Jessica Ramesch

Author Image for Jessica Ramesch

No stranger to “international living,” Jessica Ramesch had called the U.S., India, and Panama home by age 14. So it was no surprise to her family when she won a full scholarship to study International Politics & Diplomacy at the University of Richmond. After graduating with honors, Jessica worked as an interpreter for the World Access travel emergencies hotline, followed by a stint as a Panama Canal editor. Not content to watch the ships go by, she went on to join the cruise industry.

After visiting 25 countries, Jessica abandoned ship for the good life in Panama City. As International Living’s Panama Editor, she writes about Panama’s beaches, islands, mountains, and countryside. She is also the author of Escape to Panama, International Living’s best-selling book on all things Panama.

Jessica regularly contributes to International Living's Panama Facebook page.

Archives

Panama

“Why I Chose Panama”

Crackle! Pop! Fizz! It isn’t my morning cereal talking to me. It’s midnight on February 14, and the sound of fireworks has us all running to the balcony. Over Panama Bay, we watch flower and star-shaped formations explode into the night sky, then cascade into the Pacific. Back in the States, Valentine’s Day would hardly be cause for such jubilation, but in Panama it is Carnival season. The dates change every year, so festivities can take place during the four days preceding Catholic Lent. One might say that Panamanians mark their calendars religiously, but Carnival is not about being good or saintly. Quite the opposite, in fact.

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From New York to Panama: Glamorous Living For Less

Film editor and producer Sarah Tyler was living in New York when she decided she was ready to say goodbye to grueling winters. “I also wanted the experience of traveling abroad and practicing Spanish,” she says. Sarah now lives in Panama City’s Casco Viejo sector, where she feels at home among the cobbled streets and colonial plazas that she loves. “It’s a neighborhood known for its beauty and historical value,” says Sarah. “There’s a great bohemian vibe thanks to the people that live and visit here—artists, wayfaring travelers, investors, and entrepreneurs from all over the world.”

Panama

A Little Bit of Magic in El Valle, Panama

There’s a magical mountain town waiting for you to discover it. To get there, you turn off a busy highway onto an easy-to-miss little road that snakes up into the mountains. A couple hours ago, you were in a cosmopolitan capital studded with skyscrapers…but now you’re enveloped in a green rainforest cocoon. It feels a million miles away from the hurry of the city…

Panama City

Panama City’s Best Neighborhoods

When I started apartment hunting in Panama City almost a decade ago, I thought I knew what neighborhood I wanted to live in: the ritzy International Banking District, where the tallest skyscrapers face the sparkling Panama Bay. The area had undeniable cachet, and everyone I knew was living there. The district is in the heart of downtown, where you’ll find the best hotels, restaurants, shops, and more. Since 2009, new pedestrian walkways, green areas, and recreation facilities line the bay. On any given day you’ll see people jogging, buying fruit, or just sitting and enjoying the pleasant atmosphere.

Panama City

Sun, Sea, and Opportunity in One Country

Rosalind Baitel, 54, is bi-coastal. And by that I don’t mean she subjects herself to long flights to shuttle back and forth between expensive, crowded cities like New York and L.A. “We go to the beach most every weekend…it’s so close that even if we can’t stay the entire weekend, we can go for the day.” An hour and 40 minutes gets her from Panama City on the Pacific shore to the brilliant blue waters of the Caribbean. What she loves most about Panama City is that it’s a world capital…with amenities and entertainment to rival many of the world’s great cities.

Coronado

Why Isn’t Everyone Flocking to the Beach Town of Coronado?

I’m walking barefoot on volcanic sand that sparkles like diamonds in the sun…and the only sound I can hear is the soothing crash of waves on the shore. There’s no music or shouting from vacationers or revelers to break the silence…and I don’t have to step around chairs or towels or anything else. In fact, I have the beach almost to myself. There’s a girl jogging up ahead, and that’s it for today. You see, on Panama’s Coronado Beach, huge resorts don’t line the shoreline. There’s a small one a few minutes’ drive from the water, which also serves as a country club for the golfing enthusiasts who live here. But besides that, there are surprisingly few inns and hotels to be found.

Panama City

Live in Pine-Clad Mountains Close to Panama City

On the balcony of a Swiss-style cottage in Cerro Azul, I’m looking out over the mountains. The air is damp and cool—about 70 F—and there are thin wisps of mist around the hilltops. The land is densely populated with trees, most of them evergreens. It’s surprising, since I’ve just come from Panama City, where you’ll find tropical palms. So far I’ve seen hummingbirds and owl butterflies, smelled resinous pine and exotic jasmine, and heard the roar of howler monkeys in the distance. It couldn’t be more different from the sea-level city just under an hour’s drive from here. In fact, I’m reminded of where I grew up, in Oregon.

Las Tablas

Find a Traditional Life in Colonial Panama

The first time I visited the small, colonial town of Las Tablas, I was there for one reason only: to party it up Panamanian style. I’d heard that the yearly Carnival celebration here rivaled Louisiana’s Mardi Gras, and I wanted to see for myself. The festivities did not disappoint. Everything was loud and raucous and colorful…and wonderfully so. Gorgeous Carnival queens danced on floats that had been crafted into big intricate displays. People were dancing in the streets and offering me drinks. Craziest of all, big fire hoses were being used to douse revelers with cool water…so at high noon when the sun shone hot and strong, the party didn’t stop.

Panama

The Secrets to Exploring Panama’s Fishing Paradise

The best ways of life have been preserved in the heartland of Panama. You’ll still see ladies sitting on patios grinding fresh corn for fritters or embroidering traditional dresses known as polleras. And, instead of spending their days in front of the family TV, kids play outdoors in the fresh air. This rural region is like something out of a picture book. The small towns in the area usually boast a neatly whitewashed church, small bakeries selling pastries for 30 cents, and colorful little boats lining uncrowded beaches. One of the best of those towns, Pedasí, is also one of the world’s greatest fishing destinations. In that town, a small expat community is thriving alongside locals who value the simple pleasures of life: Sundays spent wading out into the clear waters of the Pacific…so warm here in the tropics.

Panama

Panama Tops The Charts In Technology And Internet Coverage

When it comes to telecommunications and technology, there’s not a country in the region that compares to Panama. This tiny powerhouse has long been recognized as a telecommunications hub, as five of the world’s major fiber optic cables intersect here. Land line and later cell phone calls were top notch here from the get-go, thanks to Panama’s outstanding infrastructure. And when the world entered the age of high-speed Internet, Panama went to great lengths to not only keep up, but be at the forefront.

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High-Yield Rentals in Panama’s Los Santos Province

Foliage presses up against the perfect, charcoal gray road. Though this time of year is known as the “rainy season” in Panama, the sky in this region is a powerful blue, and the sun is shining hot and strong. It’s quiet, and I pass very few cars…and perhaps just as many horses. For my recent scouting trip I drove the five hours from Panama City to Pedasí, a town of about 2,500. It’s a place that’s been growing in comfort and convenience— slowly but surely—since 2004. Over the past couple years in particular, it has become a burgeoning expat hub. Still, it remains a place where a couple can live on $1,300 a month including rent, and as little as $950 if they own.

Boquete

The Best Places To Vacation In Panama

After eight years as Panama Editor for International Living, you’d think writing about the best places to vacation in Panama would be a cinch. But there are so many great places to vacation in Panama that it’s hard to narrow it down to just a few. In fact, I’m constantly adding new favorites to my list.

Panama City

“This Part of Panama City Is Perfect”

“We spent about five years researching good retirement destinations before actually moving to Panama,” says Bill Hamilton who moved with his wife Mieke to the country’s capital city. “I’m the type of person to look up every single thing…crime rates, politics, cost of living, real estate, health care…and Panama City kept popping up in my research as the best option across the board.” Though in their 60s and already retired from previous careers, the Hamiltons made the decision to move in order to take a stab at running the Balboa Inn, a nine-room B&B in Panama City.

Walk Everywhere in Panama City’s Best Neighborhood

To live the big city life for less and enjoy a world-class retirement look no farther than the San Francisco neighborhood of Panama City. I chose to live in San Francisco because of its walkability, its amenities, and just how close it is to the kind of action that makes for a great city life…and from gourmet delis to evenings at the opera, I enjoyed every minute.

Panama-City

Why Panama is So Welcoming to Retirees

In 2005, I left my job in the cruise industry and decided to try my luck in Panama. I had a wonderful group of international friends—some from the Americas, and others from as far off as Australia. And I told them all to come visit me in Panama sometime. To my surprise, many of us actually did keep in touch and visit each other. I remember a girl from Venezuela asking me how come there were so many U.S. products on the shelves here.

panama-city

Retired and Bored: Panama May Not Meet Your Expectations

As International Living’s Panama Editor, I travel several times a year to speak at conferences. Often the image people have is of a country with pretty beaches, plenty of palm trees…and not much else. One of the questions I get most is: “Will I be bored there?” If you’re expecting to take it easy and have a quiet retirement, you may want to think again. Bluntly speaking, it’s nearly impossible to be bored or even inactive here.

Schools in Panama Offer a Solid Return on Investment

Panama is one of the fastest-growing countries in Latin America. And with a steady influx of expats of all ages and a growing middle class, its beleaguered education system has been hard-pressed to meet the growing demand for quality instruction. Public schools don’t prepare students very well for college. So middle and upper class residents turn to the nation’s private schools.

Winter Has Finally Hit Panama City…

Mangoes are falling, ripe, to the ground. A light breeze flutters through the fruit-laden trees, and a yellow tanager takes flight. A couple passes me, wearing tank tops and shorts. I’m at one of Panama City’s many parks, thinking life just doesn’t get much better than this. It’s warm, the sun is shining, and everything around me is dripping in rainforest green.

Business on the Beach in Coronado, Panama

Claire Ross had a great idea…no experience…and a small investment. It was all she needed to set up a bar in the beach town of Coronado in Panama. “When I first moved here, there was nowhere to hang out and meet people if you were single or new in town.” With new arrivals trickling in, Claire wanted to create a space where everyone would feel comfortable and embraced.

Panama

A B&B in Panama City’s Leafy Ancon District

Though the inn is small, just nine rooms, Mieke and Bill like to be onsite as much as possible, helping guests organize tours and transport and answering all kinds of questions about Panama. “We absolutely love this part of Panama City,” says Mieke of the Balboa area. Located in the capital’s Ancón district, this area is a world away from the city skyscrapers.

A Swiss-Style Mountain Town…Just 40 Minutes From Panama City

A Swiss-Style Mountain Town…Just 40 Minutes From Panama City

“What are you doing tomorrow?” That’s how the best weekends start in Panama. Last-minute invitations are never considered rude. And I’ve learned they should always be accepted…especially if you want to explore the country. So the next thing I knew, I was piling into a pickup truck with two local friends and heading to the little mountain town of Cerro Azul.

Five Popular Beach Towns in Panama

Five Popular Beach Towns in Panama

Panama has much to offer, from mountain havens boasting year-round mild temperatures to colonial towns where the traditions of grand old Spain have shaped and enriched the local culture. But it’s Panama’s sunny beaches that get the most attention…and with good reason.

pan-city

Honestly: This Is How Much It Costs to Live in Panama City

My first year in Panama City, I started my mornings with a $0.15 cup of strong, dark coffee. (That’s how the locals drink it, and the only way it’s made at food stalls.) I would also usually buy a little bag of corn fritters, or torrejas de maiz, for $0.25. Very greasy and very tasty.

las-tablas

Las Tablas: Low-Cost Living Near Panama’s Secret Beaches

The capital of the Los Santos province, Las Tablas is in the heart of Panama—the provincias centrales or “central provinces.” And in an area known for its traditions and folklore, Las Tablas is as Panamanian as it gets.
A small colonial town with a big party reputation, Las Tablas is considered Carnival Central by fun-loving locals.

coronado-panama

Enjoy the California Lifestyle – for Less – in Coronado, Panama

Are you dreaming of a California lifestyle…but think that you’re unable to afford it? If so, you’ll want to consider Coronado, Panama. Just an hour’s drive from the only First-World city in Central America, at first glance you might notice that Coronado isn’t the cheapest retirement choice in the world…or even in Panama. A couple would want a total of $2,000 to $3,000 a month to live comfortably within the Coronado gates (including rent). Monthly rentals can be found for $1,000 to $2,000, and homes sell for $175,000 to $300,000…

Delve into Panama’s Artisan Traditions

Over the years archeological sites across Panama have yielded artifacts used long before the conquistadores came from Spain. Round-bellied clay pots called tinajas kept water cool in the tropical heat. Geometric motifs adorned platters and open bowls used for meals and prayers. Centuries later, this tradition continues in La Arena, known for its pre-Columbian style pottery.

Panama

Four Reasons to Visit Panama

What are your reasons for visiting Panama? Ask any tourist that question and you’ll get a different answer. Some come for the beaches and the sun, others to explore the jungles or cloudforests. There’s a lot to see, and if you’ve read anything about Panama, it’s likely you’ve felt tempted to hop on a plane. To help tantalize you just a bit more, here are my top four reasons to visit Panama.

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Use Your Freelance Income to Gain Legal Residence in Panama

If you make your money online, there are some great benefits to locating yourself in Panama. One of them is gaining residence on the basis of your economic activity. Panama welcomes expats…and if you register your business as a corporation, you can easily apply for a residence visa. Online workers may not have the same need to officially register their business—the way bricks-and-mortar entrepreneurs do—but becoming a legal resident is a good idea.

panama-city2

Tourists in Panama City Only Get Half the Story

There’s a big difference between how a tourist sees Panama City and how a potential resident views it. If you come for a visit, you’re likely to note the sparkly, spiky skyline. Even back in the 1990s it was impressive—no other city in the region could compete. And these days there are more than plain old skyscrapers here. There are some true architectural specimens, like the Trump building (sail shaped, like that iconic hotel in Dubai).

sora-panama

Life is Simple in Panama’s Serene Mountain Town

When I first discovered Sora, I had been looking for someplace quiet to spend a weekend away from Panama City. I wanted a place that was an easy drive from the capital. Somewhere with a cool climate and little noise or light pollution. I wanted to be able to look up and see the stars, maybe wear a light jacket, and have a relaxing weekend.

panama-surf

A More Colorful Life by the Beach in Panama

Steve Doane is a guy’s guy. A retired member of the NYPD, this keen surfer has an athletic physique and likes his rock ‘n’ roll. So when he describes his new life in Panama as “like falling into a Walt Disney movie,” there are no raised eyebrows. Rather, there are nodding heads. “What I mean is everything’s so intense…the sights and sounds,” he says.

el-valle-panama

Panama’s Best Little-Known Mountain Town

Proximity to Panama City and to beaches like Coronado makes El Valle one of the world’s rare “have-it-all” locations. Here, you can live right in the middle of a display of nature’s bounty, teeming with life…and yet be close to important conveniences. And the number of expats discovering this tiny town is growing. Over the course of my visit I encountered quite a few of them and counted many nationalities. Ask them why they choose to live here, and you’ll hear a range of answers.

Panama City

My Outrageous Spanish Mistakes

When I first came to Panama from Oregon, my Spanish was limited to numbers from 1-10 and a very gringa sounding “Cómo estás?” Lucky for me, most of the upper crust Panamanians I met during that first year spoke perfect English. They’d gone to excellent private schools like St. Mary’s or to U.S. Department of Defense schools. I got by just fine.

panama-casco-viejo-boardwal

Building Your Fortune from Your Kitchen Table

For every substantial, bricks-and-mortar business set up by an expat overseas, there are hundreds of small enterprises that people operate from their own homes with very little investment. Within a year of starting their micro-enterprise overseas, Jim and Mariellen Wiemann are making a profit and supplementing their retirement income.

pedasi-panama

In Pictures: Uncovering the Charms of Pedasi, Panama

The first time I visited Pedasi, I thought to myself, “Is this it?” Small colonial homes line the main strip, behind which you’ll find a small plaza flanked by a neat little white church. There are usually a few old-timers sitting under the gazebo, wearing the same sombreros pintados (painted hats) their fathers and grandfathers wore.

ElValle

El Valle: Beauty and Convenience in Panama’s Crater Valley

In the heart of rural Panama, nestled in the crater of an extinct volcano, El Valle is a place of orchids, rainforest greens, and canary-yellow flowers. Though it’s relatively unknown beyond Panamanian borders, locals argue that no other town can match it. And not just because of the singular beauty of the velvety-green mountaintops.

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Why Entrepreneurs Love Panama

“You’re starting a business where?” That’s the question you’ll get, over and over, when you tell your friends you’ve decided to pack your bags and move to Panama. They’ll likely know that Panama is famous for its canal. But they may also think of Panama as a Central American “Banana Republic.” Nothing could be further than the truth, of course. Thanks to the Panama Canal, this has long been a destination for international business. So Panama has always focused more on its business infrastructure than on luring vacationers.

Panama is best known for its excellent Pensionado or Pensioner Residence Program.

Panama’s Easy Residence Options

In my early years writing for International Living, I researched most of the countries drawing expats today. The different options for residence always caught my eye. One country welcomed retirees with a special visa. But the fine print? “Foreigners can own construction, but not the land it is built on.” Another country offered 10-year visas, but not permanent residence. (And you had to show a monthly income of over $3,000.)

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Panama: The World’s Best Retirement Haven in 2014

I’ve lived in Panama for the past eight years and the country has always been a winner in my book. International Living ranked Panama the best retirement destination in the world well before the mainstream press caught on. In fact, it took the number one spot in IL’s Annual Global Retirement Index not once or even twice, but seven times in a row. This year, it takes the top spot again in the Index as the best place in the world to retire.

panama-highlands

Panama’s Highland Towns – One Popular, One Unknown

In much of Panama, sultry tropical days average 88F…but there are places where you can experience more temperate weather. Think mild and breezy—up to 10 degrees cooler (or more, when the sun’s not out). Places where rain will be your biggest concern…where there’s no hail, or snow, or hurricanes either. The most popular is the mountain town of Boquete, located in the Province of Chiriquí.

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