Panama banks? Prepare
for the bureaucracy
Getting a bank account in Panama banks is not as easy as it is back home, wherever that is.
In the U.S. or Canada, there is competition for your business. Not so in Panama. You might even think they don’t want your money. But it may not be the Panama bank’s fault.
The U.S. has pressured banks around the world to adopt know-your-client policies that make money laundering more difficult. Nothing wrong with that, but in the process, the vastly larger number of honest people now must jump through a number of hoops before being able to open a bank account in Panama banks or any other foreign country's banks.
Rule #1: Do not, under penalty of financial death, close your bank account in the country from which you are coming. If you do, you may never be able to open an account here in Panama banks. You will need a reference from your current bank, and some bankers here demand that the letter be sent to you but addressed to their bank.
In addition to the bank letter of reference (most banks ask for two but will accept one if you have only one account), you will need the following to open a Panamanian bank account:
- Proof of income. Certified copies of the documents you presented to obtain pensionado status are excellent. You cannot get a bank account in Panama banks until you are accepted as a permanent resident.
- Your cedula (an identification card you must carry with you at all times), which bears your photograph and is issued by the immigration department when you are accepted for permanent residence.
- At least two references from people in Panama who know you, either through business or friendship. It is not necessary that they have known you either long or well.
- Credit card statements for the previous six months, even if you are not applying for a credit card.
- Opening deposit (in cash). In most cases, you need to deposit $500 for a checking account and $300 for a savings account. Some branches outside the capital have lower minimums. There are penalties if your balance falls below this amount.
Different Panama banks may apply the know-your-client policy in slightly different ways, but the hoops are the same to open a bank account in Panama.
And check into the fees at the bank you choose. There are no freebies for retirees here, and some of the standard fees may shock you. Check them out, and then decide which services to use and which to avoid. I have a savings account here, but I make more use of my Canadian account and automatic tellers.
How much do the Panama banks really want your money? HSBC paid 1% on savings accounts where the balance exceeded $300 (December, 2004), but only ½% on $1 million. Go figure! Other banks may have an entirely different attitude.
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