When going to Panama as a foreigner, it’s best to keep your finances as secure as possible. For those staying long term, you need the right bank to stash your savings. What else should you do but use Panama’s best banks to handle your money.
For foreigners, these nine banks can give you an easier time with your money. They are Caja de Ahorros, Banco Nacional De Panama, Citibank Panama, Banesco, Scotiabank, Multibank, Credicorp Bank, Banistmo, and BAC Credomatic. These banks will work best for you if you plan on settling down in Panama.
Even then, why pick any of these banks? We list down the advantages of using the banks. These will give you a way to stash your money and safeguard it so you can access it without a hitch.
Here’s what we found out.
Banking in Panama
Before listing the best banks in Panama for foreigners and expats, let’s try to understand a few details first. We need to know how banking works in Panama and what are the things you need for the process. This learning process can save you a lot of grief once you’re ready to do your banking.
To start, there are two base currencies in Panama. These currencies are the Panamanian Balboa (PAB) and the US Dollar (USD). Because of a few historical details, Balboa bills are scarce, and you won’t find a lot of them on the streets.
You don’t need much Balboa anyway, considering the currency ties to the US Dollar. A Balboa is always equal to one dollar. Most stores also accept the US Dollar as Panama’s secondary currency, so having dollars on you should be enough.
You want to remember to use smaller currencies when buying anything in Panama. Because of many issues, many businesses don’t accept $50 and $100. Those that do will ask you to present a type of valid identification, usually a passport.
The Foreigner Dilemma in Panama
For people who want to start banking in Panama, there are three crucial categories. These categories will determine the type of banking experience you will get from the country. They are:
- A permanent resident of Panama with a national ID (cedula)
- A foreigner/expat who is non-American without a cedula
- An American – can be with or without a cedula
Why are these categories relevant?
A permanent resident of Panama with cedula can do banking with no issue. As long as you’re not American, you can expect to get business as usual. You would only need your cedula and an initial deposit to open a bank account in Panama.
For a non-American foreigner without a cedula, you would need to fill in a few requirements. These requirements differ depending on the bank, which we’ll discuss in a bit. Most of the time, you would need around 5 banking days to verify your details. Once you complete the 5 days, only then will the bank ask you for your initial deposit.
The headache comes for Americans, even with or without cedula. Why?
The United States passed the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act or FATCA in 2010. This act made sure made it hard for Americans to create offshore bank accounts. At the time, Panama was a haven for offshore banking, so much that people dubbed it as the “Switzerland of the Americas.”
Why is this relevant in Panama? The United States asked Panamanian banks to undergo FATCA compliance. They did so with the Law 47 of 2016, ratified October of that year. This move opened its books to the US to keep their good standing with the country. It also made banks wary of Americans opening bank accounts in Panama.
The FATCA resulted in two things for Americans. One, most banks in Panama don’t like dealing with Americans, even those with cedula. Many banks who will deal with Americans can take as much as 3 weeks to verify all details.
The second problem is the list of requirements. All foreigners now have a laundry list of demands to fill to prevent unauthorized offshore banking accounts. The entire procedure can be a headache, which can take months in total if you combine all the waiting time.
Common Bank Account Requirements in Panama
So, what are the common requirements to open a bank account in Panama? Documents will vary per bank, but there’s a good chance you would need some or all these. They are:
- A complete application form, available at the bank
- A valid copy of passports, the first page, and pages with arrival stamps
- Proof of continuous income, which includes reference letters, salary slips, tax returns, or employment contract
- Bank references from your home country, as a sign of good standing
- A recent letter of reference from your bank, signed by the manager or higher authority
- A secondary ID apart from passport (driver’s license, cedula)
- Letters from personal references in Panama
- FATCA forms
- Proof of ties with Panama
Some banks will ask for more or less of these. As you can see, it can be time-consuming to open an account in Panama banks. If you want to continue, you need to find the right bank for you.
Panama has 67 banks in total that falls between Panama’s three bank categories. We have the 9 best banks for foreigners and Americans that make the procedure easier for you.
Take a look.
1. Caja De Ahorros
The Caja De Ahorros is one of two state banks in Panama. Its history goes back as far as 1934, as mandated by then-President Harmodio Arias Madrid. It started to operate on July 5, 1934, and offers many different financial products to Panamanians nationwide.
The Caja De Ahorros is 100% FATCA compliant but is a very friendly bank to Americans. You need at least $100 to open an account in this bank, together with many requirements if you’re American.
So, why would you want to start an account with Caja De Ahorros? There are many reasons for it.
First, Caja De Ahorros is a state-owned bank, handling more than $1 billion in finances. This gives you guaranteed access to your funds almost anywhere in Panama. It is also very secure because of its status as a national bank.
This bank also offers a significant swathe of different financial products that will be useful for you. If you plan to stay, retire or invest in Panama, they have reliable rates on loans and credit cards. You won’t find it hard to send wire your money from abroad to here.
2. Banco Nacional De Panama
The Banco Nacional de Panama or Panama National Bank is the other state bank in Panama. It’s the biggest bank in the country, handling more than $5 billion worth of deposits in 2009.
Much like the Caja De Ahorros, Banco Nacional is FATCA compliant and to a fault. They have a very hardline stance with foreigners and even those legal under its jurisdiction.
For Panamanian citizens, the Banco Nacional requires a minimum deposit of $10. For those under its legal jurisdiction like permanent residents or with legal working visas, the minimum is $500. For foreigners, the minimum is a whopping $5000.
You would want to choose Banco Nacional for its near-universal access all around Panama. They also offer some of the best financing options in the country. You can be sure that your finances are safe and secure in this bank.
It’s hard not to consider how easy it is to access your money with this bank. If you plan on staying in Panama, the Banco Nacional is a superb option.
3. Citibank Panama
One of the more familiar names in Panama, Citibank is a welcome sight to Americans. Citigroup’s involvement in Panama goes as far back as the funding of the Panama Canal. The company still involves itself with the development of the country, making them ubiquitous in Panama.
Citibank has many branches within Panama City itself, so it’s accessible to many foreigners. If you’re outside Panama City, you also have options in Chirrera, David, Colon, and Chitre. These branches don’t take into account more ATMs that allow for withdrawals and deposits.
While they can’t connect back to bank branches in other countries, you would want Citibank for familiarity. They follow the same rules as many other banks in Panama, but one advantage is referencing. If Citi is your home bank back in the US, processing can go faster because you’re making accounts within one ecosystem.
4. Banesco SA
Banesco SA is a Panamanian subsidiary of its parent company, Banesco CA, in Venezuela. It’s one of the biggest banks in Venezuela and among the bigger banks in Panama. They have up to 24 branches in Panama, with offices in David, Colon, Penonome, and Los Nisperos.
One of the significant advantages of using Banesco is the precision of the rules it has when dealing with foreigners. If you are a resident with a cedula, most of the requirements are short and precise. Banesco has one of the most concise lists of requirements to open a bank account in Panama.
Even if you are a foreigner in Panama, what you need to fill in Banesco is shorter than most banks. The minimum to open dollar or euro bank accounts in Banesco includes $1000 or €10,000 as a minimum. Other documents include proof of income, valid IDs, and bank references.
If you have an existing Banesco account from other locales, the bank reference processing should be faster too.
5. Scotiabank of Panama
The Scotiabank of Panama is one of the international banks in Panama. They’re among the biggest in the country, with Canada as the country of origin. It’s the third-largest bank in Canada and operates with around 20 branches in Panama.
What makes Scotiabank desirable for foreigners is its connection to Canada. Because of the support the bank gets from its parent company, Scotiabank is a secure bank to use. You can take advantage of this connection with its faster processing if your home bank is a branch in Canada.
Scotiabank also has one of the lowest amounts needed to open bank accounts in Panama. The minimum to open a regular savings account can go as low as $100. Current accounts can go as low as $300 as long as you clear the documentation requests they have.
Their process is easy, and services are friendly to both Americans and foreigners. This makes Scotiabank a preference for foreigners, especially Canadians going to Panama.
6. Multibank Inc
Multibank Inc is a local general license bank in Panama and one of the largest in the country. It offers 30 branches in different locales in Panama and more ATM options. It’s one of the most stable banks in Panama. They come in as the 3rd company with at least $3.9 Billion in assets, giving depositors security and peace of mind.
What makes Multibank a great option is its ubiquity and low opening amounts. For starters, they have a vast number of banks across the country. While they have a strong presence in Panama City, they also have a presence in many smaller towns across Panama.
This level of presence is excellent for people who like to travel around or live outside Panama City. Areas such as Changuinola, Santiago, Chorrera, and even Torti have a branch. They also have superior consumer banking services and offer investments and mortgages too.
Another advantage of using Multibank is its lower barriers to opening an account. Someone with a local ID can open an account for as little as $50. Foreigners without a cedula can also open an account for $1500, far lower than most banks.
Credicorp is the largest financial institution in Peru and one of the most foreign-friendly banks in Panama. Their presence stays limited within Panama City with their 11 branches. Even then, what they have on offer is great for Americans and foreigners.
Using Credicorp has a few advantages if you live within or near Panama City. Because the bank’s concentration is within the city, it’s easy to access finances within the area.
What makes Credicorp attractive to foreigners is the support they give. For starters, their website is easy to use, providing an English page. It’s easy to navigate in their online banking site and work around what you need from them.
Credicorp also has a lower barrier to open an account with their banks. Savings accounts with Credicorp start at $150 for permanent residents and $600 for legal foreigners. Checking accounts start at $800 for permanent residents and $1500 for legal foreigners.
Banistmo is the largest commercial bank in Panama and Central America. It began as the Primer Banco Del Istmo in 1984. For a while, it was a part of HSBC Panama, until their exit and eventual buyout in 2013 that renamed the bank Banistmo.
As the biggest private banking institution in Panama, it has the most extensive banking options. It has 45 branches and more than 284 ATMs across Panama, giving it a wide area of service. If you’re living outside Panama City, Banistmo is the bank you want.
Why would you pick Banistmo over other banks? Other than their sheer presence in the entire country, they are also easy to deal with for foreigners. Banistmo also has one of the most foreigner-friendly account opening policies in Panama.
Most of the requirements they need are standard documentation you likely already have. To open an account, you only need $50 as the minimum deposit for regular savings. For current accounts, you would need up $3000 to start.
9. BAC Credomatic
BAC Credomatic is one of Central America’s largest, most stable banking institutions. It started in Managua in 1952 as Banco de America Central. They were one of the first to venture into credit cards in the region under the Credomatic brand.
BAC has presence all over Panama, with over 36 branches and more than 200 ATMs and kiosks. This bank is the best if you are going around Central America, with a presence available in its entirety. It’s also easy to start a bank account with BAC, known to be among the most foreigner-friendly banks in Panama.
BAC only needs $50 to open a savings account and $300 to open a current account. For savings accounts, their list of requirements is as little as it can be. This includes valid IDs, personal references or APC, evidence of income, proof of residency, and work permits.
If you plan on staying long-term in Panama, BAC is a solid choice for you.
Banking in Panama can be a challenge if you are an American or foreigner to the country. Not all banks have policies set to cater to your needs. You need to find the best bank for you if you’re staying in Panama for a longer time.
There are nine banking institutions in Panama that you can rely on if you are a foreigner. Each provides you different advantages. It’s best to go to your local banks and see if they are right for you. Talk to someone who works in the bank or get recommendations from people you trust.
Which banks in Panama do you use? Which banks do you do business with? What’s your experience with them?
Use the information we gave, and see which of the best banks in Panama fit your needs.
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