Local Time: Print

Business Travel in Panama

May 2013

To download/save this report in PDF format, please click here

Sections

Business Customs
Travel Advisory

Visa Requirements

Telecommunications

Transportation

Language

Health

Local Time, Business Hours and Holidays

Temporary Entry
Web Resources

Business Customs Return to top

Business practices and customs in Panama are a unique blend of North American methods and traditional Latin style. Foreign corporations operating in Panama are important in shaping the style and manner of doing business. Panama uses the U.S. dollar as its currency – note that all prices quoted below are in U.S. dollars, although they are referred to by Panamanians colloquially as “Balboas.”

Travel Advisory Return to top

The U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Consular Affairs maintains current travel-related information at www.travel.state.gov. International travelers and citizens on extended stays overseas are advised to visit this site for foreign travel information and, when appropriate, warnings.

You can view the U.S. Department of State’s Panama-specific information here:
http://travel.state.gov/travel/cis_pa_tw/cis/cis_994.html.

Further information can be obtained from the Consular Section of the U.S. Embassy in Panama, Unit 9100, DPO AA 34002, Tel: (507) 317-5332, Fax: (507) 317-5278, or at http://panama.usembassy.gov/.

Visa Requirements Return to top

U.S. citizens may enter Panama with a passport that does not expire for at least three months from the date of entry and a return airline ticket. They are automatically authorized to stay in the country for 180 days as a tourist. The 180-day period is nonrenewable. There is no tourist card requirement. Travelers should be ready to show that they are carrying “sufficient funds,” which is $500 or travelers’ checks. Travelers are not often asked and sometimes a credit card or display of wealth is enough, but failure to show funds if asked can result in refusal of entry. There are visas available to businesspersons wishing to spend extended periods of time in Panama:

  • Inversionista (Investor): A minimum of $160,000 must be invested in setting up a company in Panama with a minimum of five Panamanian employees in its payroll, and $1,050 must be deposited in advance ($800 with the National Immigration Service and $250 with the National Treasury).
  • Permiso Temporal (Temporary Permit): For executives transferred from an overseas office to work in Panama temporarily or technicians working with a company in Panama for a limited time. Executives must prove their income will come from outside of Panama. Foreign technicians shall not exceed 15% of the employees of the company. The visa is valid for one year and is renewable up for six years.
  • Visa Corta Estancia Por Negocios (Short Stay Business Visa): For businesspersons coming to Panama for the purpose of setting up a branch office of a foreign company in Panama. The visa is valid for up to nine months and is nonrenewable.
  • Permiso de Residencia para Nacionales de Paises con relaciones amistosas, económicas y de inversion con la República de Panamá (Friendly Nations Residency Permit). The U.S. is included in the friendly nations list. This residency status is granted to individuals coming to Panama with the purpose of pursuing commercial or professional activities in Panama. Once approved, this permit grants an indefinite residency in Panama. Applicants must show a bank account with approximately $5,000 or more and proof of a 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.”

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 in 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: http://panama.usembassy.gov/non-immigrant_visas.html.

U.S. Companies that require travel of foreign businesspersons from Panama to the U.S. should be advised that visa issuance is managed by the U.S. Department of State’s Consular Section rather than the U.S. Department of Commerce. Visa applicants should go to the following links:

Telecommunications Return to top

Panama has an excellent telecommunications infrastructure which includes broadband internet services, calling card availability, public phone services, and many public places around Panama City and other major cities to access the internet services and international phone calls. Direct dialing is available to more than 150 countries worldwide. The cell phone service is based on the GSM technology and you can buy prepaid SIM chips for unlocked GSM phones on the street. There are 170 radio stations and five television stations in Panama. There is cable TV service as well as satellite-based services.

Transportation Return to top

Panama has excellent air transportation facilities. Three major U.S. airlines serve the country, as well as others from different countries. Copa, the Panamanian airline, has a regional hub at the Tocumen International Airport, connecting Panama with major cities in the U.S. and Latin America.

Buses and taxis are readily available in urban areas. Taxi fares are low and usually range from $2-10 depending on the trip's length. Taxi services from hotels are typically more expensive but the cars are in better condition and it is generally safer. Congestion in the Panama City metro area is a rapidly increasing problem, but since the metro area is relatively compact, taxi service is the best way to get around. The Government of Panama is executing a plan for a fully integrated bus and metro transit system to deal with the congestion.

Transportation from Tocumen International Airport into Panama City can be made by a special taxi service, with prices between $30-35 depending on the size of the taxi. Taxis may be shared with other passengers. Car rentals are available. There is no bus service at the airport.

Major car rental companies operate in Panama and offer excellent services.

There is train service from Panama City to Colon, on the Atlantic side, operated by Kansas City Southern. This is primarily a container transportation facility but the railroad also operates limited passenger service. It has become an attractive tourism option to visit Colon.

Language Return to top

Panama's official language is Spanish. However, English is widely spoken as a second language in the main cities.

Health Return to top

Health conditions in Panama are good, especially in the urban centers. Running water is available in almost all parts of the country and is usually potable. Use of bottled water or boiling before use is necessary only in some rural areas and small towns in the provinces. There are no major potential health risks when visiting Panama, particularly in the business areas of the country.

Local Time, Business Hours, and Holidays Return to top

Panama does not observe Daylight Savings Time. So from roughly April – October, it is one hour behind U.S. East Coast Time. From November – March, it is at the same time as the U.S. East Coast.

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 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. In addition the U.S. Mission observes all U.S. holidays.

The Panamanian holidays for 2013 are:

  • January 1 New Year's Day.
  • January 9 Mourning Day.
  • February 12 Carnival
  • March 29 Good Friday
  • May 1 Labor Day.
  • November 3 Independence Day from Colombia (Observed Monday, Nov 4).
  • November 5 Colon’s Day.
  • November 10 The Uprising of Los Santos (Observed Monday, Nov 11).
  • November 28 Independence Day from Spain (Observed Monday, Dec 2).
  • December 8 Mother's Day (Observed Monday, Dec 9).
  • December 25 Christmas Day.
  • There is a large Jewish community so some businesses observe Jewish holidays.

Temporary Entry of Materials and Personal Belongings Return to top

Business travelers should not have problems entering with laptops or any other personal business equipment or software if they are for personal use. Exhibiting materials can be brought into Panama subject to temporary entry restrictions.

Web Resources Return to top

For More Information

The U.S. Commercial Service in Panama can be contacted via e-mail at: enrique.tellez@trade.gov;

Phone: 011-507-317-5000; or visit our website: http://www.export.gov/panama.