While you don’t need a personal bank account in Panama to live here, it may lower transaction prices and make paying bills easier.
Reasons to set up a personal bank account
Many expats have differing views on whether or not you need to open a personal bank account. If you have an account in USD, it may make little difference in the bank charges. In other currencies, the bank charges could be high and might be reason enough to set up your account here.
Another reason for setting up a personal bank account in Panama is to apply for the friendly nations visa. One requirement is that you have a personal account with no less than a mid-four figure balance. You should deposit at least USD$5,000 in the account, then. The friendly nations visa will provide you with permanent residency, It also provides a work permit (depending on which application you make). And it allows you to eventually naturalize as a Panamanian (if having a second passport is your goal).
Paying bills online: many of the banks will allow you to pay bills online, although this is not for all utilities companies. Some still requirement payment at their office or through an approved intermediary. You can also pay your personal taxes online through some banks (such as income tax or property taxes).
Requirements: personal bank account
The requirements vary slightly from bank to bank. Nonetheless, the general requirements are the same:
- Complete the bank account application forms, all of them
- Your passport (the bank will make its own copy)
- 2nd ID – such as driver’s license
- Professional reference letter – such as from a lawyer / accountant / company you have done work with
- Banking reference – they are looking for proof of a banking relationship of more than 2-3 years
- If you don’t have a “bank account” but have a credit union account, this will usually work
- They may accept an investment account letter instead of a “bank”
- Minimum opening deposit: $1,000.00 (some banks do require less)
- Minimum balance:
- checking: usually somewhere between $250.00 to $1,000.00
- savings: usually somewhere between $500.00 to $1,000.00
The forms ask for proof of source of funds: the bank is interested in knowing how you support yourself financially and where they should expect to receive income from.
If you are applying for your friendly nations visa through our office, we would be happy to accompany you to the bank for your initial interview.
Choosing a bank:
Consider the following when choosing where to apply for your personal bank account:
- Where you live and branches that you have close by
- Online banking – which ones have their website in English
- What online banking services do they offer?
- Do you / your friend / the company you work for already have a relationship with the bank?
- Expat opinions regarding customer service – you will be able to find complaints against every bank, but some are worse than others
- What is their online security platform? Will you need a widget in order to pay bills and make transfers?
- Number of ATM machines available in your area of town if you like to get cash out
For more information, do not hesitate to contact our office for assistance.
Technology and systemization is being implemented in many parts of our lives, and Panama’s immigration department is finally trying to catch up with their new online application system. They expect that this new system (Migración en Línea) will eliminate bottle-necks and long waits. Applicants may remember arriving at immigration at 5.00 a.m. to get a number for the queue. It will also allow their staff to work more on reviewing the paperwork rather than receiving the documents. Over time the immigration office will be adding to the breadth of applications which can be made online.
Immigration office press release:
In a press release on April 5, 2017, they advised that as of the 15th of April, 2017, it is no longer possible to register (for the first time as a foreigner in Panama) in person at the immigration department (even with a lawyer). Applicants must now complete the application online and submit the documentation electronically. The applicant pays at Immigration still, but it is anticipated that eventually they will move towards an electronic payment system. When rolling out the new system, the immigration office indicated that the steps to follow for registration were:
- complete online registration
- pay at the immigration office
- present the payment receipt at “certifications” and complete the document verification
- you will receive an email update of the status.
As might be expected with any new system, it has not worked perfectly these first few weeks. It has been our experience that we have to then take in the same paperwork that we submitted online, together with the reference number that the system provided us with, and have them complete the registration manually (in person) and not simply verify the documentation. However, we expect that these glitches will eventually be worked out, and then we will, no doubt, find glitches with the new services as they are rolled out. The immigration department is currently announcing (through Facebook & Twitter) that it will be possible to present visa and residency requests through the online system as of the 1st of June, 2017.
This new system already permits the following to be done online:
- status of naturalization applications (only while in the immigration department, not once passed to the Ministry of Government)
- status of visa and authorized visa applications
We will continue to provide updates regarding this system, until it is fully implemented and working smoothly.
For more information, please contact Joan Villanueva.