Finding Hospice in Panama for your loved ones

Elderly Couple

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

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. :(

How Banking Works in Panama

Panamanian Piggy Bank
Panamanian Piggy Bank

Opening a bank account as an expat in Panama can take around three weeks

Because day-to-day banking norms are so different in Panama, I thought it would be helpful to share a few stories of how banking works in Panama for those of you are that are new to Panama, thinking of moving to Panama or retiring to Panama.

Opening a Bank Account in Panama

In the last post I did on Banking in Panama a few days ago – and here’s the link on that one – you may recall that I said the average run-of-the-mill new savings or checking account takes about three weeks to get open, start to finish. Keep in mind that that timeline is generally from the point at which you submit all the required paperwork – with nothing missing – to the bank you’re applying to, until the point they email you or call you and tell you the account is ready to use.

What are some other things that most of us from other countries might not expect to find when opening a bank account in Panama that would be ideal to know about in advance?

Well, since you asked…here’s a few things.

If you are opening a Joint Account with someone – for example, a husband and a wife are joint signers on the new account – it’s important to know that the primary contact on the account is considered the true owner of the account (by the bank).

Yes, yes, I know – I can hear you saying, but isn’t that the point of establishing a “Joint” account – that both parties have equal access to the money and can make changes and so forth?

Things don’t always make sense in Panama banking

Welcome To Panama

“Welcome to Panama” is a common phrase used in Panama when faced with a situation that doesn’t seem to make any sense

Yes, it is.  At least, as we Gringos define the meaning of a “Joint” account.

However, whatever name is listed first on the new account is considered by the bank to be the primary person in charge of the account.  Now, of course this doesn’t make sense, but let me give you a couple of examples of the hazards this can cause.

Panama Banking example number one

My husband’s name is listed above mine on our checking account. Therefore, he is the primary account holder on our joint account. We both get the notification emails from the bank (at least, we do when they actually send them, which is another story). We both have access to the funds in the account at any point in time.


I write However as a sentence until itself, because it seems appropriate to what I am about to tell you.

However, on the same day we opened the joint account – this is now seven years ago – the bank official helping us with all the signature documents asked me if we wanted to have debit cards for both of us on the account.

I replied that we did.

The official then handed a form to my husband to sign. My husband signed it, then passed it my way.

Oh, no, the official said. She doesn’t need to sign that.

But, if it’s for new debit cards, right? I said. We both need debit cards.

Well, yes, he said. But the primary person on the account is the only one that needs to sign this form, in order for the second person on the account can get a debit card to be able to have a debit card.

I’m sure the look on my face – after being in the bank official’s office for close to two hours at this point – was probably beyond description at this reply.

“Whaaaat?” I stuttered, mouth agape with disbelief.

“We’re setting this account up as a Joint account,” my husband calmly reminded the bank official.

“Yes, sir, I know that,” the soft-spoken bank official replied. “But this is just the way it works here in Panama.”

And that was it. He continued on with the rest of the paperwork.

Is it Machismo or just bad bank policy?

For those of you that don’t know what Machismo is, it is the Latin tendency to favor the male gender above the female gender. And, it’s prevalent in Panama, in a million ways. This is just one example, in my opinion.

The second example of this seemingly absurd policy occurred last week in the same bank, on the same account.

The bank had supposedly sent my husband and I emails announcing the fact that new debit cards were being ordered for all customers.

However, we never got the emails.

When I went in to the bank to inquire as to why my debit card was not working, I was informed that in fact the bank was changing debit card systems. And, of course, that a mass email had been sent to all customers.

I asked the bank official to verify our email addresses. They had them noted correctly, and they were correct.

However, the email the bank had for me was an older one, one I rarely use anymore.

“I’d like to update that email address – for me only – please,” I told the official.

“I’m sorry, but that won’t be possible,” he replied.

Why not? I asked.

And, the answer was the same as it was seven years ago – this thing about the ‘primary account holder’.

“Well, your husband is the primary account holder on the account. So he will have to come in – in person – and sign a paper that says that you – the secondary account holder, who has equal benefits and access to the funds – can change your own email address.”

This is evidently the case even though my email address is not the primary one on the account – it’s only the secondary one.

I pointed this out to the bank official. It didn’t change anything.

Now, if I weren’t quite so polite, I probably would have thrown a royal fit at how this primary account holder thing simply does NOT MAKE SENSE!

I have lived in Panama now for seven years. And, things here – quite often – simply don’t make sense.

So, instead of screaming, I laughed. And then I said, “Okay. Thanks so much. I’ll ask my husband to come by at his convenience and change my email address.”

And, I left.

Meanwhile, where’s my new debit card? The saga continues…

Ummm, right. It still hasn’t arrived. I’ll keep you posted.