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This was last Thursday, and I noticed today (Monday) that the checks have been withdrawn from the US bank.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.