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Before starting any business, apart from the study and analysis of the market, profitability and competition, you should investigate the legal requirements in order to execute your entrepreneurial idea. Certain economic activities require a special commercial license. Although in Panama there are not as many restrictions as in other countries when it comes to starting your own business, there are certain commercial activities that are exclusively reserved for nationals. This limitation is based on Article 20 of the Constitution of the Republic of Panama, which establishes that Panamanians and foreigners are equal before the law, but for reasons of labor, national economy, morality, health, public safety and other conditions, the exercise of certain activities may be denied to foreigners in general. Which activities are reserved for nationals? Retail in general is reserved for Panamanians. That is to say, the direct sale of products to the Consumer (B2C). But it is possible to sell wholesale products (B2B) to distributors, supermarkets or other stores that sell directly to the customer. It is also possible to import and export products or merchandise. And, there are certain exceptions when it comes to agricultural products that you produce yourself on your own your farm and then sell them (example farmer's market). The so-called "liberal professions" in Panama require a special permit and can only be performed by Panamanians by birth or foreigners with a letter of naturalization. These include the following professional branches: Nursing, Barbering and cosmetology (there are exceptions for foreigners married to Panamanian nationals), Dentistry, Engineering (Civil, Chemical and Forestry are not allowed, the rest are), Architecture (there are exceptions for foreigners married to nationals), Agricultural Sciences, Pharmacy, Chiropractors, Nutrition, Medicine, Psychology, Medical Assistants, Accountancy, Journalism, Laboratorians, Public Relations, Speech Therapists, Therapists and the like, Economics, Social Workers, Veterinary Medicine, Physiotherapy, Medical Radiology, Law, Dental Assistants, Sociology, Chemistry, Sociology, Chemistry, Education in the following fields: History, Geography and Civics. (The rest of the fields are allowed). If I studied a career in medicine or nursing, can I practice it directly in Panama as a foreigner? The answer is no. Unless you are naturalized and your degree is recognized in Panama, you cannot. But what you can do is to incorporate a company in Panama (for example, a private clinic or an agency offering nursing services) and be the owner of that company and hiring licensed Panamanian employees to perform the service under your supervision. For the activities of engineering, architecture, insurance, real estate companies, certain tourism companies (such as travel agencies or tour operators) among others, there is a special rule that says that the president and legal representative of the company must be the person who holds the license to exercise that economic activity. In that case, it is possible to hire a person with said license, but it is the company that provides the service. The same company of which you are the owner. You would be the one who manages and administrates the company and provides instructions based on your experience and knowledge in that field. But it will be your company together with your collaborators, that will execute the work and carry out the commercial activity. You may not be able to validate your architectural degree in Panama (or it may be a little difficult to do so), but it is possible for you to have your own construction company. Which activities are allowed for foreigners in Panama? Services and wholesale activities are accessible to foreigners. This means that you can open a hostel or B&B, you can open a restaurant, import and/or export products, work remotely offering (digital) services to customers anywhere in the world, invest in real estate and live on rent and much more. In fact we have clients all over Panama who operate touristic and/or gastronomic companies, who are owners of hostels, hotels and restaurants, who produce strawberries, tofu or grow gourmet coffee, who are involved in construction, real estate projects or real estate investment, who offer maritime services, who provide IT services to clients in Germany, logistics services, who sell digital products or software, real estate agents and property managers, who work remotely as freelancers for clients in Europe and/or the United States, who buy nails in Taiwan and sell them to European companies, and much more. As corporate lawyer I am passionate about entrepreneurship and new business set-ups, and there are endless opportunities and entrepreneurial ideas to discover. Tell me about your experience. What is your business idea?
On December 3rd, 2020 the President of Panama announced the creation of a new type of legal entity called “Startup Company" in order to increase entrepreneurship in Panama, facilitating the formalization of companies and at the same time providing tax incentives for new startups. How can I create a new startup company? Two to five natural persons, of any nationality, may form a startup company in Panama. The subscribers of the articles of incorporation will be at the same time the partners and therefore the final beneficiaries of the company. Unlike other company types in Panama, this information will be publicly available. But in order to avoid the abuse of the benefits and incentives for this type of company, no natural person who was previously part of a startup company will be able to belong to another startup company. The new startup companies are similar to the limited liability companies in Spain. The economic liability of each partner for the obligations contracted by the company will be limited to the amount of their participation made or promised. The minimum capital of the company is US$500 and can be contributed by the partners in money, goods, or services. It is possible to transform an already existing company (as long as it has not been operating for more than three years) into a startup company, and thus take advantage of the benefits and incentives of this new figure. Administration of the startup company As with Spanish limited companies, startup companies will have at least one administrator. The administrator must always be one of the partners and can celebrate or carry out all the activities and contracts related to the operations of the company. An interesting detail is that the new startup companies do not require a resident agent. All companies and private interest foundations in Panama must have a registered resident agent (a licensed attorney or law firm in the Republic of Panama that acts as a point of contact between the company and the national authorities). In the case of the new startup companies, the appointment of a resident agent is optional. If the startup company does not have a resident agent, the administrator must be assigned as the legal representative and contact person for the authorities. In addition, the domicile and physical address where the offices of the startup company will be located must be registered. What are the advantages and incentives for the new startup companies? Startup companies will be exempt from paying income tax during the first two (2) years of their operation. In addition, they do not have to pay the annual franchise tax and will be exempt from using a cash register (but they must issue electronic invoices and manage an electronic invoicing system). Additionally, the startup companies will be able to apply for a discount for up to 50% on the import taxes of the raw materials required by the company for the creation of its products, services, or innovative processes. What kind of economic activity can be carried out with a startup company? Startup companies may execute any legal economic activity, but may only operate within the Republic of Panama. In addition, startup companies must not be used to carry out one or more of the following activities: Companies operating in one of Panama's free trade zones Casinos, gaming, gambling, and similar activities Developer companies, real estate agents, or brokers Construction companies and contractors Security transport companies Pawnshops Commercialization of precious metals or gems Buying and selling new and used cars Legal and/or accounting services (lawyers, accountants) Startup companies must not be listed on the stock exchange. There is a limit of one million US dollars gross income per fiscal year in order to qualify for the tax benefits of the startup companies. If the company's income exceeds this amount, it must transform into another type of corporate body in order to continue operating. Curious? For more information, contact us for a free video consultation!
Do You Want to Expand to the LATAM Market? Consider These Three Key Factors Due to the current situation caused by COVID-19, we can observe an explosive growth in online sales. This ongoing trend brings new business opportunities, as well as new ways to access the Latin American market (LATAM) for entrepreneurs from Europe, the United States, and Canada. The LATAM e-commerce market is expected to grow by 29% from 2020 to 2024. 25% of online customers made their first online purchase in March of this year. The products with the highest online sales in LATAM include computers and accessories, home appliances, clothing and shoes, tools and building materials, home accessories, and furniture. But in order to sell successfully online, you have to analyze and study the consumers, their preferences, and local tastes, as well as cultural differences. For this reason, in this week’s Blog, I have summarized three key factors to consider when expanding or starting your online business in LATAM: 1. Web Design In the virtual world the website of any business, store, or professional service is a business card to the outside world. Just like any restaurant, hotel, dental clinic or law firm tries to create a pleasant physical space to receive their diners, guests or clients. The creation of a business web space should follow the same concept to receive its virtual clients. When creating a website for the LATAM market local consumers expect its content to be visually pleasing, fast website navigation, and preferably a chatbot that is available 24/7 to answer the most urgent questions. LATAM online consumers appreciate the ability to purchase without registering and a variety of payment methods which, of course, should ensure a safe shopping experience. 2. Marketing and Customer Interaction The typical LATAM online consumer is young and likes technology. 85% of the population in LATAM is an active user of social networks, the most popular being Whatsapp, Facebook, Youtube, Instagram, and Twitter. This is why network marketing campaigns and constant interaction with customers are key in the online expansion into the LATAM market. The communication methods preferred by consumers are email (57%), text messages (27%), via a business' own mobile app (26%), Facebook (23%), Whatsapp (10%), and Instagram (10%). 3. Seasons and Shopping Campaigns Let's be honest, we're all bargain hunters. The typical LATAM consumer loves bargains. It's very common to wait for a special campaign or sale to make purchases. In the retail sector, 78% of sales are made for Christmas, 68% for Black Friday, 58% for Cyber Monday, 53% for Mother's Day, and 52% for Valentine's Day. Other special occasions for smart spenders are Children's Day, Father's Day and Back to School. Before launching a new business or expanding your existing company into the Latin American market, remember to study and analyze the preferences of your market and your future customers. Although LATAM is a large market with a lot of potentials, it is necessary to fragment the various regions taking into account that there are cultural and traditional differences along with specific local characteristics and challenges.
If you plan to work while you live in Panama, make sure to let your attorney know so you get the appropriate visa. A Pensionado visa is only for those who are retired. You cannot sell a product or service if you have a pensionado visa. Those who do not have a visa, (does border run every 90 days) are not allowed to work in Panama. If you plan to sell a product or service in Panama, you will need to get a Friendly Nations Visa or another visa which allows you to get a work permit. You can only get a work permit after you get your permanent visa and cedula. Some business also require a business License, operator license, health certificate and food handlers license. Certain professions are exclusively for Panamanians which means you will not be able to have that kind of business or offer that service, These protected professions include Doctor, Engineer, Architect, Counselor, Attorney. Consult with your attorney to determine if what you want to do is a protected profession in Panama. Substantial fines or even deporation can result in violations.