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Panama

Basic Stats

Government Payroll:

209,321 employees

$2,350 million in salary

Population:

3.6 million aprox.

4.1% unemployment rate

Education:

56% of the Labor force has not graduated from high school

Human Development:

Country #75 of 187 in the human development ranking

GDP:

$42,600 million

Fiscal Deficit:

3% ( max: 3.1%)

External debt:

12,246 million (2013)

Basic Food Basket:

$333.42

Inflation:

4.1%

History and Government

The Isthmus of Panama was discovered in 1501 by Rodrigo de Bastidas and Vasco Nuñez de Balboa, who had a leading part in the establishment of Santa María La Antigua del Darién in 1510, the first permanent settlement on the mainland of the Americas. In 1513, Balboa led an expedition, in Panama, that discovered the Pacific Ocean.

Panama City was founded by Pedro Arias Dávila on August 15, 1519, almost a hundred years before Jamestown, first permanent English settlement in North America was founded. Panama was a Spanish colony until 1821 when it became part of the Gran Colombia of Simón Bolivar. In 1903, Panama broke its alliance with Colombia and became an independent republic.

The executive branch of the Government is at present composed of a President and two Vice-Presidents, democratically elected for a five year term by direct vote.

Principal Cities & Provinces

Panama City is the country's capital and the principal commercial center. It lies on the Gulf of Panama in the Pacific Ocean. Colon, the country's second largest city, is located on the Caribbean Coast. Its economy is dependent on traffic through the Panama Canal and on business activity in the Colon Free Trade Zone, the largest duty-free zone in the Americas. Chiriqui is the second most developed province in the country after Panama City located on western coast of the country; its capital is the city of David. Chiriqui is a popular tourist destination boasting of its natural beauty and high altitudes like those found in the small town of Boquete.

Population and Language

The population of Panama is approximately 3.5 million, about 52 percent of which is urban.

Spanish is the Official language of the country, but many of the people in Panama City and Colón speak English. Most businessmen, top government officials and executive staff are fully bilingual.

Education and Religion

More than 80% of the population over ten (10) years of age is literate. School attendance is compulsory between the ages of seven (7) and fifteen (15) or until the six grades of primary school have been completed. The educational system provides for the free schooling of all children. An excellent parallel private school system exists primarily in Panama City.

The main universities are the University of Panama, a state institution, with six campuses, and the University of Santa Maria La Antigua, a Catholic institution. There are more than five other private universities, plus the recently created City of Knowledge.
Panama City boasts an excellent private school system. Education is offered in English, French, Italian, Mandarin and there are several bilingual schools (Spanish/English).

The predominant religion is Roman Catholic. However, there is no prohibition against the practice of any religion, and churches of other denominations are to be found in the country.

Weights and Measures

The metric system is the official unit of measurement in Panama. However, many units of the English system, such as pounds, ounces, gallons, inches, and yards, are still used.

Business Hours

Panama's time is five hours behind Greenwich Mean Time (GMT). Thus, Panama is on Eastern Standard Time (EST); it does not have daylight saving time. Most private business offices are open from 8:00 a.m. until 5:00 or 6:00 p.m.

It is customary for all offices and stores to close for the lunch period for at least one and a half hours. Banks are open from 8:00 a.m. to 1:00-3:00 p.m., Monday through Friday. Office hours for government offices vary and it is advisable to check prior to visiting any government office.

If a holiday falls on Sunday, it is observed on the following day. The executive branch is authorized to designate days of national mourning on which all offices and commercial businesses are closed.

Standard Cost of Living

According to the most recent report from the Economist Intelligence Unit, Panama City is the third least expensive city in the world.  Here is a brief cost analysis of some very basic products and services in Panama:

  • oPublic Transport- (Metro Bus) 25 cent (Taxi)  $1.25 starting rate
  • oGas per gallon-  $4.10
  • o1 liter of milk-  $1.63
  • oAverage Doctor Visit-  $20-$40
  • oLocal Beer- (can) 48 cent
  • oAverage Movie Theater Ticket-  $3.50

Medical Services

As of 2011 The Panamanian Tourism Authority grants all visitors arriving at Tocumen International Airport receive free and complete medical coverage for their first thirty days of stay. Upon arrival the visitor may consult with the tourist information center located in the immigration area of the airport to be provided with a brochure that outlines all pertinent information along with a user card. This card along with a valid passport is what the visitor will present should he/she require medical assistance at any local health center. The insurance policy covers accidental death up to $20,000, it covers hospitalization and medical expenses for injuries due to accidents or in case of contracting a disease in Panama up to $7,000, expenses for dental emergency up to $ 2,000, it covers administrative legal assistance up to $ 3,500, and provides assistance for lost or theft of important documents. The policy does not cover incidents caused by negligence, those related to alcohol and drugs, or those caused by extreme sports.

Panama City has excellent trauma hospitals. Panama boasts of the first hospital in Latin America and the Caribbean to be associated with John Hopkins Medicine International. In 2011 Hospital Punta Pacifica was awarded official accreditation of Joint Commission International (JCI) solidifying the Hospital’s position as a state of the art private medical facility offering the highest standards in patient care and services.

Environment

Panama has a warm tropical climate, and seasons are divided into wet and dry.  Panama is located between 9.0° and 7.5°degrees north of the equator, and does not experience seasons marked by changes in temperature, like countries located at further distance from the equator.  The Dry Season generally last from mid December through the beginning of April with daytime temperatures between 85-90ºF [28-32ºC]. Nighttime temperatures fall into the comfortable 70-74ºF [20-23ºC] range.  The Wet Season lasts from mid April to late December, and daytime temperatures drop few degrees.  Along the Pacific coast the Wet Season can be quiet enjoyable, with sunny mornings and thunderstorms building in the afternoons, unloading heavy precipitation followed by periodic clearing.  October & November can bring heavy amounts of uninterrupted rains.  The Caribbean coastline has much shorter dry periods, and rains can be expected any time of the year.  Panama is located well south of the hurricane belt and therefore is not affected by destructive weather systems that often devastate nations and islands further north.

The biggest environmental issues affecting Panama’s natural environment are water pollution from agricultural runoff which threatens fishery resources; deforestation of tropical rain forest; land degradation and soil erosion threatens siltation of the Panama Canal; air pollution in urban areas; and mining which threaten natural resources.

Attractions & Entertainment

From the antique Casco Viejo all the way to the pristine islands of San Blas, there are plenty of attractions to be seen and ways to be entertained throughout the entire country.  Here are just a few that Panama City has to offer:

  • oA guided city tour on a towering Two-Decker Tour Bus, or an amphibious Aqua Bus, or even a Panama Trolley is a very practical way to hit many sites including the Panama Canal, Casco Viejo, the city’s tallest skyscrapers or even Old Panama known locally as “Panama Viejo” 
  • oThe nightlife along Calle Uruguay offers modern nightclubs, pubs, restaurants and even hotels with social areas. 
  • oThe islands of the Amador Causeway offer everything from open-air activities like bike riding to yacht gazing and fine dining. 
  • oPanama City is home to scores of delicious restaurants as proven by its top spot of several lists of the best in Latin American cuisine.   
  • oCasinos are not in short supply and provide a viable way to spend a Saturday evening with friends for locals and tourists alike. 
  • oThe rainforest environment of Ancon Hill and Metropolitan Park offer wonderful slices of pristine nature within minutes of the city limits.

Security 

As per the US Department of State Bureau of Diplomatic Security (OSAC), Panama remains relatively safe when compared to neighboring Central American countries.  The countries major cities: Panama, Colon, and Chiriqui represent the most densely populated areas with the most sporadic rates of crime.  However increased efforts by the National Police (PNP) have significantly combated and even reduced high crime rates.  The PNP have created a special unit (Tourism Police) to deal with crimes against tourists and foreigners.  The PNP have substations in all the major regions in Panama and numerous offices in Panama City.