Opening a bank account in Panama can be a somewhat daunting task for an new expat or global nomad, especially if you are not fluent in Spanish. This article 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.
Documents Required to Open a Bank Account
"As for banking, each bank has its own requirements. Visit the websites of the institutions you're interested in to see what is needed. There is no credit rating agency in Panama, and compliance with US FATCA regulations is cumbersome, so you need a lot of documentation to open an account," advised one expat.
He went on to say, "Here is what Banco General, Panama's most respected and biggest (in terms of number of branches), requires for a foreigner to open an account:
- Valid passport or Panamanian national i.d. card (cedula)
- A bank letter of reference no more than 30 days old
- Proof of a link to Panama, such as a notarized copy of your lease
- Proof of the source of your funds, such as banking statements or income tax return.
- In addition there is an application form that requires the names and contacts of 3 local references (I used my lawyer, the hotel manager, and a real estate agent).
It took about 3 hours to process the application, mainly because the bank employee couldn't type very well - LOL. Approval took 2 weeks. Initial deposit required was $300, and minimum balance to keep the account open is $5. I didn't need a helper to do this, paid or volunteer. I prefer not to have my personal financial info floating around."
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
Our article, Best Banks in Panama for Expats and Global Nomads provides insight from expats in Panama about the most expat-friendly banks.
Can I open a bank account before I have residency in Panama?
"As for a bank account in Panama, if you do not have residency as yet, many banks will not allow you to open an account with them. The ones that I have found that will allow you to open a bank account will want you to leave $1500 with them to start up the account. They don't know if you will ever be back and they have monthly and sometimes yearly charges just to have your account open, so that is why they want you to leave that much money with them. You will need lots of picture and other ID, proof of the source of the funds like bank statements and income tax for a few years, references, next of kin or beneficiaries, and more. Many banks have the same lists of documentation that they require, some banks ask for less. If you have your residency, some banks will allow you to open your account with $5 or less. Every bank in Panama is a little different as far as information that they want you to have from you," explained one expat.
How long does it take to open a bank account in Panama?
"Panama is not the place where you can visit for a week or two and open a bank account. A lot of paperwork is required. The first bank account I opened took about 5 weeks and was told, 'that was fast.' Once I had an account, I opened another at Banco General and it took less than two hours - BUT - I had all the paperwork and the support of a local company for a reference and already having an account in Panama helped. You need to check the list of required documents. As others have posted - I would recommend Banco General - for many reasons," wrote one expat.
Can my Immigration Attorney help me open a bank account?
Many expats and global nomads use a lawyer to open a bank account. If you're apply for the Friendly Nations Visa, for example, which involves depositing money in a bank account, your immigration lawyer often helps clients open the account."