Citizens of the US, Canada, the EU and some other states are granted 90-day visas on arrival with a valid passport. It is generally advisable to have an onward ticket and proof of solvency. Visitors planning to be in Panama for longer than 90 days can apply for an extension, or for a visa in another category, after entering the country. Applications can be made at the Oficina de Migración y Naturalización (Immigration and Naturalisation Office) in Panama City. Local offices can also be found in David, Changuinola, Santiago and Chitré. Visas can also be renewed by leaving the country for at least 72 hours every 90 days, or when the visa expires.
Panamanians usually greet each other with a kiss on the right cheek, but are accustomed to Western habits and are likely to greet foreigners with a handshake, particularly in a business context. Punctuality is appreciated in the business environment, though traffic in Panama City generally makes the margins of what is acceptable slightly broader.
The national currency is the balboa which is pegged to the value of the US dollar, which is legal tender in Panama under a 1904 agreement between the two countries. Panama does not print bank notes but mints its own coins. Panamanian coins are 0.50, 0.25, 0.10, 0.05 and 0.01. Visa, American Express, MasterCard and Diners Club credit cards are commonly accepted in most hotels, restaurants and commercial establishments in urban areas, however rural areas may not have such facilities available.
Outlets are of the standard flat two-pin American type. Panama’s electrical grid covers the whole country and is generally reliable, though occasional outages are possible.
Spanish is the official language, spoken as the first language by 93% of the population. However, English is widely used for both business and tourism. At the same time, seven indigenous communities speak their own languages and in some areas indigenous groups do not speak Spanish fluently.
Government offices, including post offices, are open 8am to 4pm weekdays and do not close for lunch. Most banks are open 8:30am to 1pm or 3pm weekdays. Some have Saturday hours as well. Shops and pharmacies are generally open from around 9am or 10am until 6pm or 7pm, Monday to Saturday. Grocery stores keep longer hours, opening around 8am and closing by 8pm or 9pm, although a handful in Panama City stay open 24 hours. Restaurants usually open for lunch from noon to 3pm and dinner from 6pm to 10pm.
Tocumen International Airport is a major hub connecting North and South America. There is another domestic airport in Panama City, Marcos A. Gelabert Airport, from where it is possible to fly to nearly all of Panama’s domestic destinations. Taxis are very easy to find in Panama, and taxi drivers routinely pick up multiple passengers heading in the same direction. A metro system is being developed in Panama City, although public transport options remain limited.
Panama enjoys a tropical climate. Temperatures are uniformly high, as is the relative humidity, and there is little seasonal variation. Temperatures on the Pacific side of the isthmus are lower than on the Caribbean and markedly cooler in the higher parts of the mountain ranges. Climatic regions are determined less on the basis of temperature than on rainfall, which varies regionally from less than 1300 millimetres to more than 3000 millimetres per year. Almost all of the rain falls from April to December. Rainfall tends to be heavier on the Caribbean than on the Pacific side of the continental divide. The annual average in Panama City is little more than half of that in Colón. Although thunderstorms are common during the rainy season, the country is outside of the hurricane belt.
Panama has a very efficient telephone and communications system. SIM cards for mobile phones can be purchased at airports or at a variety of retail outlets, providing local, international and data services. Prices vary by network, but expect to pay $5 for a SIM card, supplied without any calling credit.