How hard is it to open up a bank account in Panama?
It depends on which of these 3 groups you fall into:
- Permanent Panama resident status with a cedula (Panama ID card)
- Foreigner, Not American
- American (even with a cedula)
Group 1 is the easiest, Group 3 is the most difficult.
Americans Can Get Bank Accounts
Let me say upfront that Americans can get bank accounts in Panama.
But not at all Panama banks.
Bank Account Requirements
Regardless of which of the 3 groups you are in, getting a bank account in Panama won’t be fast.
Unless someone “in the know” connects you, it can take anywhere from 2 weeks to 2 months to get a bank account set up.
You will also need alot of paperwork and documents.
Every bank is different, but typically you will need to provide
- Driver’s license, cedula or some other form of ID
- 2 reference letters from either local or international banks – must be recent, within 30 to 60 days old.
Some banks also require
- Bank statements for last 3 months
- Evidence of income (pay stubs, pension, etc)
Some proof that you have a link to Panama, for instance:
- Proof you own titled property
- Letter from lawyer that you are going thru the immigration process
- Utility bills
You will also have to fill out a bunch of paperwork in which you describe who you are, your family, how and where you get your money, and more.
In the future, if you withdraw a large amount out, say $5,000 in a money order, you will have to report what you are spending it on. Or at least you do if you are an American, like we are.
This is their way to try to prevent money laundering and criminal activity.
Consider These 3 Items When Setting Up Your Bank Account
When you are filling out all that paperwork, make sure you set up your account right.
1) Joint Account Wording
If you are opening a joint account, make sure the names on the account are listed as:
- You or your partner
- NOT you and your partner
If one of you dies (god-forbid!), it can be a time consuming nightmare to access the money unless you have that critical, “or”.
2) Beneficiary Forms & Wills
You should also fill out a beneficiary form for your account. This will further ensure there are no issues in case one of you dies, or divorces, etc…
And while we are on the topic, it is recommended that you create a will in Panama as well. This can greatly ease future headaches, expenses, and bureaucratic hurdles for family members.
3) Savings vs. Checking
Many Panama banks charge fees on checking accounts, but not on saving accounts.
Non-American Foreigners & Cedulas
What I described above is the process for foreigners, whether you have resident status or not.
If you do have a cedula, or are in process of getting one, it speeds up the process.
Plus some banks require that you have a cedula (or are in process of getting one) in order to get a bank account.
In general, having a cedula simplifies and shortens many bureaucratic tasks in Panama. Officials here are used to dealing with people who have cedulas. When you don’t, officials get more cautious and unsure, which slows the whole process down.
Americans & Banks In Panama
Yes, it can be problem opening a bank account if you are an American citizen.
But, no worries. Americans can open bank accounts in Panama – but not at every bank.
It is not Panama’s fault. It is the fault of the US.
It is not news that the US is preoccupied by money.
It is one of the big culture shock eye-openers for westerners coming to Panama.
Most Panamanians are not motivated by money.
You cannot get most Panamanians to do a better job by dangling the carrot of more money. This is especially true if they are earning what they consider to be enough.
This is very baffling for Americans at first. My husband still has a hard time grasping it.
In my opinion, because of our money obsession, the US is the only country that
– Requires its citizens to pay taxes on all money earned – even if it is earned overseas
– Requires overseas banks to report on all its citizens with bank accounts with over $10K – this is laid out in FATCA
FATCA is the Act that requires that all foreign banks report on specific American-held accounts.
It is this reporting requirement that makes Panama banks hesitant to deal with Americans.
(For those of you who like to research the whys and wherefores, the FATCA requirement is laid out in Chapter 4 of the US Internal Revenue Code.)
FATCA is all about finding US citizens who are not paying their taxes back home. The US government is convinced that its overseas citizens are not paying US taxes to a tune of $100 billion – each year. I find that hard to believe, but that is why Americans are now the pariahs of the overseas banking industry.
Panama Banks Must Report To US Treasury
The days of Panama being a tax haven are over, ever since Panama signed the tax treaty with the US.
The Panama government requires its banks to comply with FATCA.
What this means is Panama banks are required to file paperwork every year with the U.S. government telling them your name and your balances (if they are above $10k or $50k, depending on the required form) to stay in the good graces of the IRS and Department of Treasury.
So for bank accounts held by Americans, banks must figure out which ones they need to report, then fill out, and send in the correct forms – each year. If the banks don’t report properly, the US can impose big fines on the bank.
Who needs that headache, right?
Panama Banks Do Accept Americans
There are alot of Americans in Panama. So many banks do accept Americans.
Source of “No Americans Accepted” Rumor
When the FATCA regulations first came out many banks put up a “no Americans” wall. That is when the rumors of Americans not being able to get bank accounts started.
My husband and I tried to open up a 2nd Panama bank account about that time and we were told “no” at a number of banks. This included Banco Azteca, which is currently known as a pretty easy bank for Americans to get bank accounts.
Now that banks understand the regulations better, many accept American account holders. Although some banks now have a residency requirement. Their residency requirement applies to all foreigners, not just Americans.
Which Panama Banks Accept Americans
At this time, the following banks allow Americans to open a bank account:
- BAC (you must be official Panama resident)
- Banco Azteca
- Citibank (if you have an account at “home”)
- Banco National
Some other Panama banks accept Americans too. I mention the banks above because I know of Americans, and others, who are happy at those banks.
For convenience, you many want to join a bank that has a branch in your town in Panama.
For a list of all banks in Panama, go here.
Warning: When Yes, Means No
Keep in mind that individual bank branches may not be thrilled to have American account holders.
A bank may officially state that it accepts Americans. However, the person at the branch you go to may really hate all that paperwork and the stress of maybe making a reporting mistake.
While he or she may tell you, “Yes, please submit your paperwork”, it may never be enough.
If a bank keeps asking you for one more thing in order to finalize your application, what he or she is really saying is, “No, you cannot open an account here”.
Panamanians tend to be big-time conflict avoiders. Your banker simply doesn’t want to tell you the bad news and deal with the fall out.
Don’t keep hitting your head against the wall.
Start the process over at another bank or another branch of the same bank.
Connections Speed It Up
If you know someone who knows someone at the bank, it can make the process go alot faster and smoother.
I am not suggesting paying money to grease the wheels. That is a bad idea. However, having a connection can smooth the road.
I hope this information helps you out.
Please comment on your Panama banking experiences below.
- Chris of PanamaforReal.com. He has a video in which he and a friend try to open a bank account in 6 different banks in Panama City. Chris is an American, His friend is a Canadian. He has a cedula, his friend does not. All 6 banks allowed Americans & Canadians to open an account. The banks: Banistimo, Banesco, Banco General, BAC, Unibank, and Citibank. But only those with Panama resident status can open accounts at BAC and Banco General.
- Elizabeth of PanamaGringoGuide.com‘s post describing her experience with banking in Panama.
- Helplinelaw.com explains the details of FATCA
- Bestplacesintheworldtoretire.com‘s discussion about opening a bank account in Panama
- ChiriquiChatter.com for sharing the insight on the importance of the word, “or”.
- My experience.