Are you thinking of setting up a Panama Corporation, Foundation, or Panama LLC?
The initial process is straightforward. The cost can vary from about US$1,500 to US$5,000. You might find some a little cheaper, but many law firms in Panama have an unpleasant habit of adding hidden charges later for documents you didn’t know you needed – so beware.
Not nearly as straightforward, however, is the process of opening a bank account in Panama. Let’s compare this to the USA for a moment. The USA is still one of the easiest places in the world to open a bank account. Answer a few questions, sign some forms, and, hey presto, you’ve got yourself a bank account.
However, the OECD, American and G20 wars on terror, taxes, drugs, and money laundering have made opening corporate bank accounts in Panama very difficult. These days, Panamanian banks view opening an offshore bank account not as a right but a privilege – especially if you are an American! Expect to jump through hoops.
Up front, you will probably be asked for two bank references. If you have only one bank account currently, you can probably substitute a letter from a credit card company for the second bank reference. You will also need at least one local professional reference – in other words an introduction from a Panamanian law or accountancy office. “Who you know” is very important in Panama.
A really good introduction might even avoid the need for the bank references, but then your introducer had better be a personal friend of the bank manager! I’ve seen it done (and, yes, I know how to do it for my clients in need)
Then you will need two forms of government-issued ID with photo: your passport of course, then a second ID, such as a driver’s license.
Armed with those documents, make an appointment to meet with a bank representative, and prepare your trip to Panama. During your meeting (which will seem more like a job interview), expect lots of questions. Why are you opening this account? How much money will you be depositing initially? Where is that money coming from? How much money do you expect to receive into the account on an ongoing basis? What will be the source of those funds? How much will you be withdrawing from the account each month?
Can you open an offshore bank account online without traveling to Panama? Yes, in certain special circumstances…but it is frowned upon. It is highly preferable to make the effort to get to know your banker face-by-face.
You might however question if you need a bank account in Panama at all. Of course, most Panamanian lawyers will want to sell you a Panamanian bank account. But do you really need one? If your aim is to diversify out of the dollar, for example, it makes a lot more sense to take your Panama Corporation or Foundation, then go ahead and open your account in an offshore bank in another jurisdiction – maybe Uruguay for example.