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How to Open Bank Account in Panama

This article will guide you through the steps necessary to open an offshore bank account in Panama for your small business, focusing on accounts with balances of $50,000 or less and regular transaction activities.

Establishing a Panama Structure

To begin the process, you’ll need to establish a Panama structure, such as a basic corporation or a more advanced setup like a Panama foundation paired with a corporation. For maximum privacy, consider a Cook Islands LLC as the founder of the foundation. This initial step is crucial because it provides the legal framework necessary for opening a bank account in Panama.

View of the Panama City with rain forest around Panama Canal
View of the Panama City with rain forest around Panama Canal

Overcome Banking Restrictions

Only about 10% of banks in Panama are willing to open small business accounts for non-residents. The process becomes significantly easier if you obtain residency in Panama. Panama offers a residency program for citizens of 50 “friendly” nations, which can be achieved through a $20,000 investment in teak reforestation or a $350,000 investment in real estate.

The Application Process

Once you have your corporation or foundation, you can begin the application process. Be prepared for a lengthy and frustrating experience, as most banks require 10 to 12 different forms for account opening. Personal visits to Panama are mandatory for all account types, adding another layer of complexity to the process. To mitigate this, some businesses start with an offshore account in countries like Belize or the Cook Islands, which do not require personal visits, before moving their primary corporate account to Panama.

Panama City
Panama City

Required Documentation

When applying for an offshore bank account in Panama, you will need the following documents:

  • Articles of Incorporation: Copy of the articles and any amendments.
  • Public Registration Certificate: Proof of the corporation’s registration.
  • Proof of Funds and Business Activity: Latest financial statements or an income statement for new companies, apostilled if not from Panama.
  • Bank References: Two personal bank reference letters and one for the corporation.
  • Passport: Copy showing entry stamp to Panama.
  • Utility Bill: Copy showing your name and home address, notarized and apostilled.
  • Business Summary Letter: Detailed explanation of your business, including primary suppliers, clients, and expected account activity.

These documents are required for all officers, directors, and shareholders of the company. Preparing these forms and organizing the documents before traveling to Panama can reduce the time spent in the country, potentially limiting your stay to just two nights for banking appointments.

Final Thoughts

Opening an offshore bank account in Panama for your small business involves a rigorous process, but it can be a strategic move for international business operations. By following the steps outlined and preparing thoroughly, you can navigate the challenges and leverage Panama’s favorable business environment.