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Getting a bank account in Panama is a very bureaucratic and lengthy process. Do not expect to walk in and walk out a few hours later with a functioning bank account and ATM card.
Do expect the entire process to take a few days up to 2 weeks, depending on the bank and your individual situation. So, when starting the banking process be mindful of a few things.
You will need a lot of documentation. Each bank has their own requirements, but below is a pretty standard list that compiles most of their requirements, but be ready to be asked for more paperwork, shall they see it necessary.
There are a lot of FATCA documents if you are a US Citizen that need to be signed. W9’s and other disclosure forms must be signed. Your bank account officer in the US must give you all reference letters signed and on original bank letterhead, and a direct telephone number where that person can be reach as they will call them.
Your business reference letter issues must do the same, all letters on original letterhead, signed on ink and with a verifiable telephone number. Your accountant must also be available just in case they contact them to verify tax or other income information Your income verification from SS or your retirement fund MUST NOT be any older than six months
Your employment verification letter must be original, signed in ink and with a verifiable telephone number. If you are working under a contract, bring your stamped contract. Online banking does not come immediately with the account. It is a process. An officer must set it up for you in order for it to work Checks are not a widely accepted form of payment in Panama.
Cash is preferred or credit or debit cards always work best. Be prepared to pay for a Certified Check or Cashier’s Check for most of your check payments. Avoid large bills ($50/$100), they are a hassle. Most places do not accept them and those who do, require your passport number on a log, a Manager’s approval etc.
When banking, make sure you do get smaller denominations. Your bank account may be subject to 7% ITBMS, check fees, online fees, etc. Do ask your officer when opening the account what your fees are. It is preferable that your bank and business reference letters reflect a relationship older than 2 years and that your bank balance is an average of mid to high 4 figures (min. $5,000 looks better) Your ATM is strictly an ATM and will likely not have a VISA or MC logo, however, this form of ATM payment is readily available at most locations.
Some institutions allow online payments, however, when making those online payments remember that you will be taxed and charged a percentage of the transaction amount. Again, these vary according to your type of account and banking institution, so it’s best to shop around and ASK questions when starting the process.