Panama – Country guide
Capital: Panama City
Language: The official language is Spanish.
Voltage: 110 volts; 60 cycles.
Due to its geographic location, Panama holds strategic importance. This situation was key to all the countries it belonged to throughout its history. Its shapely silhouette of just 80 miles long in its narrowest areas gives this land the ideal figure to unite two oceans.
This fact peaked Spain’s interest since the sixteenth century, turning the country into a crossroad of the seas and an important commercial center for its empire.
Spain transported its riches in ships to the port of Portobelo in the province of Colon. From there, mules and kayaks carried the goods across the isthmus to Panama City for distribution to all its colonies in America. This concentration of wealth attracted English pirates and mercenaries like Francis Drake, who struck Portobelo in 1596 and Henry Morgan, who burned down the original City of Panama in 1671.
The original city was later moved to the Casco Antiguo in the current capital, turning the new city into the focal point for the development of the future republic. Motivated by the independence of its neighboring countries, Panama declared its own independence from Spain in November of 1821. The decision came as no surprise as communications with Spain had deteriorated long before., however, the independence process was so peaceful that it was commemorated by Simon Bolivar, South America’s independence leader.
After its separation from Spain, Panama, voluntarily joined the Great Colombia, Bolivar’s dream. Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador and Panama made up this new nation. At first, this historic union event greatly benefited Panama, as it gave way to a new vision of Latin American leadership that promoted a great regional development. This moment in time also marked a milestone in the world as the United States were granted permission to build the first intercontinental railway, however, the Panamanian desire to become a free and sovereign nation and the support of the United States lead Panama to total independence from Colombia on November 3, 1903.
The construction of the Panama Canal by the Americans began in 1904 and it was considered the eighth wonder of the world. The French were the first to engage in this gigantic project, but the climate, tropical diseases and bad management prevented them from finishing the job. The Americans took note the failed attempt and decided to continue with the construction of the Canal and the development of the Canal Zone. This period changed Panama forever, once again turning the country into bridge for the world and cradle of a wealthy economic society.
Today, Panama is one of the most developed countries in Central America, boasting one of the most stable economies and a rapid tourism growth in the Americas. It enjoys a young, new and healthy democracy. It is considered a safe, peaceful and prosperous nation.
GETTING TO PANAMA
The best way to get to Panama is through air travel. Copa Airlines, Continental Airlines, American Airlines, Delta Air Lines and Iberia have daily flights to Panama.
If you are driving, you can get here through the Inter-American Highway that runs through Central America.
If you are coming by sea, you can disembark in one of our many ports. The Pacific coast is by far the most heavily traveled, as all commercial traffic pass along this route. For those visiting Panama and not heading directly to Bocas del Toro the Pacific coast is most likely how they will enter the country.
At the time of research, people holding passports from the following countries needed to show only their passports to enter Panama: Argentina, Austria, Belgium, Chile, Costa, Denmark, Egypt, El Salvador, Finland, France, Germany, Greece,Guatemala, Holland, Honduras, Hungary, Israel, Italy, Luxembourg, Paraguay,Poland, Portugal, Northern Ireland, Scotland, Singapore, Spain, Switzerland, the UK, Uruguay and Wales.
People from the following countries need a passport and a tourist card: Antigua, Australia, Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Bermuda, Bolivia, Brazil, Canada, Colombia, Granada, Guyana, Iceland, Ireland, Jamaica, Japan, Malta, Mexico, Monaco, New Zealand, Norway, Paraguay, San Marino, South Korea, Suriname, Sweden, Taiwan, Tobago, Trinidad, the USA and Venezuela.
Citizens from countries that do not appear on this list will need to obtain a visa, Panama Tourist Card: The tourist card takes the place of a conventional visa. One can be purchased at the departure airport terminal or in Panama at the Immigration area for $5.00.
The tourist card is good for 30 days and there are provisions to apply for a 60-day extension at the sole discretion of the immigration authorities. People with passports from the following countries are eligible to purchase 30 day tourist cards: Antigua & Barbuda, Aruba, Australia, Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Bermuda, Bolivia, Brazil, Canada, Colombia, Curacao, Ecuador, Greece, Grenada, Guyana, Jamaica, Japan, Korea (Rep), Malta, Mexico, Monaco, New Zealand, Norway, St Kitts & Nevis, St Lucia, St Vincent & the Grenadines, Samoa, San Marino, Sao Tome & Principe, Surinam, Taiwan, Trinidad & Tobago, USA, Venezuela and Vatican City.
Passport validity: Passports must be valid for at least six months beyond the date of your expected departure from the country and that it has a plentiful supply of unused pages.
Panama uses the U.S. dollar as its currency, calling it the balboa. Although its value fluctuates freely on world markets, the dollar has remained relatively stable. The use of the dollar as the nation’s currency has provided a number of benefits for the Panamanian economy. Currency exchange: If you have U.S. dollars or U.S. dollar-denomination traveler’s checks, then there is no need to exchange currency.
Unlike most other parts of Central and South America, it is relatively easy to exchange other major currencies also, due to the extensive offshore banking business in Panama. Although they can be cashed at a few banks. traveler’s checks are rarely accepted by businesses, and traveler’s checks in currencies other than US dollars are not accepted anywhere in Panama. In addition, some banks will only accept American Express traveler’s checks.
The banks that do accept traveler’s checks typically charge an exchange fee equal to 1% of the amount of the check. Most currencies can also be exchanged, but try to take only crisp and new notes, as wrinkled and soiled notes are likely to be refused. ATM machines are widely available in banks, shopping malls, drive-thru’s etc, and they accept most major British credit and debit cards. The daily withdrawal limit varies between banks, as does the co Credit/debit cards are also widely used for payment in establishments. Many restaurants, hotels and shops will only accept US$20 notes or require identification for use of larger value.
A tax of 10% is added to the price of hotel rooms. When you inquire about a hotel, ask whether the quoted price includes the tax. A 5% sales tax is levied on all nonfood products.
HEALTH & VACCINATIONS
Modern and reliable private medical services are available. According to current legislation covering sanitary matters, Panama offers healthcare facilities to all nationals and foreign travellers who may require them, independent of any reciprocal agreement with a particular country. International travellers are, however, advised to take out medical insurance.
Malaria and dengue fever are common to parts of Panama, including in some outlying areas of Panama City; you should take normal precautions to avoid mosquito bites.
Vaccine recommendationsVaccinations against tuberculosis and hepatitis B are sometimes recommended.
Traffic drives on the right. There is a reasonably good road system throughout Panama. The Trans-Isthman Highway links Panama City and Colón. The Corredor Norte toll road has reduced the journey time to Colón by 30 minutes. Bus: There are services between most large towns, but they can be very slow. Car hire: Available in city centers and airport; you must be at least 23 years old to hire a car.
You can hire a 4-wheel drive vehicle, but plan ahead as they are popular. Regulations: Seat belts must be worn by drivers and front seat passengers at all times. Children under five years must travel in the back in a fitted child seat. Motor insurance, even third party, is not a legal requirement in Panama; therefore, many Panamanians drive without it. If you are involved in an accident, the law stipulates that you should wait with your vehicle until the traffic police (transito) arrive. Taxis: Not metered, and fares, though varying considerably, are generally very low. Fares should be agreed in advance. Drivers do not expect tips.
CLOTHES YOU SHOULD BRING
Lightweight cottons and linens are worn, with rainwear advisable, particularly in the rainy season. Warmer clothes are needed in the highlands.
Crime is a problem in certain parts of Panama City. The city’s better districts, however, are safer than in many other capitals: stay where it’s well lit and there are plenty of people around. You should not carry large sums of cash or valuables in public. Deposit them in hotel safes wherever possible. Be vigilant when using ATM cash machines installed in public places, usually outside banks. Ensure that your personal belongings, passports and other travel documents are secure at all times.
Temperatures are high across the whole country throughout the year, though cooler at high altitudes. The rainy season lasts from May to November. Rainfall is twice as heavy on the Pacific coast as it is on the lowlands of the Caribbean coast.