Where to Buy in the Hong Kong of the Americas

I first came to scout Panama City 11 years ago. Back then, the city was on the cusp of a massive growth spurt. It was primed for big things—set to transform into one of the commercial hubs of the Americas. That growth played out just as I expected. Since then, I’ve watched the city change almost beyond recognition.

Panama City has long been a center for commerce. As you’d expect, the Panama Canal is at the heart of that commerce. But it wasn’t only ships that came to trade. People came too, from all over the world to buy and sell wares. Many settled here. They still do today. Panama City is a lively mix of ethnicities and cultures: Latin Americans, North Americans, Europeans, Indian, Jewish, Chinese, and more.

In the past 15 years, the landscape of the city has really transformed. No longer is this a sleepy regional outpost, known only for the Canal. It’s a regional hub and powerhouse—and is quickly growing into an international commercial hub.

The economy and government are stable and the tax and business regulations are welcoming to foreigners and corporations. Multinationals have opened up regional headquarters here. Professional people have come from Panama and around the world. There’s a growing middle class.

Tourism is strong. Vacationers and weekend visitors come to enjoy the hotels and restaurants, the shopping malls filled with luxury brands, and the cultural activities. Others come as medical tourists, especially to get First-World cosmetic and dental work for a fraction of the cost.

The government is pouring money into developing the city. Last year, it opened up a new metro to ease the growing traffic congestion in the city. The canal is being expanded, too, with a launch date scheduled for next year.

Tocumen, the city’s international airport, is also being expanded to cope with the ever increasing passenger numbers to arrive each year.

As cities go, it’s one of the stand-out cities in the region. I think of it as the Hong Kong of the Americas—and property values look set to match those on Hong Kong in a few years.

Right now, higher end property in Panama City—just the sort of thing the growing middle class is looking to buy—is not a ”bargain buy.” You’ll spend $250 per square foot for a high-end property. To buy a luxury condo in one of Panama’s best neighborhoods today, you could spend $500,000.

If that’s not too rich for your blood, it could be a good investment. If Panama City continues on this growth trajectory—and truly becomes the Hong Kong of the Americas I predict it could become—a price tag of $500,000 for a luxury condo will seem small. In Hong Kong, a luxury condo today will easily cost you $5 million and up. In a decade’s time, that could be the case, too, for Panama City.

But you can buy well for under $500,000 if you’re patient and do your homework.

A decade ago I bought a condo of just under 1,000 square feet with great views of the Bay of Panama. It was a buy at $150,000. Shortly after I took delivery I sold it for $220,000. And, I left money on the table as prices rose higher before stalling.

Then supply sprawled along Avenida Balboa—one of Panama City’s most upscale real estate markets. There was too much construction. And, North American buyers dried up as crisis hit the U.S. real estate market.

Over the past few years this extra supply has been absorbed. The market is more stable. But now there’s nowhere farther along the bay for development to go. It stops at the coastal highway.

From time to time you can find a resale in one of these newly delivered buildings for $200,000…or a bit less. That’s a good deal—and where I see the best buy in Panama City right now.

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