Panama has had problems with several of their ATM machines throughout the country. When you try to make a withdrawal the machines will deduct the money from your account, but it won’t dispense the cash. An error message will appear instructing you to contact your financial institution.
The has happened to me numerous times during my bicycle tour last October. The machines that have failed me were from major banks like Citibank and HSBC.
When this first happened to me, I tried to pull out $300 USD. I thought something was wrong with my card so I tried to withdraw money again, but no luck.
When I saw the ATM error message for the second time, I immediately called my bank afterwards. I used Skype on my iPhone to dial out. I purchased a Claro sim card ($2 USD) and a 3G data plan ($5 USD for 7 days) in Panama beforehand which made it easy for me to communicate.
While talking with my bank, I reconfirmed with them that I was a traveling and asked if my card had been blocked for any reason. The bank told me that my card was working fine. I informed them that I was in Panama trying to withdraw money, and received the ATM error message. I asked if money from my account was deducted because of my failed transactions and the bank said that it was. The bank also said that I had reached my daily withdrawal limit from both attempts. I told them that I did not receive cash and filed a claim to reverse the charges.
I have two ATM cards each with different banks. I was curious to test if my cards were the issue or if it was the machine. I used my other card at the same ATM machine and it failed. Dumb move, I know.
After calling my other bank to file a claim, they told me that they heard about the ATM problems happening in Panama. Luckily, my banks were cooperative to reverse the charges and ATM withdrawal fees with 10 business days.
One day I was down to my last thirty dollars, and it was a bit nerve wracking. I actually had €200 on me, but trying to find a bank outside of Panama City that would change euros was impossible. The banks I went to in Sona and Santiago said that I had to do it in Panama City.
My solution was to find places where I could use my credit card to pay for a hotel, buy food at a grocery store or restaurant until I got cash.
Since my first ATM incident, this problem has happened to me a few more times so I became accustomed to calling my banks to file more claims. Through my bad experiences with ATMs in Panama, I had speculation that these issues happen at ATM machines that ran out of cash.
Tips on using ATMs in Panama
- If you receive an ATM error message, note the date, time, bank, location, and transaction amount. Contact your financial institution immediately to file a claim.
- Avoid using ATMs in high foot traffic areas such as shopping mall entrances.
- Use ATM machines first thing in the morning before others have the chance to clean it out.
- Test the ATM machine. Pull out less than $250 USD to see if it will dispense cash, so you don’t hit your daily withdrawal limit. If it doesn’t work, try another machine.
- Withdraw money from ATMs at bank branches or grocery stores where the machines are most likely to be replenished with cash more often.
- Follow up with your bank to ensure that funds have been credited back to your account.
Back up plan options
- Carry extra cash on hand when traveling to Panama.
- Use your credit card to make purchases until you can get cash.
- Get a cash advance from your credit card.
- Contact friends or family to wire money via Western Union in case of emergency.
Have you experience problems with ATMs in Panama recently? If so, what did you do?
Category: Travel tips