Expat Banking: Tips for Expats in Panama
By Joshua Wood, LPC
Expats in Panama face unique challenges in managing their finances while living there, and that always starts with settling on the right expat financial services. Here are some basic tips from expats living in Panama - their insights are based on their actual experiences managing their finances while living there.
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An index of all of our site's Panama information.
Help others in Panama by answering questions about the challenges and adventures of living in Panama.
Best Places to Live in Panama
Panama is a great place to live or retire with easy residency laws, warm people and lots of expats. Whether you want to live by the beach in Bocas del Toro or need to live in Panama City for work and schools, there are many places to explore.
Pros & Cons of Living in Panama
Take off your rose-colored glasses and learn what digital nomads & expats have to say about the biggest challenges and the greatest rewards of living in Panama.
Cost of Living in Panama
Expats in Panama enjoy a relatively low cost of living. However, it's important to do your research to make sure you'll actually enjoy those saving while creating a high quality of life as an expat in Panama.
Panama's Pensionado Visa
Panama's Pensionado Visa offers retirees with a retirement income of at least $1,000 an easy way to become legal residents of Panama and includes many perks.
Panama's Pensionado Discounts
Panama's pensionado discounts are available to legal residents (55+ for women, 60+ for men). These generous discounts include 25% off airline tickets, 25% at restaurants, 50% off at hotels during the week, exemption on import tax for up to $10,000 household goods and much more.
Panama's Friendly Nations Visa
Panama's Friendly Nations Visa was introduced in 2012 and enables immigrants from 50 nationalities to easily obtain residency and a work permit.
How to Open a Bank Account in Panama
How to open a bank account in Panama from the expat perspective: covers what documents you'll need to open a bank account, key criteria when choosing a bank, opening a bank account before you obtain residency and more.
Having just opened a Savings account with a:debit card at Isla Colon's Banco Nacional, one of two government-owned banks in Panama, and the only bank in Bocas Town, I have some insight to share.
First, a $5,ooo deposit was required to open a simple savings account with a debit card. I asked if there was a minimum balance required and they to me no and that I could access the funds the next day, and I did a small withdrawal.
I also quickly discovered that the "debit" card was not like what we're used to in the U'S, It's a "no-name" generic debit card, not like VISA or Mastercard and apparently cannot be used like debit cards in the U.S.
From there I also discovered the fine print of debit cards (at least for government-owned Panamanian banks) and that the usage is limited to within Panama's borders.
Because I have a Pensionado (retired) Permanent Residency Visa, the paperwork was surprisingly simple and quick.
However, I soon also disc0vered more quirks of Panamanian banking: (1) a 15-day minimum for non-bank checks to clear, and the only way to get money in or out of Panama is by wire-transfer, even between international branches of the same bank. I've already determined, that as a light user, paying ATM fees in Panama for rent, utilities, and cash for the few places I need it, is cheaper than paying for wire transfers.
So I'm left with wondering if I need a local bank at all and am still considering it. I plam om meeting with MulitBank and Scotia soon in Changuinola.