Banking in Panama

Opening a Bank Account in Panama

Everywhere you look there are banks here. And just when you thought you had spotted them all, they build another one. For Panamanians getting a bank account is much easier than for foreigners.

Unlike the United States and Canada, you can’t just walk in and open an account in 15 minutes. It takes time and usually a few days to a week. The banks here want to know who you are. Will you be a good client? Are you an upstanding person?

Our attorney helped us open our account in Panama City. Without her, we would have not known what to expect.

We needed to have 2 bank reference letters from banks we had accounts in. The bank reference letters are an unfamiliar term for bankers in the US. We tried to get it write and still did it wrong. The letters need to be made out from a specific person who will sign the letter stating you are in good standing with a bank. That person must have their personal contact information in the letter. It must be a phone number they can be called during working hours to corroborate and confirm they actually wrote it themselves. The signature must be of that person. The signature must not be a stamp.

Our bank in the US not understanding, sent us a letter generated by some department and stamped with the presidents signature of the bank. When the bank in Panama wanted to call and confirm the letter was written by the president, oops, someone other than of course the bank president wrote it. That did not work for the bank here. They wanted the exact person who wrote the letter to have signed it.

So just wanted to let you know, any bank you try to open an account here will always require at least 2 “bank reference letters.” In addition they want to know where you live. To prove that they will want to see either a water bill, electric bill, cable bill or something with your name on it and your residence address.

And it is true that many banks will not open accounts for Americans. Many problems arise from the new HR 2847 that is supposed to take effect soon, requiring all foreign banks to report funds that are held by Americans to the IRS. Many banks find it easier to deny Americans an account rather than have to do all the necessary paperwork for the IRS each year that they don’t get compensated for.

Your First Deposit

You should have a small amount of cash you can deposit. By small I mean under $2000. Problems will arise when you try to open an account with either a large check or a large amount of money. They will want to know where the money came from.  If they are not satisfied, they will not open your account.

Case in point. We know someone here who just sold some property to a Panamanian. The person who purchased the property paid cash to the owner. The owner is moving out of the country and of course can’t take a huge amount of cash with him on a plane. So he went to a local bank and tried to open an account, figuring that when he needed the money he could transfer it into another account in another country. The bank would not allow him to open an account because the cash had no trail. Although he could prove he sold his property for that amount, he could not prove where that person he got it from, got it. They would not open an account for him.

While some people complain of all the rules they find here, I find it comforting that the bank is looking out for itself. Being strict with the rules is okay as long as everyone knows ahead of time what is expected.

Safety Deposit Boxes

Most of the older banks that have been around awhile do not have safety deposit boxes, however the newer banks do. They charge much more than they do in the US however.

 

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