Economy, Finance, Infrastructure in Panamá

Panama Canal

World-famous and the absolute main source of inspiration for the country is the approximately 82-kilometer-long canal. In 2014, this has now existed for over 100 years, the ideas about it even much longer.

Already in the first colony times there were trade connections with packed donkeys through the rainforest from the Caribbean to the Pacific side. Several decades passed with a first construction phase starting in 1881, a second construction phase starting in 1894, until finally in 1914 the first freighter passed the canal.

Since 2007 until 2016, a parallel even bigger expansion was created, for superlative ships (Neopanamax class) and better water management.

In each construction phase there were always financial problems and political disputes. Until 1999 the canal was guarded by the US Army. After that the administration was taken over by the Panamanian Panama Canal Authority.

Buses, Metro and Taxi

The typical colorfully painted buses "Diablo Rojo" can be seen especially in the region in and around Panama City and Colon. These are real disco buses and at night they light up in all kinds of colors.

Through the whole country mainly small white buses drive, they partly reach very fast and brisk speeds and form the main transport of people. For a few cents and dollars you can cover long distances here. In many places one simply stands at the roadside and gives a hand signal. One gets in and says a loud "Buenos Dias" then all are happy, hear landestypes music or loud lateinamerikan. Dance or chart music. If one wants to get out, one calls loudly "Afuera" (out here), "Puente" (bridge), "Esquina" (entrance), "en la Parada", "Caseta" (stop) or "La Bomba" (gas station) and then one pays cash in "efectivo" the cents for the covered distance. There is rarely or not at all a direct schedule. As soon as the buses are full, they usually start at the terminals, e.g. in Panama City Allbrook, Santiago or David.

For the longer distances, you take big tour buses e.g. from Panamá to David for 15 dollars. Halfway in Santiago de Veraguas the bus stops for half an hour, there are restaurants and toilets. All buses are air-conditioned, on many of them the monitors are folded down over longer distances and films are played, including current cinema films. In some buses, however, it is extremely "over-air-conditioned" cold and you should always take some clothes accordingly. One sees in such cases also partly Panamanós with winter caps and winter jackets.

Rail or trains there is actually only one route along the Panama Canal in the entire country, this is va. for freight traffic.
Brand new since 2014 is the metro in the city center, in 5 min intervals is connected to a main artery through the city.

Roads and construction sites

The great "PanAmericana" runs through the entire country from Panama City in the direction of David. The entire highway has been improved in recent years.

With many normal roads are partly extreme potholes present. Here it becomes clear why many SUVs, Highlux or Jeeps buy or rent.
On the other hand, however, many smaller country roads are also along in the mountains well and newly developed. Without transporting the bridge girders through the country, they are even poured on the spot.

In Panama City you should always plan enough time, traffic jams are commonplace here.

Electricity and water

The power grid in Panama surprises you again and again. Partly you wonder how it is possible at all, but it works!

In the resorts and public buildings there are large diesel generators that start up with a loud roar in the event of a power outage and provide a power backup.

However, small households with lights, fans, TV and refrigerator pay only about 2-3 dollars for electricity per month. In apartments in resorts, it was about $20-40 per monthly bill for us, depending on the use of the air conditioners.

Especially in the region around Penonomé, Coclé huge wind power plants have been built in the last years, you can't miss them on the way to Santiago/David. In the mountainous regions of Chiriqui, on the other hand, many hydroelectric power plants produce the electricity.

The mains voltage in Panama is with 110 volts lower than in Germany (230 V). However, you rarely need a voltage converter. The frequency is 60 Hz, compared to the frequency in Germany with 50 Hz. Technical devices from Germany will most likely not be damaged and will only partially not function optimally. We had in our whole time so far only one case, with a razor.

The sockets in Panama are type A and B. The typical German devices with plugs C and F therefore do not fit and you need travel plugs or adapters.

Cars and rental cars

The car brands are mainly characterized by trade via ships from Asia. Thus, Hyundai, Toyota and Kia are widespread.

Of the car rental companies, all the well-known brands from Avis, Budget, Hertz to SIXT are represented. Through the websites of SIXT you can get a rental car for $25 / day depending on membership and insurance options. About 50 dollars you have to plan for a full cover (including insurance) for a good mid-range car, eg Hyundai Elantra.

Car insurance

We had used e.g. the full coverage insurance via a credit card company. A liability insurance is obligatory in Panama and should be concluded via the rental car company. Many credit cards offer only additional packages for the increase of the liability. Also the deductible or the self participation in case of damage should be considered carefully. Although we were not the cause of the accident and a woman from the USA damaged our rental car, we had a damage of about 200 dollars to the rental car. With a deductible of 200 euros, the insurance company could not help us. We had to hand in all documents, including a certified police report, to the insurance company of the woman who caused the accident. With additional lawyer's fees of SIXT with 50 dollars, many telephone calls and endless e-mails, one is so as actually injured party in such a case, then still further affected and only at the clearing up between the "Departamentos". After more than a year and a lot of patience, we were then refunded about 180 dollars. With this, one should think carefully about how to secure.

Driving licence and police controls

Who wants to stay several months in Panama, should pay attention to the fact that the German driver's license is valid only up to 3 months after entry. What is completely incomprehensible, but also we were checked at different police controls in this regard.

When you first see a police dummy, you still think it's a joke. However, it is comparable to the "Achtung Radar-Kontrolle" signs in Germany. Along the PanAmericana there are daily controls. Compared to Germany, however, in Panama a policeman alone, with a laser gun, can wave out the speeders.

Internet and telephony

Mobile accessibility, landlines and internet are well developed in Panama. In many cities there are internet cafes and even "InternetParaTodos" hotspots.

International dialing code for Panama: +507

Telephone / Mobile phone

In order to save the high roaming fees as a tourist and vacationer, you should opt for cheap prepaid offers and call e.g. via Skype with families and friends.
The best known companies in the country for telecommunications are Movistar (Telefonica Company = O2), Claro, Digicel and +Movil.

To top up the prepaid offers there are orange machines e.g. at the airport or the bus terminals. Furthermore, you can buy small scratch cards for 2, 5 or 10 dollars at many shopping malls. At Movistar you often get a fivefold increase of the amount and several free minutes in the same network, as well as good offers for mobile internet.

A typical info SMS is for example "HOY 300 Minutos MOVISTAR y 5x tu Recarga! Solo Recarga hoy $3 y recibe $15 y adicional 300 Minutos MOVISTAR x 48hrs FREE. Solo aplica Plan Promo.Val 15-16mar"


In most hotels today, guests get free access to the internet via WiFi. Throughout Panama, LTE technology continues to expand, allowing for extreme mobile bandwidths. In one hotel we even had 18Mbit download and 32Mbit upload speeds - the absolute madness. In many cities there are internet cafes, also along the main roads the network is very well developed and there are partly hotspots with "InternetParaTodos" a free internet for everyone! In the coaches on the route between Panama-David you also have good reception.
Simple USB Internet sticks are available, for example, from Claro for 15-20 dollars, here you can then buy packages from 2 dollars / day to 25 dollars for 30 days.

For TV, Internet and landline packages there are current offers from Claro, CableOnda and Cable & Wireless, which are now even offered in rural areas.