A little Clarity in the Confusion about Visas

Panama immigration issued a decree a week ago that resulted in a lot of confusion. I posted about it here. It said quite clearly that tourists will now have visas for 90 days, instead of the previous 180 days and we all got nervous. What does this mean for people here as tourists?

There was confusion everywhere. US and Canadian citizens were being told that they still had 180 days. But, there were also stories about people boarding planes to Panama being told to change their return tickets to a date less than 90 days out. There were discussions on the usual forums and Facebook groups as people tried to figure out what is going on, but nobody had any definitive answers from the authorities.

Immigration must have gotten too many calls because yesterday a link was shared to this TV program where the director of immigration was explaining the recent changes.
Director de Migración aclara decreto sobre visas para turistas extranjeros

Any of you native Spanish speakers who have the time, please check this out and make sure I understood it correctly.

First, he talks about the part where people who have submitted applications for residency get 6 months instead of the previous 1 year. He said this puts the responsibility on immigration to process and respond to the applications in less than 6 months. I think they are already doing this, but this is a guarantee that they will continue to get it done quickly.

Then, the more important part. Panama has reciprocal agreements with many countries such as USA, Canada, UK, and Latin American countries. Their citizens can visit Panama for 180 days, and Panamanians can visit those countries for 180 days. Nothing has changed with this. Other countries who don’t have an agreement, those citizens must apply for a visa before they can come to Panama. These visas will now be only 90 days, not the 180 days they were before the decree. This is the only thing that is changed by the recent degree.

There is a Wikipedia page HERE that list the countries with reciprocal agreements. I noticed that on this page also, they mention that visas are now 90 days, not 180. But, below, they list the countries that do not require a visa. I think there is where we all got so confused! If we aren’t required to get a visa, then the length of the visa doesn’t affect us.

Whew! I think we have it straight now. But, TIP (this is Panama), and Spanish is not my first language so I give no guarantees that these are the absolute facts. Even if they are, everything is subject to change at any time.

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Confusion

This is not an unknown state for me, especially living in another country and culture, and especially as disorganized as I can be at times.

Recently I posted about the decree decreasing tourist visas from 180 to 90 days. This is being discussed a lot in the usual forums and Facebook groups, and there are a lot of unanswered questions. One of my readers said a response from the US embassy indicated that we still get 180 days. Our embassy warden also asked for clarification and will post information on his blog at chiriquichatter.net I went to immigration on Saturday, but they are only open Mon-Fri so I wasn’t able to talk with anyone.

The decree sounds quite clear. Tourists get a 90 day visa. But, does this apply to all of us? Are tourists still able to do “border runs”, come back into Panama with a fresh stamp in their passport and get another 90 days? People who came in before the decree, are they still allowed 180 days or are they also limited to 90 days from their passport stamp? I try to only post official written information, not rumors, and it may take a while to get all this sorted out but I’ll post answers if and when they become available.

Then, there is me. Sometimes I leave interesting but unimportant email for “later”. You all know how that goes. It piles up, gets pushed further down in the mailbox, and sometimes important stuff gets lost along with it. Or, I want to give something more thought or write when I have more time, and I get distracted and it gets buried. I try to be good about answering emails within a day or two so if you write me and don’t hear back, please poke me and remind me.

I also correspond with quite a few people on line, and often it’s hard to keep everyone straight. If I meet someone and have a face to go with the name, that helps a lot but usually I only have black words on a white screen. I save correspondence in a folder, but sometimes even with that I can’t remember what we talked about. And, if you change email addresses, then in my mind you are an entirely new person.

Not everyone is a good candidate for moving to another country. Often it’s hard for me to determine what is going on with a person after only one or two emails. If it sounds like you have believed those “come live in paradise” publications, have never spent time here, don’t speak any Spanish, don’t realize the differences and challenges you will face, but are packing and buying plane tickets then I will definitely rain all over your dreams and try to slap you upside the head with reality. Sometimes I do this unnecessarily and I’m thankful that people have responded positively anyway. But, I’d much rather discourage someone early than have them move and find out it isn’t want they thought or can live with.

But, sometimes I meet with people who have come to Panama to check it out, and almost always it’s a really nice experience and many have developed into lasting friendships. This is one of the things I really enjoy about the blog. We have met so many interesting people!

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Panama Shortens Tourist Visa to 90 days

President Varela published a decree on January 10th that stated the tourist visa would be 90 days (it used to be 180 days). If you are applying for residency you can get permission to be here for 6 months (it used to be a year).

What does this mean? TIP (this is Panama) and no one knows exactly. But it looks like Panama is trying to discourage the permanent tourist thing.

Up until now, it has been possible to stay in Panama for 180 days, leave for a while, then return and get another 180 days. “A while” is ambiguous. It used to be that it could be done in a day, checking out of Panama and into Costa Rica, and then immediately reversing the process and checking out of Costa Rica and back into Panama. Now it is usually at least overnight, or sometimes 72 hours before the officials will let you back into Panama. 72 hours is said to be the official rule but nobody can find where this rule is written down.

Now, however, tourists get a visa for 90 days. What happens after 90 days? Can you make a “border run” and get another 90 days? (not a change for many since your foreign drivers license is only good for 90 days) At first it looked like $50 would get you an extension for 6 months but on careful reading, it looks like this only applies to people waiting to get their residency application processed so it wouldn’t apply to tourists.

The decree is here.

Article 1, in my best attempt to translate says –

The immigration authorities of the National Immigration service will issue a tourist visa valid for a term of no more than ninety days, if the foreigner complies with the requirements (loosely translated) of international agreements with Panama and reciprocal principals.

The National Immigration Service will issue a card of transit for 6 months for foreigners who have presented a request in the categories and subcategories of temporary residents and permanent residents. (article 2 says this costs $50)

There is a news article in English here.

Is this a good thing? There have been a lot of people coming here from Colombia and Venezuela and Panamanians are afraid of that effect on the country, especially if they are poor and don’t have means to take care of themselves of they get into trouble. A tourist also isn’t subjected to any background checks. Even expats from the US have gotten sick without the means to pay and then became a drain on the health care system, or there have been criminals, or people running from creditors.

I’m glad we are legal residents here. I know the process is tedious and costs money, but now we don’t have to worry about any of this. I feel good that we have made this commitment to the country we love. If you plan to live here as a permanent tourist, it is probably a very good idea to have a Plan B in case this becomes no longer possible.

 

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Wind!

This is summer in Panama and the trade winds are blowing, and blowing, and blowing! This is the third very windy day in a row. Up in the mountains the winds are even stronger, and some areas have also been getting rain. Trees have been blown down everywhere taking power lines down with them. Late yesterday there were people in the mountains still waiting for their power to be restored. Thankfully we were only out for a few hours on Monday.

I don’t mind the wind too much but it sure makes biking more challenging. I can sail down the road with little effort but coming home into that head wind is a different story. Monday I was in my lowest mountain climbing gears and still fighting. Yesterday was better but still a workout. Today I’m sitting on the terrace listening to the wind roar, and the racket as leaves and sticks hit the metal roof. The house has a drop ceiling and I wondered why they glued the panels to the framework. Then I realized that in the windy season, anything that isn’t glued is lifted right out of the framework.

The banana leaves are already quite shredded

The banana leaves are already quite shredded

The days have been beautiful though, blue sunny skies with wonderful, interesting clouds, and we aren’t far enough into summer for plants to be turning brown. Trees and plants are starting to bud, flower, and fruit and I know there will be more coming.

Voldan Baru erupts

The clouds yesterday made it look like Volcan Baru was erupting

It isn’t always rainbows and unicorns in Panama. Though, if you are in the mountains in the mist and rain, there’s probably a lot of rainbows. People who don’t like the wind though are definitely not happy at the moment. I’ll take this any day over ice, snow, and cold. These summer nights also tend to be a bit cooler, and the full moon and stars are gorgeous in the clear night sky.

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Summer Flowers and Fruits

It seems odd talking about summer when so many of you are freezing and shoveling snow up north, but even though we are slightly north of the equator we tend to have more southern hemisphere weather patterns.

The temperature may not vary much here in Panama, but on the Pacific side we definitely have seasons. We have been easing into summer for the last couple weeks and even though we had some rain last night, today definitely feels like summer. It’s clear and sunny, and the trade winds are really blowing hard. The power was even out for a few hours, I imagine because of the wind.

The trees and plants reflect the new season as well. Many trees that are usually green are bursting out with flowers, and some seasonal fruits will become available soon.

I went out riding my bike this morning, which is another story. Whew! Riding against that wind is like climbing a steep hill so even though I didn’t ride many miles, I felt like I got quite a workout. I figure it would be a good day to stay closer to home though, and to see what is going on in the neighborhood.

I love mangoes! I had my first trees in Florida and it was fascinating to watch them flower and fruit. I had beehives there too. The bees loved the mango flowers and gave me the best honey of the year at that time. It’s better here in Panama though because we don’t have to worry about frost when the trees are blooming, and you can count on fruit at the end of our summer. The trees thrive too, and many of them are huge and decades old.

I love bananas also. Nothing says tropical living like bananas in the yard, and the flowers still look odd and exotic to me. They flower and fruit at any time of year, but right now we have one beginning to flower in our yard.

The flower bud is coming from the center of the tree and going off to the right

The flower bud is coming from the center of the tree and going off to the right

The bougainvillea are also at their best in the summer, full of flowers and color. I spotted this one that is already blooming.

This type has both pink and white flowers on the same plant

This type has both pink and white flowers on the same plant

I couldn’t resist taking a couple photos of my favorite things, Volcan Baru and the huge tree.

So, that is pretty much what is going on in the neighborhood these days. I know there will be more interesting flowers coming, and some trees that are going to be spectacular when they bloom. Summer is not my favorite season, especially when it gets so dry that everything turns brown and brush fires are common, but I will enjoy the good things it brings as well.

Another good thing is the iguanas tend to roam and look for water so you see them more often. This young one has been visiting our yard and hanging out in the guanabana tree.

 

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So Many Birds

Panama has so many birds, and most of them are new to me. It is said that there are more different species of birds here than in all of North America! My bird books have a permanent home right by my desk (actually the table on the terrace) because I’m frequently trying to identify another bird.

We also have a guanabana tree (soursop) next to the terrace. For me the fruit has a rather odd smell and flavor that I had to get used to, but the Panamanians absolutely love it. The tree often fruits a lot in summer so I’m pretty popular when I have lots to give away.

Usually the fruit falls to the ground when it is ready, but Wednesday I noticed a fruit directly in front of the terrace that was being pecked at by the birds. On Thursday the birds were lined up to eat the fruit. The squirrels were also very interested, and finally later in the afternoon one managed to knock the fruit off the tree. What fell to the ground was probably 1/3 of the fruit because the birds and squirrels had eaten all the rest!

It seems like almost everything here eats fruit. When I first arrived I bought some peanuts for the squirrels. They totally ignored them. Put out some fruit though, especially papaya or banana and the squirrels will be very interested, as will most of the birds. That makes sense though since fruit is abundant here and nuts are not.

We also have a lot of doves. One pair has made a nest in the bushes in front of our house.

Here are some random pictures, some wildlife and some scenery.

There is no ripe fruit in the tree today so the yard is much quieter. The doves have visited though, and a motmot, the chattering wrens, a few thrushes, hummingbirds, the oropendula male was doing his thing in favorite tree beyond the yard, and there are enough bird calls in the area that it is never silent. I love being able to spend the majority of my time outside so close to nature.

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The World is Full of Good People

I feel like I have been showered with so much kindness lately!

I went biking this morning and was greeted with so many “hola”s and “Feliz Año”s and “Buen Dia”s. Two cars followed me through a couple high traffic areas with their flashers on to keep me safe. Countless cars waited as I crossed intersections, or stayed behind until there was room to pass me in the other lane. The guys at the veggie markets lit up with smiles when I came in and sent greetings home to Joel. A working guy biked with me and chatted for a few blocks until he reached his turn off. People tried to explain what it is like living in a Latin culture, but I think until you have experienced it you aren’t going to “get it”. It’s a whole different way of living and relating. You feel acknowledged, respected, and valued even by total strangers in the street.

Then, there were the many responses to my blog post yesterday in the comments, on Facebook, and in emails. It was such an outpouring of support, understanding, kindness, and compassion. I have the very best friends and blog followers! People have taken the time to write, to research and share information, and to reach out to me with such big hearts.

I just had to write a few words today to express how much I appreciate everyone who has been so kind to me. I feel very blessed. Thank you all.

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On Being Fat

Overweight and obesity are such a huge problems for so many people. Eat less, move more. Easy. Yeah right. Yes, there are success stories but they are few and far between. Oprah Winfrey has every resource there is, but she has fought a life long battle. The TV show, The Biggest Loser, they followed up with the contestants and what they found was very discouraging. The contestants had permanently damaged their metabolisms so their bodies were burning significantly fewer calories, and critical hormones were decreased making it impossible to maintain their weight loss without a very restricted diet and constant exercise. The article is HERE. I know people who have had gastric bypass surgery and lap bands, and almost all regained the weight they lost after the surgery and sometimes more.

Last year I resolved to stop obsessing about my weight and ease up a bit on my self imposed restrictions. What I had been doing wasn’t working and I was discouraged and tired of the fight.  I ate pizza and … gasp… pasta! Twice! I didn’t go nuts but I allowed myself a few things on the no no list which was fun, but for which I paid a price. I didn’t weigh myself for most of the year and I was quite unhappy when I finally got back on the scales.

I was always chubby, reaching 150 when I was 12. My mother’s favorite name for me was “you big fat lummux” (what is a lummux anyway??) I started dieting around 12 years old, and I continued off an on until I started having children.  I had four babies and three miscarriages between 27 and 36, and the weight crept up every year. Then I got on Weight Watchers and lost 50 pounds but it was a miserable year. I went to bed hungry every night, my hair fell out, and eventually people were telling me I didn’t look well.

Of course the weight crept back in the following years. I tried Atkins, going to the gym every morning, playing tennis 3-4 times/week, low carb,  you name it I tried it (short of starving) but nothing helped. I was vegetarian since my early 20’s and I don’t know if that had anything to do with anything. Then, I heard about HCG. It worked!! I lost about 90 pounds (and added meat to my diet as recommended). I was so thrilled. I did well afterward until the trip back to FL to help my husband and his mother in their move to Panama. I ate some bread and coffee cake in the airport, and my weight control immediately went out the window never to return. Since then, it seems no matter what I do, it keeps creeping up.

Recently, a friend introduced me to raw food and I found a lot of things I liked. These days, I’m eating mostly raw except maybe some home made turkey sausage or egg for breakfast, and dinner is usually a big salad, a vegetable, and a meat (usually chicken or pork). I don’t eat wheat, sugar, potatoes, pasta, processed food, or anything else I think is not good for me. I’m not hard core nuts or a difficult dinner guest, but I do my best to stick to a very healthy diet. And, you all know how much time I have spent on my bike. You would think I’d be in great shape but the most I can say is I am maintaining, but not losing. I’m sure the many years of dieting have done a lot of damage.

That is my story at the moment. I’m just treading water, not happy, but not unhappy enough to take drastic measures. My (slim and trim takes after her skinny dad) daughter said once – mom, why do you worry about your weight? You are able to do everything you want to do. She is right. I am strong, healthy, and active. My husband likes me. I have a good life. There is general opinion though that if a person is overweight it’s because they are simply lazy and eat too much, and it’s frustrating to be unable to manage something that should be so easy. But on the other hand, if there is a famine I’m likely to survive because my body is very efficient at maintaining with limited resources.

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We Wanted some Pork…

so we bought a whole pig. (Warning, this post has pictures of pork, some of which look quite pig-like)

We bought a pig in the past which worked out very well. We didn’t know how to cut it up though so we froze it, and then the guy at the meat market sliced it with his band saw, turning the entire pig into slices. This time we decided to learn how to cut up the pork ourselves.

My good friend Yaira has a brother who raises pigs. I contacted her thinking it would be weeks of waiting for pigs to get to the proper size, but she contacted me back in a hour to say the pork would arrive the next day at midday! So, at the appointed time, here she comes with her brother in a truck, and in the back is a trash can of ice containing a pig in four pieces. (you can order it whole, cut in half, or in quarters. You also get the feet and head. Joel didn’t want the head though, so I gave it to Yaira. Maybe next time we will tackle that.)

This pig was four months old and the meat weighed 120 pounds. It’s something to think a piglet is born and fed and cared for, and in only four months you have that much meat! We also learned that this farmer raises cows, chickens, fruits, and vegetables, all without chemicals and hormones and the animals are fed natural, healthy food. The pork is $2.50/lb, and the chickens are $1.50/lb. You can get cheaper prices but I’d rather get good quality organic meat and chicken, and support a friend and local farmer.

3/4 took up a good part of our fridge.

3/4 took up a good part of our fridge.

We put 3/4 of the meat in the fridge and proceeded to tackle the other quarter. Thank goodness for google and youtube, and some basic instruction from the farmer. We knew there would be a learning curve but now that we are done, we are very proud of ourselves.  And, instead of everything in slices, we have ribs, tenderloins, roasts, pork belly, and soup bones.

We learned that the tenderloin is found behind the ribs along the backbone. This is where you get pork chops, or you can have tenderloin and ribs. We chose the latter. Attached to the ribs is the pork belly that is used for bacon. We baked some of it with the ribs last night and it just might be the best part of the pig. It was SO good. The fat cooks out leaving very tender meat that is really delicious. Speaking of fat, this pig had much less fat overall than the other pigs we bought.

The legs are used for hams, but since we don’t plan to cure the meat and do whatever is needed for hams, we cut them into roasts and soup bones. The front legs are big but the back ones are huge. We have lots of roasts! Scraps are used for sausage but since we don’t know what we are doing, we probably included things in our cuts that are usually put aside. We ended up with only one quart container of scraps which are delicious just sauteed in the frying pan with a bit of salt and seasoning. (We have been making our own breakfast sausage with ground turkey from Pricesmart, much easier than grinding pork so we don’t need sausage meat).

We spent all Saturday afternoon on the front pieces, and then Sunday afternoon on the back pieces. By the time we were done we were very proud of ourselves. Each quarter went faster as we learned and gained confidence, and I think we have some excellent meat that will last us all year.

Sunday night we had ribs for dinner! On yes they were good, very good.

117puerco7

The freezer is quite full but probably in a month or two I’ll be putting in an order for chickens. He also drives his truck around selling fruits and vegetables but I’m too attached to our current produce guy to change anything.

We have experiences here we never would have had in the US. Meeting the farmer and cutting up your own meat is very different from a plastic wrapped package from the supermarket. I’m glad to be here for so many reasons.

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Feliz Año Nuevo

Another trip around the sun, as they say. This is a perfect time to reflect on the passing year and to think about the coming one. What did I say last year?

  • Don’t allow the blog to feel like a job. Yes, done. I no longer feel guilty when I have nothing to say for a while, and sometimes I write about something off topic just because I want to. I have enjoyed the blog much more and the response continues to be positive.
  • Don’t feel obligated to help everyone with everything. Yes. I continue to enjoy talking with people and answering questions, but if I don’t know something I don’t go research it for them.
  • Explore more painting. Yes, in progress. I continue to paint and learn.
  • Do a bicycle tour. Yes. I cycled from Seattle to northern California.
  • Quit obsessing about my weight. Yes, but…. I suppose any sensible person can guess how that went. This is a subject for another post though.
  • Simplify and declutter. Yes, a continuing work in progress.

Overall I am pleased with how I did with the goals I set for myself.

What goals would I like to write for the coming year?

  • Time management. There are tons of interesting things to explore on line and I can spend hours. I need to focus on things that are more productive like the points below. I need to unsubscribe from some things and/or set limits, and schedule important things so they don’t get passed over.
  • Cycling and exercise. I am not currently planning another tour (though I’m thinking about possibilities). But, without that goal I’m finding it hard to bike the same old routes so I’m not getting the exercise I need. Biking is also a social interaction, enjoyment of nature,  and it clears my head. I need to set an alarm and quit sleeping in all the time, and get back with the program.
  • Painting – I tend to put off painting because it’s difficult and I’m lazy. I need to set a time, like two hours a day after lunch and just do it. I don’t think you get better at anything by just thinking about it. I think resuming regular classes would help keep me focused as well.
  • Spanish – I still have a lot to learn. With this also, I need to schedule time to study. I do best with a combination of social talking and organized study, and the organized study has fallen by the wayside.
  • Continue simplifying and decluttering.

If I can spend two hours a day on the bike, two hours painting, and one hour studying Spanish for five days a week, that should help while still leaving me time to do everything else I need to or want to do. The lazy part of me doesn’t want to put this out there as a commitment, but the part of me that wants to use time wisely will be glad.

Overall though, I am extremely happy. I live in a beautiful country with loving people, I have an excellent marriage, my family are all doing very well, I am healthy, I have been relieved of the responsibility of making money, and I have unlimited possibilities to learn and experience and explore anything that interests me. This time is such a wonderful gift. My heartfelt thanks to the forces of the universe that have landed me in this life. As every year brings me closer to the end of it, I feel a stronger need to appreciate every day and use each one wisely.

Sunday we start the next trip around the sun. Lets make it a great one!

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