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Preface Last Updated: 5/21/2004 1:47 PM

“The Crossroads of the World,” Panama’s geography continues to shape the destiny of the Isthmus and the peoples from all over the world who have come to call this country their home. The country is the physical link between North and South America, with the Continental Divide squeezed to its narrowest point in the hemisphere. It is also very much on the Cultural Divide between old and new, historic and modern, tradition and fad. The dynamic rhythms of many cultures and peoples have come to form a melting pot at the middle of the world.

Geography made the construction of the Panama Canal an especially formidable task. French engineers tried for 20 years to build a sea-level canal, but were ultimately defeated by malaria. The Americans came with a plan for a lock system and also developed the scientific know-how to control malaria and basically eliminate it as a threat to the Canal workers. The workers came from the West Indies and the Orient, from Barbados and China. Many decided to stay in Panama, continuing an ethnic and cultural mix that started with the arrival of the first Spanish conquistadores in the 16th Century, continued through waves of European immigration in the 19th Century, and continues today as Panama moves into the 21st Century.

The Panama Canal Zone cut across the Isthmus from north to south. The Zone was once legally U.S. territory. Those born in it are considered as native-born U.S. citizens. The Zone was in many respects a transplantation of middle-class American traditions and values. It had its own legal system based on the Code of Napoleon. The educational system came directly from the U.S. and was administered by the Department of Defense Schools System. Balboa High School in the Zone graduated its last class in 1999, symbolizing the end of an era. As of January 1, 2000, the Canal was in Panamanian hands.

U.S. influence in Panama continues to be felt. One aspect is the presence of over 20,000 American residents. The Embassy runs the largest single program of overseas benefits for the U.S. Office of Personnel Management. The legacy of cultural ties continues. Panamanian-American traditions such as the Ocean-to-Ocean cayuco (canoe) race symbolize the interaction of American and Panamanian culture. The presence of thousands of Panamanian-American dual nationals is a living legacy of that interaction.

The Panama Hat symbolizes the central importance of Panama’s commercial sector. Actually produced in Ecuador, the Panama Hat is the quintessential emblem of tropical living. It took its name from the country of Panama, because, as with so many other products of the region, it is re-exported through Panama’s ports to destinations around the world.

Once they come to Panama, many people from other lands fall in love with the country. They want to come back and even settle down here. Close enough to the States to be convenient for travelers, yet far enough away to be different, Panama acts like a magnet on visitors and first-time residents.

The town of El Valle, site of the Mission’s Immersion Spanish program, features native indigenous peoples, weekly open market places, beautiful mountain scenery, picturesque streams, and a large community of retired Americans. Many of these Americans formerly worked for the U.S. Government in the Panama Canal area or were members of the U.S. military services.

Businesses and tourists alike are finding Panama to be an increasingly attractive destination. Cruise ship business is up briskly in 2002; the trans-Isthmian railway is operating; and the Canal has a higher volume of ship transists than ever.

The Host Country

Area, Geography, and Climate Last Updated: 5/21/2004 1:53 PM

The contrast between life in Panama City and in the rest of the country is striking. The city itself has changed enormously in the last 10 years. A modern banking center, several huge new shopping centers, and scores of high-rise office and apartment buildings have re-shaped the skyline. But the history and tradition of the past can be found quickly in Casco Viejo (the old center) where the cathedral forms the center of what was once the “downtown” area. The ruins of Panama Viejo (Old Panama), once the object of attack from the pirates of the Caribbean, are a short distance from the modern city center.

The countryside, by contrast, continues to resemble in many ways what it was 10 years ago. Small towns and Indian villages, many nestled in mountain valleys, have seen some changes but everything is “low rise” and “laid back.” Rural Panama is the heartland of Panamanian native cultural life, with the typical music and dances of yesteryear still popular today. Here is where city dwellers flock for relief on weekends and over holidays.

River rafting, surfing, hiking, biking, snorkeling, swimming, fishing, hunting...and so much more. These are but some of the attractions that beckon people to come to Panama. Panama is also home to Mariano Rivera of the New York Yankees, to Roberto Duran, the boxer, and to Ruben Blades the song writer, among other celebrities.

Development keeps coming but the Panamanian way of life somehow survives, and even thrives, with change.

Panama, the country — often-called “The Bridge between Two Worlds” — is a crossroads of world culture and international trade. Panama — the city — resembles much larger metropolitan centers in that it is a melting pot for nationality and culture. Panama, the people, is a cultural “Mezcla,” (mix) or “Mosaico,” (mosaic) of many races and cultures under the lively and energized daily rhythm of Latin society. Panama — the canal — functions in the lush, tropical green forests entirely with fresh water. Panama, the word, is a native term with the interchangeable meaning for “"many fish,” “many trees,” or “many butterflies.”

Panama, “The Bridge between Two Worlds” since the beginning of Spanish colonization of the Western Hemisphere, has been a transit center of commerce and a crossroads of culture. The Spanish used Panama as the point through which to transport the gold from the Inca mines in Peru and Ecuador across the Isthmus and onward to ports in Spain. Retaining its crossroads role, Panama and its canal continue to transport goods to ports around the world. Commercial enterprises, ships and planes from around the world bring not only business but also the cultures from which they spring.

Wedged between North and South America, Panama appears pushed, squeezed, twisted, and stretched by the two continents dangling on either end. Panama’s snake-like “S” shape can disorient a new arrival. North and South “become” East and West. One imagines that in Panama City the sun rises in the West over the Pacific and sets in the East over the Atlantic. The Panama Canal lets ships, some 40 a day, sail West and East but they must go North and South to do so. South America lies to the East and to get to North America you head West — to where the sun rises.

If we believe the old real estate adage, “location is everything,” Panama has (almost) everything: The country largely avoids the Pacific rim’s earthquakes and its “ring of fire,” and escapes the Caribbean’s devastating tropical storms and hurricanes. Geography gives Panama one of the world’s most amazing collections of flora and fauna. North American and South American animals and vegetation come together in a clash of color and life: a bird watcher’s paradise, a fisherman’s dream, a “tree-hugger’s” Disneyland.

Tremendous growth and change are under way at this Crossroads of the World. A major force for change in Panama as it enters the new Millennium has been the transfer of the Canal, military bases and support facilities from American to Panamanian hands. The outcome of that process will largely determine how bright the future will be for Panama.

Population Last Updated: 5/21/2004 1:54 PM

There are Panamanian-Jamaicans, Panamanian-Syrians, and Panamanian-Chinese. If you can name the combination, Panama probably has it. Panama has the world’s eighth highest percentage of Jewish people in its population, and 25 different world religions recently participated in celebrating the 125th anniversary of its oldest synagogue. It also boasts the only mosque in Central America. The blend of Hispanic, Indian and African heritages with other cultural groups from around the world has produced a very distinctive Panamanian population.

Direct descendants of the Spaniards who colonized the country remain influential but no longer dominate Panama’s social, economic and political life. Mixed-blooded Panamanians share prominent political and professional status with the Spanish-descendant group and participate fully in Panama’s diverse and influential social circles. Much of Panama’s population is a mix of Spanish-Indian and black Hispanic ancestry. Ethnic influences from China, India, Europe, the Middle East, South and Central America can be found in the middle class. Blacks of West Indian descent, whose ancestors provided most of the labor in digging the canal, tend to be concentrated in the provinces of Panama and Colon. Although North American influence on Panama’s basic culture is evident in Panama City and Colon, the history and heritage of these distinct ethnic groups have combined to form the modern Panamanian way of life.

In the interior provinces, the ethnic makeup is more homogeneous. The Spanish-Indian mixture is preponderant, and North American influence on customs and mores is relatively minor.

Public Institutions Last Updated: 5/21/2004 1:56 PM

Panama is a centralized, constitutional presidential republic, with nominally independent Judiciary and unicameral Legislative Aseembly, but law and custom place most power in the hands of the Executive. The Executive branch includes the President of the Republic and two Vice Presidents, who are elected for five-year terms, and the State Ministers or Cabinet Secretaries, appointed by the President. Voting is by direct and secret ballot. A simple plurality is needed for election.

The President, Vice Presidents, and Ministers of State together form the Cabinet Council, which appoints the Magistrates of the Supreme Court of Justice, the Attorney General, and the Solicitor General, subject to legislative approval. The President and the Cabinet approve, promulgate, and enforce laws passed by the legislature; appoint police, provincial governors, and heads of various public agencies; prepare a budget for legislative approval; maintain public order; and conduct foreign affairs.

The President and Vice Presidents may be removed from office for abusing their constitutional duties, for violent or coercive acts during an electoral process, or for preventing the meeting of the Legislative Assembly. The President and Vice Presidents need not belong to the same political party.

Legislators cannot run as independents; they are nominated by a party and are subject to its discipline. Legislators in multi-seat circuits are chosen by proportional representation.

The Legislative Assembly determines most budget matters and establishes public institutions. Legislators may censor Ministers and impeach and try Presidents and Supreme Court justices. They may override a presidential veto of approved legislation with a two-thirds majority vote. The Assembly has the power to declare war and grant amnesty for political crimes. It must approve appointments of Supreme Court Justices, the Attorney General, the Solicitor General, and other high administrative officials. Legislators enjoy immunity from search and seizure and from prosecution when the Assembly is in session. Legislators may lose their immunity by waiving it, being caught in flagrante delicto, or by majority vote of the Assembly.

The Judicial branch comprises the Supreme Court of Justice, the Electoral Tribunal, and the Attorney General’'s office (or Public Ministry), which oversees Panama’s criminal police investigative agency, the Judicial Technical Police. The Attorney General is appointed for a 10-year term. The Constitution mandates a Judicial branch budget of at least two percent of annual government revenue, to establish its financial independence from the Legislative and Executive branches.

Supreme Court Justice are appointed by the Cabinet Council and confirmed by the legislature for staggered 10-year terms with two justices appointed every other year or as justices resign or retire. The nine-member Court is divided into three-judge panels for civil, criminal, and administrative cases. Its decisions are final and binding. The Judicial branch is the ultimate interpreter of the Panamanian constitution and of the constitutionality of the laws and decrees of the Executive and Legislative branches. Panama is a civil law country, with most law created by legislative codes rather than judicial decision.

A three-judge Electoral Tribunal oversees elections, with one member each chosen by the Supreme Court, the legislature, and the President. Supreme Court Justices appoint lower court judges. Sitting judges may not engage in any other employment, except as law professors, and are barred from all political activities, except voting. The constitution establishes the right to trial by jury, but the Legislative Assembly determines whether this right will apply in cases against the President, Supreme Court Justices, or legislators who have lost their immunity.

Arts, Science, and Education Last Updated: 5/21/2004 1:59 PM

Panama has a varied and often rewarding intellectual and cultural life. The government’s Instituto Nacional de Cultura (INAC), oversees Panama’s National Theater, School of Dance, School of Fine Arts, Symphony Orchestra, and Ballet. Other significant cultural organizations include the National Concert Association, which sponsors concerts at the National Theater and Atlapa Convention Center; the University of Panama, which presents concerts and art exhibits; and an increasing number of smaller, private musical theater and fine arts associations. In recent years the Youth Symphony Orchestra has performed a January concert in the beautiful setting of the Ruins of Old Panama with students from the Oberlin Conservatory of Music in Ohio. You can listen to jazz at several clubs and at occasional festivals in Panama City. Panama’s architecture includes colonial homes in the interior and Mediterranean-style villas in Panama City whose dramatic skyline has been transformed in the past decade by recent construction of modern public and commercial office buildings and high-rise condominiums. UNESCO has designated Casco Viejo, the oldest part of modern Panama City; a World Cultural Heritage site. The government is restoring this section of old Panama City to resemble its appearance in colonial times.

Among Panama’s 24 museums are the Interoceanic Canal Museum of Panama with several fascinating newly refurbished exhibit halls, the Museum of Contemporary Art with its collection of paintings and sculpture, the Anthropological Museum, (Reina Torres de Araúz), the new children’s museum, Museo del Niño y la Niña and arts and science center, Explora. The noted architect has designed the Museum of Biodiversity, soon to be constructed on the Amador Causeway in Panama City.

There is fairly active art colony in Panama and several Panamanian painters, musicians and writers have achieved international recognition. Accomplishments in drama and dance have been less notable, and the film industry is negligible. However, recent filming of three major motion pictures and several television series on location in Panama may bode well for Panama as a site for film and television production.

The National Library in the suburbs of Panama city houses a fine collection of books and periodicals and is host to readings, concerts and art shows throughtout the year. Some bookstores also sponsor readings and other cultural events.

Florida State University conducts research projects at the Primate Refuge and Sanctuary of Panama. The Middle America Research Unit of the National Institute of Health and the Smithsonian Institution’s Tropical Research Institute on Barro Colorado Island and associated field stations throughout Panama also carry out research. The Smithsonian’s program attracks hundreds of scientist from around the world who are engaged in research on the rain forest and its canopy. (The rain forest is vital to the operation of the Panama Canal.).

Florida State University is operating at the sprawling campus formerly housing the Panama Canal College and offers a 4-year Bachelor’s degree in computer sciences as well as Associate’s degrees in several fields. The University of Louisville offers Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in Business Administration. These programs are open to all qualified individuals. Instruction is in English, and course credits can be transferred to institutions in the United States.

The Panamanian Government has used a portion of the reverted areas from the U.S. military to establish an international research and education center, the City of Knowledge. Several leading international universities have expressed interest in establishing programs at the City of Knowledge. They include the University of California at Davis, Cornell, Texas A &M, Iowa, Williams College, McGill, Florida Atlantic, Southern Methodist and Georgetown; some of these universities are already offering courses in Panama.

Panamanians have historically attached great importance to education. It’s literacy rate is 91.7% — one of the highest in Latin America. There are a number of very good private schools in the country. Many graduates of the Instituto Nacional, a public school know throughout the country, have subsequently entered Panamanian political life. The Ministry of Education is working to improve instructional facilities, curriculum and teacher preparation and to teach English throughout the country, but progress is very slow.

The University of Panama, the country’s largest, consists of a main campus in Panama City and branches in eight regional centers in the provinces and three university extensions. Total enrollment is approximately 73,000. The Technological University of Panama, also based in Panama City, has branches in seven provinces and a total enrollment of 16,000. There are about 6,000 students enrolled in the main campus and three regional branches of the private Catholic university, Santa María la Antigua. In fact, a growing number of private and foreign universities provide alternatives to the struggling state university system. American officers receive a cordial welcome at these universities, and many opportunities exist for exchanges and cooperative programs. Instruction is in Spanish.

Commerce and Industry Last Updated: 5/21/2004 2:05 PM

Taking advantage of Panama’s key location, the Government and business communities have long promoted it as an international trading, banking, and services center. Trade liberalization and privatization during the mid-1990s have changed the face of the capital’s downtown business district. People returning here marvel at the changes after only a few years’ absence.

Panama’s $12 billion economy is based primarily on a well-developed services sector that accounts for approximately 80 percent of GDP. Services include the Panama Canal, banking, legal services, the Colon Free Zone (the second largest in the world), insurance, container ports, and flagship registry. The sectors of manufacturing, mining, utilities and construction, together, account for 12 percent of GDP. Agriculture, forestry and fisheries make up the about 7 percent of GDP. Primary products, some of which are exported, include bananas, shrimp, sugar, coffee, meat dairy products, tropical fruits, rice, and corn.

Panama’s merchandise imports are approximately $3.05 billion for 2003. The value of Panama’s total merchandise exports for 2003 are estimated to be $713.6 million. Total bilateral trade with the U.S. came to $1.7 billion in 2002.

U.S.exports were $1.4 billion and imports were $302 million. The stock of U.S. foreign direct investment (FDI) in 2001 was $25.3 billion. U.S. FDI is primarily concentrated in the financial sector.The down turn of Panama’s economy, which started in 1999, reversed itself during 2003. However, Panama still struggles to overcome the departure of the U.S. military, low prices for its primary exports, higher prices for petroleum imports, and until recently reduced trade and investment due to the regional and worldwide economic slowdown. However, growth in tourism, telecommuncations, and maritime sectors along with a mini construction boom portends that the 2003 gains in the Panamanian economy should continue into 2004 if the global economic recovery continues.

Panamas dollar-based economy offers low inflation and zero foreign exchange risk for American companies. Consumer attitudes and some brand preferences are often similar to the U.S. American television and radio programs, and U.S. magazines are available and popular in Panama. Panamanians frequently travel to the U.S. for vacation, medical treatment, study, and business. U.S. products and services are well accepted and highly competitive in most product sectors. Sharply lower import duties have made U.S. products more competitive with locally manufactured items in recent years. The U.S. share of market in Panama was 40% in 2002, up from 32.5% the preceding year.

Although Panama’s 2002 per capita GDP is among the highest in the region at $3,699, this figure is unreliable as an indicator of prosperity overall. Income distribution is skewed to the benefit of a relatively small, consumer goods-oriented and entrepreneurial class. These families have high levels of disposable income. The Survey of Living Standards, produced by the World Bank and the Government of Panama in 2000, estimated that 37% of all Panamanians live in poverty, including over 50% of children under age 10, and 95% of the indigenous population.

Panama has no restrictions on the outflow of capital or outward direct investment. Its accession to the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 1997 opened up trade and lowered tariffs across the board, giving Panama the lowest average tariff rate in Latin America. The Moscoso government reversed some of these reductions by raising some agricultural good tariffs dramatically in late 1999 and early 2000 to their WTO bound rate.

Panama’s inflexible labor laws are a source of concern for prospective investors. Firing practices are excessively regulated which reduces labor mobility and inhibits hiring. The minimum wage was recently increased to U.S. 268 monthly (in the capital). While inexpensive in global terms, Panama’s minimum wage is relatively high in a Central American context.

The privatization program in Panama has largely been concluded. It started with the sale of a state cement company and a state-owned fruit company. The Government awarded concessions for a private toll road in 1994, cellular phone service and another private toll road in early 1996, and two ports in mid-1996. Intel, the Panamanian Telephone Company, was partially (49%) sold in mid-1997 and is now being managed by the British firm, Cable & Wireless. The Cable & Wireless monopoly ended in January 2003 for all fixed line, long distance and international services. Government-owned casinos and racetrack were privatized in 1998. The power parastatal was restructured and converted into 8 companies, which were partially sold to the private sector in August 1998. Four American companies participated including Enron, Coastal, AES and Constellation. Two sugar mills were privatized in 1998 to local groups with some Colombian participation.


Automobiles Last Updated: 5/21/2004 2:07 PM

An automobile is desirable in Panama City. Work, shopping, social calls, official functions, and recreation are difficult without personal transportation. While all models of vehicles are found on the roads in Panama, many American personnel prefer sports utility vehicles (SUVs). SUVs are popular because: traffic in Panama City is extremely congested and drivers tend to be very aggressive; fender bender accidents are numerous; SUVs are popular since they tend to be heavier, sit higher, and surround their occupants with more metal than sedans. Also, while the primary roads in Panama City are reasonably well-maintained, secondary roads often have large potholes. In addition, during the rainy season (April through November) the amount of rainfall often exceeds the capacity of the storm sewer system, turning roads into lakes. A high clearance vehicle is much more likely to navigate these temporary lakes (accompanied by large buses that create heavy “wakes”) than a sedan. Finally, if you intend to “explore” the hinterlands of Panama and neighboring Central American countries, a high-clearance, four-wheel-drive vehicle is highly desirable. Air-conditioning is considered essential. One drawback on driving a SUV is the cost of gasoline, which tends to be higher than in the USA.

It is sometimes difficult to secure parts for automobiles.

Cars may be rented on a daily or long-term basis through several U.S. companies. However, taxis are abundant, relatively inexpensive, and are good for interim use. Another option is to purchase a used car at post from departing mission members.

Direct-hire employees with two or more family members at post that are duly authorized to drive motor vehicles may import free of customs duty, taxes and related assessments more than one automobile for their needs. Registered diplomats may sell their vehicles to other diplomats six months after the vehicle has been registered or to anyone else after two years after initial registration. In case an employee has an assignment that is less than two years, he/she may request permission to sell vehicles six months before the end of the assignment. To import a new car free of taxes and duties, it must be purchased at least 6 months before the end of an employee’s assignment. Holder of diplomatic titles are issued diplomatic (CD) license plates by the Foreign Office. Non-diplomatic members of the U.S. Mission (Administrative and Technical staff) are issued ADM license plates.

The Ministry of Foreign Relations requires all diplomatic personnel accredited to Panama to purchase local third-party liability insurance. Additional casualty insurance is available from several American-affiliated companies, but a policy made directly with a company in the United States (such as Clements) is often less expensive. Casualty insurance (collision, comprehensive, theft, etc.) should be purchased in the United States from one of the agencies that specialize in overseas vehicle insurance. It is strongly recommended that policies provide “replacement” rather than “depreciated” value as prices and availability are much different here than in the United States. Post strongly recommends separate casualty insurance for a vehicle in transit as ocean shipping lines are liable for a maximum of $500 liability while a vehicle is in their possession.

Local Transportation Last Updated: 5/21/2004 2:07 PM

Taxi service is readily available and inexpensive. However, care must be used in selection as safety in some taxis is questionable. City buses are often very poorly maintained and riding them is not recommended for safety and security reasons.

Regional Transportation Last Updated: 5/21/2004 2:08 PM

Panama has two major highways. The Transisthmian Highway links Panama City to Colon. A branch of the Inter American Highway extends from the Costa Rican border to the town of Chepo, about 35 miles beyond Panama City. Both roads are two to four lanes and paved. Streets within Panama City and Colon are adequate but many can flood during the rainy season.

American Airlines, Continental Airlines, and Delta Airlines, COPA, and other major foreign carriers operate daily flights to the United States and other parts of the world from Panama’s Tocumen International Airport. Flights to and from the United States pass through Houston, Miami, Newark, Atlanta or Los Angeles. Aero Perlas, Mapiex and Aero Taxi provide domestic air service. These flights operate from Marco Gelabert Airport, a 20-minute drive from the city center, at the former Albrook Air Force Base.


Telephones and Telecommunications Last Updated: 5/21/2004 2:09 PM

Telephone service in Panama City is excellent, and you have nearly as many choices as you do in the United States for long distance providers. Internet Service Providers are capable of delivering up to 512 kilobytes per second using A-DSL or TV cable-modem technology. Neither one of these options will tie-up your phone lines, unlike the traditional dial-up services, which are still available in Panama. International dialing rates vary depending on country and time zone. Some comanies offer 15 cents a minute off prime. Western Union Telegram facilities are excellent and provide worldwide service.

Telephone Instruments/OpenNet Addresses

New arrivals are encouraged to ship one or two telephones in their airfreight as neither the local telephone company nor the embassy issues telephone instruments. Regular touch-tone or cordless phones used in the U.S. will work fine here. On the cellular side, there are several service providers in Panama, to include Bell South and Cable & Wireless. If you already own a cellular phone you will need to check the providers to verify whether or not they will function here. All services are fairly stable and your decision should be based on your personal usage needs. For those of you that are having business card made before arrival, in most cases our generic official Internet address ( should remain the same from post to post.

Mail and Pouch Last Updated: 5/21/2004 2:10 PM

The Embassy and attached agencies use military APO facilities. The Embassy APO sells U.S. postage stamps and processes incoming and outgoing APO mail and parcels for all Mission personnel.

For APO mail, regular U.S. postal charges are collected only for the distance from Miami, Florida, to the point of origin/delivery. Letters and packages sent to post via APO facilities should be addressed as follows:

Your Name
Your Section/Agency–Unit 0945
APO AA 34002

The street address to be used for FedEx and other local deliveries is:

American Embassy, Panama

Your Name

Apartado 0816–02561, Zone 5

Panama, Rep. Panama

Diplomatic pouch facilities may not be used for personal mail or parcels. Regular international mail facilities are available and generally reliable service, however, may be somewhat slower than APO service.

Radio and TV Last Updated: 5/5/2004 3:35 PM

Though there are no English-language radio stations per se, several of the local stations carry syndicated radio programming in English. There are five local commercial TV stations, some of which broadcast programs in English via television sets with the capability to receive a Separate Audio Program (SAP). Some of these stations broadcast sporting events and reruns of American feature programs and movies.

Cable TV and Direct TV are available in Panama City for a fee and provide a variety of satellite programming. Premium channels include the Disney Channel, HBO/Cinemax, and Showtime. Basic cable service includes 4 varieties of CNN, Fox, Warner Channel, TNT, Film and Arts, and ESPN 1 and 2. There is usually an installation fee for new subscriptions and monthly fees range from $35 for basic channels to more than double that for highest level of service. DirecTV is available with comparable prices and more channel listings. Some apartment buildings also include their own satellite receivers.

Local cinemas are comparable in quality to those in the U.S., yet prices are much lower. First run movies are shown in English with Spanish subtitles, often shortly after their release in the U.S. Local video stores rent both VHS and DVD at reasonable prices comparable to Stateside, mostly recorded in English with Spanish subtitles. It is important to note that Panama is Region 4 for DVD, unlike the USA which is region 1. Unless your DVD player is multizone, region 4 DVDs will not play on them. Some region 1 titles are available at Blockbuster.

Newspapers, Magazines, and Technical Journals Last Updated: 5/21/2004 2:11 PM

Panamanians read six Spanish-language newspapers, including two tabloids. The English-language international edition of The Miami Herald is printed locally. All of Panama’s newspapers are available on the Internet, as is the Internet English language weekly, Panama News.

Newstands, drug stores and major hotels sell many of the most popular U.S. magazines and newspapers — including USA Today, the New York Times, the Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal — one day after publication. They are also available through subscription, but rates are higher than in the U.S. You can arrange for home delivery of U.S. and Panamanian newspapers.

Health and Medicine

Medical Facilities Last Updated: 5/18/2004 4:42 PM

U.S. citizens residing in Panama City generally receive good health care services on the local economy. Three private hospitals near the Embassy provide a full range of medical services and support to our community. Specialty tests and equipment including MRI, CT Scan, and ultrasound are available as well as hyperbaric chambers. Several of the laboratories are affiliated with U.S. reference labs and offer a wide range of service. English-speaking U.S. or European-trained physicians represent nearly every medical and dental specialization in Panama City. Overall, Embassy employees have been very pleased with the quality of health care received in Panama.

Your prescription medications may not be available locally or may be more expensive than in the U.S. Mail order pharmacy services offer a convenient way to renew your prescriptions when posted overseas. Check with your insurance carrier for specific benefits. Remember all prescriptions must be written by a U.S. licensed physician to use a mail order pharmacy. Many employees have their personal/family physician in the U.S. write their prescriptions. If it is a medication you have taken for a long time and you think the dosage will not change, consider bringing a bulk supply with you.

Employees should review their insurance program before arriving in Panama for appropriate overseas coverage. Bring a supply of claim forms and know how to file the claims.

Embassy Health Unit.

The Mission maintains a Health Unit staffed by one full-time registered nurse and one full-time secretary. The Regional Medical Office or Foreign Service Health Practitioner visit post quarterly.

The primary function of this office is to promote the health of all under its care by encouraging prevention of illness and facilitating access to health care. Services include maintaining the overseas medical record, providing medical orientation to post for new arrivals, coordinating medical clearance physicals and medical evacuations, providing local medical referral resources, monitoring local public health issues and providing/coordinating health care education. The nurse is also available to assist in genuine emergencies and to administer first aid when accidents occur at work. The Health Unit does not provide primary care services. We do offer most of the routine childhood and adult immunizations as a Health Unit service. Frequently there have been shortages of vaccine. Post encourages employees and family members to update all immunizations prior to post arrival. Several immunizations require a series of shots and you must allow enough time to complete the series.

Community Health Last Updated: 5/21/2004 2:13 PM

For a tropical country, Panama’s community health standards are good. With normal precautions one can avoid most health hazards. Traffic accidents are probably the greatest risk to Mission employees. The city water supply is considered safe but it is prudent to boil the water after any water main breaks or outages. Travelers to remote areas should boil the water or use a water purifier. Milk is pasteurized and bottled under sanitary conditions, as are locally produced beers and other beverages. Domestically produced meats are packaged and sold under generally sanitary conditions in the larger grocery stores. Local fruits and vegetables should be thoroughly washed before being eaten. Fresh fish and seafood are plentiful and inexpensive. Many U.S. name brand foods are available in local supermarkets.

Trash is collected daily in most areas of Panama City. Roaches, ants, and other insects, as well as mice and rats are ever present in this tropical climate, but with vigilance, they can be kept under control.

Preventive Measures Last Updated: 5/21/2004 2:14 PM

Common medical complaints include colds, allergies, upper respiratory infections and diarrhea. The humidity, mold, and pollens may aggravate existing sinus and asthmatic conditions. Swimmer’s ear is a common complaint among children and adults.

Anti-malarial medication is not required in Panama City or areas of the former Canal Zone. There are rural areas that have seen a significant increase in malaria in the last two years. Anti-malarial medication is recommended in the areas of Bocas del Toro, the Darien, and San Blas, including the islands. Please refer to the Center for Disease Control at for the latest in travel health information.

Other diseases include dengue fever, influenza, hepatitis and hantavirus. Hepatitis is considered a significant health threat and Mission members are encouraged to obtain the Hepatitis A and B series of vaccinations before arriving at post. Tuberculosis is endemic and common among residents in the poorer areas. As of March 2001, approximately 3,830 cases of AIDS had been diagnosed in the country with a 75% mortality rate and an estimated 30,000 to 38,000 HIV positive individuals. Health education about AIDS and infectious diseases is included in the orientation to post.

Employment for Spouses and Dependents Last Updated: 5/21/2004 2:15 PM

Although the United States has signed a bilateral work agreement with Panama that makes it possible for spouses to work on the local economy, it is not easy to predict employment opportunities for them. There are a few positions available for nurses, teachers, secretaries and clerical help. Knowledge of Spanish is often, although not always, a requirement and salary scales are usually not at U.S. levels. The Mission keeps vacancies in locally-hired positions open for adult dependents of full-time, direct hire American employees. In general, the policy is to identify the best-qualified applicants for any vacancy. Many jobs are at local salary levels, but there are positions in the Mission that pay at higher levels. All positions are subject to funding availability. Special projects may arise from time to time for which applications will be solicited.

Dependent youth hiring for summer employment varies depending on funding and the willingness of various agencies to participate in the program. Salaries are roughly equivalent to minimum wage in the United States.

For information prior to arrival at post you may wish to contact:

Human Resources Office
American Embassy
Unit 0945, APO AA 34002
Tel: 011–507–207–7267

Community Liaison Office (CLO)
American Embassy
Unit 0945, APO AA 34002
Tel: 011–507–207–7315

American Embassy - Panama City

Post City Last Updated: 5/21/2004 2:15 PM

Panama City, the capital and the principal city of the Republic of Panama, is situated on the Pacific side of the country. Often called the Crossroads of the World, Panama City offers a uniquely international ambiance and an active lifestyle with modern shopping centers, art expositions, and many excellent restaurants.

The Post and Its Administration Last Updated: 5/21/2004 2:16 PM

The U.S. Mission in Panama represents the United States as a key player in the future success of the country and in the current state of transition. The Mission changed radically in the twilight years of the Twentieth Century. It absorbed some of the key functions previously handled by the military. Now, over two dozen U.S. Government agencies at post make Panama resemble a scaled-down version of some of the most complex U.S. Missions in the world.

The Ambassador, assisted by the DCM, heads the U.S. Mission.

The Chancery is located on Avenida Balboa between 38th and 39th streets, facing the Bay of Panama. The Ambassador and DCM, the Political and Economic Sections, Regional Security Office, Information Program Center, Coast Guard, Legal Attaché, Defense Attaché Office, the Drug Enforcement Administration, and the U.S. Customs Service are all located in the Chancery.

The Management Office, Information Management Office, Information Systems Office, Budget and Fiscal, Human Resources, General Services, the Medical Unit, Travel, CLO, the Foreign Commercial Service, Citizenship and Immigration Services (CIS), the Public Affairs Section and Consulate are located in a separate leased building in Clayton, former military base, Building # 520, Demetrio Basilio Lakas Street.

The telephone number for the Chancery and all other offices listed above is (country code 507) 207-7000.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) is located in Altos de Curundu, Building # 573, in Panama City (Tel.: 232–6709).

USAID is located on the second floor of the Plaza Regency Building on Via España (Tel.: 263–6011).

Travelers arriving by air enter Panama through Tocumen International Airport, 11 miles northeast of Panama City. New arrivals are met, assisted through customs, and escorted to their quarters. It is imperative that new arrivals notify the Mission of their date and time of arrival well in advance. This information is needed for the orderly scheduling of Mission support activities and assignment of sponsors. A welcome packet will be sent to new arrivals when the Mission is given sufficient advance notice.

Duty hours for the Mission are Monday through Friday, 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. with 1 hour for lunch. USAID hours are Monday through Friday, 8:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. with 30 minutes for lunch.

A Marine Guard is on duty at the Chancery at all times.


Temporary Quarters Last Updated: 5/21/2004 2:17 PM

Every effort is made to place new arrivals into their assigned housing upon arrival. If this is not possible, the embassy will provide temporary housing either in a hotel or in vacant government quarters. GSO can provide welcome kits for new arrivals who are awaiting their airfreight shipments and/or are in temporary quarters.

Permanent Housing Last Updated: 5/21/2004 2:19 PM

Nearly all Mission members and families are housed in government-leased residences, though a few agency-specific exceptions occupy privately leased quarters. The housing pool is a mix of apartments and single-family homes. Current post policy is to assign families of three or more in single family homes whenever possible. Single officers or families of two will be assigned to apartments. (Note: At the time of this report, acceptable single-family homes available for lease were in short supply and post has not been able to guarantee a house for every incoming family). Currently, leased apartments are located in downtown Panama City less than five miles from the chancery. Apartments typically have no more than three bedrooms. The buildings themselves usually include social areas, swimming pools, exercise rooms, and play areas for children.

Single-family homes have small walled-in yards, and often have smaller living areas than the apartments we lease. Houses currently under lease are in two areas: the former Canal Zone and a housing estate close to the International School of Panama. The houses in the former Canal Zone are very close to the newly-opened Clayton Building which contains many mission elements: Consular, Management, Public Diplomacy, Foreign Commercial Service, Citizenship and Immigration, Community Liaison Office, Information Systems, and the Medical Unit. Another State Department-supported school, the Balboa Academy, is also nearby. The new Embassy compound that is scheduled for completion in 2007 will be in the same area. The second housing area (‘Costa del Este’) is closer to the current chancery, downtown Panama City, and the Panama International School.

The Embassy’s Interagency Housing Board (IAHB) has final approval for housing assignments. The Housing Section has a Housing Questionnaire that it sends to all newly assigned personnel. The GSO’s Housing Section and the IAHB will make housing assignments based on this questionnaire, the housing provisions of 6 FAM 700, and Embassy Panama’s Housing Policy. Housing assignments take into account the rank of the position and the number of family members on assignment orders that are at post full-time. Every effort is made to provide Embassy staff with housing that is suitable and appropriate for the official and his/her family.

The Ambassador’s residence in Panama is a large structure designed and built by the Department of State and first occupied in 1941. The house contains one master suite (including a master bedroom, a study, and a private bathroom); four other bedrooms (one with a private bath and another two that share a bathroom); a foyer; a large drawing room/library; a formal dining room which seats 24; a family dining room which seats eight; two small porches, ample representational space; servants' quarters, and a three-car garage. An open patio, swimming pool and a tennis court provide other entertainment areas. The residence is furnished and has draperies. Crystal, china, and silverware service for thirty-six are provided.

The Marine Security Guard Detachment occupies Government-leased furnished quarters.

Furnishings Last Updated: 5/21/2004 2:23 PM

The Embassy provides basic furnishings for all State employees at post. For State employees, GSO has established a standardized policy for the reupholstering furniture and replacing curtains. Curtains of a neutral color will be selected for the living room, dining room, and bedrooms. In some cases, venetian blinds are installed in bedrooms. When possible, all housing units will have presentable curtains/blinds installed prior to occupancy. Furniture that has been cleaned or reupholstered in a neutral color will be placed in assigned quarters. Post currently does not have an upholstery or curtain allowance.sic furniture provided to State employees in Panama usually includes:

Living Room: sofa, 2 occasional chairs, love seat, floor lamp, 2 table lamps, bookcase, accessory table, and 2 end tables;
Dining Room: dining table, 2 armchairs, 6–8 side chairs, china cabinet, credenza;
Bedroom 1: queen-size bed, 2 matching lamps, occasional chair, chest of drawers, mirror, dresser, 2 night stands, desk, desk chair;
Other Occupied Bedrooms: 2 twin beds, 2 matching lamps, chest of drawers, mirror, dresser, 2 night stands;
Kitchen: refrigerator, gas/electric range (depending upon residence hookup);
Utility Room: washer and dryer.
A limited number of desks and extra bookcases are available for students. Other furniture is provided on an as-available basis. Present Embassy policy is to provide one air-conditioner for each bedroom and a unit/units in the living room/dining room if the landlord does not provide air conditioners. The Embassy does not provide air conditioners for kitchens or laundry rooms. The Embassy does not provide rugs. You may want to bring your own occasional rugs, vacuum cleaners, microwave ovens, extra lamps, decorative items, etc. Rugs and many of these items can be purchased locally. Since domestic helpers are very common in Panama, very few residences have dishwashers. Some employees have found the portable variety that can be hooked up to the kitchen sink to be worthwhile.

Keep in mind that Panama has a tropical climate and also many varieties of termites. Expensive furniture pieces often suffer more in the hot humid climate than inexpensive furniture. You can bring books and records, though you will need to take special care to prevent mildew. Pianos may require special consideration for the tropics that should be checked before being brought.

OTHER AGENCIES may have furnishing policies that vary. Employees of those agencies should check directly with their own agencies to verify those policies before planning their shipments.

Utilities and Equipment Last Updated: 5/18/2004 6:04 PM

Apartments have both hot and cold water in kitchens, bathrooms, and laundry rooms. Bathrooms have modern fixtures, usually with a built-in shower stall instead of a bathtub (which are rare in Panama) . Electrical current is U.S. Standard 110v, 60-cycle, AC. U.S. standard light bulb screw sockets and flat 2-prong electrical plugs are used, sometimes with polarized American-style slots. Most residences have limited wiring for electric stoves and air-conditioners. Since electricity in Panama is very expensive, gas-operated stoves are common.

Food Last Updated: 5/21/2004 2:28 PM

Modern supermarkets in Panama City provide a wide variety of American and ethnic foods. Seafood, meat, fruits, vegetables, and canned and packaged goods are readily available in Panamanian shops, although prepared foods, which are imported from the U.S. or elsewhere, can be expensive. The most popular supermarkets include Super 99 “Super Noventa y Nueve”, Casa de la Carne (The House of Meat), Riba Smith and Rey. A large Costco PriceSmart offers household goods and groceries in a membership-warehouse style of store.

Yuca, squash, and chayote are among the most popular Panamanian vegetables Traditional Panamanian food includes many dishes with rice: rice with lentils, with chicken (grilled, baked), and meat. Popular soups that many Panamanians enjoy include “Sancocho” a style of chicken soup. The Panamanians also love juices. There are numerous juice bars around the city where health fanatics can quench their thirst by getting cups of freshly squeezed watermelon, pineapple, carrot, orange, coconut juice, etc. A popular drink, which one should try, is called “Arroz con Piña,” a flavored-rice drink with pineapple.

Restaurants vary widely in both cost and cuisine. A full lunch in a good restaurant near the Embassy is less than ten dollars. Kiosks and snack bars sell snacks and lunches for considerable less. There are also numerous top quality restaurants around the city that specialize in seafood, Chinese, Italian, Thai, German, Swiss and other cuisines. For those who crave the American-style fast food there are the numerous U.S. chains like Pizza Hut, Domino’s Pizza, McDonald’s, Burger-King, KFC, Wendy’s, Don Lee, Bennigan’s, and TGIF. For breakfast/dessert there is a nice place, known for its design and delicious food, called Crepes and Waffles. The Gamboa Resort on the Canal Road north of Panama City and several hotels in Panama City serve Sunday brunch.

Clothing Last Updated: 5/21/2004 2:29 PM

General. Summer clothes are worn year round in Panama. Cottons are the most comfortable, but cotton blends are satisfactory. Fabrics that are 100% synthetic neither absorb moisture nor “breathe” and are uncomfortable in Panama’s humid climate. Many office buildings are overly air-conditioned so a light jacket or sweater can come in handy.

Retail shops carry all types of clothing suitable for the Panamanian climate. They carry name brands such as Nautica, Docker, Levis, Polo, Georgio Armani. Prices in the local retail stores can be higher than U.S. prices.

Shops carrying good clothing are located along Via España. Dante, located in El Dorado, Los Pueblos, and Punta Paitilla also carries fine fashions.

Men Last Updated: 5/21/2004 2:32 PM

Men. Casual sports attire is the rule outside the office. The guayabera, a long, un-tucked embroidered shirt, is frequently worn for daytime or evening social functions and can be purchased locally. Attire for male staff during working hours may be shirt and tie but many Panamanians prefer either the “guayabera” or a short-sleeved shirt. For social and representational functions, senior officers will occasionally need a dark business suit. Daytime formal functions require white shirt, black shoes, and pearl-gray four-in-hand ties. Junior officers and male staff members may find it useful to include one dark business suit in their wardrobes.

Affairs calling for tuxedos for men and formal evening dress for women, such as the Marine Corps Birthday Ball and Damas del Cuerpo Diplomático Charity Ball are rare, but do occur. Tuxedos may be rented locally. A dark tuxedo is the preferred fashion for black tie affairs, although a white dinner jacket is not uncommon. White-tie full dress is never worn.

Women Last Updated: 5/19/2004 9:24 AM

Women. Female officers and staff members are most comfortable in lightweight suits or tailored or otherwise professional-looking one or two-piece dresses. A blazer, whether in a traditional color or something more tropical, is a useful addition to a working wardrobe. Casual outfits should be brought for general use. Beachwear, shorts, and slacks are essential for recreational purposes. Shorts are not generally worn on the streets, but pants are acceptable. Sun hats are recommended when outdoors. All women should have a good supply of dresses for cocktail-buffet parties and informal dinners, and ranking officers, or wives of ranking officers, should have one or two formal evening dresses. In recent years, the trend in female formal wear in Panama has been toward street-length rather than long gowns.

Children Last Updated: 5/19/2004 9:25 AM

Children. Girls wear mostly shirts or blouses with slacks, jeans or skirts. Boys wear long pants (mostly jeans) or shorts with T-shirts or sport shirts. Most private schools require school uniforms, which vary from school to school.

Supplies and Services

Supplies Last Updated: 5/21/2004 2:33 PM

Many American brands of toiletries, cosmetics, medicines, tobacco products, cleaning materials, and household and entertainment accessories are available at prices slightly above or below those in the Washington area. Comparison shopping in the many retail outlets and shopping centers, as well as along Avenida Central (where many Panamanians do their shopping) can result in savings. Local brands are available at retail stores for very reasonable prices.

Basic Services Last Updated: 5/21/2004 2:33 PM

Panama City has good facilities for shoe repair, laundry and dry-cleaning, and radio and automobile repair. Beauty and barbershops are also available, along with competent tailoring and dressmaking services. Automotive repairs are available at a wide range of dealerships (usually more expensive) and also at small, specialty shops (at lower cost). Quality may vary and, again, comparison-shopping can result in savings. Parts are often more expensive than in the U.S.

Domestic Help Last Updated: 5/21/2004 2:35 PM

Both day and live-in maids are available in Panama City. Live-in maids are provided room, board, uniforms, 13th-month bonus (1 month’s wage), vacation pay (1 month’s wage), Seniority Payment (1 week’s wage per year of service) and Social Security. Legally, the employer’s Social Security contribution is 10.75 percent of the monthly salary; the employee’s share is 7.25 percent. It is not unusual, however, for the employer to pay the total Social Security payment. Average monthly cost for a live-in maid is $100–$200 plus the above additional expenses.

The average cost for a part-time day worker is $12.00 or more per day. The 13th month bonus and paid vacation are prorated for part-time employees.

Embassy personnel should contact the RSO to conduct a records check through the local police on all domestic employees prior to employment.

Foreign Domestic Maid.

Diplomats can bring their foreign domestic maids to Panama to work exclusively for them and their family. The Human Resources Office processes the issuance of the Panamanian visa for maids through the Ministry of Foreign Relations. The visa is usually given for a one-year period, after which the passport needs to be sent to the Ministry of Foreign Relations to get the visa renewed.

Religious Activities Last Updated: 5/17/2004 10:53 AM

Panama has a strong Catholic tradition, as evidenced by churches, shrines, and religious processions, particularly during the Holiday season. Other religious groups also have adherents. Panama is the only Central American country to have two mosques for the Islamic faithful. Panama also has the eighth largest Jewish population in the world., with very active synagogues and religious life. Protestant denominations abound, and non-denominational services are available at several locations.


Dependent Education Last Updated: 5/21/2004 2:38 PM

Post has experience with the following two schools: Balboa Academy and the International School of Panama (ISP).

Balboa Academy.

Balboa Academy opened its doors to pre-kindergarten through 12th grade (Pre-K–12) levels starting on September 9, 1999, but achieved U.S. accreditation for its program in late 2000, in almost record time. The academy is located in a building formerly housing a Department of Defense Dependents (DODDS) School at Fort Clayton, about 20–30 minutes from the Embassy. The concept and formation of the school originated with a group of teachers and administrators employed with DODDS. Grades Pre-K through 12 follow U.S. curricula and the U.S. school term from late August to mid-June. The school year consists of two semesters with vacation breaks in December (3 weeks), spring (1 week), and summer (2 months).

Additionally, Balboa Academy offers an enrichment program for gifted and talented students as part of its daily program. The academy has available at no extra cost a remedial program for students with very mild learning disabilities in math and reading. The school has service providers who can offer medically-related services such as physical, occupational, and speech therapy. Parents pay for such medically-related services.

Balboa Academy welcomes children with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and has teachers trained to interact with them. The school has a nurse on campus who will work with medically related service providers. Extracurricular activities at Balboa include art, drama, dance and sports, such as soccer and volleyball. Additional information may be found at Balboa Academy’s website:

International School of Panama.

The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools accredits the International School of Panama (ISP), which was founded in 1982 by a group of interested parents from the Panamanian and international community. It offers a K–12 curriculum. It is located in the area of Cerro Viento (about a 30–45 minute ride from the Embassy) and consists of 40 classrooms that include laboratories for art, computers and science. All classrooms are spacious and air-conditioned. The library/media center contains 12,000 volumes. The teachers are from the U.S., Panama, and other countries. ISP offers both the regular high school diploma and the International Baccalaureate Program.

ISP students may have the opportunity of participating in the Hague Model United Nations and sports events in Central America. Applications for admission to the International School are accepted at any time during the year. Classes are limited to a maximum of 24 students. The school counselor or other qualified staff member tests all students at the time of registration.

If you would like to initiate the admission process before arriving in Panama, please contact the CLO at (507) 207–7315. The school year runs from early August to late June, with approximately 7 weeks of vacation from just before Christmas until the end of January.

You can reach ISP at (507) 266–7862/9532 or by e-mail at More information is available in ISP’s website

Post has also surveyed additional alternative schools:

A) Crossroads (Elementary)

B) St. Mary’s School (K–12, Panamanian school calendar)

C) The Oxford School (K–12)

D) Instituto Panamericano (IPA) (K–12)

E) Colegio Episcopal de Panama (K–12)

F) SEK International (K–12)

For further information on these schools, please contact the CLO at (507) 207–7315.

All school supplies can be purchased locally. Supervised after-school activities have included: computers, soccer, baseball, field hockey, floor hockey, tennis, basketball, volleyball, and arts and crafts. Student and adults enjoy cayuco (kayak) racing on the Panama Canal. The Embassy employees association (AERA) has sponsored teams of cayuco racers. There is a Girl Scout troop at post and American citizen volunteers are always needed. The troop has frequent camp-outs. If your child plans to participate, she will need good, sturdy camping equipment. All of this can be purchased locally. If you prefer certain brands, bring them with you.

Higher Education Opportunities Last Updated: 5/21/2004 2:40 PM

Florida State University (Panama Canal Campus) offers Bachelor of Science degrees in international affairs, environmental studies, information studies, social science and Latin American studies. Up to 3 years of the bachelor’s degree in business may be completed at FSU. In addition, students may complete 60–90 semester credit hours toward the 120 required for a degree in business administration. The last 30 credit hours must be taken in Florida. Tuition at Florida State is $120 per semester credit hour. Several Embassy students have attended Florida State with good results.

Nova University offers several degrees at the Panama Learning Center, which was founded in 1977. These include a Bachelor of Science degree in professional management, a Master of Arts degree in applied linguistics and teaching English as a second language, and a Master’s degree in business administration and computer programs. The cost per credit hour ranges from $125 for undergraduates to $200 for graduate courses.

University of Louisville offers a Master of Science degree in professional management, a Master’s degree in human resources management, and a Master’s degree in business administration and computer programs.

The above institutions are fully accredited. For additional information, they may be contacted at the following addresses:

Florida State University
Panama Canal College Campus
La Boca Rd. College St. 1033
Balboa, Ancón, Republic of Panama
Tel.: (507) 272–1574

Nova University
P. O. Box 3318
Balboa, Ancón, Republic of Panama
Tel.: (507) 232–7062

University of Louisville
P.O. Box 833–0152
Plaza Panama
Rep. of Panama
Tel.: (507) 210–1464

The University of Panama is located in Panama City. In general, you must successfully complete a 5-year course to obtain a degree. The university will accept certificates from recognized secondary schools. Many classes are held in the evening and all instructions are in Spanish. For further information, contact the University of Panama at Urbanización El Cangrejo, Republic of Panama.

Universidad Católica Santa María La Antigüa (USMA) is the oldest and largest private university of Panama, and the only Catholic university in Panama. It has 36 years of experience providing a first class education in all the fields of human knowledge and has an enrollment of more than 5,000 students in five different faculties: Business Administration, Law, Science and Technology, Human Sciences and Social Sciences. USMA has more than 25 different undergraduate careers and more than 30 graduate programs. Their web page is

The YMCA holds classes in Spanish, cooking, art, oil painting, ceramics, design, jewelry making, bridge, swimming, scuba diving, and a variety of other subjects.

Recreation and Social Life Last Updated: 5/21/2004 2:41 PM

American Employees Recreation Association (AERA).

AERA sponsors community projects, such as transportation for summer school. It supports the programs of the Community Liaison Office, including parties for Mission children. It raises funds that enable Mission teenagers to participate in such events as to the annual cayuco (kayak) races on the Panama Canal by raising donations. AERA sponsors an annual talent/no-talent show, St. Patrick’s Day family picnic, and a Fourth of July cook-out. The AERA shop sells souvenirs, books, T-shirts and Embassy logo items. Additional, AERA services include member discounts at local hotels and restaurants and diplomatic car sales assistance.

Sports Last Updated: 5/21/2004 2:42 PM

Organized athletic programs for adults are limited, but you can participate on an individual basis in almost any warm-weather sport. The city has a number of swimming pools, tennis courts, golf courses, and stables. You can purchase athletic equipment of all types locally.

Several hotels offer memberships that allow use of their pools, gyms, and other recreational facilities. There are several quality health clubs in the city. Private gymnasiums in Paitilla offer aerobics and weightlifting. A variety of private social athletic clubs in Panama include the Club de Golf de Panama, the Club de Montaña, Altos del Lago, the Club de Yates y Pesca, and the Club Union. You can join such clubs as Los Altos del Cerro Azul that are located in the cool mountains an hour’s from Panama City.

Deep-sea and fresh-water fishing in the waters in and around Panama are among the best in the world. You can use most types of freshwater and saltwater tackle. Fishing in Gatun Lake for Peacock Bass is a popular pastime, and it is not unusual for one person to come home with 15–20 fish. You can rent or hire water craft for modest fees at several locations in Panama to water-ski, fish,or cruise.

For the hunter, a variety of wild fowl, small game animals, and some larger animals such as deer abound. Most hunters in Panama use a shotgun, but air rifles are also used occasionally. Panama has a trap-shoot club, as well as several rifle ranges in the city. Neither hunting nor fishing license are required in Panama. However, the Panamanian government does require a gun permit and the Embassy requires registration of all firearms.

Horse-racing, boxing and baseball are the favorite spectator sports in Panama. Panamanians are very proud of the native sons that play on U.S. major league baseball teams. Baseball, basketball, softball and soccer are played extensively on the amateur level. Facilities are available for squash, racquetball, volleyball, and weight training.

Touring and Outdoor Activities Last Updated: 5/21/2004 2:48 PM

A small zoo is located at Summit, about a 25 minute ride from downtown Panama. The Panama Canal Experimental Gardens are a popular spot for visits or picnics. Barro Colorado Island is a biological research center and forest preserve that is located in Gatun Lake within the canal system; you may arrange a day trip to explore this site where the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute studies local flora and fauna.

Museums include the Canal Area Museum, Museum of Contemporary Art, the National Museum of Panama, and the Museum of the Panamanian Man, with its interesting collection of pre-Columbian pottery and gold artifacts.

Another point of interest is the ruins of “Panama Viejo,” the first Panamanian city on the Pacific side of the isthmus, which was founded by the Spaniards in 1519. The pirate Henry Morgan destroyed it in 1671. The Church of San Jose, with its famous Golden Altar, is another well-known site located in the colonial sector of Panama City. According to legend, the altar was saved from the assaults of Morgan the Pirate in the year 1671 when it was painted with whitewash to look like wood.

You can find a moderate change of climate in El Valle (2,000 feet) in the Cordillera de Veraguas, 80 miles from Panama, where several hotels and bed-and-breakfast inns are available. El Valle also features thermal mud baths, a zoo, waterfall and horseback riding as well as a weekly Indian artisan market. On the western edge of Panama near Costa Rica are Boquete and Volcan. At elevations of 4,000 and 7,000 feet, they offer spectacular mountain scenery, a cool climate, and good hotels. Contadora Island in the Las Perlas Archipielago is seventeen minutes by air from Panama City. The resort-like island offers a hotel, private homes that may be rented and beautiful beaches. A smaller island, Taboga, is easily accessible by ferry in one hour from Panama City. Taboga offers hotel/restaurant on the beach and good snorkeling, plus a trail through a rain forest. The Bocas del Toro island chain is an hour flight from Albrook airport. You can hire boats and explore the reefs or just spend time beachcombing.

San José, Costa Rica is accessible by air at a reasonable price. By car, San José Costa Rica is about thirteen hours from Panama City. The Colombian Island of San Andres, as well as Bogota, Medellin, Cali, Barranquilla, and Cartagena in Colombia are also within easy reach by air. Country clearance must be obtained from the U.S. Embassy in Bogota prior to any travel to Colombia.

There are Pacific beaches approximately 60–90 minutes from Panama City. Beaches on the Atlantic side (Caribbean Sea) can be reached in a two to three-hour drive. Both areas provide a number of good beaches and varied facilities.

Entertainment Last Updated: 5/17/2004 12:30 AM

Panama City has a number of fine indoor theaters, as well as those in the reverted areas, where first-run American films are shown. Those shown in the city are in English with Spanish sub-titles. Video stores also abound. No professional theater exists, but a few small theater groups produce plays periodically in Spanish and English. The Ancon Theater Guild has an active production schedule and there has been high interest and involvement from the Mission community.

Visiting musical artists and dance groups present concerts and recitals, either under the sponsorship of the National Concert Association, the National Institute of Culture or various embassies. The National Symphony and the Ballet Company also perform periodically.

A few cocktail lounges feature small combos and the major hotels have Happy Hours with local variety artists. Jazz is popular at night clubs.

During the dry season, you can watch folk dancing in native costumes at the picturesque ruins of Old Panama and in some interior towns. A number of small fairs and festivals are held in the provinces at various times during the year. The Atlapa Convention Center attracts a few big name musicals and dance groups. Most of the productions charge big-city prices for tickets.

Social Activities

Among Americans Last Updated: 5/21/2004 2:52 PM
Ample opportunities exist for social contact with both Panamanians and American residents of Panama. Many resident Americans play important roles in business and professional circles.

There are a number of social, vocational and fraternal organizations in the reverted areas. For example, some Mission members belong to the American Society. The Panama Audubon Society offers unique bird and nature study opportunities, and a Junior Audubon Society was established in 1986 to sponsor monthly outings and activities for children ages nine and over. The “Who's New” is another active and well-organized club where Americans may meet and mix with people of other nationalities. This club offers a book study group, children's play groups, bridge, tennis and a variety of other activities in addition to monthly coffees.

The American Mission Organization (AMO) sponsors various social, cultural and charitable events throughout the year. Membership is restricted to American employees only. Some functions are restricted to members while others are open to the entire Mission, including Panamanians and Americans. Most functions are funded by membership donations, which are $ 20.00 per family per year.

Many spouses are active in a diplomatic spouses group, La Asociación de las Damas Diplomáticas, which provides opportunities for social contact with other members of the diplomatic corps and their spouses. All diplomatic missions in Panama are represented and hosting of functions is rotated among the various Mission representatives.

Extracurricular activities for school-age children include Girl Scouts as well as cayuco (kayak) racing on the Panama Canal for men and women, boys and girls of all nationalities.

International Contacts Last Updated: 5/21/2004 3:01 PM
Apply the same techniques here to get to know people that you would use to develop social contacts in any overseas community. Knowledge of Spanish helps considerably. Many Panamanians speak English but most prefer to speak Spanish. There are many local expressions and special definitions of terms here. In 2000, Post established a Post Language Program including a Language Training Laboratory. Another innovative feature is the Immersion Program in El Valle, a beautiful mountain town about two hours from Panama, where eligible Embassy employees and dependents may be assigned for one or two-week periods to live with a Panamanian family.

Official Functions

Nature of Functions Last Updated: 5/21/2004 3:02 PM

Official ceremonial functions are widely spaced in Panama. Ceremony and protocol are kept to a minimum. Usually, only senior officials of the Mission are required to attend such functions.

Senior officials of the Embassy can be kept busy by a steady round of engagements, ranging from occasional official functions to numerous semiofficial and strictly social affairs. While only senior officials or those in certain offices normally receive invitations as a result of their official positions, numerous other social opportunities grow out of informal relationships developed both in and out of work. Everyone can look forward to at least a moderate amount of social activity depending on personal preference.

Many Embassy officers are expected to bear a share of representational responsibilities. The major share of this responsibility falls on higher ranking officers, but middle-grade and junior officers may host occasional business luncheons or informal gatherings in their homes.

Entertaining in Panama tends to be informal and centers around cocktail parties, cocktail-buffets, small dinner parties and working luncheons.

When you are invited to an official function at the Ambassador’s or DCM’s residence, arrival 10 to 15 minutes before the event is scheduled to begin is standard practice.

Standards of Social Conduct Last Updated: 5/21/2004 3:03 PM

It is mandatory for the Chief of Mission to make official calls after his/her arrival at post. For others it is appropriate but not required. Other officers should bring up to 200 cards. “Mr. and Mrs.” fold-over cards may be conveniently used for issuing or replying to invitations.

Staff employees are not required to observe protocol formalities, but a number of personal calling cards are always useful.

Business cards and invitations can be printed locally at reasonable prices.

Special Information Last Updated: 5/21/2004 3:03 PM

Post Orientation Program

The Mission’s Community Liaison Office holds formal orientation sessions on a regular basis. The chiefs of the attached agencies and the Embassy sections explain their functions and contributions to the Mission. The officer offers a cultural adaptation program to all employees, spouses and older children shortly after arrival, with a follow-up six months later.

The Post Training Policy under the auspices of the Human Resources Office (HRO), and Management Counselor. For more information on Post-based training opportunities, contact HRO at extension 7403.

The Post Language Program currently employs one Spanish teacher. Small classes at various levels of proficiency are offered daily at the Junet Building, adjacent to the Chancery and at the Clayton office building.

Notes For Travelers

Getting to the Post Last Updated: 5/21/2004 3:04 PM

Unaccompanied airfreight normally arrives within thirty days from the date of pack-out. An additional ten to fifteen working days should be allowed for clearance and delivery after employee arrival and accreditation through the Foreign Ministry. Household effects coming from the United States arrive within four to six weeks from the day of shipment. Shipments from other posts require from four to ten weeks in transit. GSO will clear household effects through Customs when a copy of the ocean bill of lading is obtained from the shipper (U.S. Dispatch Agent or other). This normally takes about eighteen working days.

Household effects, airfreight and vehicle should be marked as follows:

American Ambassador
American Embassy — Panama
FOR: (employee’s name)
Phone No. (507) 207–7000

Customs, Duties, and Passage

Customs and Duties Last Updated: 5/21/2004 3:05 PM

Customs clearance and other processing take approximately ten working days from the time your shipping documents arrive in Panama. All diplomatics as well as administrative and technical staff enjoy customs and duty-free entry privileges for all items during the first year of their assignment. American currency, traveler’s checks, or other money instruments can be freely imported.

Five identical 1½ x 1½ size photos for carnets/drivers licenses plus two identical 1½ x 1½ photos for children age fifteen and over are required immediately after arrival. These can be obtained locally at low cost and on short notice if you are unable to bring them with you.

Passage Last Updated: 5/18/2004 6:16 PM

A Panamanian visa is required for travelers using a diplomatic or official passports.

Pets Last Updated: 5/21/2004 3:06 PM

Please notify the GSO section as early as possible if you plan to bring pets to Panama. This will help smooth their entry into the country, and allow our housing search to accommodate pets’ needs as much as possible. Employees with pets should check with airlines early as pets may face restrictions or prohibitions, depending on the airline, seasonal temperatures, etc.

The Government of Panama prohibits the arrival of pets before their owners. The Government also requires the following documents to import a pet: a health certificate (valid for ten days from date of issuance), a rabies vaccination certificate, a stamped certification from a Panamanian Embassy/Consulate, and a copy of your travel orders. These documents must be attached to the outside of the animal's cage. Please note the following requirements:

Pets should be sent to the following address:

(Your name)
c/o American Embassy
Panama City, Republic of Panama
Telephone: (507) 207–7000 ext. 7497, 7360

Animals will be given a new rabies shot upon arrival ($4) at the quarantine area in Tocumen International airport if the vaccination is due.

Animals may remain in the Panamanian National quarantine facility for 24 hours until GOP authorities have examined the documents. Thereafter, an additional forty day of “home quarantine” are required.

Fees are: (approximate costs)
$10 complete examination for the cat or dog
$5 importation permit
$130 cost for home quarantine

The fees are payable at the Banco Nacional de Panama, branch office at Tocumen International Airport in cash or travelers check. Try to schedule the arrival of your pet between 8:00 a.m. to 12:00 noon. After above itinerary, we have to plan a special appointment with Government of Panama authorities.

Shipping birds, wild animals or other exotic pets is more complicated. Please contact the Embassy Shipping Department before making plans.

Please advise GSO via fax (507) 207–7495, or e-mail with the following pet shipment information: flight number and date; place of departure; name, age, breed, and color of your pet.

Please remember that pet clearance is at your personal expense and post cannot advance money for pet fees. Some pet shipment-related fees, however, may be reimbursable as part of an itemized claim for the Foreign Transfer Allowance.

Firearms and Ammunition Last Updated: 5/17/2004 9:55 AM

The Chief of Mission (COM) must grant approval to import offical firearms. Importation of personal firearms is not authorized. Written requests to import firearms for official duties must be submitted to the Regional Security Office for concurrence and COM authorization, prior to shipment of the weapon to post. Please indicate the make, model, caliber, and serial number of all firearms and their intended use.

If importation is approved, contact the Regional Security Office after your arrival to arrange for registration with Panamanian authorities. Unregistered firearms must be held in the custody of the Regional Security Office until registration procedures have been completed. You can import a reasonable amount of ammunition for the approved weapons. Approved weapons and ammunition MUST be shipped to Post via previously approved methods.

Currency, Banking, and Weights and Measures Last Updated: 5/21/2004 3:07 PM

The official currency of Panama is the Balboa (B/), on par with the U.S. dollar. The Balboa exists only in coin form and, in Panama, is interchangeable with U.S. coins. The official paper currency of Panama is U.S. dollar bills. Both the U.S. system of weights and measures and the metric system are used in Panama. Speed limits are posted in miles per hour in some places, kilometers per hour in other places; some signs give both miles and kilometers per hour; and in many areas the limits are not posted at all.

Taxes, Exchange, and Sale of Property Last Updated: 5/21/2004 3:07 PM


Complete banking facilities are available at many banks in Panama City, including branches of HSBC (former Chase Manhattan Bank), BankBoston, and Citibank. Some local retail outlets accept personal checks drawn on U.S. banks. However, checks drawn on Stateside bank accounts, can take anywhere from 15 to 30 days to clear. Automated Teller Machines (ATMs) exist at many banks which will accept most debit cards from U.S. bank accounts that are part of major ATM networks. At the Embassy, The BankBoston cashier will cash authorized direct hire American’s personal checks drawn on U.S. banks for limited amounts. You can purchase travelers checks locally without difficulty. To deposit or cash U.S. checks in Panamanian banks, a service charge is assessed. Major U.S. credit cards are widely accepted in shops, hotels and restaurants. Cash machines (ATM’s) are available in most shopping areas, banks and hotels. An ATM is located in the Interim Office Building in the old Fort Clayton area.


No unusual taxes or restrictions apply to members of the Mission. Upon arrival at post, the Human Resources Office will request a Sales Tax exemption card for all accredited American employees. The Mission General Services Office has also negotiated an agreement with a gasoline company that will sell tax-free gas coupons to Mission American employees.

Recommended Reading Last Updated: 5/21/2004 3:11 PM

The following titles are provided as a general indication of the material published on this country. Some may be out of print but are worth tracking down. The Department of State does not endorse unofficial publications.

Abbot, W. Panama and The Canal (1976). Gordon Press Publications.

The Americas Group. The Americas Group Invasion: The American Destruction of the Noriega Regime in Panama (1990).

Anderson, Charles L.G. Old Panama and Castilla del Oro. Sudwarth: 1911 Narrative history of the discovery, conquest, and settlement by the Spaniards of Panama, Darien, Veraguas, and other parts of the New World.

Anguizola, Gustavo Phillipe Buneau-Varilla. The Man Behind The Panama Canal (1980). 480p. Nelson-Hall, Inc.

Avery, R. America’s Triumph at Panama (1976). Gordon Press Publications.

Barry, Tom. Panama: A Country Guide (1990). Inter Hemispheric Education Resource.

Bennett, Wendell C. Ancient Arts of the Andes (1954). Museum of Modern Art, New York. This book discusses the Indian art of Panama that is related to the pre-Columbian art of the Andes.

Biesanz, John and Mavis. The People of Panama (1955). Columbia University Press: New York. A readable introduction to the people and an analysis of the social conditions in Panama and the canal area.

Billard, Jules B. “Panama, Link Between Oceans and Continents.” (March 1970) National Geographic Magazine. Vol. 137, pp. 402-440.

Chidsey, Donald Barr. The Panama Canal, An Informal History. (1970) Crowan: New York.

Cobb, Charles A. Jr. “Panama, Ever at the Crossroad.” (April 1986). National Geographic Magazine.

Coniff, Michael L. Black Labor on a White Canal: Panama. 1904–1981.

Crane, Philip M. Surrender in Panama: The Case Against the Treaty (1978). 180p. Green Hill Publications.

Duval, Miles P. And the Mountains Will Move (1947). Stanford University Press: Stanford, California. Scholarly account of the digging of the Panama Canal from the start of the French effort through the successful American achievement.

Gordon, Burton. A Panama Forest and Shore (1983). Boxwood Press.

Hogan, J. Michael. The Panama Canal in Americas Politics: Domestic Advocacy and the Evolution of Policy (1986). 304p. Southern Illinois University Press.

Howarth, David A. Panama: 400 Years of Dreams and Cruelty. (Also called The Golden Isthmus.) McGraw: New York, 1966. Readable history of the isthmus from Balboa's exploration in 1513 to 1964.

Jorden, William J. Panama Odyssey.

Keeler, Clyde E. Land of the Moon Children: The Primitive San Blas Culture in Flux (1956). University of Georgia: Athens, Georgia. An account of the findings of Dr. Keeler after four summers spent with the Cuna Indians in the San Blas Islands.

Keeler, Clyde E. Secrets of the Cuna Earth Mother: A Contemporary Study of Ancient Religions (1960). Exposition: New York. 1st ed. Notes on the religion and lives of the Cuna Indians and a comparison of the religion with some in the Far East.

Keller, Ulrich, ed. The Building of the Panama Canal in Historic Photography (1983). 176p. Dove Macmillan Publishing Co. Inc.

Kempe, Frederick. Divorcing the Dictator: America’s Bungled Affair with Noriega (1990). 352p. Putnam Publishing Group.

La Feber, Walter. The Panama Canal: The Crisis in Historical Perspective (1978). Oxford University Press: New York. A study of United States-Panamanian relations to 1977.

Langstaff, Eleanor D. Panama (1982). 184p. ABC-Clio, Inc.

Liss, Sheldon B. The Canal: Aspects of The United States-Panamanian Relations (1967). University of Notre Dame Press: Notre Dame, Indiana. A history of the relations of the two nations from 1903 to 1966, with emphasis on the post-World War II years.

Mack, Gerstle. The Land Divided (1944). Knopf: New York. Documented history of the Panama Canal and other isthmian canal projects, embracing the entire concept of the interoceanic communication of Panama.

Marsh, Richard O. White Indians of Darien (1934). Putnam: New York. Account of an exploratory trip in the Darien.

McCullough, David. Path Between the Seas (1977). Simon & Schuster: New York. Perhaps the best book written on the construction of the canal.

Melditz, Sandra W. and Dennis M. Hanratty, eds. Panama: A Country Study (1989). 4th ed. 1989. USGPO.

Mellander, Gustavo Adolfo. The United States in Panamanian Politics: The Intriguing Formative Years. The Interstate Printers & Publishers, Inc.: Danville, Ill., 1971.

Minter, John E. The Chagres, River of Westward Passage (1948). Rinehart: New York. The Chagres River as it influenced the history of the Isthmus of Panama.

Moore, Evelyn. Sancocho (1947). Star & Herald Co.: Panama, 2nd ed. Stories and sketches of Panama. Drawings by Jan Koerber.

Navarrete Talavera, Ela. Panama: Invasión o Revolución (1990). 356p. Group Editorial Planeta.

Nyrop, Richard F., ed. Panama: a Country Study (1990). 3rd ed. 300p. USGPO.

Panama Canal Company. The Panama Canal Fiftieth Anniversary (1964). Panama Canal Information Office: La Boca, Canal Zone. The story of a great conquest. This book celebrates the 50th anniversary of the operation of the Panama Canal.

Pirer, Rene. The Fifteen Wonders of the World (1961). Random: New York. A history of the Panama Canal. Translated by Margaret Crossland.

Priesley, George. Military Government and Popular Participation in Panama (1985). 200p. West View Publishing Co.

Ropp, Steve C. Panamanian Politics: From Guarded Nation to National Guard (1982). 174p. Greenwood Press Inc.

Sanchez Borbon, Guillermo and Richard Kosyer. In the Time of the Tyrants (1990). Norton.

Simon, Maron. The Panama Affair (1971). Scribner: New York. An account of the French Isthmian Canal venture.

Summ, G. Harvey and Tom Kelly, eds. The Good Neighbors: America, Panama, and 1977 Canal Treaties (1988). 135p. Ohio University Press.

The South American Handbook. Rand McNally, Chicago, Illinois. Issued annually, this handbook provides detailed current information on central and South American and Caribbean countries.

Wali, Alaka. Kilowats and Crisis: A Study of Development and Social Change in Panama (1988). 250p. West View Publishing Co.

World Bank. Panama: Structural Change and Growth Prospects (1985). 384p. World Bank.

Local Holidays Last Updated: 5/21/2004 3:12 PM

In addition to U.S. national holidays, the Mission observes the following Panamanian holidays:

New Year’s Day January 1
Mourning Day January 9
Carnival Varies
Good Friday Varies
Labor Day May 1
Independence Day From Colombia November 3
Colon Day November 5
Uprising of Los Santos November 10
Independence From Spain November 28
Mother’s Day December 8
Christmas Day December 25

An additional holiday is the day on which the titular President of the Republic takes office.

In the event that a legal holiday or day of national mourning previously established by the law falls on a Sunday, the holiday will be observed the following Monday.

In addition to the above normal holidays, Panama frequently declares “días feriados” on relatively short notice that may result in closure of Government offices. Employees and travelers are advised to check with Post before making final arrival plans to ensure that the Embassy and other offices will be available for business as planned.

Adapted from material published by the U.S. Department of State. While some of the information is specific to U.S. missions abroad, the post report provides a good overview of general living conditions in the host country for diplomats from all nations.
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