Panama Canal Travel Information
Electrical current is 120 volts, 60Hz. Flat two-pin plugs are the norm.
The official language is Spanish. However, many Panamanians speak both Spanish and English.
Malaria is a concern in parts of Panama and travellers are advised to take malaria medication if visiting provinces east of the Panama Canal. Vaccinations are recommended for hepatitis A, hepatitis B and typhoid and travellers should be up to date on vaccinations for MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) and tetanus-diphtheria. Yellow fever vaccinations are required for travellers arriving from infected areas and are recommended for visits to areas of mainland Panama east of the Canal Zone.
Tap water should not be drunk in Panama unless it has been boiled, filtered or chemically disinfected, and caution should be exercised with street food.
Medical facilities are good in Panama City, but very limited outside of the capital. Comprehensive medical insurance is recommended and all required medication should be taken along, in its original packaging, accompanied by a signed and dated letter from a doctor detailing what it is and why it is needed.
Although a 10 percent service charge is added to most hotel bills, individual staff appreciate a gratuity appropriate to services rendered. Restaurant waiters expect a tip of 10 to 15 percent if a service charge is not included. Taxi drivers do not expect tips but fares are often rounded up.
Most visits to Panama are trouble-free. Visitors should, however, be aware that there is a risk of street crime in Panama City and it is unwise to carry large sums of cash or valuables in public. Visitors should be vigilant using ATM cash machines in public places and beware of pickpockets and muggers in the main city shopping and tourist areas. There have been incidents of assault involving taxi drivers and armed hold-ups in restaurants. Use only registered taxi companies and phone for a cab rather than hailing one in the street. Do not allow the taxi to pick up additional passengers and do not share a taxi with unknown passengers. Burglaries have recently been committed by organised gangs who use ruses to gain entry to properties, so be cautious. Travel to Darien province only by air with an organized group to recognised tourist destinations protected by the Panamanian police. Travellers are advised to avoid the border area with Colombia, as this is particularly dangerous. Avoid political demonstrations in Panama City, usually centred on Panama University and the main road known as the Transisthmica.
A midday siesta is practised in many South American countries, including Panama, due to the heat. Tourists in Panama will find that shops and businesses are often closed during these lunchtime hours and should conduct their daily business either before or after siesta. The penaties for using of dealing drugs in Panama are strict, with possession of even very small quantities punishable by up to 15 years of imprisonment.
Business in Panama is formal. Handshakes are appropriate with men on meeting and departing, but not usually with women. Use of titles is very important to Panamanians, as is punctuality. Many Panamanians take an afternoon siesta, therefore business entertaining often takes place over dinner instead of lunch. Many Panamanian business people prefer to host visitors to dinner at home, where they will be treated as VIPs and given a gift. The appropriate reciprocation is to invite the host to dinner in return. Dress for business is fairly formal despite the climate; men wear lightweight suits and ties and women wear lightweight dresses and suits. Office opening hours vary but generally businesses are open from 8am to 12pm, then 2pm to 5pm or 6pm on weekdays, and 9am to 12pm on Saturdays.
The international access code for Panama is +507. Coin and card-operated public telephones are available, cards being sold at stores and vending machines. Cell phone providers offer GSM and 3G networks, and there are roaming agreements with most international mobile operaters. There are several internet service providers in Panama and internet cafes are widely available in Panama City.
The following items may be brought into Panama duty free: 250 cigarettes (10 packs) or 250g of tobacco, five bottles of alcohol, and goods up to the value of PAB 2,000. Fruit, vegetables and animal products are prohibited.
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