Essentials A-Z

Electricity

110 volts AC, 60 cycles , US-style plugs. 220 volts is occasionally available in homes and hotels.

Internet

Internet access is available throughout the country. Charges average out at about US$1-2 per hr.

Language

Spanish is the national language, but English is widely understood. The older generation of West Indian immigrants speak Wari-Wari, a dialect of English incomprehensible to most other English speakers. In rural areas, indigenous people use their own languages and many are bilingual.

Media

La Prensa
, www.prensa.com, is the major local daily newspaper. Others are
La Estrella de Panamá
,
El Universal de Panamá
,
El Panamá América
, www.epasa.com, and 2 tabloids,
Crítica Libre
, www.critica.com.pa, and
El Siglo
.
Colón News
is a weekly publication in Spanish and English. In English is the bi-weekly
Panama News
, www.thepanamanews.com.

The international edition of the
Miami Herald
is printed in Panama and many other US newspapers are widely available in the capital.

Money

The unit of currency in Panama is the balboa, but Panama is one of the few countries in the world which issues no paper money; US banknotes are used exclusively, and US notes and coins are legal tender. There are 'silver' coins of 50c (called a
peso
), 25c (called
cinco reales
or
cuara
, from US 'quarter'), 10c, nickel of 5c (called a
real
) and copper of 1c. All coins are used interchangeably with US equivalents, which are the same in size and composition. There is great reluctance in Panama to accept US$50 and US$100 dollar notes because of counterfeiting. Do not be offended if asked to produce ID and sign a register when spending them. You can take in or out any amount of currency. If travelling north, remember that US dollar notes, especially smaller denominations, are useful in all Central American countries and may be difficult to obtain in other republics. Stocking up on a supply of US$5 and US$1 notes greatly facilitates border crossings and traffic problems in Central America where 'fees' and 'instant fines' can become exorbitant if you only have a US$20 note.

Tax

Arrival tax in addition to the airport departure tax, payable by all passengers (cash only). US$4 tax on air tickets over US$100 purchased in Panama. There is a 10% tax on all hotel prices

Telephone

The
international direct dialling
code (to call out of Panama) is T00;
Telecarrier
T088+00;
Clarocom
T055+00. Dial T102 for the local operator and T106 for an international operator.
Cable & Wireless
now run the telephone system and have offices in most towns. Cost of direct dialled calls, per minute, are between US$1-3.20. Calls are roughly 20-30% cheaper for most, but not all destinations from 1700-2200. Lowest rates apply Sun all day. Many cheap international call centres in Panama City, check the the internet cafés on Vía Veneto, off Vía España for best offers.

Public payphones take 5, 10 and sometimes 25 cent coins. Phone cards are available in denominations of US$3, 5, 10, 20 and 50, for local, national and international calls. There are prepaid
Aló Panamá
cards - dial 165 for connection in US$10, US$20, US$30 and US$50 denominations, but they are 50% more expensive than payphone cards.

Time

-5 hrs GMT.

Tipping

In restaurants, tip 10% of the bill, often added to the bill in Panama City. Porters expect US$1 for assistance at the airport. Taxi drivers don't expect tips.

Visas and immigration

Visitors must have a passport, and in most cases a tourist card (issued for 90 days and renewable for another 90 at the Immigration Office in Panama City, David or other provincial offices, eg Changuinola) or a visa (issued for 90 days, extendable for a further 90 days). Tourist cards are available at borders, from Panamanian consulates,
Ticabus
or airlines. To enter Panama officially you must have an onward flight ticket, travel agent confirmation of the same, or be able to demonstrate that you have sufficient funds (in cash, credit card or valid traveller's cheques) to cover your stay and departure. Recent travellers report these are asked for on the land frontier with Costa Rica and at Puerto Obaldía (Darién); generally officers are not very strict unless they fear you may be destitute.

Citizens of most European (including the United Kingdom) and Central American countries do not need a tourist card or a visa. Citizens of the United States, Canada, most Caribbean, South American and some Asian countries need a tourist card available at airlines and travel agencies. Citizens of Egypt, Peru, Dominican Republic, many African, Eastern European and Asian countries require a visa - check before travelling with your nearest Consulate office.

Nationals not requiring visas can renew their 90-day tourist cards once for a total of 180 days, after which you must leave the country for 3 days. The necessary documents must all be obtained in advance: a photo-ID card (
carnet
), to be surrendered when you return for an exit visa, will be issued; allow 1-2 hrs for this. Requirements are 2 passport photos, a ticket out of the country or proof of sufficient funds, a brief letter explaining why you wish to extend your stay, a letter from a permanent resident accepting legal and financial responsibility for you during your extra days in Panama, and 2 photocopies of the name page and the entry stamp page of your passport. All papers must be presented at
Prórrogas
in the immigration office and a fee paid for each 90-day extension before the photo ID card is issued. Requirements for renewing a visa are similar, but include 2 photocopies of the original visa.

Weights and measures

Metric and imperial systems are both used.

This is edited copy from Footprint Handbooks. For comprehensive details (incl address, tel no, directions, opening times and prices) please refer to book or individual chapter PDF
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