Panama has no shortage of highly qualified professionals. Many careers like accounting, medicine and law have stringent regulations to make sure that the services received by the customer are up to standard. There are many English speaking professionals, a high percentage of whom have studied in European, Canadian and U.S universities. Some of them have licenses to practice in the United States.
The country’s geographical situation and the arrival of multinationals have attracted many of the big accountancy firms, who can offer tax and investment advice and services. They not only have offices in Panama City, but also in David, Chiriqui province, and other main cities in the interior.
Some Panamanian law firms have personnel who speak several languages, with licenses to work abroad.
They have offices in the United States, Singapore, Eng-land and even Hong Kong. They have many specialties, but the main ones are commercial, maritime and tax.
Contact the College of Lawyers and the Chartered Accountant Association to verify qualifications
All of them have websites advertising their services and it is possible to make an appointment without having to wait too long. It is important to verify their qualifications and this can be done by contacting the College of Lawyers and the Panamanian Chartered Accountant Association.
Finding lawyers and accountants in Panama
Almost every transaction in Panama, from immigration visas to opening a new business requires the services of a lawyer and an accountant. There are many legal and accountant firms who are dedicated exclusively to that sector.
Currently there are more than 8,000 lawyers in the country. Some work independently, while many are partners in the big firms. These companies are enormous and can have more than a hundred lawyers, counting partners and associates. A lot of firms offer a combination of law and accountancy services.
Some work exclusively for foreigners looking to invest in Panama and their websites give helpful information about the country, investment climate, legislation and business regulations. The client can contact them even before he gets to the country; if the client needs to know more about a particular lawyer or firm, he can contact the College of Lawyers (Colegio de Abogados) – www.cna-panama.com.
Complaints against a lawyer can be addressed by the College of Lawyers, but ultimately the Supreme Court can disbar him. The profession is regulated by Law No9 of 1984.
Lawyer fees are regulated by Regulation Nº 24,305 of May 21 of 2001. It can be found in the College of Lawyers website and gives the minimum amount the lawyer can charge.
The Judicial Organ (Organo Judicial) has a website www.organojudicial.gob.pa, where, by entering the lawyer’s name, it is possible to find out if he has the appropriate license to exercise the profession. Please note that in every document signed by a lawyer he must write down a license number.
The majority of public chartered accountants firms offer auditing, taxation and investment advice services. The College of Chartered Accountants is a good place to start when looking for a reputable company. They have a list of members and their specialties.
Panama has four professional accounting bodies, which is unique in Latin America. A unique feature of Panama’s accounting landscape is the Authorized Public Accountant Specialized University, established by the country’s main accounting association. It offers accounting and auditing instruction by practitioners at international audit firms.
The legislation which regulates the profession is Law No57 of September 1, 1978. The maximum authority with regards to accounting regulations is the Accounting Technical Board for the private sector and the Republic General Comptroller for the public sector. Panamanian legislation has specific norms and practices different to generally accepted accounting principles.
The Accounting Technical Board, which is part of the Ministry of Commerce, awards licenses to accountants and can suspend his license for a period of time or indefinitely.
Most private companies have their own accountant department and normally a “comptroller”, together with the owners, will decide the best way to expand the business.
Working in Panama
Panama has very strict regulations about who and who cannot work in a particular profession. Many pro-fesssions are barred to foreigners regardless of their qualifications. For example, nurses, doctors, engineers, architects, journalists and beauticians must be Panamanian.
The other hurdle is that any qualification obtained abroad must be homologated by the University of Panama. This is a lengthy process that involves having the credits and diplomas certified by the Panamanian consul in the country of origin. The second step is to present them to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for approval and after that the documents are presented to the university authorities.
The university will send the credits and diploma to the appropriate faculty together with a description of all the subjects taken by the applicant. A series of exams must be taken. If the person passes them, the degree, master or doctorate, will be recognized in Panama. Just for the University of Panama to look at the documents could cost over $500.
The Friendly Countries Visa program gives the opportunity to foreign professionals to live and work here, especially if there are not enough experts in their area of expertise in the country. This visa allows working in universities and the private sector.