Residency!

Yesterday we made a huge step towards residency – our temporary residency cards. They will serve as the real thing while everything is getting processed, which should take 2-6 months.

I am so happy. I love this country so I am glad to be a resident and no longer a tourist. We also have a multitude of benefits and discounts because we now have jubalado (retired) status.

It has been a process but everything went smoothly. I am so thankful to have our lawyer, Marcos Kraemer. He has been really professional, thorough, and competent as well as being a nice guy to work with. If you need a lawyer here I would highly recommend him, and you can check out his website HERE. We have heard so many stories about people who weren’t given all the information they needed, or things weren’t done right, or a multitude of other problems that caused delays and anxiety and additional expense. I was apprehensive even though we seemed to be in good hands. Now I can say that yes indeed, it went very well.

So, what all did we have to do to get to this point?

The first thing was to wait quite a while. The income requirement for a couple is $1250/month guaranteed income for life (social security, retirement, annuity, etc) For us, we didn’t qualify until last August when my social security payments finally started.

Then it was time to gather all the necessary documents. We got statements from social security and had them apostilled (like an notary but for international business). This involved sending the documents to the state department in Washington, specifying which country they were going to (apparently apostile agreements between different countries can vary), paying the fees, and waiting for them to be processed and sent back.

Then, we needed our marriage certificate which also had to be apostilled, and this went to the Kansas Secretary of State because we were married in KS and it is a state document, not a federal thing. It is so easy to get tripped up on details like this. Also, keep in mind that these documents have expiration dates (usually 6 months) so once they are done things must move forward in a timely manner.

Since there isn’t convenient mail service in Panama they were all sent to my daughter’s CA house, our US address, and when they had all arrived she sent them on to our mailing service here in Panama.

The rest was all done in Panama.

Background check – we were very lucky on this one! Most people have this done in their country of origin. In the US this means you have to have fingerprints done (either there or here) and sent to the FBI. If they are clear enough to be processed (which doesn’t always happen) the FBI will check them against their database and return a report on your status. Then, this must be apostilled. Once this is done and gets to Panama you cannot leave the country or it is null and void (who knows what you were up to when you were traveling about). Since your drivers licence is only good for 90 days on a tourist visa in Panama, before it expires you have to leave the country and return to get a new stamp on your passport and reset it for another 90 days. You can see where people can run into problems with this.

But, since we had been in Panama for over two years, and we hadn’t left Panama for more than 30 days at a time, we qualified to have the background check done here. We went to the office for Report Policia (police report), handed them our passports and copies of our passports, signed our names, wrote the names of our parents, and were told to sit down. In about 10 minutes our reports were ready, free of charge. It couldn’t have been easier.

We also had to get a certificate of good health, so off to the doctor we went for a checkup and those documents.

Then we had some other things to gather – our rental agreement, a utility bill, 5 passport size photos, an application for residency to fill out with piles of questions, a form giving our lawyer authority to work on our behalf, and copies of every single page of our passports including the outside covers. whew!

Marcos looked everything over, got any documents in English translated by a certified translator, got anything notarized that needed it, double checked that we had everything in order, triple checked everything and told us to show up at the Department of Immigration at 8AM on Tuesday so we could be the first in line.

We actually arrived before many of the employees, and there was another couple from the US also going through the process. Marcos explained that there were four stages. The first was entering all the information into the computer. He talked with people, left to make copies, talked more, brought us some things to sign, answered some questions, copied more things, and told us things were moving into the second stage. That, if I remember, is when they check all the information to be sure there aren’t any problems with anything. He talked with the employees, left to make more copies, talked more, we hung out and  enjoying talking with the other couple. He left to make copies, brought us things to sign, and then it was time for pictures, the third stage (they also took our pictures even though we had also brought all the pictures with our applications). More copies were made, we signed multiple copies, more copies (it seemed like every time we turned around he was heading out to the copy place!)  And, at 11:30 he put our passports back into our hands along with our new cards!!

He said that was the fastest application he had done. We were prepared to spend the day, and he said it is often an hour or two more than this. But, if we had done it in Panama City it would have been three days because one must go to three different offices to get it all done.

Next, we wait. Our applications will be sent to Panama City and assigned to a case worker. When everything is ready Marcos will be notified. We could go to Panama City at that time, but he recommends that he takes our passports and goes by himself to be sure everything is actually ready, that nothing is lost, or they don’t have a problem with anything, or there aren’t any other snags that will cause us a wasted trip. Once he sees for himself that everything is in order we will go to the city, get more pictures taken and I’m sure sign more things, and we will be finished. He says this part is a very quick and easy process.

What next?

A drivers licence. Now we have 30 days to get a drivers licence, which involves going to one office in Panama City to verify our US drivers licence, and then another office to verify the verification. Once we have these documents we can return to David and request our Panamanian licenses. If you don’t get your licence in time, you had better keep your residency card in your pocket and show the police your passport and US licence like you are a tourist, in case you get stopped.

Also, another good thing to know – you have to have a multi entry visa in your passport while your application is pending. If you do not have this and you leave the country, you will be charged a $2000 fine! I have heard of people getting this nasty surprise. Thankfully Marcos says he does this for everyone because you just don’t know if there might be an emergency or something that causes you to leave.

Once we get our permanent residency cards, we will apply for a cedula which is a Panamanian permanent ID card. Right now our identity is tied to our passport numbers. When we have to renew our passports the number will change, and will then need to be updated everywhere. The cedula number is permanent so we won’t ever have to worry about it changing. That though, will be a discussion for another day.

Right now, I have a card! We have waited for this for a long time, so it’s almost hard to believe it is actually done. It is too close to Christmas for a party, but when the permanent one comes in we are definitely having a celebration!

Posted in Getting Things Done, Miscellaneous, Panama | Tagged , , , , | 28 Comments

A Chance Encounter with some Fantastic Bikers!

I was biking home Monday morning after a good ride, and I met three bikers at an intersection. They had baggage on their bikes and were obviously travelers. I greeted them, and they asked if I knew of a bike shop in town. This began a most interesting day!

We went to the bike shop, stopped by Colombia to check out their shoe sale, and then went to the supermarket, chatting along the way and getting to know each other. Then, we said goodbye so they could be on their way. But, it wasn’t long before the skies opened up and we had a major downpour, and I received an email. Could they come back to David and stay for a night?

What stories, so inspiring! I was really glad to have more time with them, and for Joel to get to meet them as well.

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Mike is on the left. He is from Mississippi, USA. He has taken numerous bike trips, and on this one he has ridden from Mississippi down through Mexico and Central America. He is headed to Ecuador where, if I remember correctly, he has a job working on a sustainable agriculture project and writing articles about that and health related subjects. He will earn enough money to enable him to return and finish his degree in geology.

Elif is in the middle. She is from Turkey. She flew to Orlando FL, and then proceeded to bike west around the southern US and down into Mexico. She spent a year in Mexico recovering from a fall and a broken shoulder, and enjoying a relationship with someone she met there. From there she has headed down into Central America and plans to continue into South America. She has been on her bike for 7 months since leaving Mexico.

Alain is on the right. He is from France. He biked east into Eastern Europe and Turkey. He wasn’t allowed into Iran and Afghanistan so he flew over them, and then proceeded through India and then Asia – Thailand, Singapore, China, then flying to Japan, and then to Los Angeles, USA. He intended to bike north but by the time he got to San Francisco winter was coming and it was too cold, so he reversed direction and went south making his way through Mexico and Central America. He also is heading to South America, and he has been on his bike for 2 1/2 years!

Mike is 38, Elif 40, and Alain 41 though they all seem much younger. They met on the road at one point, then went in separate directions, and met back up again about 3 weeks ago. They all said they worked hard and saved money to fund these travels.

Before dinner though, they admired our area and eagerly accepted an offer of a walk in the woods which turned into a visit to the river as well.

It’s a good day when there is a rainbow. And, it’s a good day when you get to spend time with very interesting people. We all had a good time putting a meal together, some Italian chicken by us, a rice and veggie stir fry by them, and a squash and plantain stir fry as well (Elif and Alain are vegetarians). Dessert was banana and jam sandwiches (which sounded interesting but I was good and didn’t indulge) We all sat on the terrace and ate and talked and told stories until bedtime. Then, they unrolled their sleeping mats on the living room floor and it was lights out, because the next day was an early morning (post to follow on another great day!)

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Here they are in the morning heading out again towards Panama City, where they plan to either take the new ferry or find other transportation over water to South America. I am glad we are Facebook friends now so I can follow their future adventures. How great that a chance encounter turned into such an interesting experience.

Posted in Miscellaneous, Panama, travel | Tagged , , , | 12 Comments

Recipe Night – La Lengua de Res

La Lengua de Res = Beef Tongue. Cedo and I were in Pricesmart wandering through the meat department where we saw the beef tongues. “Oh, esa es muy rica, muy muy rica!” (very very delicious). Hmmm OK, I’ll try anything once and if I don’t like it, she will be getting a gift. On the ride home I was given the instructions, twice, just to be sure I understood correctly.

The tongue, about 2 pounds - $4/pound.

The tongue, about 2 pounds – $4/pound.

There were other things that I don’t usually buy either like sliced cow stomach, sliced feet (also muy rico para la sopa, pero mucha grasa – very delicious for soup, but a lot of fat). But, today it is about the tongue.

First, it must be boiled for 5-10 minutes, and then the skin removed. That is quite a bit more difficult than one would think! (I was told if the skin isn’t removed it becomes impossibly hard and tough when cooked more) Then, make a salsa like the one for the Lomo Relleno – celery, onion, green pepper, Maggi bullion cube, garlic, and any other seasonings you like whirled in the blender. Pour this over the meat and it is ready to cook.

I was told it takes maybe 30 minutes cooking time without the pressure cooker. I used the pressure cooker and checked it after 30 minutes and it still seemed fairly tough, so I ended up cooking it for a hour. Again, our ideas of soft are different than the Panamanians who are used to a much tougher type of beef. After an hour though I thought the meat was soft and tender.

After the meat is cooked take it out of the pot, cook down the juice to thicken and decrease the liquid, slice the meat, pour the juice over it, and it’s ready to serve.

It tasted like beef! (but of course). Seriously it did not have a strange taste at all, but tasted like other cuts of beef that I am familiar with. The main difference was the slightly softer texture. I thought it was quite acceptable. Joel, however decided to pass. Either he saw it in the fridge so he knew what it was, or he didn’t like the softer texture, or both.

I don’t think I will buy this one again. It’s more expensive per pound and a fair amount of work getting the skin off. Of course also, if Joel doesn’t care for it there is no point in keeping this on our list. I’m glad I tried it though. Now I know, and just because something isn’t a common food where I’m from doesn’t mean it isn’t good to eat. I gave the rest to Cedo who pronounced it well cooked and “muy rica”.

Posted in food, Panama | Tagged , , , , , , | 23 Comments

Recipe Night – Lomo Relleno

Thank you Cedo for another recipe. Tonight is a beef dish stuffed with vegetables and topped with garnishes and a delicious sauce.

First, buy a Lomo Redondo. The cuts of meat here are all different so I don’t know what this would be in the US. Tenderloin, maybe? You can probably get about 10 servings. I figure this piece is 3.32 pounds so this comes out to about $3/pound and there are no bones or waste.

Cook the carrot and potato until soft but not mushy. It needs to be firm enough to stuff into the meat. Cedo peels them after cooking, but I peeled before out of habit.  You can use anything you like for stuffing – hard boiled eggs, olives, other veggies, etc. I also used some raw celery sticks and slices of green pepper than I had on hand.

You will also need to make a sauce. Peel and smash 3 garlic cloves with your kitchen stone (or mash them however you wish), some salt, some Maggi and water (chicken bullion cubes), red sauce, and any other flavorings you like. She also used Mrs. Dash garlic and herb but I don’t have that on hand. Set the sauce on the stove to cook a bit.

While things are cooking, cut a pocket in the meat. Start at one end and carefully make a pocket as large as you can from one end to the other (without cutting through at the other end). This isn’t as easy as it sounds so it helps if you have a good knife with enough length to reach in there.

Then, rub the sauce on the meat inside and out, put the stuffing in the meat (also a bit challenging if your hands are big, so find a utensil to help), sew the end closed with needle and strong thread, and brown the meat in a bit of oil. By now other people in the house will be asking you what smells SO good!

Now, you will need flavored water to cook the meat in. Put a couple stalks of celery, half a green pepper, half an onion in the blender with enough water to blend easily. The instructions are to strain the juice so you will have a clear juice which will look nice for your end product. I didn’t do this though, which is why my sauce at the end looks more like gravy and hides the garnishes. Either way, put the blended liquid in the cooking pot with salt, red sauce, a bit of soy sauce, and any other flavorings you like.

Cedo cooks hers in a regular pot until the meat is nice and soft, maybe an hour. I think Panamanian soft and US soft are different since they are used to beef that is quite a bit tougher. I cooked mine in the pressure cooker for a hour and thought it was just right.

To finish up, take the meat out of the pot. Cook the juices to decrease the liquid and thicken the sauce. Saute some sliced green pepper, onion, and tomato in a bit of oil for garnish. Check the sauce for flavor and adjust seasonings as needed.

Then, slice the meat, top with garnish and sauce, and it’s ready to eat!

INGREDIENTS:

  • one lomo redondo
  • 1 potato
  • 1 carrot
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 2 celery stalks
  • 1 onion
  • 1 green pepper (or more if they are small)
  • 1 tomato, or 2-3 Italian tomatoes
  • Maggi bouillon cubes
  • red sauce
  • any other flavorings or stuffings you prefer
  • enough oil for browning
  • needle and strong thread for closing the top

Portions can be frozen for later. We took some of ours out of the freezer tonight and it was just as good as the day I made it, maybe even better.

Posted in food, Panama | Tagged , , , , , , | 17 Comments

A Gringo is Noticed

Today I encountered something I have noticed often. I cruise around town quite a bit on my bicycle. I may think I am only greeting some people I pass frequently, but I don’t realize how many other people notice my presence. I have met people around town who don’t look familiar but they will greet me and ask me where my bicycle is, or “el senior? (my husband)

Today I stopped to check out a “For Rent” sign and ended up talking to the sweetest, loveliest woman! She told me she was so proud of me for exercising and keeping healthy. She did notice though that I was coming from the north today when I usually come from the south. She knew I had visited the people across the street a few times. Her son who lives next door also told her he had also noticed “la gringa” on the bicycle a number of times.

It is kind of an odd feeling to realize a lot more people recognize you than you know about. We are used to being fairly anonymous in the US. In the cities especially, you can walk down the street and recognize nobody. Maybe you have seen someone before but you didn’t notice them so they continue to be strangers. David is actually bigger than Sarasota, FL where we lived before, but it is a more stable population. Many people have lived here all their lives. It is also a different culture where people talk to each other on the street, while waiting in line, and in any circumstances that bring people together. And, they talk about each other, not in a gossipy way but just to learn – who is that new person? When you are a gringa of a different color and size, you definitely stand out and people are curious about you.

As for the rental situation, I got a tour of the house and learned a bit of the life story of the landlady. She is 92 (I guessed late 70’s), has lived there for 21 years, and is the mother of 5 children. One of them lives next door, and a granddaughter lives on the other side so if she needs anything she has help nearby. But, she is very proud that she takes care of herself and her daily needs independently.

She is renting out part of her house (furnished) to a single person – a small bedroom, bathroom, large kitchen, and laundry/utility room. The renter will have their own private entrance, and will have use of the common areas like the dining room and the lovely patios in front and in back. There is parking for a car out front. She loves to garden and the front and back are full of beautiful flowers and plants, and the shade trees out back keep the patio cool. It’s a very nice neighborhood and she says it is quiet and safe, that nothing ever happens there. The price – $150/month. For a woman who can speak enough Spanish to communicate, and who needs an inexpensive and comfortable place, it would be fantastic.

Later in the day I stopped by to visit my friend Cedo. While I was there another friend stopped by  “I’ve seen you on your bicycle in my neighborhood”! We are not anonymous or unnoticed here.

Posted in culture, Miscellaneous, Panama | Tagged , , | 26 Comments

Strange Creatures

We have been watching a couple very strange creatures!  They are both in a pot of little lemon trees I have been growing. I know they are eating the trees but I have more trees, and the creatures are far more interesting.

First is this worm type thing. It spends most of its time with its back end anchored to a stem and its body sticking straight out.

The second creature is really unusual! At first I thought we had a cocoon or pupa hanging on the plant, but further observation told me it is much stranger than that.

After a few days of watching I think I have a better idea what it is doing. I think the entire cocoon is made of pieces of stems. It sticks them on, and then covers them with a fuzzy, furry coating which it smooths down. The pieces in these photos from 3-4 days ago are now barely visible, and it is working on smoothing the next round of pieces that it stuck to itself yesterday. Between periods of cocoon building, it eats leaves. But, if it is building its cocoon and wants stems, it just tosses the attached leaves on the ground.

If any of you have any idea what these are, let me know. I don’t even know what search terms to start with! The pot is only a few feet from my patio table where I hang out, so it will be interesting to watch and see what happens.

Posted in insects, Panama, wildlife | Tagged , , | 14 Comments

Weekly Photo Challenge: Converge

Weekly Photo Challenge: Converge This week, explore the ways lines and shapes can converge in interesting ways through photography. You can take the theme in a literal or an abstract direction, as you see fit — from a photo of a byroad merging into a busy highway to an image of an airport terminal where people from all over the world form hectic, ephemeral communities.

Sometimes a photo challenge instantly brings ideas into my mind. This one did not. I can’t think of photos where things do not converge so nothing stood out. But, this one is a bit different slant where a house, a man made abandoned structure is converging with nature, the plants and a tree that are growing inside, and then with an unexpected thing, the horse standing in the back room.

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Posted in Panama, Photo Challenge, photography | Tagged , , , , | 8 Comments

A Boquete Cost of Living Report – November 2014

A couple blog followers / friends who live in Boquete have shared their living expenses with me so I could also post them on the blog. Boquete is a beautiful town up in the mountains that is very popular with expats, but this popularity has driven up costs a bit, especially costs of housing. Otherwise their costs seem similar.

Rent   $800
Electricity  $46.88
LP Gas (for cooking) $10.70
Food  $371.61 (includes household goods like paper towels and toothpaste)
Entertainment $161.76 (going out for dinner  drinks)
Vices  $305.73  (beer, alcohol, one of them smokes)
Pharmacy $41.20
Cellphone $20.00
Taxi / bus $56.00
Bank fees  $32.76
Other $25.00 (house cleaning, hair cut)

TOTAL  $1871.64

Thank you for sharing your information! This is so helpful to many people, and I’m glad to be able to post something from another popular area. I’m sure many people will be very interested to see how your numbers work out in Boquete.

Posted in cost of living, Panama | Tagged , , , | 16 Comments

Canyons, Calves, and Coffee

Some friends and I went on an excursion the other day, and I wanted to share a few photos. It is always fun to go with someone when they see a place for the first time.

Our first stop was the Macho de Monte river canyon. Today we were surprised to see a couple guys from the USA training the Panamanian solders on search and rescue operations.

Next stop was the finca (farm) to look around, and pick up Cedo for the rest of our day. Since I was there, I wasn’t going to pass on the opportunity to get plantain leaves for tamales.

I was so happy to see the calves looking healthy and happy! Last time I was at the farm, this black cow was hanging out with the other calves awaiting her time. Since both the mother and calf were lost in the last birth, it was wonderful news to see all went well this time. The mother also looks good and has rejoined the group of cows being milked. Cedo explained that the calves are taken away at 3 days of age or otherwise the mother gets too used to them nursing and doesn’t want to accept the milking machine. The calf is still fed the mother’s milk, but by bottle.

After we were finished at the farm we went on to Volcan and Cerro Punto to see the vegetables growing on the sides of the mountains, and then stopped for a bit of lunch. Our last stop was the Jensen Coffee Farm. My friends love their coffee and wanted to buy some. The perfect end to a great day was sitting on their terrace sipping coffee or hot chocolate, and enjoying the fabulous scenery in front of us. It changed by the minute as the clouds moved through, but I did manage to narrow my choices down to these four photos.

We are so fortunate to live in this beautiful country!

Posted in Exploring the Area, photography | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Cost of Living Report – November 2014

We live in David, Chiriqui, Panama in a comfortable middle class neighborhood. Now and then, I track expenses and post a cost of living report. Costs to live in Panama vary widely depending on where and how you live. All I can write about are our own experiences.

So, for November 2014 -

Rent $385 Totals $385
Cable/internet $60.49 $445.49
Electricity $48.43 $493.92
Netflix $7.99 $501.91
Data plans for 2 tablets $22.54 $524.45
Car insurance (2 cars, monthly) $50.00 $574.45
Food $322.65 $897.10
Gas for cars $130.07 $1027.17
Misc things from DoIt Center $47.09 $1074.26
Bike repair stuff $3.50 $1077.76
Restaurant (a smoothy with a friend) $3.95 $1081.71
2 tires for the Mazda, installed and balanced $90.42 $1172.13

I usually forget something, or add something I forgot last month, but I think this gives a pretty good idea of what it cost us in November. Without the new tires, it was $1081.71. As you can see, we generally don’t eat out. We also buy very little imported food, preferring local food for both taste, quality, and cost. We spent quite a bit more than usual on gas for the cars because I filled up my Mazda which isn’t driven much, and Joel made a number of trips to Boquete for rehearsals with his new music duo. No month is exactly like another and there is often a one time thing like the tires, but generally we have been staying in the $1050-1200 range every month for basic expenses.

I am so thankful to be here! Not only is it a wonderful life in this beautiful country with good people, it is well within our means. We definitely couldn’t afford to live like this in the US, but here I feel like we have everything we want and need.

To see other cost of living reports over the last couple years, check THIS LINK where they are all listed.

Posted in cost of living, Panama | Tagged , , , | 45 Comments