Banking in Panama – Trials and Tribulations

May 11, 2016         

I visit my bank, Banvivienda, every time I go to Panama, for one reason or another. This time, it was because I had forgotten to login to my bank accounts and transfer money between them often enough to keep them active. The accounts at Banvivienda are rendered inactive if you don’t have some activity in them within 6 months. Hence, it was a good time to stop by and get my accounts re-activated.

And I wanted to deposit some cash I brought with me. The more money I get out of the U.S., the better. I feel the situation is very uncertain here and that currency controls are coming.

When I met with my friend (I’ll call her Valerie, which is not her real name) on this trip, she told me she had recently opened a bank account at Tower Bank. She recommended I do the same. I decided it wouldn’t be a bad idea since one never knows when a Panamanian bank will decide that American clients are not worth the trouble and close their accounts.

I will describe the process of opening an account at Tower Bank in another article, once the process has concluded successfully.

My Banvivienda Branch was Gone!

When I went to the Banvivienda website to check their banking hours, I could not find a branch at the location where I used to bank. In the past, I was required to go to that location to do my banking. One time, I tried going to another branch with Valerie and they told me I had to go to the Albrook branch.

Anyway, it was a very inconvenient location, right across the street from the Albrook Airport. It was a bit of a taxi ride to get there. One cannot walk there from the places I like to stay (El Congrejo and Punta Paitilla) in the City.

When I couldn’t find any branch listed at Albrook on the website, I contacted the lawyer who originally helped me set up the accounts with Banvivienda. I had a comical e-mail exchange with him. I was trying to ascertain whether he knew about the branch closure and where the branch had moved to. At first, he seemed to think that I couldn’t figure out how to find the banking hours for individual branches on the website.

When he finally responded (stating the obvious) that there must not be a branch at that location, just an ATM, it dawned on me that he was no longer assisting clients to open bank accounts. He was no longer invested in knowing where the branches are for the banks his clients use.

My New Banvivienda Branch is Much More Convenient

When I walked to Tower Bank from my hotel to open the new account there, I looked just past the Tower Bank building and noticed a Banvivienda branch! That made it super easy to deposit the cash I had brought with me from the U.S. (about $9,800) and get a bank reference letter for Tower Bank. The Universe delivered a solution to my problem.

For those of you who have not carried much cash while traveling internationally, the reason I mention how much I deposited is because that is just below the legal limit you can carry with you when you cross international borders.

You can actually carry more, but it involves filling out extra forms. This law covers all monetary instruments. I always stay under this limit because I don’t want to fill out the extra forms or get in trouble with any authorities.

Re-Establishing Online Access

While I was still in Panama, I did not try to login to my Banvivienda accounts after getting them re-activated. I didn’t realize it is a 2-step process. When I did get around to trying to login, I still could not access my accounts.

After I discovered this, I sent a couple emails to the lady who helped me reactivate the accounts when I was there. Fortunately, I had been smart enough to get one of her business cards when I was there. She did not respond to my first email, but she responded once I explained that she had helped me when I was there.

She sent me some forms to complete in order to activate online banking for my accounts. It was a bit of a challenge to figure out how to complete the forms. I had to translate them, but that wasn’t the only problem. I couldn’t ask anyone how to fill in certain sections. So, I filled in what I could and sent them back to her.

I received an email from Banvivienda within a couple days of doing so, with a pdf file attached. There was a separate email from them with a password that was required to open the attachment in the first email. The letter within the pdf file contained instructions on how to login.

It all worked and I am happy to report that I can see the account information for both of my accounts again! I even performed a transfer while I was logged in. Ah, the sweet smell of success!

I have set up reminders in my phone so this doesn’t happen again. I’ll login every 3 months and transfer money between the two accounts, thus keeping them active!

I welcome your comments and questions in the comment section under each article.

Yours in prosperity,
Sophia Hilton (A Savvy Woman)

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