Cell phone coverage in Boquete, Panama

Blog by Terry Richmeier

The first month that we moved to Central America and stayed in Panama City, Panama. We thought, “What have we done!?” We were without communication to the states! Within days of arrival, we ran up to the mall, purchased some in-expensive phones and minutes, along with a phone number! Now, we thought, we will be ok!

However, I sat on the bed in the condo that we were renting and plugged in the phone to start charging it. (We had to stay in the City in order to finish up our residency.) And realized, this is a local phone with no way to call my Mom and Dad or my friends back in the states! Which I desperately needed to call! I felt lonely and scared!

So, I began to look for different ways to communicate with limited Wi-Fi. (Our condo only had a small phone device for Wi-Fi.) Well, it wasn’t easy, however, we did end up Skyping to our friend who would take over her laptop to my parents and we had set up a weekly. Boom, connected again!

So, my question is, “Is it just a problem here in Panama? Or all around the world? Is my experience an isolated experience based on my own lack of knowledge?”

Here is another story from Amy Kinnear and her experience with a U.S. carrier before moving here to Boquete, Panama:

The Joys of Communicating Overseas. Before getting a new cellphone carrier, I made sure to let them know that it was extremely important that I had a phone that could work in Panama. They promised me that when I went to Panama I would was have unlimited text and data, as well as be able to make calls. It would just be more expensive. I stupidly believed them. A few months later I decided to move to Panama and would be flying to Panama City to meet my parents, for our connection to David, Panama. I had only been to Panama once before and was nervous because my Spanish is horrible. I was not stressing much at first because my carrier assured me multiple times that my phone would work in Panama. I would just call and let my parents know when I got to Panama City, so that we could meet before the flight to David. A soon as the plane landed, I called them. No signal! My heart dropped. What was I going to do if they needed to reach me? “No worries,” I told myself. I would follow their instructions on how to get to my next gate. I had a gut feeling that they were not going to make our connection. How on earth was I going to get to Boquete? What was I going to do once I got there? I had no way to get in their house without the keys, and I needed a place to stay. If my carrier would have worked the way they promised, I could have just called my folks. I did not even have data like I was told I would. So I could not message them on Facebook either. I was able to pay to use the airport’s Wi-Fi. I tried to contact my mom on messenger, but her phone was not working. I had to message my ex-boyfriend, so that he could text my mom to see what the plan was while I was also messaging everyone I had met in Panama last year to see if I could get a ride from David to Boquete once I landed. Finally I Facebook called Manzar to see if Casa de Montaña Bed & Breakfast had a room available and if they knew anyone I could call for a taxi. It all worked out in the end, but needless to say I am very upset with my ex-provider. I went a few weeks without a local phone, but I felt uncomfortable only to be able to call if I was connected to Wi-Fi. The phones are very affordable here. I have a very basic local phone, but it is nice to know that I can communicate with people while I am out and about, and it only cost about $20!

So, there are several options available for you here in Panama. First, if you are just traveling here, you can get International coverage by contacting your own cell phone provider. Or you can purchase a worldwide usage phone. And another option is to purchase a SIM card upon arrival so you have a local phone number and then purchase minutes through a purchased cell phone minutes card. And also remember that you can buy a monthly data plan which has unlimited data use. This would be good for use wherever there is WIFI and you can connect with family and friends back at home through WhatsApp or contact an Uber or taxi driver without costing any more money!

Now, if you are planning to relocate to Panama, outside of the options that are listed above, you can bring with you a Vonage phone and keep your local number. You will be able to stay in touch with all your family and friends!

We here at Casa de Montaña bed and breakfast know how important staying connected is! We do our best to keep you connected and we can help you with contacting people close or far! So, come and stay with us and relax knowing that you can get in contact back at home!

Do I need vaccinations before my trip to Panama?

Blog by Debra Harwood

 

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Travelers to Central America from North America, Europe and Australia/New Zealand generally have more questions about what kinds of vaccinations, if any, they need to have done prior to their journey to Panama and other countries in Central America. Travelers are looking for a peace-of-mind, especially if their journey takes them to some remote regions. The best thing to do is to contact your local “travel clinic” first. They will most probably have the latest information about any kind of virus outbreak warnings and recommendations from agencies like the CDC (for the travelers from the U.S.). Here is what we have found in our own research from talking to other people and doing our internet searches:

Routine vaccinesThese vaccines include measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine, diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis vaccine, varicella (chickenpox) vaccine, polio vaccine, and your yearly flu shot.  You should be up to date on these no matter even if you travel or not.

Most travelers should check into the following before travel:

 Hepatitis AThis vaccine is recommended because you can get hepatitis A through contaminated food or water in Panama, regardless of where you are eating or staying.

 TyphoidYou can get typhoid through contaminated food or water in Panama so this vaccine is recommended for most travelers, especially if you are staying with friends or relatives, visiting smaller cities or rural areas, or if you are an adventurous eater.

 

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Some travelers should check into the following:

 Hepatitis BYou can get hepatitis B through sexual contact, contaminated needles, and blood products, so this vaccine is recommended if you might have sex with a new partner, get a tattoo or piercing, or have any medical procedures while on your trip.

RabiesAlthough rabies can be found in bats and other mammals in Panama, it is not a major risk to most travelers. Rabies vaccine is recommended for only these groups:

  • Travelers involved in outdoor and other activities in remote areas that put them at risk for bat bites or other animal bites (such as adventure travel and caving).People who will be working with or around animals (such as wildlife – professionals and researchers).

Yellow FeverYellow fever is a risk in certain parts of Panama, so depending on what areas of Panama you plan on exploring you may need to have a yellow fever vaccine.  For example, remote areas of the Bocas del Toro, Darien Region or San Blas Islands.

MalariaWhen traveling in Panama, you should avoid mosquito bites to prevent malaria. You may need to take prescription medicine before, during, and after your trip to prevent malaria, depending on your travel plans, such as where you are going, when you are traveling, and if you are spending a lot of time outdoors or sleeping outside. Bringing some mosquito repellent with you is a good idea.

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Remember some vaccinations involve a series of shots over several months so spending time researching in advance is wise.  In addition, ask your doctor what vaccines and medicines you need based on where you are going, how long you are staying, what you will be doing in that country. Don’t let the fear of a little needle scare you, it only hurts for a second!!!

Most seasoned travelers know to pack a few meds such as Ibuprofen, Imodium, and Antihistamines along with bug repellant, sun block and band aids. It is always good to be prepared for your trip so you feel relaxed and ready for the journey!

So come explore Panama! We are a country of beautiful beaches, breathtaking cloud forests, dense jungles, a world class city and of course the Panama Canal which is one of the man-made wonders of the world!

Remember when in Boquete come stay with us at Casa de Montaña Bed & Breakfast where we will treat you like familyJ

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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:

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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.

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!

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