We have a Panama bank account

Some people say it’s easy to get a back account here. Others say it’s impossible.

Our friend Eduardo has a friend at Scotiabank, so he took us in to the Boquete branch where she works. Here in Panama you can expect paperwork and hoops to jump through. This was no exception and we left with our list of things to do. But one by one we got all the requirements, and then we went back to the bank to finish it up.

The hardest requirement was getting a letter of recommendation from our bank in the US. First we had to submit a written, notarized request to them. A phone call, email, or other method wouldn’t do. This means we had to write the request, go downtown and visit a notary, go through their process of identifying ourselves and explaining the purpose of the letter, get it stamped, and mail it to the US (hoping our bank would accept the notary stamp from Panama). Then, our bank had to send their letter of recommendation to this specific bank here and our specific person. It sounds tedious but I can understand that everyone wants to be sure someone is who they say they are, especially when money and access to bank accounts is involved.

We also requested letters of recommendation from our lawyer, and gave three personal references. Joel needed his proof of income, and I needed our tax return since I currently don’t have income. We also needed a utility bill, I think to prove that we live here though the bill is in the landlord’s name. And, of course we needed copies of passports, another ID (US drivers license)… I think that was it. There was quite a pile of papers on the desk by the time that was all done.

Then, we had to sign dozens of papers for the bank. The lady was very concerned that signatures exactly match the signatures that were in our passports. But, finally, it was done, and we were taken to the teller to deposit money in our new accounts. We wrote checks from our USA account. There was a fee ($2.78/check) and we were told it should take about 15 business days for the checks to clear.

This was last Thursday, and I noticed today (Monday) that the checks have been withdrawn from the US bank. We have just signed up on the Scotiabank website and the deposits are showing there, but if we try to move money anywhere it says there aren’t enough funds so we’ll wait for the checks to clear. Then, when our money is available, we’ll try and pay the electric bill on line.

Little by little we are getting ourselves better organized. We have a Schwab checking account and debit/credit cards waiting for us in California. (They are supposed to refund any international ATM fees.) When we get them we’ll try accessing that money from here, which we can then put in our Scotiabank account. And, more important, we are establishing a relationship with a Panamanian bank. Hopefully we will apply for a construction loan on a house in the future, and we will be glad for this relationship.

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About Kris Cunningham

We live in David, Chiriqui Provence, Republic of Panama! This blog is about some of our experiences in our new country.
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9 Responses to We have a Panama bank account

  1. Dan says:

    Congratulations!!! Always paperwork and more paperwork. Possible to take care of some requirements while still in the US?

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    • Kris says:

      Thank you 🙂 You will probably have your proof of income already if you are applying for residency. The other item from the US was the recommendation from the bank. But, you have to know what bank branch and what person to send it to (or this was the case for Scotiabank, not sure about others), so unless you are getting set up here before you move you probably wouldn’t have that info. I don’t know if it would do any good to get a generic letter from your US bank? That sounds like a good question for one of the forums where there are others who have done the same things.

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  2. Pingback: How did we ever have time to work? | The Panama Adventure

  3. indacampo says:

    Congratulations! You got that account fairly quickly, despite all the required paperwork. I’ve heard stories of people going from bank to bank and waiting hours at each one, only to be rejected. 🙂

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    • Kris says:

      I think it really helps to have someone local bring you in to someone they know. Why do people get rejected? For us, it was only a matter of satisfying the paperwork requirements. I never got the feeling that we were being evaluated, except for making sure we were who we said we were.

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      • indacampo says:

        I don’t really know. But I have heard of several Americans having trouble. I think it’s common to spend several hours setting up an account though. 🙂

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        • Kris says:

          It’s common to spend several hours doing anything in Panama! 😀 I think we spent a couple hours on our first visit, then the time contacting people and getting our requirements together, and then over 2 hours on our second visit. I wonder how people manage all this when they have to work. It’s OK for us since we do have that kind of time.

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  4. Emma says:

    My experience was slightly different since my employer took care of most of it… But I did have to bring that letter from my home bank with me! Maybe because i requested it in person, I didn’t have to do the notarized thing – but the looks on the faces of the small credit union employees when I asked for a letter of recommendation were great! I did the have to get it apostilled – international notary – from Arizona. I didn’t bring the three recommendation letters but it’s possible school employees wrote them for me without my knowledge lol. I’m with banco general now. Took five weeks from the time I arrived here, but I never had to go to the bank – just gave human resources my paperwork and signed a lot of documents and eventually they brought me a clave card! So interesting comparing doing things on your own as retirees and my company doing it for me! I had to do my own license plate renewal though… Lol.

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    • Kris says:

      Yes, if we had been in the US and gone to the bank in person, we could have gotten that done. But, Scotiabank accepted the bank letter with getting it apostilled, maybe because it was from bank to bank, and our non-professionals hands didn’t touch it. Who knows how it all works! LOL And, I suppose there are variations depending on which bank you use.

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