Here we want to give you a couple of tips that will make your trip easier and more enjoyable.
We know how difficult it is to find this kind of information on the internet and that is why My Guide brings it to you. In this section we will cover the following:
- Money (Currency)
- Public parking
- Hygiene in public facilities
- Personal Space
- Electrical outlets
We want you to feel at home when travelling in Panama!
The official language in Panama is Spanish and even though the population is getting better in English (14% of the people can speak it), it is still quite difficult to get around with no Spanish.
When it comes to Hotels and tours you have nothing to worry about. However, when you are walking around, in restaurants, shopping or taking the public transport it is not easy to find people who can speak English. If you need help in the street, you will do better targetting the business people ( people in suits) or the youngsters (who are learning more and more). Worst case scenario, you are bound to find an hotel nearby where somebody will be able to help you.
We recomend you to check our language tips section. Trust us, a little Spanish can get you a long way!
Panama official currency is the BALBOA (PAB), but we actually use the US Dollar (USD). The official exchange rate is 1 PAB = 1 USD.
The Panamanian Balboa is only available in coins and it is very normal to come across it. It has the same shape and weight than the USD coins. However, it is very important to know that this currency is only valid in Panama and cannot be exchanged for USD anywhere else. Therefore, we highly recomend to exchange your money in USD only and if you end up getting Balboas ( you most likely will) try to spend them while still in Panama unless you want to keep them as souvenir.
Tipping is neither mandatory nor frowned upon. Actually, feel completely free not tipping. However, if you happen to be very happy about a service, the rule of thumb is to tip 10% over the service provided. This is popularly followed in restaurants. But, pay attention, some establishments (normally the higher end ones) have implemented a 10% service charge already. In these cases, there is no need to tip more.
When it comes to Hotels, it is normal to tip the bell boy for helping you to carry your luggage. Tips fluctuates between USD 2 and USD 5.
There is absolutely no need to tip for public transport (taxis/buses). The buses have a fixed fee and the taxis will try to rip you off anyway, as there is no meter. We will explain to you more about taxis in our public transport section.
If you are driving in Panama, there are some areas that offer timed parking. There, the fees are standard and you don't need to worry. However, if you park in non paid area or in the sides of the street (where permited), it is very normal for random guys to come to you and say "Bien Cuidao" (Well watched) and ask for money to watch your car. It is very IMPORTANT to pay these guys. Depending on where you are they can ask from USD 0.25 ("un cuara" - a quarter of dollar) to USD 1. Lets say USD 1 is a more standard fee. Don't be surprised if these guys are nowhere around when you get back to the car and you will be wondering if you just gave away your money, but the cost of not paying could be a scratch on your car paint or even a flat tire. Believe us, the 1 dollar will spare you a big headache later.
If the parking is nearby night clubs or bars, at night, the fees get more expensive. This is actually how these guys earn a living so they will take over an area and claim it to be their parking zone. Depending on how close it is from the clubs it might cost you between USD 2 to USD 5. Here they honor the whole concept of actually watching your car and they will normally ask you for half of the money in advance and the other half when you return. In case you are wondering, this is actually ilegal so if the police are around don't expect this service.
Hygiene in public facilities
Don't be scared, actually Panama is a fairly clean country and public facilities and toilets are normally clean, especially women's toilets. However, if you are in the country side you might encounter a bit more rural facilities and even though they try, occasionaly it is normal to find not so clean areas.
Panamanians are very affectionate people ( Latin Americans in general are) and therefore if you are introduced to any local don't be surprised if they go for the hug (any gender) and kiss on the cheek (male/female and female/female , but never male/male). This is very normal for us.
If for some reason, this makes you feel uncomfortable just try to maintain a distance and extend your hand with a smile when getting introduced. It is a very strong hint and anyone will know that you just prefer to shake hands. Don't worry, it is not considered offensive.
Tap water in Panama is drinkable and actually quite good. If for any reason, it is not drinkable in the area you are, there will be a sign highlighting this. If you are used to drinking bottled water you might taste a difference (although its not bad) and if you don't like it, bottled water is anyway availble everywhere and very cheap ( because not so many people buy it).
When it comes to showers, if you are in Hotels and high end locations you can expect to have hot water. However, this is not the norm in the Panamanian households, so if you are crashing at a friend's place, hot water might not be availble. This can also be the case in hostels and small hotels in the country side. Anyway, the "cold" water is not actually that cold so you should be fine.
In Panama the common electric standard is 110V /60Hz. The electric plugs are the Type A American/Japanese 2-blade electrical plug.
If you plan to buy electronic devices in Panama make sure that they are suited for 110V/220V in order for them to work everywhere. For these devices you will only need a power adapter to use them in countries where the outlets are different. If the devices are only 110V and your plan was to use them in Europe for example (220V/50Hz), you will need an electrical power converter. This also applies for devices you might bring with you (e.g: hair dryers).
If you need to buy power adapters the best place to find them are in Electronic stores. However, most hotels will offer them for free for your use while staying there.