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Packing Guidance for Panama

This guidance is designed to describe appropriate clothing, the cultural context where you will be living and working, and the professional expectations of your workplace.

As you decide what to bring, keep in mind there is a 100-pound weight limit on checked baggage.

In general, most items you will need are available in country and locally acquired items are often the best at helping you integrate into your community. However, locally available items may not be the brands, quality, prices, or sizes you are used to. Bringing some key items from home might make your transition to service more comfortable.

This guidance has been compiled by Peace Corps staff and Volunteers and is based on their experience. Use this information as an informal guide as you make your own packing list, bearing in mind that each experience is individual. There is no perfect packing list!

This packing guidance is designed to help you think through different categories of items and consider what you might want to bring, considering work expectations, cultural considerations, and your own personal preferences.

Panamá is a tropical country with essentially two seasons: “wet” and “dry” (although some people will say it is “wet” and then “less wet”). Although Panamá is a small country, weather patterns vary drastically from region to region.

All year long, the general weather of Panamá can be characterized as very hot and humid. The rainy season(s) can be characterized by daily heavy downpours that typically last a few hours. There are periods in certain regions that can be particularly dry and windy causing dust-bowl conditions. Some areas might be cool during the day and chilly at night.

What’s important to remember is that temperatures will not be extremely different. You will not have to prepare for frigid temperatures while living in Panamá.

When choosing items to bring, be aware that fabrics with a high cotton blend are generally best for hot temperatures. Fabrics that are mostly acrylic may dry quickly on the line after washing but may prevent your body from properly cooling itself when wearing them.

Be aware that the high humidity will cause leather to mildew very quickly, weak metals to quickly rust and certain plastics like zipper pulls on backpacks to deteriorate/disintegrate. Keep this in mind when choosing your items to bring.

There is no need to spend money on high-cost weather-proof items. Keep it simple and be prepared to replace some items during service.

Peace Corps Panama provides the following items:

  • Local SIM card (you are required to use a local number and phone plan)
  • Water filter
  • Mosquito net
  • Battery-powered smoke detector
  • Fire extinguisher
  • Emergency air horn
  • Helmet (as needed)
  • Life jacket (as needed)
  • Map of Panamá
  • Physical library of fiction and non-fiction books to borrow
  • Binder/folder to store physical documents

Peace Corps Volunteers are not allowed to take:

  • Pets
  • Weapons
  • Explosives
  • Radio transmitters (shortwave radios are permitted)
  • Drones
  • Automobiles or motorcycles
  • Flammable materials or liquids such as lighter fluid, cleaning solvents, hair spray, or aerosol containers
  • Valuables such as precious jewelry or family heirlooms

Drugs

Do not bring any drug that has not been authorized by the Peace Corps for medical purposes without prior consultation with Office of Health Services Pre-Service. This includes prescription and over-the-counter drugs. Illicit drugs, including marijuana and related products such as CBD and herbal substances such as kratom, are prohibited during Peace Corps service, even if they are legal in your home of residence. If you use, possess, or distribute illicit drugs, you will be administratively separated from service.

Work clothing overview

Trainees and Volunteers work in a variety of settings. In general, you are required to dress in business casual during all official training and work hours, with certain activities that will require you to wear clothing to work outdoors. There are very specific moments when you will need to dress business formally. The following outlined information considers cultural norms to ensure you don’t offend others and dress appropriately for the occasion.

In Panamá, personal appearance is generally connected to the concept of professionalism. To participate successfully in cultural work contexts, it is recommended that you cover tattoos and/or remove earrings or piercings, except in the earlobe. This especially applies in work environments related to ministries, churches, schools, embassies, agencies, and communities. It is your responsibility to investigate and follow the personal appearance and dress code of each work environment.

It is advisable during the first stage of your service to adhere strongly to the cultural and work norms, especially with regards to your personal appearance, and gradually adjust considering the level of respect and knowledge gained in your relationships. A very important note: It is not necessary to purchase expensive clothing, particularly outdoor adventure wear. Focus on bringing clothing that can be appropriate for a variety of occasions and that makes you feel comfortable and confident.

You can easily replace clothing in Panamá with familiar name brands from the U.S. at similar prices. There are also clothing stores that sell overstock inventory from the U.S. at a discount (like Ross, TJ Maxx, Marshalls, etc.).

Clothing types
  • Business semi-formal: Wear for swearing-in ceremony.
    • Long-sleeve, button-up shirts
    • Dress pants (no khakis)
    • Suit jackets/blazers (optional)
    • Knee-length dresses/skirts
    • Dress shoes
  • Business casual: Wear for school/ministry visits.
    • Slacks, khakis
    • Short-sleeve, button-up shirts
    • Knee-length dresses/skirts
    • Close-toed shoes (not tennis shoes)
  • Casual: Wear for some school events, training events.
    • Slacks, khakis, jeans
    • Polo shirts
    • Tennis shoes
  • Field work: Wear for working outside.
    • Lightweight clothing that protects your body from the sun
    • Boots or tennis shoes that you don’t mind getting dirty
    • Hat
Formal work

Occasions: PCV swear-in ceremony and other infrequent, formal events/activities

Item, suggested quantity, approximate price in Panama

  • Business semi-formal pants (1): Slacks, khakis ($15-$25)
  • Business semi-formal shirt (1): Button-up long-sleeved or short-sleeved, modest blouse ($5-$15)
  • Business semi-formal dress or skirt (1): Knee-length or longer (optional) ($15-$25)
  • Blazer, jacket, sweater, or shawl (1): (Optional unless shoulders are exposed) ($15-$25)
Semi-formal work

Occasions: Visiting Peace Corps Office, all pre-service and in-service training event sessions (unless instructed otherwise), participating in community-based activities, working in schools, visiting ministry offices

Item, suggested quantity, approximate price in Panama

  • Business casual pants (2): Khakis, jeans without patches/holes/distressed look ($15-$25)
  • Business casual shirt (5): Button-up long-sleeved or short-sleeved, modest blouse ($5-$15)
  • Business casual dress or skirt (1): Knee-length or longer (optional) ($15-$25)
  • Sweater or shawl, if shoulders are exposed (1): ($5-$15)
Outdoor field work

Occasions: Working with community members in a farm, tree nursery, or garden; recreational activities with community members

Item, suggested quantity, approximate price in Panama

  • Work pants (2): Cargo or jeans ($15-$25)
  • Work T-shirt (2): Modest images, patterns, logos ($5-$15)
  • Work long-sleeve or button-up (1): Layer for protection from elements ($5-$15)
  • Jacket (1): Lightweight water resistant with a hood ($15-$25)

Leisure and recreational clothing

Occasions: At home with host family, after-hours, and weekends during training events like pre-service training, personal vacation, shopping for supplies, exercise

Trainees and Volunteers are welcome to dress casually in their leisure time. Generally, in a private setting, you are welcome to wear what makes you comfortable.

While living with a host family or out in public, it’s important to wear modest clothing. For sports and exercise, refrain from wearing revealing clothing such as short shorts or cropped tops. By wearing more modest clothing, you will be dressed in a more culturally appropriate manner and can also reduce the likelihood of unwanted attention.

Panamanians often enjoy going to a river or beach. In nearly all instances, Panamanians will wear shorts and a tank top over their swimsuit when swimming at their local river, waterfall, or natural spring. Swimsuits are generally only worn at the beach.

Item, suggested quantity, approximate price in Panama

  • Casual shorts/pants (2): Knee-length or longer; leggings, sweats, sports ($5-$15)
  • Casual T-shirt/tank top (2) ($5-$15)
  • Swimsuit (1) ($15)

With shoes, less is more. Considering the climate, it is highly likely you will need to replace shoes during service. You can find shoe styles in familiar brands and similar prices to the U.S. Shoes available in sizes over women’s 10 and men’s 14 may be more expensive and less readily available outside of the capital.

Be prepared to purchase rubber boots in Panama for field-based work as needed; they will cost approximately $10-$15.

Item, suggested quantity, approximate price in Panama

  • Casual sneakers, tennis shoe, or hiking shoe (1) ($30-$100)
  • Business formal: closed toe, can be flats (1) ($20)
  • Flip-flops or shoes similar to Crocs (1) ($5)
  • Other casual: Can be open toe (optional) (1) ($20)
  • Sport sandals (optional) (1) ($30-$100)

You should bring a three-month supply of any prescription and/or over the counter medications you use that are authorized/approved by the Peace Corps.

Note: Prior to service, Peace Corps supplies all volunteers with a medical kit containing basic, over-the-counter medications, as well as multivitamins.

See a detailed list of items included in the medical kit.

The medical unit will replenish prescriptions after the initial three-month training.

If you wear eyeglasses, bring two pairs (of the current prescription) with you. Contact lens use will be considered on a case-by-case basis.

See additional guidance from the Office of Medical Services.

Laptop: You will need to complete many required tasks for Peace Corps on a computer. You will have access to Internet Cafés (called Infoplazas) in the nearest town or possibly in your assigned community; however, operating hours are limited, and privacy can be an issue. Some tablets and netbooks will not be a viable option for you to complete required tasks unless they have an operating system like Microsoft Windows installed. If you choose to bring a laptop, having access to an application suite like Microsoft Office, OpenOffice or LibreOffice is beneficial. Be sure to have a good laptop case to combat dust and insects. Due to the humidity, many PCVs store their laptops with silica packets. Even with these precautions, many laptops don't survive the full two years of service. Many PCVs have opted to bring laptops that cost less than $200 (see models by Acer, Lenovo, and Dell). Replacing or repairing laptops is possible in Panamá, particularly in the capital.

Cellphone/smartphone: Peace Corps Trainees and Volunteers are required by global Peace Corps policy to have a cell phone, preferably a smart phone. Arrive in Panamá with an “unlocked” phone, that does not have a US phone plan, and has the capacity to insert a SIM card. Also, Panamanian phone service providers cannot yet accommodate eSIMs in a cost-effective manner. Please be sure your phone can accept a physical SIM card. You will be provided a SIM card with an assigned local Panamanian number during your first full day of PST. A vast majority of Panamanians, including Peace Corps staff, primarily use the application WhatsApp for communication. Once you have your assigned Panamanian phone number, you will be required to update your WhatsApp contact information if you already have a U.S. phone number associated with it. Please be aware that any websites where you have used your U.S. number for a two-step verification will need to be changed to a Panamanian number. Some websites, such as those affiliated with US Banks, may not accept foreign phone numbers. It is your responsibility to update your personal information and adjust your security settings as needed.

Electronics repair shops are available, but service can be varied. There are very few Authorized Apple repair technicians. We highly recommend all Trainees acquire insurance for their electronics and maintain the renewal throughout service (a good and affordable travel property insurance provider is Clements® and has a Peace Corps-specific coverage plan). Remember, Panamá’s tropical weather is not conducive to a long-life of your electronics.

There are certain items that may be more affordable to bring from the U.S., items that can be difficult to find in Panamá that you may need, and items that are best purchased in Panamá. You can find name-brand toiletries in Panamá for comparable prices to the U.S. There is no need to stock up on those items before arrival.

Some Trainees and Volunteers arrive in the country with mementos from their home and/or culture to share with others as gifts. While this is not expected, it can be a very nice gesture. You can also be creative and cook a meal or do a special activity with your host family and new friends as a gesture of gratitude for hosting you – it is not necessary to bring gifts.

Item, suggested quantity, approximate price in Panama

  • Socks: Dark socks are preferable, tall socks for work boots (7-8) ($3)
  • Underwear (10-14) ($5)
  • Bras: Styles that can line-dry quickly are recommended (5-6) ($20)
  • Hat/bandana (1) ($10-$20)
  • Umbrella (1) ($8)
  • Luggage: Refrain from using rolling suitcases (personal preference)
  • Reusable dry bags: Better alternative is plastic bags available in Panama (personal preference) ($2 for 12)
  • Headlamp (1) ($20)
  • Quick-dry bath towel: Alternative is cotton towels available in Panama (1) ($5)
  • Reusable water bottle (1) ($10)
  • Start-up supply of toiletries (personal preference)
  • Sunglasses (1) ($10)
  • 100 percent cotton sheets or lightweight sleeping bag (1) ($20)
  • Specialty cooking spices (personal preference)
  • Camping hammock with mosquito net (1) ($100)
  • Pocket knife or multipurpose tool (1) ($15-$20)
  • Menstrual cup (“DivaCup”) (personal preference) ($20)