How to start a business in Panama

To start a business in Panama, there are a series of requirements and steps that are basic with respect to Panamanian law in order to enjoy the necessary protection for the investment that we are making and to minimize possible legal risks. The first, basic, and concrete step is the way we want to have our company, for which we must be clear about certain initial points and aspects:

  • Will I be the sole owner of the business?
  • What type of business is it? What will it be dedicated to?
  • What government permits do I need for my business?

In order to clarify your doubts, how about we go point by point,

WILL I BE THE SOLE OWNER OF THE BUSINESS?

This issue is completely crucial since it will help us recognize who owns the business and, in addition to this, it will shed light on how to start our business. In Panama, the two most used ways are through “Personal Title” and through a “Sociedad Anónima”. Both forms are completely legal, but they depend largely on our interest and the number of people who will be part of the business.

Personal Title – Personal Operations Notice

One of the ways to start a business in Panama is through our identification document (Cedula – Permanent Resident Card). For this, all documentation must be requested through our personal identification.

The first step would be to register with the General Directorate of Income (DGI) and request our Tax Identification Number (NIT). Upon completion of this process, we must request our “Operations Notice”; this document precisely initiates our economic activity in Panama. If you are a foreigner, it will be necessary to have a Work Permit to carry out these procedures.

We must take into consideration how we are starting the business; this figure (Personal Operations Notice) should be used when we will be the sole owner, without the participation of other partners or people who “legally” represent the business.

Business Through a Corporation

This figure is the most used since we completely separate our personal income, for other activities, from the business income. At the same time, being through a Corporation, it provides the possibility of having several Partners or Shareholders at the same time. This gives us the opportunity to have additional investment outside of our own investment, of course, ceding a participation in the shares of the business and therefore also its profits.

Once the Corporation is created and duly registered with the DGI, we must request the Society’s Operations Notice, and thus we start our business.

WHAT TYPE OF BUSINESS IS IT? WHAT WILL IT BE ENGAGED IN?

This is one of the main questions we should ask ourselves from the beginning of our business, since the answer determines the possible permits required for our economic activity. For example, if our interest is selling liquor, we will need a liquor license. But if we have a restaurant and want to sell liquor as a “complement to food,” it’s a different type of permit that we need to apply for.

In addition to this, a “Restaurant” business requires very different permits from those required for a Distributor or even a retail business. Once you have in mind the type of business and economic activity to carry out, we recommend seeking legal advice from a competent lawyer who can explain the permits required for that economic activity.

WHAT GOVERNMENTAL PERMITS DO I NEED FOR MY BUSINESS?

There are a series of permits that can be applied for, but it all depends on the type of business to be carried out. Similarly, there are certain permits and registrations that are basic and crucial to conduct the business legally and, at the same time, comply with commercial guidelines.

Beforehand, we recommend considering the following points:

  1. Registering our company or Personal RUC with the DGI
  2. Applying for the Business Operations Notice for our business. a. Never conduct a business WITHOUT a notice of operations.
  3. Considering the registration and application of the Social Security payroll. a. It is important to note that if the business grows and hires employees, this step will be INDISPENSABLE.
  4. Registering our company in the Municipality where the Business is located.
  5. If our business involves any activity that involves the preparation, cooking, or handling of food, we must have our Sanitary Permits and consider the Sanitary Registration of those products for sale, if this is the case.

In conclusion, we recommend seeking legal advice from a competent lawyer who can clarify any doubts and guide you in this new starting process.

By: Adriano Castillo Morales LL.M
Junior Associate – PGS Attorneys

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