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Panama City Travel Information

The Basics

Time

Local time is GMT -5.

Electricity

Electrical current is 120 volts, 60Hz. Flat two-pin plugs are the norm.

Language

The official language is Spanish. However, many Panamanians speak both Spanish and English.

Travel Health

It is recommended that visitors be inoculated for typhoid. Malaria prophylaxis is advised for most parts of the country other than Panama City and the Canal, and dengue fever is on the increase; travellers should take precautions against mosquito bites, as there are a number of tropical diseases spread by mosquitoes. Yellow fever vaccination is recommended for all travellers, except those visiting Panama City and the Canal, and is a requirement for all visitors arriving from an infected area. Vaccinations against tuberculosis and hepatitis B are sometimes recommended. Leptospirosis is a risk throughout the country, particularly during periods of heavy rainfall. Tap water is not safe to drink outside the capital without being boiled, filtered or chemically disinfected, and food should be eaten peeled, cooked and piping hot. Travellers are advised to carry an anti-diarrhoea drug. Medical facilities are good in Panama City, but less so elsewhere in the country. Critical medical problems require air evacuation to somewhere with better medical facilities, and travellers are therefore advised to have a fully comprehensive medical insurance policy. Quality control of pharmaceuticals in Panama is inadequate, so travellers are advised to bring a sufficient supply of their own medications from home.

Tipping

Although a 10% 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% if a service charge is not included. Taxi drivers do not expect tips.

Safety Information

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 call 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 recognized 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.

Local Customs

A midday siesta is practised in many South American countries 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.

Business

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 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 are from 8am to 12pm, then 2pm to 5pm or 6pm on weekdays, and 9am to 12pm on Saturdays.

Communications

The international access code for Panama is +507. The outgoing call code on Cable & Wireless is 00 (on Telecarrier dial 088+00 followed by the relevant country code. On Clarocom dial 055+00 followed by the relevant country code e.g. 0550027 for South Africa). Discount telephone rates apply between 10pm and 7am. Coin and card-operated public telephones are available, cards being sold at stores and vending machines. There are no domestic area codes in Panama. Cell phone providers offer GSM 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.

Duty Free

The following items may be brought into Panama duty free: 500 cigarettes, 50 cigars or 500g of tobacco, three bottles of alcohol, opened bottles of perfume for personal use and gifts up to the value of B/.50. Fruit, vegetables and animal products are prohibited.

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