Panama

Living Conditions

Communications

Mail

During pre-service training, relatives and friends can mail you at the address below: 

CUERPO DE PAZ
Edificio 240, 3er Piso

Calle Víctor Iglesias
Ciudad del Saber, Clayton
Corregimiento de Ancón
Panama, Rep. De Panama
ATTENTION: “YOUR NAME" 

Once you have been assigned to a site and sworn in as a Volunteer, you can send your new address to friends and family. It can take 10 days to more than a month for a letter or package to arrive. 

Telephones

All Volunteers have a cellphone and some opt for a smartphone. International phone service to and from Panamá is good. For about $1 for 30 minutes, you can use your cell service provider to call home. Contact your phone company to see if they can unlock your phone. Some companies may do it for free. Otherwise, cellular phones are widely available and reasonably priced in Panamá. Feature phones start at around $20, and basic smart phones at around $90.

Internet

Almost all Volunteers have a computer or tablet. All provincial capitals and many other large towns have Internet cafes. Connection speeds tend to be slow, but the service is reasonably priced and otherwise reliable. Should you choose to bring electronics, it is your responsibility to maintain and insure them.

Housing and Site Location

Like most Panamanians, Volunteers live in simple concrete block houses with cement floors and corrugated tin roofs or wooden huts with dirt floors and palm thatch roofs, depending on the location of their site. Since living with a family provides special insight into Panamanian culture, improves language skills, and facilitates integration into the community, you must live with a host family during training and your first three months at your site. After that, you may choose to live alone. Sometimes getting to a community may require at least an hour and a half walk or a ride in a dugout canoe. Most houses in urban and highly populated areas have running water inside or outside the house. In some cases, it is necessary to boil water and add chlorine to make it safe to drink. In some rural sites, and in many indigenous communities, water must be obtained from springs or streams. Many homes have a simple pit latrine, but latrine construction is often one of a Volunteer’s first activities. Electricity varies depending on the site, but the current is 110 volts, 60 cycles AC (same as the standard in the United States. You must be flexible in your housing and site expectations and willing to adapt to the discomforts that come with rural living.

Living Allowance and Money Management

Volunteers receive a monthly allowance in local currency—Balboa—(U.S. dollars are used in Panama as well) that is sufficient to live at the level of the local people. The allowance covers food, housing, household supplies, clothing, transportation to and from work, utilities, recreation and entertainment, and incidental expenses. Peace Corps Volunteers are expected to live at a level that is comparable with that of their host country counterparts. The Peace Corps discourages Volunteers from supplementing their living allowance with funds from home. During your first three months in Panama you will receive a weekly allowance to cover the limited costs you will incur in your training community. By the time you finish training and are sworn in as a Volunteer, Peace Corps/Panama will open a bank account for you and deposit your monthly living allowance in Balboa, the local currency, which is equivalent to the U.S. dollars, into this account. Volunteers are expected to live at the same economic level as the people in their community so they should not rely on funds kept at a U.S. bank account or supplement their incomes while in-country. Note that while Panama is inexpensive relative to the United States, it is expensive compared with many of its Central American neighbors. Prices in Panama City are comparable to those in the United States. When a Volunteer ends his or her service, the Peace Corps will deposit the transition fund in the Volunteer’s U.S. bank account. Volunteers will provide a U.S. bank account number to the Peace Corps prior to departure for service through a secure portal.

Food and Diet

The Panamanian diet varies according to the region and the ethnic makeup of the population but most often consists of rice, beans, bananas or plantains, yuca (cassava), and corn. Rice and beans (kidney beans, lentils, black-eyed peas) is the staple dish. Corn is usually ground, boiled, or fried. Sancocho is a traditional dish (somewhere between a soup and a stew) prepared with a variety of vegetables and chicken. An array of fruits is available, including mangoes, papayas, pineapples, avocados, oranges, and guanavanas (soursops). The availability of garden vegetables varies according to the region and the season. Many Volunteers start a garden to supplement what they find in food stores. The most common meats are chicken and beef, which are often deep-fried or stewed. Most larger towns and cities have at least one restaurant that will be familiar, such as McDonald’s, KFC, Pizza Hut, Subway, or Dairy Queen. Most also have supermarkets where you can buy a wide variety of foods and imported goods. Some Volunteers are vegetarians, but few Panamanians follow these diets. Volunteers generally must make do with the food available at their sites, but they sometimes can buy food in Panama City or a provincial capital.

Transportation

Most sites are served by regular public transportation, but Volunteers assigned to indigenous or very rural communities may also travel by boat, chiva (minibus or truck), horseback, or foot. Chiva transportation is generally reliable in the dry season but may be more limited in the rainy season. When muddy road conditions limit access by chiva, some Volunteers have to walk for one or two hours to get to their sites. For recreational travel, bus service is available from Panama City to almost all domestic destinations and places to the north through Costa Rica. However, no roads pass south from Panama to Colombia due to the heavily forested Darien Gap. Tourist destinations in Panama that are not reachable by bus are accessible by plane. International flights leave from Panama City and David.

Social Activities

The most popular social activities in Latino areas usually are dances (bailes) with traditional típico music. Larger towns periodically invite bands to play and gather over two or three days to watch a bullfight or cantadera (a freestyle singing battle) and reconvene at night for a dance. A common way to bring the community together in rural sites is a junta, in which people complete an activity such as building a bamboo house or harvest rice. Food and drinks are provided to the participants, and festivities can last well into the night. In Afro-Antillean areas, dances also are popular, though the styles of music are much more diverse. Probably the most popular date on every Panamanian calendar is Carnaval. Spontaneous gatherings at people’s homes are probably the most common activity. Volunteers are encouraged to spend the majority of their time in their communities, working and socializing with Panamanians. The Peace Corps attempts to place Volunteers near one another for technical and emotional support. Beautiful beaches are plentiful, and outdoor activities are available almost everywhere. When visiting Panama City, Volunteers have numerous opportunities for diversion, such as movie theaters, coffee bars, restaurants, public basketball courts, and dance clubs.

Professionalism, Dress, and Behavior

Wearing proper attire in Panama helps establish your professional credibility and reflects your respect for the customs and lifestyles of the people with whom you live and work. Dress is less formal in rural areas than in the capital, but it is important to remember that you are a representative of the United States. When doing physical labor, you will need sturdy shoes and clothes that protect you from scratches and insect bites. Shorts may not be worn in professional settings, including the Peace Corps office. While dressy sandals for women are appropriate, men should not wear sandals during professional or formal occasions, in accordance with local custom. Flip-flops should generally not be worn outside the home. Because of Panamanians’ views of tattoos and body piercings, keeping any tattoos and piercings out of sight will allow you to establish host family and counterpart relationships more easily (earrings for women are OK). Men with long hair may be met with suspicion, so it is advisable for male Volunteers to keep their hair relatively short. As a result of the previous U.S. military presence in Panama, camouflage and military-style apparel are not acceptable and should not be brought in-country.