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PANAMA – GENERAL INFORMATION

                 Fig.1 – Panama Flag

GEOGRAPHY

Panama is a country located in the Central America region of North America, bordering both the Caribbean Sea and the North Pacific Ocean, between Colombia and Costa Rica. Panama is located on the narrow and low Isthmus of Panama. Panama encompasses approximately 29,762 square miles, is 480 miles in length, and is between 37 and 110 miles in width.

HISTORY

Credit: Central Intelligence Agency

Panama’s history has been shaped by the evolution of the world economy and the ambitions of great powers. The earliest known inhabitants of Panama were the Cuevas and the Coclé tribes, but they were decimated by disease and fighting when the Spanish arrived in the 1500’s. Rodrigo de Bastidas, sailing westward from Venezuela in 1501 in search of gold, was the first European to explore the Isthmus of Panama. A year later, Christopher Columbus visited the Isthmus and established a short-lived settlement in the Darien.

Vasco Nunez de Balboa’s tortuous trek from the Atlantic to the Pacific in 1513 demonstrated that the Isthmus was, indeed, the path between the seas, and Panama quickly became the crossroads and marketplace of Spain’s empire in the New World. Gold and silver were brought by ship from South America, hauled across the Isthmus, and loaded aboard ships for Spain. The route became known as the Camino Real, or Royal Road, although it was more commonly known as Camino de Cruces (Road of the Crosses) because of the abundance of gravesites along the way.

Panama was part of the Spanish empire for 300 years (1538-1821). From the outset, Panamanian identity was based on a sense of “geographic destiny”, and Panamanian fortunes fluctuated with the geopolitical importance of the Isthmus. The colonial experience also spawned Panamanian nationalism as well as a racially complex and highly stratified society, the source of internal conflicts that ran counter to the unifying force of nationalism.

THE PEOPLE

Panamanians’ culture, customs, and language are predominantly Caribbean Spanish. The majority of the population is ethnically mestizo or mixed Spanish, indigenous, Chinese, and West Indian.

SOCIAL CONVENTIONS

Handshaking is the normal form of greeting and dress is generally casual. The culture is a vibrant mixture of American and Spanish lifestyles. The Mestizo majority, which is largely rural, shares many of the characteristics of Mestizo culture found throughout Central America. Only three indigenous tribes have retained their individuality and traditional lifestyles as a result of withdrawing into virtually inaccessible areas.

LANGUAGES

The official language is Spanish, but English is widely spoken.

GOVERNMENT

Panama is a representative democracy with three branches of government: executive and legislative branches elected by direct vote for 5-year terms, and an appointed judiciary. The judicial branch is organized under a nine-member Supreme Court (each judge is appointed for a 10-year term) and includes all tribunals and municipal courts. An autonomous Electoral Tribunal supervises voter registration, the election process, and the activities of political parties. Anyone over the age of 18 may vote.

TIME ZONE

GMT -5.

ELECTRICITY

120 volts AC, 60Hz.

 CLIMATE

Panama has a tropical climate. Temperatures are uniformly high—as is the relative humidity—and there is little seasonal variation. Diurnal ranges are low; on a typical dry-season day in the capital city, the early morning minimum may be 75.2 °F and the afternoon maximum 84.2 °F. The temperature seldom exceeds 89.6 °F for more than a short time. Temperatures on the Pacific side of the isthmus are somewhat lower than on the Caribbean, and breezes tend to rise after dusk in most parts of the country. Temperatures are markedly cooler in the higher parts of the mountain ranges, and frosts occur in the Cordillera de Talamanca in western Panama.

Climatic regions are determined less on the basis of temperature than on rainfall, which varies regionally from less than 51.2 inches to more than 118.1 inches per year. Almost all of the rain falls during the rainy season, which is usually from May through November, but varies in length from seven to nine months. The cycle of rainfall is determined primarily by two factors: moisture from the Caribbean, which is transported by north and northeast winds prevailing during most of the year, and the continental divide, which acts as a rainshield for the Pacific lowlands. A third influence that is present during the late autumn is the southwest wind off the Pacific. This wind brings some precipitation to the Pacific lowlands, modified by the highlands of the Península de Azuero, which form a partial rainshield for much of central Panama. In general, rainfall is much 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 rainy-season thunderstorms are common, the country is outside the hurricane belt.

Clothes to Wear:

Lightweight cottons and linens are worn, with rainwear advisable, particularly in the rainy season. Warmer clothes are needed in the highlands.

LOGISTICAL

Entry & Exit Requirements:

U.S. citizens traveling by air to and from Panama must present a valid passport when entering or re-entering the United States. Sea travelers entering Panama must have a valid U.S. passport. Complete information for U.S. citizens is available on the Passport Information page at travel.state.gov or by calling 1-877-4USA-PPT (1-877-487-2778) for information on applying for a passport. Panamanian law requires that travelers present a passport valid for at least three months. U.S. citizens entering Panama as tourists will be charged for a tourist card when they purchase their travel ticket. To obtain a multiple entry visa, please contact the Panamanian embassy or a Panamanian consulate before traveling. Further information on visas other than tourist visas may be obtained from the Embassy of Panama or its Consulates in the United States. The Panamanian Embassy is located at 2862 McGill Terrace NW, Washington, DC 20008. Tel: (202) 483-1407.

U.S. tourists are allowed to stay in Panama for 180 days, without extension. If you want to stay longer, a “change of migratory status visa” should be requested through a Panamanian lawyer before the expiration of the 180 days in country. An initial fee must be paid for the “change of migratory status visa”. Please note that the approval of the change in migratory status falls under the Panamanian Immigration Office’s discretion. More information on visa types and the necessary steps to take in Panama is available at the National Migration website.

U.S. citizens transiting the Panama Canal as passengers, regardless of their intention to disembark from the ship or not do not need to obtain visas, or pay any fees. You need to have a pre-stamped visa from a Panamanian Embassy or consulate if crossing into Panama by land.

If you are going to visit Panama, please take the time to tell the embassy about your trip. If you check in, they can keep you up to date with important safety and security announcements. It will also help your friends and family get in touch with you in an emergency.

Embassy Locations:

U.S. Embassy in Panama

Avenida Demetrio Basilio Lakas

Building No.783, Clayton section

Panama City
Tel: (011) 507-207-7000 or 7030
Emer. a-h Tel: (011) 507-207-7000
Fax: (011) 507-317-5568 or 7303

Email: Panama-ACS@state.gov

Embassy of Canada to Panama

Torres de las Americas, Tower A

Piso 11, Punta Pacifica

Tel: (011 507) 294-2500

Fax: (011 507) 294-2514

Email: panam@international.gc.ca

http://www.canadainternational.gc.ca/panama/index.aspx?lang=eng

Health:
Information on vaccinations and other health precautions, such as safe food and water precautions and insect bite protection, may be obtained from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) hotline for international travelers at 1-800-CDC-INFO (1-800-232-4636) or via the CDC website at http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel. For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad, consult the infectious diseases section of the World Health Organization (WHO) website at http://www.who.int/topics/ infectious_diseases/en/. The WHO website also contains additional health information for travelers, including detailed country-specific health information.

Banks & Currency:

Balboa (PAB; symbol B/.) = 100 centavos. There is no Panamanian paper currency; coins exist in denominations of B/.10 and 1, and 50, 25, 10, 5 and 1 centavos. US currency was adopted in 1904 and exists alongside the Balboa coinage: B/.1 = US$1.

Banks and cambios are available for changing currency. There is no need to exchange US Dollars. MasterCard and Visa are the most commonly used, but American Express and Diners Club are also accepted. To avoid additional exchange rate charges, visitors are advised to take traveler’s checks in US Dollars.
Banking Hours: Mon-Fri 8am-3pm, Sat 08:30am-12pm.

Communication:
Country code: 507. There are no area codes.Roaming agreements exist with international mobile phone companies. Coverage is good. Internet cafes exist in main urban areas. Airmail to Western Europe takes five to 10 days.Post office hours: Mon-Fri 8am-4pm, Sat 8am-1pm.

Cell Phone Usage:

Please contact your cell phone provider to determine whether your contract includes coverage in the country you are visiting. Depending on your contract you may have to add international services and/or country specific services.

ENTERTAINMENT

Food and Drink:

American, French and Spanish food is available in all restaurants and hotels in Panama City and Colón. There is a huge selection of excellent restaurants in Panama City, as well as other main cities. There are also several Oriental restaurants. Native cooking is reminiscent of creole cuisine, hot and spicy. Seafood is excellent and in abundance. The choice and availability of wines, spirits and beers in hotels, restaurants and bars is unlimited.

National specialties:

  • Ceviche (fish marinated in lime juice, onions and peppers).
  • Patacones de plátano (fried plantain).
  • Sancocho (Panamanian stew with chicken, meat and vegetables).
  • Tamales (seasoned pie wrapped in banana leaves).
  • Empanadas (turnovers filled with meat, chicken or cheese).

Nightlife:  

Panama City, in particular, has a wide range of nightlife from nightclubs and casinos to folk, ballet, belly dancing and classical theater. Dancing and entertainment are available in all the big hotels, as well as many clubs. Other large towns and resorts have music, dancing, casinos and cinemas. Further details can be found in local papers.

Shopping: 

Panama is a duty-free haven and luxury goods from all over the world can be bought at a saving of at least one-third. Local items include leatherwear, patterned, beaded necklaces made by Guaymí Indians, native costumes, jewels and precious stones, straw products, electrical equipment, handicrafts of carved wood, ceramics, paper mâché artifacts, macramé and mahogany bowls.

Shopping hours: Mon-Sat 9am-8pm. Some supermarkets are open 24-hours.

BAGGAGE

Baggage rules for international and domestic air travel have changed much in recent years, differ from carrier to carrier and these days even may cover your on-board bags. Checking luggage may cost a separate fee or may be free depending on your personal status with the carrier. We therefore encourage you to read your ticket’s small print and/or contact your carrier for exact rules.

TIPPING

10 to 15% is customary in hotels (where it is added automatically) and restaurants.

LAUNDRY

Limited.

PHOTOS & VIDEOS

In some countries you must refrain from photographing sites such as Military bases and industrial installations. Also be aware of cultural sensitivities when taking pictures of or near churches and other religious sites. It is always courteous to ask for permission before taking photographs of people.

USE OF DRONES 

The use of drones is being legislated by many countries. In some cases drones are already forbidden and their unauthorized use may carry severe penalties. If you plan to travel with a drone please contact the embassy or consulate of the country you wish to visit.

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