Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Setting up an e-business in Panama

>> setting up an e-business in panama
by Alvaro Aguilar

In this day and age of connectivity, modern technology allows many individuals to run their business from wherever they are. When considering where to relocate, Panama provides excellent opportunities to continue managing a business and tend to customers worldwide from your new tropical location.

High bandwidth increases connectivity
The central location of Panama, right in the middle of the Americas, makes it the place where submarine fiber-optic communications circuits between North and South America converge. This allows users in Panama to enjoy extraordinarily ultra-high-speed bandwidth intensive applications such as multimedia and digital video, enabling fast and reliable connections for B2B, banking, ecommerce and other businesses as well as additional high-speed consumer activity units. Currently, Panama has the same bandwidth capability as New York City, with the difference that Panama uses 3% of its capability as opposed to 70% in New York.

Several local companies have set up data warehousing facilities in the Panama Canal area, where these circuits converge. These companies provide large and small online businesses with the use of their servers or can host their servers in special secure rooms
dedicated to providing rack-mount space.

The increased connectivity has encouraged 20 call center companies to employ around 5,000 workers, available for customer service. Currently, most centers serve businesses in the United States, especially Hispanic customers. The Government has increased the availability of English-speaking personnel for these centers with special education programs. An expatriate who only needs a single person for customer service can retain one of the many small virtual office services which provide a receptionist and a dedicated telephone line.

Special laws for online activities
Larger online businesses may have their office in Export Processing Zones, which allows them to claim benefits such as duty-free importation of equipment, low taxation and more flexible labor conditions. Offshore services, such as international marketing, financing, management, consulting and all services related to information technologies for data processing and technological research for clients abroad, may be set up at these Zones.

Additional benefits are provided to businesses set up in the City of Knowledge, a special technology park zone located next to the Miraflores Locks of the Panama Canal. Businesses have a 25-year income tax exemption and are exempt from limits on hiring of foreign staff.

The government grants online gaming licenses to operations whose owners provide full background information and pay a S$20,000 yearly license fee. In addition, they must maintain a bank account in Panama to ensure payment of prizes.

Tax and Financial Framework to Ensure Success
Once the hardware and logistic issues are dealt with, there are many advantages when setting up a business in Panama. A Panamanian corporation can be set up in a few days and its activities are not subject to Panamanian taxes as long as it sells to clients located outside of Panama. With proper legal advice, shareholders can arrange the structure of the corporation to defer or reduce the taxes they have to pay in their home country. In most countries, online transaction tax is based on the nationality of the corporation owning the domain of the business or on the location of its server, which further favors choosing a Panamanian corporation with Panamanian servers to conduct business.

A foreigner who qualifies for a retiree visa but wishes to maintain an active lifestyle can run a business online without the need of a work permit if he or she maintains a minimal business presence.

Alternatively, an expatriate owning a business with physical offices in Panama, 3 full-time employees and US$40,000 in investment can apply for a small investor visa. Other visa options are available when higher amounts are invested.

Panama has around 100 banks, out of which several actively seek out clients for e-commerce services. Prospective businesses must provide all due diligence information on the background
of their owners. Basic information on the structure of the online transactions must be provided to the bank to ensure that no unlawful activities will be conducted through the bank. Once the
bank official is acquainted with the purpose of the e-commerce activities, transactions are conducted in a secure manner under Panama’s confidentiality laws. Alternatively, micro payments can be routed through non-bank “digital cash” online services, some of which are incorporated in Panama but do business though banks elsewhere.

This combination of advantages makes Panama the ideal location for an e-commerce operation. º

lombardi aguilar & garcia
Tel. ( 507) 340-6444

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