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Owning property and residing in Panama:  Foreigners in Panama have the same title and property rights guaranteed by the constitution both under the law and in practice as do citizens.  In fact, foreigners have almost the same rights guaranteed under the constitution in all things as do citizens, with the obvious exceptions of voting rights, etc.  Panama law and processes are often similar to that of the U.S.  No doubt this is as a result of the influence the United States has had on Panama for nearly a century.  However, the processes can also be quite different, especially regarding land between twenty-two and two hundred meters from mean high tide.

The purchasing process:  The process depends on the situation as follows: 

Titled land:  The title can be reviewed in the Public Registry to confirm the current ownership, dimensions of the parcel and the presence of any liens.  You can even, and sometimes should, trace title back to the original title granted over the property.  If the property is held by a corporation (corporations as holders of land and little or nothing more are quite common), then you also should get the documents from the Public Registry showing those authorized to transfer title for the corporation.  Unlike in parts of the U.S., there are no escrow companies which act as a neutral third party and a guaranteed holder of funds and documents.  The documents are most often handled by an attorney but that is not required.  The documents must be notarized.  Most often, but not always, a sales contract is written.  At the signing of the sales contract, the buyer normally gives the seller a deposit, commonly ten percent, and pays the seller the remainder when the title is signed in the notary.  Sometimes the buyer does not pay the full amount due until the property is actually registered in his name.  If the later format is used, the seller may require that the buyer purchase a letter of promise to pay, wherein the buyer deposits the money with the bank and the bank promises to pay the seller when presented with the title after it has been registered with the Public Registry.  When the purchase is financed either by a bank or by the seller, the amount loaned will be guaranteed by a mortgage (hipoteca in Spanish).  One important note here:  A notary in Panama is more than a notary in the U.S.  A notary in Panama not only "gives faith" that the parties are who they say they are and that the contract is what the parties agreed upon but also archives a public copy of the title, much like the Public Registry.

Real estate transactions of titled land in Panama are usually done in two steps. The Promise to Purchase and Sell (Compraventa) is a contract between the buyer and seller wherein the buyer agrees to buy and the seller agrees to sell contingent upon each party meeting their obligations in the contract.  The Compraventa gives both buyer and seller the security and time to work out other steps in the process and to meet their obligations.  For the buyer it may be financing, necessary sales of assets or other arrangements to put together the purchase money as well as the review and confirmation of the legal status of the property, often referred to as due diligence and usually done by an attorney. For the seller it may be paying off any liens, producing the necessary documents to show that the property is as stated, mapping the parcel in the case of land to be segregated from a larger parcel, registering that map and generally putting the property in the conditions specified by the compraventa.  When everything is in order, the purchase is finalized in the form of a public deed (escritura) which is signed and filed in a Notary at which time the buyer becomes the owner.  The last, very important step is to protect that ownership by registering it at the Public Registry of Panama.

Untitled land:  The best bet for a foreigner is not to pay for untitled land beyond 200 meters from mean high tide.  Yes, the rights of possession can be transferred to a foreigner and "La Reforma", the ministry that handles untitled land 200 meters or more from the beach, can title it.  But, the process of getting title is best done by a citizen.  Therefore, in such a case, the best bet is to write a contract, give the seller a deposit, and let the seller pursue, perhaps at the buyer's expense, the title and then transfer that title to the buyer, at which time the buyer pays for the property.

Beach Front Property:  Regarding beach front property, there is another twist.  The first twenty-two meters from mean high tide, sometimes called the public zone, are by law public property and can not be titled.   In rural areas, it is not uncommon to find people who claim such property as theirs, fence it and build on it.  It is possible to get concession on property in this zone.  Concession is like a long term renewable lease of the land from the government.  Normally the person getting concession is the owner of the property behind the twenty-two meter line.  My advice is don't buy any land which does not extend behind the twenty-two meter line.

Behind the public zone, from twenty-two to two hundred meters from the mean high tide line, is what is sometimes called the maritime zone.  In the past, this area was most often not titled, though it may be, but there were often rights of possession.  Unlike in Costa Rica, where this type of land has had and continues to have enormous and extremely ugly and costly problems, there are limited problems with this kind of land in Panama.  A buyer should be more careful, however, about property in this zone.  He should confirm the sellers rights of possession.  He should talk to all the neighbors to see if there is any conflict involving the property and it's property lines.  He should confirm a chain of rights of possession, or verifiable physical possession for a minimum of twenty years.  A fence should enclose the property and clearly mark the property lines and the parcel map should be checked to be in agreement with the fences.  After the sale, he should immediately apply for title with Anati, the ministry in charge of titling property within 200 meters of the beach. If it is a vacant parcel, it would be well advised to have someone keep an eye on it or better yet, let someone rent it, with a written contract, of course, for cattle or agricultural purposes.  Some large farms with a lot of beach front have had problems but these were cases where they did not enclose the area with a fence and take physical possession of it with some presence or activity.  Also, you can get concession over the area from 0 to 22 meters. If you get a concession you will in essence be leasing the land from the government.  In the past, neither was done with any frequency by locals in rural areas because of the time and cost to do so and the lack of problems for those that did not.  However, now it has been common to title the land.  Concessions are still less common.  Be forewarned that when you do go to title the property or get a concession, it can be a slow process.  The other option is the safer option and that is to write a  purchase contract and let the seller title the property.  In that case, other than a deposit, you should not pay until the property is titled and the title documents have been signed in the notary.  

Why Panama?  There are a lot of good reasons to buy real estate in Panama whether it be to vacation part of each year, retire or invest.

  • Panama is a still undiscovered, prices are relatively low and sure to climb.
  • Panama beach property is cheap compared to anything in the U.S., Europe, Canada or even Costa Rica, where it is priced out of most people's range,.
  • Panama has great tropical weather.
  • Panama has low property taxes.  Most property in rural areas don't pay any property taxes.
  • Panama land's low cost allows you to buy a must bigger piece of property and have the luxury of quiet and privacy that comes with neighbors that are fewer and farther between.
  • Panama has a low cost of living.
  • Panama has a stable economy with the U.S. dollar as the currency.
  • Panama has a stable democratic government.
  • Panama offers a wonderful geographical diversity from cool mountains to tropical islands all within a short distance of one another.


CONTACT US AT, or U.S. 760 516 1460, U.S. 760 704 7592  WhatsApp Panama 507 6673 3375, 507 6949 5824

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