Panama City is a complex, cosmopolitan city that has undergone a tremendous development boom in recent years, with a throng of high-rise towers now dominating the cityscape where it overlooks the Pacific Ocean. Luxury storefronts look out over the city’s broad avenues, with brand name goods sold at a fraction of the usual price. Hundreds of restaurants offer international cuisine, and Panama’s nightlife is vibrant with casinos, clubs, live music and entertainment, catering to the eclectic mix of visitors in Zona Viva.
Modern health care facilities are available in Panama City, most notably the Punta Pacifica Hospital, a John Hopkins affiliate. Medical tourism is gaining momentum, thanks to cutting-edge procedures being offered at a fraction of the cost compared to North America and Europe.
The business sector is also lively. Many international companies have offices in Panama, taking advantage of its central position in the Americas, and a strong bilingual labor pool.
The Tocumen International Airport in Panama City serves as a jumping point between North and South America, reinforcing Panama’s strategic position as the ‘Hub of the Americas’ and recently is undergoing an massive expansion project to accommodate twice as many visitors.
More than 100 international banks are represented here as well, and in the absence of a Central Bank, Panama’s financial sector is one of the region’s most robust, thanks to strong privacy laws that encourage international investment. Conservative credit management has also shielded the country’s banks from the global economic crisis, and recently a $210 million dollar loan was approved by the Andean Development Corp. to further improve the country’s liquidity.
In fact, Panama’s economy is set to be one of the few that are expected to grow this year, in defiance of global recessions. While estimates vary wildly, the World Bank predicts Panama’s economy will grow by 4.0 per cent in 2015, and government officials predict at least 3 per cent growth, despite reduced trade volumes.
This is in no small part thanks to the planned expansion of the Panama Canal, a $5.2 billion dollar project that has generated tens of thousands of jobs and allow the Canal to remain competitive. The project, set to be completed in 2015, and will widen the canal’s locks to allow the passage of ever-larger shipping freighters and add a new set of locks to ease congestion on the busy throughway.
The Canal receives more than five per cent of the world’s trade goods each year, making it a crucial hub for global commerce. This has led to the formation of the Canal Free Zone (CFZ), the world’s second largest duty-free zone after Hong Kong.
The Zone houses more than 2000 merchants selling wares from all over the world, and it is a substantial player in Panama’s economy. In fact, the CFZ is the country’s second largest attraction after the Canal, receiving more than a quarter of a million visitors annually.