TLDR; I‘m building housing and infrastructure for remote tech workers in Panama and invite you to come here. Visit CodeFromPanama.com or message me on WhatsApp +1 (808) 446 1375.
I’ve been working almost exclusively remotely as a software developer since I was 14 years old. In January of 2017, I decided to move to Panama from Boston at the age of 27. My friends, clients, and family thought I was a little crazy — but in my mind I was simply making a savvy financial move — a financial hack. It was a tough decision for me because I loved being a part of the tech community — I’d been organizing meetups, hackathons, and developer events since I was 17.
At first I didn’t have a grand vision, just a desire to take advantage of the Foreign Earned Income Exclusion (FEIE), a provision in the American tax code which allows the first ~105k in income earned from foreign soil to be exempt from US income taxes. I chose Panama for two very simple reasons, which I believe make it the best country in the world to do remote work from:
- It is very easy to obtain tax residency in Panama (it cost me approximately $5000 from start to end and took less than six months)
- Panama does not tax “foreign source” income — meaning money that comes from outside of Panama. Many multinationals bring people here to work from Panama on their Latin American operations to take advantage of this, because they are not taxed at a corporate or personal level for foreign sourced income.
Originally, I had only planned to have my tax residency here, but I fell in love with the country and decided to stay. A number of other benefits make Panama attractive, such as the timezone (US Eastern / Central time), the fact that it uses the dollar, the incredible cultural diversity, and the relative safety for Latin America. What really made me fall for Panama, though, was the weather in Boquete, a little mountain town full of people from all over the world, sitting at around 3,900 feet.
I settled here and eventually bought a building in the mountains a few kilometers from town using my years of after tax earnings and savings from working as a freelance programmer.
Originally, I planned to book my place out via short term rental platforms like Airbnb. For around a year, I did that. I rented four apartments out to more than 2000 guests over the course of that year. I grossed around $65k the first year from my rentals. I had one of the top rated rentals in the area for that time, earning an average score of 4.9/5 across all my apartments on Airbnb and a 9.5/10 on Booking.com. During the high season I was charging as much as $250/night on the largest apartment. I even decided to build another two apartments on the bottom level of the house and to expand the footprint of the foundation. I reinvested everything — creating backups and fail overs for power (we have a 29kw generator and batteries) and water (30k liters in reserve).
Ultimately, though, I decided that I wasn’t happy “just doing rental properties.” I needed to do something meaningful, that gave my life a sense of purpose and fulfilled my intellectual needs. There were a few programmers around, but only a few, and I decided to change that. I said no to the short term money and tourists and instead work on providing affordable accommodations and reliable infrastructure to programmers who wanted to relocate to (or at least visit) Panama for the unique financial advantages. I decided to start building silicon jungle.
My original vision was born: build a hacker house in Boquete. That was six months ago. Since then, I’ve been able to bring around 20 people to Boquete. A few just came for vacation. Many of them began (and a few have already completed) their permanent residency process in Panama. Several of them have decided to live here. Nearly all of them have become good friends.
One particularly awesome resident (pictured above) helped me implement an enterprise class internet setup complete with monitoring and failover. We now have three internet connections — a primary on cable (average download speeds are around 200mb/s), and two separate wireless backups (one on the LTE network, the other via a p2p relay). I hired a full time maintenance and construction guy to help us execute on some of our next projects and goals (finish the apartment for our “concierge”, build the exercise room, hook up the hot tubs, etc.). I’m currently looking for the right person to live here and help make the lives of our residents easier (whether it means doing the laundry, arranging grocery orders, or figuring out some Panama challenge). I’m also working with legal and business partners on streamlining the residency process using software so that we can make it more straightforward and painless. For now, anyone who wants to undertake residency can take advantage of the relationships I’ve already built with legal firms here.
Our residents have had adventures together, collaborated together, started projects together, partied together, grown together. It’s been a very fulfilling experience. My next thought was — why stop here? A few weeks ago I decided to start looking for additional housing to accommodate programmers, both in Boquete and in Panama City (some people want to be in the city!). I’ve had friends and former residents make soft commitments of substantial amounts of time and money to make this a reality. So why stop at just my place? We can build villages. We can build campuses. We can build a nation.
I believe Panama, and especially Latin America, is currently ripe for this type of innovation. Imagine living in Silicon Valley in the early 90s, with knowledge of what would happen over the next twenty years. What would you work on? What would you build? Latin America, and especially Panama, currently presents that opportunity. You can see the future while living in a bygone era. Coding bootcamps are just starting to pop up in the city. The new president, sworn in this week, has a stated goal of increasing the “tech” portion of Panama’s economy from just 0.2% to 2% during his term. The young expats community is growing. In the US and Europe, we take for granted all of the services at our fingertips. In Latin America, there is a market of more than 500 million people that are just now really “grokking” the internet. Why build another food delivery startup in New York City when hundreds of sizable cities in Latin America don’t have one?
Whether you just want to save some money on cost of living and taxes (as I did), or you want to come to a developing market to be a developer, I wholeheartedly believe that Panama represents one of the best opportunities in the world to do it. The residency and tax policy alone are reason enough to invest in Panama. Even if you decide it doesn’t work for you — what have you lost? The investment is $5,000 and a few months on vacation in a beautiful place.
My vision is to keep investing in building community here and helping other people like me who work remotely change their lifestyle to optimize their financial success. For now, we have a hacker house. Soon, there will be other hacker houses (I’m currently negotiating long term leases on other properties that fit my parameters). One day:
Ok, maybe that’s a little big! But you get the idea — the long term vision is scaling up to build communities designed for ergonomics, productivity, and happiness — the perfect mix of shared space, nature, and get shit done.
Interested? Whether you’d like to move here, you’d like to invest, or you’re just curious, reach out!
Whatsapp: +1 (808) 446 1375