For many various reasons there are people from different parts of the world and different countries who wish to live under the radar and off the grid and somewhat anonymously.
You don’t need to go to illegal extremes attempting to hide your assets, or play the “Panama Papers” game. There is an easy way to invest in and own real property in Panama under the radar, without appearing on public documents, and without paying property taxes. It’s called “rights of possession” and although 60% of property in Panama is ROP property, it is an unfamiliar concept to many.
When Panama introduced agrarian reform it split up large swaths of the country and it allowed ordinary citizens to take possession of and develop property owned by the state through rights of possession. This is not what is sometimes called “squatting.” People went to the government and registered their possession and development of a property. This was all registered locally. Technically the government still “owned” the property, but the person had the right to possess and develop the property as they wished. Those rights can be passed on, or sold, or just enjoyed. This is not like “leasing” land from the government as sometimes happens in the US in areas controlled by the US Department of Agriculture or in National Forest areas where you have something like a 99-year lease.
In Panama you have the right to possess, develop, enjoy, and sell the property to which you have the right of possession. You can build a house, raise animals, garden, run around nude … whatever. One thing you cannot do with ROP property and this is VERY IMPORTANT … YOU CAN NOT PAY PROPERTY TAXES.
Although you have all the documentation from the local government to possess the property, officially there is no national recognition or title indicating that YOU are the owner/possessor, so the government cannot charge you taxes. Wow!
For example … when I first saw our property in Boca Chica … incidentally, we are selling our rights of possession for this property … when I first saw it, saw the frontage on the water, saw the view of the water and the islands, heard the waves lapping gently on the shore, realized it was high enough to build a home with an incredible view, but no-see-ums (those pesky, horrible and painful bugs that bite your legs when you are on or near the beach), high enough not to worry about salt-spray destroying electronics and rusting appliances, high enough to never have to worry about tsunamis … well, I fell in love! So we bought it! We had our lawyer carefully review the chain of rights of possession. [And since Panama doesn’t have Title Insurance Companies like we are used to in the US, even if you buy titled property you are dependent on your lawyer to review. No US-style Title Insurance.]
Now I could have, and still can, as can anyone who purchases this property, have it titled and start to pay property taxes, but I didn’t see any reason to pay property taxes when I didn’t have to!
We surveyed the property, fenced it in, planted mangos, bananas, and avocados, and lots of beautiful tropical plants. We have hired one of the caretakers at a local resort to look after the property for $12 a week. I put in a source for water, got electrical power, secured a building permit and built a small air-conditioned cottage with a nice open terrace that we have used for overnight escapes to Boca Chica. We are right next to Sea Gull Cove Lodge which has a nice restaurant if we don’t feel like cooking. We thought about getting a small boat, but it’s so easy to find a guys in Boca Chica with little boats who will run you out the incredible islands around Boca Chica with beautiful, deserted beaches that we dropped the idea of owning a boat. Because we’re just off the main road to Boca Chica from the Pan American Highway and on the mainland it’s easy to get to and we don’t have to struggle with long, bouncing rides in rain squalls to get out to the island.
Nobody would know I own this property including any government, except for the fact that I don’t have anything to hide, so you know I own it, and am selling it, and the US government knows because I file the appropriate reports because its required for US citizens and as a good citizen I choose to obey. But many, most countries, don’t have the same reporting requirements.
When you understand ROP or rights of possession in Panama it offers some unique opportunities, like not paying taxes!
In case you’re interested here’s the info about our property in Boca Chica.