Headlines - Conde Nast Traveler - Your Piece of Paradise

Your Piece of Paradise

SHOULD A SECOND HOME satisfy an urge for far-flung adventure or enhance your portfolio's growth potential? Why not both. Ondine Cohane reports on a half-dozen spots across the Western Hemisphere where a house can enrich your life and your nest egg.

PANAMA IS THE NEW CENTRAL American bargain, where the U.S. dollar-the market currency-goes a long way. The country ranks second only to Switzerland as a tax haven, the cost of living is low, English is widely spoken, and Panama City's infrastructure is technologically advanced. David Tkachuk, a former gas company executive, spent a year and a half researching a retirement spot with his wife before settling on a 2.4-acre lot at a beach resort near Coronado. "We wanted a tropical place with an ocean view in a politically and economically stable country' he said. "Panama just kept coming up."

One American, who incorporated an Internet business here last year, purchased a 2,000-square-foot aerie on the twentieth floor of a 21 - story building in Panama City's San Francisco district, one of the most sought- after neighborhoods in town, for $148,000. The wraparound terraces have views of the ocean, the city skyline, and the ships passing through the canal, and, he says, "I can't get over my standard of living." WHERE TO LOOK The second-home business is booming in the surprisingly cosmopolitan capital of Panama City, as well as on the islands of Bocas del Toro. In the temperate highlands of Chinqui Province, Boquete, a small mountain enclave near the national parks of Volcan Baru and La Amistad, was voted by AARP members the world's fourth-best place to retire. FINE PRINT Foreign second-home owners who plan to stay longer than the three months allowed on a tourist visa often choose to become Panamanian residents. Although a residency permit, or cedulo, is not required to buy property and the paperwork needed to get it is extensive, residents do not pay tax on income earned abroad. To be eligible for residency, foreigners must have an income of $500 to $600 a month and must incorporate a business locally or invest in an existing local business.