Editor’s Note: Welcome to the “Escape the Chaos: Best of Sovereign Investor Daily” series. All this week we are highlighting some of our best articles that focus on key tips and tricks for moving offshore, information on countries that support your expatriation and wealth protection goals, and much more.
I spent last week in Panama City at The Sovereign Society’s annual Total Wealth Symposium — a yearly conference we offer in which we advise attendees about moving offshore, investing overseas, and protecting your portfolio from government confiscation. It was my first visit to Panama, and I’m here to give you my impressions on one of the best offshore destinations available to you.
But first, it’s worth taking a moment to notice what I learned about our readers while at the symposium. I was able to hear directly from many of the attendees about their hopes, fears and plans for the future.
The consistent — and unsurprising — message I heard in Panama City was that many of you are seriously concerned about threats to your wealth in the U.S. “Countdown to Confiscation” was the theme of this year’s TWS, after all.
But at the same time, those of you who are seriously considering moving offshore want to make sure that you move to a place where you’ll not only be safe from Uncle Sam’s rapacious grasp — you want to move to a place where you’ll be truly happy.
Of course, that’s precisely why I developed the Plan B Club. It is designed to help reveal your own preferences in an offshore residence, so you can weigh the pros and cons of various options, and decide which trade-offs make sense for you.
Let’s apply that method to Panama, with my own preferences as the test case.
Four Solid Cornerstones
The cornerstones of a successful life abroad are your wealth, lifestyle, relationships, and home and possessions. Very few countries offer a perfect blend of the features we want in those areas. Some of the best asset-protection jurisdictions are tiny islands with limited lifestyle options. And some of the best lifestyles around are to be found in countries that I just don’t trust not to cooperate with the U.S. government on matters of wealth confiscation.
Panama is one of those places that, for me, strikes a happy balance of all four cornerstones.
- Wealth: It’s known for its respect for financial and personal privacy, investor-friendly laws and a booming economy. In fact, the economy is the fastest-growing in the western hemisphere. Lots of people are making lots of money here. The Panama Canal is undergoing expansion, and the money flowing from that is making everyone very happy. What’s more, taxes are low and prices are reasonable — $3 beers!
- Lifestyle: Panama is a lovely tropical country with long coastlines and enough mountainous areas to provide a cool retreat. The people are friendly, fun-loving, and generally speak good English. The culture is very similar to the good things about the U.S. — openness, innovation, hard work. But Panamanians don’t seem to be nosy busybodies, and they don’t begrudge anyone their own idiosyncrasies. Crime is low. Healthcare is world-class and cheap. Traffic is a little crowded in downtown Panama City, but interprovincial roads are great. We made a trip to the beach at Coronado, about 65 miles from Panama City, in less than an hour and a half.
- Relationships: As I recommend to Plan B Club members, I took my family with me on my visit to Panama. My wife and daughter loved the place, especially the beaches and malls. The cuisine is seafood-oriented, which is great for my fish-loving family (although ceviche was a bit much for my eight-year-old). Telecommunications and Internet are top-of-the-line, so you can stay in touch with home. And of course Panama City is just a two-hour flight from Miami.
- Home and possessions: Foreigners can own property on the same basis as locals. The property registration system is good in the cities and most developed areas favored by expats (although some more remote areas may present challenges due to lack of clear title). Condo prices in Panama City are rising, but not yet to astronomical U.S. levels. You can buy a two-bedroom condo adjacent to the downtown area for just over $100,000. Farther in, towards Punta Pacifica, prices are considerably higher, but it’s still possible to find deals in the $350,000 to $400,000 range.
Best of all, Panama is wide-open to foreigners, with a Pensionado residency program for retirees and the “Friendly Country” program for people who want to work, invest, or just live in Panama.
Weighing It All Up
Now, you might be saying to yourself … what’s the catch, Ted? Sounds too good to be true!
For me, the main downsides to Panama reflect my personal preferences. The country seems highly Americanized, and I tend to like more “difference.” But that’s probably because I didn’t get too far outside Panama City itself. I imagine things are quite different farther afield.
There are also some question marks over the policy agenda of the newly-elected President, Juan Carlos Varela. He has made populist noises, but so far there have been no major departures from the market-friendly policies of his predecessor.
My overall assessment of this little tropical jewel, one of Sovereign Society’s favorites, is that most Plan B-minded Americans would struggle to do better when looking for a new life overseas. If you’d like to start your own planning, I’m here to help!
Offshore and Asset Protection Editor