Monthly Archives: February 2016

Month-Long Ha$$le Is Over

It’s not all sweetness and cream when you’ve expatriated to another country. Actually, sometimes it’s a real pain in the ass! Take what I’ve been going through for the last month…

It’s a real hassle for extranjeros (foreigners) to open a bank account here in Panama. It’s almost this bad —

banking

What with money laundering problems and the U.S. IRS  demanding that foreign countries comply with their regulations you really have to jump through hoops to get an account here. Since I’m not rolling in dough and the only deposits I get are a monthly Social Security payment and VERY meager royalty payments from my books online (made a whopping $14 in 2015) it just never seemed worthwhile to go through the hassle. I live my life here on my debit card. In more than five years dealing with my money this way I’ve only encountered ONE problem. About three months ago I went to an ATM to withdraw $500, my usual monthly cash stipend. The machine didn’t give me any money, but debited my account anyway. A single call to HSBC in the States resolved the problem and the money was back in my account in something like two days.

That was the ONLY problem until Feb. 4th. I went to the Romero supermarket in  Bugaba and when they swiped my card it didn’t go through. Don’t have a clue why not…I mean while I’m probably a pauper compared to most of the gringo expats here there are STILL several thousand dollars in my account. Swipe it again. No go. Fortunately I had enough cash on me that I was able to buy what had already been bagged up for me.

When I got home, with something like $27.63 in cash, I called HSBC to see what was going on. Had there been a hold put on my account for some reason? That had happened once before. But NOOOOO. They told me that my card was the “old style” card and the new cards had a chip in them. Now, you can call me a racist if you want to, I don’t care, but I’m dealing with people here whose accent reeks of curry and chutney and I have gone through three different ones trying to resolve this. They said the new card had been sent and so, after an interval of about a month, they assumed I’d received and activated the new card and they cancelled the old one. Now, here’s the problem with this. Since I moved to Panama I’ve had THREE different mailing addresses: the original one, one that was valid for about three months and which I had sent HSBC a change of address for, and then another new address which I also did an online change of address for. Who knows where it might have gone.

I couldn’t get ANYONE to take this too seriously, and my big problem was I was stupid and just say that my card had been lost or stolen which might have sped things up. But I didn’t do that and the best I could get out of these hamburger haters was that it would take seven to TEN WORKING DAYS to get a new card issued. Then I had to tell them NOT to send it to the mailing address they had but to send it to my mail forwarding service since I’m in Panama and not the United States.

Forward to ten working days later. I call HSBC to ask whether or not the card has been sent. NO, IT HASN’T!!! Why not?

“Well, we tried to call you but didn’t get an answer.” So the bastards let me hang, and when I asked them to tell me the number they’d called it was WRONG. One of the idiots I’d spoken to the first time fucked up and noted it wrong.

By now I’m literally SCREAMING at my computer (we’re doing this on Skype). “DIDN’T ANY OF YOU IDIOTS THINK, SINCE NO ONE ANSWERED THE PHONE YOU MIGHT FUCKING TRY AND SEND ME AN EMAIL?” Well, no that didn’t occur to them.

So I go through another bunch of curry-reaking, low paid peons, and now am told they will “expedite” things and send the new card out within “five working days.” I have them repeat, several times, where I want them to send the card and the address of my mail forwarder.

NOW! It’s going to be nearly two weeks AT BEST before I get that card. I have exactly TWO DOLLARS AND SOME COINS TO MY NAME IN PANAMA!!! I put out an urgent plea on Facebook explaining my situation and saying that I would write someone a check PLUS interest if they would get me $500 in cash. I know that it’s going to be AT BEST near the beginning of March before I get the card and I have TWO rental payments to make, the current house and the house I’m going to be moving in to and I really need to make sure those people get paid and it’s ALWAYS done with cash. Within an hour of posting that plea some friends and old neighbors in Potrerillos, Trish and Brian, came through for me. I got the cash and was able to set aside the rent, and have enough to buy food for a couple of weeks and pay the electric and internet service bills that are due. I could probably get away with not paying those until the second billing cycle but I sort of like having lights and an internet connection.

After six working days I called back to the Punjabi peon center and found out that the card had been sent (“Please tell me the address it was sent to…” and they got it correct.) And gave me a FedEx tracking number. This morning AirBox Express sent me an email saying I had a delivery and could pick it up at any time.

I use AirBox because it is right on my bus route going to the downtown terminal. It cost me $4,57 to bail it out. Then, when I open the envelope the card says I have to call an 800 number to activate it. Since the first new card had been cancelled because no one knows where it went, I have a NEW card number and can’t activate it by going to an ATM. The next hassle is that my prepaid phone account won’t let me make international or 800 number phone calls so I have to get on a bus again and haul my ass all the way back to Boquerón so I can Skype the number and activate the card.

One good thing about the new card is the expiration date. The card that go cut off would expire in May, 2018. The new card is good until the end of February 2021.

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Starting to Gel

Well, the move to the new place is starting to gel. Yesterday (Tuesday) I stopped by the landlord’s house and picked up the keys. He’s a nice guy but you can tell he was a bureaucrat for 30+ years. I was going to pay him the March rent while I was there but he wouldn’t have it. Has to be paid on the FIRST of the month. Okay. No big deal since he essentially lives half a block away.

Today I went over to Bugaba to the Union Fenosa offices to set up the electric service in my name. In the five years I’ve been here the bills have always been in the name of the owners of the house. I’d get the bill in their name and just pay it. But again, that’s not the way the bureaucratic mind works. I’m living in the place the electricity is in my name.

There were only two women handling the installation and re-starting services so I had to wait a little until it was my turn. I presented the lease to the girl and she called the landlord. Busy. Then she asked for my passport. The identification number on the lease is my passport number, but now that I have my cédula I pulled that out. Funny thing was, it seemed to actually make a difference to her about processing my application.

I had to go get a copy of my cédula at the nearby church since the office was out of paper and they were waiting for a delivery. Back at the office there were three more calls to the landlord because he didn’t have the right numbers the girl needed. Finally it was resolved to the company’s satisfaction. I was a bit worried about how much I was going to have to fork over for a deposit since I’m VERY tight on cash after setting aside the rents for two places, but I needn’t have worried. I forked over the $28.12 for the deposit (that includes a $17 installation charge). Supposedly the power will be turned on tomorrow some time.

 

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As Close As I Can Get…

When I look at the U.S. headlines online down here in Panama I despair for my country. It’s sure not the same place I grew up in in the ’50s. It’s not the same place as when I wore a Navy uniform in the ’60s. (Believe it or not, I was 21 when that picture was taken)

Navy copy

Look at what the country is facing in 2016…Donald Trump leads the rabid pack of Republikunts who are looking to completely trash what’s left of the nation’s safety net, deny people entry into the country based on their religious beliefs. Build a WALL along the borders? Get REAL. And then you have twatwaffles like the CANADIAN Rafael Cruz Jr., who wants to install a Christian version of Sharia Law on the country. I’m not even going to get into the twerp whose family fled to the United States to “escape Castro” years before Castro took over Cuba. And then there’s Uncle Ben Carson who believes the pyramids were built to store grain and who forever killed the phrase, “What are you — a brain surgeon?” when referring to smart people.

On the other side of the aisle I’d love to see Bernie become president. What is Democratic Socialism? It’s  making the government give us what we’ve paid for…And no matter how horribly the Republikunts, and a lot of Democrats paint Hillary Clinton, all I can say is that in MY opinion on her WORST day Hillary Clinton is better than ANY Republikunt on their best day!

If I hadn’t done so already I’d seriously be considering expatriation if one of those joker become president.

But I already left the U.S., not for any political reasons but moved to Panama in order to have a nice, relatively stress-free life.

In 2009 I received what is known as a “Pensionado” visa which allows me to live in the Republic of Panama and not have to leave. At that time I received a “carnet” from the Immigration service and my lawyer said, as she handed it to me, “There are only two things a Panamanian can do that you can’t…One is to work and the other is to vote.” Well, believe me, I had no intention of working anymore after I started collecting Social Security, and as far as voting is concerned? Meh!

But the carnet is a cheap, shoddy piece of work. It’s a second cousin to a high school ID or a hall pass. A piece of paper with my picture on it that’s been cheaply laminated. I’ve never had anybody turn me down for anything when I’ve presented it, but most Panamanians have never seen one of these and they scrutinize it intensely when they see it.

Every Panamanian, even children have a national ID card known as a cédula, and a couple of years ago the country started issuing what is known as an E cédula. The E stands for extranjero (foreigner). It is issued by the Tribunal electoral of the Republic. It’s the size of a credit card but not quite as thick. When I first heard about them I called my lawyer about how to go about getting one for myself but she poo pooed the idea. In the last year four of my friends have gotten their E cédulas and they gave me the name of the person who helped them get theirs. I contacted Luis Arce and we started the process.

There was a complication in that my lawyer never gave me a copy of the Carta de Resolucion from immigration and when I contacted her she said she didn’t have it. So Luis had to make several trips to immigration and emails to and from me to get a copy of the letter. That done I got on the 10 p.m. bus on the second of this month and went to Panama City, arriving there at 4:22 in the morning. Luis showed up at ten to five and we went off to the Tribunal Electoral building. Those offices start the day at 7 a.m. Can you believe that? Can you imagine a government office in the U.S. opening for business at SEVEN IN THE MORNING? Unheard of.

Needless to say we were first in line and after signing a couple of papers, getting my picture taken and being electronically fingerprinted we left the building at 7:30! ALL DONE! At 8:45 I was back on a bus for the seven hour ride back to David and I was home in time to cook dinner. Needless to say I was BEAT and I went to bed and slept for 11 hours straight!

Now this E cédula doesn’t give me any more rights than I had with the carnet, but I does make me more “officially” Panamanian. I’ll be perfectly honest with you and say that if I could become a Panamanian citizen I WOULD. My friend David Baker, the only gringo I know that left Panama to live in Costa Rica recently became a citizen of that country. He’s the ONLY one I know who went to Pura Vida land while I’ve met a couple of dozen who left there to move here.

I can NEVER become a citizen through the Pensionado visa. The only way I could actually become a citizen would be to deposit several hundred thousand dollars into a Panamanian bank account (like I HAVE several hundred thousand dollars in the first place) or marry a Panamanian. The later isn’t an option, either. First there are no volunteers to fill the position and secondly I’m not sure I could stand to be with anyone for the five years you have to be married in order to apply for citizenship. And since I’m almost 74, have serious COPD, and carry three stents in my coronary arteries I doubt that I’ll be around for five more years anyway. Now, if that sounds fatalistic, I guess it is. I like to think of it as being realistic. The other day I was having lunch with some friends (the first to get their E cédulas) and that subject came up. I said I’m not saying I want to die yet, I DON’T, but I’M READY, if you know what I mean. I’ve accomplished everything I ever wanted to do in my life. I’ve sailed across the Atlantic Ocean. I helped take a boat through the Panama Canal. I owned a small sailboat and went off cruising in it alone for nine months to Mexico, Belize and the Rio Dulce in Guatemala. I was captain of an 85′ ketch on the French Riviera for three years (hey, someone was going to do it, why not me?). I’ve circumnavigated the eastern half of the United States in boats, a feat known to boaters in the U.S. as “The Great Circle.” No, I don’t want to die yet, but I’M READY.

This morning a took the bus over to Bugaba to the Tribunal Electoral and picked up my E cédula. I asked the man who was filling out the final paperwork for me to sign, and I translate for you….”Do you know what the ‘E’ stands for?” He said, “Extranjero.” No,” I replied, “it means “extraordinary.” I love it when I can get a smile out of the natives in their own language.

So, while I can’t be a citizen of Panama at least I can look a little bit as if I AM ONE. But at least the Republica sees me as a Residente Permanente.

cedula y carnet

 

As an aside, I don’t see myself being around long enough to have to renew the card, either.

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