Here’s What’s In Store For Expats and Investors In Panama In 2017

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Panama—The Year In Review And The Year Ahead

We’ve been making the case for Panama for nearly 20 years now, and we’re more bullish on the opportunities and upsides on offer in the Hub of the Americas than ever before.

Panama could arguably be called the world’s best offshore haven.

No doubt the country offers serious pluses for those looking for a full, interesting, adventure-filled, and comfortable standard of living for a lower cost than in the United States or Europe.

Panama is blessed with beautiful islands, two long coastlines, all manner of beaches, mountain retreats, and colonial towns.

The people here are friendly, and, outside Panama City, the living is laid-back and easygoing. With almost half of the country’s total population of 4 million living in or near Panama City, the rest of the country is wide open.

If you are in the market for a place to live, retire, invest, or do business overseas this New Year 2017, you’re doing yourself a big disservice if you aren’t looking closely at this little country.

Those are the broad strokes. Thinking more practically, what’s really going on down here in the Hub of the Americas?

Our Panama Letter team has produced a “Panama In 2017” special bumper issue that reviews the year just past and projects for the year ahead with the objective of arming readers with the real-time, real-deal, from-the-scene insights required to make an informed decision about how best to stake your Panama claim.

If you’re a Panama Letter subscriber, this New Year’s issue was in your inbox last week. Here are a few highlights…

New Friendlies

In 2016, Paraguay and Mexico were added to the list of countries from which Panama welcomes immigrants under its “Friendly Nations” visa. The list now totals 50 countries.

Panama’s Door More Open Than Ever For Job-Seekers And Entrepreneurs

Panama’s Ministry of Labor and Workforce Development issued 67% more work permits to foreign nationals in 2015 compared with 2014, evidence both of this country’s open attitude toward the hiring of foreign labor and of its continued economic growth.

Panama City is a bona-fide boom town.

Be you an entrepreneur or in the market for a job, heads up. Panama’s door is open.

Rising Property Values

Property values in Panama City continue up.

Mid-2015, the average price per square meter for a high-end home or a high-rise condo in the city was about US$2,850.

Year-end 2016, that figure stands at US$3,100 per square meter.

Demand is high against the present supply.

Casco Antiguo Values Spike

Casco Antiguo property values in particular are spiking.

A decade ago, the average price per square meter for property in Panama City’s historic district was US$1,500. Today it’s as high as US$3,200, depending on location and view.

Growing Demand For Beachfront Condos

Unceasing demand from both domestic and foreign buyers is expected to grow beachfront apartment inventory from some 400 units today to more than 1,600 units in the next three years in the City Beaches area from Punta Chame to Playa Blanca.

Don’t Call Me A Tax Haven

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s
(OECD) 2017 list of tax havens is to be published soon… and
Panama does not want to be on it.

To that end, Panama has to meet two out of three standards:

It must receive a rating by the Global Forum on Transparency and Exchange of Information for Tax Purposes of “largely compliant” or better; commit to sending bank wire and account information automatically by 2018; and/or sign the multilateral convention on mutual administrative assistance in tax matters.

If Panama fails to meet OECD criteria it will not be able to change its status until after July 2017.

Panama Economic Growth Continues Strong

The IMF is projecting that Panama’s economic growth surpassed 6% in 2016, once again ranking it among the fastest-expanding economies in the world. The country’s economy has been among the fastest-growing in the Americas every year since 2005.

Panama’s economy grew by 5.8% in 2015, and the country averaged growth of 8.5% per year between 2006 and 2015.

Panama’s GDP is more than US$45 billion. Its per-capita GDP is US$11,000, way ahead of every other country in Central America.

Panama’s continued economic expansion is credited to investments in energy, infrastructure, and logistics, and the expansion of the Panama Canal.

The country’s strong economic fundamentals, low inflation rate, and stable financial system should protect the country from adverse factors that might impact the rest of the world. And, certainly, Panama’s economy is in a different league than that of any other country in this region.

Tourism On The Rise

Tourist arrivals to Panama were up 7% in 2016 over 2015.

Between January and September, 5.5 million passengers landed in Panama, causing a commensurate spike in spending, which increased almost 6% in the same period.

Bananas For Panama?

Del Monte is in advanced negotiations with the Panamanian government to restore banana production in Barú, Chiriquí.

This would mean the investment of hundreds of millions of U.S. dollars over the first seven years of operations and the creation of an estimated 18,000 jobs.

Legislation to finalize this deal was set to be presented to the national assembly on Jan. 3, 2017.

Canal Expansion Opens To International Fanfare

The 984-foot Chinese container ship Cosco Shipping Panama cleared the new massive locks of the Panama Canal on Sunday, June 27, 2016, becoming the first vessel to officially pass through the expanded canal and marking a new day in Panama and global shipping.

The expansion took nearly 10 years, some 40,000 workers, and more than US$5 billion to complete. The new set of locks now allows neo-Panamax ships, carrying up to 14,000 containers, to utilize this vital link between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, nearly three times the capacity of the older Panamax vessels.

A crowd of over 20,000, including visiting dignitaries, members of the international media, canal clients, and spectators, celebrated at the Pacific end of the canal as the container ship completed her 11-hour crossing of the canal.

Metro Expansion

Plans for the expansion of Panama’s metro system call for 8 more lines and 90 more stations.

The new lines will be completed by 2040 and will be able to carry 260,000 passengers every two hours. The single line currently in operation transports that number of passengers per day.

The Sky’s The Limit For Copa

Panama’s Copa Airlines, owned in part by Continental Airlines, has launched new low-cost airline Wingo.

Wingo is based in Colombia and allows Copa to offer simple, no-frills flights to an expanded range of destinations.

New Airline, New Airport

Panama’s Panamá Pacífico International Airport is being expanded to meet the demands of all the traffic Wingo is bringing to the country.

More than US$9 million will be invested in more ticket counters, a baggage carousel, passenger waiting areas, customs, a security-fence upgrade, and runway expansion.

Saving Portobelo’s History… Before It’s History

Colón province is home to important reminders of Panama’s Spanish-colonial history. Sadly, these sites along the coast at Portobelo and San Lorenzo have been in danger of being lost to neglect.

However, efforts are being made to halt the onslaught of time, the elements, and apathy.

In 2012, what remains of the fort was placed on UNESCO’s list of endangered historical sites. After four years of little progress, UNESCO has laid out a new plan that officials hope can turn things around by 2019.

Panama City Road Rage Quantified

Waze’s 2016 Driver Satisfaction Index, which ranks 186 countries in categories including traffic jams, safety, availability of gas stations, parking, road quality, and car and gas prices, ranks Panama number 175, fourth from the bottom.

Things are worse only in El Salvador, the Philippines, and Guatemala.

If you’ve driven in Panama City at any time in the past few years, you knew that already.

Casco Viejo Named “Most Stylish Destination In Latin America”

Condé Nast Traveler named Panama City’s Casco Viejo “the most stylish destination in Latin America”…

If you’ve visited Casco recently, you already knew that, too.

The Editors of Panama Letter

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About Author

Kathleen Peddicord

Kathleen Peddicord is the founder of the Live and Invest Overseas publishing group. With 30 years of experience covering this beat, Kathleen reports daily on current opportunities for living, retiring and investing overseas in her daily e-letter. Her newest book, "How To Buy Real Estate Overseas," published by Wiley & Sons, is the culmination of decades of personal experience living and investing around the world.