Last week Mark Svoboda introduced us to Paraguay, his latest stop on a search to find his next Shangri-La. Today Mark talks about the transportation and medical care one can expect in this sleepy South American country, as well as potential downsides and residency options.
[You can read Part 1 here.]
Paraguay - the Heart of America (Part 2)
TRANSPORTATION AND MEDICAL CARE
Asuncion's airport was reasonably comfortable and developed, with almost all destinations being international (due to the country's size). Buenos Aires and Sao Paulo are the most popular destinations, and most likely, you will need to fly to either of them first in order to eventually get to Asuncion. Interestingly enough, Paraguay is the only country in South America that I know of not to have a direct flight to either the US or Spain. The furthest available nonstop flight is to Panama City. Roundtrip from Miami to Asuncion via Sao Paulo cost us a little more than a 1,000 USD per person, and the Brazilian TAM flight attendants were very pleasant - and strikingly beautiful.
Medical care is reasonably developed in Asuncion, so that shouldn't be a big concern. A number of private hospitals are available throughout the country, and because the process of getting permanent residency involves getting a health certificate from a Paraguayan hospital, we had a chance to visit one of them in person. While the check-up we had at the hospital was a mere formality, we left with the feeling that the doctor spent a sufficient amount of time with each of us, which is becoming a rarity in the US (and the doctor's English was excellent, so that wasn't a problem as well). So we left with a good feeling about the hospital.
Private insurances vary in cost and quality, but I was quoted a price of 100 USD per month for a family of two. Co-pay is minimal, even in serious cases like surgery. One person I spoke to said he prefers just to pay cash every time he needs a doctor. For example, he said he paid 5 million Guarani (1,170 USD) for the birth of his child in one of the best hospitals in Asuncion. The more complicated cases are typically treated in Sao Paolo, home to some of the best hospitals in Latin America.
Obviously, the relative isolation of the country could be a downside for many potential expats. Also, the cultural life is probably somewhat limited as well (e.g., I am not sure I would be able to find my favorite "Swan Lake" ballet in Asuncion this summer).
Abundant bureaucracy and corruption is also a big minus, though I have to say the bureaucrats in Paraguay I dealt with had "human faces," for lack of a better word. (It is much less pleasant to deal with bureaucracy in Russia, for instance, where bureaucrats - according to resilient Soviet tradition - forcefully try to demonstrate their inexistent superiority over the "serfs.") Also, if you are used to the North American efficiency of various business enterprises, you can forget about it in Paraguay - buying a simple cell phone's SIM card turned out to be an adventure and I spent almost 3 hours trying to accomplish the task instead of the usual 5 minutes (although I have to admit lack of fluent Spanish probably didn't help the process either!)
Here I will only offer brief pieces of information about how to obtain residency in Paraguay. I used the services of Jeronimo Finestra (of Finestra Group), who is an active contributor to a Paraguay thread in the forum, and so far I am very happy with his and his partner Edwin's service. Here are his contacts if you decide to use him as well:
Telephone: +595 981 259 192
E-mail: jeronimo (at) finestragroup dot com
In short, in order to qualify for a Paraguayan cedula (permanent residency card) one needs to bring a list of documents translated to Spanish and legalized in the Paraguayan embassy in your country. Once in Paraguay, a deposit of 5,000 USD in a local bank is required, plus a whole bunch of other bureaucratic procedures to be completed (see above-mentioned report for details). All this is being done in about 5-6 workdays.
Three months or so later - when residency is granted - a second trip is required in order to apply for the cedula itself. This time 4 or 5 workdays should be sufficient in order to complete all the bureaucratic procedures.
From the moment permanent residency is granted, the clock starts ticking and after 3 years of holding a cedula, one has the right to apply for citizenship. According to Paraguayan law, you are not technically required to spend any time on the ground in order to qualify for naturalization. However, I was told that it is always a good idea to spend some time in Paraguay in order to prove your ties to the country to the Supreme Court, where decision will be made in your regards.
Dual citizenship in Paraguay is allowed (if your country of origin allows it), so no difficulties should occur if you are originally an American or Canadian, for instance.
Also, some people are concerned about the military draft in Paraguay, but according to Jeronimo, the military does not play any significant role in the country anymore... and a simple "letter of objection" to serving in the military will officially relieve you from such service.
This, again, was only a brief summary of the information.
Paraguay offers one of the easiest (and transparent) ways of getting permanent residency (stress is on permanent residency) in a foreign country. It also gives you a chance to receive citizenship in 4-5 years (however, the latter is not set in stone as Paraguay is not Canada, where some 150,000 people per year become citizens and the process of acquiring citizenship is crystal clear). In Paraguay, for citizenship, everything will depend on the discretional decision of some officials in the Supreme Court. And while hot northern winds are unlikely to affect their decisions nowadays due to widespread AC availability, I personally suspect that almost anything else may cause them to deny your application for citizenship. At that stage (3-4 years later when applying for citizenship), I further suspect that hiring a lawyer with excellent connections in Government is probably the most important thing you can do for yourself.
Buying land also makes a lot of sense, as Paraguay is home to one of the cheapest productive lands on the planet. That also should improve your chances of getting citizenship, according to Jeronimo, since it will prove your "ties" with Paraguay. And substantial ties with the country are exactly what the Supreme Court will be looking at when making decision.
All in all, my personal take is that the price I am paying (less than 2,000 USD for both of us, plus various government fees) for the process is definitely worth a shot. The worst-case scenario is that I will end up with Paraguayan permanent residency - and possibly land - as well as spending some time in the country. And I consider Paraguay far from the worst place on Earth to spend time in. Best-case scenario, I acquire a long-coveted second citizenship…
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