Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Off-topic: James Bond in the former Panama Supreme Court

James Bond Part 22 ("Quantum of Solace") is being filmed in Casco Viejo Panama City and Colon. The video shows the local media chasing the actors in the former building of the Supreme Court - now the Institute of Culture - in the Plaza de Francia. The location is meant to portray a hotel in La Paz, Bolivia.
There, some more trivia for ya ;-)

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

2008 Immigration Law finally published

The 2008 Immigration law was finally published online in the Gaceta Oficial as Law Decree 3 of February 22, 2008, whereby the National Immigration Service, the Immigration Civil Services and other provisions are created.

The final text of the Immigration law can be downloaded in PDF files (Yahoo registration required):

Panamanian law gets you financing at 2% to 3% interest rates until 2008, or later ...

Banks granting residential mortgages for new residences below US$62,500 receive a negotiable tax credit equivalent to interest reduced in 2 to 4 points below the prevailing rate (see

This has made financing the construction of houses an attractive business for banks, who after earning the tax credit can assign or transfer it to another company which has to pay a lot of taxes, but at a discount. The benefit stems from a little-known Panamanian law that gets you financing at 2% to 3% interest rates. The law expires this year 2008.

For the buyer, this translates into having to repay a mortage loan at interest rates 3.2% to 4% less than what the government considers as the "Reference Rate", under Law 65 of October 29, 2003 , as long as the home is the main residence of the borrower and its purchase value does not exceed US$62,500.

What is more, if the home has a purchase value below US$16,000, the final interest rate to the borrower can be of 2%.

For example, the government Superintendencia sets the Reference Rate (TRM) at 8.25% A bank would get a 4% credit rate for financing the purchase ofa US$62,000 home, so the borrower would repay at a 4.25% rate. For a US$24,000 home, the bank gets a 5% credit, so the borower gets a 3.25% rate loan.

With the current TRM at 6.5% under Memo CFL 3-85 2-2008 you can use this formula to calculate the final loan rate:

TRM - Bank Tax Credit points = Final Loan Rate

This means that the law does NOT provide benefits if:
1) The home was purchased for more than US$62,500 (this may get you a 700 sq. foot apartment or studio in the banking area, or a 2 bedroom house in a working-class commuter town),
2) The borrower expects to buy the property under a corporation,
3) The borrower already has more than 1 home under his/her own name.
4) The borrower is a foreigner buying a home to apply for a Solvency Visa (which requires an US$80,000 home)

Developers are recommending to increase the cap for benefits to homes up to US$85,000, since the US$62,500 limit was set under the first preferential interest rate law 3 of 1985. This benefit is regularly renewed thanks to the construction lobby, although many developers and real estate agent are expected to push buyers into signing the dotted line with the story that interest rates will go up.

If anybody misses the 2008 deadline, it is a good thing to know that the 5-year laws have been renewed like clockwork under Laws 3/85, 11/90, 5/94, 28/95, 30/99, 50/99 and 65/2003.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Changes to Immigration and Banking laws approved

The text should be posted online next week in the Official Gazette and from that date it will be in force.
It remains to be seen if recommendations sent by the Bar Association and other groups were included in the final approved text. The National Board of Migrants and Refugees (MENAMIRE) wants the President to veto it, but that is not possible with a Law Decree from the Cabinet. MENAMIRE says the law only allows those with a bank account to stay in the country.
The Presidency website provides us picture of the lovely Cabinet meeting with accompanying breakfast.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Books on Panama legal stuff

Before learning about blogging, My Panama Lawyer used to write a lot of articles for foreign publications. They are available from these Amazon links:

Enforcement of International Property Protection between Mexico and the United States (Fordham Intellectual Property Media & Entertainment Law Journal , Vol. V, No. 1, 1994). Panama Section of "International Intellectual Property Law" (John Wiley & Sons, 1995).
Panama Section of "International Taxation of Low-Tax Transactions" (BNAI, 1996).
Panama Section of "International Banking Law and Regulation" (Oceana, 2000).
Panama Section of Legal Systems of the World: A Political, Social, and Cultural Encyclopedia (ABC-Clio, 2002).
Panama Section of Trademark Practice and Forms (compiled by Stephan Kinsella).
Articles on Latin American business law in “Latin American Law and Business Report” and “Inter-American Trade Report”.
. .

Friday, February 15, 2008

30-day visa for US citizens is alive and well

As of February 6, the 30-day visa for US tourists entering the country seems to be alive but ailing. After the anti-gang law which reduced the duration of tourist visas and vehement denials by the tourism czar, our clients report that they have are being told upon entry that their tourist visas have a 30-day duration, but when they show up for the Filiacion registration, Immigration turns them away saying that there is "an understanding" that the visa lasts 90 days. The stamp in the right says it all. Go figure!

Visa agreements between Panama and the US are in 2 exchanges of notes:

Reciprocal agreement for gratis nonimmigrant visas.*
Exchange of notes at Panama March 27 and May 22 and 25, 1956. Entered into force June 1, 1956. 7 UST 905; TIAS 3573; 268 UNTS 333.

Agreement modifying the agreement of March 27 and May 22 and 25, 1956 for gratis nonimmigrant visas.*
Exchange of notes at Panama June 14 and 17, 1971. Entered into force June 17, 1971. 22 UST 815; TIAS 7142; 796 UNTS 353.

NOTE * The status of this agreement is under review.

These exchanges of notes allow for granting of multiple-entry tourist visas of up to 48 months. The US government publication "Treaties in Force" lists them as "under review" but the 1977 Panama Canal Treaties ratified their validity. Their text is available in the UN Treaty Series website or by email from this blog.

The 2008 draft Immigration law - if enacted - will provide that tourist visas have a duration of 30 days, renewable for 60 more days.

Hot air and second passports

Much is advertised on the Internet about how easy it is to get a second passport from countries such as Panama, Cape Verde, Belize and others. The second passport frenzy had its high with the Chinese takeover of Hong Kong - when thousands of Hongkongese sought alternatives to the hard-to-get British Overseas and Peoples' Republic passport - and hit a brick wall with the post-9-11 world.

The current bottom line is:

1) Panama has never had a legal "second passport" based on investments. The Rentista visa granted to bank accountholders allows them to have an identification booklet which has the same blue cover as a passport but the pages inside specify that the holder has no Panama citizenship. It does not even have the bar codes of a normal Panama passport.

2) The only way to get a legal Panama passport is to undergo the naturalization process (after being a permanent resident for 3 to 5 years - not a pensionado), being born in Panama soil or from a Panamanian parent. Thousands of US citizens were born in Panama during the 90 years of the Canal Zone and qualify for Panama citizenship.

3) Currently, the only countries with officially sanctioned economic citizenship programs granting a second passport are Austria, the Commonwealth of Dominica, and the Federation of St. Kitts/Nevis. Section § 10 (6) of the Austrian Citizenship Act program requires investing millions of euros in an Austrian business, with no guarantee that a passport will be forthcoming. In contrast, when you apply for a second passport in either Dominica or St. Kitts/Nevis, you make the necessary US$75K+ or US$350K+ investment only after you receive approval for your application and background documents.

3) Descendants of countries with high-emigration rates, such as Spain, Italy, Ireland, Israel and others, can apply for citizenship and passport by showing the birth certificate of an ancestor from said country. Ironically, those countries have now high-immigration rates in part thanks to said passports. The duty to provide military service may be a concern depending on the country.

4) An interesting alternative being promoted are passports with Dominican Republic citizenship, granted after only 1 year of residence. A very important negative is that Dominican citizens are subject to many restrictions when travelling.

5) As explained in Afroyim v. Rusk and other court rulings, US citizens generally do not lose their citizenship when acquiring a second passport.

5) Second passports from other countries are likely to be stolen (thousands of Panama passports "lost" before the 1989 US invasion), expired or belong to fairy tale domains such as Dominion of Melchidzek, Anjouan and others. The ‘World Passport’ from the ‘World Government of World Citizens’ in 14th Street, Washington is a scam.

This can never be the last word on second passports as countries regularly change their laws and are subject to international pressure to revoke these documents.

Monday, February 11, 2008

US Forms required for foreign trust and other entities

À: JacobsReport[at]
De: "Vernon K. Jacobs"
Date: Fri, 08 Feb 2008 16:43:44 -0000
Objet: [JacobsReport] Query re: forms required for foreign trust and other entities

QUESTION: What forms are required when setting up a foreign trust and
which forms are needed after the trust is established? Also what forms
are needed to set up a foreign limited liability or corporation owned
by the trust and which forms have to be filed thereafter? Are there
any special forms required for a Panama Private Interest Foundation?

REPLY: I've noticed that different lawyers seem to require different
forms. The following are the ones that I encourage my clients to file.

Form SS-4 Taxpayer I.D. number (You have to call the IRS at the number
in the instructions.)

Form 56 - Notice Concerning Fiduciary Relationship

On or before March 15th, Form 3520-A must be filed or an extension must
be requested with Form 7004. Until the IRS revises their instructions
or until they create a new form for foreign trusts, it's my opinion
that Form 1041 (summary) and 1040-NR (summary) need to be filed with
the Form 3520-A but some advisors would not file either or both of
these. Form 3520 is due with your income tax return, including any
extensions of time to file.

If you (or your trust) form a foreign LLC or IBC or corporation and
want to treat that entity as a disregarded entity (one owner) or
partnership (multiple owners), you first need to secure a tax ID
number by calling the IRS at the number in the instructions to the
Form SS-4. Then you should file Form 8832 within 75 days of forming
and funding the LLC/IBC/Corp. (Caution: If you form a foreign
corporation and want to treat it as a disregarded entity or foreign
partnership, you need to check the back of the instructions to Form
8832 to be sure the entity is eligible to make the election.)

Then either Form 8858 (single owner) or Form 8865 (multiple owners)
would need to be filed with your U.S. income tax return.

If you or your trust choose to form a foreign corporation, IBC or
limited liability company without making an election to treat the
entity as either a disregarded entity or foreign partnership, then you
would need to file a Form 5471 and Form 926 with your U.S. income tax
return. If the foreign corporation engages in business in the U.S., it
may need to file a Form 1120-F (or an extension on Form 7004) on or
before March 15th. (In some cases, a foreign corporation with U.S.
source income doesn't need to file until June 15th.)

As for a Panama Foundation, the required forms will depend on whether
the foundation resembles a trust or a corporation. For a more detailed
explanation of my views on these foundations see If it
functions as a trust, then the forms for a foreign trust would be
required. If it functions as a corporation, then the forms for a
foreign corporation should be used.

If a tax filing date falls on a weekend or national holiday, then the
actual due date is delayed to the next Monday or the work-day after
the holiday.

Other forms might be required depending on the kind of investments you
make, or the kind of business you operate and whether you live and
work outside the U.S. for a full year, etc., etc. For an extensive
list of forms that may be required for diverse international
transactions see I originally created
this part of my web site for other CPAs, but it's not restricted in
any way and is open to the public.


The comments in this memorandum are not intended to constitute an
opinion regarding any specific tax issues because additional tax
issues may exist that could affect the tax treatment of the tax issues
addressed in this memo. This memorandum does not consider or reach a
conclusion with respect to those additional issues and was not written
and cannot be used for the purpose of avoiding penalties under code
section 6662(d). For further details see

New draft Panama Immigration Law slows down

After receiving comments from the media, pro-immigration groups, Panama Bar Association and other groups, the Cabinet decided not to change Law Decree 16 of 1960 of Immigration with another Law Decree using the special powers of the President to enact laws without legislative approval.
Instead, the Cabinet asked for comments from the Legislature, which already has buried 3 other Immigration bills in the vault of forgotten bills...
The first text of the Immigration draft can be downloaded in Part 1 and Part 2 of PDF files.

URLs (Yahoo registration required):

The long road of the Immigration bill:
More foreigners but a modern Immigration law is needed (November 29, 2006)
Bill stagnant after approval by Cabinet
Immigration Law in Limbo. Bills 79 and 150 meant to replace the current Immigration law remain unapproved since 2005.
Better tratement for migrants is being demanded. Bill called xenophobic by Legislator Wigberto Quintero
Consultations requested by NGOs on Immigration draft law

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Special tax benefits for investments in the Darien

Darien is the largest province of Panama but also the most isolated. Most of the riverfront of the Tuira river has been declared as Tourism Development Zone No. 9 with substantial tax benefits for the investor.

Business exceeding the minimum legal investment enjoy the following tax incentives:
1. A 20-year full exemption from the payment of real property tax on the land or any improvements owned and being used for tourist development activities.
2. A 15-year full exemption from the payment of income tax on the company's activities.
3 A 20-year full exemption import duties, contributions, or taxes, as well as the sales tax (ITBM tax) on the imported materials, equipment, furniture, accessories, and spare parts used to construct, renovate, and furnish their establishments, provided such items are not produced locally, or are not produced in sufficient quantity or of the proper quality. "Equipment" is understood to mean vehicles with a minimum capacity of 8 passengers, aircraft, helicopters, minimum capacity of 8 passengers, aircraft, helicopters, motorboats, ships, or sports supplies used exclusively for tourist activities.
4. A 20-year exemption from duties, contributions, taxes, or fees on the use to piers or airports built by the company. The Government of Panama may use these facilities free of charges, according to the appropriated regulations.
5. A 20-year exemption from the payment of income tax in interest earned by creditors from operations for investing in the tourist activity being conducted.

Any public tourist lodging company or restaurant not covered by the above incentives, but solely engaged in a tourist activity; is entitled to a Tourism Employment Certificate (Certificado de Empleo al Turismo-CET) issued to its name, equivalent to 21.5% of the gross monthly payroll as of the promulgation of this Law, provided this gross monthly payroll does not exceed US$400.00). In the case of restaurants, this option shall be for a period of 3 years.

Private land ownership is limited in Darien National Park (brown, in the map) and the Indian nations (marked in red), but alternatives remain throughout the province.

Most investments qualifying for the Darien Tourism Development Zone benefits also would help its foreign owner qualify for a Small Business Visa.

Zone 9. Darien

Location:Province of Darien
Characteristics:The National Park of Darien which is ideal for ecological and tourism of adventure. It was declared by UNESCO as a Reserve of the Biosphere and the Human Kind.
Strategy:To develop ecotourism centers in Pirre and in the Cana Valley.
Investment Possibilities:To increase the capacity of lodgings and to improve the quality of the services to the tourist.

More about the Darien in Darien links

Darien, the giant is awakening

In Darien there are different ethnic groups.

The government is promoting sustainable development projects to tap the great potential of the province in all fields


Full text in

The real Darien starts at El Real de Santa María, the oldest continuing settlement in Panama, built in the XVI century by the Spaniards. In town, the Hotel El Nazareno (left, Telephone 228 3673, 6638 8707; $5-10– $10-15) offers basic accommodation, but be warned this is the heart of cock-fighting country so don't expect a great night's sleep; you'll also find a few stores and a couple of simple restaurants – inform them in advance if you want an evening meal. ("The Rough Guide to Central America")

Video: The Art of Travel Blog #4: The Darien.

23 developers fined for deceptive advertising

A block to speculation has been the prohibition to advertise residential projects for which no construction permit has been issued. As the Ice Tower project showed many investors, reservation fees are kept by the developer for a number of months and the builder deems the project "not viable" or if not enough units are sold, the fees are returned to buyers without any interest.
According to the Panama City Municipality website, the builders of 23 projects have been fined for up to US$100,000 per project for infringing municipal urban development regulations, incurring in deceptive advertising and deceiving buyers ("infringir las normas municipales de urbanismo, incurrir en la práctica de publicidad engañosa y estafar a los compradores"), as allowed by Law 6 of February 1, 2006, modified by law 45 of October 31, 2007.
According to the La Prensa February 1 print edition, some of the projects fined are:
Mystic Villas
The Plaza Costa del Este
The Plaza Obarrio
The Ritz
Altos del Golf Bijao
The World Gallery
Altos de Colina Campestre
Coral Hill
Park Plaza
PH Bambú
The Pavillion Tower
Alcalá Tower
The Municipal Engineering pointed out that all projects must have a pre-approved plan before advertising at home fairs, billboards or the media.