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John Henry

Best Way To Handle Banking Coming From US

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We will be moving to Boquete in March.  We have modest savings & checking here in Maui that we can access from the internet and ATM's.  How do other expats handle their day to day cash needs without paying all the ATM fees, foreign transaction fees etc.?  I'm sure we will set up a local checking account in Boquete, any suggestions of best banks to use?

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Welcome!

Begin by opening a Charles Schwab account. They reimburse every ATM fee and can be easily handled totally online. I had never used an ATM before last year when I moved to Boquete....it is that easy! I just linked my U S bank account to Schwab online and I good to go.

The last week before you leave Maui, get a simple letter of recommendation from your local bank on their letterhead. I opened my account at Banistmo who has since closed their doors here in Boquete but is available in David because I was told they only require 1 letter of reference while other banks may require 2 or more. All documentation for any purpose seems to be unacceptable after it is 30 days old.

Looking forward to meeting you next year!

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I have an account at Global Bank.  I use that to get cash.  As Moonlit said, be sure to bring a reference letter from your local bank.

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Have no need for a Panamanian bank.   Would be handy for local utility bill payments but those can usually be handled online with a credit or debit card.   Schwab is fantastic, but you'll need an address in the US for a successful application.    Unless you're wiring funds for buying a house or car, the ATMs work fine, usually.   Just lost $335 when I tried to get $500 out; the machine only had 5 dollar bills.   Of course 100 of those won't exit the machine through the small slot, so the machine ate the rest and powered down.   Obviously there was an error or problem.   After 3 weeks of investigation, the ATM company said it was a valid transaction so I'm out most of the withdrawal.    But you can always take your card inside the bank and get cash the old-fashioned way, even without an account there.   Try to get cash BEFORE paydays or holidays, otherwise the machines may be drained of cash and not refilled until after the holidays.

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We have both, an account in the US and an account here. It works out very well for us. You may need some other arrangement.

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One observation on banking here in Panama.

A friend of ours, an accountant who is a US Government employee while visiting us a couple years ago explained that the National Bank is the only bank that converts currency deposited here to Balboas on the day of deposit. All other banks here maintain the currency in whatever it was deposited Yen remains Yen, etc. until time of withdrawal, if you have deposited a currency which has undergone a change in valuation it will be re-evaluated when you withdraw it.

Given the volatility of worldwide banking, I thought this was an important little known detail worthy of mentioning.  

True, opening an account at the national bank requires more documentation and work, the aspect I have described above and the fact they offer direct deposit of my US social security checks has proven to be a great advantage for us.

Sincerely,

Dick Kesterke

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I have Charles Schwab account and use my Mail Forwarding Address that's in Florida. No Problem.

You will need a mail forwarding address to receive your important mail, i.e. Tax Return Info, Tax Statements, all the important stuff. If you are retired receiving any benefits from the U.S. Government then you will also need a local post office address as that is where they send the proof-of-life form to all ex-Pat's receiving government benefits.

I also have an account at Global Bank opened when I first came here in 1999.

patrick 

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As of June it is much more difficult to open a bank account here.  I went to Banco General in August and, besides the normal references etc., they wanted a copy of my Jubildo/Pensionado and proof of property ownership.  I was told by another gringo that Global or another bank (forget which one) don't require this, but they may have changed their requirements in June also.  I take it this all due to FATCA.

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We have lived in Boquete for over 2 years, and have absolutely no need for a bank account here. We maintain our personal accounts in our bank there (used for decades) where we lived in the US (near other family), and have changed US address to the families'. A son is signed onto our accounts, so could deal with any issues there (trust is imperative). Our Social Security and other checks deposit there. Investment accounts are linked.

Our debit and credit cards work here. Cash is withdrawn when needed (depending on the banks ATMs working...occasionally not!). Our Capitol One accounts reimburse ATM fees (actually post the credit on the statements before the debit amount)....much the same as the Schwab accounts mentioned previously by others. Maximum daily withdrawals generally $500, but may vary with bank rules.

We have never had a 'foreign transaction fee' applied to anything. The Panama Balboa is valued equal to the US dollar. So no exchange rates to deal with either. Only fee we ever paid was a wire fee for a deposit (from the US) for a short term rental house. Sadly upon arrival the road to the rental was impassible by car, and we ended forfeiting to cancel and relocate elsewhere.

Largest expense is our rent, and pay owner in Costa Rica thru PayPal. Have no need for a vehicle, but occasionally rent a car....about $45 per day. Taxis are plentiful in the area, and having a couple of driver phone numbers is helpful.

 

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As goes without saying, maintain extraordinary caution and situational awareness whenever withdrawing cash. Don't put it all in one pocket or purse. A "throw down" bag or wallet with a wad of ones and some expired cards can be an effective diversion. 

 

Safety first. Don't make it easy for the maleantes. Keep your head on a casual swivel. It's not paranoia if they really ARE after you ...

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Deposit into your Panama bank off your USA bank by writing a check.  Soc Sec check we have direct deposited to the USA bank.  Multibank has your $$ in 5 work days.  We have a pre paid account for  recurring monthly charges and use at Pricesmart..use it like a credit card. Generally we avoid the machines and bank inside the bank and make an attempt to be discrete and not flash bills.   A wad of bills and credit cards: ...minimize how much you carry around.  No point in flashy jewelry here. Give it to your heirs now.

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RK, regarding your ATM loss, if the card is branded Visa, Mastercard, etc. you may be able to use them for loss recovery. Also, debit reversals are not handled with foreign to Panama banks, and for me several times was able to resolve with my home bank. If your home bank is in Panama, then I don't know how that is handled.

Ironically, several years ago, a guy in PC filed a denuncia against the bank for theft on an ATM shortage.

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Aloha John Henry. We also lived in Maui for years. You'll find Boquete to be like Paia was about 20 years ago. ScotiaBank is friendly and easy to set up a new account. One bank reference should do the trick. As previously mentioned, write a check off your U.S. Account, wait a couple weeks, and your funds are ready. We use credit cards at grocery stores, Price Smart, and for gas and get the miles on UA or AA and pay no Foreign Transaction fees. The suggestions for using Schwab and/or Capital One are good as well. By the way, we usually go into Scotia to withdraw cash but their ATM is good too. The other ATMs in town can be a crap shoot at times. 

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A heads up....My friend who has had an account at Multibank was charged $200 as a fee for having an account there.  The manger also informed her that next year the fee will be $250.  They are the only bank that does this to my knowledge.

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Panama banks are beginning to charge for all the US Govt. demands under FATCA or whatever. Charge for the required accounting and reporting of American overseas accounts by foreign banks willing to hold American citizens money. 

Mostly just reinforces our decision to evade all US except family, and our banking is left in US to avoid this stuff.

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What is the best and cheapest way to wire a large amount of money to Panama to buy a house?

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Sorry I don't have information about that. Have only wired a $200 amount which cost $40 if I remember correctly, over 4 years ago.

Perhaps someone else could answer. I just used my normal personal/business bank. But there are other options I'm sure.

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How do you buy a car, a house or anything else with a large cost?   The Toyota dealership would not take cash, our credit card nor a check off our USA bank.  We had to hand them a cashier's check off a local bank.  That's what we did to buy a car.  

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What is the best and cheapest way to wire a large amount of money to Panama to buy a house?

Ask your closing attorney. Chase Bank charged $45. to wire the money to my attorney's bank account to close on our house last December. Chase charged $40. to wire funds for our Honda Ridgeline to the seller last February because we did it ourselves online.

Check with your bank in U S to see what their fees are.

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Typically, a bank in the US charges at least $35 per wire to the Panamanian bank.  The receiving bank also deducts its fees from what was wired.  I did this a bunch of times with Global Bank here, but I never did quite figure out what their fee was.  What I mean is that it differed slightly based on the amount of the transfer, but it was about $35, too.

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Multi Bank charges $250 per year. Every year because of FATCA. Was told all banks will be charging this fee starting in 2016. Any other experiences with this at your local bank?

Anyone have experience changing  banks here? Still need a bank reference letter if we already are banking with Multi Bank?

 

Thanks

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Any feed back on Banco General? Service, plenty of locations, ease of opening an account?

 

Thanks!

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Banco General is the best. Lots of locations and all of their service reps speak English.

Not too many hidden fees.

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When I was opening my first account in Boquete, both Banco General and Global Bank had just inaugurated their new branches.

Since both institutions seemed to be equally reputable, and because it rains a lot here, I chose the one with covered parking and no stairs.

Scotiabank and Caja de Ahorros are also worth looking at, imo.

 

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