The Pluses & Minuses Of Banking In Panama

“Kathleen, I am a member of your Overseas Retirement Circle and was at last month’s Offshore conference in Panama City. I’m writing with regard to the ‘The World Didn’t End‘ letter from Lief that you published recently, specifically with regard to banking in Panama.

“Although I am not yet a resident of Panama, I have had a non-resident bank account (local bank) since 2009. I obtained this account through the auspices of my attorney, who arranged a (paid) introduction to one local bank. The only requirement is that I have to make deposits at least once every six months.

“Last month, while in Panama City, I went to the bank headquarters, now in Costa del Este. I had a discussion with one of the bank’s officers regarding possible alternatives for customers other than deposits in U.S. dollars. I was informed that, like the government, the bank was toying with the idea of diversifying to euro (a now rather strange choice, I thought). Otherwise, this bank has no intention to diversify their offerings for the foreseeable future. I was/am disappointed. I found the bank’s stance not to be in sync with what is really going on in the outside world, so to say.

“Following my bank visit I emailed my attorney, Rainelda, to bring to her attention that today customers, Americans or not, want options including both currencies and precious metals.

“Note that having a Panama bank account is also a requirement for those applying for the new fast-track (four to six months) ‘immediate residency’ visa. I have been counseled not to bother with this visa (I am age 70) but rather just to apply for the standard pensionado visa.

“At any rate, I just wanted to pass along my own experience given Lief’s ‘I’ve given up on Panama banks’ commentary in your letter. Instead, I would point out that 1) it is apparently highly desirable to have a local bank account in Panama, and 2) it appears that formal introductions through approved attorneys are required for opening accounts. I do not claim that I am right, but only that this has been my experience.

“I hope this commentary is of help.”

–Gardiner R., United States

Lief Simon replies:

I have several bank accounts in Panama at different banks. My frustration with Panama banks right now is that they are constantly changing the rules to do with opening an account, obtaining a mortgage, fees being charged, etc. I could tell you dozens of crazy stories from others I know with bank accounts in this country, from banks closing accounts with no explanation and telling the client to come pick up a check for his funds to having to stand in three lines over two hours to be able to withdraw funds from your own account.

Yes, you need a bank account in the country to qualify for the new visa, and you’ll need a local bank account if you plan to live here. However, a non-resident looking for a place to park some savings or to invest some money has better options now. If the bad customer service that has become the rule, not the exception, among Panamanian banks doesn’t wear you out, the lack of options will.

Continue Reading: How To Choose Where To Retire Overseas

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