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IDB loan to assist Panamanian students

IDB loan will assist Panamanian children

Inter-American Development Bank News Release
June 7, 2012 – News Release

IDB loan for US$70 million to benefit more than 38,000 Panamanian students

The Inter-American Development Bank approved a loan for $70 million to provide innovative educational infrastructure to 47 communities in Panama that will benefit more than 38,000 students. The goal is to expand educational opportunities and encourage students in marginal and indigenous areas to complete basic education.

More than a third of Panamanians between the ages of 13 and 17 do not attend school. Coverage levels are especially low for the groups targeted by the program. For example, in the Ngäbe-Buglé and Guna Yala indigenous administrative regions, only 43 percent of youths attend secondary school.

The IDB financing will be used to expand and equip 20 primary schools to include grades seven to nine and construct two model schools that will have innovative facilities and will employ a new pedagogical and educational management approach. These investments are expected to result in the matriculation of 10,000 new students from preschool through secondary school.

In addition, the program will providing 47 schools with classrooms designed to facilitate learning. The basic curriculum will be updated to prepare students for the challenges of the 21st century, and training and support will be extended to staff and faculty in school management, pedagogy, and curriculum content.

Only 62 percent of Panamanian schools have drinking water in Panama, compared with 77 percent for the Latin America and the Caribbean as a whole. Half have adequate sanitation, compared with 65 percent for the region

Studies indicate that the quality of a school’s physical environment directly affects both the motivation and behavior of teachers as well as learning, discipline, and attention levels of the students.

Schools benefiting from the program are located poor areas with high dropout rates in the provinces of Panamá, Coclé, Colón, Chiriquí, Los Santos, and the indigenous administrative areas of Ngäbe-Buglé and Guna Yala.

The financing was extended for a 25-year term with a grace period of four years and a variable interest rate based on LIBOR. Counterpart funding totals $10 million.

New release thanks to IDB website: http://www.iadb.org/en/news/news-releases/2012-06-07/panama-will-improve-school-infrastructure,10017.html

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Fitch Upgrades Panama´s Investment Grade

Development: On 23 March the international credit ratings agency Fitch upgraded Panama from BB+ to BBB-.

Significance: The upgrade is a victory for the rightwing government of President Ricardo Martinelli, making Panama the fifth Latin American country to reach this category, alongside Brazil, Mexico, Chile and Peru.

It follows Martinelli’s recent tax reform which was aimed at increasing access to finance and reducing the cost of doing business in Panama. The reform, which takes effect in July, raises VAT from 5% to 7%, cuts income tax and reduces the corporate tax rate from 30% to 25%. That VAT increase move has been lambasted as regressive by unions and popular movements. As well as simplifying the tax code by abolishing over 30 duties, the reform cuts taxes on banks with assets of between US$100m and US$750m but raises taxes on those with assets of over US$750m.

Fitch singled out the tax reform as one of the reasons for the upgrade, along with Panama’s ability to weather the recent global financial crisis. The agency noted that despite the fact that Panama’s real annual GDP growth rate slowed to 2.4% in 2009, from 10.7% in 2008, it still had one of the highest growth rates in the region and amongst other BBB rated countries.

The upgrade could help Panama in its efforts to secure a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with the US, which has been ratified by Panama but is pending approval by the US congress. Panama’s lack of tax transparency has been a major concern for the US.

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Your Money, Banking

Opening a Bank Account in Panama
I have been requested by a reader to cover the procedure of opening a bank account here. It is one of those essential but non-exciting posts which are very interesting to newcomers to Panama. When you are ready to open your account, prepare yourself to have patience, and allow plenty of time.

The procedure to open an account is indeed tiresome, but as an expat with some experience opening accounts in several other countries, as well as Panama, it is not completely unusual. The country in question, in this case Panama, just wants to make sure your money came from where you say it did, and you are who you say you are. Once you have your account, opening other accounts and doing business with the bank should be easier because they have your paperwork. Many banks are now offering mortgages to expats as well. At the bottom of this article, please see full list of Panama Banks, both local and international, as well as a link to the official government banks.

I doubt you will ever be 100% happy with any bank in Panama. The services offered and employee training are not yet up to many international standards. From our experience, we have found them to be safe (we find having accounts at more than one bank is a better policy for us), and they are slowly increasing services offered. You will probably need one to live in Panama, unless you are at ease walking around with a lot of cash or credit cards in your pocket (if you ask me? that is not advised). Choose the one most convenient to you, and with the best services and fees to suit particular to your needs, e.g.: online banking, ATM´s, international bank transfers, partner bank in your home country etc.

Documents Required to Open your Account
All banks will ask for something a little different. It is recommended that you choose a bank in advance of your trip to Panama to check their individual requirements, and bring all the documents they require. that will save you time in the end. The documents that are needed will vary from bank to bank, and service always seems to improve when you are recommended by one of their existing clients (like your lawyer). The banks here likely require more documents than your bank in your home country; this is for your protection and theirs. TIP: Choose a couple of banks and have your letters made out to them, this is VERY IMPORTANT. If you don´t have the letters written in the name of the banks you are applying to, you will likely be asked for new letters from your home country. Make sure your documents are current and preferably written within 6 weeks of planning to open the account.

Here is a list of the paperwork that may be required to open your personal bank account, there may be additional documents required. This may be overkill, but at least you won´t have to send back home for something!
• A photocopy of your Passport, and anyone else who will have signing authority. This photocopy should include the photo and personal details page with clear signature and passport number and copies of most recent entry and exit stamps. Some banks require the passports be notarized; this you can do in Panama.
• A photocopy of a second ID.
• Two financial reference letters. These letters can be issued by any bank, credit union or brokerage firm that has dealt with you in the past. The letters should be on the company’s official letterhead, and be signed by an official of the firm, with clear contact details, they should be made out to the bank where you will apply. If you have another account in Panama, a letter from them will be requested.
• Two professional or commercial reference letters, e.g.: accountants, financial consultants, lawyers, (if you have them from Panama, even better) etc. Again they should be on official letterheads with the relevant contact information.
• A photocopy of the last 2 years income tax returns.
• Letter from employer, or statement of your pension status.
• Original signed account applications. No copies.

Application Guide
Below is a guide to setting up a bank account in Panama. The procedure will not be the same for every bank, so expect some changes.
• Make an appointment with someone who is recommended and speaks English if possible (in case you do not speak Spanish). Many of the main branches have at least one English speaker. Bring in all your documents. Then you will be required to fill out an application form.
• You will be required to make a deposit of a minimum amount; that will vary from bank to bank but expect at least $150.00 up to $300.00 depending on the type of account you wish to open. They will hold this until your account is approved. You can also wait until your account is approved before you deposit the money but this creates an extra step.
• You can deposit more money via bank wire transfer, USD check, or cash. Be aware they will hold US bank checks for 3 weeks to clear, and with certain banks wires can take up to a week.
• Account should be available within 7-10 working days of documentation receipt.
NOTE: If you wish to use your bank online, request this at time of opening as this often requires an extra step. At that time also request ATM cards, and checkbooks (specify check books with or without receipts), if required. Most banks allow you to pay a variety of bills, including utilities online. If you are nervous about this, most supermarkets have desks where you can pay your bills with check, cash or debit (clave) card.
TIP: If you had a good customer service rep. who spoke English, get their telephone numbers, direct email, and cell if they have one. They can be invaluable later.

Credit Cards
There are a number of credit card options to choose from, including:
• Silver
• Gold
• Platinum
• Air Miles/Points Card
Often you will be required to have a fixed deposit in your savings account equal or more than your limit on your credit card, at least when first applying for your card.
The main differences in the various types of cards are the membership fees and limits.

Debit Cards
Debit cards are offered with most bank accounts. Cards issued in Panama bear the ‘Clave’ logo, therefore the card can be used in any ATM machine with the ‘Plus’ or ‘Interlink’ symbols. They can also be used at most cash registers that accept plastic as a form of payment. There are various charges for use.

Saving accounts and Term Deposits
These are the bank accounts which pay the best interest rates. The rates of interest on these accounts will vary, the more money you deposit, the better the interest rate.

Checking accounts
Checking accounts are offered in Panama, and are still popular. They have different benefits and requirements, depending on the type of account. Ask about both the international checking accounts and the local checking accounts.

Panama Banks – General License:

1. BAC International Bank, Inc. Website
2. Bancafé (Panamá), S.A. Website
3. Banco Aliado, S.A. Website
4. Banco Azteca (Panamá), S.A. Website
5. Banco Bilbao Vizcaya Argentaria (Panamá), S.A. (BBVA) Website
6. Banco Cuscatlán de Panamá, S.A. Website *
7. Banco Delta, S.A. (BMF)
8. Banco de Bogotá, S.A. Website
9. Banco de Guayaquil (Panamá), S.A.
10. Banco Financia, S.A. (B.M.F.)
11. Banco General, S.A. Website
12. Banco Internacional de Costa Rica, S.A. (BICSA) Website
13. Banco Latinoamericano de Exportaciones, S.A. (BLADEX) Website
14. Banco Panamá, S.A.Website
15. Banco Panameño de la Vivienda, S.A. (BANVIVIENDA) Website
16. Banco Pichincha Panamá, S.A.
17. Banco Trasatlántico, S.A.
18. Banco Universal, S.A.
19. Banco Uno, S.A.
Website
20. Banesco Banco Universal, C.A. Website
21. Banesco, S.A. Website
22. Bank Leumi Le-Israel, B.M.
23. Bank of China Limited
24. BNP Paribas Sucursal Panamá Website
25. BNP Paribas Private Bank, Sucursal Panamá
26. Capital Bank, Inc. Website
27. Citibank, N.A. Website
28. Credicorp Bank, S.A. Website
29. Global Bank Corporation Website
30. HSBC Bank (Panamá), S.A. Website
31. Korea Exchange Bank, Ltd.
32. Mega International Commercial Bank Co. Ltd. Website
33. Mercantil Bank (Panamá), S.A.
34. Metrobank, S.A. Website
35. MiBanco, S.A. B.M.F Website
36. MMG Bank Corporation Website
37. Multibank, Inc. Website
38. Primer Banco del Istmo, S.A. (BANISTMO) Website
39. Produbank (Panamá), S.A. Website
40. St. Georges Bank & Company, Inc. Website
41. Stanford Bank (Panamá), S.A. Website
42. The Bank of Nova Scotia (SCOTIABANK) Website
43. Towerbank International, Inc. Website

Panama Banks – International License:
1. Atlantic Security Bank Website
2. Austrobank Overseas (Panamá), S.A. Website
3. BAC Bank, Inc. Website
4. Bancafé (Panamá), S.A. Website
5. Banco Agrícola (Panamá), S.A. Website
6. Banco Corficolombiana (Panamá), S.A. Website
7. Banco de Bogotá, S.A. Website
8. Banco de Crédito del Perú Website
9. Banco de Crédito Helm Financial Services (Panamá), S.A. Website
10. Banco de Finanzas (Internacional), S.A.
11. Banco de la Nación Argentina Website
12. Banco de Occidente (Panamá), S.A. Website
13. Banco del Pacífico (Panamá), S.A. Website
14. Banco Internacional Altas Cumbres, S.A. Website
15. Banco Internacional de Costa Rica, S.A. (BICSA) Website
16. Banco Lafise Panamá S.A.
17. Banco Santander (Panamá), S.A.
Website
18. Bancolombia (Panamá), S.A. Website
19. Banex International Bank Corp. Website
20. BCT Bank International, S.A. Website
21. BHD International Bank (Panamá), S.A. Website
22. Blubank, Ltd. Website
23. Banco Colpatria-Red Multibanca Colpatria, S.A., Sucursal Panamá Website
24. ES Bank (Panamá), S.A. Website
25. FPB International Bank Inc.
26. First Central International Bank
Website
27. GNB Sudameris Bank, S.A. Website
28. GTC Bank, Inc. Website
29. International Union Bank, S.A. Website
30. Natixis Website
31. Popular Bank Ltd., Inc.
32. Scotiabank Perú, S.A.A. Sucursal Panamá Website
33. TAG Bank, S.A. Website

Panama Banks – Official Status:
1. Banco Nacional de Panamá Website
2. Caja de Ahorros Website
List courtesy of: http://www.superbancos.gob.pa/aspec_igee/bgenerales.asp

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Travelers checks

I have long known that depositing traveler´s checks here in Panama is a problem. In all banks I have been to (I have accounts with three different banks), they hold my checks for three weeks before they will credit our account. There seems to be no way around it. I know this because I have a Bed & Breakfast on Taboga (www.cerritotropicalpanama.com) and sometimes my guests pay in traveler´s checks. We still take traveler´s checks but I look at the hiccup as a cost of doing business.

A somewhat different matter is when a traveler comes to Panama with traveler´s checks as their main source of spending money. Because of the deposit problem some businesses may be hesitant to take them. To cash them outright, only one bank in Panama will do it and you must have ID and proof that you bought the checks; your receipt for example. Then they will cash a maximum of $500 per week. ScotiaBank. http://www.scotiabank.com/cda/content/0,1608,CID12_LIDen,00.html

Apparently Veneto Casino will exchange checks but they take 4%. http://www.venetocasino.com/dev//index.php?lang=en&page=home

Sorry folks, I guess you will have to rely on your credit cards and ATM machines, and let´s not forget old fashioned cash. (If you want to really back a few years, on Taboga Island, the whole system runs on cash or barter. There are no banks or ATM´s here).

Some information herein compliments of one of my loyal readers, gracias 🙂

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