In 2005, I decided to leave the U.S. for good and move to Panama. The tropical climate is perfect for me—especially the Caribbean isles of Bocas del Toro.
Near Panama’s northern border, Bocas is what you picture when someone says “paradise on earth”—white sands, jewel-toned waters, swaying palms, and a slow pace of life.
Bocas is just one of Panama’s many, many treasures. If I wanted to I could spend every single day of the year on a different isle or mainland beach.
Of course, I can also get my city fix in the capital, just a 60-minute flight from Bocas, where I have every comfort and amenity. There’s a long promenade on the Bay where you’ll find pedestrian and bike paths, green areas, and even an amphitheater for outdoor performances. The vast Omar Park is another favorite. It’s where I get my workout on the hilly paths and there are free shows and events all summer.
Whether I’m road-tripping it to a cool mountain getaway, getting a gourmet meal in colonial Casco Viejo, or taking in an English-language play at the historic Ancon Theater, I’m always entertained in Panama. And it doesn’t hurt that I’m surrounded by some of the nicest, most easy-going people on the planet.
As International Living’s Panama editor, I frequently meet expat entrepreneurs…most of whom didn’t have any relevant experience when they started their businesses. They are simply tapping into opportunities here.
Panama is a small country with a burgeoning economy. The government doesn’t overdo it with fees and regulations. And people here make exceptions and allowances rather than sticking rigidly to a set of rules.
For instance, Rosalind Baitel, from New Orleans, didn’t notice any thrift shops or consignment stores when she moved to Panama City. She asked around and confirmed there was a niche just waiting to be filled. Today her consignment store, Promises, is known as the go-to place for high-end clothing, shoes, and accessories at low prices.
“It’s a business model that anyone can implement anywhere, with or without a premises,” says Rosalind. There’s room for more. You could resell used books, mid-range clothing, kitchenware, instruments, or athletic equipment.
Expats here own B&Bs, eateries, bars…even Spanish schools.
Many successful outlets have become de facto expat hubs. The city of David could use a place for expats to meet…there’s a gap in the market right there.
And Pedasi’s main expat hangout, Smiley’s, run by expat John Brock and his bubbly Panamanian wife, Ermelinda.
Panama is also great for folks with portable careers. They teach, tutor or offer consulting services out of their homes. Some work online in marketing and social media, blogging, and freelance writing. And you can get reliable, high-speed internet almost anywhere you go.
You don’t need permits or registration of any kind for a business like this…and, if your revenue comes from clients outside Panamanian territory, you don’t need to pay the Panamanian government a single cent in income tax.
In this small, inexpensive business environment, expats often find they can get started without investing a lot. You can make mistakes, adjust as you go, and slowly increase your earnings.
I have lost track of how many expats moved here planning to retire, and ended up starting a small business instead. The opportunities simply cannot be ignored.
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