Although the American calendar has a slew of holidays, there are only two on the books where most businesses are actually closed--Thanksgiving and Christmas Day. Some holidays-- like Memorial Day or Labor Day--are holidays for 9-to-5 workers but are extra-busy for people who work retail or hospitality. Other holidays--like Secretary's Day or Grandparent's Day--are largely ignored by all but a few people.
In Panama, holidays are treated like holy days. In fact, the calendar is chalk-full of holidays that are vacation days for everyone. For example, everything is closed for five solid days in February to celebrate Carnival, including stores, restaurants and even streets. Panamanians spend days dancing in the streets, listening to loud festive music, and shooting fireworks. In November, there are five separate holidays in the first five days of the month which constitute a 5-day vacation from work. Need something dry cleaned or notarized? Better do it before Halloween or you'll have to wait a week.
Panama isn't a "manana" culture. In fact, most people work a five-and-a-half-day workweek. For a country that puts in that many work hours, real downtime makes sense.
I'm about to celebrate my third Christmas in Panama, so I'm getting used to the pace. Going shopping on a holiday is very American; something you need to shed like a skin once you get here. Although newbies (myself included) get annoyed when they can't get instant gratification during a holiday period, once the holiday schedule is embraced it's rather refreshing. Instead of spending holidays running errands or shopping frenetically, holidays are spent relaxing, going to the beach, enjoying family and friends, and feasting.
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The Panama Canal is what helped shape Panama into what it is today, and has been called the eighth wonder of the world. In National Geographic’s 100 Journeys of a Lifetime, the Panama Canal was listed as must-see Journey Number 5. Having been to the Panama Canal dozens of times, I am awestruck at how something so spectacular was created a hundred years ago.
The Panama Canal is a lock system that lifts a ship up 85 feet to the main level of the Panama Canal through a series of three “locks” or watertight chambers. After traveling through Lake Gatun, a second series of three locks drop the ship back down to sea level on the other side.
In 1914, the Panama Canal changed the course of history. Since then, it has been so influential in the shipping industry that the term “Panamax” was coined to signify that the ship was the maximum size to fit through the Panama Canal. For decades shipbuilders stayed within the Panamax size specifications and wouldn’t build anything larger.
The $5.2 billion expansion project of the Panama Canal is creating a new lane which connects the Pacific Ocean to the Atlantic Ocean. The new locks will be thirty percent larger than the current locks in order to allow ships larger than Panamax to travel through the Panama Canal. To give you an idea of the size, you can fit three Empire State Buildings end-to-end within its chambers.
To give you an idea of the scope of this 7-year project (for people like me who don’t understand what it takes to create a new bike, let alone an entire new shipping channel), here are some of the pieces of the Panama Canal puzzle.
When complete in 2015, the expansion will double the ship capacity and allow larger ships to pass through.
No trip to Panama is complete without a trip to the Panama Canal. When you come to Panama, make sure you plan your trip to the Panama Canal on a late afternoon during the week when it's not raining. This will help you get maximum enjoyment without the hassle of weekend crowds.
The former Howard Air Face Base has been converted into a special economic area called Panama Pacifico. It is located near the entrance to the Panama Canal on the Pacific Ocean side, just over the Bridge of the Americas from Panama City.
Panama Pacifico is a 1,400 hectare (almost 3,500 acres) business park that combines office space, warehouse facilities and residential housing. This is a multi-decade project that currently includes schools, a gas station, restaurants, and a large lifestyle gym. When the project is fully complete, it will resemble a small city, with everything you need to live, work and play within one area.
The benefits of being located within Panama Pacifico include the following tax exemptions, good for 10 years:
Sounds good, huh. To qualify as a tax-exempt business, your business needs to be involved in one of these industries:
To see if your company qualifies, contact me and let’s arrange for a tour. There are people on staff at Panama Pacifico who can help register your company and get the approvals necessary.
There are many reasons to do business in Panama, no matter what your business is. But, depending on the type of business you have, you could qualify for even more tax savings.
Since we’re dealing with generalities, I’ll start with a bullet point list of reasons to do business in Panama. For more information about your specific business, I will refer you to a business attorney that can help you.
This list just scratches the proverbial surface of how business friendly Panama really is. If you want more information, contact me. I'll create a personalized private tour just for you that includes anything you want to see--including tax free zones and commercial real estate--and facilitate meetings with attorneys or other business entities you might need to meet with. We'll even make sure you have a car and driver.
There is no extra charge for this service. It's all part of the Panama Relocation Concierge personal touch.
Need a medical procedure that's on the pricey side? If you'd rather cough up furr balls than fork over the tens of thousands it will cost you in North America, you're not alone. Before you pull your claws out, relax... there is a solution. Become a tourist... a medical tourist.
What is medical tourism? It's a a new term for when people travel for medical treatment. Medical tourism may sound new, but it isn’t a new phenomenon. According to the history books (since I wasn't around personally to verify), Ancient Mesopotamians traveled to Syria in search of a cure for eye disorders as early as the third millennium B.C. Flip a few pages in those same history books and you'll learn that the Greeks and Romans traveled to spas all around the Mediterranean in search of cures. If you've watched at least one 18th century movie in your life, you'll also recall that upper class Europeans traveled to spa destinations—such as Bath and St. Moritz—to cure their ills by taking the waters and reveling in the temperate climates.
In our lifetimes (aka the twentieth century), wealthy folks of underdeveloped nations traveled to first-world countries in order to get the best treatment money could buy. After all, what's the use of having money if you can't spend it on the best! But the tide has turned over the past decade and a half. People are primarily traveling outside of their native first-world country for a more affordable treatment in a developing nation.
Getting less expensive medical procedures through medical tourism is on the rise because of an aging population combined with rising healthcare costs in countries like the United States. According to Deloitte consulting services, 875,000 Americans were medical tourists in 2010.
Although medical tourism destinations include countries such as Thailand, South Africa and Hungary, one of the most popular medical tourism destinations is Panama. Why Panama? Because Panama is a relatively Americanized country with an English-speaking medical community.
According to a report on medical tourism published by the National Center for Policy Analysis, procedures can be 40 to 70 percent cheaper in Panama than in the U.S. For example, an $80,000 dental implant procedure in America will cost about $25,000 in Panama. For the uninsured—and the underinsured—this savings is worth the cost of a short vacation to Panama.
All types of medical procedures are available in Panama. Elective procedures such as dental implants, cataract surgery, and cosmetic surgery are in the media's spotlight, but more acute conditions such as knee replacements and open heart surgery are also available. Other procedures that top the list are those not covered by traditional insurance, such as fertility treatments and even stem cell therapy.
There are many reasons Panama is a popular medical tourism destination.
Medical tourism has done a lot to improve the quality of care in Panama, especially in Panama City. Plus, the tourist dollars are helping the economy.
Panama has invested in technology, accreditation and infrastructure, making it a prime medical tourism destination. If you are interested in medical tourism, we can help. Contact us and let us know what you're interested in, and we will help you navigate the waters.
Octopus is very popular on the menus in Panama. What is it like to eat octopus? The texture is more like ceviche than chewy muscle if it's prepared correctly. In fact, if you didn't know what you were eating, you might assume it was white fish.
When you order octopus at a restaurant in Panama, you typically get less mass on your plate than you would if you ordered fish, but if it's cooked right, each bite is delectable. It can be served diced into bite-sized pieces (like in the photo shown on this blog) or as whole tentacles. If you are a newbie to octopus in Panama, be sure to order it diced so your preconceived notions don't get in the way of your enjoyment.
Before I moved to Panama, a very good friend of mine, Stacey Wetzel of Cater 10, cooked octopus for me in the Dallas, Texas. If octopus is cooked poorly, it is an inedible, tough muscle. There are several tricks for making it tender. One trick that Chef Stacey swears by is boiling it for several hours in beer.
Once octopus is tenderized, it can be cooked just like a fish. I’ve had it grilled (probably my favorite), sautéed in butter, and served with a variety of sauces, from pesto to remoulade to chef's surprise. Yesterday our dinner was at a French restaurant so the octopus was sautéed in butter, pesto and garlic. The restaurant we went to was amazing, so the octopus was as tender as sea bass.
If you haven't tasted octopus, be sure to try it soon... hopefully in Panama!
Melissa Darnay is a marketer, a serial entrepreneur, and a relocation concierge in Panama. Learn more...