Living, Working and Doing Business in Latin America

where to do business in Mexico

Where to do Business in Mexico as a Fintech, Financial Services, or Crypto Company

In this post, I’ll explain why I believe Tijuana is the best business city in Mexico in which to set up a fintech, financial services, or crypto business. I’ve traveled and done business throughout Mexico for over 20 years and can say without a doubt that Tijuana is the most efficient option for setting up a fintech business. Here’s why. 

Mexico’s burgeoning FinTech landscape is diverse, innovative, and geographically rich, with Tijuana emerging as the city of choice for setting up a FinTech business. Here, a confluence of strategic location, global business acceptance, linguistic proficiency, cost efficiency, and regulatory allowances merge to create an environment that is uniquely supportive of FinTech growth. Let’s dissect why Tijuana is the best city in Mexico for FinTech enterprises.

Proximity to the U.S. Borde

Tijuana’s strategic location, sitting just across the border from the United States, renders it a natural nexus between two significant economies. This proximity is not just geographical but also deeply intertwined within the fabric of business and culture in the region, offering enormous benefits to the FinTech sector.

Being adjacent to the United States, Tijuana is ideal for businesses targeting a cross-border audience. With easy access to the U.S. market, FinTech companies in Tijuana can exploit the advantages of both countries, navigating market trends, consumer behaviors, and regulatory landscapes with ease. Furthermore, the proximity enables a seamless flow of knowledge, technology, and talent between the two nations, thereby fostering innovation and growth.

Accepting of International Businesses and Investors

Tijuana’s open-door policy towards international businesses makes it a hotbed for globalization. The city’s economic policies are geared towards attracting foreign investment, boosting its global competitiveness, and enhancing its status as a cosmopolitan city. For FinTech businesses, this translates into a supportive, innovation-driven environment that fosters both domestic and international success.

Moreover, Tijuana is home to numerous international tech conferences and events, encouraging networking and collaboration. Such gatherings generate opportunities for FinTech startups to forge partnerships, secure investments, and enhance their global visibility.

Ease of Finding English-Speaking Workers

With a large percentage of its population bilingual in English and Spanish, Tijuana offers a considerable advantage for FinTech companies. English proficiency is a critical factor in the global FinTech landscape, and having access to a skilled, English-speaking workforce is crucial for businesses that wish to operate on an international level.

Why are there so many English speakers in Tijuana compared to other large cities in Mexico? First, many of the people deported from the Western United States end up in Tijuana. They need jobs and have excellent English skills. Second, many in Tijuana middle class have US visas and families in America. They learned English from a young age and travel to San Diego frequently. 

Cost of Labor Compared to the U.S.

Labor costs in Tijuana are significantly lower than in the United States, even though the level of skills and expertise can be comparable. This cost advantage makes Tijuana an attractive location for FinTech startups looking to operate lean while maintaining high-quality services. By reducing the labor cost burden, companies can invest more in product development, marketing, and other critical areas to boost their competitiveness and growth.

Ability to set up a SOFOM (Sociedad Financiera de Objeto Múltiple)

In Mexico, FinTech companies have the option to establish themselves as a SOFOM – a non-bank financial entity that can operate in Baja and the rest of Mexico. This legal entity, dedicated to providing loans and credit, offers the opportunity to conduct financial operations without the need for a traditional banking license.

Setting up a SOFOM in Tijuana means your FinTech business can operate across Baja California and Mexico as a whole, delivering financial services and innovative solutions to a broad and diverse market. Additionally, the ability to set up a SOFOM underscores the flexibility and supportiveness of Mexico’s regulatory landscape towards the FinTech sector.

About Tijuana

Tijuana, an eclectic border city that melds Mexican culture with a dynamic international influence, is a bustling metropolis that attracts people from across the globe. Known for its vibrant cultural scene and burgeoning economic potential, Tijuana is a fascinating city that holds promise for the future. Here’s an overview of Tijuana’s size, population, and demographics.

Size and Location

Tijuana is situated in the Baja California Peninsula, the second-longest peninsula in the world, right at Mexico’s border with the United States. It is the largest city in the state of Baja California and covers an area of around 637 square kilometers.

The city’s strategic location on the U.S.-Mexico border plays a significant role in shaping its economic, cultural, and demographic makeup. Its proximity to San Diego, with which it forms an international metropolitan area, gives it a unique cross-border characteristic.


As of 2023, the estimated population of Tijuana is over 1.8 million people, making it the sixth-largest city in Mexico. The population has seen substantial growth over the past few decades, largely fueled by internal migration from other parts of Mexico and an influx of international immigrants, particularly from the U.S., China, and the rest of Latin America.

The city has a high population density due to its role as a regional hub for employment, culture, and commerce. It also serves as a magnet for individuals and families seeking opportunities in the bustling border economy.


Tijuana boasts a diverse demographic makeup, contributing to its rich cultural fabric. The majority of Tijuana’s inhabitants are of Mexican descent, but there’s a significant presence of residents with international roots, primarily from the United States, China, and other Latin American countries.

The age distribution of Tijuana tends to skew younger, aligning with the general trend in Mexico. The city’s median age is in the late twenties, a testament to the youthful energy that drives Tijuana’s economic and cultural dynamism. This young demographic is critical to the city’s labor force and its potential for innovation and growth.

Given its border location, a significant proportion of Tijuana’s population is bilingual, with proficiency in both Spanish and English. This linguistic capability is a valuable asset, particularly in the business and service sectors, fostering cross-border commerce and cultural exchange.

In terms of socioeconomic status, Tijuana exhibits a broad spectrum. The city houses affluent neighborhoods with high-income households, alongside areas characterized by lower income levels. Over the years, economic development efforts have been aimed at addressing these disparities and promoting inclusive growth.

The Bottom Line

Tijuana’s unique blend of size, population, and demographics creates a lively and dynamic city that serves as a nexus of cultures, economies, and opportunities. With its strategic border location, youthful population, and rich cultural diversity, Tijuana offers a vibrant environment ripe for economic growth and international collaboration. As Mexico continues to progress, the city of Tijuana is poised to play a significant role in the nation’s journey toward a prosperous future.


Tijuana’s strategic location, supportive environment for international business, English-speaking talent, competitive labor costs, and legal flexibility make it an ideal setting for a thriving FinTech business. By harnessing these attributes, FinTech entrepreneurs in Tijuana are well-positioned to drive innovation, foster growth, and pave the way for a robust, future-proof financial landscape in Mexico.

I hope you’ve found this article helpful. For more on setting up a fintech, financial services business, or crypto company in Tijuana, or on incorporating a SOFOM, please contact me at

Changes to the Mexican SOFOM in 2020

Changes to the Mexican SOFOM in 2020

Mexican reform is in full stride as the new president implements his programs. Some of these changes affect the Mexican SOFOM. Here’s what you need to know about setting up a SOFOM in 2020. 

Reform regarding SOFOMs in Mexico is likely to pass as most banks and financial institutions have already felt the wave of change coming their way. Whether it is good or bad is for you to decide about changes to the SOFOM in 2020. 

The agency in charge of creating new reforms in the country is called CONDUSEF. The CONDUSEF has in its power the ability to review and to make modifications to contracts involving SOFOMs. 

This is not limited to the way SOFOMs works as a whole, the modifications this government institutions make can even alter the way SOFOMs deal with clients and realize their service among other things. 

Think of CONDUSEF as the constitution of how SOFOMs operate in the country. These 2020 reforms, rules, and regulations only apply to regulated SOFOMs. If your SOFOM is not regulated then you won’t have to worry about this. 

In order for a regulated SOFOM to remain in business in 2020 and beyond, 70% or more of its assets must come from the allowed activities that it is authorized to perform as stated in the bylaws. Such authorized activities will usually include mortgages, financing, factoring, and the approval and issuance of credit. 

If your SOFOM does not generate 70% of its assets from this manner, then the same percentage needs to come from the administration of its portfolio as a way to be considered part of the financial system. That is to say, 70% of its income should come from the management of its assets (such as is the case with an investment advisor or fund. 

When a regulated SOFOM is considered part of the financial system, it can receive tax advantages. An important tax advantage that comes with the SOFOM being part of the financial system is that its credit portfolio will not be included in the calculation of the tax on its assets. 

Another tax advantage that you and your clients can take advantage of if you form a SOFOM is that the interest that you charge to your clients shall not be subject to a value-added tax. VAT is 16% in Mexico, so this is a big deal. 

SOFOMs are one of the preferred ways for foreign investors to begin capitalizing in the Mexican and Latin American markets. These structures have fewer restrictions on how they can operate compared to the US and Europe and are very powerful financial entities within Mexico.

All of the previous restrictions on investments by foreign investors associated with the capital stock of the SOFOMs have been eliminated. One of the many benefits of the reforms whose one of its main goals is to promote foreign investment. 

This is great news as before, foreign investors needed to do a ton of due diligence before they could invest in Mexico, and even when everything was in order their investment was limited. The red tape on SOFOMs was intense and intended to keep foreigners out. 

As of today, a SOFOM can be formed entirely with foreign investments as long as they follow the same protocol a Mexican entity needs to follow to be structured and that they register with the proper government institutions. 

This presents a great opportunity for foreign investors to take advantage of the situation and set up a SOFOM to operate within Mexico. This structure might provide financial services or investment management throughout Latin America. The SOFOM might also operate as a cryptocurrency exchange or money transmission business.

When you establish a SOFOM, you are given the opportunity to register it as a regulated or nonregulated entity. As a foreign investor, you have the advantage of using the nonregulated version as a low-cost financial services entity. The setup costs and operational costs for this entity in Mexico are a fraction of those associated with an international bank in Puerto Rico, for example. 

For the same reason, financial institutions who own a SOFOM or individual foreign investors have the opportunity to offer their clients a lower interest rate on credit and loans. Also, the costs of labor and other expenses will be significantly lower than in competing jurisdictions. For example, see Sample Operating Expenses for an Offshore Bank in Puerto Rico.

SOFOMs are becoming extremely popular in Mexico and I expect this popularity to continue in 2020 as the regime of the new president continues to implement his reforms The CONDUSEF is already preparing for an influx of foreign investment associated with the registry of SOFOMs. 

I hope you’ve found this article on what is a SOFOM to be helpful. For more information, or for assistance in establishing a SOFOM on Mexico, contact us at or call us at (619) 483-1708

What is a Mexican SOFOM

What is a Mexican SOFOM?

In this post, I’ll consider the question, “What is a Mexican SOFOM?” A Mexican SOFOM is a complex entity used for many purposes and the most powerful financial entity or structure in Mexico after a full banking license. In fact, a SOFOM is often the most efficient path to a banking license in Mexico

Mexico is a prime destination for American investors looking to grow their portfolios. Its proximity to the United States, secure banking laws, English speaking professionals, and the strength of the dollar of the country are all factors why American investors are doing business south of the border. 

One of the most powerful entities that you can use for your advantage is called a Sociedad Financiera de Objeto Multiple or SOFOM. There are a number of activities that you can do with a SOFOM such as financing, factoring, making loans, issuing credit, etc. The Mexican SOFOM is also used for cryptocurrency exchanges and money transmission businesses. 

Mexico is currently in the beginning of a new era as its President has promised a wave of reforms that will change many laws, one of the many reforms that have gone through is the way SOFOMs operate in the country. 

You do not need any special authorization to start operating as a SOFOM. Any person with proper Mexican identification can open a SOFOM. That is to say, the director and person responsible for the SOFOM must be a Mexican person. 

The Mexican federal government does not have to be involved at all in the process, so long as you register your financial institution as a non-regulated SOFOM, no license or special permission is required.

Establishing a SOFOM in Mexico works just like opening any other business in the country. Your company must be formed and authorized by a Notario. Do not get confused, a Notario’s role in Mexico is very different from the United States. A notary in Mexico is a very important person, where anyone can be a notary in the US.

Your Notario will create the bylaws of the SOFOM which will feature how the principal purposes of the entity will take place. It is important for you to have a business plan that explains in detail how your financial entity will work under a SOFOM. 

As part of one of its functions a SOFOM has the ability to act as a fiduciary in a guaranty trust that is formed to guarantee the credits that it issues, it should also be noted that trusts in Mexico do not work the same way as in the United States. 

One activity that cannot be done with a SOFOM receives deposits from clients as those are reserved for banks and financial institutions in the country. A partnership with a bank in Mexico is required. 

Partnering with a bank as a SOFOM is a great way to operate as a financial entity without an international bank license. The SOFOM structure allows you to hold client funds in your corporate bank account and transact as described above. 

There are two types of SOFOMs available, the regulated SOFOM and the unregulated SOFOM. If you will set up a regulated entity, within the bylaws of a the SOFOM you must include the phrase “financial entity with multiple purposes, a regulated entity”. 

Meaning that in your bylaws your SOFOM needs to be identified by the abbreviation S.O.F.O.M, E.N.R. Regulated SOFOMs are those that have business activities involving financial holding companies and credit institutions. 

Most regulated SOFOMs are owned or controlled by financial institutions and have a number of shareholders. This is because the SOFOM structure is often the most efficient path to an international banking license in Mexico.  

Unregulated SOFOMs work a little different than regulated ones. Unregulated SOFOMs are not overseen or are subject to any relevant banking or tax laws in a country such as the CNBV and SHCP.

Capital in unregulated SOFOMs is independent and does not include the participation of third party credit institutions and holding companies. You cannot use the word “bank” in the bylaws of an unregulated SOFOM. Also, an unregulated SOFOM does not have any minimum capital requirements. 

If you are establishing your SOFOM as an unregulated entity you must disclose to clients and possible investors that you are not subject to the supervision of Mexican Banking Laws or institutions such as the CNBV. 

The only government institutions that have the power to regulate unregulated SOFOMs are the Secretaria de Hacienda y Crédito Público (SHCP), CONDUSEF, and any other applicable anti-terrorism and money laundering laws. 

The bottom line is that the Mexican SOFOM is the most powerful structure to start a financial services business, mortgage or payday lender, to raise capital, or to operate a cryptocurrency exchange in Latin America. 

The setup process to start an unregulated SOFOM is burdensome and takes 3 to 4 months depending on the time of year. We will be happy to assist you throughout the process, including local representation, banking, and operational support. 

I hope you’ve found this article on what is a SOFOM to be helpful. For more information, or for assistance in establishing a SOFOM on Mexico contact us at or call us at (619) 483-1708

For more up to date information on offshore bank licenses and financial services structures, see

panama residency

Best Panama Residency by Investment Program

If you want to plant a major flag offshore, think about residency in Panama. For those who qualify, the best residency in Panama is the Friendly Nations Visa . Of the 8 or 9 visa programs Panama is running at any given time, the best Panama residency program is the Friendly Nations Visa.

Here’s why you want residency in Panama and how to get it.

Why You Want a Foreign Residency

If you’re an American, you have many reasons to want a second residency. Getting that residency in a tax friendly jurisdiction such as Panama is a no brainer.

First, Panama residency will allow you to maximize the benefits of the Foreign Earned Income Exclusion. If you’re living AND working abroad, you can exclude up to $101,300 of salary from your US taxes. A husband and wife operating a business from Panama could earn $200,000+ per year tax free.

I won’t bore you with a dissertation on the FEIE, as I’ve been known to do. Suffice it to say that, if you qualify for the Exclusion using the Residency Test, you can spend 4 months a year in the US. If you don’t have residency, then you must use the Physical Presence test and be out of the US for 330 out of 365 days.

Second, Panama allows you to plant a major flag offshore. Once you have your international bank account and your offshore structure, the next flag to plant is residency. Residency in Panama demonstrates that you are an international citizen – someone who is experienced at living, working and investing abroad.

Third, Panama residency gets you access to all of the international banks in Panama. About 90% of Panamanian banks prohibit US persons unless you have a residency permit. Big banks, such as Banco General, CrediCorp, Global Bank and Scotia Bank (the Canadian Bank with offices in Panama) all restrict access to US persons with residency in Panama.

Fourth, Panama residency gives you a place to “land” should you decide to leave the United States. Maybe you’re retired and don’t care about the tax benefits (the FEIE doesn’t apply to passive income or capital gains). If you’re planning an exit strategy, foreign residency is a must.

If you are concerned with the direction of our country, finding a safe haven, then residency is one of the most important flags to plant. First is an offshore structure, then offshore bank account, and finally residency for the trifecta.

Why Panama has the Best Residency Program

Panama has the best residency program because:

  1. If you are from a friendly nation, a residency visa is very easy to get.
  2. Panama is a place you can live and work tax free (if you have a portable / internet business).
  3. Panama is a place many people would like to live. It’s one of the top business and retirement options for those seeking a higher quality and lower cost quality of life.

Considering Panama is where you want to be for lifestyle as well as business reasons, and because their residency permit is easy to get, Panama is my number one recommendation.

Let me be clear, I’m not here to analyze a bunch of jurisdictions and hedge my bets. I’m here to tell you what I think. Yes, I’m a big fan of Panama… a cheerleader if you will. Bullshite like the Panama Papers have reinvigorated that feeling.

Premier is incorporated in Panama, it’s the home base of this business, it’s where I have lived for years at a time, it’s where I travel to often these days, and Panama City one of the best places in the world to live and work. Likewise, Boquete is one of the best places to retire on a budget.

Updated List of 50 Friendly Nations for the Panama Residency Program

In order to qualify for the Friendly Nation visa, you must hold a passport from an approved country. One that is “friendly” with Panama.

Here is the current list of friendly nations for the Panama residency by investment program. This list has been updated through May 24, 2016.

If your country is listed here, you may apply for residency in Panama under the friendly nations Panama residency program.

If your country is not listed, then you may apply for residency in Panama under one of their other programs. In most cases, you will need to enter under the Person of Means visa by making a substantial investment or a deposit of $200,000+ into a local bank.

For example, if you hold a passport from India, then you do not qualify for the Friendly Nations Panama Residency visa. The only way to get a visa from a non-friendly nation is to make an investment or deposit in a local bank.

For more information on countries NOT listed below, please see: Residency in Panama from Restricted Countries

Andorra Czech Republic Israel Netherlands South Korea
Argentina Denmark Japan New Zealand Sweden
Australia Estonia Latvia Norway Switzerland
Austria Finland Liechtenstein Poland Taiwan
Belgium France Lithuania Portugal USA
Brazil Germany Luxembourg Serbia Uruguay
Canada Greece Malta Singapore United Kingdom
Chile Hong Kong Monaco Slovakia Costa Rica *
Croatia Hungry Marino Spain Mexico *
Cyprus Ireland Montenegro South Africa Paraguay *

* Most recent friendly nations visa additions.

Italy: You might notice that Italy is the only Western European country not on the list. There are other EU countries missing (such as my favorite second passport option, Bulgaria), but Italy is the only major nation not on the list. This is because Italy and Panama have an unique immigration agreement that allows Italians to move to Panama without the Friendly Nations visa.

How to Get Panama Residency for Free

The typical cost for Panama residency under the Friendly Nations Visa is $8,750 for the first applicant. As I’ve said, it’s one of the easiest and least expensive foreign residency visas to get. It’s also one of the best because it’s Panama is a great place to live, work, and do business.

Now, here’s how to get residency in Panama for free…

Option 1: You can pay a fee, form a corporation and get Panama residency for $8,750 as I said above.

Option 2: You can make an investment in an approved project in Panama and get residency. Most projects are condos or other real estate costing hundreds of thousands of dollars. That’s not what I’m talking about.

There is one and only one investment you can make with a guaranteed return. One that costs only $20,000, including residency in Panama. One that doesn’t come with any carrying costs or tax obligations.

That’s an investment in teak wood….

Teak has always been a prized material. The tree that teak comes from, Tectona grandis, is native to the tropics. Since around the 7th century, it has been used to outfit and adorn the residences of the wealthy and powerful In addition to the most beautiful furniture, Teak is used in shipbuilding. It makes for an excellent ship wood due to its ability to ward off dry rot

Since the best wood furniture made from teak comes from mature trees, it can take around 25 years before a teak tree planted today is harvested for wood.

Here’s why I recommend only one teak program and why that investment is guaranteed.

The teak wood plantation I recommend has been established for years. The trees have been in the ground for 17 year already. The trees and the quality of the teak are  verifiable and proven.

This is not one of those mango or coffee “opportunities” you read about on the web. Some deal that you invest in now and hope your crop gets planted. This is teak that’s been in the ground for many years. Teak that is verifiable and guaranteed. Teak that comes with Panama residency.

As I said above, I’m a big supporter of Panama. I believe it’s where you want to have a second residency. Where you want to plan your exit strategy. Where you want to have your home base.

Combine this with the fact that you can get your Panama residency for free through an investment in teak, and I’m all in. This is truly a unique opportunity.  

I will close by telling you that I am writing about teak in this post on residency solely because I believe in it. No one has paid me to do this and I don’t make any money if you buy teak.

In fact, the opposite is true. If you hire me to negotiate your residency in Panama for $8,750, I make money. If you buy teak and get residency for free, I make nada. That should tell you how much I believe in this program. I am writing on this residency and teak program because I believe in it. Because I want to support the Panama I love and to let my readers know what’s available.

I hope you have found this post helpful. If you would like to learn more about the Panama residency program, or how to invest in teak to get your residency visa for free, please contact me at I will connect you with experts on the ground who can help.

Residency in Panama from Restricted Countries

Residency in Panama from Restricted Countries

If you are a US or EU citizen, it’s very easy to get residency in Panama. I write about this all the time while singing the praises of Panama’s various visa programs.

For example, the Friendly Nations Visa will allow you to live and operate a business in Panama for about $8,500. Forget investing in overpriced real estate… just pay the fee and you’re golden.

This applies to people holding passports from the following 50 friendly nations:

  • Great Britain
  • Germany
  • Argentina
  • Australia
  • Republic of Korea
  • Austria
  • Brazil
  • Belgium
  • Canada
  • Spain
  • USA
  • France
  • Finland
  • Netherlands
  • Ireland
  • Japan
  • Norway
  • Czech Republic
  • Switzerland
  • Singapore
  • Uruguay
  • Chile
  • Sweden
  • Poland
  • Hungary
  • Greece
  • Portugal
  • Croatia
  • Estonia
  • Lithuania
  • Latvia
  • Cyprus
  • Malta
  • Serbia
  • Montenegro
  • Israel
  • Denmark
  • South Africa
  • New Zealand
  • Hong Kong
  • Luxembourg
  • Liechtenstein
  • Monaco
  • Andorra
  • San Marino
  • Taiwan
  • Costa Rica
  • Mexico
  • Paraguay

If you’re holding a passport from one of these countries, you’re golden. Pay your fee and move to Panama.

But what about the rest of the world? What if you are not on the friendly nations list? Then get ready to pay to play.  

Panama Restricted Countries:

If you are holding a passport from one of the following “restricted” countries, must prove your net worth and jump through all kinds of hoops to get into Panama.  And you must find a way in to Panama before you can apply for residency (as a tourist or with a special invitation from an attorney or large corporation).

Afghanistan, Albania, Algeria, Alto Volto, Angola, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Belarus, Benin, Bhutan, Bosnia, Bulgaria, Burkina Faso, Burma, Burundi, Cambodia, Cameroon, Cape Verde, Central African Republic, Comoros, Cote d’ivoire, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Fiji, Gabon, Gambia, Georgia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea Bissau, India, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Kiribati, Kuwait, Kyrgyzstan, Laos, Lebanon, Lesotho, Liberia, Libya, Macedonia, Madagascar, Malaysia, Malawi, Maldives, Mali, Marshall Islands, Mauritania, Mauritius, Micronesia, Moldova, Mongolia, Morocco, Mozambique, Myanmar, Namibia, Nauru, Nepal, Niger, Nigeria, North Korea, Oman, Palau, Palestine, Papua New Guinea, People’s Republic of China, Qatar, Romania, Rwanda, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, Slovakia, Slovenia, Solomon Islands, Somalia, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Swaziland, Syria, Tanzania, Tajikistan, Togo, Tonga, Tunisia, Turkey, Turkmenistan, Tuvalu, Ukraine, United Arab Emirates Uzbekistan, Vanuatu, Vietnam, Yemen, Zaire, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.

As I said above, you must be in Panama as a tourist or be invited in by a lawyer or business. If you can get a tourist visa, then you can file to amend your status once you are in the country. If you can’t get a visa, then expect to pay for an invitation letter. The going rate is $5,500 per person per letter. So, a family of 4 will need 4 letters (yes, your kids will need an invitation letter).

Fyi… if you have a valid visa for Australia, any European Union country, Canada or the USA, you can usually enter Panama so long as you have a return ticket. Speak with your travel agent before traveling to Panama on a non-Panamanian visa.

  • When traveling to Panama from a restricted country, you should have a valid visa, passport, minimum of $500, bank statement, travelers check or credit card and a valid onward or return ticket.

So, if you can get into Panama as a tourist you will save some cash on the invitation letter.

Once you’re in, here’s how to gain residency in Panama from a restricted country:

  1. Form a Panama corporation, preferably owned by a Panama Foundation with you as the founder. The corporation will operate a business and the Foundation will serve as your “persona” in the country.
  2. Deposit $200,000 or more in to a personal account held as an 18 month CD. The intent here is to prove you can afford to support yourself while in the country and that you intend to “contribute to the economy of Panama.”
  3. Apply for a change in status and residency. Minimum legal and application fees: $15,250. Processing time 2 to 6 months.

If you are holding a restricted passport and would like to become a resident of Panama, please contact me for more information. Send an email to or call me directly at (619) 483-1708.


Chile’s Tax & Economic Climate

The republic of Chile is one of the most business friendly nations on earth… as tax and business efficient as it is long.  Chile’s focus on high-tech start-ups has brought a wealth of talent and business to this nation that is vying to be the Singapore of Latin America.

Chile is one of the longest countries on earth, spanning the southern portion of South America.  It borders Argentina (primarily), as well as Peru and Bolivia.  Its capital city Santiago boasts an ever growing population of 6 million and Chile has a total population of nearly 18 million… which is several times larger than my Panama at around 3 or 4 million depending on who you ask.

Chile is one of South America’s most stable and prosperous nations, leading Latin America in a number of important categories:  human development, business and economic competitiveness, income per capita, economic freedom and a low perception of corruption.  All of these combine to make Chile a dynamic and business friendly nation.

The two criteria I’d like to focus on are competitiveness and income per capita.  As to income, it is just over $20,000 on average and nearly double many nearby nations.  While this means labor is not as cheap as it is in, say, Panama, it also means that the work force is better educated, better trained, and more efficient.

Chile is especially competitive in technology start-ups and export.  Exports to Asia and the U.S. account for 60% of the nation’s economy and Chile is pushing hard to become the center for tech start-ups in Latin America.  For more information on this, please see my previous post on Chilecon Valley.

As a result, the once challenged Republic has become one of the most dynamic nations in the region.  They’re now listed as a “high-income economy” and a “developed country” by the World Bank (as of July 2013, so a recent development).  It is also the nation with the highest degree of economic freedom in South America, and 7th world wide.

As I look around the globe, I believe Chile to be one of the best places to form a new internet based business, or any business focused on high quality labor… rather than call centers and repetitive tasks.

And Chile’s economy has prospered, even during the recent downturn.  Real GDP growth has been 4% to 5.7% over the last decade and the national debt is only 3.9% of GDP.  It seems like many of Chile’s northern neighbors could learn a thing or two about how to run a country.

Driving this growth is a business friendly tax system which is compatible with the U.S. code and the Foreign Earned Income Exclusion.  Basically, you can set up a business and operate tax free for 3 to 6 years before needing to deal with the local tax authorities.

First, Chile taxes local source income at 30%, where local means products and services sold in Chile.  If you sell to customers outside of Chile (in the U.S., for example), this is foreign sourced income to Chile and not taxable in certain cases.

* For U.S. tax purposes, it doesn’t matter where your customers are located (in the U.S., for example), only where you and your business are based.

Next, wages you take out of a Chilean corporation are taxed at 0% to 40%, with the higher rate applying to a salary of $12,500 per month.  Though, you are allowed to be a resident of Chile and draw a salary from a foreign corporation, which would not be taxed by Chile.

So, if your income and sales are made through a Belize offshore corporation, you draw a salary of $99,200 per person from that company, and qualify for the U.S. Foreign Earned Income Exclusion, you won’t pay any tax in Chile or the United States.  You’re allowed by both the U.S. and Chile to retain earnings in excess of this amount in the offshore corporation and will only be taxed when you take a distribution.

I have assumed you are familiar with the FEIE.  If this is new to you, or you are wondering what I am on about, please take a few minutes to read one of my more detailed posts on the topic.

As I said above, foreigners in Chile are taxed on international income after they have been tax residents for 3 or 6 years (the standard period of 3 years can be extended to 6 by filing a few forms.).  During this time, the FEIE model works no matter how much you earn in salary, capital gains, or from any other source outside of Chile.

Once your 3 or 6 year honeymoon period is over, then you will pay tax in Chile if your foreign salary (from a Belize company) is over $153,000.  So, the U.S. FEIE gives you $99,200 in 2014 and the equivalent Chilean tax tool gets you $153,000, tax free.  This is why I say the tax code in Chile is designed to work seamlessly with the U.S. system.

Here are a few more tax benefits of living, working and doing business in Chile.  For some of you, they may greatly outweigh the FEIE.

–        Gaines from the sale of shares in a Chilean company held for more than 1 year are tax free.

–        Gains from publicly traded companies are tax free.

–        The sale of real estate is tax free (no capital gains, but VAT will apply).

–        Reimbursements from housing, travel and all other expenses paid by your employer are tax free.  Allocations from you employer are taxable as local salary, so some planning is advised.

If you are operating a business through a Chilean corporation, and have local profits, your corporate tax rate is 20%.  Distributions to you are taxed at 35%, but you get a credit for the 20% tax paid by the entity… which should net to about a 15% personal income rate on corporate distributions.  In the U.S., this would be 30% at the corporate level and then 40% + your state’s tax at the personal level.

Those of you who follow my columns know that Premier is based in Panama City and San Diego.  If I were starting over, or about to launch a new division (which we are doing right now), I’d give serious consideration to doing that in Chile.

The climate of Chile is quite similar to California, if not the mirror opposite in terms of season.  With everything from a dominant Pacific coast to some of the world’s driest desserts, Chile has just about all of the ecological diversity as did California 75 years ago.  Chile’s summer is from December to February, autumn is March to May, winter, June to August and spring, September to November.  Temperatures in the valley surrounding Santiago can get up there, but nothing compared to California’s Central Valley or El Centro areas (temperatures in parts of CA can be 115°F several times a year, and I’ve had the joy of 120°F on occasion).

When thinking about where to place a business, you need English speaking talent and telecommunications infrastructure.  Chile has the most advanced telecom system in South America with an advanced microwave radio relay facility and its own satellite system that includes 3 earth stations.  That is all to say that Chile’s telecom system doesn’t rely on the U.S. (NSA).

As of 2012, there were 3.3 million land lines and 24 million cellular phones, with all of the latest and best technologies available in Chile.  According to the International Telecommunications Union, 62% of the population uses the internet, making Chile the country with the highest internet percentage in South America.

So, from my previous article, we know that Chile has the people and government sponsored programs to support your business.  They also have an efficient tax system and the telecom infrastructure you require.  Add to this the fact that Chile is focused on freedom and privacy, and I’m sold.  Chile is not a banking center like Panama, and thus not as beholding to the U.S. and its push to control the world’s financial transactions.

* For more information on nations dependent on U.S banking and the dollar, see my posts on France and Russia’s attempt to replace the U.S. dollar and America’s $9 billion attack on BNP Paribas and FACTA.

If your business model requires the lowest cost labor available, such as a call center, then Chile might not be for you.  If you need higher caliber tech oriented employees, strong IT and telecom systems, and a larger market than is available in Panama, you should consider a look at Chilecon Valley.  If you’re looking to diversify out of the U.S., Panama and Chile are both strong contenders… but Chile is several more steps removed from Uncle Sam in terms of financial and personal freedom when compared to Panama.

I hope you have found this series on Chile interesting.  For additional information on moving your business out of the United States, please give me a call or send an email to  We will be happy to work with you to structure your affairs in an efficient and U.S. tax compliant manner.  All consultations are confidential.

Panama Foundation Scam

Is Panama the Next Singapore?

Panama vs. Singapore by By Christian Reeves and Lief Simon (

“Panama is the next Singapore,” declared a friend over lunch the other day. He wasn’t the first I’ve heard make the prediction.

Since finding its legs after the U.S. military handed over the canal, Panama’s economy has been on an uninterrupted upward trend. Even throughout the global recession of the past several years, Panama has racked up positive, albeit slower, growth.

Like Singapore, Panama is a shipping, banking, and corporate headquarter hub. Both countries are also tax havens. Where they diverge is gross domestic product (GDP) per capita and cost of real estate. Singapore’s GDP is about four times that of Panama, depending on the statistics you look at. The population of Singapore is about 50% greater than that of Panama, making this GDP figure even more stunning.

The average price per square meter for apartments in Singapore is eight times the current average cost in Panama City. (And we’ve been complaining about property values in Panama City!)

The point is that both of these statistics are being used as predictors for Panama’s potential. The consensus is that Panama is looking at at least another decade of continued tremendous growth rates.

I agree.

Panama has 100 times more land area than Singapore. As a result, there are different markets at work in this country. While real estate prices will continue to increase in Panama City as the country continues to mature and will, sooner or later, I believe, reach levels to qualify as “expensive” in a global context, prices in the interior of this country and in most of the beach areas will remain more affordable than those in comparable options in the United States. That will allow Panama to continue to attract retirees from North America and Europe.

Banking, shipping, business, tax benefits, and retirees: That is a dynamic combination for the Panamanian economy, which has grown at a rate of at least 7.2% per year every year since 2004, with the exception of 2009 (the “slow year”), when it grew at a rate of 3.9%. Unemployment is low, at 4.2%. In fact, the country is growing so quickly that it can’t educate and train its own citizens fast enough to keep up with the ever-expanding job market. The new “Specific Countries” residency visa, which comes with the possibility of a work permit for citizens of 47 countries, is one attempt to ease the strain the country is experiencing trying to find qualified workers for all the international companies relocating here, not to mention the local businesses and banks.

Global Banking Haven?

Historically, Panama has been generally acknowledged as a “banking haven.” No question, this is an international banking center; there are currently 78 banks licensed in this country. However, there is no longer any pretext of banking privacy or secrecy; not since November 2011 when Panama signed an exchange-of-information agreement with the United States.

Still, there are a lot of banks here and a lot of banking options. Like most offshore banking destinations, Panama offers two kinds of banking—local and international. Of the 78 banks licensed in Panama, 2 are state owned, 28 are international banks, and 48 are general licensed banks. International banks can only take clients from outside Panama, while general licensed banks can have both local clients and clients outside the country. The main difference from a practical point of view is that international banks don’t offer day-to-day banking services such as checking accounts or mortgage lending. These are places to keep investment, not operating, accounts.

You can see the full list of banks in Panama here. LINK TO

The problem with most of the 48 general licensed banks in Panama is that, while they can take foreign (that is, non-resident) clients, in the current climate, they tend to not want to. That said, a colleague walked into Balboa Bank and was able to open an account as a non-resident foreigner with remarkably little hassle. He had his bank reference letter and his passport, which is all you need in theory. However, when it comes to banking overseas, the theory can be one thing, while the reality is something else.

While I’ve given up on identifying a local bank in Panama that will consistently open accounts for foreigners, ones to try in addition to Balboa Bank (which recently merged with Banco Trasatlantico and seems to be interested in growing its client base)include Banco General (one of the biggest banks in Panama in terms of number of branches), and Global Bank (where some I know have recently reported having good luck opening accounts).

All banks in Panama offer some level of internet banking, but check the details of this before investing the time in getting an account open to make sure you can initiate wire transfers online if that’s something you’ll need to do. Balboa Bank offers that service online, as well as an English-language version of their interface. This is notable, as many banks in this country don’t have English versions of their websites.

Many of the general licensed banks offer consumer as well as private or investment banking. If you’re a private banking client (meaning you’ve deposited US$250,000 or more), then you’ll generally have an easier time opening an operating or consumer account with one of those banks.

Again, the international banks operating in Panama deal only with foreign clients. Further, the minimum account balance required to open an account with one of these banks is US$1 million or more.

One exception is Banca Privada d’Andorra (BPA), which has a branch with an international license in Panama. BPA will open an account for you with a minimum account balance of US$100,000 (although they prefer US$250,000). Their online banking interface is in Spanish, French, Catalan, and English. You can contact Yariela Montenegro at for more information about BPA’s services.

With the growing cost of the compliance required of any bank with American clients, many of the world’s international licensed banks are simply opting out of dealing with U.S. citizens, even those with the funds to open an account with US$1 million. Meantime, with everything going on in the global banking industry, banks are changing their policies and rules regularly. One bank that will open an account for a foreigner today may not next week and vice versa. We’ve watched this in Panama. Last year, for example, the executive committee of Unibank, a bank we’ve been recommending to readers since it opened in December 2010, decided that they would no longer take non-resident foreigners as clients except in their private banking division (US$250,000 minimum deposit). In December, they reversed that decision, but implemented a US$300 application fee for any foreigner wishing to open an account. Probably the back and forth and the new application fee are a reaction to the escalating cost of compliance when dealing with foreign clients.

Panama banks are generally solid, as the country’s Superintendent of Banking strictly monitors all bank activity. Currently, one bank is in “forced liquidation.” I’m not sure what that means, but banks don’t fail in Panama. When a problem does arise, the Superintendent takes action.

One specific occurrence a few years ago had to do with Stanford Bank in Antigua (the island, not the town in Guatemala). Stanford went bust because of malfeasance of the founder, and all related banks in different countries were affected. The Panama subsidiary of Stanford was closed, its assets frozen. The U.S. entities handling the case against Allen Stanford tried to seize the Panama assets, but the Panama Banking Superintendent wouldn’t allow that. After about 18 months, Stanford in Panama was sold to a group that reopened as Balboa Bank (still in operation today). All the Stanford Panama clients received the return of their funds.

It’s difficult to try to make a direct comparison of banking in Panama with that in Singapore. There are more banks and financial institutions in Singapore, which also offers more types of licenses. The number of banks in Panama has been relatively stable over the last 10 years, with new banks opening as other banks merge. Meantime, the volume of banking in Panama has increased, and I expect the number of banks to continue to increase as more international banks decide to open branches in this country.

Business And Taxation

One of the biggest advantages to Panama as a jurisdiction right now is that it is the best place in the world to run a business. Not a local business. I’d say that running a local business here in Panama would come with all the same challenges of running a local retail business anywhere in the world. In addition, though, the important thing to note about local trade in Panama is that much of it is restricted to foreigners. Most professions – doctors, lawyers, accountants, etc. – are restricted to Panamanian citizens, as are retail businesses. Most foreigners who want to be in business in the country focus on tourism-related opportunities or other service-related businesses…or restaurants.

If you’re looking for a place to launch or relocate an international business, however, you won’t find a better locale…

Except, perhaps, Singapore. I’d say these two countries are the top choices worldwide for where to base an Internet, consulting, or other laptop-based business. And, given the choice between Panama and Singapore, I’d choose Panama (as I did five years ago when my wife and I decided to relocate from Paris to Panama City to launch the Live and Invest Overseas business). Singapore is a far more expensive place to live and to do business. It’s also halfway around the world and many time zones away from your customer base if your customer base is based in North America.

One important reason Panama is as appealing as a doing-business choice as it is, is because it is a jurisdictional-based tax regime. That means any person or entity is taxed in Panama only if his, her, or its income is earned in Panama. Further, Panama doesn’t impose tax on interest income from deposits in Panamanian banks. Therefore, it’s possible, if you organize your life appropriately, for an individual to live in Panama free of any Panama income tax liability. Don’t earn any money in Panama, and you owe no tax in Panama. It’s as simple as that.

The easiest strategy for setting yourself up to be in Panama and in business without earning any income in Panama is to start a consulting or internet business based outside Panama. Create a non-Panamanian entity to house your non-Panamanian business, earn your income outside Panama (by consulting for a client in Costa Rica, for example), and have your clients pay your non-Panamanian company.

What you can’t do is set up a physical business in Panama with a non-Panamanian business providing the goods, and then have the non-Panamanian entity charge enough to the Panama company to keep it from showing any profit in Panama.

Panama has two rules that void that practice. One is simply an implied income tax on the gross revenue of a company if the company continually shows no profit. It’s essentially a minimum income tax charged at 1.168% of gross income for companies with gross revenue of US$1.5 million or more if the calculated tax on net income is less.

The other rule has to do with transfer pricing between affiliated companies. Panama passed a law last year specifically addressing this. A company with a Panama operation and a foreign subsidiary that provides products or services for local sales cannot charge above market prices for those products and services to the Panama entity in order to reduce the taxable income in Panama.

If you want to start a business in Panama for local trade, the tax rate is a flat 25% tax on net income. However, again, Panama places many restrictions on foreigners doing business locally.

To avoid this 25% tax on local business profits, you could consider basing your local business in either the free-trade zone in Colon or the Panama Pacifico “city” being developed at the former Howard Air Base outside Panama City. The free-trade zone in Colon is essentially a place to warehouse and modify goods to be shipped out of Panama. You can import and export goods to and from this zone with no tax implications, including no income tax. Any goods brought into Panama from this zone, however, are subject to import duties.

Panama Pacifico has been designated a tax-free zone for companies that qualify. The 13 categories of businesses that can operate here tax-exempt are:

 Distribution centers of multinational companies
 Back office operations
 Call centers
 Multimodal and logistics services
 High-tech product and process manufacturing
 Maintenance, repair, and overhauling of aircraft
 Sale of goods and services to the aviation industry
 Offshore services
 Film industry
 Data transmission, radio, TV, audio, and video
 Stock transfer between on-site companies
 Sale of goods and services to ships and their passengers
 Corporate headquarters

Another benefit of basing your business in Panama Pacifico is the opportunity that creates for you, as the business-owner/employer to be able to obtain work permits for foreign employees beyond the usual 90/10 rule. The 90/10 rule, which applies to all businesses operating in Panama outside Panama Pacifico, means that the business must employ nine Panamanians for every one non-Panamanian.

In recent history, again, the exception to this requirement that 90% of the employees for any business be Panamanian, has been to base yourself in Panama Pacifico. However, the new “Specific Country” residency permit means that this Panama Pacifico benefit isn’t as big a deal as it used to be. Now, any foreigner from any of the 47 countries included on the Specific Country visa list can obtain residency and a work permit, creating a chance for businesses to hire non-Panamanian labor without restriction. I believe this window of opportunity will continue only until President Martinelli is out of office. Martinelli created the new visa program through special Executive Order. The guy who follows him in office likely will repeal the order.

Unless the guy who follows Martinelli in office isn’t a guy at all but Mrs. Martinelli, as is lately being discussed.


Another important benefit of Panama as a jurisdiction includes the offshore services available here. In this way, too, Panama is very similar to Singapore. While Singapore has taken the offshore structures game to a next level, as it has been at this for much longer, Panama is working hard to catch up.

Panama offers corporations, trusts, and foundations. Again, Panama corporations pay no income tax in Panama if they don’t earn any money in Panama, making a Panama corporation a very appealing option for structuring business operations in other locations.

You can also use a Panama corporation to hold real estate in Panama or outside the country. Historically, this strategy provided important benefits to do with property and capital gains taxes. However, the rules for these things have changed recently, making this less of a no-brainer option. It can still make sense to hold Panama real estate in a Panama corporation, but not always.

Here’s how this used to work:

Once the Panama property was put into a Panama corporation, the “value” was locked into the public property registry. When the owner decided to sell, he sold not the property but the corporation holding the property. Ownership of the property didn’t change, and, therefore, the public registry value of the property didn’t change. As a result, the amount of property tax charged for the property didn’t change either. In other words, property values could increase, but property taxes (which are figured on property values) could be held constant this way.

Additionally, it used to be that, while Panama did charge capital gains tax on the transfer of property, it did not charge capital gains tax on the transfer of company shares, saving the seller 10% of the appreciation.

This changed in 2006. Now, sellers pay capital gains tax on both the transfer of property and the transfer of company shares.

Finally, Panama charges a 2% transfer fee on real estate. Selling the corporation rather than the property avoided that tax, as well.

Bottom line, today, with capital gains tax charged on the sale of shares and property values being reevaluated for the purposes of property tax, as I said, holding Panama real estate in a Panama corporation isn’t the no-brainer decision it was years ago. The cost of setting up a corporation runs from about US$1,000 to US$1,500, depending on the attorney. Maintaining the corporation runs US$530 a year without nominee directors, which should cost around another US$250.

On the other hand, using a Panama corporation to hold non-Panama real estate can be an excellent strategy, with estate planning and asset protection benefits. American readers should note, though, that a Panama corporation cannot be treated as a disregarded entity for tax purposes; they are treated like corporations. An American considering options for holding real estate in different countries should consider an LLC, a trust, or a foundation, which can be better choices depending on your circumstances overall.

Few people think of Panama as a trust jurisdiction; most look to the Cook Islands or perhaps Belize for this kind of structure. However, Panama does offer trusts (an odd thing for a civil law country).

Panama also offers foundations which is the civil law equivalent.

Foundations work very much like trusts and can be a good alternative to a trust depending on your needs. On the U.S. side, for tax purposes, a foundation can be treated like either a corporation or a trust. You want to make sure you set everything up so your foundation is treated like a trust. If you’re an American, have your Panama attorney work with a U.S. attorney who knows something about Panamanian foundations to be sure that the wording of the foundation documents is such that the entity will be treated as a trust by the IRS. Otherwise, you risk negative U.S. tax implications.

One other thing to keep in mind with a Panamanian foundation is that, while the name may suggest that it is a charitable organization, it is not. A Panamanian foundation is a tax-paying entity and can be liable for tax, both in Panama (if the foundation has any Panama based income) and in the United States (if the foundation has any income at all).

Pushing For First World Status

Panama’s President Martinelli has set an ambitious agenda. He has declared that he’s pushing Panama toward First World status. To that end, he’s taking all the revenues being thrown off by the Panama Canal (and then some) and investing them in infrastructure improvement projects across the country. You can’t drive more than a few blocks in any direction in Panama City without encountering some kind of construction—road expansion or repaving, digging for the new city metro, new building construction or old building renovation, electric and phone cables being moved underground, tunnels, bypasses, etc. Every main thoroughfare in the city is being improved in some way. The latest extension of the Cinta Costera, the new highway and pedestrian area that runs along the Bay of Panama, will take motorists around Casco Viejo and to the Bridge of the Americas, allowing drivers to avoid the current log jam trying to exit the city.

Around the country, roads are likewise being improved, expanded, and dug anew. Plus, new airports, new hospitals (including a big one in Santiago), new schools, and new shopping malls. The landscape of this country is being remade before our eyes.

The investment opportunities that all of this translates into are tremendous. Someday, people could be saying that Singapore is like Panama City.


Murder and Mayhem in Latin America

A list of the most dangerous cities in the world is out and the results are surprising. A number of U.S. cities made the hit parade and 40 of the top 50 are in Latin America. My favorite town in which to run a business, Panama City, Panama beat out Baltimore to take the 46th spot, while my favorite city to visit, Medellin, Colombia, shot its way to number 14. Honorable mention in Colombia goes to the metropolis with the prettiest women (in my humble experience), Barranquilla at number 42.

According to a study by a Mexican research group, the Citizens’ Council for Public Security and Criminal Justice, the top 20 most violent cities in the world are all in Latin America.

Mosul, Iraq comes in at #44, so there are 43 more hazardous places to live than the most hazardous city in war-torn Iraq. Of course, the study includes murders that government agencies categorize as crimes, and does not take account the 100,000+ civilian deaths over the years by U.S. forces and drone attacks, or the 244 civilians killed in November of 2012 (source:

Soapboxing aside, what can we, as experienced international travelers and entrepreneurs, learn from this study? I say, not much. If you did not already know you needed to be cautious and understand your surroundings while abroad, you have no business wandering outside of your comfort zone. Stay in Podunk Iowa and drink moonshine with your buddies out of the back of your 1983 Ford pickup and leave the adventures to those with sense.

For the rest of us, here is what you need to know. I will limit my comments to Panama and Colombia as I’ve had many years’ experience in each. Parts of Mexico are a different animal because the drug war often spills over in to the more respected areas…though; it is surprising that a major tourist destination like Acapulco is at number 4 on the list.

First, a high murder rate does not correlate directly to a high risk of danger to travelers or residents. The vast majority of killings are gang related, in high risk areas you have no business visiting, and done by persons targeting a rival or someone else known to them. Collateral damage outside of these high risk zones, or random killings in tourist areas, is extraordinarily rare.

For example, no visitor to Panama City should be in the part of town known as El Chorrillo after dark, just like no gringo better be caught alone in Comuna 13, Medellin, Colombia.

The same is true of just about any good sized U.S. city. Even in my hometown, San Diego, CA, voted the 7th safest medium sized city in the U.S., there are plenty of areas in the County a white dude should not be hanging out late at night or caught acting the fool.

However, countries like Panama and Colombia take great care to protect their tourists above all else. Why? The answer is simple, bad publicity is bad for business! Therefore, an American in the controlled areas of Panama City and Medellin is safer than in almost any region of the U.S. Take the district known as Casco Viejo in Panama City as an example. In the tourist area, there are military, police, and Federal agents on every corner, ready to take care of any issue which may arise. Locals know they will be dealt with most harshly and give travelers a wide birth.

Of course, if you’re a lost and drunk idiot who decides to wonder around looking for trouble, you can find it by staggering 8 to 10 blocks west of Casco Viejo and ending up in El Chorrillo. I would estimate your chances of making it through that mistake at night unscathed to be about nil. If you keep your wits about you and respect your surroundings, you are just as safe in Panama City and Casco Viejo as you would be in any city in the good ole U.S. of A.

Second, you can purchase or rent safety in Panama and Medellin on the cheap, which is not possible in the United States. In my experience, the monthly cost of an apartment in a good area, with an armed security guard, is $1,000 to $1,500 in both of these cities, and you can add a trusted driver for $800 or less. Try doing that in New York, Chicago, Baltimore, or Los Angeles…it’s impossible.

When you assess your risks, ways to mitigate those risks, and quality of life, remember that your money goes much farther in Panama and Colombia, and thus the options available to you are greater. Plus, having a knowledgeable driver will open up the entire city to you. I learned a heck of a lot from my driver in Panama.

So, what I’m trying to say is this: claiming that some cities are more dangerous than others, and then using that opinion as an excuse to stay home is uninformed. It is based on a number of fallacies, such as a belief that all people are created equal (a common American misconception), that we all face the same risks, that violent crimes occur at random and for no reason, and that there is nothing we can do to mitigate risks while abroad.

In fact, I would argue that Panama and Medellin are safer for the traveler because of their higher murder rates, not more dangerous. It is because the risk exists that the government spends its resources to create designated safe zones. In these areas, the tourist is king and will always be protected.

Here’s the complete list:

City Country Homicides Inhabitants Murder Rate
50 Johannesburg South Africa 1,186 3,888,180 30.50
49 Durban South Africa 1,186 3,888,180 30.54
48 Baltimore United States 195 620,961 31.40
47 Cuernavaca Mexico 198 630,174 31.42
46 Panama Panama 543 1,713,070 31.70
45 Belo Horizonte Brazil 1,680 4,883,721 34.40
44 Mosul Iraq 636 1,800,000 35.33
43 St. Louis United States 113 319,294 35.39
42 Barranquilla Colombia 424 1,182,493 35.86
41 Port Elizabeth South Africa 381 1,050,930 36.25
40 Goiania Brazil 484 1,302,001 37.17
39 Curitiba Brazil 720 1,890,272 38.09
38 Monterrey Mexico 1,680 4,160,339 40.38
37 Fortaleza Brazil 1,514 3,529,138 42.90
36 Macapa Brazil 225 499,116 45.08
35 Pereira Colombia 177 383,623 46.14
34 Cape Town South Africa 1,614 3,497,097 46.15
33 Kingston Jamaica 550 1,169,808 47.02
32 Recife Brazil 1,793 3,717,640 48.23
31 Cuiaba Brazil 1,793 3,717,640 48.32
30 Detroit United States 346 713,777 48.47
29 Joao Pessoa Brazil 583 1,198,675 48.64
28 Nuevo Laredo Mexico 191 389,674 49.02
27 Sao Luis Brazil 516 1,014,837 50.85
26 Manaus Brazil 1,079 2,106,866 51.21
25 San Juan United States 225 427,789 52.60
24 Barquisimeto Venezuela 621 1,120,718 55.41
23 Cucuta Colombia 335 597,385 56.08
22 Salvador Brazil 2,037 3,574,804 56.98
21 New Orleans United States 199 343,829 57.88
20 San Salvador El Salvador 1,343 2,290,790 58.63
19 Ciudad Guayana Venezuela 554 940,477 58.91
18 Veracruz Mexico 418 697,414 59.94
17 Vitoria Brazil 1,143 1,685,384 67.82
16 Tepic Mexico 299 439,362 68.05
15 Mazatlan Mexico 307 445,343 68.94
14 Medellin Colombia 1,624 2,309,446 70.32
13 Culiacan Mexico 649 871,620 74.46
12 Guatemala Guatemala 2,248 3,014,060 74.58
11 Cali Colombia 1,720 2,207,994 77.90
10 Belem Brazil 1,639 2,100,319 78.04
9 Durango Mexico 474 593,389 79.88
8 Chihuahua Mexico 690 831,693 82.96
7 Torreon Mexico 990 1,128,152 87.75
6 Caracas Venezuela 3,164 3,205,463 98.71
5 Distrito Central Honduras 1,123 1,126,534 99.69
4 Acapulco Mexico 1,029 804,412 127.92
3 Maceio Brazil 1,564 1,156,278 135.26
2 Juarez Mexico 1,974 1,335,890 147.77
1 San Pedro Sula Honduras 1,143 719,447 158.87