Will you need a Panama bank account?
Well . . . it depends. We have decided NOT to open an account with a local bank, partially due to the “hassle factor” but mostly because our “system” works just fine so far. Things may change, as we get more settled (have more local bills to pay) and become aware of the advantages of banking local - will wait and see. For now, we use a stateside bank, Panama ATM’s, cash and credit cards.
What we did to put the necessary parts of our “system” in place:
- First - Find a bank that offers the services you need. Online Banking (easy - almost all banks offer it). NO ATM FEES on any transaction regardless of whose ATM it is (harder - but there are banks with no ATM fees that will also reimburse any fee the ATM’s owner charges).
- Arrange for “direct deposit” or “monthly transfers” of income to your bank.
- Arrange to have your Credit Cards automatically paid (relatively easy, although some companies make it easier than others) if they don't offer this option - find another credit card.
- Have recurring bills automatically charged to your credit card or debited directly from your bank account.
- Get a PayPal account before you leave the U.S. (handy for online shopping but much harder to get once you have left the U.S.)
What we have found in our first month on the ground:
- ATM's are plentiful in the city, fewer as you move farther afield.
- You are less likely to encounter ATM fees in Panama than the U.S.
- The ATM's work (unlike the islands) although I have heard stories about problems in the more rural areas.
- In case you wondered ATM's dispense U.S. Dollars.
- Credit/Debit cards (except Discover) are widely accepted. Don't expect the little "Mom and Pop" stores to accept plastic.
- Always carry cash. Especially small bills.
- Save your large bills ($50 -$100) for bigger purchases. Using a large bill for a small purchase attracts attention and maybe paperwork. I know!
- Many smaller stores can’t/won’t accept anything larger than a twenty.
In case you’re wondering our bank is eBank. They are a small “brick and mortar” Atlanta bank with a larger presence online. Great service and the ATM thing can’t be beat - they automatically credit our account for any fees (no paperwork). Recommended.