For International Living’s first ever Business Index we asked our in-country correspondents and a host of expat entrepreneurs what opportunities they see around them in their new homes. These gaps in the market include everything from small guesthouses to dog grooming services… read on to spot your opportunity.
Business Opportunities: Wi-fi Café, Chocolate Shop, Import/Export
By Jessica Ramesch, International Living’s Panama Editor
More and more expats are asking me about business opportunities. They don’t want to “just retire”. Our Facebook page is peppered with questions and comments about making a living here.
Cafes with free Wi-Fi tops the list. More and more expats are moving here, and many of them have “portable” jobs or businesses. All they need is a laptop and a nook with Wi-Fi and they’re set. Panama City’s New York Bagel fits the bill, but the popular café is always full. There is definitely plenty of room for more venues in the same mold. As a member of the “have laptop, work anywhere” crowd, I agree…this is a great business idea for expats in Panama City.
Another suggestion that caught my eye: International chocolate shop. Talk about a luscious business idea for expats in Panama. There are many chocolate lovers here and an all-Panamanian product would go over well with the local crowd. Keep in mind: Panama is an international destination. Health-related trends are catching on…more and more people are eating local, vegan, organic, and the list goes on. Cater to any of these needs and you may find you fill an important niche.
Import/export is always a good idea, too. Says one reader: “I have a leather business that I would like to see if I can transfer to Panama.” There aren’t many specialty leather shops here, so I think this one could be a real winner. Another reader suggests importing high-end and/or custom beach wear. In a country where the weather’s always warm, we think this is a hot idea.
If you’re into more cultural pursuits, Panama does not disappoint. The art community is growing and galleries have popped up all over town. Readers say they’d like to see high-end or specialty photography shops, old-style record shops, artsy tattoo-piercing shops, and jewelry stores that don’t follow pop-culture trends.
Of course, retirement-age expats are often looking for businesses that allow them to live life at a slower pace. They often want to make a small profit and have plenty of down-time. Bed & Breakfasts are opening, it seems, on every corner. But not many of them are pet-friendly. Look around and you may well find there are still many niches to fill in the hotel/inn industry here. More business ideas for expats in Panama City looking to live the good life: gluten-free bakery, horse rides, upscale car wash, doggy daycare, and –er— hangover recovery center. I’m not sure that last one is serious but…you get the picture.
My advice: play to your strengths. If you are looking for more business ideas for expats in Panama City, pop down for a visit. Expats here see niches to fill everywhere they look. Panama has a fast-growing economy, an international population and it is a logistics dream. If you’re looking to relocate but are worried you’ll be bored…don’t be. It’s just not possible here.
I’m not the only one who sees Panama as a great business location. Rainelda Mata-Kelly, a Panama-based attorney, has noted a lack of provision for assisted living for elderly people. Jon Hurst, an entrepreneur in Panama (see his full story here) believes eco-tourist activities, mini-golf, bumper boats, and other tourist attractions have great potential.
Click here to enter the debate on Facebook.
Business Opportunities: Ultra-light Aircraft Tours, Pool Maintenance, Ethnic Restaurants
Expat Katie Valk runs tours in Belize, catering mostly for the country’s many visitors and expats.
Stewart Krohn has being doing business in Belize for 38 years. In Placencia, he’s noted a shortfall in businesses providing pool maintenance, AC repair and other services. He also points to a lack of ethnic restaurants. Another business he feels could do well in Belize is one which provides ultra-light aircraft tours.
However, he warns that customers might not be on hand year-round. He continues, “The main tourist season is only six months long, so that’s always going to be an issue. The best scenario is for person to have a good job in North America or Europe June to November and then work in Belize December-May.”
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Business Opportunities: Retirement Services, Bilingual Services, Thai Restaurants
According to Grace Velastegui, an attorney in Cuenca, between expat communities and tourists there are enough foreigners in Ecuador at any given time to justify targeting that market with related businesses. However, she points out that viability very much depends on location. In particular, Cuenca, Loja, Quito, Santa Elena and Manabi have the biggest pool of foreign visitors and expats, and as a result constitute the best place to start a business targeting them.
According to David Morrill, an expat who has operated a number of businesses in Ecuador, warns that the pool of foreigners is not inexhaustible: “The numbers do support some expat businesses but not others. It’s a common mistake that expats over-estimate the size of the expat community when they plan “bricks and mortar” businesses in Ecuador.
David, author of Ecuador: The Owner’s Manual, continues, “Too often, they rely on the word of fellow expats instead of checking official immigration numbers to determine the need for their service (Example: there are about 1,400 expat residents in Cuenca but word on the street is that there are 5,000). Research is critical and I advise those considering a business to spend a few months here, at least, before launching. The most successful businesses that I have seen are ones that appeal to Ecuadorians as well as expats.
“Yes, there are gaps that need filling but again, those considering filling them should do their due diligence and take their time. Often, what seems like a good idea back home doesn’t work here.”
Areas where she does see business potential include geriatric centers, retirement services, bilingual services and computer services. Grace adds, “Expats in almost every community in the country complain we need more Thai restaurants.”
Business Opportunities: Offshore Accounting, Steak House, Tour Services
According to Colombia-based realtor Rich Holman, expats, tourists, international companies and returning Colombian Americans are all growing rapidly. However, he believes a broader scope will be needed for most businesses.
Some exceptions, in his view, are an accountant specializing in offshore accounting, a steak house that could cut or import T-bones and porterhouse steaks, furniture purchasing assistance, remodeling services, tour services, realtors/rental companies like his own First American Realty who market to foreigners, visa assistance, language schools, boutique hotels, bed and breakfast or translation services. He adds, “A little local advice in regards to adjusting any business to local nuances and costumes is always helpful and recommendable.”
Another big hole Rich has identified is in the provision of accounting services for expats. “I would sign up today,” he says. “Also, we need good bilingual accountants who know the Colombian accounting system. This is very difficult to find.”
Other potential business options are remodeling and construction services for foreigners, and an American goods retail store. Rich continues, “Retail prices will be a little high but if the Free Trade Agreement with the U.S. [currently under discussion] is passed those prices will drop 30% and such a store could be a big hit with both locals and expats.”
5th Costa Rica
Business Opportunities: Second-hand Clothing Store, Butcher Shop, Car Repair
Two readers in Atenas, a town popular with foreign retirees in Costa Rica’s Central Valley, have a couple of ideas for businesses needed in their area. A second-hand clothing store for kids comes to mind, says expat, Susan Whitehead, “like the Once Upon a Child franchise” popular in the States. Mary Wilcox sees the need for an imported health food store—maybe one that also sells imported cosmetics, lotions, and other toiletry items.
In the small town of Tilaran, on the southwest side of Lake Arenal, expat Bev Sheatz would like to see something similar. “I would love something like a Trader Joe’s, and a few great restaurants would be fantastic!”
Near Ojochal, along the southern Pacific Coast, Susan Sattan longs for a good butcher shop and bakery. “And a wellness center focusing on holistic treatments,” she adds.
Farther north along the coast, in the Guanacaste province’s Playa Nosara, expat Jill Hill says, “At every meeting, charity event, grocery store encounter, hands down, the number one topic of conversation is the need for a good mechanic.”
“The roads are so rough in this part of the country,” says Jill, “that vehicles frequently need repair.”
She continues, “Everyone who lives here will tell you that their major expense every month is for car repair, and the mechanics here are more into baling wire to fix things temporarily. There really isn’t a good mechanic within at least 100 miles. A good mechanic here could be the wealthiest person in town!”
Also needed at Playa Nosara, Jill says, are a property management company and a storage facility company. “With a lot of absentee/part time owners, either of these would be great. Many residents need places to safely store their cars and personal items when they leave.”
Business Opportunities: Surf Lessons, Fishing Tours, Tourist Activities
Nicaraguan resident Tuey Murdoch has noticed many expat entrepreneurs have fallen into the trap of jumping in and setting up businesses that are too similar to what is already in place. As a result, there is now oversupply in some of the business areas expats traditionally target.
She points out, “There is an expat community and there are plenty of tourists, but whether they can provide you with a working business depends on what you plan to set up. The tourist towns have more than enough B&Bs and small hotels.”
However, she also believes that there are still gaps waiting to be filled by expats looking to open business. “Good restaurants can be hard to find in Nicaragua, and businesses that offer activities (surfing, fishing, etc.) are still rare.”
Business Opportunities: Event Planning Services, Wedding planners, Storage Facilities
According to Yana Berbanek, an expat entrepreneur living in the Dominican Republic, the growing base of expats, augmented by thousands of annual tourists visiting the warm, beach-ringed Caribbean nation on holiday each year, constitute a big enough pool of people to justify business which target them.
In terms of specific services, she has noted a lack of companies which provide event planning services, wedding planning services, storage facilities for expats and concierge/tour guide services.
Click here to read or new Business Index and here to find out how it was put together.