This was exactly my dilemma. What to do in a country that does not allow many foreigners to work very easily.
The rules are slowly changing, but right now a company can only hire 1 foreigner for every 10 people it employs, and it is kind of a pain for them to do so it they want to. That really makes it quite a struggle if you want to be employed in Panama. If a company doesn't take you right away, then you need to start the process of getting a work permit, again, really difficult without already being hired, getting married to a Panamanian, or spending lots of money.
Here's my best advise. Become self employed. Panama has very user friendly laws when it comes to foreign owned Panamanian companies. All you really need is the standard tourist visa, and a legally registered company and you're good to go. There are some restrictions on what type of business you can conduct, but for the most part, you can rent a space, hang a sign, and become a cog in the giant machine here in Panama that is commerce. If you're a professional in Canada, you can become a consultant in Panama for example. If you're a welder, open a shop, design and build security fences, add to that cctv, alarm, and razor wire sales, and boom, a thriving business you have.
One thing I've seen from living down here, is that there is always a customer. Millions of them in fact. There's a shortage of everything. Seriously, it doesn't matter what idea you can come up with, rent the space, hang the sign, do some advertising and you will be making money.
Here's another idea. Panama has no carwashes. Well not like Canada anyway. The carwashes here are big lots with just a roof over part of it. You drive your car in and park, a man comes to your car with a hose, bucket, rag, vacuum etc. and washes your car. It takes about 45 minutes but he does inside and out. The problem is that Panamanians are busy. Really, really busy, and it takes forever to drive anywhere. There is usually a line at all the carwashes, so you have to wait an hour before they begin. It's a 2 hour ordeal! They charge 7 dollars, but the workers probably on get paid 10 bucks a day if that. Lots of room here for more carwashes, and even better, a drive thru automatic wash, wow, it would be busy 24 hours a day I'm sure!!!
Labor is cheap in Panama. Any labor related buiness that you can start is an advantage because of that important fact. For example, I bought a desk at a furniture store the other day. Nice desk, but cheap, pressed cardboard basically. Well in Canada, you buy it, grab the unassembled box from the warehouse, head home and pour a glass of wine that evening while you labor thru the instructions and flange it all together. 4 hours and a bottle of wine later, ta-daaa!! In Panama, you pay less, drive home and a day later the door bell rings. 5 men with boxes stand with eager smiles and a tool box. In 15 minutes your desk is assembled and you are only half finished your glass of wine!! This just shows how cheap labor really is. A nice 400 dollar desk includes delivery and a 5 man team to speed assemble it right in your office! And no hangover to boot!!
Again, a few weeks ago, I went to get the slow leaking tire fixed on my wife's car. I went to Llantera, a company specializing in tires, and waited the half hour to get my tire fixed, I even watched the gentleman work on it. It really took him the whole 30 minutes. That repair cost me 4 dollars. I laughed out loud. Labor is inexpensive here and you can capitalize on that.
By the end of 2013 it is expected that there will be over 3000 new condo's in the city available for sale. There is a new skyscraper everywhere you look in this city, I mean everywhere. You can't believe it until you see it. There are more cars then ever and the dealerships are insanely busy. Window tinting. Cheap labor. Lots and lots of windows, lots and lots of sun, lots and lots of cars. You get the picture. There are even video's on youtube to train you how to tint those windows.
Franchises like TGIFridays, McDonalds, Wendy's etc. do fabulously here. It would be such a great investment to have a Boston Pizza or Original Joes concept franchise here. I mean the Panamanians are great workers, great people, and boy do they like to get out and have fun!! TGIFriday's is just crammed every time we go there. If there is a futbol game in Panama, and Panama is playing in it, the city is electric, there is not an empty chair in a single watering hole. When Panama scores the entire city cheers, you can hear it from outer space I think....
Are you a computer programmer? I mentioned in an earlier post that Panama is a difficult place to buy a car. There are no organized websites like Autotrader or kijiji to kind of "get an idea" of market values, and even to find a used car is a real process. An autotrader site in Panama would take off with the right sales staff!! Heck, even online gambling is legal here!! Start a bank, start a casino if your pockets are deep enough!
The simple truth is, there is no need to work for someone in Panama. There is however a need for more businesses, seriously, get down here and help us out!! All you need is your idea, 1200 bucks for your corporation, and the first month rent on your store front. I can help you out with all of it.
Have a great day all!!