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.
Immigration Update: June 2017
Of particular note, in this immigration update is that the Friendly Nations visa is available to immigrants from Europe, North America and other countries listed. There have been no major changes in the requirements for work permits under Friendly Nations. We have been hearing a lot in the news regarding the change to 90 tourist permits for citizens of Venezuela, Colombia & Nicaragua, but the updates at immigration do not affect European or North American citizens.
In recent years, Panama has been careful with immigration policies, to not be seen as favoring or discriminating against a particular nationality. Nevertheless, the current climate in the region is pushing a wave of immigrants into Panama. And there has been a “push back” against this wave. Panama is not, obviously, the only country where refugees and illegal immigrants are being rejected. Many European nations have made it clear that they are not willing to welcome many newcomers, despite obvious crises pushing the waves of refugees and immigrants to seek safe havens.
The work permit tied to the Friendly Nations visa is very simple to apply for. After applying for immigration status, it is necessary to apply separately to the Ministry of Labour for this permit. The requirements to be met at the Ministry of Labour are:
- Power of attorney (to the lawyer) and application
- Certified copy of the immigration resolution, granting residency
- Immigration Status certification
- Certified copy of the immigration card – Permanent residency
- 4 passport photos
Joan Villanueva is available for more information regarding this application process.
Back in 2016 and in early 2017, there was a lot of debate on the issue of work permits. Panamanians complained that too many work permits being granted to foreigners under the friendly nations visa program. The complaints were based on the fact that Friendly Nations work permits appeared to bypass the rules on 10% rules (no more than 10% of employees in a company should be foreigners) or 15% for certain professions or executives. See, for example:
- Panamá: Cambiarían reglas de permisos de trabajo
- Restringen permisos de trabajo de países amigos y profesional extranjero en Panamá (comunicado)
- In particular, this latter article indicated that the 10% rule would have to be complied with even in the event that the applicant was applying under the friendly nations visa.
However, this has not be put into effect so far.