Expats and global nomads have a lot of advice about the best banks in Panama and their favorites include Panamanian banks and international banks.
Expat-Friendly Banks in Panama
If you read through posts about banking in Panama on our Panama Forum, you'll quickly see that Banco General and Banistmo are the most recommended banks in Panama by expats.
"Banco General and Banistmo in Panama are my favourites. Banistmo whose mothership is Bancolombia in Colombia, was my first bank over 15 years ago and I have always been really happy with them until they moved quite a distance from me a few years ago and the nearest branch now is in the city of David. But I am in David at least once a week, so it's not a major problem. Most banking nowadays is done on line and I truly enjoy Banistmo and Bancolombia, online platforms," commented one expat.
"Banco General (BG) is in my opinion the best bank in Panama. I have had a BG account for 6 years and make frequent wire transfers into my BG account from a US bank. The fee on the BG side to accept a wire is only $18. I recently opened a Schwab account in US to reduce the outgoing wire fees from $40 at my current bank to $25 at Schwab. Also Schwab reimburses all ATM fees," added another expat.
Charles Schwab Accounts
"It is much easier for example to open an international banking account with Charles Schwab than to open a bank account in Panama. Charles Schwab will even pay your foreign ATM fees," said one expat. "The other good thing with Charles Schwab is they are one of the few firms that allow you to have a brokerage account if you are non-resident. A friend of mine had an account at Merill Lynch and as soon as they realized he had relocated to Panama they forced him to close his account," explained one expat.
Foreign Banks that Waive or Refund Foreign Transaction Fees
"Suggest you explore with your Canadian bank if they can give you the type of account that waives foreign transaction fees. I have a BMO account that does this, and it gives me corporate exchange rates. However, I have to keep a good sized deposit at all times to be entitled to these services. You might find another Canadian bank to help you. Check them all," advised one expat in Panama.
You mention using Schwab. You can transfer funds from Schwab to any account you set up with a Panama bank for free. Also, you can ATM cash from any Panama bank and Schwab will refund your ATM fee. I have both a business and personal account with a panama bank, but can fund either account from one of my Schwab accounts," wrote another expat in a discussion on the Panama Forum.
Key Criteria When Choosing a Bank in Panama
If you're deciding which bank to open an account with, here are some key considerations:
- Proximity to local branches
- Numbers of branches
- Foreign Wire Transfer Fees & ATM Fees
- Online Banking Services and Capabilities
- Ability to Setup Accounts for Foreigners
- Readily Available Information about Setting up an Account as a Foreigner
How to Open a Bank Account in Panama
For specific advice about how to open a bank account in Panama, read our article How to Open a Bank Account in Panama, which 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.
A Word of Caution: Foreign Transaction Fees in Panama
"ATM foreign transaction fees at any bank in Panama are uniform: $5.25/ withdrawal. There is no charge at the bank where you hold an account if you withdraw funds from your Panama account. Therefore it is a good idea to get an account at a bank with many branches, or at least a branch convenient to where you’ll be living. Wire transfer fees vary a bit, but IMO Banco General has the going rate for transfers: $35 for amounts up to $100,000. To this fee you’ll have to add whatever your Canada bank charges for a wire transfer," commented one expat.