Expat Banking: Tips for Expats in Panama

By Joshua Wood, LPC

Last updated on: Sep 05, 2018

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Summary: 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.

Expat Banking - Tips for Expats in Panama

Expats in Panama, or anyone moving to Panama, inevitably has to choose a banking service to use there.

Here is some advice offered by expats already there to people in the process of moving there or considering such a move. Remember that individual banks and Panama all have specific policies, but every case will be evaluated on a case-by-case basis.

Read what we've edited below, and the original articles and/or message-board threads so you have as much information as possible.

Expat Recommended Banks in Panama

An expat looking for a bank with offices in the U.S. and Panama, which resulted in an insightful conversation among expats:

"There is no easy way to send money from the U.S. to Panama and the other way around. It is all about bank wires. Scotiabank is considered an international bank, but because they are franchises here in Panama, you cannot simply move money from one branch in the U.S. such as in New York or Canada to a branch here in Panama. Panama's banking system is closed in that respect. It is just as easy, or difficult, to send money from the Bank of America to Caja de Ahorros, a National Bank of Panama, as it is to send money from a Scotiabank in Canada to a Scotiabank in Panama. No real association like you have with branches in the U.S. or Canada. Citibank here in Panama was recently purchased by Scotiabank. HSBC was another International bank that has left Panama and sold back its holdings to Banistmo, a Colombian-based bank in Panama. Panama banks have no direct connection to any other banks in the world. If you need guidance in that regard, I work in the banking industry here in Panama and I am only too happy to guide you."

Banking in Panama? TransferWise is an online account that lets you send money, get paid, and spend money internationally. With a TransferWise account, you can send money abroad, get paid in other currencies, and spend abroad on the TransferWise debit Mastercard.

"There are a few banks in Panama where they will accept your U.S. Social Security checks monthly. Most people collect their checks over time and make a bank wire when they need money in Panama. Some just use their Schwab or other ATM cards and pay the $5.25 per withdrawal and then Schwab will reimburse at a later date. Cash is still King in Panama but cards are widely accepted."

"There is no direct connection with banks in the United States and Panama. But you can have your pension or Social Security direct deposited in to most reputable banks in Panama. I know many people who do this and it works just fine."

"There are plenty of Chase credit cards that offer no foreign transaction fees, including the Sapphire cards and United Explorer."

"You should also look at Schwab in the United States. They will reimburse you for ATM fees in Panama and around the world."

In another discussion about banking in Panama Interest Rates in Panama Banks.

One expat responded and wrote:

"Depends on how much... Check out BCT Bank."

Panama does not offer FDIC insurance and is generally not transparent.

Another expat advised:

"Even if you have an account with the local subsidiary of a large international Bank the mother company might not be held responsible. As a former banker I would not deposit more funds than necessary locally and keep your savings and investments where they treat you better, I.e. FDIC and SIPC insurance. The return of your money should have priority."

Opening a Bank Account in Panama

An expat asking about documents needed to open a bank account in Panama was given the following advice:

"Each bank has different requirements. You'll usually need at least 2, maybe 2, bank reference letters from your current bank. (it cannot be more than 30 days old and must be signed by a real person), copy of passport photo page and your driver's license, proof that your income taxes have been paid (if US citizen, you can get an IRS transcript)), the bank questionnaire and about $1500 to open the account."

Best to go with a bank that has online banking in English and Spanish unless you are fluent in Spanish. Some of those banks would be Banistmo, Global, Multibank and Scotia.

If you have more questions about banking in Panama, post it into our Forum for expats in Panama.

Deciding Where to Live in Panama

If you're thinking about moving to Panama and haven't narrowed down where you would like to live, consider taking a tour with our partner, Panama Relocation Tours.

About the Author

Joshua Wood Joshua Wood, LPC joined Expat Exchange in 2000. Joshua has a BA from Syracuse and a Master's in Clinical and Counseling Psychology from Fairleigh Dickinson University. Some of Joshua's more popular articles include Pros and Cons of Living in Portugal, 10 Best Places to Live in Ireland and 5 Best Places to Live in Spain. Connect with Joshua on LinkedIn.

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Updated On: Sep 05, 2018

First Published: Sep 05, 2018

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