they are much more subtle than in Ottawa. During the rainy season, for example, from April until November, it rains every three or four days for an hour or so. Then there are the “fruiting seasons” etc etc.
  26. In Panama you can sit out on your terrace chatting with friends while sipping a quality glass of wine (costing 40% of Ottawa prices) until past midnight any day of the year without a screen for insects or a heavy sweater and boots if you are so inclined.
  27. Summertime is always a more sociable season and one frequently bumps into friends and neighbors for a chat. In Panama, it is always summertime.
  28. Construction activities are much easier and considerably cheaper in Panama than in Ottawa. For example one does not have to build foundations to withstand 6 feet of frost or build a 10/20 insulated house.
  29. In Panama there are very few storms, zero hurricanes and no earthquakes.

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 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:,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, 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. .

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 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 (

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.

31 Reasons to check out Coronado Panama

31 Reasons to consider Coronado Panama

  1. In Coronado, you can increase your “standard of living” at about 40% of your present budget in North America or Europe. If your “quality of life” requires frequent visits to the ballet, opera and theater Coronado will not compete with New York City, Toronto, London or Paris.
  2. In Panama, you will forget about freezing cold winters common to much of North America and even Europe. You can live a “vacation lifestyle” all year long with little incentive to travel.
  3.  For example, the ocean temperature, across the street from our house, varies between about 79 and 81 degrees Fahrenheit all year. You can swim in your pool every day of the year in complete comfort.
  4. The so-called “rainy season” in Coronado starts in April lasts until November during which time there is an average of about one hour of heavy rain every three or four days after which the sun usually shines. Every several months you will also have to endure a full day of overcast skies with drizzle.
  5. Coronado has been described as a retiree, offshore tropical paradise for many years minus the hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, tsunamis and floods that plague some other “hot spots”.
  6. In 2013, Coronado Panama was picked as the “best retirement town in the world” by Kathleen Peddicord, who happens to be a well-known expert on this subject. For more than 10 years, International Living and other major international news organizations have rated Panama in the top two or three countries for retirement and living offshore.
  7. Permanent residency possibilities in Panama are many, varied, inexpensive and very easy to comply with. Some recent residency options can lead to full citizenship in 5 years. Panama is desperately short of professionals and the red carpet has been rolled out to citizens of about 50 “friendly” countries. All you need do is maintain a bank account of $5000 and own a business that requires your presence in Panama. The permanent “Pensionado Visa” for retirees only requires a pension income of $1000 per month.
  8. Panama City features one of the largest international banking centers in the world often compared to Switzerland and Singapore. Panama banks remained rock solid during the recent Great Recession in the USA and they still are today. Panama has been removed from the black/grey list as a banking haven by the OECD. Coronado has 8 branch banks.
  9. Panama has become the major hub for airline traffic in Central and South America. There are many direct flights from Canada, the USA and Europe taking 5-7 hours.
  10. In Coronado you can easily start a profitable business or a second career with very low risk (low rental and labor costs) and with excellent upside potential. I have been doing this for the past 8 years and I can see many expats, of all ages, running very successful businesses in a wide range of sectors.
  11. An International School with all classes in English was recently opened in Coronado providing welcome support to expat families with teenage kids.
  12. In Coronado you can significantly reduce your health insurance and medical costs by 60-75% while having easy access to internationally accredited five star hospitals with a full range of services, English speaking doctors and modern equipment. Coronado has a new first class medical clinic operated by San Fernando Hospital. This medical insurance is open to expats and Panamanians of all ages.
  13. My favorite doctor (about 6 miles from my house) charges me $7 for a 15-20 minute “consultation” which could include, if necessary, two or more medical issues. A visit to a specialist here in Coronado or in Panama City costs about $40 after your standard “Jubilado” discount. Try that in New Jersey. You can get an appointment in one or two days in contrast to Canada where you may have to wait up to 6 months.
  14. My wife and I have an excellent health insurance policy with a five star, internationally accredited hospital (San Fernando) for less than $2000 per annum total including a cancer rider but without preconditions after 2 years.. Although there is a 30% co-pay, the costs of a similar “medical procedure” in Panama is about one third or even much less of the cost up north. For example, a bypass operation in a first class Panama hospital might cost $15,000 to $17,000 rather than $150,000 in your average American hospital.
  15. In Canada the average wait time for a hip replacement is 18 months but it is “free”. In Panama, with our insurance package, the total cost would be in the $9-10,000 area and my co-pay would be about $3000 but it could happen inside one week.
  16. In Panama your cost of prescription drugs are about 65% of the cost up north. Coronado has 5 excellent drugstores one of which is open 24×7.
  17. In Coronado you could comfortably decide to hire a “private, live-in registered nurse” if or when you need “assisted living” services. The cost would be about $500 per month. Compare that to North America prices for assisted living at $3000-$4000 per month.
  18. There are four, excellent private dental clinics in Coronado where a cleaning costs about $30, a filling about $40, a crown about $350 and a root canal about $400. Go compare.
  19. In Coronado you will dramatically enhance your health with a regular diet of fresh fruits, vegetables, organic meats and fish. It is almost guaranteed that you will lose about 10% of your weight in three months without any special diets or workouts. Your overall level of health and immunity will improve dramatically (such as allergies)  as you spend more time outdoors and breath cleaner air.
  20. You can hire “domestic help” in Coronado for your cleaning chores and gardening for about $20 per day rather than for about $20 per hour up north.
  21. You could purchase a smaller new house or new condominium in Coronado and/or the surrounding area exempt from municipal taxes for 15 years. A larger and more expensive house will feature a five or a ten year exemption.
  22. You can enhance your personal safety and exposure to crime by living in a gated community. Homicide rates are higher in Panama than in North America or Europe however, “crimes against the person” are much lower per 100,000 people. Most homicides occur in “red zones” at night with males aged between 16 and 28 conducting some sort of illegal activity. Large amounts of drugs are moved through Panama (by land and water) from Columbia, Peru and Bolivia to North America.
  23. In Coronado and the immediate area, you can select from more than 40 restaurants and eat out in style several times a week without blowing your budget. Some of these restaurants are very high end.
  24. Your children will probably thank you profusely for finally taking full financial control of your life while protecting and enhancing their inheritance prospects. You can send them a return airfare ticket for vacations with you with your savings.
  25. In one hour from Coronado (50 miles on a 4/6 lane highway) you can be shopping in the Albrook Shopping Mall with about 600 modern air conditioned stores including restaurants and specialized kiosks. It will take you two days just to visit briefly all the stores.
  26. In the alternative, you could shop at the MultiPlaza in Panama City with its 250 extremely high end “Gucci-style” exclusive shops and probably another 50 wonderful chic restaurants. Bring your no-limit credit card.
  27. You can easily acquire a very large network of expat friends by attending the frequent and varied expat gatherings and “happy hours”. When we first arrived (2006), my wife and I participated in about 20-25 such “events” (lunches, parties, dinners etc etc) every month during high season until it literally wore us out. But we still enjoy our outings.
  28. Your stress level will diminish dramatically as you quickly realize that your passive income will probably last even if you live to 100.
  29. You might be blown away by the range and quantity of luxury cars and SUVs whizzing along the highways. Automobile selection and prices are often better here than in North America. Gas prices are just slightly higher than American prices but much lower than those in Canada or Europe. The hourly charge in a good garage to fix your car is about $20 rather than about $90 up north. I recently changed my timing belt on my older Nissan Pathfinder for $110 including the price of all required parts. The same job in California for the same car was $700 about 4 years earlier.
  30. Coronado now features four major shopping centers where you can purchase virtually anything you need. One high end grocery store with an excellent pharmacy is open 24x7x365. In addition there are approximately 200+ smaller businesses that offer virtually every imaginable service or product. New businesses are popping up weekly.
  31. On the housing front, there are probably 1000 new residences under construction at various stages within 5 miles of Coronado although the higher end expensive market remains a bit soft.


Uruguay as a Retirement Destination

The Future of Uruguay as a Retirement Destination

The ink had barely dried on one of my recent postings comparing Coronado Panama rather favorably to Atlantida Uruguay when suddenly everything changed. A reassessment was called for.

Argentina happens to be Uruguay’s most important neighbor in terms of trade and tourism. However, Argentina has once again managed to totally screw up its economy manifested by a major devaluation of its currency. The short to medium term prospects do not look good and this development will create a significant drag on Uruguay as it did at the turn of the century.

Exactly why this has happened in Argentina is another story for another day. Based on recent experience, Argentina will probably take a decade to resolve its problems. Remember that Argentina was once among the ten richest countries in the world.

What happens in Argentina does not stay in Argentina. It would not be very difficult to predict that the recent very robust growth in Uruguay will come to a screeching stop. I would expect that many economic indicators in Uruguay will reverse dramatically over the next several years with an impact of quality of life.

There are also serious economic slowdowns brewing in Brazil and in Chile; Uruguay’s other most important trading neighbors.

The bright side to all of these impacts for a North American “retiree” in Uruguay is that your American (or Canadian) dollar will go a lot further. The price of houses in Uruguay should also decline significantly after a rather rapid run-up since 2011. On the negative side, general unemployment will rise, tourism will decline and inflation may well become an important political issue.

Coronado by comparison

In comparison, Panama and Coronado continue to chug along at mind boggling economic rate (higher than China) with major new residential and commercial projects, starting up every week or so. I am still not sure where all the customers are coming from.

The new Rio Hato airport (20 minutes from Coronado) is finally up and running with several flights having actually arrived. Rio Hato will become a much busier airport by the end of 2014 as most charter flights are being moved out of the main Tocumen Airport in Panama City to allow room for expansion. In anticipation of these charter flights direct to the Pacific Coast, large numbers of resort hotels are breaking ground in the greater Coronado area.

Although Uruguay still has many pluses, some clouds are gathering that are beyond its control. Uruguay unfortunately does not live in an economic vacuum. The lesson learned is that change can happen very quickly and rather unpredictably.

The Expanded Multiplaza in Panama City … Just Incredible!

The Expanded Multiplaza in Panama City … Just Incredible!

Yesterday was my first opportunity to visit the new and vastly expanded Multi Plaza in Punta Pacifico near the Trump Towers in downtown Panama City.

To be honest, I was overwhelmed. The extent of the expansion and renovations was mind boggling. It felt like I was strolling along some of the ritzy side streets in Rome near the “Spanish Steps”.

No End to Exclusive Shops

Just for starters, you can “shop ‘til you drop” at more than 280 high-end, exclusive shops including Chanel, Cartier, Lacoste, Louis Vuitton, Emporio Armani, Faconnable, Hermes, Tiffany, Fendi, Dolce and Gabbana, Salvatore Ferragamo, Bellagio, Mont Blanc, Valentino, Rolex, Versace, the Gap, Forever 21, and the Banana Republic. It would not be remotely possible to check out even half of these shops in a single day. Then there is the integrated cinema complex with about 10 theaters showing the latest of Hollywood usually in English with sub-titles.

By all means bring your Platinum Card. The displays of finery in every “shop” are to die for yet so laid back and enticing.

The Architecture

The architecture is also marvelous with a kind of “see-through” theme for this three story emporium of pleasure. Everything is so light and airy; so polished and slick. The structure itself must exceed one million square feet.

When we lived in Central New Jersey, my wife and I used to visit occasionally the “Far Hills” Shopping Mall near Summit which is billed as a shopping mall for millionaires. In my opinion, the Far Hills would be like comparing a nice Lexus to a flashy Lamborghini with the Multiplaza being the latter.

Integrated High End Dining

But the most significant and exciting change was the extremely clever integration of shopping and dining and not just any dining.

Before the recent expansion, the Multiplaza featured a large “standard food court” which was extremely normal and boring. Today, however, well known, private brand restaurants, exclusive “coffee shoppes” and gelarti ice cream parlors are sprinkled everywhere throughout the complex again much like in Rome around the Spanish Steps.

Each dining facility has its own space, its own menu, its own environment, and its own waiters. This is not a “food court” strategy. Today there are many private restaurants (perhaps 40-50) and many people now visit just for the food experience plus of course some window shopping. For a Sunday mid-afternoon, there were lineups everywhere for the specialty restaurants. I had an excellent meal at “Wingz”. There was an impressively huge “Ruby Tuesday’s” about to open. There were specialty bagel shops, sushi eateries, soft pretzel outlets, Mexican fare … you name it!

And for the kids (which were swarming around in large numbers many on roller shoes) there is even a huge Chuck E Cheeze’s packed to the rafters with the latest video games and whatever other “toys & games” kids like today.

It was fun. I am not a great shopper but I love to watch other people shopping or doing whatever. This is now the place to do it. A village within a city. The only danger being all the wonderful merchandise being offered for sale. I might just break down and actually buy something one of these days.

Planning a “High End” Custom Home in Coronado

Planning a “High End” Custom Home in Coronado

Here is a “check list” approach as to what one might expect to get in terms of planning/building/contracting a “high end” custom home in Coronado as of early 2014. This information is in fact a basic summary of a marketing brochure that I personally used back in 2008 when the Coronado market was very hot and when I project managed and constructed 6 or 7 high end homes here (average size 4000 square feet). The information has been updated for 2014.

What you get for about $100 per square foot on your own lot

  1. Site preparation (clearing/filling/grading) for optimal drainage and positioning of buildings including septic system all built to municipal standards. Some  some lots may require an extra charge for leveling and fill.
  2. Standard seismic footings using 6” exterior block walls for more efficient cooling, better sound insulation, pipe and column concealment, overall structural strength, and better depth for window security bar installation.
  3. High quality cool roof constructed of extra hardened colonial clay tiles over zinc sheeting on a welded steel roof support  structure with one meter (40″ overhang) with steel eaves troughs.
  4. All interior cement walls smoothed with cement and pasta for a “drywall” finish look and feel.
  5. All ceramic floors are high quality porcelain and include a standard 3-4″ wall edging for easy maintenance.
  6. All shower enclosures include 7 foot ceramic walls.
  7. Bathrooms include vanities with doors/drawers where space permits otherwise a high quality “pedestal sink” is installed.
  8. Interior ceilings are standard drywall at a 9′ 3″ height to accommodate ceiling fans and provide extra volume for coolness.
  9. Bathroom ceilings use green drywall for moisture resistance.
  10. Cathedral ceilings typically require an extra charge but are highly recommended.
  11. Exterior terrace and roof overhang areas all use “green” moisture resistant gypsum.
  12. Heavy gauge steel eaves troughs (not plastic) are used for all roof drainage purposes with in ground runoff pipes to the street.
  13. Attic areas and soffits are vented extensively to minimize heat build-up.
  14. Windows are typically custom made with aluminum or PVC frames, plate glass and screens and window openings are protected using steel security bars.
  15. Kitchen counters with back-splash are constructed using real granite as opposed to “Granito” which is a relatively inexpensive manufactured product that absorbs moisture.
  16. Kitchen cabinets, both uppers and lowers, are constructed using “cedro margo” which is a highly resistant wood recommended for the tropics and very similar to teak.
  17. Kitchen/bathroom fixtures are all “American Standard” or equivalent quality.
  18. The hot water system can be either instant electronic or propane gas.
  19. High quality Glidden “Peerless” paint, or the equivalent, is used inside and out as the final coat over a special cement or drywall “sealer” coat.
  20. Copper electric wire inside PVC tubing is used throughout although in many instances the main line from the outside meter to the house is aluminum. This is optional.
  21. The house is pre-wired for cable, telephone, audio and internet connections as desired.

Cost Allowances Based on Overall Square Footage

  1. This price would include 5 appliances ($3000), a water pressure system with reserve tank ($1000), porcelain floor ceramics ($20/M2 allowance), real granite kitchen counters $5000 allowance), window security bars, custom built-in closets with shelving, colonial style interior doors, steel exterior doors, basic light fixtures and/or basic ceiling fans with lights as appropriate (with dollar allowances).
  2. This was the average for a 4000 square foot, 3 bedroom, 2.5 bathroom home with approximately 25% overall square footage for terrace areas.

Client Responsibilities

The client is responsible for design and financing.

Builder Responsibilities

  • Construction is typically based on a “fixed price” as outlined in a “construction agreement” but could also be based on a cost plus formula or a fixed price per week for project management services.
  • Completion time is typically 4 to 6 months for a medium to larger home (up to 400 M2 or 4000+ SF) with 20-25 workers on site until the roof is up (2-3 months) and a much smaller crew (perhaps 6-8 people) for the finishing stages.
  • The builder/contractor should have a “limited power of attorney” letter to ensure that all required permits can be obtained in a timely manner.
  • All construction is performed in a safe and workmanlike manner in accordance with local and Panamanian national building standards including payment of Social Security to all salaried workers.
  •  The builder is responsible for all on site worker supervision and the required paperwork/remissions to Social Security.
  • The builder provides a one year guarantee on all construction work.

The Internet OnLine Business Conundrum

The Internet Online Business Conundrum (a rather long posting)

I have finally got my fledgling online, internet enterprise off the ground but it was a chore. My new website, will focus on the creation and marketing of high quality “digital information” focused on the 5 or 6 most common problem areas or worries for people contemplating retirement or already retired. I am becoming increasingly pleased with my relatively refined business plan (essentially an “email direct marketing model”) because this business model is considerably more complicated and sophisticated than I had ever expected.

Why another posting on this subject?

The primary reason for this posting is to summarize some of my early observations for the benefit of others but also to provide a clear record of my expectations for later evaluation. One year from today I want a reliable standard against to measure success/failure.

A complex business model establishes some significant barriers to entry and success. There exist many relatively simple internet business models which require much less skill however generally “other people” will have to do most of the heavy lifting in terms of product creation and marketing and of course they will also earn most of the profits. You will have to play by their rules and work more like a commissioned salesman than as an entrepreneur. This article is for the “true entrepreneur”.

20 Important Skills and Characteristics

Here is my take on some of the most important skills and personality characteristics required for success in an email direct marketing business such as the one I have set up:

1. A high level of personal persistence, dedication and drive matched by a well thought out, strategic business plan.
2. A highly focused niche area backed by considerable personal knowledge and expertise to establish subscriber credibility, believability and trust.
3. An ability to write well and rather quickly not to mention having something interesting to say. I use Scribener, Dragon and a Sony digital recorder for my early drafting.
4. An ability to edit prudently because writing and editing are entirely different skill sets.
5. A web site based on the “blog model” (probably WordPress) to build a large dedicated subscriber list (your most important asset) with high quality postings at least 2 or 3 times a week including guest postings on related sites.
6. The primary objective should be to build a high quality subscriber “opt-in list” of perhaps 100,000 members as quickly as possible which is today considered the threshold for a “serious online business”. You build your list one subscriber at a time.
7. probably a minimum of four hours dedicated time every day to run/manage the business.
8. A relatively high level of computer skill is required to understand and integrate about 20-25 essential software programs including 10 plug-ins for WordPress.
9. WordPress is currently the web package of choice because it is free, sophisticated and incredibly flexible. It might take the average person several months to master it but you can use it to do almost anything.
10. A strong “branding strategy” is necessary for visual and message consistency for your digital information such as email newsletters, consulting services, free reports, e-books, affiliated products, webinars, and online courses.
11. A solid understanding is required of the current best internet marketing practices. You can learn most of these techniques by reviewing 5 or so of the top rated books on Amazon but then of course you have to apply the principles to your new business.
12. Good marketing depends on continuous learning and particularly “testing”. This skill set combines curiosity and imagination backed by a sophisticated “auto-responder” program.
13. Your auto-responder software will rapidly become the backbone of your business. Choose it very carefully. I finally decided to go with arpReach as opposed to aWeber, GetResponse or MailChimp even though it meant changing my hosting account to HostGator from GoDaddy.
14. Good marketing practices to attract new subscribers depend to a great extent on social networking and sharing. You will probably need to set up personal linked accounts with Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn and Facebook and interact frequently with your “fans”.
15. This business model does not require a great deal of capital to get started. If you already have a good computer you might need less than $1000. You can delay some of the software purchases until later.
16. Incredible curiosity is a very useful attribute when working in the direct email marketing field. Continuous testing is absolutely essential to refine your messages to maximize opt in rates and to maximize results from your writing and related information products.
17. One requires a high level of organization to research, write and publish new posts, e-books, webinars online learning classes and the like. There is a constant need to set firm deadlines that are achievable.
18. A good sense of humor and modesty can help a lot. Self-deprecating humor is usually best. Don’t fly off the handle at some critical comment to your latest posting. Being a social networking animal can be an advantage here.
19. Set up some realistic expectations (in terms of number of email registrants needed, number of new digital products, profit targets, conversion targets) within a finite time frame. Where do you wish to be in 12 or 24 months.
20. Once these expectations are up on your cork board you will be reminded on a daily basis as to the level of effort needed to achieve these objectives.