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Last Updated: Wednesday, 5 December 2007, 19:19 GMT
The lure of Panama
Map of Panama
Panama lies between North and South America
Panama is probably still more famous for the hats and cigars of the same name than as an obvious destination for anyone considering emigrating from Britain.

But the country, which lies at the crossroads of North and South America, does boast natural attractions such as fine beaches, mountains, and rainforests with an abundance of tropical birds and animals.

It also offers palm fringed beaches, vibrant city life, cheap real estate and low health care costs.

Luxury apartments are offered in Panama City from $160,000 (£78,884) and more modest homes from as little as $50,000 (£24,651).

In addition, residents do not pay local taxes on their foreign earned income.

The country has been thrust into the spotlight after the wife of missing canoeist John Darwin, from Seaton Carew near Hartlepool, moved there to carve out a new life after his disappearance.

However, what Anne Darwin plans to do now is perhaps more unsure after her husband was arrested on suspicion of fraud following his appearance at a police station five years after vanishing.

Panama canal, approach to Miraflores locks
The Panama Canal is a major feat of engineering

The country, which has a population of just three million, looks to offshore finance, manufacturing and a shipping registry generate jobs and tax revenues, and a free trade agreement was reached with the US last year.

But it also faces the challenge of shaking off its reputation as a major transit point for US-bound drugs and illegal immigrants, and as a haven for money-laundering.

There is also some social inequality, with elite families of European descent controlling most of its wealth and power, and about 40% of the population live below the poverty line.

The main language is Spanish, though English is also widely spoken.

There is even an all-English radio show, aired every Sunday, and with music from the late '60s, '70s and '80s.

Permanent residency

Americans may dominate the expat landscape but there are also a number of Britons living in the country full time.

Figures from the Institute for Public Policy showed there were 1,000 Britons there in 2006 - compared with 1,300,000 living full time in Australia and 761,000 in Spain.

Visitors from the UK can enter Panama on a tourist card, obtained in advance from a travel agent or the consulate, which allows them to stay 30 days. This can then be extended to 90.

Immigrant Visas grant their holders provisional residency for one year, and when this expires, permanent residency with a right to a Cédula (identity card).

It also opens the way for a foreigner to apply for nationalisation should they later wish to do so after emigrating to Panama.

There is an extradition treaty with the UK, but the Home Office has said there are no records of anyone being extradited from Panama to Britain since it was signed in 1907.



SEE ALSO
Country profile: Panama
25 Aug 07 |  Country profiles
Former Panama leader stays in US
09 Sep 07 |  Americas
Panama Canal expansion under way
03 Sep 07 |  Americas

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