Category Archives: International Comparisons

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 (http://mecometer.com/topic/public-debt/).
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 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.

Coronado vs Atlantida Uruguay

Coronado Panama vs Atlantida Uruguay

For more than 40 years, my wife Lise and I have continuously searched for a better quality of life wherever it might take us in the world and the search goes on today. If you take the time to read my free eBook you will better understand our saga. Incidentally I will be publishing a new eBook this month focused exclusively on Coronado.

There will always be some disadvantages wherever you choose to live. It might be too expensive, too cold, too boring or unsophisticated, too threatened by “ObamaCare” or any number of related economic, political and social drawbacks. Clearly, everything is relative to your personal priorities and no place is perfect for everyone.

With this in mind we visited Uruguay 2 years ago on a fact finding mission to see how well Panama stacks up. Both countries have a population of about 3.5 million people. We prefer countries with smaller populations.

The bottom line was that we came to the conclusion that we actually could live happily in Uruguay and particularly in Atlantida, a small “ocean front” town on the Rio Plata about 25 miles from Montevideo somewhat similar to Coronado but without the security gates.

Economics, Politics, Education and Crime

Uruguay has one of the highest per capita incomes of Central and Latin America (just behind Chile and ahead of Panama). The economic growth rate in Uruguay has been extremely strong with very low unemployment levels. These trends have been increasing during the past two years with housing prices rising sharply. The government is very stable. Education levels are very high with free university tuition up to and including the doctorate level. Crime rates per 100,000 were very low in most categories. Warren Buffet has been buying Uruguayan agricultural land.

The weather in Atlantida is virtually identical to the weather in San Diego California or the Algarve in Portugal with “winter” temperatures dipping to perhaps 40 degrees at night. The “high season” is packed in Atlantida as the population swells from about 5000 to 20,000 for three months.  Ocean swimming or even wading except for the brave at heart is perhaps 4 months whereas in Coronado the ocean temperature is always at about 80 degrees. But sometimes Coronado becomes too hot and humid for some people and they have to seek shelter indoors or in the pool under a shade bohio.

Cost of Living

The cost of living in Uruguay was higher than Panama by perhaps 15% with certain categories of expenses being substantially higher such as purchasing a new automobile (about double) and buying gasoline (about double). Electronic stuff is readily available but about 10% higher than in Panama.

Medical care in Uruguay is rated better than Panama by the World Health Organization. The best part however, is that once you formally declare your intent to become a permanent resident of Uruguay, you are immediately eligible for their state health care and you can also sign up for a “mutualista” health care policy from a specific hospital which is better than the state care program. The monthly cost for a hospital plan is in the $75 to $150 per month range per person depending on age.

Ability to Work and Citizenship

Another major advantage for Uruguay is that the same day you declare your intent to become a permanent resident you can accept a job or start a small business. If married, your decision to reside in Uruguay can lead to full citizenship within three years. As a single person there is a 5 year wait for citizenship.

In Panama, a new program for a “professional or investor visa” was approved more than a year ago with relatively similar advantages but this is not quite as universal as the Uruguayan situation. This professional visa can result in Panamanian citizenship in 5 years but the standard “pensionado visa” for Panama does not permit employment and does not lead to citizenship. You remain a “glorified tourist”.

No Taxes on Global Income

Neither Uruguay nor Panama will tax you on money earned offshore meaning that  you are NOT taxed on your global income. So your carefully planned million dollar a year internet income would be safe in both countries.

Banking secrecy in both countries is virtually identical with a strong and conservative banking sector in both countries. Panama actually has a more robust international banking sector with frequent comparisons made to Switzerland and/or Singapore.

Housing

The housing stock in Atlantida is certainly acceptable with prices of land close to the beach considerably less than in Coronado. One significant disadvantage in Atlantida is that many of the existing houses lack central heating. They were designed primarily for use during the “high season” from November until March. In contrast, Coronado houses, of course, do not require central heating and it is much easier and cheaper to retrofit/install an AC system than a central heating system.  Moving to Atlantida would probably mean building a custom home from scratch with radiant floor heating and probably a solar system because the cost of electricity is very high.

Restaurants

The off-season selection of good restaurants in Atlantida is very limited. Don Vito’s is the best in town by far but in the off-season this establishment also suffers from a lack of central heating with inside temperatures in the 65 range (too cool for me without a heavy coat).  There are perhaps five other restaurants within easy access.

In contrast, Coronado has about 35 restaurants (within 15 minutes of our house) open all year ranging from very expensive to very, very cheap.  Last night for example we ordered vegetarian lasagna for two with sodas at “Leonardo’s Steak House” and paid $8.25 total. We could have eaten a huge portion of chicken and rice next door for two for about $6 or upstairs in the same commercial complex for about $50.

Shopping

Coronado is also better for shopping if that happens to be your thing. There is one quite acceptable shopping center in Coronado with about 2 acres of inside shopping on three floors. There are also three major shopping centers easily available within a one hour drive. The largest has more than 400 modern stores (Albrook) selling every imaginable item. Westland is only about 40 minutes from Coronado and you could shop all day and still not visit every store. It is very new and still expanding rapidly. Then there is the Multi Plaza in downtown Panama City for people with a Platinum Credit Card ….. Rolex, Gucci, etc.

Distance

We found that Uruguay was a bit “far away” for our tastes given that we like to travel to Canada and Europe although the price differential for airplane tickets was that much more than from Panama.

We liked Atlantida for many reasons but we remain in Coronado still looking for the perfect place.

Retiring in France


Living in France

Recently, International Living hosted an interesting “membership contest” to determine whether their readers thought France or Italy was the better country for permanent living/retirement. Apparently Italy won by a nose but France was a very close follow-up.

The more interesting question, in my opinion, is “how difficult or risky is it to move/live permanently to/in either France or Italy”?

Lise and I have frequently considered retiring in France (before we moved to Panama) since we both love France and speak French fluently. I have also worked in France as a consultant for several pharmaceutical companies.

Our background qualifications would theoretically be ideal as we are both Canadian citizens. Lise grew up in Quebec (a former French colony) and has a university degree in Fine Arts. I have a university degree in International Economics. We receive adequate pensions from the Canadian and American governments and our cash assets would be sufficient for entry from everything I have read.

But that is apparently the easy part.

Long Term Health Insurance

The main stumbling block at our age is adequate long term health insurance. The only sensible way to ensure adequate health insurance in France is to obtain French citizenship. Putting yourself in the hands of a private insurer after age 65 is a recipe for disaster. I know, because I have been there and done that. They will promise to keep on insuring you but you will go broke on the premiums charged many years before you die. Of course without proper health insurance you cannot stay in France (or Italy presumably).

For France, one must apply for a “long term visa” (outside of France) before one can apply for a “residency permit” of which there are several types. You must be a permanent resident of France for five full years before it is possible to apply for French citizenship which often takes another 2+ years.

To apply for a “long term visa” one MUST obtain adequate private health insurance to prove that you will not become a burden on the French Social Security system. The only problem is that after age 65 it is virtually impossible to obtain adequate health insurance coverage without a huge “co-pay” and after age 70 you might just as well forget about it unless money is no problem.

Once you have proof of adequate health insurance you can obtain a long term visa given that the other requirements are met (financial resources, criminal record etc.). With your long term visa you can apply for a resident visa when you arrive in France.

Micro Enterprise

Once you have your residency permit you can even apply to set up for example a “micro enterprise” (if qualified by 3 years of experience) that will allow you to make monthly payments to the social security system (about $300/month) giving you full access to the French health care system. This step would allow you to cancel your more expensive private health care insurance as it would be redundant.

This all sounds great, again in theory but there still remain some serious obstacles if you are on the road to French citizenship. One option is to operate your “micro-enterprise” until you die so that your health insurance is never an issue then a French passport is not important. If you don’t continue your micro enterprise you cannot pay into the social security system and you will not be legally able to stay in France unless you switch to a private health insurance which will not be available due to age restrictions.

Primary Income must be French Based

To obtain French citizenship, the way I understand it, is that you must live permanently in France for 5 years and that additionally YOUR PRIMARY SOURCE OF INCOME FOR THIS PERIOD OF TIME MUST BE BASED IN FRANCE!

A pension received from Canada or the USA is clearly NOT French based. This requirement would appear to mean that your “micro enterprise” must generate more after tax income for your five year period of residency than your pension plan. And/or you could make an additional investment in say French real estate that together with your income from your micro-enterprise would exceed your net revenues from your pension (and any other non-French based income) for the five year period.

At no time during the five year period of “residency” can you permit your health insurance coverage to fall below the norm established by the French social security system or you will be penalized for this lapse and that time will not count towards the 5 year residency. There are other considerations in terms of total days per year that you must reside in France not to mention that legally speaking you may be required to converse in French at a level equal to that of a 15 year old French teenager.

The path to long term residency in France compared to Panama is definitely not a “welcome mat”. It can be accomplished but the risks/costs are very high. Remember that the cost of living in France is about 65% more expensive than in Panama (see www.numbeo.com).

Comparison with Panama

Just for the record, if Lise and I were to apply for a similar status in Panama today (under the professional or business person law) with a five year wait for full Panamanian citizenship our cost in legal fees would be about $3000 and we would only have to maintain a local bank account balance of $5000 at all times. Our new business (or job) would have to be Panama based. The processing time would probably be 2-3 months. We could obtain relatively similar health insurance (as in France) at a cost of less than $2000 per year total with no age limits on signing up and no precondition exemptions after two years.