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Beautiful views of the Ocean and Coronado from the mountains of Panama. Photo by Bruce Dunstan

Buying My Lot in Panama: How I Self-Directed My IRA

My first time in Panama was in June 2005.  I flew down from Texas, determined to learn as much about the country in the month that I had, and before the month was over I had put escrow money down for a lot in the beautiful Altos del Maria.  Three months after that and I had purchased the lot with Self-Directed IRA funds.  Read on to see how I did it.

I knew that I wanted property in the highlands, not the beach. Fortunately, the two are right next to one another, so I wasn’t giving up too much.

The Pacific Coast of Panama is a spectacular area, where miles of flat land back up against a beautiful mountain range, giving anyone on the side of those mountains panoramic views of the coast below.

Less crowded and with cooler temperatures, the mountains supported the relaxing lifestyle I wanted, but the beach was only a half-hour drive away.

Traveling along the coast, I drove up several different mountain roads and saw many different lots before settling on Altos del Maria.  A bit further removed from the Inter-American Highway than other highland areas, Altos makes up for it with crisp mountain breezes and over a million pine trees.  I have friends up here who, thanks to the cool, clean air no longer feel hindered by lung conditions that plagued them back in North America.

I met with a sales representative for the project, and he showed me around the lots that were available.  After some driving around, I found the perfect lot.  After securing a lawyer (as we always reiterate everyone should), I decided that I wanted to purchase this land as an investment with my IRA funds from the United States.  I put down the $1,000 to hold the property for me, and returned home to manage the money transfer.

A Self-Directed IRA account is a bit of a misnomer: you are not allowed to touch your own money, unless you wish to pay the required taxes and fees associated with an early withdrawal.  Instead, there are certified U.S. fund trusts and banks that will handle your money for you.  I chose the Sovereign International Asset Management Company (SIAM) out of Palm Harbor, Florida to manage my new Self-Directed IRA.  Once you have your company, it’s time to buckle up and prepare for some paperwork.

Establishing an account with SIAM took two weeks.  Transferring my IRA funds from my Texas bank to my new Self-Directed account took one month.  It took 20 days to verify the timeline for funds transfer with my Panamanian lawyer.  A month after that, my lawyer and Altos del Maria were discussing the purchase.  Although I was past my contractual obligation to transfer all funds to Altos, they happily agreed to extend my timeline.  Finally, after over three months, I was ready to transfer my funds.  SIAM was to transfer the funds to my lawyer in Panama, who would purchase the property on my behalf.

SIAM set the money for the transfer aside for roughly one week, and wired the full amount over along with several other transfers as a group wire.  After sorting out the transfers, the property was put in my name.

panama usa europe real estate

Greg taking a listing in Arraijan, Panama

Although the process took some time, at no point was I worried or confused.  My lawyer in Panama and my accountants in the United States kept me informed the entire time, and it felt great to get some of my IRA funds invested into real estate in a growing market.  If you have an IRA account, I strongly suggest you spend some time investigating the self-directed side of things.

I’ve been in Panama for thirty months now, and I have loved every moment along the way.  If you have any questions on using Self-Directed IRA funds, or if you want to know anything more about the beautiful Altos del Maria development, please e-mail me at greg@ipreinfo.com.  I’m here to help.

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