Important Features of Panama
By: Kathya L. García Varela
At KHALARO INVESTMENTS, S.A. , we procure to give clients a complete service, including valuable tools and information which may lead them to have a better knowledge and understanding of Panama, thus this section is basically devoted to expatriates willing to visit Panama, either as tourists or as potential residents.
The Republic of Panama is geographically located between the Central and South America, covering 78,000 square kilometers. It is bordered between the Caribbean and Pacific coastline. The country is divided in nine (9) provinces: Bocas del Toro, Coclé, Colón, Chiriquí, Darién, Herrera, Los Santos, Panamá and Veraguas, and in three Indigenous Community minorities: Kuna Yala, Gnobe Buglé and Embera.
Panama has a tropical climate, thus warm and humid with temperatures around 80-90 degrees Farenheit or 25-30 degrees Celsius.) In the highlands of the countryside the temperature can drop until 12 degrees Celsius.
There are only two (2) seasons, the “dry season” which runs from December to late March, and the “rainy season”, going from April to early December. Some people prefer to travel to Panama at the beginning of the dry season when temperature and winds are in the dry season that runs from mid-December through May when it does not rain.
Panama has a population of approximately 2.9 million (growth rate 1.3%), one of the smallest in Central America, with diverse origins: Spanish descendants, blacks, indigenous cultures, important immigrant populations from North America, Europe, China, India and the Middle East. The urban population is about 52%. There still exist a wide gap between rich and poor, despite the fact that Panama has one of the highest per capita income in Central America.
The official language of Panama is Spanish, although English is widely spoken in the business, banking, tourist and retail and international communities.
There is no official religion although 85% of the population is Roman Catholic. Religious freedom is constitutionally guaranteed and there are substantial minorities of Protestants and Muslims. There are small numbers of Jewish and Islamic.
More than 80% of the population over ten (10) years of age is literate. The Educational public system provides for the free schooling of all children. School attendance is compulsory until the six grades of elementary school have been completed. There are excellent private schools as well as international in Panama City, offering English, French, Italian and Mandarin. Likewise, there are several well established bilingual schools (Spanish- English).
Panama is in the Eastern Standard Time Zone (EST), five (5) hours behind the Greenwich Mean Time (GMT). Public offices are open 08-00 to 17.00 Monday to Friday; now must Banks work from 08.00 to 18.00 Monday to Friday and 08:30 to 13:00 on Saturday. Shops open from 08.00 to 19.00 Monday to Saturday and 10:00 to 19:00 Sunday.
The national currency, the “Balboa” is at parity with the US dollar being the legal tender in Panama since 1904. Panama does not issue paper currency just coins, with the same nomination of US coins.
Variable, either 110 V or 220 V, and weight & measures: metric.
Panama is a Democratic Independent Republic with a Constitutional Government. It is considered as one of the most stable democracies in the Americas. The Executive Power rests with the President, elected for a five-year term by universal adult suffrage. The Legislative Power is held by the unicameral Legislative Assembly whose 78 members are also elected for a five-year term, and the Judiciary Power headed by nine (9) Supreme Court Justices. This country is divided into nine (9) provinces and three (3) autonomous Indian Reservations.
Panama is a peaceful country with no military. Crime rate is low as with its neighboring country Costa Rica.
The Services sector accounts for 74.2% of GDP and employs 64.3% of the workforce. The construction, tourist, banking and financial service sectors, along with the Colon Free Trade Zone, have recorded impressive growth in the past years. The Panama Canal is a major source of government foreign-exchange revenue. Traditional agricultural products such as bananas, coffee, shrimp and sugar are major export earners, with an annual inflation around 1.8%,
The United States of America, European Union, Central America & Caribbean, and Japan.
January 1 (New Year’s Day); January 9 (Heroes Day); February 27 (Carnival), April 13 (Good Friday); May 1 (Labor Day); November 3 (Independence from Colombia); November 4 (Flags Day); November 28 (Independence from Spain); December 8 (Mother’s Day) and December 25 (Christmas Day). When a public holiday falls on a Sunday, the following Monday will normally be observed. In addition to official holidays, most foreign embassies accredited in Panama observe their own national holidays.
Adequate medical care and modern technology can be found in Panama City at reasonable price. Nevertheless in the countryside these facilities do not have the same standards of industrialized countries. Healthcare is offered to nationals and overseas visitors. Credit cards can be used to pay hospital fees but not to cover doctor’s charges, therefore, insurance is highly recommended. Bilingual doctors are common in all Panama City Hospitals. The National University of Panama offers a top quality medical program.
There are no compulsory vaccinations required for entry to Panama; and it is about the only country in Latin America where you can freely drink tap water. Applicants for visa renewals may be required to undergo an HIV test.
Panama has been ranked in Latin America as one of the best places to live. The vast majority of the workforce is employed in the service sector. Around 35% of the workforce is female. Although Panamanians are increasingly prosperous, the gap between rich and poor has continue to grow, thus an estimated 50% of the population live in poverty.
It is advisable to make appointments for a meeting and punctuality is appreciated. Men are expected to wear a suit and tie to business meetings and women are also expected to be formally dressed. Business cards are normally exchanged upon introduction. Although English is widely spoken as a second language, the majority of business is transacted in Spanish thus knowledge of Spanish is essential.
Postal offices are open between the 06.30 and 15:45 hours Monday to Friday. Telecommunication is Panama is modern and highly efficient. The international code for Panama is 507 and there are no area codes for the countryside. Fax facilities are available in almost every hotel and main post offices in Panama, and Internet is widely used in offices and cyber cafes.
There are independent Spanish language dailies and some English language publications available in Panama. Likewise, foreign English & Chinese language newspapers can be found in Panama City.
Dress codes are quite conservative, especially in cities. Lightweight cotton or linen clothing is adequate for most regions in Panama. Tailored “Bermudas” are acceptable for everyday use, nevertheless people wearing shorts are not allowed to enter in governmental buildings and other special offices.
Panamanians are commonly respectful to others, regardless of social status. Privacy is still highly appreciated. Wealth, heritage and family loyalty are also highly revered therein. The husband is commonly the head of the Panamanian household. Panamanians maintain relationships mostly through visiting friends. Guests are not expected to bring the host a gift, and unannounced visits are welcome and are considered to be a form o compliment.
The social protocol upon dinner invitations is similar to that of visits. Men will normally shake hands when greeting each other. This applies to city and rural dwellers alike. Women will normally greet each other by embracing.
Gratuity between 10% - 15% is expected by waiting staff in restaurants. The same is with hotels, unless a service charge has already been added to the bill. Taxi drivers should no be tipped as the fare should be agreed prior to embarking on a journey.
The staff of KHALARO INVESTMENTS, S.A., is honored to assist you making your visit a one-stop friendly solution for your real estate needs and other related services. Contact us for more information.
Note: The author is lawyer and ex diplomat.
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