10 Random Things to Know About Panama


Every once and a while, I think of things that I feel would be relevant for expats and potential expats to know about Panama, but they’re not topics that I could expand into full blog posts. So I’ve decided to start a new feature, that I’ll post occasionally, which is 10 random things to know about Panama. I don’t know if these things will be interesting to anyone else besides me, but hopefully they provide some additional nuggets of information about Panama. They’ll also be shorter than my usual blog posts, so you won’t have to read as much of my yapping. Here is my first list of 10 random things to know about Panama.

1. Panama’s currency is the Balboa, which is pegged to the US Dollar and interchangeable with it. Panama produces Balboa coins, up to $1 in value, but does not produce bills. US Dollars are used as the paper currency, with both US coins and Panamanian coins being used for coins.

2. It is recommended if you are bringing cash in the country, to bring small bills. While large bills are accepted at most major stores, anytime you use a $50 or $100 bill, it’s a process. They will take down the serial number of the bill, your name, ID number, address, and phone number. A supervisor will have to check the bill before it’s accepted. This slows down paying for anything, and the people behind you in line would appreciate if you wouldn’t be “that person.”

 3. All of Panama is in the Eastern Time Zone (GMT-5). However, since Panama does not observe Daylight Savings Time, it will be on the same time as the Central Time Zone when the US is in Daylight Savings Time.

4. Even though Panama is still in the Northern Hemisphere, winter and summer are on an opposite schedule than in the US. December, January, February and March are considered summer because it is the dry season. The rest of the year is considered winter because it is the rainy season. The temperature does not fluctuate much during the year. Public schools have off in the months Americans consider to be winter, and are in session during American summer.

5. The tap water in Panama is safe to drink.

6. You will frequently see fireworks displays at night in Panama, particularly on weekends. This is because fireworks are very common for all types of celebrations, including weddings and birthdays.

7. Panama elects a President every five years. Presidents only serve one term and cannot run for reelection. Since Panama became a full democracy in 1989, no political party has held the Presidency for two consecutive terms. There always has been a change in power. Unlike the United States, Panama elected a female president. Mireya Moscoso served as President from 1999-2004. UPDATE: Presidents can serve a second term, but cannot serve consecutive terms. So while they cannot run for reelection immediately after their first term, they are allowed to run again in the next election 5 years later. President Guillermo Endara, who served from 1989-1994, ran in both 2004 and 2009, but did not win. No Panamanian President has served more than one term. 

8. “Panama Hats”, which are what Panama is arguably most known for besides the Canal, actually originated from and are made in Ecuador.

9. Many public restrooms at malls charge $.25 for use, so it’s always a good idea to keep a quarter on you if you are going to the mall, as you will need to use change to get through the turnstile. Some of the larger stores in malls usually will have restrooms that you can use for free, but they’re not always fully stocked with toilet paper and soap.  

10. Gasoline in Panama is priced by liter, not gallon. There is also no 87 octane or 89 octane unleaded sold in Panama. The only gas types you will find at gas stations are diesel, unleaded 91 octane, and unleaded 95 octane.

Posted in Before You Move, When You Travel.


  1. Number 7. is wrong. Panamanian presidents cannot serve consecutive terms, but there is certainly no restriction on a former president standing for re-election at a later election (though they are limited to 2 terms in total).

    • Jim, thanks for the correction. I updated the post with the correct information. Knowing Panamanian politics, I think it’s very unlikely that anyone would be elected to a second non-consecutive term, but it is good to know it is legal.

      • Probably true enough … but don’t be surprised if Martinelli doesn’t try again in 2019! Whilst Panamanians may never have re-elected a former president (since the generals and the introduction of the current constitution), they also seem to have short memories when it comes to politicians!

  2. While number 5 is certainly true for “the city”, it is demonstrably not true for some of the rural areas. Smaller towns and certain rural areas are notorious for causing “Montezuma’s revenge” in gringo stomachs and you drink the tap water in those areas at your own peril.

    Once in the interior, if you are going to drink liquids outside the limitations of bottled water or soft drinks or beer, you had better have parasite medicine from a farmacia in your pockets. Especially if you are without a good supply of quarters in your pocket at one of those bathroom locations mentioned in number 9.

    This is true even in good-sized towns like Volcan in Chiriqui. You’ve been warned.

  3. Another correction to the presidents reelection comment there is actually som presidents who have served more than once like Belisario Porras, and Arnulfo Arias (although this one suffered a “golpe de estado” served twice… recheck this idea

    • Diego, I am referring to the post overthrow period when Panama became a full Democracy. I made a minor correction in this post to clarify that, but I think my statement is correct.

  4. Re number 3, it might also be worth adding that Panama is on GMT -5. (as the site is not called panamaforamericanbeginners, and many of us from Europe and other parts of the world have no knowledge of US time zones)

  5. one correction for number 7… a Former President cannot run again for 10 years (2 periods)…Endara left in 1994 and ran again in 2004, he was not able to run in 1999. Besides that very good post… I found it interesting and Im Panamanian

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