Make the Panama dream come true!

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Now that it has become so much easier for entrepreneurial people to immigrate and set up shop in Panama, we thought we'd better provide you with some essential tips to keep you safe, dear newcomer, in terms of living, working and doing business here.

Since we started publishing, it has been our mission to make the Panamanian dream come true for a global readership, and give you the best experience of working, investing and living in Panama by keeping you informed with purely factual, relevant, unbiased, impartial, fair, balanced and objective information.

Now read the last paragraph again. Doesn't that make you wanna vomit? What is this crap about a "Panamanian dream", and "objective information" and whatnot? Right! Our point exactly! We were just trying to get you prepared dear reader, because this is the kind of rubbish you'll constantly have to deal with as a foreigner coming to Panama, which brings us to survival tip number one:


There are TONS of websites and companies out there that paint Panama as some sort of Alice in Wonderland-meets-Avatar paradise. Especially the real estate crowd is really good at this. Don't believe them. Don't even listen to them. Luckily, they're pretty easy to detect. As soon as you stumble across terms like "rolling hills" or "crystal clear water" or "lush tropical vegetation", run for the door. Same if they describe Panama as a "paradise"; get away from them as far as you can. Outfits that don't list any principals on their website should also be avoided like the plague. Why trust them with your money if they don't even trust you with their names? Then there are the outright scammers and hustlers like Escape Artist and Don Winner. To stay on the safe side, you better don't do any business at all with any of the advertisers on Panama Guide either.

Other key phrases in sales pitches that should raise red flags are, in random order, "get in on the ground floor", "insider's track", anything where Panama is described as a "bridge" that "connects continents" and similar blah blah, and, last but not least, anyone posing as a guru trying to sell you stuff.

Talking about real estate: Most of it is hopelessly overpriced in Panama. Especially rentals are just off the map. For $3,000 per month you should get something a hell of a lot better than an apartment in a suburbia swamp (actually it's a former garbage dump) near a third world city that is at best a cheap wannabe clone of Miami. Just sayin'. We can rent for much less in the center of a real cosmopolitan place.


You are a cool person coming to Panama to do things and what you really, really don't need is to be caught in the scene of drunken pensionados bickering and backstabbing each other all the time on Yahoo groups. You also don't want to hang out with these people at expat events, trust us on that. Don't even think about networking in that environment if you value your sanity, your health - and your assets.

Remember that what previously came down to Panama was either military types who lived a wacky colonial lifestyle in the Canal Zone, and then we got American outcast and scum looking for an el cheapo lifestyle, with only few cool people in between. You find interesting people at events that blend with Panamanian life, like Art Block, Festival Bohemio, The Panama Film Festival, etc.


So you are setting up a company, or engaging in some freelance activity, and you may be doing business with others in Panama. There are several things you need to be aware of.

First of all, many corporate types here think they can get first world services for third world prices. They will be shocked if you ask a first world fee for, say, first world web design, or any other service you may provide. "But this is Panama", they'll yammer. Screw them. Don't give in to these cheapskates. They come in all shapes and sizes, from developers who pay their workers third world salaries and then sell condos for first world prices to call center operators and what have you.

Similarly, Panama hosts some of the worst time wasters we've ever experienced. Say, some company wants to work with you on some project. Marketing, design, production of some product, whatever. Chances are that first they'll try to suck as many ideas out of you as they can, for free. Then they'll have you attend an endless series of meetings. Then they will ask for a number of rewrites on a proposal. Then they find you too expensive and take their chances with the ideas they just stole from you with someone cheap. We have heard T O N S of those stories.

If you freelance in Panama: Always demand to be paid in advance for anything you do. No exceptions, ever. Anything over one initial meeting is work and needs to be paid too. Believe us, dear readers, some of these clowns will actually have you run around for them and then not even pay your travel costs you advanced them. Don't fall for it!


If you have a business here, you should have the bulk of your money somewhere else. Not in Panama.

The first reason is that Panama's business climate is dominated by a small group of families with too much money and too little brain matter. One of the consequences of this unfortunate situation is that what would be civil business disputes in any normal country, is invariably battled out as a criminal case in Panama. Don't be surprised, while you thought you just disagreed over the price of something, or the conditions of some deal, to find that in fact your assets have been sequestered and bank accounts frozen and you're being prosecuted for extortion. Happens all the time, and that's why it's best not to have substantial assets in Panama.

The other reason is that Panamanian bankers are even bigger crooks than bankers anywhere else. Worst is HSBC, which will just shake you down for a couple of million if you have the audacity to criticize their service.

So, dear reader, this should get you going for now. Anyone have other suggestions? Post them below in the comments!

14 thoughts on “Make the Panama dream come true!

  1. Add this: if it hasn’t been fully built 100% don’t buy it especially artist rendering projects that have nothing more than a front gate after what four years of promotions.

    Stay away from pre sales no matter what the “name” Trump Ocean Club is an example.

    Call the bluff pay the fine don’t pay the scum bag his bribe it’s like feeding a stray dog they will always be coming back expecting more.

    Expect no expertise in anything be it white collar, blue collar etc.

    LEARN to READ & communicate in Spanish notice I said Communicate don’t concentrate on trying to be a Rhodes scholar in Spanish.

    Don’t use a contractor for building they will only buy their girlfriend a car with the start up money you will be left with maybe at best foundation poorly laid. You have to be there EVERYDAY to get it done. Pay by the day at the end of each week.

    Don’t buy workers anything the work to buy things otherwise you have a group in perpetual need.

    Don’t loan or front pay ever!

    Expect nothing from the legal system be it civil or penal.

    If your lawyer speaks English it’s a doctorate to steal more.

    Become a part of the local community no the expat community.

    Stay out of city hall go back up North if you want to tell people how they should do it.

    Be doubtful of expats regardless of their country of origin native language etc it’s easy to claim lots of things you are not.

    Be prepared to import direct if you really what to get away from the ineptitude of the rabi blanco monopolies here. Find your own freight forwarders use an independent customs broker you have a couple hard knocks but if you do it enough you will learn get what you need on time and at half price even after importing costs.

  2. Okie a friend has a saying and he is about right on “Three Years”.

    The average before one heads back to where they came or on to what they imagine to be greener pastures.

    I think he has it correct about three years because they come and go don’t they!

  3. While your efforts to separate the wheat from the chaff re Panama investment/lifestyle is laudable, we disagree about your targeting sites like ours ( that are B2B targeted for a specific group only: retail buyers. Text that reads “get in the ground floor of an export opportunity” is exactly that as Panama is a recent pineapple exporter. Retailers expect this language all the time: it is part of the hard-driving industry. We suggest you stick to the areas and regions you have specific expertise in.

    • We may not be experts in growing pineapples, but “get in on the ground floor” is, in our humble opinion, an overused, tainted and rather backward marketing slogan that demonstrates more than anything else the inability to come up with real selling points of those who use it.

      However, if it’s any comfort: You’re not alone. A quick search netted us the Panama Offshore Center and ABPanama as well talking about ground floors we should get in on.

      In the realms of agriculture, no doubt you remember the San Cristobal “Tropical Working Farms” where investors were promised fantastic returns on investment growing not pineapples but noni fruit and teak trees. Just before being arrested and thrown in jail, promoter Tom McMurrain bragged in a press release, “(…) it’’s no wonder people are purchasing sight unseen and are, literally, battling to get in on the ground floor!”

  4. Okie years ago there was an Organic Pineapple scam trying to get a foot hold in Costa Rica.

    It failed terribly, last I heard the main players in that fiasco were hustling real estate in Boquete.

    Not saying that the above mentioned is a scam although there is another couple of sayings.

    “If you want to make a million dollars here bring at least three million”

    The other which is a truth “f you want to make real money go North or across the pond as the Brits say”

  5. The other thing to look out for is currently the majority of Expat’s from where ever are hustlers on tourists visas. They own nothing (rental house, rental office front and can be gone on the next flight.

    We have here people who have been in country less than a year and on their websites claim to have years of experience in Panama usually almost always slanted towards real estate / re location assitance

  6. hey Veronica, why did you register a .org domain if you are selling shit and engaging in commerce? Is it to give your scheme an air of legitimacy? is it to pretend you are a non profit?
    gotta agree with the editor here. “get in on the ground floor” = scam

  7. How to Become a Millionaire in Panama-

    Arrive as a billionaire, spend three years doing business here.

    After three years leave as a millionaire:

  8. “The truth is out there”

    A quote from the old TV show “X Files”

    Just not anywhere in Panama!

    In Panama the real truth differently is outside the internationally accepted legal boarders legalities.

    In god you might trust, but in Panama you cannot even trust the water, the air, or the one Balboa coin which is not backed by anything!

    Everything, I mean everything, you have read in the Article and within these comments are true!

    Panama is the second largest Money Laundering banking location right after Hong Kong!

    Panama has a huge debt problem (hovering over $60Billion), a huge real estate, economic, investor bubble that when it Pops will turn Panama into a drug cartels, Money laundering paradise beyond compare!

    Panama’s Government has been growing over 15.7% for the last three years from a Budget of $9.6Billoin 2009 to over $15Billion for next year 2013.

    Martinelli is bleeding the Country dry!

    “Panama where the numbers never add up”

    “When will Martinelli’s economy reign of terror end against the People of Panama in 2014?”

    “Martinelli, Panama’s Fictitious, Fraudulent, Felonious savior of Panama!”

  9. Do not sign contracts, they will only be used against you.

    Pay for services/business agreements small sums at a time.

    When you stop renting an apartment, do not ask for a return of your deposit, just quite paying rent and leave when your deposit has been ‘consumed’.

    Regarding compliance with laws and regulations,in most cases, wait for the government to come to you.

    Expect most locals to regard you as an endless source of cash, a donkey who excretes golden coins sitting under a money tree. Even when you have been shaken off your last penny, somehow you still must be rich.

    Be careful not to grow to arrogant or depressed after witnessing the utter stupidity that is being displayed here on a daily basis.

  10. Benafatto,

    Well Said.

    If I may add a few suggestions.

    Don´t feel that the utter stupidity and parasitic behaviour affect only foreigners. Panamanians do it to each other and even to their closest family members.

    If you want to do a little business here keep it under the radar. If you want to do serious business…just don´t.

    Unless your business is based on fraud and deception in which case make sure you cut in the authorities that show up on your door in the name of enforcing Panamanian regulations.

    If you are a shyster you may still think twice. You will be out-shystered in the end by the Panamanians. Not because they are more cunning but because the criminal justice system is much more favourable to Panamanian crooks that foreign ones.

    There is nothing inherently immoral about Panamanians. You simply cannot improve your lot by being a solid person in a system that rewards only crooks. I left Panama and my business there before I turned into a monster. Most Panamanians can´t leave.
    The good ones suffer and the crooks live pathetic materially rich lives. Some of the most miserable and callous people I have met in my life were Panamanian Rabiblancos.

    The rich in Panama are haunted by the rot within them.

  11. A friend who did an internship in the U.S: said he would rather have the racism that sometimes exists there than the classism that exist here.

    I agree……

  12. Pingback: Mayin Correa wants to die | Bananama Republic

  13. After spending the better part of four years running a sailing business in Panama, let me also say that EVERYTHING Okke writes on this piece is 100% accurate and true. The business is/was relatively SUCCESSFUL despite the incredible odds that were stacked up against making it work.

    But the daily grind of stupidity, dishonesty, non-reliability, screwed up logistics and just plain deplorable behavior of Panamanians and the vast majority of the expats just wore me out. Within less than a year, I grew tired of all the expat bs, to the point where I simply didn’t deal with them anymore.

    I got lucky enough to sell off a piece of the business and get out of dodge. I’ve been for the most part out of the Panama “scene” for more than a year now, and I can’t say I miss it one bit. And even though the business could sure use me going back to make some things right. I refuse to get sucked in again.

    Over the years, I’ve been asked repeatedly by friends, boat guests, and other visitors about the prospects of buying property, living, and working in Panama. I almost always tell them pretty much what this article says, if not “just don’t do it”.

    Will things ever get better? In my opinion, No.

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