Starting a Business in Modern, Convenient Panama

Card Image
Posted by The Savvy Retiree on January 12, 2020 in Make Money, Setting Up a Business

Known for its excellent infrastructure, internet coverage, and cosmopolitan capital, Panama is both comfortable and convenient. Its strategic location between North and South America—just about three hours by plane from Miami—has a lot to do with this. And though Panama is warm and tropical, it’s also completely outside the region’s hurricane belt.

When Oasis B&B owners Wendy and Simon Langford started to research Panama online, they paid particular attention to healthcare and safety. “Panama was constantly singled out as one of the top places in the world to retire,” says Simon, “and that gave us confidence to start our business.”

With a strong international community, Panama is the kind of place where expats feel at ease. If it’s your first time overseas or your first time starting a business, this is an easy place to dip a toe in. It’s not an over-regulated or over-taxed jurisdiction, so the risk of trying something new can be much lower.

One of the big benefits of doing business in Panama is that foreigners are welcome and accorded nearly the same rights as locals. In more than a decade of living in and writing about Panama I’ve come across a great many expat-owned businesses, including a bagel shop, food truck, beach bar, yoga studio, dog hotel, hot sauce company, and more.

When I became a freelance writer, I didn’t have to register to work from Panama. I didn’t need a corporation, either. And since my writing is featured in overseas publications, I pay zero Panama income tax. In fact, the only taxes I have paid over the last decade are standard sales taxes—7% on non-essential goods and services and 10% on luxuries like hotel stays and adult beverages.

For most types of consulting, tutoring, and freelance work, no special licenses or permits are required. Dr. Jackie Black lives in Panama City and coaches couples working on relationship issues or life-threatening/chronic illness. “I have clients all over the world…the U.S., Australia, the UK, Canada, Singapore…and I do webinars, couple retreats, and coaching on Zoom.”

Setting up her virtual office in Panama was simple. She signed up for high-speed internet plus cable television for $96 a month. As a backup, she got a cellular/data plan for her iPhone and two iPads for under $50 a month. “I’ve never had to cancel an appointment,” she says.

Dr. Jackie enjoys her work immensely, and she enjoys doing it here, in Panama. “It’s so rewarding, to be able to live in a place so conducive to the lifestyle I want.”

“I’m living on about $1,000 a month, plus $1,800 rent—and I live in a very upscale area,” she says, adding that she could rent for as little as $1,200 a month in the city’s popular San Francisco sector.

Of course, plenty of expats live and work remotely or earn incomes outside of Panama City. You could offer up fresh, inexpensive Thai, Indian, or Asian fusion in the Coronado beach region…set yourself up as a handyman in the city of David…build and rent out small short-term apartments in the mountain haven of Boquete…or simply teach what you know to avid expats.

Sami and Roberto Hernandez worked remotely and ran an online business from the mountain town of El Valle before moving to a nearby beach. Nanette Witmer chose the convenient city of David, just outside the mountain haven of Boquete. She eventually began writing about life in her region for International Living and The Savvy Retiree.

Known as the Hub of the Americas, Panama’s capital is easy to fly to from anywhere in the world. There are even direct flights to Europe. So come down for a visit, to see if it’s really right for you. Panamanian summer is upon us, the most glorious time of year. And there’s another good reason to visit, too. I’ll let our editor tell you about it…

Written by Jessica Ramesch