Information & Facts
Business in Panama is formal. Handshakes are appropriate with
men on meeting and departing, but not usually with women. Use of
titles is very important to Panamanians, as is punctuality. Many
Panamanians take an afternoon siesta, therefore business
entertaining takes place over dinner instead of lunch. Many
Panamanian business people prefer to host visitors to dinner at
home, where they will be treated as VIPs and given a gift. The
appropriate reciprocation is to invite the host to dinner in
return. Dress for business is fairly formal despite the climate;
men wear lightweight suits and ties and women wear lightweight
dresses and suits. Office opening hours are from 8am to 12pm, then
2pm to 5pm or 6pm on weekdays, and 9am to 12pm on Saturdays.
Panama has a tropical climate, with temperatures staying
constant all year round, ranging from 90°F (32°C) during the
daytime to 70°F (21°C) in the evening. Humidity is generally high,
especially during the rainy season, which is between October and
November. The best time to travel to Panama is between December and
The international access code for Panama is +507. The outgoing
call code on Cable & Wireless is 00 (on Telecarrier dial 088+00
followed by the relevant country code. On Clarocom dial 055+00
followed by the relevant country code e.g. 0550027 for South
Africa). Discount telephone rates apply between 10pm and 7am. Coin
and card-operated public telephones are available, cards being sold
at stores and vending machines. There are no domestic area codes in
Panama. Cell phone providers offer digital TDMA 800 and GSM 850
networks therefore triband handsets are required for international
visitors. There are several Internet service providers in Panama
and Internet cafes are widely available in Panama City. Most hotels
also offer the Internet.
A midday siesta is practised in many South American countries
due to the heat. Tourists in Panama will find that shops and
businesses are often closed during these lunchtime hours and should
conduct their daily business either before or after siesta.
The following items may be brought into Panama duty free: 500
cigarettes, 50 cigars or 500g of tobacco, three bottles of alcohol,
opened bottles of perfume for personal use and gifts up to the
value of B/.50. Fruit, vegetables and animal products are
Electrical current is 120 volts AC, 60Hz. Round 2-pin
plugs are the norm.
A bus service criss-crosses Panama, most services starting and
ending in Panama City at more or less hourly intervals from the
Gran Terminal de Albrook in the downtown area. Buses are fairly
comfortable and reliable. In the city itself the buses are brightly
coloured, hot and uncomfortable, a flat fee payable at a turnstile
when boarding. A tourist train service connects Panama City to
Colon along the Panama Canal. Several international car rental
companies are represented in Panama, but road conditions and
signage are not good, so driving can be hazardous and traffic in
the cities is chaotic. There are abundant taxis in Panama, as well
as shared cabs called
colectivos. In Panama City taxis are not metered
but fares are calculated by zones, and the fare should be agreed
before the journey. Most hotels can arrange private taxis prior to
It is recommended that visitors be inoculated for typhoid.
Malaria prophylaxis is advised for most parts of the country other
than Panama City and the Canal, and dengue fever is on the
increase; travellers should take precautions against mosquito
bites, as there are a number of tropical diseases spread by
mosquitoes. Yellow fever vaccination is recommended for all
travellers, except those visiting Panama City and the Canal, and is
a requirement for all visitors arriving from an infected area.
Vaccinations against tuberculosis and hepatitis B are sometimes
recommended. Leptospirosis is a risk throughout the country,
particularly during periods of heavy rainfall. Tap water is not
safe to drink outside the capital without being boiled, filtered or
chemically disinfected, and food should be eaten peeled, cooked and
piping hot. Travellers are advised to carry an anti-diarrhoea drug.
Medical facilities are good in Panama City, but less so elsewhere
in the country. Critical medical problems require air evacuation to
somewhere with better medical facilities, and travellers are
therefore advised to have a fully comprehensive medical insurance
policy. Quality control of pharmaceuticals in Panama is inadequate,
so travellers are advised to bring a sufficient supply of their own
medications from home.
The official language is Spanish. However, many
Panamanians speak both Spanish and English.
The official currency is the Panamanian Balboa (PAB), equal to
100 centesimos, but the US Dollar is accepted everywhere at a rate
of B1 = US$1. Balboa are available only in coin denominations. The
only paper currency used is US dollars. It is easy to exchange
currency and travellers cheques in Panama at banks, exchange shops,
hotels and the airport. Avoid the black market. The best rates are
offered at the larger banks. Old, creased and dirty foreign notes
may be refused for exchange. Most major credit cards, American
Express, Visa, MasterCard and Diners club, are widely accepted.
There are about 300 ATMs in Panama City. Banks are usually open
from 8am to 1.30pm on weekdays.
Travellers to Panama require a passport valid for at least three
months after arrival, return or onward tickets, all necessary
documents for next destination and sufficient funds. Tourist Cards
can be purchased on arrival for a fee of USD 5, they are valid for
30 days but extensions are possible. Be aware that it can take as
long as 30 days to obtain a visa, if it is required. Panamanian
entry requirements change constantly so it is wise to check with
your nearest embassy or consulate before travelling to Panama. It
is highly recommended that passports have at least six months
validity remaining after your intended date of departure from your
travel destination. Immigration officials often apply different
rules to those stated by travel agents and official sources.
Most visits to Panama are trouble-free. Visitors should,
however, be aware that there is a risk of street crime in Panama
City and it is unwise to carry large sums of cash or valuables in
public. Visitors should be vigilant using ATM cash machines in
public places and beware of pickpockets and muggers in the main
city shopping and tourist areas. There have been incidents of
assault involving taxi drivers and armed hold-ups in restaurants.
Use only registered taxi companies and call a cab rather than
hailing one in the street. Do not allow the taxi to pick up
additional passengers and do not share a taxi with unknown
passengers. Burglaries have recently been committed by organised
gangs who use ruses to gain entry to properties, so be cautious.
Travel to Darien province only by air with an organized group to
recognized tourist destinations protected by the Panamanian police.
Travellers are advised to avoid the border area with Colombia, as
this is particularly dangerous. Avoid political demonstrations in
Panama City, usually centred on Panama University and the main road
known as the Transisthmica.
Local time is GMT -5.
Although a 10% service charge is added to most hotel bills,
individual staff appreciate a gratuity appropriate to services
rendered. Restaurant waiters expect a tip of 10 to 15% if a service
charge is not included. Taxi drivers do not expect tips.