The official language of Panama is Spanish, with about 95 percent of the population speaking this as their first language. English is also widely spoken in Panama by about 14 percent of the population. In particular some people speak along the Caribbean coast, and also in Panama City, where the dialect uses a mixture of Spanish and English words, although many people there are also bilingual.
In Panama the US dollar is widely used. The official currency is the Panamanian Balboa, although this has been fixed to the US dollar since 1903, and since then it is common practice to only use American notes. The main difference is with the coins, where they are the same size and weight of US quarters, dimes, and nickels, but with Panamanian stampings. However, here you will also find US coinage used, and since the two currencies are entirely interchangeable you may be given a mixture of change. In Panama you may also receive a half dollar coin, which is referred to colloquially as a ‘peso’. Credit cards are widely accepted in Panama City, although elsewhere they may not have the facility and require cash. Here, US$50 and US$100 notes are not favored upon and may not even be accepted by vendors because of their concerns over counterfeit notes, so it is worth bringing smaller denominations with you.
The time zone in Panama is GMT -5.
Electricity runs at 120V and 60Hz in Panama, you may need a transformer if your electrical appliance differs from this standard. Panama uses a two-pronged North American plug, but if your appliance has a third ‘grounding’ prong you will need a convertor to fit the socket.
The international dailing code for Panama is +11-507. Due to the location of the Panama Canal, the country has one of the most advanced telecommunication systems in Latin America. To use your current cell phone in Panama it will need to be a GSM phone that will work on 850 MHz, 1800 MHz or 1900 MHz networks. If you do not have international roaming available you can purchase a local SIM card from Claro and make pre-paid calls at local rates. If the SIM card is not compatible with your phone, a good option is to buy a cheap handset for about US $20 and install the pre-paid SIM into that, or you can use a prepaid telephone card like TeleChip. Internet cafes are available in tourist areas in Panama, and hotels in Panama City may provide wireless access.
Duty Free goods can be purchased at Tocumen International Airport. If you are travelling to the US you are allowed to import one liter of alcohol and 200 cigarettes, 50 cigars, or four pounds of tobacco.
Panama National Tourism Authority: http://www.visitpanama.com or Central Building, Samuel Lewis Avenue and Gerardo Ortega Street, Panama City (+11-507-526-7000 or 178).
Consulates in Panama
US Embassy, Panama City: +11-507-207-7000 Canadian Embassy, Panama City: +11-507-294-2500 British Embassy, Panama City: +11-507-269-0866 Spanish Embassy, Panama City: +11-507-227-5122 Israeli Embassy, Panama City: +11-507 2084700
Police: 104 Ambulance: 911 Fire: 103 Tourist Police: 511 9260