Panama is truly a convenient place to live if you want to travel around Latin America. A recent flight from Panama City to Santiago, Chile, for example, wasn’t short (at seven hours), but it was painless. On-time departure from Tocumen International…good service from Copa in the air…on-time arrival at Arturo Merino Benitez…then a quick, efficient, and courteous experience with immigration…and no customs experience to speak of. We simply put our bags through an X-ray machine. The guy even came around to lift Kathleen’s bag on to the conveyor belt for her with a smile.
Time change of only two hours so no jet lag…and there we were in Santiago.
As much as possible, Kathleen and I travel using our Irish passports. We made this choice initially because my U.S. passport was running out of clean pages. Having more pages added meant a trip to the U.S. Embassy and a charge of US$85. Seemed like a rip-off to me, when a new passport costs only US$110, so I decided to skip buying extra pages and instead wait until I could renew my U.S. passport altogether.
Meanwhile, again, I’d use my Irish passport whenever possible. This means that, when Kathleen and I travel together, we’re both Irish. Since we’ve made this transition, the benefits have been many, unpredictable, and usually unexpected. Filling out the immigration forms for the trip to Chile, for example, I referenced our Irish passport information. Turned out to be a fortunate decision.
Arriving at the airport in Santiago, we saw arrows pointing to immigration and began to turn to follow them. As we paused to try to read the signs, an airport agent behind us explained, in Spanish, that the immigration area where we were headed was only for those required to pay the entry fee. We continued reading. The entry fee, the sign explained, is a “reciprocity fee” due from U.S., Canadian, Mexican, and Australian citizens. For U.S. citizens, the fee is US$160 per traveler!
Kathleen and I looked at each other, held out our Irish passports, and moved farther along to the non-fee line…where the agent greeted us politely and waved us through.
What Was Going On?
Chile (like more and more countries around the world) charges American citizens coming to visit a visa fee that is, literally, as the sign indicated, reciprocity. The United States charges Chileans a visa fee…so Chile returns the favor, charging a fee of Americans and also of others who charge Chilean travelers, including Canadians, Mexicans, Australians, and Albanians (this one we had to wonder about…how many Chileans could be traveling to Albania and vice versa?).
If the United States stopped charging Chileans a fee to cross U.S. borders, the Chileans would take us off their fee-paying list. Reciprocity.
Note that the fee an American must pay when entering Chile is good for the life of your U.S. passport, which is not helpful in my case, as I’m about to renew mine. Had I paid the fee this time, I’d have to pay it again upon my return with my new passport.
Brazil requires Americans to get an entry visa before arriving in the country…and they charge a nice fee for the privilege. The fee isn’t enough to make the country rich. Again, it’s imposed because the United States requires Brazilians to obtain a visa, at a cost, to enter the U.S.
Argentina now charges a fee of Americans and Canadians who’d like to travel to that country. More reciprocity.
All of this highlights one benefit of having a second passport. Not that the time and expense of obtaining a second passport is worth saving the US$160 an American must pay to enter Chile. But the ongoing options you enjoy by holding more than one citizenship certainly can be worth the effort.
Ease of travel (not needing a visa to enter Brazil), cost savings (not having to pay a fee to enter Chile or Argentina), and safety advantages (showing an Irish passport rather than a U.S. one in certain travel situations) are all excellent reasons for obtaining a second passport.
In addition, you have the employment and residency advantages, especially with an E.U. passport, which gives the holder the ability to reside and to work in any E.U. country. You still have to register in many cases…as in France, where you need to obtain a carte de sejour, but it’s simply a matter of paperwork (the French live for their paperwork). And, again, with an EU passport you don’t need a work permit to obtain a job in France…or in any other EU member country.
But an EU passport isn’t easy to obtain unless you have the right genealogy (Irish mother or grandmother, for example). Other more easily obtained passports, such as one from Uruguay, don’t come with the multi-country residency and work benefits right now, but I suspect that, over the next decade or so, new multi-country regions of cooperation will emerge in Latin America and perhaps Asia. Mercosur already allows for easier travel and trade among Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay, and Brazil.
Holding a U.S. passport has advantages, as well. It’s in the top tier for visa-free or visa-on-entry travel, despite the reciprocity issues with some countries. And if you’re planning a trip to Mongolia, the United States is the only country where you can show up without obtaining a visa in advance of arrival.
“Lief, opening a business in Panama is not as easy as you and your wife claim it is in your materials.
“You do not mention that no bank account is accepted if there is not a base business in Panama. Meaning that you have to do business in the country otherwise no bank account would be opened.
“I learned about this because I contacted one of your recommended lawyers, and he did do his job. The documentation for a commercial company is ready, and I was nicely suggested to contact a few banks . But then he informed me later that may be no bank in Panama City would accept to open an account if there is no business generated by the new company locally.
“I have no plan immediately to develop any business in this country. I plan in a few months maybe to move over there, and in the future possibly start running a business but not immediately. My immediate goal was to open a commercial bank account in order to use the Panama bank for my international financial transactions (wires online ).
“I am fluent in Spanish. I reached one banker but could not get any valuable information from him. Could you help?”
I’m not sure I follow.
If you’re opening a Panama corporation simply for the purposes of moving money internationally, then, yes, I’d say you’re going to run into trouble…as most of the world, especially most of the banking world, considers that money laundering.
If you want to use the corporation and the corporation’s bank account as a vehicle for investing overseas, a Panama corporation (or any offshore corporation from anywhere) probably isn’t the best strategy.
Your comment that opening a business in Panama isn’t as easy as we claim seems to miss the point. You’re not opening a business or even speaking with anyone at this point about operating a business. You’re setting up a corporation and trying to open a bank account. Not the same thing.
If you do decide to proceed with a Panama corporation, you probably want a bank account in another jurisdiction anyway, for diversification purposes.
One bank to consider right now in Panama is Balboa Bank.