Panama in December: What’s New

December in Panama
December in Panama

White Christmas in Panama

Whatever happened to my debit card?

Well, the original never showed up…but the bank did not seem to want to tell me this until two weeks in to the search and rescue mission. The bottom line is at that point, I had to involve the branch manager at my branch and insist upon her help. Once I did so, things remedied themselves fairly rapidly. That is, if you consider that four Panamanian holidays fell within the five business day turnaround needed for a new card to be ordered and delivered.

Bottom line: new debit card delivered another two weeks later. Total time for this entire debacle (no debit card, no access to new online system (because the new debit card was required to get you signed up): Five weeks!

Bad news in Panama

This entire scenario brings up another very relevant topic for expats in Panama. And that topic is the local’s reticence to share bad news with you.

That’s right: bad news is avoided like the plague. It was evident with what happened to me with my new debit card. The customer service reps did not want to tell me that they either had no news or had bad news, so instead they would tell me nothing.

You can read more about this tendency in The Gringo Guide to Panama: What to Know Before You Go in Chapter 12.

December 8 is Mother’s Day in Panama!

Panama is the only country in the world that celebrates Mother’s Day on December 8. I’m not sure why that’s the case. But when the rest of the world is focused on Christmas trees and wrapping gifts, Panama insists on stopping everything in order to honor its mothers.

December 8 is indeed another national holiday. Everything is closed (except the restaurants) and more importantly for you, all banks and government offices are closed. Yes. It’s another opportunity for the national population (and those of us that live in Panama) to take off work.

I feel certain that mothers in other countries might agree that they would like to be recognized with a national holiday and a day off – versus just a Sunday in the U.S. – I would vote for that!

Panamanians celebrate Mother’s Day much like anywhere else – flowers, gifts and time with family.

Pacific Entrance to the Panama Canal

Pacific entrance to the Panama Canal with the Bridge of the Americas and Biodiversity Museum in the background

Holiday Travel in December from Panama

It’s normal this time of year that the expats begin to clear out and head for home to see family, friends and take some time off work. For those that are long-timers in Panama, many will have family fly in to celebrate the holidays here.

For most expat executives living in Panama, once the international school schedule lets out for Christmas break, there’s a massive exodus for the airport. The same thing happens at Summer break in mid-June through mid-August too.

Our preference – having lived here for seven Christmases now – is to return home to the U.S. for at least a couple of weeks to reconnect with those we haven’t seen in a while. Then we love to come back to New Year’s Eve, when the parties are plentiful and the fireworks are abundant.

No country does fireworks like Panama!

Here’s wishing you and yours a blessed and comfortable Christmas holiday from the warmth of Panama.

Happy Christmas

Wishing you a Merry Christmas from Panama

Finding Hospice in Panama for your loved ones

Elderly Couple
Hospice

The word “hospice” comes from the Latin “hospitium” meaning guesthouse. It was originally described a place of shelter for weary and sick travelers returning from religious pilgrimages

The Gift of Hospice now in Panama

Several years ago, I was fortunate enough to get very familiar with the concept of hospice, and how it can help your loved one as they prepare to die.

My own grandmother was in the process of dying, and she was many miles away. I dealt with my own process of losing her- from afar – by becoming a hospice volunteer in the city where we lived. Serving in that capacity for two years, I realized how this type of a system aids those in the process of dying, and supports their loved ones who care for them, was such a valuable addition to society.

Panama now has Hospice Care for Expats

Retired Couple

Panama Hospice & Respite Foundation has recently expanded their hospice offerings in the city of Panama to include the Pacific coast beaches

I’d heard of this new hospice foundation here in the city of Panama earlier this year.

An introductory seminar was offered at one of the local bookstores – Exedra Books – in the city to brief those local expats about what hospice means via the new Panama Hospice & Respite Foundation, and what all it entails. (Lots of people are familiar with the word ‘hospice’ but don’t really get what it is and what it does.)

While I didn’t make the seminar, a friend sent me some of the stats, and that’s what I’ll share with you here below.

Hospice provides support for your near-death family members

The new Panama Hospice & Respite Foundation provides hospice care to English speaking expats in the country.

The group began their volunteer services late last year in the city of Panama. They have recently expanded their hospice offerings to the Pacific coast beaches – especially in the retiree-friendly Coronado area.

What does having access to hospice care mean for expats in Panama?

Obviously, when you live in Panama, you’re far from your home country, and most likely your family of origin (unless they came with you).

This is especially true for many retirees.

When an aging expat is diagnosed with a terminal illness or finds themselves at the end of their life, dealing with either of these situations can be especially challenging when you are not fluent with the local language. In this case, Spanish is the mother tongue in Panama.

Because getting ill or getting close to the end of your life is a very emotional time, the comfort of knowing you have a group that can assist you during these times, especially when you  have chosen to live in Panama is really wonderful.

What does hospice in Panama currently offer?

Retirement in Panama

Panama Hospice & Respite Foundation provide comforting support when you are in a country other than your own

Hospice care is a service offering terminally ill (or dying) patients medical aid and support. Hospice workers – often volunteers – can also support the family in the home, related to the care of the patient – like sitting with the patient while the family member goes to the supermarket, works elsewhere in the home, or simply needs to get out of the house.

Most hospice care is provided in the family home, versus a hospital.

The hospice group in Panama will also come do a patient assessment, as well as an assessment of the main caregiver in the home, to determine what other support might be needed in the home. Panama Hospice & Respite Foundation also maintains and lends out medical equipment, like wheelchairs, walkers and hospital beds. This is great, because all of this type of thing adds up quickly.

Hospice care will also recommend and arrange consultations with Panama physicians, if the patient does not have established relationships with local providers. They can also assist with other related subject matter: legal documentation, estate planning and health insurance.

Panama Hospice & Respite Foundation is a comforting option for expats

As an aging expat in Panama myself, it’s comforting to know that if I became seriously ill, or my husband did, that we could call the Panama Hospice & Respite Foundation for assistance and help. Becoming ill – especially seriously ill – in a country other than your own can be daunting.

It’s fantastic that this new hospice group has come together – mostly through the aid of local expats formerly trained in the healthcare and medical fields – to provide this type of access here in Panama.

For more general information on healthcare systems in Panama like how to find a doctor, as well as specifics on quality of care and access, read Chapter 9 of my second book, The Gringo Guide to Panama II: More to Know Before You Go.

If you’re interested in more information about the Panama Hospice & Respite Foundation, visit their website here. You can also reach a local coordinator by emailing them at phrfcoronadoarea@gmail.com.

For more on expat life in Panama

See these other recent posts:

Expat Interview by a fellow writer from Canada currently living in the El Valle rainforest

A glimpse of what Panama’s famed Rainy Season looks like

Surfing in Panama – Surf’s Up!

Banking in Panama – what it’s really like

More on Banking in Panama

Young people queuing to withdraw cash in an ATM
Young people queuing to withdraw cash at an ATM

Lines at banks can often stretch to the door. Especially on pay days.

Ahhh…the waiting game when banking in Panama

As you may have read in a post a few days ago, my bank changed their debit card systems that meant everyone had to get new debit cards. However, the email that ‘notified’ all clients somehow didn’t make it to our email boxes.

Which meant we were not aware of the change, weren’t expecting it and oh, by the way, when we discovered it via our current debit cards not working, oops, the bank had to do a massive search and rescue for our two new cards.

Two visits and a wait of ten days supposedly would deliver said new cards to my local branch. I returned yesterday to pick them up (my third visit to the bank about this issue).

But, alas, the saga has not ended YET.

More on banking in Panama and Primary Account Holder nonsense!

My husband’s card had arrived; my own had not.

I pointed out – after I quite literally laid my head on my hands on the customer service rep’s desk when she told me – that in fact, the two debit cards are linked to only ONE account within their institution.

AND, that I was the one who had come in to solve the matter in the first place!

A-ha, you are thinking. That’s true!

Well, stop right there. Don’t think. Instead, please click here to my prior post and read once again how banks consider the “primary” account holder versus the “secondary” one – even when it is a verified Joint Account.

Meanwhile, my husband had to go back to the bank himself to get his own debit card – a fourth trip.

And, I was told to come back in five more days at which time – hopefully – my own card will have made its trip to them.

And, there’s more…

Panama City Skyline

There are 94 banks and representative offices registered with the Superintendant of Banks in Panama (Superintendencia de Bancos de Panamá)

While most of us in the U.S. hardly ever physically step inside a bank – and if we do, it’s likely to solve a problem or meet with a loan officer in person – in Panama, any serious bank business requires an in-person visit.

Sometimes, that means you must actually have an appointment with a customer service officer. It does not mean you actually have to schedule an appointment. Yes, you can do that. But, you can also just show up.

Premier Banking Client Privileges in Panama

If you open your account with more than $75,000, you will be the holder of a “Premiere” account at your bank. This entitles you to certain privileges, including:

  • Enjoying your own line at the teller window.

This is fantastic, because it means your wait time is cut to a smithereen of what any other account holder’s is. Unfortunately, while it’s convenient, for us North Americans, it sometimes feels a little elitist, as the line for everyone often stretches to the door. Especially on pay days.

  • Premiere account holders have their own private client service representative. Again, less waiting. And, you will get their card and personal attention.

Many banks – at least for this higher level of account – will send their representatives to you to open accounts, apply for mortgages, and so forth. Now, that’s nice, isn’t it? When was the last time this happened to you in the U.S.?

In some of the local banks, if you are a Premier account holder, you actually go to an entirely separate area to conduct your bank business.

Here’s some examples:

  • At one downtown bank, there’s an entire floor just for Premier people. I went up there once just to check it out. It had three teller windows, four customer service reps and a private lounge which offers you coffee while you wait. (Believe me, the regular account holders don’t get offered any coffee.)
  • At another large financial institution downtown, the Premier people sit down at a coffee bar and a personal attendant takes their deposit, etc. while they wait and use iPads on stands.
  • Some smaller local banks exist solely to cater to these higher-net worth individuals, and won’t even open accounts for people without this level of deposit.

Interesting, isn’t it? Hopefully this cadre of unusualities (is that a word?) has given you another insight into the Panama banking system, and some of the…er…shall we say, differences…that can be expected in day-to-day dealings with the local financial systems.

The good news: Panama’s banks have the reputation of good stability because they are much more conservative. They don’t go lending money willy-nilly to just anyone, anywhere, like the banks of not-so-long-ago in the rest of the world did.

Stay tuned for news of how the saga with my new debit card will end. The fat lady isn’t singing yet.

At least, I hope it will end soon. :(