Where in Panama Should You Open Your New Business?

If you’re tapped into your entrepreneurial side, you may have heard Panama calling your name.

Not literally, of course. But anyone who stays up to date on the international landscape knows that Panama is in full throttle. With the fastest growing economy in Latin America and a blossoming middle class, expat, and tourism scene, Panama has earned its title as an entrepreneurial haven.

I’ve been watching the start-up scene blossom since starting my own career here in the early 2000’s. As a real estate consultant professional, I find that my business-minded clients place high importance on an area’s commercial opportunity when purchasing property.

Part of my job is to help them find the ideal place for their personal as well as their professional goals.

There is no one right answer, of course. The best place for you to open your business depends on many variables. Still, experience has shown me that some places in Panama are better for business than others, and this is what I strive to show you.

Here, a breakdown of the best places in Panama to open a business, and the pros and cons of each.

Panama City

It’s easy to smell the opportunity in the air when walking through Panama City. With a population of over 1 million- many of which fall into the economic categories of middle to upper class- Panama City has no shortage of prospects.

The problem is the competition. With so much going on in such a jam-packed place, getting your business to rise above the others is a daunting task. There is also the cost associated with living and operating in Panama City- where just about everything is more expensive.

Pros:

  • Massive population of possible clientele
  • Presence of middle and upper income classes

Cons:

  • More competition
  • High rent and operating costs
  • Harder to stand out

Bottom line:

If you’re opening up in what’s been called the “NYC of Latin America”- expect to go up against the same challenges you’d find in any big-city atmosphere.

Playa Coronado

Coronado is the most established community on the coast. Just over an hour outside Panama City, it’s the choice spot for expats, retirees, and wealthy Panamanians with second or third homes.

With its reputable community and vacation atmosphere, it’s easy to see why Coronado is a great place to open up shop. Indeed- many residents have, and the area is rich with local businesses.

The only potential downsides of opening a business in Coronado are these:

  1. The area has a lot of restaurants, many of which have already won their place in the hearts of residents. Open a restaurant in Coronado, and there will likely be one right next door.
  2. Coronado slows down quite a bit during “low season”- technically between May-November. I’ve had business owners tell me that their High Season practically carries them through the low – a phrase that seasonally based businesses are all too familiar with.

Pros:

  • Concentrated expat population
  • Busy on weekends with hotel guests and second homeowners
  • Busy during High Season
  • High median incomeSmall-town vibe that supports local businesses

Cons:

  • Slow during low season
  • Heavy restaurant competition

Bottom line:

A choice location, if your business can withstand the low season. And if it’s a restaurant, it had better be a good one!

Playa Gorgona

Dubbed “the next Coronado,” Playa Gorgona definitely poses some advantages (and disadvantages) in setting up shop. Located just 50 minutes from Panama City and 10 from Coronado, the area has really taken off in the wake of Coronado’s growth.

While Gorgona’s expat community can’t yet be compared to that of Coronado’s, it is growing- and fast. The commercial sector has yet to keep up, with very few businesses located in Gorgona itself. Residents, who commonly hit the highway for the 10 minute drive to Coronado, would love to see a few more neighborhood options.

Potential downsides of Gorgona include dropped numbers during low season, and a smaller overall community (as compared to Coronado.) But, with rapid residential growth underway (including the development of the highly anticipated Royal Palm) it won’t be long before that changes.

Pros:

  • Little to no competition
  • Close to Coronado
  • Small-town vibe that supports local businesses

Cons:

  • Smaller community (as compared to Coronado)
  • Slow during low season

Bottom line:

Gorgona might not be booming yet, but it’s on its way. Rapid residential development, close proximity to Coronado, and little to no competition make up for its small but expanding community.

What about elsewhere in Panama?

I set out to explore the best places in Panama to open a business, and that’s what I’ve done. Other parts of Panama may have their own virtues but, in my experience, an advantageous business environment is not one of them.

Simply put, the majority of Panama is not developed enough to be able to offer most businesses a steady stream of clientele. You’ll notice I said most, because there are always those truly exceptional start-ups that succeed against all odds.

I do not aim to discourage you from following your dreams, if the Caribbean, or Las Tablas, or Chiriquí is where they may take you.

I aim only to provide you with an overview of the most business-friendly atmospheres in Panama, and the distinct pros and cons that accompany each. From there- the only person who knows what’s right for you (and your business) is you.

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