Boquete Video Festival Sponsored by Casa de Montaña Bed & Breakfast

Blog by Veronica Pitti

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There is an exciting new festival coming to Boquete very soon! This festival is called Boquete Video Festival (BVF). The festival has been developed by some of the expats who are currently living in Boquete. Dozens of people have registered to submit their short videos to the organizers of the festival who will then post the video on You-tube for people to watch and “Like”. The cost for registration is only $10 and that includes free classes to learn how to use your cell phone to make and edit the video before submitting it to be judged.  There are five judges who have been carefully selected. These are people who have expertise in films and video production. The judges are current residents of Boquete. All the videos have to show a story about Boquete in one of six different categories. The six categories are: Documentary, Comedy, Commercial/Promotional, Drama, Adventure and Musical. The festival is a good way to show people around the world the natural beauty of the Boquete area and the people who live here.

Right now several professionals are involved in helping the contestants in making of their videos. Some of the contestants have experience in making videos and others do not. It is hoped that people are able to make a good video once they have some training and personalized help. The goal is to have fun, be creative, get recognition, and hopefully win prizes!  The contestants have until December 31st, 2016, to submit their video entries. All the videos are being uploaded to the You-tube website of Casa de Montaña Bed & Breakfast.

There are Boquete Video Festival t-shirts for sale at the Tuesday Market (BCP Teatro) 2every Tuesday from 9 AM to 11:30 AM or they can purchased from Casa de Montaña Bed & Breakfast between the hours of 8 AM and 5 PM daily.  These t-shirts come in many sizes and are all blue with the festival logo in the front and a design in the back. See the photo to the side: Our friend Gabrielle


The big “gala” award ceremony is scheduled for Saturday, January 28th, 2017, from 5 PM to 7 PM at the BCP Teatro. The tickets will be on sale soon at the Mailboxes Etc and at Casa de Montaña Bed & Breakfast. This awards ceremony will truly be a “red carpet” event. Everyone will be dressed up in nice clothes and have their picture taken by professional cameramen as they settle down in their seats and take part in the ceremony. The top 20 videos will be shown at the event. There will be a total of 8 awards and prizes given to the contestants, one for each of the six categories and then two additional “special” awards. There will be “Oscar Awards” made out of chocolate, two-night stay at Casa de Montaña Bed & Breakfast, restaurant gift certificates from Retrogusto and Seasons Restaurants.

Even though I am not submitting a video for judging, I plan on attending the award 3ceremony in January because some of my friends are entering their videos in the contest. Hope my classmates are able to attend the event as well!

Veronica Pitti

 

Challenges (and possible solutions) in obtaining a visa to visit the U.S.A. from Panama

Blog by Andres Lay

 

USA Visa

 

A person who is planning to apply for a U.S. visa should consider the fact they might get it rejected. So why pay around $160 for a visa that might not be worth it because the embassy may decline your application? Let’s look at the issue more closely…

There are different types of visas a person could apply for to go to the US but the most commonly pursued one is the B-2 Visa which is designated for someone applying for the purposes of tourism, vacation or pleasure. Before applying for a visa you should put together the proper documentation that the U.S embassy requires so the chances of being rejected will be minimized. For instance, fill out the form ahead-of-time to apply for a visa and have a valid passport that is not expiring for at least a year. In addition, bring two passport quality color photos. Also on the day you arrive for your appointment, it is important to bring any extra documentation like your college transcript and/or a work letter that proves you are either a student or an employee in good standing in Panama. One of the reasons why so many people get rejected is because they are not able to explain clearly the reasons they are applying for the visa leading the interviewer to believe that you would like a visa because you might want to stay in the U.S. You want to show the interviewer that you are a responsible individual who has a “life” in Panama that s/he would be returning to after their visit to the U.S.A. The other reason for the rejection may be because the person didn’t bring all of the required documents to the interview. If there is something missing then you are most likely going to be rejected and will unnecessarily lose the $160 application fee. Here is a list of potential reasons an applicant may be rejected for the U.S. visa by the embassy:

  • The applicant failed to complete the entire application and/or provide all the proper documentation
  • The applicant misrepresented themselves on the B visa application
  • The applicant did not effectively establish a case that their visit would be temporary or that they were not going to immigrate permanently to the U.S.
  • The applicant has a criminal history with incidents of drug use, serious crimes, or multiple convictions with jail time
  • The applicant could not demonstrate ability to support themselves financially during the trip
  • The applicant has previous immigration issues or violations on record

Below is a video that you may find helpful when applying for the U.S. visa (B1 – business visa or B2 – tourist visa):

I had to go through this process back in 2009 so let me tell you what I experienced the first time I applied for my visa. It was just a few months after I graduated from my high school in Boquete when my aunt, who lives in Maryland, asked me if I wanted to go to the U.S. to improve my English. I was thrilled to have that opportunity! Once I got my appointment at the U.S. embassy, I started to put everything together such as the proper documentation, passport, profile pictures and the letter and filled out the form that the U.S. College sent me to apply for the English classes and I also had to go to the bank and pay the application fee. The day I had my appointment I arrived at the embassy (in Panama City) early in the morning so that I would go through the process as quickly as possible. The first thing I did once I arrived at the embassy was to go to the checkpoint just like in the airport and it was all for security purposes. After that, I went into the main building where they gave me a ticket with a number so I had to sit and wait until they called my ticket number. Then once they called my ticket number I walked up to the first window where they checked my passport and all the documents to see if they were valid and then was given another ticket number for the interview so I had to sit back again and wait. After waiting for a few minutes they called my number and I had to go to the second window. I was nervous because my English wasn’t as good as it is now so I was afraid that my visa will get rejected. When I got there the person started to talk to me initially in English and I understood a little and responded back to him in English as best as I could. Thank God he switched to Spanish and started to ask me some questions such as what was the reason I was going to the U.S. He asked me if I had family living in the U.S. and what were my plans after studying English and some other related questions. Apparently I answered all of the questions that he asked me to his satisfaction because next thing I knew he asked me to put by fingers on the machine to get my fingerprints. Once he was done with that he gave all my documents back to me except for my passport. He informed me that the student visa will be ready in 15 days. At that point a huge weight was lifted off my shoulders. I suddenly realized how tense I had been throughout the whole process. There it was, I had just obtained my student visa to the U.S.! I was beaming from ear-to-ear as I walked out of the immigration office!

This is what the Visa will look like stamped on your passport:

Passport

I stayed in the U.S. for a total of 3 years. During the first year I focused on improving my English language skills. The last two years, I was enrolled in a college in Maryland, majoring in business. I will never forget the experiences I had in the U.S. It was a great way not only to learn the language and my college courses but to also learn about the culture, how to be more independent and to transition into adulthood. It sure was worth it for me to spend the $160 application fee the first time around! I have been back in Panama for two years and have been going to the University in David to finish my undergraduate degree.

The time has come for me to apply for a tourist visa now to go back and visit the U.S. again. Hopefully I have learned a lot more about how to go about obtaining a tourist visa because of my previous experiences. Wish me luck! Please write to me through Casa de Montaña email to ask me how things went and/or share your own experiences in obtaining a visa to visit the U.S. from Panama.

Casa de Montaña Bed & Breakfast and Presidential Resolutions for Boquete, Panama – year 2015

Blog by Andres Lay

At Casa de Montaña, we are taking a special interest in finding out what it means to have a new Panamanian president and a new mayor of Boquete. How will that impact the country and our neighborhoods? Which campaign promises are going to be carried out and how soon? How do the local laws and resolutions compare to what we used to see in the U.S.?

In the U.S., resolutions are passed in the local City governments, State governments as well as the Federal Government and other public assemblies. The purpose of these resolutions is an expression of the opinion or will of a legislative body. These bodies use resolutions for two purposes. First, resolutions express their consensus on matters of public policy: lawmakers routinely deliver criticism or support on a broad range of social issues, legal rights, court opinions, and even decisions by the Executive Branch. Second, they pass resolutions for internal, administrative purposes. Resolutions are not laws; they differ fundamentally in their purpose. However, under certain circumstances resolutions can have the effect of law.

In essence, laws are intended to permanently direct and control matters applying to persons or issues in general; moreover, they are enforceable. By contrast, resolutions expressing the views of lawmakers are limited to a specific issue or event. They are neither intended to be permanent nor to be enforceable. Nor do they carry the weight of court opinions. In a certain respect, they resemble the opinions expressed by a newspaper on its editorial page, but they are nonetheless indicative of the ideas and values of elected representatives and, as such, commonly mirror the outlook of voters.

Here in Panama, the “Asamblea Nacional” (National Congress) is where all the laws in Panama are created and approved by votes. The congress perform the legislative power in Panama, is composed of 71 elected legislators and they cast their vote on proposed laws for a period of five years. The congress meets for eight months, divided into two terms of four months each, one that will run from July 1 to October 31, and again from 2 January to 30 April. Its function is to issue laws necessary to fulfill the purposes and exercise the functions of the State. Each province and regions in Panama have its own legislator as a part of the congress. In order for a law be approved, the majority of the congress has to be in favor of that law.

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Some of the new laws that are going to be looked at in 2015 by the Congress are as follows:

PROYECT Nº116 REGULATE THE MARKETING AND IMPORT AND USE OF AGRICULTURAL CHEMICALS AND MAKE REGENCY IN THE REPUBLIC OF PANAMA

PROYECT Nº095 ENCOURAGE THE CONSTRUCTION OF SPORT INFRASTRUCTURE MANAGEMENT AND PROMOTING SPORT SCHOOL IN THE REPUBLIC OF PANAMA.

PROYECT Nº084 CREATING THE PROGRAM TO HELP THE PRODUCER OF AREA, INDIGENOUS COMMUNITIES AND FARMERS.

These are some of the laws to be approved by the congress, there are tons of other one. The above ones a few examples just for you to have an idea of the laws being worked on.

For the next 5 years the 2014 elected President of Panama has government resolutions for his term to be completed. Some of the government resolutions for his term are:

  • Creating new permanent regional markets and municipal slaughterhouses.
  • Bilingual education in all public schools and increased days of class.
  • Plan massive renovation and expansion of public schools and construction of 50 new schools.
  • Improvement “Universal Scholarships” and extension to college students.
  • The construction of 15 health centers and 4 new hospitals, including a Cancer Hospital in the province of Chiriqui.
  • The construction of Line 2 and Line 3 of the Metro de Panama (subway system).
  • Construction of fourth bridge over the Canal and new access to Arraijan-La Chorrera highway.

In Boquete, the new Mayor has different resolutions for the good and improvement of the community. Some of his resolutions are to finish the new marketplace for vegetable vendors (located across from Romero), the maintenance of the Caldera River so we can prevent a flood in the area, the repair of the water problems in Volcancito and Alto Boquete and more. Right now the election of the new governor is still being contested so we have no resolution or new laws to be approved for the region of Boquete, Dolega and Gualaca as they need to go into a vote process again.

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Casa de Montaña Bed & Breakfast also has some resolutions for the up and coming year. We want to continue to give you the best personal service possible and provide you with a clean and comfortable space that you can make your home for the time you are in Boquete, Panama! We want to work and grow together as a team to give you respite from your daily lives and re-focus you back on you.

For us that are English speaking, we want to learn Spanish and for those of us that speak Spanish only, we want to learn English. The reason for this is that we can all serve each one of you and make you feel the most comfortable possible.

Casa de Montaña wants to work towards and get to the place where you say, “My home away from home”!

The Boquete Coffee and Flower Festival History

Blog by Andres Lay

 

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La Feria de las Flores y Café (Coffee and Flower Festival) is a nonprofit organization created by Act No. 40. The Coffee Festival first started in 1950. Initially, the exhibition was an intermittent event being held only when the community was organized for it. From 1950-1969 the Coffee Festival, as it was then called, was performed only four times (1950, 1957, 1961 and 1969). On April 9, 1970, one day before the opening of the fifth festival, the district was affected by severe flooding. Faced with this adversity, Boquete, far from surrendering, decided one year later to establish this fair on a permanent basis – an exhibition to show the country the best of its production, its flowers and coffee. One in three Boquetenians lost his home and a historical review of the Feria de las Flores and Cafe records that in 1971, a year after the tragedy, with the initiative of Carlos Enrique Landau (Andres’s grandfather), Alberto Federico de Alba and the presidency José Isabel Ruiz, held the sixth festival of coffee. Decision was made to beautify the town and the festival queen, Miss Brenda Aguilar, was crowned. The Sunday Medical Park was the scene of festivity, according to the review.

From 1973 Coffee Festival became the Coffee and Flower Festival and then until 1991 it took place every April. In the beginning of the 1990s the date of the festival was changed to January in order to take advantage of the dry season. Since then, Boquete Fair is performed for 10 days. La Feria de las Flores and Cafe is one of the best fairs in Panama. The organization and execution of this event goes through a series of planning stages and the most important of this planning is the preparation of the fair grounds that start in May of the previous year. The gardens surrounded by colorful flowers are the main attraction that offered by the Feria de las Flores and Café. Each year several varieties of flower seeds from US, Canada and France are acquired, to present a “colorful” event each year. The flower fair is located in a prominent area in the District of Boquete, along the Caldera River in downtown Boquete.

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The Fair is composed of community members belonging to different Governmental Entities Associations and Cooperatives; such as: Agricultural Development Bank, Ministry of Commerce and Industries, IPAT, Lions Club Boquete Active 20-30 Club, Association of Pensioners and Retirees of Boquete, Ministry of Agricultural Development, and Municipality of Boquete. The Fairgrounds are open throughout the year, The Orchid Expo, which is celebrated on March and April, is another event designed to highlight the beauty of the Orchid plant.

In my opinion, the Coffee and Flower Festival is one of the biggest events in Boquete because more than 130,000 people come to visit the festival and to visit Boquete. This festival has attraction for people of all ages. For kids there are small amusement park rides. For teenagers and young people there usually three open outdoor clubs for people to go out to dance and to see different singers and bands. For elders the flowers are the main attraction as well as the presentations they have on the main scaffold like singers, dancers, comedy shows and more.

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During the Fair, one can purchase crafts (domestic and foreign), plants, candy and promotional items. Throughout these years we have the participation of national and foreign exhibitors at each fair event that delight us with their various exhibitions. In each event, beauty of the landscape, nature, lush gardens and spectacular weather are highlighted. In addition, the Fairgrounds offer to the community an excellent location to rent in order to organize different activities, plant sales, etc, throughout the year. The Mission and Vision of the Board is to promote outstanding exhibition events that leave give Boquete a lot of positive publicity.

The good thing about Casa de Montaña Bed & Breakfast is that we cannot hear any noise from the fair. Most people downtown do not get too much sleep because of the noise from the Fair, especially the music from the clubs that are open until 5am. So if you want to be away from the noise but still walking distance from downtown, we would welcome the opportunity for you to book your room at Casa de Montaña Bed & Breakfast. We still have a few rooms available!

 

Christmas Season in Panama – Boquete Style!

Blog by Andres Lay

 

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Christmas is coming up, and all the Boquetenians and Panamanians are getting ready for this special holiday. After a month full of holidays in November, where Boquetenians celebrated the Independence Day with all kinds of parades and music bands, people are warmed up for more. The celebrations in November took place on the 3rd, 4th, 10th and the 28th throughout the whole country. On December 8th Boquetenians also celebrate Mother’s day which is a special day for everyone to honor their mothers. People come together as a family and have a special day with their mother, by giving them gifts and to spend time with them. For most Panamanians Mom means a lot to us since she is the one that gave us the opportunity to live, she is the one that is always there for us when we need her, she is the princess of the house. In short, she is everything to us!

Panamanians start to prepare their houses, by painting them, putting up Christmas lights, decorating with Christmas trimmings and getting ready for Christmas with happiness that abounds in their hearts. Also, most people buy Canadian Christmas trees, that the supermarkets import from Canada, and decorate them with lights and Christmas decorations. The Central Park in Boquete is also decorated with beautiful lights and different decorations like a nativity where Child Jesus is placed at midnight on Christmas Eve. In Navidad (Christmas) people usually buy food and keep it frozen until they prepare it on Christmas Eve. The Panamanian traditional foods for Christmas include homemade Turkey, Ham, Arroz de Guando (rice with a national bean), Tamales, ensalada de papas (potato salad), fruit breads and more. In most neighborhoods people gather to celebrate Christmas. People get together with their family to eat Christmas Dinner. The tradition in Navidad is to have dinner at 12 midnight on Christmas Eve with your closest family members, listen to Christmas Carols while having a glass of wine and wait together until midnight. Some families go to church to pray with their loved ones and to wait until midnight to celebrate the birth of Jesus.

Most young people expect to go dancing and clubbing after midnight. A lot of Children are kept awake until midnight to open their gifts, and some will wait until next day after Santa Claus has arrived. Kids get ideas for their list of toys with the help of their parents, by watching it on TV, or by looking at store catalogs of toys to choose from. They present this list to the Child Jesus way before Christmas day, just to be sure! Children wait anxiously for their toys. The presents are discreetly placed under the tree by “Santa Claus” when the kids are sleeping, typically not until after midnight.

There are places (including shopping centers) like Conway, Arrocha, or others where they put large trees and the kids have fun walking through there. Normally, a huge tree is placed in the Central Park (Cervantes Park) in David, like shown in the picture below.

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Christmas Day is a holiday in Panama so most of the stores, restaurants, and supermarkets are closed. It is a day for people to relax, be with their relatives and enjoy the joys of Christmas. In Boquete, on Christmas day, Boquetenians go out during the evening to watch the parade. The parade usually starts in the Basketball Arena in Los Naranjos close to Casa de Montaña, just up the street, and it is a parade where all schools participate. People are part of the parade with their decorated cars, motorcycles, golf carts, big trucks and more. The parade passes by on the main street right in front of Casa de Montaña (yes, we have the front row seat!), all the way down the street to downtown and usually ends up at Los Establos plaza. Even though most of the indigenous people do not celebrate Christmas, they will go out to watch the parade with their kids, especially since the mayor will be giving candies or gifts to them. In Boquete’s Central Park, the mayor always has a Christmas celebration for families in need, or indigenous people who do not have many resources. For the celebration, the mayor brings a Santa Claus who gives gifts to all the kids, give them hugs or just spend time with them. Christmas time in Boquete is truly a time to celebrate, be thankful for what we have and to show our appreciation of others in our life – a magical time! So if you are planning on coming to Boquete during Christmas time, book your room now at Casa de Montaña, and enjoy all the festivities that Boquete has to offer.

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November – A month full of independence day celebrations and parades!

By Eliecer Andres Lay

3de noviembre

As you are planning a visit to Boquete, one thing to remember is that November is a month of celebrations! Good time to put your party hats on and join in with the locals. Many of the parades pass right in front of Casa de Montaña on their way to downtown. Panamanian people, young and old, really take pride in their heritage and are always ready to put on a great show for locals and visitors alike.

Panamanians celebrate throughout the whole month of November for different reasons. The first event that is happening is on November 2nd  , which is the Day of the Dead. This day people usually remember all the families that have died in the past, and people go to the cemetery to bring flowers to the family tombs. The town is usually quiet on this day, not many people go out, and most of the businesses are closed. The next day, November 3rd, is where all the celebration begins. This day is the Separation Day of Panama from Colombia. All the Primary schools, high schools and Independent bands, go out on the main street of Boquete for a parade. Most of the Boquetenians go out to watch the parade which is mostly instrument bands and some musical bands. Also, people from different part of the country come to watch the parade, or just for a vacation since it is a holiday weekend in Panama. All the local schools, the firemen, the authorities and more are part of this parade. The next day, on the 4th, is the national Flag Day. Just like the day before, all the schools, and all the bands from Boquete go out for another parade similar to the first one. This parade starts at the central park and circles around the downtown area. The second big celebration in Boquete is on November 28th which is the Independence Day and all the Panamanians celebrate the independence from Spain. On this day the biggest parade in Boquete takes place where more than 90 bands from all over Panama are invited and they compete with each other to win the honor of the best band in Panama. There are few different categories that the bands are judged on – from best high school bands, best independent band, best primary school band and best music band. A lot of people come to Boquete that day and the parade starts at 8:00 am and usually ends around 11pm.

So if you would like to come and enjoy the parades in Boquete, book your room now at Casa de Montaña. You never know, you may not even need to leave your room to see some of these parades!

Here is some historical information that you may find interesting:

An excerpt from www.kaluyala.com/community/wandering-thoughts/panamas-independence-days/

November 3: Separation Day

On November 3rd, Panama celebrates its separation from Colombia.

From 1821 until 1903, Panama was part of Gran Colombia (a short-lived republic that also included modern-day Colombia, Venezuela, and Ecuador).  However, Panama wanted independence from Gran Colombia.  In the mid-1800s, Panama tried and failed three times to separate from Colombia.  Moreover, from 1899-1902, a Colombian civil war broke out between conservatives and liberals, with the defeated liberal leaders later identified as the founding fathers of Panama. Meanwhile, the French government began efforts to construct a canal across Panama.  After the French miserably failed, the United States bought out French efforts, but soon found itself clashing with the Colombian government over payment and control of the canal.  In order to secure its right to the canal, the United States (under Theodore Roosevelt) backed a Panamanian independence movement led by prominent Panamanians.  With the support of the United States, Panama declared its independence on November 3, 1903.

The revolution was a peaceful affair and was over by November 6.  When Colombian forces landed in Panama to quell the independence movement, one Panamanian railroad official convinced the officers to ride ahead in a train to Panama City.  When the Colombian officers arrived in Panama City, they found themselves taken prisoner by Panama-based Colombian soldiers who had been paid off by revolutionaries.

November 4: Flag Day

Panamanians celebrate Flag Day every November 4th, the day after Panama declared its independence.  On November 1, 1903, Maria Ossa de Amador secretly began making the first Panamanian flag.  She constructed three flags based on three different designs, one of which was later adopted as the official flag of Panama.  All three flags were flown on November 3, 1903, when Panama declared its independence.

The Panamanian flag symbolizes the political situation at independence – the blue represents the Conservative Party, the red represents the Liberal party, and the white represents purity and peace.

Here is the flag options that were presented:

Design Presented by Phillipe Bunau-Varilla

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Original designed presented

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The original design was modified a bit and this is the result

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November 5: Colon Day

November 5th is Panama’s version of Columbus Day.  It commemorates Christopher Columbus’s (Cristóbal Colón’s) arrival to the Americas.

November 10: Primer Grito de Independencia de la Villa de los Santos

Beginning with the Spanish conquest in the early sixteenth century and into the nineteenth century, Panama was an important colony for the Spanish Empire.  Perhaps most important to the Spanish was Panama City, which was an important port for all of the treasures and resources that the Spanish plundered from Latin America.

On November 10th, Panama remembers its Primer Grito de Independencia – its first cry for independence from Spain.  On November 10, 1821, villagers in the small town of la Villa de Los Santos wrote a letter to Simon Bolivar.  The letter complained about the Spanish governor and asked Bolivar for revolutionary assistance.

Simon Bolivar was an important revolutionary hero throughout Latin America and was the President of Gran Colombia from 1819 to 1830.

November 28: Independence Day

On November 28th, Panamanians celebrate their independence from Spain.  On November 28, 1821, eighteen days after Primer Grito de Independencia, Panamanians took the first step towards this sought-after independence.  A meeting was held in Panama City and it was decided that Panama would cut off ties to the declining Spanish empire and join Gran Colombia.

Panamanians are proud of their heritage. Come and join us in celebrating the freedom that is the right of each and every Panamanian. We are so happy that here at Casa de Montaña we are now part of the culture that embraces diversity and freedom for all.

 

Boquete Coffee – High quality coffee that is performing well on the international market!

By Eliecer Andres Lay

Are you a coffee enthusiast? Then look no further! A visit to some of our Boquete coffee farms is a must when you stay with us at Casa de Montaña Bed & Breakfast.

coffehttp://infusionistas.com/cafe/panama-renueva-la-oferta-del-cafe-de-calidad/

The perfect weather and altitude of Boquete, as well the volcanic soil provides excellent conditions that make the coffee produced in Boquete one of the best coffees in the world. Panama is a small country that produces great coffee crops. Because of the limited land mass, growers in the highlands, such as Boquete, decided to specialize when it comes to coffee production. Coffee from Panama competes for quality, not quantity. Most Panamanian coffee is grown in Boquete, or highlands of Chiriqui. Farmers are very proud of their crops. Coffee quality control includes testing for soil, elevation, weather patterns and even the vegetation growing around the coffee bushes. Panama plants different types of coffee, the most famous is a variety called “Geisha”. The requirements for Geisha are very strict and requires great care in the production. This coffee has been known to be exported and sold at record prices to Japan and Taiwan. At the last auction held by the Specialty Coffee Association (SCA), the best bid for 14.5 pounds Panamanian coffee got sold for $289.29!!!

 

Different “Coffee Tours” that are available in Boquete

Here at Casa de Montaña we think that Finca Dos Jefes tour is the best! It is a very informative and interactive tour combining a field experience as well as an opportunity to roast your own coffee to your liking and bring it back with you to take home! There are several Boquete tours you can take or just buy their coffee that is not always available anywhere else in Panama. Finca Dos Jefes, Kotowa, Café Ruiz, Finca Lérida, Finca La Milagrosa, Janson Familia Coffee and Hacienda La Esmeralda are some options available to you for a tour. Each plantation has its unique appeal. Visit one or more on your next visit to Boquete. Below is a video of Finca Dos Jefes Coffee Tour:

 

Did you know… there are several steps in producing coffee?

There are many steps in bringing coffee to your favorite cup to help you wake up in the morning! Come to your tour fully equipped with these steps and impress your tour guide:

  • Cultivation: Apart from the differences in the systems of pruning and cultivation of Arabica coffee, most others follow the same general pattern in most areas where coffee is grown.

 

  • Propagation: The coffee is spread on a large scale by means of plants grown from seed or by grafting or cuttings. In the case of propagation by seed, there are procedures one has to follow related to storage of the seed to prevent spoilage. Thus for Arabica, for example, dry air storage is recommended at temperatures of 10 ° C with a moisture content of 10-11%

 

  • Shade: While there is still some debate among experts about the need for shade coffee cultivation, it should be noted that the modern trend is not to use shade plants, and the vast majority of new plantings are made ​​without this. It is a proven fact that coffee invariably produce higher yields without shade plants. It should be noted, moreover, that in the case of using shade plants, they would have to:
  1. a) Be productive
  2. b) Have similar needs for water and nutrients because otherwise an imbalance between coffee and these plants occurs

 

  • Soil Management: The most difficult issue with coffee cultivation, especially in tropical regions of the highlands, is the problem related to soil conservation. It is essential in order to establish a coffee plantation, one has to protect the soil from the erosive action of tropical, torrential rains as soon as the clearance is made. In mountainous areas and on steeper slopes, coffee can be planted along the contours. The selective weeding, removing plants that can compete with coffee trees, and / or planting of herbs to enrich and protect the soil, can be used in order to improve the quality of coffee plants on steeper slopes.

 

  • Fertilization: It is shown that fertilizers are absolutely necessary in the cultivation of coffee trees that are in the sun as well as in soils that are especially in middle to low fertility. In recent years there has been an introduction of a trade liquid fertilizer or foliar fertilizers. These are applied by spraying the leaves of plants, provide supplementary nutrients, and are similar to the solid fertilizers that are applied to the soil.

 

  • Pruning: There are two main aspects to consider regarding the pruning of coffee: first, the training of young trees to build a strong and well balanced plant with good structure, fruiting branches, and second, the pruning of branches so they keep producing fruit (coffee beans).

 

  • Harvest: The harvest season varies depending on the proximity to the tropics of the country producing the coffee. Generally the harvesting of coffee is done between October and February in countries closer to the Tropic of Cancer, and from May to July in the countries closest to Tropic of Capricorn.

 

  • Breeding and Selection: The breeding and selection of coffee has continued in two main channels – one has been the outstanding selection of local breeds, in various countries where coffee is grown; the other is the improvement of Arabica and other species.

 

  • Pests and diseases: Many efforts have been made ​​towards introducing agronomic techniques that include controlling weeds, pests and diseases. The effects of weeds are well known to the farmers. With the rising cost and scarcity of labor, it is necessary to find the most economical solutions that cause the least amount of damage to the environmental.

 

 

An excerpt from Infusionistas.com

Panama has not historically been “famous” in the cultivation of coffee, but rather largely overshadowed by its neighbors in this regard. That perception has been corrected in recent years mainly because of the great attention that has won the Geisha variety grown in farms in the region, capable of producing a “floral”, highly appreciated and sought after coffee in the international market. It is only in the district of Boquete in the province of Chiriqui where small family farms produce these unique coffee, brightly colored, with floral aromas and fruity clean taste, considered among the best in the world. The cool, moist mountain air, organic practices, expanded areas for growing shade coffee, painstaking care, all help to produce exceptional coffee. Panama has held annual coffee competitions since the late 90s, but it was in 2004 that the Finca La Esmeralda won the first prize and gained fame with the Geisha variety grown in a high elevation on their farm.

This variety of Arabica coffee exported from the wild forests of Ethiopia, was introduced in Central America in 1950, but its production was virtually non-existent in Panama until recently. Today there are several Panamanian farms that offer this variety as well as in Colombia and Costa Rica. There are many varieties of Arabica coffee beans that include flavors that are floral, fruity, sweet, or like chocolate! These are being produced in Boquete Panama and other highland areas of Panama. Panama has the lowest coffee production in Central America, however, the coffee growers in Panama are committed to quality over quantity and have established a solid reputation for excellence with the aim of sustainable growth of coffee targeting the gourmet market. In 2010, again a batch of this famous product of the Hacienda La Esmeralda farm has set a new world record when sold in an online auction at $170.20 per pound (460 grams).

Boquete have some of the top producers of coffee in the world and it is the best place to go and taste a good coffee. Boquete offers you different types of coffee tours – starting from seeing the end to end processes and ending with roasting of your own coffee to take home! One of the coffee processing plants (Café Ruiz) is located just a few doors down the hill from Casa de Montaña! During your next trip to Panama do not forget to visit Boquete and try one of the best coffees in the world.

Panama tops Gallup’s Well Being poll – happiest people in the world!

Blog by Terry Richmeier & Andres Lay

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We have been living in Boquete, Panama now for just over a year and we have felt the friendliness and happiness of the locals since the beginning. In a recent Gallup Poll Panama was number one on the list of “Well-Being”. How did the Gallup Poll come up with this conclusion?

Gallup conducts surveys worldwide to help world leaders better understand their citizens’ attitudes, behaviors, and wellbeing. Gallup continuously surveys in more than 150 countries and areas on more than 100 global questions as well as region-specific items. Gallup’s global surveys cover more than 98% of the world’s adult population through representative samples.

Gallup interviews approximately 1,000 residents per country. The target population is the entire civilian, non-institutionalized population, aged 15 and older. Gallup asks everyone from Australia to Pakistan the same questions, every time, in the same way, with the same meaning, and asks them in his or her own language to produce statistically comparable results. Gallup uses telephone surveys in countries where telephone coverage represents at least 80% of the population. Where telephone penetration is less than 80%, Gallup uses face-to-face interviewing.

This State of Well Being interviews were based on five specific areas. These areas are: Purpose, Financial, Physical, Social and Community.

Within these five areas are the following subjects and one sample question. However, this is just one of many questions that can be asked.

Business and Economics

Do you currently have a plan, idea, or invention in mind to improve your standard of living?

Citizen Engagement

Do you personally know of someone who is planning to move out of this country where you live in the next 12 months, or not?

Communications and Technology

Does your home have a DVD player?

Food and Shelter

Do you, or the person who owns this dwelling, have a deed or property title?

Government and Politics

Health

Are healthcare services in this country accessible to any person who needs them, regardless of their economic situation, or not?

Education and Families

In the past 7 days, have you shared a meal with all the members of your household, or not?

Environment and Energy

In your opinion, do other countries take advantage of this country’s natural resources, or not?

Do you agree or disagree that this country has never enjoyed more social and political peace before?

Law and Order

Is there illicit drug trafficking or drug sales in the area where you live?

Religion and Ethics

Using a 5-point scale, where 5 means strongly agree and 1 means strongly disagree, how much do you agree or disagree with the following statements? I always treat people of other religious faiths with respect.

Social Issues

In the past 12 months, have you or any relative of yours been denied an opportunity to get ahead because of your political ideas?

Well-Being

Do you have a talent of any kind, or something you can do better than most people you know, or not?

Work

Do you think you could lose your job in the next 6 months?

http://www.gallup.com/video/176117/panama-leads-world.aspx

So, there is a lot of hard work that goes into the Gallup Poll only to prove what we ex-pats already knew, that Panama is a fantastic and a happy place! Come on down and see for yourself. At Casa de Montaña Bed & Breakfast we can even assist you in finding a place to purchase or rent if you decide to stay permanently!

Bocas del Toro, Panama’s “Feria del Mar” – Town history and reasons for celebration!

Blog written by Terry Richmeier and Eliecer Andres Lay

 

Let’s start with a short video to get us in the mood to talk about Bocas del Toro and the magic one feels when one visits the area!

So why are we Interested in telling you about the Islands of Bocas del Toro (mouth of the bull) and why do they celebrate their Annual Fair “Feria del Mar” (fair of the sea)?

Why would beautiful islands of the coast of Panama be called mouth of the bull?

Generally speaking, when people say Bocas del Toro (Mouth of the Bull) they’re referring to the whole Bocas del Toro Archipelago of nine islands. The main town in the archipelago, located on Isla Colon, is called Bocas Town. We researched the history of the naming of the islands. It is not known for sure where the name emerged of this incredible archipelago lost in time. There are several stories, one more interesting than the other! They say that Christopher Columbus descended on one of its beautiful beaches, observed several waterfalls shaped like a “bull neck”. Others argue that Colon spotted a rock on the island of Bastimentos (clearly observable at present), which looks likethe form of a bull lying there. It is also said that the sound of huge waves hitting the rocks of volcanic origin of the island of Bastimentos reminds one of the sound a bull would make.So it is apparent that there is no one origin of the name!All we can say is that the name has a nice ring to it we are glad that they chose it! In our research, we discovered quite a bit of history in regard to the islands.

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Bocas del Toro History

An excerpt adapted from Bocas.com

Guaymi, Teribe and Bokota indians were the primitive inhabitants of Bocas del Toro, when Christopher Columbus, in 1502, navigated with his two ships into the bay called by the indians “Caroboro”, today, Admiral Bay.Isolated from other parts of Panama but open to the rest of the world and the Caribbean, Bocas had an interesting history during the three following centuries.During the colonial period (16th to 19th centuries) the Spanish didn’t really establish population centers in the region; the landwas almost forgotten by their government.The English took advantage of this fact establishing settlements like in Boca del Drago where it was reported, in 1745, that they were growing cattle and chickens.The English presence played a very important role in the life of the Archipelago.In the beginning of the 19th century, English ships from Jamaica, had an active commercial routethrougout the Central America coast, Bocas del Toro included, where they traded goods such as carey (marine turtle shell), live marine turtles, cocoa, mahogany wood and zarzaparilla.In 1826 Bocas del Toro town was founded by Jamaica, San Andres and Providencia immigrants. During the first years after it’s foundation, the town was a camp of traders, some of them coming from as far as the United States.Most of the population consisted of adventurers of different nationalities, attracted by the new commercial opportunities.In 1837 Bocas del Toro district was created, and during the next 50 years Bocas was part of the provinces of Chiriqui, Panama and Colont. In 1880 begins the history of the banana plantation – the creation of Snyder Banana Co in 1890 and United Fruit Co in 1899.In addition to the banana plantations, big land plantations were created to grow sugar cane, cocoa and coconut. During this time the important export business of carey and live turtles continued. Also other businesses surged in the region like the shipment of different merchandises and passengers to Colon and other Caribbean ports, by the Surgeon Brothers Company. After the separation of Panama from Columbia, the region saw the creation of Bocas del Toro Province in 1903. During the following period, 1903 until 1930, Bocas del Toro’s economy flourished mainly due to its agriculture, fishery, commercial and industrial growth, making the province to be the third in importance in Panama. At that time, Bocas was home to the consulates of England, Germany, Costa Rica, United States and France – quite a hotbed of international activity! Bocas del Toro had three journals that were published during this time: The Telegraph, The Citizen and The Central American Express.The years marked by the banana plantation infestion by pests – 1914 to 1934 -were also the beginning of a sagging economy for the islands. In 1981 a road from Gualaca was built to connect the Interamerican Highway to Chiriqui Grande, the only way to reach Bocas Del Toro by land. Coinciding with the construction of the road,Petro terminals Co. started to transport oil from Alaska, using the oleo ductthat still runs along the road. This oil transportation was suspended in 1995, when the company started to build the new containers port, transforming the route Puerto Armuelles-Chiriqui Grande in a transistmic dry Channel. A new road, now connecting Chiriqui Grande with Almirante, completes the union of this province to the rest of the country by land, ending the isolation of the region. Tourism now is a new alternative that has arrived to the islands, and due to the natural richness of the archipelago, looks like it is here to stay!

So why is the fair called Feria del Mar (fair of the sea) and why the celebration?

La Feria del Mar is a festival held every year in September in the town of Bocas del Toro, Colon Island, specifically land located along the area between the beach and the Istmito,on the road leading towards the beach of Boca Del Drago. The celebration of this colorful fair on the waterfront has its beginnings in 1962 – a recognition of customs and way of life of the people of Bocas Del Toro.

Activities, Dates, and Times of the Fair

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Among the attractions presented by the Del Mar Fairgrounds, the location of the fair, include the sale of traditional foods, generally with seafood. You can also purchase refreshments, crafts, jewelry and leather goods. Many different exhibits are displayed and are organized by the various government agencies of Panama. The festival features musical and artistic presentations depicting local folklore and traditional dances of the Province of Bocas del Toro. Another important feature of this fair are the aquatic skills showcased by racing motorboats and rowing boats. In addition to these events, the fishing tournament has also gained popularity in recent years.

Come on down to Boquete for a few days and then take a  3.5 hour road trip over to Bocas del Toro during mid-September! We have heard that the fesitval is a lot of fun for travelers of all ages. Since it is “low season” right now, you may be able to get some great deals on accommodations during September.

Public Transportation on your way to Boquete

By Eliecer Andres Lay

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Now that you have decided that your next destination will be Boquete, Panama, you might wonder…How do I get to Boquete? Do they have public transportation system? Is the public transportation expensive? Can I rent a car? For the first time traveler to Panama, it may seem overwhelming and somewhat scary to not know what to expect and especially what options are available that may suit your particular needs. Not to worry!  Casa de Montaña Bed & Breakfast is here to help!

As if you need any more convincing to come to Boquete! In case if you are on the fence, let me tell you a little bit about Boquete. Boquete is a very cozy mountain village located in the province of Chiriqui and close to the border of Panama-Costa Rica. Boquete offers a variety of activities anywhere from hiking, horseback riding to zip line, white water rafting, coffee tours, and more. What make most of the expats and visitors love about coming to Boquete is the perfect weather which is always around 18°C- 22°C (65°F – 72°F). Boquete has a Volcano (Volcan Baru) and is the tallest mountain in Panama. Volcan Baru is 3,474 m above sea level. Volcan Baru is where the main river in Boquete begins and at the top has one of the most beautiful views of the Atlantic Ocean and Pacific Ocean. Boquete is also hosts the Flower Festival in January, Boquete Jazz and Blues Festival in February and all of the Panamanian Holidays. The “High” season runs from November through April.

How would I get to Panama?

Whether you are located in the United States, Canada, or Europe or anywhere else in the world, you would most travel by plane. Many airlines come to Central America go through Tocumen International Airport in Panama City. One Panamanian airline Copa Airlines has 326 daily scheduled flights to 69 destinations in 30 countries in North, Central and South America, and the Caribbean. This makes getting to Panama fairly easy.

Some of you may decide to come by means of cruise ships which travel through the Panama Canal and you will disembark in City of Colon. Royal Caribbean’s and Carnival Cruises are just two top ranked cruises to frequent Panama.

How about taking a plane to Boquete?

After experiencing the wonders offered by Panama City, then it is time to relax in Boquete. Once you are ready to come to Boquete there are different ways you can get to the City of David (half hour drive from Boquete) from Panama City. One of the options people have is to take a plane through Air Panama from Albrook Airport located in Albrook area of Panama City to Enrique Malek Airport in David. You can get to the airport by using a taxi as the highway infrastructure in Panama City is quite complex. There are several English speaking taxi drivers in Panama City and several different vehicles from a car to vans that can accommodate larger groups. Casa de Montaña can assist you in finding the right taxi service for you and your party’s needs. The price of a flight is usually around a hundred and twenty five dollars each way, depending on the season. There is a weight restriction of thirty pounds and the cost for each extra pound is two percent of the published rate. We can also arrange for a taxi or a van pick-up from the David Airport once you arrive in the province of Chiriqui.

The buses are another option

Some people prefer to take a bus to the City of David because it is less expensive than a plane and one gets to see the countryside. This is especially an appealing option for the first time tourist to Panama. The buses are double-deckers, fairly new, and air conditioned. You can purchase a bus ticket and take a bus to the City of David from the Terminal of Albrook which is right across from Albrook Mall. At this time you cannot purchase the ticket in advance. Just show up about an hour before the bust you want to take and stand in line to purchase your bus ticket. You have to be patient since the ticket counter where you can purchase Panama City to David ticket tends to be the busiest one any time of the day! The buses run every hour from 8:00am to 9:00 pm and there is a midnight express us as well. The bus from Panama City takes about 7 hours to get to the City of David and includes a stop in the City of Santiago which is half way so people can eat something and stretch their legs. Once you get to the terminal in the City of David you will be able to see all different buses that are scheduled to go to different parts of the province. The one you should take will look like an old yellow high school bus from the US and in the front and the back of the bus it will say Boquete. The price is $1.75 to ride this bus from David to the town of Boquete and it will take around 40 minutes to get to the town of Boquete. There is also the option of taking taxi from the David bus terminal. The price of a taxi is around $35 door-to-door. Just let the taxi driver know (in your best Spanish possible!) that you would like to be driven to “Casa de Montaña”, just past downtown Boquete and six house up from “Café Ruiz”. Another option is for you to call us ahead of time and we can arrange for a taxi or van service to van service to come and pick you up from the David Bus Terminal or from the David Airport if you choose to travel by Air Panama.

Check out the bus schedule on the following links: http://www.boqueteguide.com/?page_id=5243

A note about taxis

Taxis services through-out Panama can vary in cost, luxury, and safety. It is important to know in advance your options and to take taxis that are referred by people you know or by Casa de Montaña. Rate negotiation with a taxi driver is quite possible. Just make sure that you negotiate the rate up front prior to getting in the taxi!

A road trip to Boquete – renting a car!

There is always the option of renting a vehicle. Vehicle rental cost is fairly low but it is important to note that insurance on the vehicle rentals may be equivalent to the cost of the vehicle rental itself! Just be aware of that. There are many different car rental companies that have locations in all airports as well as throughout Panama City as well as Coronado. You may want to check your own auto coverage policy to see if you have an international rental coverage or talk with a representative. Despite the fact that you may have international auto coverage, the clerk at the car rental may still insist that you need to purchase their insurance. You may need to ask about all this prior to reserving a car or to firmly decline insurance coverage if you happen to just walk up to the counter and are considering renting a vehicle. The town of Boquete also has three car rental companies: Budget Car Rental, Thrifty Car rental, and Value Motor Boquete. Some of our guests prefer to get to Boquete by plane or bus and then rent a car here while they are in town. This is a better option if you don’t want to drive in the crazy Panama City traffic or take a long car ride to Boquete. Car rental companies are also located at the David airport in case you fly into David Airport and want to rent a vehicle.

Spectacular Subway system in Panama City

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Panama’s public transportation system is expanding and has been growing for the past few years. City Metro buses replaced old uniquely painted buses called “Diablo Rojo”. Recently, Panama has added a brand new subway system which is the best in Latin America and is quite inexpensive to use. The expansion of the subway is continuing. The plans are underway to keeping building new routes. The transit system will get you around Panama City quickly.

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Here is the link to the subway schedule and fees: http://www.elmetrodepanama.com/

It may seem complicated at first, getting to Boquete is fairly easy. We are located a 15-20 minutes walk from downtown so you don’t really need to rent a car if you don’t want to. The taxis to and from downtown only cost $1 or $2 and are easily available. A rental car is a good option if you are excited about exploring the area and maybe take a road trip to Boca Chica, Las Lajas, Volcan, or Cerro Punta. There are many options to choose from. Whether you are traveling for the first time or you’ve been to Central America before, we at Casa de Montaña are here to help you plan your itinerary!

Coming to Panama and wondering about your visa options?

Blog by Eliecer Andres Lay

Excited about the possibilities for your future in Panama? The first step to becoming a resident of Panama is to contact a lawyer to start the process. The application must be filed by a legal professional with the Ministry of Public Security and the National Immigration Service of Panama, according to Panamanian law. Panama offers a various kinds of visas and ways for foreigners to stay in the country. In some cases more than one visa can be applied for, although some may be more beneficial to the applicant than others. There are different types of visas for the immigrants which you can choose to migrate to Panama. These are: Tourist Visa, Private Income Retiree Visa, Retirement Visa (Pensionado), and Person of Means Visa, Forestry Investor Visa, Specific Countries Program (aka Friendly Nations Visa), Investor Visa.There eligible countries anda process for obtaining a work permit under the Specific Countries program.  Thenational immigrant service website explains how the legal immigrants are divided in Panama:

  • The last census in 2000 showed a total of 82,097 foreigners legally residing in Panama.
  • Between January 2002 and April 2005, a total of 1,118 foreign retirees (Pensioner visa) immigrated to Panama. The trend accelerated rapidly, showing a 29% increase in 2003 over 2002, and an increase of 99% in 2004 compared to 2003.  The 2005 census showed an increase of 400%.
  • In 2005, 2500 new resident visas were issued. The largest group were citizens of the United States representing a total of 67%.
  • From 2004 to 2007 a total of 31,356 immigrant visas to foreigners relocating to Panama were issued.
  • The immigration department statistics indicate that in the period of 2008, a total of 14,739 foreigners from 96 countries, including 2,113 Americans (Estados Unidos, “EU” in the chart below) and 4,149 Colombians were issued. (Panama America).

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The next article (taken from the website: http://panama.angloinfo.com/moving/residency/) explains clearly how the visas are divided and what are the requirements:

Tourist Visa

A tourist visa is automatically issued to every person who enters Panama (except to those from countries that require a stamped visa: Cameroon, China, Congo, Dem. Rep., Cuba, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Egypt, El Salvador, Ghana, Haiti, India, North Korea, Nigeria, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, Russia, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Surinam, Turkey, Ukraine, Vietnam). There is no difference in the application process for different nationalities, however, the process can be more difficult and may take longer for some.

It is possible to stay in Panama on a tourist visa for 90 days. As long as the visa holder leaves the country within the 90 day limit, the visa is renewed on re-entry. Many expatriates who live in Panama never apply for a residency visa of any kind and simply make “border runs” every 90 days in order to stay in the country permanently.

Retirement Visa (Pensionado)

Any person over 18 years of age who can show proof of a lifetime monthly pension of any kind can qualify for a pensionado, or retirement, visa. Anyone receiving a pension from a government entity, social security, Armed Forces, or a private company that pays a guaranteed pension for a lifetime can qualify for this visa.

The applicant must be able to prove a minimum income of US$1,000 per month and an additional US$250 for each dependent, or US$2,000. This must be paid into a local bank account.

Holders of a retirement visa are also entitled to a one-time tax exemption on the importation of household goods (up to US$10,000) and a tax exemption every two years for the importation or local purchase of a new car.

If retiring with a government pension, an authenticated letter or form from the government pension plan (and/or pension administrator, if retiring before receiving a government pension) that proves a minimum income of at least US$1,000 a month, and an additional US$250 for each dependent must be presented.

Those receiving a pension from a non-governmental agency or business, need to provide authenticated proof of the pension being deposited (for example a bank statement), and a good-standing certificate from the company issuing the pension.

The visa card, or carnet, is issued approximately one month after the lawyer has submitted the application.

Private Income Retiree Visa

This visa is an option for the financially self-sufficient who maintain a Certificate of Deposit deposited at the National Bank of Panama or Caja de Ahorros which yields at least US$850 per month. The deposit must be renewed every five years to maintain the status. There is no age requirement.

Person of Means Visa (SolvenciaEconómicaPropia)

To qualify for this visa, the applicant must fulfil one of the following criteria:

  • Have opened a three-year fixed-term deposit account with at least US$300,000 at a local bank
  • Have purchased real estate in Panama for at least US$300,000
  • Have purchased mortgage-free real estate and opened a three-year fixed-term deposit account

The accounts and the real estate must be in the visa applicant’s personal name, fully funded (or titled), and free of mortgages or encumbrances. A two-year provisional visa will be granted first, after which the holder can reapply and receive a permanent visa and national identity card (cedula). After five years, the process of applying for Panamanian nationality can be started.

Forestry Investor Visa

The Forestry Investor Visa can be obtained by applying as a large forestry investor and investing at least US$80,000 (plus US$2,000 for each dependent, deposited in a local bank) in an approved reforestation project that is at least five hectares. Alternatively, the applicant can apply for a visa as a small forestry investor in a project that is at least three hectares and must invest at least US$60,000.

As a large forestry investor, permanent residency must be applied for immediately after the two-year renewable immigrant visa card expires. Small forestry investors can apply for permanent residency in their sixth year. Prior to this, investors must stay in Panama on two-year renewable immigrant visas – meaning they would have to apply four times before obtaining permanent residency.

Both small and large investors are eligible to apply for citizenship five years after their approval of permanent residency. This is a separate application process. It is now possible to use Individual Retirement Account (IRA) funds to invest in forestry projects in Panama and qualify for the forestry investor visas. However, the residency visa cannot be applied for if IRA funds are used to invest in other types of Panama real estate, as the property must be owned and registered by an IRA-owned entity, not in the applicant’s personal name.

The initial application takes approximately five working days. The applicant then receives a provisional visa valid for three to four months and can then apply for a one-year immigrant visa. This visa must be renewed every year for three years. After five years, an application can be made for nationality and citizenship.

Specific Countries Program (aka “Friendly Nations Visa”)

The “Specific Countries” program opens Panama’s doors to citizens of countries deemed “friendly” by the Panamanian government. It aims to bring a skilled work force to Panama and make it easier for foreign nationals to work in Panama.

The Specific Countries program grants immediate and permanent residency with just one application. At the time of application, the government will issue an interim residency card. After processing, which is estimated to take 6 to 8 months, applicants will receive an officialcedula (a national ID card) and become a permanent resident. Foreigners are eligible for naturalization after five years of residency.

This residency program is the quickest and cheapest route to Panamanian citizenship.

Eligible countries

The most recent list of friendly countries now offers residency to citizens of the following 47 countries:

  • Andorra, Argentina, Australia, Austria, Brazil, Belgium, Canada, Chile, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Estonia, France, Finland, Germany, Greece, Hong Kong, Hungary, Ireland, Israel, Japan, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Monaco, Montenegro, Netherlands, New Zealand, Poland, Portugal, San Marino, Serbia, Singapore, Slovakia, South Africa, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Taiwan, United Kingdom, United States and Uruguay.

In addition to the principal applicant, the following dependents are also eligible for residency:

  • Spouse and parents of the main applicant
  • Children under 18 years old
  • Children with disabilities
  • Children 18 to 25 who are single and registered at universities

Obtaining a work permit under the Specific Countries program

Applicants must have a Panamanian bank account with at least a US$5000 deposit, an additional US$2000 in the account per dependent, and must demonstrate one of the following:

  • Ownership of Panamanian property
  • Ownership of a Panamanian corporation with business license
  • Offer of employment and contract from a Panamanian business

The work permit application can be initiated only after permanent residency has been granted, which will take six to eight months. Once the applicant is granted the work permit it is indefinite. The Specific Countries program is politically contested, and may be revoked by future governments. Applications should be submitted before the March 2014 elections to ensure that it will be processed.

This permit grants permanent residency immediately and it is not necessary to renew the permit multiple times. If the executive order is revoked, those who have obtained residency under this new program should not have a problem; Panama has a history of grandfathering in people already in the system.

Since this program has been and remains subject to amendments, it is necessary for an applicant to work very closely with a lawyer during the application process. All residency visa applications in Panama must be made through an attorney.

As you can see, there many different ways one can either visit as a tourist or apply to become a permanent resident of Panama. It is crucial to do your “homework” first and get sound legal advice. The best choice of visa is dependent on your personal circumstances and future plans. There is something for everybody. It seems to us that Panama continues to a great placefor foreign investment and is opening its doors to welcome expats who in turn are anxious to call Panama their home! There are many different areas within Panama to choose to settle and that, of course, will be a topic of discussion of a future blog!

Panama Canal – Century Celebration and the upcoming expansion!

By Eliecer Andres Lay

 

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What is the Panama Canal? It is a waterway between the Atlantic Ocean (via the Caribbean Sea) and the Pacific Ocean, across the Isthmus of Panama at its narrowest point. Its construction represented one of the greatest successes of modern engineering. It is 80 kilometers from one point to another, with a depth of 12-13 meters and a width of 90 to 300 meters, depending on the section. Panama Canal has two port terminals, one in each ocean, and three sets of locks, and one of the largest artificial lakes (Gatun Lake) in the world.

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Since its opening, Panama Canal has had important effects on the transport around the world – short time and distance, maritime communication and fostering of trade. The major users of this pathway are the United States, China, Chile, Japan and South Korea, and generally the products being transported by the vessels are grain and oil, among others products. The Panama Canal website says that over 700,000 have crossed the Canal boats for 100 years. Since its opening, which occurred on August 15, 1914, it has had a huge positive impact on the economy of Panama.

The Panama Canal has greatly influenced the integration and cohesion of Panamanian territory, to consecrate the physical (economic and cultural) separation of the capital and the provinces. And this also has its history:

  • In 1931 the Thatcher Ferry put up three ferries that connected the two banks.
  • In 1942, opened a swinging bridge, which already represented a breakthrough in communications, but this only worked when no ships passed through the canal.
  • In 1962, the Bridge of the Americas, a beautiful and vital artery of 1,654 meters long and 118 meters above sea level, which runs the channel outlet to the Pacific Ocean opens.
  • In 2005 Panama began offering services of the Centennial Bridge, the second structure that allows traffic between the capital and inland populations. This is 15km. north of the Bridge of the Americas, crosses the Gaillard Cut and measures 1052 meters with an elevation of 80 meters.

 The authority of Panama Canal has created a website http://www.100yearspanamacanal.com/ in honor to commemorate the century of the Canal and this is what they wrote:

Panama is going to celebrate the 100th Canal Anniversary by different events throughout the year. The events will highlight the aspects that have made the Panama Canal an international symbol, but also have an eye on Panama`s future, as well as celebrate Panama’s full sovereignty over the Canal, shared the Canal administrator, Jorge Luis Quijano. First of all, the Canal management got a new name. The former brand “Autoridad de Canal de Panama” (ACP) has been changed to the less aggressive “Canal De Panama” (CDP) which also demonstrates the independence from the US. The change of the name brand comes along with a new brand logo and a new, pleasing sub title that reads “La maravilla eres tú.” (You are the wonder.) In addition to that, a temporary event logo for the CDP has been developed in order to tag the centennial year as a special event recognizable to everybody. The anniversary logo was introduced to the public while the official opening ceremony for the Anniversary Countdown on August 14, 2013 at the Miraflores Locks in Panama.

As a cooperation between Panama`s City of Knowledge (Ciudad del Saber) and Fundación Arte y Cultura Panama, a second event has also already taken place. City of Knowledge hosted an extensive book exhibition under the name “The Panama Canal and its Architectural Legacy (1905-1920)” that tried to make up a connection between the public and “those figures whose ideas and work served largely to form the character of architecture and landscape of the former Canal Zone.”

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As an open space the Cinta Costera Project is already showcasing Panama`s rapid growth thereby giving a warm welcome to visitors that will be impressed by a skyline of Panama City with the international flavor of cities like Buenos Aires or Shanghai.

With Frank Gehry`s Biodiversity Museum on the Causeway of Balboa, Panama also celebrates itself as a pivot point for the past of the continents. The new “Bridge of Life”, as the architect himself refers to the unconventional building, can be seen from Panama Bay, as well as from the Canal entrance. On 4000 square meters it will host several exhibitions in the future, highlighting Panama`s extraordinary biodiversity.

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Last but not least, Panama celebrates the Canal by a generous but also necessary expansion project that includes new locks, wider shipping lanes and bigger ports, all together worth over 5 billion Dollars. Nowadays, construction is underway for these third set of locks, which is a massive project to expand the Panama Canal. This extension will be the largest since the construction of the canal. The Panama Canal Authority proposed the project after years of study. Panamanian Ex-President Martín Torrijos presented the plan on April 24, 2006 and Panamanian citizens approved it shortly afterwards.

The official opening of the new Canal was set for August 14, 2014 and was going to be accompanied by several festival events throughout the city. Since this is such a huge undertaking, the completion has been delayed for a year or two. The Panamanians as well as the rest of the world are anxiously waiting to see this project come to an end and also to see what impact this will have on trade around the world.

This 100 year old Canal which manages five percent of worldwide shipments, thereby connecting more than 144 routes, 1,700 ports and 160 countries, can be considered one of the most influential human accomplishments of the past Century. Today there are hardly any Panamanians that are not affected by the Canal which brings the country billions of annual income and offers almost 10,000 local jobs.

The Panama Canal has been a fundamental part in Panama’s growing economy as well as global economy. It not only has brought benefit into our country but in the community, culture and more. It has created a multicultural, diverse and heterogeneous society in a country that was growing at that time. The country was completely transformed after the creation of the Canal. United States invested a huge amount of money in improving the condition of existing infrastructure, which improved the quality of life, especially in cities near the Canal itself.

As a Panamanian, I am excited to see how the economy and job prospects continue to improve for the average Panamanian. I am hoping that the rest of the country also continues to benefit from these canal improvements. Panama is a developing nation and the Panama Canal has been a major source of income to our people for the past century and will hopefully continue to be for the coming century! Come on down and visit Miraflores Locks in Panama City, take a cruise through the canal, take a train ride or drive the distance to see Gatun Lake and the city of Colon, visit the many museums that show the construction and history of the Panama Canal. This is my invitation to the visitors and people considering relocating to my beautiful country!

http://www.wikisaber.es/comunidadwiki/blogs/blogpost.aspx?id=19515&blogid=64595

http://es.wikipedia.org/wiki/Canal_de_Panam%C3%A1

http://ww.migraventura.net/sites/default/files/canal_panama/paginas/1_2.html

Soccer in Panama: A National Passion!

By Eliecer Andres Lay

The stage was set, Panama was five minutes away from qualifying for this year’s World Cup Soccer that was going to be celebrated in Brazil. The dream of all Panamanians has been to see our national team play the World Cup. Panama was up by two goals and we needed to win that game in order to qualify for the World Cup. Everybody started to feel like this was really happening. The whole country was mesmerized with the game. What a huge disappointment for us because in less than five minutes the US team tied the game and scored another goal in overtime thus shattering our hopes of going to the World Cup Soccer in Brazil this year. This dream was moments away from materializing but the US team took away this dream for 2014. Panama has never qualified for the World Cup and this could have been the biggest thing that our national team would have done. The World Cup is celebrated every four years and this year was the closest they had ever been to qualify for the World Cup. Even though we did not qualify, we came close and that means that each year the Panamanian team is becoming stronger and stronger. People in Panama are looking forward to the next qualifying round and they are hoping to see our national team in the next World Cup which will be celebrated in Russia in 2018.

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My favorite sport is soccer and that is the sport I have played since I was 6 years old. I would say soccer is my passion and I enjoy it every single second of my life and I look for constant updates related to soccer in the world news. In addition, I have been told by others since I was young that I had the talent of playing soccer especially as a goalkeeper. I have played soccer on different teams in Boquete and I also had the opportunity to play for a college in the US which was the best experience I could have ever had. Playing soccer at college level in another country was a great experience because I had the chance to play with fellow students from different countries and to train with professional coaches. The feeling of being part of a diverse team was thrilling, it felt like I was playing for a professional team. We would travel to different regions of the state and play in various soccer stadiums. During my first year of playing for my college, we won the regionals so we became the number one team at the college level in the whole state. Then we went on to the nationals where only the best college teams in the US would play against each other to see who could climb to the top. Even though we did not win the overall championship, all of this experience helped me to become more skilled at the game and to play even better. All of the hard work lead me to have an opportunity to try out for a professional team from the Major League Soccer (MLS) and that was just like a dream come true! I gave it my best, not letting fear get in my way. The level of competition was really high and I did my best to qualify to be on the team but didn’t quite make it. I moved on with my life. Who knows, there is always a possibility in the future I will have another chance like that. Eventually I returned to Boquete, Panama, to be re-united with my family and to pursue my college degree.

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Panama is one of the countries that has been developing faster in sports than most of the Central American countries. In Panama, people like sports in general but the most popular ones are soccer, baseball and boxing. As the years pass by, more and more people are getting involved in sports, especially young people. Students in Panama are required to play a sport while they are in high school, such as soccer, basketball, swimming, baseball and more. Over the past five years, soccer in Panama is the sport that make the fans come alive with passion during every game when the national team plays. Panama has its eyes set on the next World Cup.The Panama national soccer team represents Panama in international soccer. The team is controlled by the governing body for soccer in Panama called Panamanian (soccer) Football Federation, which is currently a member of The Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football (CONCACAF) and the regional Union of Central American Football (UNCAF). Panama finished as runners-up in the 2005 Gold Cup and 2013 Gold Cup. Panama reached the fourth round for the 2006 World Cup CONCACAF qualifications and advanced to the fourth round for the 2014 World Cup CONCACAF qualifications.

There is a parallel that can be drawn between Panama’s desire to be “world class” in sports and hopefully qualify to  the World Cup as well my own desire to be the best I can be in whatever I pursue. My earlier experiences in living and going to school in the U.S. has given me the foundation to do my personal best in whatever I choose to do. My country of Panama and I are both dreamers and we are committed to doing our best. Let’s see where this journey takes us!

Restaurants in Boquete

By Eliecer Andres Lay

 

I have dined in pretty much every single restaurant in Boquete searching for ones that are going to meet my “high” expectations! One of my favorite restaurants is La Posada Boqueteña which is an Argentinian restaurant that offers mostly grilled food. My favorite dish is the huge plate of nachos which includestortilla chips, pico de gallo, sour cream, cheese, chicken and more. Another one of the tasty dishes is the mixed tray which includes grilled steak, chicken, yucca, potato, pork and more.Here is an example of the mix tray that they offer.

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In Boquete, the cuisine options have been growing for the past few years.  Not too long ago you could not find many varieties of restaurant as you do now. From American, Italian, Chinese to Argentinian – these are some of the type of cuisines you can find when you visit us in Boquete.  Depending on what you are looking for, there is a likelihood that there is a restaurant waiting for you that will meet your needs. The prices in Boquete are affordable depending on what you are desire. Panamanian food is usually less than $5 dollars and it will include a full meal. There are some Panamanian restaurants in Boquete that are known for their low prices and good food, giving a great value for your money. El Sabroson, Los Orquideas, Nelvis and Km 35 come to mind as some of the best Panamanian restaurants around town.

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As a general rule, tipping in Panama wasnot obligatory so people did not need to give any tip unless they really wanted to. Nowadays, depending on which kind of restaurant you are visiting, the tip (or propina) will be included on your bill as the government is starting to make it obligatory.  Most of the restaurants will include the tip on the bill so you do not need to worry about adding a tip to the total bill. Just make sure you look closely at the bill to see if there is an additional amount listed under “propina”.

Lee Seltzer has shared his personal reviews about some restaurants of Boquete in his blog, and this is what he wrote:

American

Baru Restaurant: Right at the central park, open 11am- 10pm for food longer for a bar.

Big Daddy’s: I have not had a burger but the word on the street is they are excellent

Argentine
La Posada: A good grill, great pizza, live music on Saturday nights. In my opinion they have the best pizza in Boquete and the best steak.

Breakfast
Punto de Encuentro Cafe: Olga is wonderful. The food is good and the atmosphere is still good.

Panamonte: A past Sunday brunch favorite. It has been several years since I have had breakfast there.
Central ParkWatch the town wake up and enjoy something tasty. I love the liver and onions for breakfast.

Chinese

Yings: Good food a little more expensive than David but better than most in David and a lot more convenient in Alto Boquete.

French
Art Cafe (formerly La Crepe: Excellent crepes and more. Revisited several times and I can recommend their specials, excellent food.

International
The Rock:The Rock is solid. This is the place for a dinner undisturbed by loud music or a blaring television. It is all about good food, good service and consistency. The management is international, the cuisine international and the quality of product as good as you will find in all of Panama, not just Boquete. The Rock has withstood two floods literally destroying it and hopefully it will withstand the test of time.

Mikes Global Grill: Good food, good entertainment and worth the trip for a truly international menu.

Italian
some people like Il Pianista.

Mexican
Antojitos:Trini’s food is as always excellent.

Panamanian
El Sabroson:One of my favorites for fast cheap eats. Try the trout (trucha).

Cafe Nelvis: Still my favorite for fried chicken. They have moved across from the elementary school Bajo Boquete.

Central Park:Was my favorite Boquete Breakfast spot before Sugar and Spice, a great view of the park and usually good eats.

Milquiburger: I still have not tried a burger because the fried chicken so damn good.

Seafood:

Boquete Fish House: Excellent fresh seafood prepared as you want it. Check the board for the daily specials.

Sandwiches

Sugar and Spice:I call Sugar and Spice a Bakery because it is, but it is also a great place to have a sandwich on fresh baked bread. Highly recommended.

New restaurants keep opening up in Boquete so it is important to ask us about the latest list of restaurants and our recommendations. We have an updated list available in our office of all the restaurants and a map showing the locations. Just recently a restaurant called “Black & White” (a Spanish Tapas place) opened up in Bajo Boquete (Boquete downtown). We have been there a few times. The food and the service are excellent! As Boquete keeps growing and changing, so does the restaurant scene. Now if Boquete would only get some Thai, Pakistani/Indian, and Vietnamese restaurants, we would be all set! Any takers?

Panama Health Care and Health Insurance

By Eliecer Andres Lay

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If you are thinking of moving to Boquete, or just visiting, you might wonder “what’s the Panama health care like?”

Last week I began to feel sick and it later turned into a really bad cold and fever as well. I assumed that I had a virus. The first thing I did when I started to feel sick was to take an over-the-counter flu medicine for the cold and it did not help me with my symptoms at all. I soon started to feel worse. Then I decided to go to a private system clinic to see a doctor. My out-of-office cost was only $10 and the doctor prescribed me some medicines, including antibiotics. In total I spent around $35 that included the doctor’s appointment and my medicines. Within a few days I felt better. As you can see a doctor’s appointment is inexpensive but the medicines can be a little costly, depending on what you need to purchase.

In Boquete, there are different ways that you can get medical attention when you are sick. Even If you come from another country you can get medical attention in a clinic. The pricing is really low and is usually under $20.00 depending on where you go. Boquete has several clinics that are really accessible and designed for the community as well as If you have a bad emergency they will take you in an ambulance to a hospital in David. There is also an emergency number similar to 911 in Boquete and the name of the person is Rodny who is charge of responding to the calls. His phone number at “Alto Al Crimen” is 6677-6662. He is available 24/7/365 days and is able to assist you in any emergency you have in both English and Spanish. Most Boquetenians contact Rodny first and he in turn contacts all the emergency responders.

Panama health care is divided into three different systems:

  • National Health Care – Called “Ministerio de Salud”, also known as MINSA. These are yellow, green, and white buildings and are located in almost every community. It is basically free or low cost to the locals. This system is designed to mainly treat the poor community and those who do not have social security health benefits.
  • Social Security Clinic– Everyone who works in Panama must by law pay into the Panamanian Social Security system. Basically the employer pays around half and the employee pays the other half. For the coffee farm workers their medical coverage is about $4 a week and for government workers the cost will average $15 a week. Often doctors prescribe pharmaceuticals that are at no cost and are available at the social security pharmacy. Also, pharmacies throughout Panama sell pharmaceuticals by single dose (one pill). So if your doctor prescribes something, you buy only as many as you have been prescribed, you desire, or you can afford.
  • Private System – This system is widely used by the expat community and also by the increasing number of people who are coming to Panama to have medical procedures done. Such procedures as bypass surgery or cancer recovery is a growing industry called “medical tourism” in Panama. In Chiriqui province, where Boquete is located, there are five private hospitals where you can get any surgery and most of the treatments you need. For more involved procedures and treatment one has to go to the hospitals in Panama City. The private hospital costs are higher than if you go to a small clinic.

The information below is taken from an article about Health Care in Panama: Excellent Care at Half the Cost of the U.S.

Here are some personal stories:

I’ve been living in Panama full-time since 2005, and one of the best things about living here is the health care. I’m not the only one who thinks so, either. I’ve interviewed slews of expats here, and nearly every single person I talk to is mightily impressed by the health care in Panama.

International Living editor Dan Prescher says the health care in Panama is modern and affordable. He went to see my eye doctor in Panama City—he liked the doctor and the modern facility so much, Dan decided to have laser eye surgery done here. He estimates he saved up to 50% by having the procedure in Panama instead of back in the United States.

Expat resident Linda McKee says she likes the personal attention she and her husband, Eric, have received here: “Have you ever called a doctor in the U.S. at home on a weekend? My husband Eric and I had never had the pleasure…until we came to Panama. And we’re not the only ones—most of the expats I’ve met agree that the personalized health care in Panama is excellent.”

You’ll find excellent hospitals in Panama—in popular towns like Panama City, Chitre, CoronadoBoquete and David, the modern facilities are first rate. The country is so small, you’re likely to never be no more than an hour or two away from a major hospital (with plenty of smaller facilities, dental clinics, eye doctors and more close by). Boquete is only 35 minutes away from the nearest hospital.

Health care in Panama: One expats’ success story

One night in Boquete, expat Lee’s wife Jennifer began experiencing severe stomach pains. He rushed her to the local Boquete clinic, but she was soon sent to Hospital Chiriqui in the town of David, a 35-minute drive away. His normally healthy wife was experiencing acute liver failure and her kidneys began to shut down. Her doctors in David decided she needed specialized care in Panama City. A private plane was chartered to take her to Hospital Punta Pacifica, where Jennifer spent eight days in intensive care.

Says Lee: “She was never left unattended…the care and facility is as good as or better than any I have experienced or observed in the U.S.” Lee adds that the doctors were “beyond exceptional” and the nursing and technical staff were excellent.

Lee believes that Punta Pacifica’s affiliation with Johns Hopkins Medicine International was critical to saving Jennifer’s life. Specialists at both hospitals were in constant contact, affording her the best possible medical care her “international team” could provide. Despite living in the small mountain town of Boquete, Jennifer was able to get top-notch treatment thanks to the professionalism and timely actions of Panamanian health care professionals.

Giving health care in Panama a “good rep”

Another reason the health care in Panama has such a good rep is that many doctors here are U.S.-trained. Not only have that, but the standards at the top hospitals in Panama compared favorably with those in the U.S., Canada and Europe.

The largest hospitals in Panama are affiliated with First World facilities in the U.S. and elsewhere. In fact, Panama is the only Latin American nation to boast a John’s Hopkins-affiliated facility: Hospital Punta Pacifica (known as the most technologically advanced hospital in the region).

Although insurance is available in Boquete, for example, through Magda Crespo insurance, phone number, 6671-8800, located in San Francisco Plaza, many expats choose to purchase the insurance only for travel outside of Panama. Magda also covers home and auto insurance. So you can be rest-assured that you are in good hands should you have any healthcare needs. There are many other insurance agents also available in Boquete and David area in addition to Magda.

As you can see, health care and health insurance options abound in Boquete/David area and Panama in general that would meet the needs of expats with varying health concerns. The key to ascertaining the best options for you is to come down in person to Panama and talk to a reputable agent who can answer any questions you may have. Also, don’t forget to ask other expats who have already been living here who can share with you their own personal experiences. As we say here in Panama “Buena Suerte!” (Good Luck!).

Update: The Panama Authority of Tourism, communicates to all visitors in Panama and those who are considering Panama as a tourist destination that the tourist insurance contract expired on June 30, 2014 and the program was terminated on the same day.  All visitors should make use of their private health insurance in case of medical emergencies.

 

Panama Education System: Does it prepare you for College or University? A spotlight on Boquete

By: Eliecer Andres Lay

nobes en escuelaI have studied in Panama and in the US and in my personal experience both are similar in education. Panama is continually improving its education system, and a person graduating from Panama schools will have the same knowledge as a person graduating from another country. Of course you and your child’s efforts are a key piece in the future of your child and his or her development. I am writing this article so that anyone interested in moving to Boquete area with their children has an idea about what choices are available to them for their child’s education.

The Panamanian education system is divided in two levels which are universal, free and mandatory. The Panamanian government funds the public schools and continues to invest in research related to improving delivery of public education as well as building and maintenance of school buildings. There are plenty of public schools around Panama, places where it is hard to get access to, all the indigenous regions, cities and more. For example if you are traveling to Panama and decide that you want to visit the indigenous regions, you will see a lot of indigenous kids are really into their classes wanting to have good education. Schools in rural areas are much more basic. Depending upon the number of children they may be just one room where often the numbers of children in each class can be high. It is hard to get teachers to work in remote areas as the facilities are not the greatest. There are many volunteer opportunities for teachers in this area. An increasing trend among expats who are living outside the main cities is to home school their children. On the other hand, private schools might be a better option for your kids if you come from another country. Private schools are all starting to provide bilingual education (Spanish & English) with a well prepared curriculum. There are four private schools in Boquete and a few public schools.

This is the brand new high school being completed in Boquete with over 400 registered students.

 escuelaThere are two levels of education in Panama:

Primary education includes:

  • Pre-school with two levels: pre-kindergarten and kindergarten. This is the only level where attendance is not compulsory.
  • Primary or Elementary School: This level lasts for six years.
  • Secondary School: Ends after three years with a school-leaving certificate.
  • High school: Lasts three years. At the end of high school students receive a diploma (Diploma de Bachiller) with a specialty (sciences, literature, business, technology, or agriculture and livestock).

Secondary or university education

The academic year of public Panamanian schools and universities begin during the last days of February and finishes at the end of December. Most private schools also follow this calendar, however, it is possible to find international schools that follow the Northern calendar (September-June school year).

From an article in Panama Education and Schools

Education in Panama was elitist until the USA took over the Panama Canal and began to influence matters. The policy prior to this was to offer the best education to those in the higher classes of society. Education became progressive under the US influence and numbers of children enrolling in primary school by the mid-1930s doubled. Levels of illiteracy among adults had been very high but dropped to below 50% in less than 10 years, dropping to less than 28% by the mid-1950s and levels are now less than 8%.

In secondary schools children are taught science, math, different languages and social studies for their compulsory years. In recent years, technology subjects have begun to be taught. Extra-curricular subjects at most schools range from languages to sports, with crafts and dance very popular too.

Government-run schools also follow a very similar syllabus for all subjects, so that the standards of education across the country can be monitored. A number of bilingual schools are now in existence in areas where the expat presence is high and there are schools where children can be taught through the mediums of French, English, Italian and Chinese, as well as Spanish.

Panama has several ‘Special Education’ schools for those children who have special needs. The cost of private education varies, depending upon the school and the location, but it can be around $6000 per year or more.

There are both American and British International Schools located in Panama City. The Balboa Academy (in the Clayton district), the Oxford International School (central Panama City) and the Crossroads Christian Academy (the Curundu district) all follow a standard US syllabus. The Oxford School, which can be found in the Edison Park area offers a British syllabus and an international examinations program. This gives children of expats the chance to earn qualifications which are widely accepted in their home country if they intend to go to university there.

A Panamanian’s perspective: Positive things about learning English & Spanish

By Eliecer Andres Lay

Learning a second language can bring positive results to your life. English is the most spoken language in the world and is becoming a fundamental part of Panamanian life as well. In Panama, several companies are hiring people who are bilingual. Spanish as well is becoming of greater importance in the world. For example, people from different countries are moving to Panama and other countries in Central / South America in greater numbers. It’s no wonder that Spanish is a popular second or third language. Even though learning a new language can be challenging, it can be done! I did it. Here is my story:

My aunt who has been living in the US for about 23 years, asked me if I wanted to go to the US right after I graduated from high school, so I could learn more about the US, their culture and also to get better with my English. When I first moved to the US, I took an English course for about 2 years. It made communicating and making friends much easier.

I learned more about American culture and it was fascinating to live in a different country. I had the opportunity to join my college soccer team, and it was imperative to know English. The team was made up of students from different cultures and countries.

Learning English and Korean was one of the best things that could have ever happened to me. Now I communicate with people from different countries and there are more opportunities available to me since I am trilingual, plus now I am able to travel to English speaking countries with great ease.

From an article in Why Learn Spanish?se habla español

Who’s learning Spanish these days? For starters, residents of the United States, a bunch not known for conquering monoligualism, are studying Spanish in record numbers. Spanish, too, is becoming of greater importance in Europe, where it often is the foreign language of choice after English. And it’s no wonder that Spanish is a popular second or third language: with some 400 million speakers, it’s the fourth most commonly spoken language in the world (after English, Chinese and Hindi/Urdu), and according to some counts it has more native speakers than English does. It is an official language on four continents and is of historical importance elsewhere.

The numbers alone make Spanish a good choice for those wanting to learn another tongue. But there are plenty of other reasons to learn Spanish.

Excerpts from an article on learning a second language:biblioteca

Learning to speak a second language well may be the best thing you can do to improve your life.

  • Get access to knowledge through the web and books:The web has over a billion pages of information and books on any subjects from all over the world.
  • Communicate with people:In regards to English, one billion people in the world are learning it. 75% of the world’s letter and post cards are written in English and almost all conferences and competitions are conducted in English.
  • Push your career forward: If you want a good job in business, technology, or science, get out of that armchair and start learning a second language now! (If you already have a good job, start learning before you lose it!)
  • Travel: when you are traveling to Panama, the native language is Spanish. However most Panamanians would be able to converse with limited English. It is not necessary to be perfect at it, but at least you need to know how to communicate with people.
  • Culture: when you are in another country, it is important to familiarize with the culture more. You can do some research about the country you want to visit before you travel there, that would get you an idea about their costumes, food, people’s attitudes and more. It is important to know at least the basics of their language, so you are able to order food or ask for common questions.

Andres is a full-time student at Universidad del Istmo in David, Panama, and is also employed at Casa de Montaña

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