Friday, December 10, 2010

PROGRESS TOWARD PANAMÁ

As of today, it is three weeks until I leave for Panamá.  There is much yet to be done, mainly in the area of going through all my personal possessions and deciding what to keep vs. throw or give away .


Yet I am making some progress.  Just today I:
  • Made an appointment with the USDA/APHIS office in Annapolis to verify my dogs' international travel certificates on the afternoon of the 28th.
  • Made an appointment with the vet to issue same on the morning of the 28th.
  • Had previously taken the dogs to the vet on November 30th for a full set of new vaccinations, to the tune of about $100 per dog.
  • Actually bought the airline ticket for the 31st.  (Note:  American Airlines has the best connections between BWI and PTY.)
  • Bought trip insurance in case we can't fly on the 31st because of weather conditions.
  • Called the airline reservations office and verified that I can check three dogs as baggage:  the two mini-wienies in one carrier and the basset hound in the other.  I had previously verified on the IATA website that this is allowed.
  • Made arrangements with José Saenz of goldenfrog.net to be my man on the ground at PTY.  He will receive the dogs from baggage and process all the paperwork with the vet on duty at PTY.
  • Asked José to transport me and the dogs to the Albrook domestic airport across town and make reservations for an Air Panama flight to David, the closest airport to Boquete.  This will save me seven hours of travel time with the dogs in a car. The flight is only 45 minutes.
  • Reserved an SUV with Budget Rental Cars at David airport for one day, so I would be sure to have enough room to take the two dog carriers and my bags.
  • Verified with my friend Fran in Boquete to meet me at the David airport and help me with walking and re-crating the dogs for the 45-minute drive to Boquete.

I was very clever to schedule these international travel certificates for my dogs only a couple of days before departure, in case the airline won't take the dogs on the 31st.  We have to "thread the eye of the needle":  if it's colder than 20 degrees F at BWI, or forecast to be warmer than 85 degrees in Panamá City, the dogs can't fly.  The certificates are good for only ten days. By getting he certificates so late, I will have more leeway in taking flights on later days if the 31st doesn't work out.  We'll have to see if this strategy pays off. Hopefully I won't have to drive through a blizzard to get them done.

By way of my personal preparations, I had previously:
  • Made arrangements with a lawyer in Panamá City, whom I found by personal referral, to process my Pensionada retirement visa.
  • Obtained a letter from the University's Human Relations office, verify my retirement on January 1 with a full notarized signature (after the third try - as I did know the signature had to be notarized until after the first two were issued).
  • Renewed my passport, which was due to expire in December.  Now it's good for another ten years.
  • Obtained letters from my pension plan and Social Security, verifying my monthly income of at least $1000.

This is to obtain the Pensionada Permanent Resident Visa status, which gives me 50% discounts on travel, 30% discounts on restaurants, movies, medical care, etc.  One of the reasons Panamá is such a draw now for US citizens to retire there.  Many gringos retire there on their passport tourist visas without these benefits, but need to leave the country every 90 days to keep their tourist visas current.  (Or it may be 120 days, as no one seems to know for sure what the law is, including the immigration agents at the borders.  This is just one of the many charming quirks about Panamá.)

After getting the veterinary documents authenticated by the USDA, I will still need to :

  • Go to either the Department of State or the Panamanian Consulate to have all the documents apostilled (certified as authentic), at a cost of $30 per document.  Remember, I have a 2-day window before my original departure date if it is not postponed due to weather conditions, so I will need to get this done December 29 or 30.
This blow-by-blow description is just to give you an idea of all the hoops I need to jump through, just in case you were casually thinking of retiring in Panama yourself.  These requirements (except for taking the pets by air) are specific to Panama, so if you're thinking of some other country you will need to learn their requirements,

Bottom line:  allow lots of time for planning and implementation.  It also helps to be patient and non-judgmental about the bureaucracy of your destination country.  This is just how things are done, and it doesn't do any good to complain about them.  (Sometimes it does make things more expeditious to offer bribes to various officials, but that is a totally different story.  I don't recommend bribing the Consulate, the Department of State, or the USDA.  Or anyone for that matter.  It's best for gringos, especially women,  to conduct themselves in such a way to be beyond reproach.  I may change my mind on this point later.)

In case you were wondering, here is a running total on the cost of taking three dogs to Panamá:

Shots:  $300
Apostille:  $30 or maybe $270, if they count the vaccination certificates separately from the international health certificates and the USDA certification)
Baggage fee for two dog crates, BWI to PTY:  $300
Once arrived at PTY: MIDA Import License $36 
Minstry of Health Three Dogs Home Quarantine $390
José's fee for taking the dogs through the authorities: $100.  (Worth every penny, I'm told.)
José's fee for transporting me and the dogs to Albrook Airport: ?
Baggage fee for checking dogs from Albrook to David:  ?

Total known fees so far: $1396.  And that's just for the dogs, not including my own tickets.

I'll let you reserve judgement about the sanity of this venture.  But before you jump to conclusions, check this out: http://www.physiciansmoneydigest.com/your-life/AARP-Ranks-the-Top-5-Places-to-Retire-Abroad.

More to come...

Molly (left) and Chauncey (right)


Chauncey and Li'l Bit in Mixed-Up Beds

-bjd





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