Thinking about Starting a Business in Panama? Read this First.

So you’re on the verge.

You’ve kept your eye close upon Panama. You’ve witnessed its steady growth- first gradual, then rampant. You watched as it grew from “that place with the Canal” to the jewel of the Americas- the world’s top retirement haven, the fastest growing economy in the hemisphere.

And, much like Florida’s first round of investors, or the Costa Rica pioneer of the 90’s, you know that the iron is getting hot. And you’re getting ready to strike.

Before you do, you might want to read this.

Who I am (and why it matters)

I’d like to call myself one of the pioneers of the Gold Coast, if pioneers weren’t so often killed during their escapades.

I moved to Panama in the early 2000’s, right before the foreigner floodgates were opened. Since then, I’ve advised thousands of clients on Panama real estate, and watched many of them become successful business owners, investors, and entrepreneurs.

I’ve watched Panama grow from a humble speck on the map to one of the world’s most prospering countries- with a business climate unlike anywhere else in North or South America.

And I’ve noticed a few things.

What I’ve Noticed:

1. Some Parts of Panama are More Receptive to Business than Others

You know that where your business is matters just as much as what your business is. And seeing as Panama is a country of contrast, wherein one region differs drastically from another, the place in which you set up shop is of vital importance.

Take Panama City, for example. The challenge with opening a business in this bustling metropolitan is that there’s too much noise- literally and figuratively. Hundreds of thousands of businesses are crowded into one swarming megapolis. You may have more potential customers to appeal to, but you’re going to have a lot more competition in doing so.

Other, more undeveloped parts of Panama, pose the opposite challenge. Places like the Caribbean coast or the Las Tablas region have little infrastructure and a smaller population. Many of the inhabitants are very low-income, and rarely afford to splurge.

In my opinion, the Gold Coast is the Goldilocks of Panama, as it’s “just right.” Places like Coronado and Gorgona have flourished into vibrant communities that still offer the “small time vibe” that local businesses thrive on. Plus, as one of the more affluent parts of Panama, the populace is more likely to have a disposable income.

With the exception of expats who broke into other areas early, the most successful foreigner-run businesses I know of are in the Gold Coast. The one potential downside of the area is described below.

2. Some Businesses Have More Competition than Others

When deciding what kind of business to open, you want to take an inventory of what does and doesn’t already exist- and to what extent. I find that certain parts of Panama are filled with certain businesses, while practically void of others.

Nightclubs, for example, are a dime-a-dozen in Panama City. They go up and disappear every month, implying that its difficult staying abreast of the competition.

In Coronado, on the other hand, there are so many restaurants that it’s uncanny! That’s not to say that you couldn’t open a successful eatery in Coronado, just that you’ll be competing with many other delicious local spots.

3. Not All Businesses Need to be Traditional

I’ve noticed that a lot of North Americans approach business from a very traditional mindset- i.e that you must have a product to sell or repair. While that business model is about as timeless as it gets, remember that it’s not the only direction you can go.

Panama is the perfect place to reinvent yourself. Its economy is booming, and its community is diverse and open-minded. Think outside the box! What valuable skills or knowledge do you have that others might pay for? What service could you provide? Could you teach classes, offer consulting services, or invest in- and rent out- property?

Whatever it is, don’t feel as if you need to “open a business” in the literal, traditional sense.

Who knows, the most profitable venture of your life may not even need a front door.

 

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