Panamá has one of largest banking systems in the world, and it is getting stronger every day. Many of the most recognized banking institutions are represented here, doing business in different currencies, as well, of course, as in US dollars, which is the usual money in Panamá.
Many companies have established their headquarters or branches here, especially in the Colon Free Zone, in the province of Colón, or in Panamá Pacífico, a special industrial designated area with special benefits for big corporations.
For individual money transfers, you may choose:
A) If you have a checking account in the US, make a check and deposit it to your Panamanian bank. It will take 30 days to clear.
B) Transfer the money through a MoneyGram at Wal-Mart. There is a small commission associated with this service. But you need to have a person with ID in Panamá go to the agency to receive the money. If it's a large amount, it will be up to the discretion of the institution whether or not to trace the money, and if they do, they will ask questions relative to the purpose of sending the amount, to prevent money laundering.
C) Transfer direct from your US bank to your Panamanian bank. This is the best option, but if your US bank is small, it is kind of hectic, especially the first time. You will have to provide exact information that should match your Panamanian records, and give the US bank the information that the Panamanian bank requires, like an intermediate bank, ABA (or SWIFT). Sometimes it takes a couple of days until this is completed. It involves a commission paid to both banks. For example, for a $2,800 transfer, the US bank charges $53.00 and the Panamanian bank charges $36.00. The prices may vary.
D) Give the money to a friend or relative, and bring it in person. Of course, depending the amount, it may have to be reported to customs.
Banks in Panamá have taken precautions when opening accounts to foreigners. They have to fill out a form required by the IRS. On account of this, some banks will not even open an account. Others will require complete documentation. If you have a large amount of money to take out of the US you are required to fill out a form with the Department of Treasury, for your benefit, in case you want to bring it back to the US. In Panamá there are some agencies that are very knowledgeable in filling out income tax returns, as well as very good English speaking attorneys for related matters.
But in any event, Panamá is a great place to live, and much less expensive than in the US, and with a much higher quality of life. People are friendly and warm, and life is relaxing and full of adventure and nature. Not to mention, the extraordinary weather, without snow, earthquakes or other disasters. Panamá is the only country where you can scuba diving in two oceans in the very same day. Cool, ha?
(Entry to the Colon Free Trade Zone, Panama, pictured.)