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Panama - Banking

In order to open a bank account in Panama applicants have to present a certain amount of documentation. These requirements can vary from bank to bank, but the basics are generally the same and applicants should expect to be asked for more information than they would have to provide in some other parts of the world. Any information that applicants provide to the bank needs to be current, as older information can be rejected.

One of the first things to do is to supply is a photocopy of a valid passport. This also includes the page with a photo on it and some pages with recent stamps. This documentation is usually required, but it may be different with each bank. Another form of ID is required as well. This includes a driver’s license or a Panamanian ID card for those who already have one. In addition applicants also need to provide two financial reference letters. These need to be from institutions such as banks that have been dealt with in the past. These need to be addressed to the bank in which the applicant wishes to open an account and they must be signed by a manager of the bank or company.

There are two further letters that are required. These are from professional or commercial people that the applicant has dealt with before. They need to be printed on an official letterhead and can be from a solicitor, financial advisor or former employer. If these letters are sent from Panamanian nationals then it can make this process much easier. Photocopies of income tax returns from the previous two years also need to be provided at this stage. This should all be sent with the completed application form for the bank account. Those who are in the country on one of the retired persons’ programmes need to enclose a copy of their pension status statement.

Opening the account could be a problem for those who do not speak Spanish fluently, so it is wise to bring someone who can serve as a translator. Many banks require a minimum deposit at the time of opening a bank account, which can vary from around $150 to $300, depending on the type of account. This amount is usually held until the bank verifies the account and lets the applicant know that it is opened. Once the account is active, users can pay in a number of ways. This includes paying in cash, by cheque or a bank transfer. The process of opening the new account can take up to 10 working days.

If a chequebook, debit card, ATM card or online banking are required, applicants need to request these when they opening the account. Most of the banks in Panama have online facilities which offer options for paying bills and other items. In order to have a credit card users need to have a minimum deposit in their account. Credit cards come with varying limits and rates, so it is wise to check all these details with a desired bank. A debit card features a "Clave" logo which gives customers the opportunity to use it at one of the many ATMs in the country. Some banks also charge a fee for a debit card and its use, but these may vary.

There are different types of bank account available in Panama. These includes savings, current and deposit accounts. Interest rates usually vary from bank to bank and most of them offer higher interest for those who save more. Banks in Panama offer a good and efficient service, as they all have modern facilities. Some branches in rural areas may not offer the same quality of services as banks in the cities across the country.

Offshore banking is very popular in Panama as well. 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, Caja de Ahorros and Banco Nacional de Panama. These offer the same services as numerous international banks. Banks in Panama are open Monday to Friday from 8.30 am to 4pm, closing for an hour at lunchtime. On Saturdays the working hours are from 8.30 am to 1 pm.


The Panamanian currency is the Balboa, which is named after Vasco Nunez de Balboa, the Spanish explorer who played a significant role in bringing Panama under Spanish rule. The international code for the Balboa is PAB and it has the same sign as the US dollar. The balboa became the main currency after Panama stopped using Colombian currency in 1904, shortly after gaining independence from their neighbouring country. At the time when the currency has changed, the Colombian peso was given the value of half a balboa. More than 4 million pesos were given to the banks in exchange for the new currency. The old coins were melted down, some in New York and some in London. The total was almost half of all the Colombian coins in circulation, which later led to some problems within the Colombian economy.

The new currency was immediately linked to the American dollar and was structured in very much the same way. One balboa is divided into 100 centesimos and has the same value and exchange rate as the US dollar. There are no longer any Panamanian banknotes as this country uses only American banknotes, although Panama does have its own coins. It is worth noting that if you have American $50 and $100 bills, then some businesses, particularly small businesses in Panama, will not accept them. Some shops and businesses that do accept them will expect that customers provide some identification first. Those who are given coins in Panamanian banks will find that most of them are US coins.

This can be confusing, particularly if travelling to Panama and trying to obtain Panamanian currency. It is easier to take American currency or traveller’s cheques as these are accepted everywhere and there is no need to exchange currency. There are bureau de change offices in numerous places across the country, with most hotels and banks offering this facility as well. As the balboa is interchangeable with the US dollar, the exchange rate with the currencies of other countries has the same rate as the US dollar has with them, so when comparing currencies, it is easier to simply check the rate for the US dollar.

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