Panama

MONEY

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The Panamanian currency is the balboa, fixed at parity with the United States dollar. In practice, however, the country is dollarized; Panama mints its own coinage but uses US dollars for all its paper currency. Panama was the first of the three countries in Latin America to have dollarized their economies, later followed by Ecuador and El Salvador.
Cash is generally the safest bet, and ATMs are readily available, except in the most isolated places. Look for the red 'sistema clave' signs to find an ATM. They accept debit cards or credit cards on most networks (Plus, Cirrus, MasterCard, Visa, Amex). Be aware though that most Panamanian banks charge a US$3.00 fee for every ATM transaction, and the amount that can be withdrawn at one time varies from bank to bank. Some have a US$200.00 limit, others a US$500.00 limit.
Credit cards are widely accepted at travel agencies, upscale hotels and many restaurants, but can be problematic almost everywhere else. In short, carry enough cash to get you to the next bank or ATM. There are several places where it is essential to show up with cash. Among tourist destinations, the following places have no banks, and it is a long way to the nearest ATM: Santa Catalina, Santa Fé, Boca Brava, Isla Contadora, Isla Grande and Portobelo. Very few businesses on Bocas del Toro accept credit cards. Find out if your hotel does before you go to avoid any unpleasant surprises.
The standard tipping rate in Panama is around 10% of the bill; in small cafés and more casual places, tipping is not necessary. Taxi drivers do not expect tips.
The only bank that exchanges foreign currency is the Banco Nacional de Panamá counter at Tocumen International Airport. Once you have left the airport, the only place to change foreign currency for dollars is a casa de cambio (exchange house). There is one in Panama City but few elsewhere. In most of Central America, US dollars are the only currency exchanged.
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