Advice for Your Success in Nicaragua & Central America
Customer Service and Attorneys
I’m often asked what is the biggest challenge foreigners face when they visit Central America, particularly if they want to purchase property or do business in the region. My answer is usually, “It’s easier to identify what ISN’T a challenge in Central America!”
Just so we’re clear, for the geographically challenged: Central America is not Kansas or Missouri. It’s the cluster of countries that connect North America to South America – including Belize, Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Panama. On a map, it’s the long skinny bit in the middle of the two larger Americas.
Map of Central America
While North America is largely the First World, and South America has a somewhat European orientation in many places, the land bridge separating these two continents has somehow managed to become the red-headed stepchild of the Americas — left behind just a bit. Yet, I can say without a shadow of doubt that some of the most dynamic property deals and investments in the world are on offer in Central America right now.
So instead of leaving it out of your portfolio, why not learn how to meet the unique challenges Central America presents—and use the cultural, social, and business anomalies to your benefit?!
The first ‘issue’ visitors often have with Central America- in particular, in countries such as Panama where the massive skyscrapers give one the impression of the First World – is Customer Service. Let’s face it, I’m originally from the U.S.A., and even my stomach roils sometimes at all the “Have a Nice Day” terminally happy jargon. Yet, upon arrival in Panama, my soul cries out for the tiniest bit of recognition by an Immigration employee… the smallest guidance through a complex and often time-consuming system.
My expat friends often joke that in Panama, nearly all the restaurants are Self-Serve, whether staffed or not. They’d be just about right, actually.
While this is changing slowly, the concept of Customer Service has not yet made it to many parts of the region. Learning how to handle this in a property transaction can save you time, money, and lots of grey hair.
For example, often my clients will leave a real estate purchase in Panama in the hands of an attorney, and be confused when they don’t receive responses to their emails and the deal has not yet closed. They usually ask if they picked the wrong attorney…
Picking the right attorney in Panama – in fact, in any Central American country – is a difficult process, much like it is in your home country. Often when I’m asked if there are any good attorneys in Central America, I reply, “Yes, and I can give you contact details for both of them!”
All joking aside, it may be that they have picked the wrong attorney. However, it’s far more likely they’ve picked an ineffective means of communication for the cultural norms of the region.
Those of us from First World countries are generally accustomed to email communication, and we use it regularly. Email is fast, effective, and it serves as a set of notes and a record of what has been agreed, in case one or the other party forgets.
However, I have found many people in Central America who prefer not to use it at all, or, if they do it’s used sparingly and ineffectively.
Here’s to your success in Central America!