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Panama - Banking

In order to open a bank account in Panama you will have to present a certain amount of documentation. These requirements may vary from bank to bank, but the basics are generally the same and you may feel that you are being asked for more information than you would have to provide in other parts of the world. Any information that you provide to the banks needs to be current, as older information may not be accepted.

One of the first things that you need to supply is a photocopy of your passport. This should include the page with your photo on it and pages with recent stamps. This may need to be notarized but this is different with each bank. A second form of ID is also required. This may include a driver’s license or a Panamanian ID card if you already have one and will need to be provided in the form of a photocopy. In addition you need to provide 2 financial reference letters. These need to be from institutions such as banks that have dealt with you in the past. They need to be addressed to the bank that you are hoping to open an account with and they must be signed by a manager of the bank or company.

Two further letters are required from professional or commercial people that you have dealt with. They need to be printed on an official letterhead and can be from a solicitor, financial advisor or former employer. If you can arrange for these letters to be sent from Panamanian nationals then it will help your application. You will also need to provide photocopies of income tax returns from the previous two years.

These should all be sent with the completed application form for the bank account and if you are in the country on one of the retired persons programmes then you will need to enclose a copy of your pension status statement.

Opening the account could be a problem for those who do not have fluent Spanish so you should ensure that you have someone with you who can translate. Most banks require a minimum deposit at the time of opening a bank account, this will vary from around $150 to $300 depending upon the type of account. This amount will be held until the bank verifies the account and lets you know that it is open. Once the account is active you can pay in money in a number of ways. This includes paying in by cash, cheque or bank transfer. The process of opening an account can take up to 10 working days.

If you need items such as a chequebook, debit or ATM card or online banking then you need to request this when you open the account. Most of the banks in Panama have online facilities and this gives you more options with paying bills and other items. In order to have a credit card you need to have a minimum deposit in your account. Credit cards come with varying credit limits and rates and it is worth shopping around for these. A debit card will feature a ‘Clave’ logo which gives you the opportunity to use it at one of the many ATM machines in the country. Some banks will charge a fee for a debit card and for its use but these do vary.

There are different types of bank accounts available including savings, current and term deposit accounts. Interest rates will vary from bank to bank and most offer higher interest the more you save. Banks in Panama offer a good and efficient service and have all modern facilities now. Some branches in rural areas may not offer the same services as those banks in the cities.

Estimates put the number of different banks operating in Panama today at approximately 100. These vary between high street banks, private banks and investment banks. Offshore banking is very popular in Panama. Among the popular banks are Banco General and Bancafe. International banks with a presence in Panama include HSBC and Citibank. Many locals use the two state owned banks in the country, Caja de Ahorros and Banco Nacional de Panama. These offer the same services as the international banks.

Banks are open Monday to Friday from 8.30 am to 4 pm, closing for an hour at lunchtime, and on a Saturday from 8.30 am to 1 pm.

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