Though Dubai and Panama often appear on similar lists for people wanting to move to low-tax jurisdictions, they are very different.

I had a chat with my friend Julien who lived twice in Panama, and twice in Dubai.

Having lived in the Gulf, I am also very familiar with both places. In lived in Oman for a while, which is a completely under-marketed destination. And I spend of lot of time in Latin America, with Panama being a core base.

We discussed the pros and cons of both destinations.

It will become harder to obtain permanent residency in Panama

There are many ways to obtain residency in Panama, but one of the most clear-cut options to get immediate permanent residency for yourself, your spouse, your children under the age of 25, and even the grandparents, is to invest $300,000 in real estate.

This option is set to increase to $500,000 on October 1st this year. The purchase must be closed my October 1st, which means you should have bought a property by end July / early August at the latest.

So if you want permanent residency in only one trip, you should act now.

Here’s the toolkit:

  • Giovanna and Wi Men can help you process the application and their lawyer can help with the real estate transaction
  • My realtor Matt in Panama City specializes in helping investors navigate the tricky market that is Panama City real estate

This is an option for all citizenships / nationalities.

I will soon publish a full analysis of the Panama City real estate market, so stay tuned.

To a World of Opportunities,

The Wandering Investor.

Other articles on Panama

Services in Panama:

If you want to read more such articles on other real estate markets in the world, go to the bottom of my International Real Estate Services page.

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If you want to discuss your internationalization and diversification plans, book a consulting session or send me an email.

LADISLAS MAURICE: Hey, everyone. Today, we’re going to have an interesting discussion about Dubai versus Panama. Because when you go online, you have all these people, these influencers, they’re either going, “Panama, Panama, Panama,” others are going, “Dubai, Dubai, Dubai.” Personally, I have residency here in Panama. I used to live in Oman for a while, so I used to go to Dubai on a regular basis. But Julien here, who has a very large French channel on ecommerce and internationalization, has been living here in Panama for a few years. He also lived in Dubai, and actually went back and forth between the two. It was a bit of an emotional rollercoaster, right?

JULIEN: It was.

LADISLAS MAURICE: I think, let’s just start this way, you were initially living in Panama, then you got tired of it.

JULIEN: Yeah.

Why I left Panama

LADISLAS MAURICE: And then you were, like, “I’m off to Dubai.” Why did you leave Panama and why did you move to Dubai?

JULIEN: Well, I think the trigger was the fact that COVID measures here were really restrictive, so it was a bit of pain at the end. We’ve been locked for one year here.

LADISLAS MAURICE: [laughs] It was bad.

JULIEN: We were not able to go out of our apartment during one year, we were able to go out twice a week, depending of the last number of the ID card, so it will be the time slot where you can go out. And women could go out three times a week and men only twice. And yeah, it was just boring and not the life I was wishing by staying here in Panama. It’s a little bit of bad luck, let’s say, because the previous years were really good. I mean, when I’m doing this video right now, it’s six years almost I’m here, I’m in my sixth year. I had some great years before COVID. And then COVID hit, they became quite crazy here. They were really afraid of it. If you go in an airport, you know where is the flight for Panama, they’re wearing hazmat suits. [laughs] They were really super afraid of it.

Thoughts on Dubai

I just got tired of it. And my brother was moving to Dubai because he has his company and business and employees there. I wanted to stay next to my brother. Okay, he convinced me. I was not really wanting to go to Dubai but let’s try it. I arrived. It was Disneyland, everything was open. Everything was closed here, so big difference. In the first few weeks, few months, it was nice. And at some point, it evaporates, the fun.

LADISLAS MAURICE: Yeah, the new gets old.

JULIEN: Yeah. Basically, after a few months, I just got back to a normal routine and it’s the same as like all-you-can-eat buffet, at the beginning, you’re happy because, wow, there is so much to do, blah, blah, blah. After you get back to your normal life working in your apartment, and what matter is to have a nice place, nice view, nice friends, group of friends, and nice restaurants. At the end, you feel like the premium you’re paying for staying in Dubai doesn’t worth it compared to staying in Panama.

Budget in Panama vs budget in Dubai

LADISLAS MAURICE: I think you were sharing, a bit earlier, you were spending, I think, $8,000 a month here in Panama versus how much in Dubai?

JULIEN: Roughly, here, my expense for a month is between $6,000 to $8,000 more or less every month. This is what I spend in rent and in eating out and stuff.

LADISLAS MAURICE: I mean, we’re here, we’re in a big suite in a five-star hotel. He lives full-time in a five-star hotel.

JULIEN: I rent two suites.

LADISLAS MAURICE: Yeah, and he rents two suites, so for himself and his family, and still he’s spending only $6,000 to $8,000 a month.

JULIEN: Yeah. Basically, maybe closer to $8,000, not to give a wrong expectation. As a single man, yes, $5,000, $6,000, but as the family grows, yeah. Compare this to Dubai. Dubai, it’s tough to be under $15k, yes. My lifestyle in Dubai for the double of the price is 20% lower. I don’t have the same view. I don’t have the same quality of service. It’s just not as good. And so we are comparing the cost of my life for one month but, in fact, the rent only is like three times more expensive.

LADISLAS MAURICE: Yeah, rents in Dubai are crazy.

JULIEN: Yeah. The first time I’ve been there, so just to give a little bit of context, the Panama, Dubai as a single person, then I met my wife, and then we moved back here in Panama. We enjoy it. We had a great time here. And when summer came, as always, we come back to East Europe, Belorussia. And while I was there, I was close to Dubai, so I say why not going again there, give it another chance as a family to see if there is a difference between being single and going there as a family.

LADISLAS MAURICE: Julien is a little bipolar. It hasn’t been completely diagnosed yet, but [laughs]

Why I left Dubai

JULIEN: [laughs] Not yet. Yeah, I didn’t love it first. I mean, it’s great option, Dubai. I don’t want to turn this video in Dubai-bashing, because I think it’s a fantastic option, and I think it can suit a lot of people. Just not for me. That’s it. I mean, I can deal with it, I can be there, but I’m just not as happy as when I’m here. That’s the thing, and I’m spending double, triple. At some point, you just make your calculation and that’s it. I try, as a family, there. It’s great. There is lots of theme park, aqua park. I mean, you name it, they have it all. It’s great for family for fun. But again, the all-you-can-eat buffet syndrome hits again, and once you’ve done all the theme park in the first one, two months, okay, well, what else? It’s coming back to you have a nice walk down your building, you have some nice restaurants, some nice friend, and does it worth paying–

LADISLAS MAURICE: And the pollution.

JULIEN: Yeah, let’s come to the–

LADISLAS MAURICE: That’s something no one ever discusses about Dubai.

JULIEN: It’s true. Lots of entrepreneurs are moving to Dubai. Wow, it’s great, it’s amazing. They never talk about pollution. And I mean, I’m making business, I’m making money to live long and healthy, and not to die early. I want to enjoy my life, and I feel staying in Dubai is going to be a problem for my health and my family, also. That’s also one big point making me going out of Dubai because, I mean, I have a little bit of asthma, so I might be more impacted than normal people. But even if you don’t have any respiratory problem, you might still feel like it’s not good air. When you breathe full, you don’t breathe full. You feel like just–

LADISLAS MAURICE: And schools?

Schools in Dubai vs schools in Panama

JULIEN: Schools, they’re pretty expensive. They’re good. You have some good international schools. There are some great options. It’s a bigger city than here, so, obviously, they have more options. The price is about more than double than here for the same standard, I mean, American school. In Panama, we have American school, in Dubai we had American school. Canadian school, I mean, English-speaking school. And basically, you’re paying, in Dubai, maybe $1,200 for half-day. Here, you pay $580 for full-day.

LADISLAS MAURICE: Okay, $580 per month for school.

JULIEN: And I prefer the accent here. Basically, they’re not fluent, they don’t have an accent like you, a real American, I would say, or English-fluent speaker. But it’s a little bit better. Obviously, in Dubai, you have Indian, Pakistani staff helpers, and they have these accents.

LADISLAS MAURICE: You don’t want your child to speak with an Indian accent?

JULIEN: No. Not really.

LADISLAS MAURICE: [laughs]

JULIEN: I mean, it’s not my favorite. I don’t say my accent is great by any means, [laughs] it’s not that good. I need to practice more. Yeah, I prefer the accent here. I mean, it’s American accent with a little bit of, you can hear a little bit of Spanish in the background, but it’s great accent, so I prefer it.

Banking in Panama vs banking in Dubai

LADISLAS MAURICE: What about banking?

JULIEN: Banking, I think both are really interesting option. I will say, for the strength of the bank, Dubai might win because it’s backed by the government. I think the banks are pretty solid in Dubai. In Panama, they are quite well-managed. It’s a financial hub, so no problem here. All the big head in the world, they have money here. If they were not trusting the jurisdiction, they wouldn’t put any banks here. But basically, the service in the bank is not as good in Dubai than it is here.

LADISLAS MAURICE: Yes.

JULIEN: I will say the whole experience in Dubai, you are here as a guest in the country. The visa system, you have to renew every two years, you restart all the process, blah, blah, blah. I mean, your data, it’s not a pain as of when you first come but still, every two years, paper again, paper. And here, once you become resident, I mean you’re a resident for life, you will become permanent resident. You have to keep your statutes, to come once every 24 months. But basically, here, you can feel home, and you feel home for banking, too. I will explain myself. When my first Emirates ID almost at the expiration date, I received kindly email from my bank in Dubai saying, “Well, you have one month to update your new Emirates ID. If not, we will lock your account.”

LADISLAS MAURICE: Yeah. I had exactly the same thing in Oman.

JULIEN: Yeah, I don’t like this feeling of always being just a guest. Not that I want to mix with the population, I just want to feel home, to feel confident with the future that I can see long-term. And that’s not something you can feel in Dubai, unfortunately, for now. I know they’re working a lot on it. They were even speaking of giving citizenship but wait for it, [laughs] it’s not tomorrow. But they are aware of the problem. If they want to have a population that stays, they need to make people feel home. I think they’re, at some point, going to work on it. Same for air pollution, we were talking about it. They’re doing things to improve it. Over the last four years, something like this, they reduced it from few percent already. It’s going to take decades before it become like here, because in comparison, Panama, Dubai, I think here it’s six or eight time less pollute.

LADISLAS MAURICE: Yeah, big difference. Yeah.

JULIEN: Yeah, yeah. It’s pretty, like, if you go on the website, I don’t remember, Air Quality Swiss, something like this, you will see, Panama is most of the time green, which is exceptional for quite a big city. At the end of the day, it’s one million people living here, and it’s pretty good air quality, and yeah, it’s great. Dubai is really at the level, I think, it’s just behind some Indian or Chinese. I think it’s even worse than some Chinese cities, which are famous for being extremely polluted. That’s one point. 

Bureaucracy in Dubai vs freedom in Panama

JULIEN: And maybe we can touch a little bit on regulation, like, the fact the bureaucracy. We can say bureaucracy, also.

LADISLAS MAURICE: Yeah.

JULIEN: I feel it’s becoming heavier and heavier in Dubai. And if you never came here in Panama, you don’t really know what’s freedom, I would say. I mean, maybe there is some other country that will give you this feeling.

LADISLAS MAURICE: Just not during COVID. [laughs]

JULIEN: Yeah, yeah, except COVID, of course. But if you’re someone who always has been living in the West, I will say you need to come once in a country like this one, and you will understand this vibe of freedom that you cannot express through a camera through an interview, but you’re left alone.

LADISLAS MAURICE: Yeah. It’s like no one really cares.

JULIEN: The word is you’re left alone.

LADISLAS MAURICE: Because no one cares.

JULIEN: No one cares, that’s the thing. In Dubai, as I say, you always have to renew your ID, your stuff. You’re always in touch a little bit with, you’re always asked some papers, some stuff. I will give some random things so you understand. Once, I sold office chair, because I was moving. And I just go down with the office chair in the elevator. And the security guard arrived, say, “You need a moving permit for this. You could get a fine but it’s okay for this time.” I’m paying $8,000 rent, [laughs] without electricity, internet, and everything.

LADISLAS MAURICE: Gosh.

JULIEN: I’m, like, cost me an arm and a leg, and I’m treated really bad. I didn’t like this feeling at all. Same, I never use my card to access our building. I don’t like to have thing in my pocket. Basically, I mean, there is concierge. I think we pay service charge for that, for someone to activate the door, to unlock the door. And once in every month or so, the guy decides, and my brother is living in this building in three years. They saw me, like, I mean–

LADISLAS MAURICE: Yeah, every day.

JULIEN: they see me every day. And once every month, month-and-a-half, they decide they don’t recognize me, “Are you living here? Your contract? What’s the name on the contract?” They do a full check on you, ID, everything. Once, it was so bad, I had my wife coming down to open the door for me. $8,000 rent, that’s top class service. [laughs] It’s some details, but just to illustrate how terrible can be your life in small things like this. And the issue–

LADISLAS MAURICE: In Dubai, you’re always a second-tier citizen. Or, not a citizen, you’re just a second-tier–

JULIEN: Guest. [laughs]

LADISLAS MAURICE: Guest. Yeah, second-tier guest, that’s the right way of putting it.

JULIEN: And the thing is, all the people in the management team in the building, in restaurants, and stuff like this, they are Indians and Pakistanis. And I don’t want to do any racist with what I’m going to say right now, but just we don’t think the same way. We’re not wired the same way. And the fact they are the one who need to make you comply with regulation and stuff, and they get fired super easily, so they are under pressure, so they make sure everything is to the tee, which you don’t have here. Here, it’s more, like, okay.

LADISLAS MAURICE: Yeah, it’s more flexible.

JULIEN: Flexible.

LADISLAS MAURICE: You can talk your way out of situations.

Safety in Dubai

JULIEN: Yeah, yeah. If they make your life impossible here, they ask you a bunch of paper for no matter what, like, I don’t know, you want to open a contract or something, okay, you say, “That’s what you have on your paper. What’s the second way?” And it opens doors all the time. There is always a way. And in Dubai, it’s missing a bit this there is always a way. There is no way because there are rules. It’s strict. But it’s why it’s working well as well. It’s clean. It’s neat. I mean, it’s pristine. I was living in Marina, I mean, you can eat on the floor.

LADISLAS MAURICE: Yeah.

JULIEN: [laughs] It’s great. You can leave your iPhone, your MacBook. This you already know this–

LADISLAS MAURICE: Here, you can occasionally fall into the gutters. [laughs]

JULIEN: [laughs] Yeah. Yeah, yeah. Here, the sidewalks are a bit, yeah. But the story you heard on YouTube saying like, Oh, I left my iPhone, I left my wallet in a restaurant or something. It’s totally true. The girlfriend of my brother, she left, on the sidewalk, her MacBook Air because she was smoking a cigarette. She went to light and she started to speak about something else, she forget the MacBook Air for 24 hours.

LADISLAS MAURICE: Wow.

JULIEN: Yeah. She came back, the MacBook was here in front of our school.

LADISLAS MAURICE: This is insane.

JULIEN: The thing is, there is so much camera. I mean, you take it, even if you don’t want to steal it, people won’t try because they will think the camera will think they are going to steal it and they might get some trouble, so people just don’t touch.

LADISLAS MAURICE: Yeah, it’s crazy.

JULIEN: The safety is through the roof. I wouldn’t say the safety is bad here. Not at all. It’s pretty good if you stay in the city center. Of course, if you go out, if you go in the suburb, in the poor district, where you will never go as an expat, but if you go there, yeah, there is some drugs, there is some gangs, and stuff like this. But it’s not as bad as, I would say, maybe Colombia, or Mexico. I mean, it’s getting better but I think it’s safer here.

LADISLAS MAURICE: It’s safer.

JULIEN: It’s safer here.

LADISLAS MAURICE: Yeah, it’s not Dubai-safe but for Latin America, it’s very safe here.

JULIEN: It’s very safe. I feel extremely safe. I mean, coming from Europe, where violence is everywhere now, you walk in Paris, you go two weeks on holidays in Paris, you will see someone getting stole, you will see someone yelling or insulting you in the street, you will see something. You will be in contact with violence within one, two weeks. In more than five years here, I’ve never seen any scene of violence here. Anything, not a single one.

LADISLAS MAURICE: Yeah. No, it’s pretty good. Look, at the end of the day, both destinations are very viable destinations.

JULIEN: It’s right.

Nature in Panama vs nature in Dubai

LADISLAS MAURICE: Again, I’ll just add that, from a nature point of view, though, Dubai has all the deserts, and the oasis, and there’s Oman that’s pretty close by. Here, there’s more for hiking, swimming, surfing. You’re an hour flight away from Costa Rica, from Colombia, all that, so there’s a lot. I’d say there’s probably a bit more to do here than in Dubai.

JULIEN: It depends what you want.

LADISLAS MAURICE: Depends what you want.

JULIEN: Let’s say, if you want theme park and stuff like this, Dubai is the place. If you want nature, I mean, it has a lot to offer here.

LADISLAS MAURICE: Yeah, yeah. But Dubai also–

JULIEN: Yeah, in Oman and stuff like this, you have some great place, too. It’s both extremely good option. I think it’s in the top 10 of the list of the best destinations to relocate yourself and reduce your tax at the same time. Yeah, I feel confident both destinations are extremely good. It just depends on you, what you’re willing to pay, how much you need to be in Dubai, because there is some people they would prefer being in Dubai because it’s closer to Europe.

LADISLAS MAURICE: Yeah. For Americans, this year makes more sense. Canadians, Panama.

JULIEN: Yeah, yeah. It really depends where you need to be. Dubai is better if you want to travel the world because you go easily in Asia, you go easily in Europe, East Europe. I mean, it’s well-deserved. Panama is greatly deserved as well. And they built the second airport, I don’t know if you saw. Now there is Terminal Two, so they’re ready to get some more tourists and more connecting flight. It’s the main destination for connecting flight. And the local company, by the way, is the one the most on time in all Latin America, Copa Airlines. It’s still okay to move around but you maybe have more options in Dubai.

LADISLAS MAURICE: Yeah. Cool. I think this was an interesting discussion.

JULIEN: Yeah.

LADISLAS MAURICE: If you’re interested in moving to Panama, there’s a link below with more information on how to move to Panama. There’s also an email below, you can contact the gentleman there. If you want to move to Dubai, he’ll give you a quote, if you want to create a company, etc., to be able to move to Dubai. Generally speaking, it’s easier and more affordable to move to Panama.

JULIEN: Getting the residency permit is 30% cheaper and then you get the permanent residency that you don’t need to renew after. It’s over. After you finish the process, in Dubai, you will have always to do it again. It’s like–

LADISLAS MAURICE: Panama is a better Plan B. Plan A, up to you, Plan B, Panama is always better, essentially.

JULIEN: Yeah, I would say so.

LADISLAS MAURICE: Cool.

JULIEN: Thank you very much. It was a pleasure.

LADISLAS MAURICE: Julien, thank you.

JULIEN: Bye.