Panama Papers & What It Means for Expats

The Panama Papers scandal…

Ugh. Is anyone else tired of hearing about the bad guys? Frankly, this story is old news. There have always been people trying to hide their money from the government – in any country – and they took whatever means they could to do so. Some countries – like Panama – had set-ups – at least for a period of time – that allowed them to do that.

It’s important to note that the type of ‘numbered corporation’ type of set-up that allowed this type of thing in Panama hasn’t been legal now in Panama for some time. Something like four or five years.

So, while, yes, those with lots of wealth took advantage of it for a number of years in many countries, including Panama, Panama’s government decided to put a stop to that way before the Panama Papers story came out.

Entonces (which means, “Then…”), to me, this stuff is old news.

Panama Papers and What It Means for Expats

But, let’s step away from the media hype at the moment. Does all this seemingly new scrutiny on banking – in Panama and other places – really impact you as an expat living in Panama or retiring to Panama?

Good question.

Bad PR about Panama

In my opinion, there hasn’t been much immediate impact to expats. Some locals I’ve talked to – both expats and Panamanians – feel that their country has been slimed because of a few rotten apples. Panamanian President Juan Carlos Varela even wrote a column about the Panama Papers in the New York Times last Monday. You can see that here: Panama’s President writes about the Panama Papers in the NY Times.

Don't Blame Panama. Tax Evasion is a Global Problem

So, beyond a grand slam of Trump-sized bad press in the past few weeks, what else has happened that really impacts expats in Panama immediately related to this?

Impacts to expats living in Panama from the Panama Papers scandal

Has real estate demand, which has been higher in the past four months according to my broker friends in Panama City, been negatively impacted? Nope.

Are expats having to jump through extra hoops to get bank accounts opened any differently than they were a month ago? Nope.

Let me clarify that opening a bank account in Panama as an expat – especially if you are from the U.S. – has been laborious now for some time. I’ve written a few other posts about my own experiences with banking in Panama, which you can refer to here:

The Frustration of Banking in Panama

How Banking Works in Panama

More on Banking in Panama

So, related to banking, the reality is that Panama has not been a free-wheeling, easy-to-get-an-account, skip tracing paradise for a few years. Especially not for U.S. citizens.

Anyone heard of FACTA? It’s been in place now for several years. And, for those U.S. citizens that live in Panama,  it’s been a requirement for three years now that you claim, list and report every single bank account you have abroad to the Department of Treasury AND the IRS. That responsibility falls on the shoulders of the individual, yes, but banks in Panama in the last five years – as those laws took shape and the implementation became real – began to require annual W-9’s on all U.S. account holders. And if you didn’t do it, my banks told me they would freeze or close your account. Does that sound like a fiscal paradise to you?

I personally have filled out at least ten W-9’s in the past five years. (Again, it’s a yearly requirement – or maybe they keep losing last year’s form, who knows…this is Panama.)

There have been rumors – and these are only rumors, people – that some Panamanian banks are losing their relationships with their correspondent banks in the U.S. However, larger, reputable banks in Panama that are on the up and up have not reported any issues related to this type of thing that I’m aware of.

How might this impact me if I lived in Panama and had a bank that lost its U.S. correspondent bank? Well, for one, it would make doing any international transfers difficult – at least for a period of time, until a new correspondent bank was found.

Moving beyond the Panama Papers scandal

Otherwise, for expats living in Panama, the Panama Papers is something that’s old news. Day-to-day life is ongoing. The challenges of adjusting to life in Panama as an expat are ongoing. (For more on that, get my first book, The Gringo Guide to Panama: What to Know Before You Go, as that is its main subject matter.)

So, let’s let the high-paid attorneys and the governments and the media carry on with whatever else they need to about the Panama Papers. The rest of us – with real jobs and school commitments and mouths to feed and books to write – have moved on.

over the Pacific in Panama, April 15, 2016

Sunrise over the Pacific in Panama, April 15, 2016

Panama street scene, April 15, 2016

Panama street scene, April 15, 2016

My Name is Elizabeth…er, JuliAnne Murphy

JuliAnne MurphyMy name was Elizabeth Vance, but you can now call me JuliAnne Murphy.


If you’ve followed the Panama Gringo Guide blog for some time, you may have noticed that something big has changed.

That’s right! My name!

Who is JuliAnne Murphy?

JuliAnne MurphyWell, to be honest, nothing has changed. I have not changed. I’m the one that authored both Amazon bestseller The Gringo Guide to Panama: What to Know Before You Go on Amazon, and The Gringo Guide to Panama: More to Know Before You Go. I’m the one that lived for eight years in Panama (until early January this year). I’m the one who has been blogging on this very site at  since late 2012 and interacting with you on Google+ and Twitter along the way.

Yes, those are both my books – written, edited, published in 2012 and 2014 respectively under my pen name Elizabeth Vance, and updated and republished this month in March 2016 under my birth name JuliAnne Murphy.

Why the Pen Name?

Elizabeth Vance reveals her birth nameGreat question! I’m so glad you asked. Why did I decide to publish both my books under the name Elizabeth Vance originally? It wasn’t the simplest of choices, that’s to be sure. Most often, publishing starts out stronger when you announce a new book to the people who already know and love you. 🙂

But, as often has been the case in my life, I chose the road less traveled. I chose a pen name in order to maintain my privacy because I was still living in Panama. And, Panama is a tiny, tiny fish pond, in both the social and business realms. I had nothing to hide – no, nothing like that, but I did not wish for my executive life and my writing life to intersect.

Publishing under a pen name allowed me to have my voice, and to be free from the confines of what anyone else thought or for any of those  famed “should”s that so many of us feel the burden of, in our everyday lives, to hold me back.

It was the right decision for me at the time and a path that blossomed into tremendous success.

So, why retire Elizabeth Vance now?

Again, great question, thank you! I recently left Panama and moved full-time to Costa Rica. With that life change – and the new book I am in the midst of writing – I decided I was ready to start writing and publishing under my birth name, JuliAnne Murphy.

So, thus the change on the cover of my books you see on Amazon, my new page on Facebook, this blog, and the launching of my new Official Author website, JuliAnne Murphy dot com.

Am I still an expat?

Panama Gringo GuideHappily, yes. I lived in Panama for eight years, and recently relocated full-time to Costa Rica’s Pacific coast. You can see more of my  new journey unfold on my new blog, Living La Pura Vida in the weeks and months to come.

So, now, the cat’s out of the bag! I am Elizabeth Vance, but from now on you can call me by my birth name, JuliAnne Murphy.

My best to you on your onward journey – whether it’s Panama, Costa Rica or wherever you may land.


Funny Things that make you go Hmmmm….in Panama

Little things you notice along the way when you are living in Panama

Life in Panama often has its idiosyncrasies, just like everywhere else in the world. And, on any given day, there will be things you will encounter – on the street, in your home, at your office, in your friendships – that will actually make you go Hmmmmm…….now that’s interesting.

But that’s what makes expat life in Panama so intriguing, beguiling, nutty and frustrating, depending on the moment.

So, below, I’ll be sharing with you some photos that were born of just a few of those moments I have had over the past several weeks.

And, all of this is, of course, in good fun.

Things that make you go Hmmmm….in Panama

Panama wildlife butterflies Elizabeth Vance

Does this little guy know that he changes to blue and black when he’s not sitting on a window?


Panama traffic mishaps Elizabeth Vance

Are the dings on this car from another time when he was carrying a couch around?


Dogs in Panama Elizabeth Vance

Is it the price of the poop bags here that keep so many people from picking up their dog poop?


Yoo Building Panama Elizabeth Vance

When you live in this building and the lobby is this ornate, how much does it affect your HOA fees?



Bad construction Panama

Did the guys who installed this sit down on it before they set they finalized its final location?


Jungle vines Panama

The jungle vines Tarzan used really DO exist. Who knew?


Panama customs Elizabeth Vance

Why can’t the customs line coming IN to the country ever be this empty?


Kids ride in Panama

So, THIS is where they sent all these cool kids’ rides from my youth!


Panama customs Elizabeth Vance

So…when the guy that operates this mobile lunch cart wants to go to lunch himself, where does he go?


Public transportation Panama

Do the passengers of this Diablo Rojo public bus in Panama care that they can’t see out the back?


Panama phone booth

So, public phone booths DO still exist somewhere outside the movies!


PriceSmart Panama standing in line

Why is it that the lines only get backed up when you’re ready to check out?


Panama farmers

Does this farmer count his vegetables when he gets to his destination to be sure none of them fell off during his drive?


Panama wildlife

Is the Panama neque fall into the rabbit family or the rat family?


Bad English translation in Panama

Did anyone actually read this headline before it went to print? Yikes.


Snippets of Panama life

Well, that’s it for today, folks! I hope you enjoyed this pictorial review of the strange little things I see from time to time that make me actually think “Hmmm….I wonder….”