The Best Way to Protect Yourself in Paradise

As you embark on your next adventure…whether you’re moving to or investing in a new country…remember that solid legal advice will be fundamental to your success. And I’ll tell you right off the bat one of the biggest pitfalls to avoid.

Expats sometimes assume that laws and procedures will be much the same as they are “back home”…whether that’s the U.S., Canada, or somewhere else.

Sure, that beautiful, palm-ringed country has high-speed internet and stellar cell phone service. In many ways, it is similar.

But when it comes to legal matters, it’s the small or specific differences you need to watch out for. Trying to go it on your own can save you a few bucks today, only to cost you a few thousand—or more—later on down the line.

Even your most meticulous research is unlikely to compare with a local expert’s years of study (in the local language) and hands-on experience.

In Panama, for example, a good lawyer can help facilitate a real estate purchase, residence status…even something as seemingly simple as opening a bank account.

Thanks to “know your client” policies and a growing list of international regulations, banks in Panama are more likely to open a bank account for a foreign national when assisted by a lawyer known to the bank.

And here’s another tip: well in advance of travel, let your lawyer know what exactly you’d like to accomplish during your trip. Ask for a list of all the documents you’ll need to obtain or renew prior to travel so you don’t waste a trip.

A good attorney will not only tell you what to bring, but will also give you important tips. For example, some governments require that you obtain certain types of documentation no more than six months prior to filing.

Often, talking to an attorney will be more helpful than going online or even going to a consulate. In any country, immigration requirements and policies are always subject to change. The information you gather from the internet today may be outdated by the time you try to apply.

In Panama, Immigration requires that you be represented by a lawyer to file for residence. And contrary to common perception, Panama’s overseas consulates do not have in-depth knowledge of the immigration process (or even authority to vet documents for immigration applications).

Panamanian consulates exist to verify the authenticity of documents, nothing else.

The same goes for realtors—they have specific roles, and it’s important to know what they can and cannot do for you.

In Panama, a licensed real estate professional can be extremely helpful when it comes to researching your options, viewing properties, and even making an initial offer. However, you’ll need your lawyer to do a proper title search, check the property’s tax status, to draft and/or negotiate the contract, and make sure the sale is recorded properly.

There are a dozen more ways in which a reputable, licensed professional can help you save time and money. Learn how best to escrow or secure funds for in-country purchases…whether to own property in your name or that of a legal entity…and (though we may not all enjoy thinking about it) how estate planning in your new country differs from back home. Knowledge is power!

And hey, no one is saying not to do your own research. Absolutely…take that real estate tour…discuss business deals…look at that apartment you’d like to rent. Get out there and explore! Just don’t commit until you’ve talked to a reputable professional who is licensed in the country in question. You’ll be safeguarding your interests…and you’ll likely earn some respect, as well. Not a bad way to start out your new life abroad…

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