Wait… What!?

Things work a little bit differently here in Panama.

As we encounter processes and customs different from those in the US, we will list them here.
  1. Banking:
    • Opening a Panamanian savings account at Banistmo Bank took almost 3 hours. We were told by others that this was quick! Documents needed… Reference letter from US Bank, 1 personal reference, 3 years of tax returns. 6 months of bank statements, passport, temporary Panamanian visa. Signature must match passport. If not, you have to sign again until it does.
    • Depositing cash…
      • We deposited cash but only a small percentage was available for use. It took 3 business days until all the funds were available.
    • Depositing a US check
      • We were looking to avoid international wire transfer fees and decided to write a check from our US bank to ourselves for deposit into our Banistmo savings account. The process of writing the check took 2 attempts. In Panama, you don’t sign the check on the back, you instead write your Panamanian account number. Who knew, they do things so differently here in Panama.
      • It took 2 business days until the check cleared my US Bank.
      • After one week the funds are still pending (unusable) at Banistmo. One expat said this can take about 20 days due to US-based banking requirements imposed on Panama banks.
    • International Wire Transfers
      • SWIFT number please… The Banistmo SWIFT number is MIDLPAPA which is 8 characters long. The US Bank that I use requires 11-character SWIFT numbers. 8 does not equal 11. I invested over 3 hours working with Banistmo customer service and my US Bank customer service before deciding to climb out of the rabbit hole. My bank let me know if anything is incorrect, the funds may not go where intended. If that were to happen, the money would be lost and not refundable. Don’t pass go don’t spend $40 for a wire transfer.
    • Western Union – If Plan A fails, Try Plan B
      • Well, it looks as if our funds will not be usable in the Banistmo bank account in time for us to pay our security deposit and first month’s rent next week. All indications are that it takes about 21 days. As a Hail Mary, we decided to try Western Union. We were pleased that the first-time use of Western Union has no fee. We were able to send money to ourselves and pick it up at a Western Union office down the street for nothing! Who would have thought?
  2. Driver’s License
    • US drivers license has to be authenticated by US Embassy (appointment only made online).
    • For two months there has never been a slot open.
    • After 60 days, we will not be able to legally drive without a Panamanian Drivers License. US tax dollars at work 🙁
    • Conclusion – I called the US Embassy regarding notarial services needed for our Panama drivers licenses and they gave me an email address to request urgent service. After almost 48 hours, I contacted my US Senator’s office to request their assistance. By the end of day, I received an email from the embassy requesting that I register now. The portal accepted our requests for appointments. Our appointments are scheduled for August 29th.
    • On 8/26 we went to a lab to have our blood typed which is a requirement for a drivers license. We will go back on Saturday to get the results.
    • On Monday, we have to make copies of our temporary Visa, passport, US drivers license and notarized US Embassy documents for upload to the Panama Ministry of Foreign Relations website. If all goes flawlessly, we could have our Panama Drivers Licenses August 30th right before we leave the city!
  3. Bathrooms
    • When out in public places, bathroom’s cost 25 cents to use.
  4. Uber
    • Rides seldom cost over $4.00. Cars are clean and arrive quickly.
      Suggested tips: (.50/1.00/2.00)
  5. Busses
    • 1.5-hour bus from Panama City to Coronado $2.50 per person.
  6. Car Title Transfer
    • We took the signed title and other registration documents from the previous owner + 3 copies of all the papers plus my passport to the Municipality Office. Upon the clerk reviewing the documents, she informed us we also needed a letter from the previous owner stating that he intended to sign over the car. Without that, we would not get legal possession. My concierge showed the clerk a video of the actual signing by me and the prior owner, but the clerk would not budge.
    • After an extra unplanned 90 minutes and some additional well-placed payments and pulling of strings, the transaction was completed. I was now the official owner of the car.
  7. SodaStream
    Buying SodaStream will be environmentally friendly and lower cost overall than buying seltzer water in disposable plastic bottles
    • (FAIL) The company does not ship to Panama
    • (FAIL) CO2 canisters not permitted via air shipping
    • (FAIL) Amazon –> Mail Boxes Etc, (Miami) –> Boat –> Customs –> Mail Boxes Etc. (Coronado Panama) Purchase cost $117.000 add on additional 180.00 for shipping
    • (SUCCESS) After obsessive research, one company (Panama Brewing Supply) has them. I picked up a unit in Panama City. They only marked it up by 10% over Amazon