Casa de Tortugas - Stories

Is your money safe in a Panama bank?

Retiring and moving money to a foreign bank can be a scary thing. Here is what we have experienced so far.

In the article "Getting a bank account", we covered the hoops we had to jump through to open a bank account. 

We completed the task of opening the account back in July of 2019. After that, we really didn't do much other than a small test transfer from the US bank account over to the Panama account. Then the account just sat until late 2020 when we tried to pay a Panama bill directly out of that account and found that we had gotten locked out. Apparently, passwords expire after a while if you don't access the account. This is a decent security feature if you know it is there. And resetting the password would normally be easy. But there was a small problem with our account.

The problem happened when we opened the account. The email address had a minor typing error in it and one character was wrong. So there was no way to get the password reset email. Calls to Panama are expensive but using a VOIP service (internet calls) can reduce the cost a great deal. Due to banking security, it turned out that there was no way for us to fix this issue over the phone. It was frustrating because it was clearly a typing error. But at the same time, in the end, it was good to know that our money was safe and if we couldn't get to it, then nobody else could get to it either. 

After talking to everyone we could, we decided that we would wait until our next visit in mid 2021, then just go to the bank in person to show all the proper documents to make the needed change.

Although this was frustrating, we didn't have a lot of money in the account and we didn't need access to it during the lock-out period. We had alternatives because we were not sure how safe our funds really were.

When at the bank fixing the issue, it took longer than this type of thing would take in the US. In the end, the bankers did their jobs to keep our funds safe and to get the error fixed. Our email address got fixed, the account got unlocked and the funds were perfectly safe.

We still don't know how much money we should keep in the Panama account. Especially since it is so easy to access our US accounts at the local ATM machines. But there may be times we need large sums of money for example during the building of our house. More money than we could possibly pull out of an ATM. So during our build we will likely work with the bankers and a local bookkeeper to make sure people get paid on time and work gets done.

So at this point, we feel fairly secure in the banking process in Panama. If we run into any issues, we will update this page to reflect our experiences.

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