It’s a fantastic feeling to touch down in a foreign country and know that you don’t need to deal with the hassle and confusion of converting currency. Step off the plane, open your wallet, and go!

While it’s easy for North Americans to make the initial financial transition into Panama, opening a bank account in Panama is a little more logistically complicated. Almost all banks require the following: 3 months’ bank statements from a personal account in your home country, a copy of every page of your passport, and personal references to vouch for your credit history and personal character. There is also usually an in-depth interview where you may be asked questions about your finances and income.

It is also more than likely that there will be a minimum balance required in your account at all times (much like a checking account in the US). This might all seem a little extreme, but it is Panama’s best effort to protect itself from money laundering and maintain financial order in a hub of banking.

If you do decide to open an account, make sure to plan accordingly for the time it takes to process – it could be weeks or months depending on paperwork, processing etc.

The upside is that there are several international banks with branches and even headquarters in Panama City. A large number of banks have English-speaking representatives and tellers, and service is very good. Non-citizens can expect a similar experience with tellers that they receive in the US and similar banking hours of operation.

Opening a Panamanian bank account can also make for easier transaction of investing and purchasing real estate, as well as avoiding international withdrawal fees from ATMs. It may be a bit of a long process, but if you’re planning on residency in Panama, it’s worth the wait.