Panama - Country Commercial Guide
Business Travel

Includes information on business customs, travel advisory, visa requirements, and other aspects of international travel. 

Last published date: 2021-10-13

Business Customs

Business practices and customs in Panama are a unique blend of North American methods and traditional Latin style. Foreign corporations operating in Panama are essential in shaping the style and manner of doing business. In general, there are no significant differences in conducting business in Panama compared to the United States. Formal business attire is typical for the financial sector, high-level government meetings, and some social business meetings. In most instances, business casual attire is acceptable (jacket and no tie or shirt and tie no jacket, but the first is most common).  Exchange of gifts is proper during trade missions, special events, and high-level visits.  The use of business cards is widespread as is communication by WhatsApp.  

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, there is the mandatory use of masks in public, curfews, a limit on the number of people in a gathering, and several other restrictions. Visit the Embassy’s website for the latest COVID-19 alerts. 

Travel Advisory

The U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Consular Affairs maintains current travel-related information at  https://travel.state.gov/content/travel.html. International travelers and citizens on extended stays overseas should visit this site for foreign travel information and, when appropriate, warnings.

For Panama- specific information visit;  https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/international-travel/International-Travel-Country-Information-Pages/Panama.html

Further information can be obtained from the Consular Section of the U.S. Embassy in Panama by email at Panama-ACS@state.gov

Visa Requirements

The Panamanian National Migration Service reserves the right to deny entry to a foreign national based on the individual’s criminal record.  Dind more information on on criminal restrictions here.

The U.S. is on Panama’s list of friendly nations (Permiso de Residencia para Nacionales de Paises con relaciones amistosas, económicas y de inversion con la República de Panamá - Friendly Nations Residency Permit).  This residency status is granted to individuals coming to Panama to pursue commercial or professional activities in Panama.  Once approved, this permit gives an indefinite residency in Panama. Applicants must show a bank account with approximately $5,000 or more and proof of commercial or professional activity.

There are other business-related residency permits available, some related to special zones such as the “Panama – Pacific Area”, the “City of Knowledge”, “Export Processing Zones”, and for “Call Centers.” President Cortizo announced a new residency program aimed at high-net-worth qualified investors that seeks to activate the real estate and construction sectors negatively impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic. 

There is a $40 departure tax on leaving the country.  This charge is usually built into the return fare of the airline ticket.

U.S. Citizens are subject to Panamanian law when visiting Panama, and penalties for possession, use, and trafficking of illegal drugs are severe.

If you plan to bring representatives or technicians to the U.S. for training, you should be aware that Panamanian nationals need a valid visa.  Visa applicants should go to the following link:  https://travel.state.gov/content/travel.html

For more information on different types of visas, please visit: https://www.panamatramita.gob.pa

Currency

The U.S. Dollar is the legal currency in Panama. Credit and debit cards are widely accepted. There are plenty of ATMs across the country that accept U.S. ATM networks, including Plus and Cirrus.

Telecommunications/Electronics

Panama has a good telecommunications infrastructure, including broadband internet penetration. Most hotels offer free Wi-Fi connections, and direct dial is available to more than 150 countries worldwide. Panamanian cell phone service operates using GSM technology, and travelers may purchase prepaid SIM chips for unlocked GSM phones at various retail outlets, airports, etc. There are 170 radio stations and five television stations in Panama. Both cable TV service and satellite-based services are well-established in Panama. Standard electric service runs under 110 V, 60 Hz.

Transportation

Panama has excellent air transportation facilities. Four major U.S. airlines serve the country as well as other foreign-flagged airlines. Copa Airlines, the Panamanian airline, has its regional hub at the Tocumen International Airport connecting Panama with 14 U.S. cities and destinations throughout Latin America.

Buses, taxis, and ride-sharing companies (i.e., Uber) are readily available in urban areas. Taxi fares are low and usually range from $2-10 depending on the trip’s length. Taxi service from hotels is typically more expensive, but vehicles are in better condition and are generally safer. Congestion in the Panama City metro area is a rapidly increasing problem, but since the metropolitan area is relatively compact, the taxi service is typically a suitable transportation mode but note that taxis do not have meters and you should agree to a price before entering the vehicle. Also, it is common for taxis to pick up other people to make their drive more profitable. You should agree with the driver not to pick-up others and don’t get into a taxi that already has passengers. This could create a dangerous situation.  Uber and similar services are also available in Panama and are increasing in popularity as the price is fixed.  The Government of Panama inaugurated the first line of a metro system in early 2014 and opened the second line in April 2019. It is executing a plan for a fully integrated bus and metro transit system to deal with congestion in the city.   

Transportation from Tocumen International Airport into Panama City can be made by a specially designated car & driver/taxi service with prices between $30-40 depending on the vehicle’s size. These taxis may be shared with other passengers. There is no bus service available at the airport but major U.S. car rental companies operate in Panama.

There is a train service from Panama City to Colón, which is on the country’s Atlantic side. The Panama Canal Railway Company operates the service.  While the railway is primarily a container transportation facility, it also operates limited passenger service and has become a popular tourist option to visit Colón.

Language

Panama’s official language is Spanish but English is used in major cities and tourist destinations.

Health

The COVID-19 pandemic has severely strained Panama’s health system. Before traveling to Panama, check the Embassy’s website for the latest COVID-19 alerts.

Panama has various private hospitals with U.S. affiliations that offer specialized care and are well-positioned to serve the demand generated from medical tourism.

Running water is available in almost all parts of the country and is usually potable. Bottled water or boiling before use is necessary only in rural areas and small towns in the provinces. No vaccinations are required to visit Panama, but travelers not vaccinated for COVID-19 may be required to quarantine in designated hotels at their own expense. 

Local Time, Business Hours, and Holidays

Panama does not observe Daylight Savings Time. From March – November, it is one hour behind the U.S. East Coast. From November – March, Panama follows the U.S. East Coast time.

Private business offices are open from 8:00 a.m. until 5:00 p.m. Monday through Friday and Saturdays from 8:00 a.m. to 12 noon. Banks are open from 8:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. Monday through Friday. Most local banks are open Saturdays from 9:00 a.m. to 12:00 noon. Government offices are open from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday.

All private, government, municipal, and U.S. Embassy offices are closed during local holidays and the U.S. Mission also observes U.S. holidays.

2022 Panamanian and U.S. Holidays:

January 1                          New Year’s Day

January 9                         Martyrs Day

January 18                        Martin Luther King Day

February 15                     President´s Day

March 16                          Carnival Day

April 2                               Good Friday

May 2                                 Panamanian Labor Day

May 30                              Memorial Day

July 4                                 Independence Day

September 5                   U.S. Labor Day

October 10                        Columbus Day

November 3                    Independence Day from Colombia

November 5                    Colon Day

November 10                  The Uprising of Los Santos

November 11                   Veterans Day

November 24                  Thanksgiving Day

November 28                  Independence Day from Spain

December 8                     Panamanian Mother’s Day

December 26                  Christmas Day

Note: There is a large Jewish community in Panama and several businesses observe Jewish holidays.

Temporary Entry of Materials or Personal Belongings

Business travelers should not experience any problems entering with laptops or other personal business equipment or software for personal use.  Exhibition and sample materials can be brought into Panama subject to temporary entry restrictions.