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:
AVOID BEING TAKEN BY HYPERS
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.
IGNORE THE AMERICAN EXPAT SCENE
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.
BUSINESS TIP: TIME WASTERS ARE EVERYWHERE!
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!
BANKING IN PANAMA - ARE YOU SERIOUS?
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!