Many people need to continue working to support their lifestyle when they move to Panama. They may not have a pension or social security check or stash of cash to rely on every month. There are more young singles and young families with children moving to Panama and they obviously need to find a way to make money while living in Panama.
Even if you do have a pension or social security, some expats prefer to continue working just to stay busy and to supplement their retirement income.
Either way, there are rules for working in Panama.
To legally work in Panama, you need a WORK PERMIT (Permiso de Trabajo). Employers will not hire you unless you have a work permit. You should not sell any product or service in Panama unless you have a work permit.
You cannot get a work permit without also getting a Visa. But only certain Visa’s include a work permit. The Friendly Nations Visa, Business Visa or Professional Visa all include a work permit. There are a few other SEM work permit visas which are only available for employees of multinational companies. The Friendly Nations visa is the only Visa which offers a permanant or indefinite work permit. Many of the other Visas have a work permit which must be renewed every couple of years. It is really very easy to get a work permit when you get the appropriate Visa.
You can never get a work permit with the Pensionado Visa because that Visa is intended for those who have moved to Panama to be retired.
(NOTE – no matter which Visa you get, you can still get the Pensionado discounts if you meet the age requirements for women who are 55 or men who are 60.)
Without the work permit, you will find it extremely difficult to get a job. Your employer could even get fined if the Panamanian government discovers that they hired someone who does not have a work permit or allowed someone to work at their business who does not have a work permit.
Just because you have a work permit, you may not be able to do the kind of job you want to do. Some professions are protected for only Panamanians, like a doctor, lawyer, counselor, engineer, accountant, or architect. You will need to consult with your immigration attorney to see if your profession is a protected profession. It may be possible for you to be a “consultant” but you should never advertise your services as one of the protected profession. Consult with your Panamanian immigration attorney for guidance.
To compound the problem, most companies cannot hire more than 10% foreign workers unless they are a registered multinational company. And, most jobs in Panama have very low pay compared to North America or Europe. The exception would be multinational companies which usually pay the equivalent of North America wages.
You may find that it is easier to start your own company than it is to get a job. But even when you start your own company, you will still need a work permit to legally work in your company.
There are so many opportunities! Be aware of your surroundings and the needs of your new community and you will be sure to come up with one, if not several, entrepreneurial ideas that you can implement. Panama is growing by leaps and bounds and that means people have more money and want more things. Whether it is a product or service, find something you will enjoy and go for it!
Here are a few examples to get the wheels turning in your head.
♦ An expat couple in Pedasi started pet-sitting for a few neighbors while they were traveling. Before long, word got around and they had a full-fledged business caring for other people’s pets!
♦ Another expat in Bocas del Toro, started a quaint B & B in the spare rooms of her home and it has turned into a steady business that provides a decent income today.
♦ Do you have musical skills? Teach others how to play a musical instrument of give singing lessons. The possibilities are endless!
I’ve noticed many needs in my own little communityof Boquete. There is no re-sale consignment store for affordable furniture. We could sure use some good reliable property managers who know how to find landlords. And of course, there is always a need for a good restaurant. You can get more ideas in my free booklet, Fund Your Freedom Overseas, available below.
Some expats do freelance work. They sell their services to the world through websites like elance.com, freelancer.com or fiverr.com If you are not freelancing in Panama, you can avoid getting a work permit.
The City of Knowledge in Panama City even has grant money available for tech and other start-up companies in Panama.
Sure some people live in Panama without getting a visa. They sell their services or products in Panama….some even found jobs..without getting a work permit. But they run the risks of getting a fine or even deported. Unless someone complains it is not likely anyone would ever find out.
For those who have ever considered starting an export business, Panama has what may be the best place to operate from—the Colon Free Zone. In this special zone, you can reap tax and financial benefits that are unrivaled anywhere else on the planet. Plus, you can gain easy, cost-effective access to a market of more than 500 million consumers in Latin America and the Caribbean.
The Colon Free Zone, located in the City of Colon, near the Atlantic entrance to the Panama Canal, is the second-largest duty-free zone in the world—second only to Hong Kong.
Since its inception in 1948, it has grown from a mere 120 acres to over 1,000 acres, is home to more than 2,000 companies from across the globe, and employs over 14,000 people. In the past five years, the zone has averaged annual sales of $100 billion.
The Colon Free Zone offers free movement of goods and complete exemption from tax on imports and re exports. There are no taxes on the export of capital or the payment: of dividends. In addition, there are reduced income tax rates on earnings from re-export sales. Furthermore, firms located in the CFZ are exempt from import duties as well as from guarantees, licensing, and other requirements and limitations on imports. Due to its geographic location, the CFZ is a major factor in channeling goods from large industrialized countries to consumer markets in Latin America.
Colon Free Zone imports and exports grew by 56% between 2008 – 2012, an astonishing figure amid the worldwide recession. The growth will likely be accelerated after the opening of the Panama Canal expanion in 2016
One time when flying to Florida, I sat next to a man who owns three stores in the Colon Free Zone. He said he was making money so fast he was on his way to Miami to buy a couple of apartment buildings for $5 million dollars.
If you’re interested in getting information about starting an import-export business in the Colon Free Zone, contact your immigration attorney.
There are a lot of different ways to make money in Panama but most all will require that you have a work permit and the appropriate Visa. Stay legal. As expats, we are guests in Panama and need to set good examples by following the rules. Some expats have been deported for breaking the rules. You sure don’t want that to happen to you.
My booklet, Fund Your Freedom Overseas offers ideas about how you can make money in Panama. Get Your Free Book HERE.
ADVICE FOR GETTING A JOB IN PANAMA…
Following is advice from Joel Thomas, a 32 year old who came on a Panama Relocation Tours in 2014 and was successful at getting a job in Panama with a salary similar to the United States.
1. Know yourself and the know the industry you want to work for. Once you have the industry (macro) start researching companies in Panamá.
These multinationals are a good start if you ….
a. Don’t have a visa or work permit as they offer SEM visa and
b. do not have Spanish fluency
2. Be proactive. Call ahead and email ahead to speak with HR. If you are a consultant or know a way to add value do not be shy. A quick call and setting up a meeting to propose how you can offer value can be easier than you think if you articulate your value proposition simply. A German friend of mine wanted to connect German private and institutional investors with real estate developers in Panama. He was very succinct in his emails and value proposition and was able to set up meetings rather quickly with decision makers at large real estate development firms before coming to Panama.
3. It’s not what you know it’s who you know. Panama is small and knowing someone inside the company can offer insight to new positions being offered first internally and then externally. Many multinationals look to hire within first so get head start on the job leads with the people that matter most. Networking especially with HR representatives or managers pays dividends as they often hold the most influence in new hires. This usually requires coming to Panama which is strongly recommended to make sure Panama is the right cultural fit for you anyway. After touring Panama, I chose to build my network of managers and executives and continuing my professional development through a top 15 US MBA program offered at 1/3 of the cost with the same professors, accreditation, and instruction, but more flexibility in the exciting emerging market of Panama.
THE SOLUTION… WORK ONLINE
No matter which country you decide to move to, they will usually require some kind of work permit and/or visa to work their or run a business in the country legally. These rules are not unique to Panama.
Only if you sell a product or service or work in Panama, do you need a work permit in Panama. That’s one reason an online business is so attractive. With an online business, you won’t need a work permit. Plus it is a portable business which you can run from any where.
If you live in Panama but are not selling a product or service in Panama, you would not need a work permit. If you live in Panama and work online selling products or services to people in other countries, you would not need a work permit in Panama.
With an online business work doesn’t really feel like WORK when you are relaxing on the beach or enjoying the tropical mountain weather from your back patio in Panama.
Before apply for a Visa, it is best to discuss with your immigration attorney what your plans are for working in Panama. Your attorney can give you advise about the best visa for your personal situation.
It is not possible to switch from a Pensionado Visa to a different Visa which has a work permit. You would need to renounce your Pensionado visa, then apply all over again for the new Visa. You would not be able to get credit for any money paid for the Pensionado Visa. So, if you think you might decide to work or start a business someday in Panama, it is best to get the appropriate Visa which comes with a work permit.