IMPORTANT Information about your trip and FAQs about Panama.
Citizens of most countries including the USA, Canada, the European Union and most Latin American and Caribbean countries don't need a visa. All you need is a valid passport. For all other countries, please consult your embassy or a Panamanian consulate about visa requirements.
Note that Panamanian law requires that your passport be valid for at least 90 days after entering the country. In other words you need to have at least 3 months before his passport expires or they might not let you in.
Also note that a Panamanian law requires visitors to have a minimum of US$500.00 or a combination of cash and a valid debit/credit card with them. People are rarely asked for this, but have it just in case. The fact that you are part of a prepaid program should prevent any doubts regarding your solvency.
Panamanian law also requires you carry your ID at all times when you are out. To avoid losing your passport, you can carry a photocopy of the photo page of your passport as well as the page where you entry date is stamped.
If you want to extend your stay in Panama, before or after the GAT experience, travelers from most countries can stay up to 180 days. After a total of 180 days you would need to exit to another country (Costa Rica, Colombia or other) for 30 days before re-entering Panama and being granted another 90 day tourist stay.
If you are flying-in on the “Arrival Day” of the GAT adventure (the date that corresponds to Day 00 of your GAT program) you will be greeted by a GAT staff wearing the colors of the GAT logo and showing a large GAT sign. You will then be transferred to the hotel by private shuttle.
The international arrivals hall is a relatively small part of the airport, and our staff normally stands in the vicinity of the ladies washroom just outside customs. The airport staff members at the information desk are also aware of the GAT groups’ arrivals and can point you in the right direction or contact us if needed.
If you are arriving on a different day than the prescribed “Arrival Day” (the date that corresponds to Day 00 of your GAT program) you will not be greeted by our staff.
Tocumen International Airport is a 20 minutes drive from the GAT hotel in Panama City (outside of peak hour). Official taxis and vans are available where you exit with your luggage. The fare is around $40 for private taxi and $15 for a shared taxi or van. There is no bus service from the airport and Uber is actively discouraged.
There are no special vaccinations officially required to visit Panama. Make sure you are up-to-date on routine vaccines before your trip. These routine vaccines include measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine, diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis vaccine, varicella (chickenpox) vaccine, polio vaccine, and your yearly flu shot. Inquire with your doctor or travel clinic to determine if you want to get preventive vaccines as well. Many travelers choose to get Hepatitis A, and Typhoid shots while only a few get the Hepatitis B, Rabies, or Yellow Fever.
Observing safe water and food consumption practices especially in remote areas (GAT staff will inform you), protecting yourself against mosquitoes with clothing and repellents, and refraining from exchanging body fluids will keep you safe from infections. It is also recommended to prevent sunburn and heat exhaustion buy wearing protective closing, using sunscreen, keeping in the shade when possible, and drinking plenty of water.
Many activities offered during your GAT adventure have potential risks and demand physical and mental abilities. These activities may include but are not limited to: Aircraft Rides, Boating, Rafting, Float Trips, Bonfires, Bungee Jumping, Bungee Runs, Slack Rope, Canopy/Flying Fox, Carnival/Amusement Park Rides, Activities Involving Animals, Climbing Walls/Trees or Rock Surfaces, Horseback Riding, Laser Tag, Motorcycling, Open Water Canoeing, Sailing, Swimming, Snorkeling, Scuba Diving, Surfing, Water Sports Involving Watercrafts, Parachuting/Parasailing, Parkour, Pyrotechnical Events/Fireworks, River Rafting, Kayaking, Waterskiing, Rodeo and Roping Events, Skydiving, Trampolines, and Water Parks. As much as possible these activities are offered by trained staff, with the appropriate safety equipment, and with reasonable supervision. You are required to observe all staff’s recommendations and not to engage in any risky activities without supervision. Although you are encouraged to experience new things, push back your limits, and get out of your comfort zone; you must always respect your true physical and mental limitations in order to stay safe and keep the group safe. GAT staff will encourage you to review your own limits in order to take challenging yet safe decisions.
For your security and to protect the integrity of the program the private travel insurance recommended by GAT is compulsory. In case of a minor inconvenience or a full blown emergency this coverage will give you full and immediate attendance at the best facilities as well as national and international medical transportation.
Panama has excellent sanitary conditions for Latin America. It’s one of only a few countries where you can drink the water from the tap. Some islands and remote locations might be exceptions to this rule in which case you will be informed with anticipation. Travelers’ diarrhea is not a common issue in Panama.
Yes -in fact Panama is one of safe countries of Central America (for visitors and local alike), and one of the safest countries in all of Latin America. Tourism is not the main industry in Panama, therefore crimes targeting visitors like pick-pocketing, bag theft, street assaults or scams are very unusual.
That said, like everywhere, some precautions are required. Panama is not your hometown, and as a visitor you will stand out. You must put on your travelers thinking cap, and keep an eye out for yourself, your stuff, and your friends at all-times… no matter how much fun you are having! Try to always buddy-up with other travelers; don't wander around alone especially near poor areas. Poor neighborhoods of Panama City and Colon are unsafe, stay within the limits recommended by the GAT staff. In Panama City, use Uber, the Metro or a yellow taxi recommended by your hotel. Use common sense, don't carry large sums of money, leave your bag unattended or flash expensive belongings.
The US dollar is the currency used in Panama. The Panamanian government only issues coins of their own called Balboas (and fractions of Balboas) but their value is tied to the US American dollar. Therefore no currency exchanges or complicated conversions are necessary. Simply bring and use US Dollars.
Panama is a developing country and basic products including basic food are inexpensive when bought outside of touristic or fancy outlets (e.g. rice is $0.40 a pound, chicken is around $1 a pound, bananas can be $0.10 each). On the other hand some imported goods that are considered usual in our modern countries can be considered “exclusive” in Panama and therefore are more expensive (e.g. a small jar of peanut butter can be $5 or more, a box of Lucky Charms cereals can be $6.50). Salaries and labor costs are low in Panama which makes basic services affordable (e.g. a barber style haircut for man can be $3, an hour Spanish class can be $5, a taxi ride across the city is $5 or less, and surfing lessons are around $25 per hour including surf board rental). Anywhere outside the capital city you will find exotic and unspoiled natural sites that can be explored on a limited budget. As long as you stay off-the-beaten-path and are willing to experience Panama the same way the locals do you will get more than your money’s worth. Mainstream touristic activities offered to the masses can be expensive (e.g. a simple half day city tour is between $100 and $150 per person).
10% is the average gratuity for restaurant service. Sometimes, but not always, tips can be included in the check. Service providers like drivers, guides, delivery staff, cleaning staff, groceries packers, gas station attendants, etc. do appreciate a tip which is normally of a lesser percentage or of a few dollars for a small value service.
Although most Panamanians have learnt “some” English as a second language, only a minute minority speaks it fluently, mostly people who work with tourists. Panama’s official language is Spanish; therefore expect to be shocked by the linguistic immersion. This is part of the experience. You are strongly encouraged to study some basic Spanish before your trip (see the GAT Linguistic Shortcuts document). The international nonverbal sign for openness and personal connection is your SMILE. Your SMILE along with other nonverbal expressions and the ATTITUDE of DARING to TRY will open doors and hearts during your experience.
Panama’s climate is tropical and humid with warm temperatures between 25 and 30 degrees Celsius (80 F to 90 Fahrenheit). In the highlands the temperatures are lower ranging from 10 to 26 °C (50 to 85°F).
There are two seasons in Panama: the "dry" season and the "green" season. The dry season is starts in mid-December and lasts until May. The green season is from May to December. During the “Dry” season it rarely rains and during the “Green” season most days are marked by a tropical shower each mid-afternoon. September and October are the rainiest months. It rarely rains all day, which means that rain is no obstacle to tourism activities. The Caribbean coast and some highlands are exceptions to this rule where it often rains all day during the Green season.
The voltage in Panama is of 110V which is the same as North and Central America.
Panama’s time zone is the Eastern Standard Time (EST). Greenwich Time (GMT) -5 hours. This corresponds to the North American east coast time in winter, but Panama does not observe daylight savings therefore it falls behind by one hour in summer.
Panamanian handicrafts varies greatly from each province and regions. They are a reflection of the life and inhabitants of each locality and are a delight to discover. Woven baskets, and masks made from rainforest palms and decorated with natural dyes are the most popular items. The famous “Panama Hats” surprisingly originate from South America, while the traditional Panamanian Farmers’ hat (Sombrero Pintado) is a communicative object worth discovering. Jewelry and sculptures made from Tagua seeds (vegetable ivory) and precious wood are also very famous. The “Molas" are the colorful hand-sewn tapestries made by the Guna people which are sold on their own or as decoration on handbags or clothes. Many stores in the old city, Casco Viejo, offer a variety of these and more handicrafts.