If Panama is on your list of must-visit-before-you-die countries (and it really should be), then you are likely already aware of much that is has to offer. Both the Atlantic and Pacific coasts claim miles of gorgeous beaches with crystalline waters, the interior holds a diverse tropical ecosystem, and the Panama Canal is known as one of the modern Wonders of the World. But, Panama also offers several incentives to visitors that make it all the more appealing.
1). Use of the U.S. dollar. Technically, Panama has its own currency, the Balboa. But since 1904 the Balboa has been linked to the U.S. dollar making the exchange rate 1:1 and U.S. currency is the most common form of money used in Panama.
Why is this advantageous? Obviously, this benefits U.S. citizens the most because there is no need for exchanging currency upon entry to the country. There is no need to bring along a calculator for every transaction and hope that the exchange rate doesn’t change dramatically while you’re in country. There are also no fees from your bank or credit card companies for converting charges made on your debit and credit cards while in Panama.
2). Free 30-day emergency health insurance for visitors. Hard to believe, but its true! If you sustain injuries (not self-imposed) or contract a serious illness during your first 30 days in Panama just show up at a hospital and flash your passport with your entry stamp and up to $7,000 in medical fees will be covered.
This is a huge benefit even for those of us who consider ourselves in good physical health. While traveling I tend to participate in activities that have a higher risk of injury, like zip lining and paragliding and having children along always ups the likelihood of accidental injuries. On top of that, new countries mean new germs and the risk of contracting foodborne illnesses can greatly increase if you’re an adventurous eater like I sometimes am.
3). Free Wi-Fi. Through the Internet for All project, Panama has provided free Wi-Fi throughout much of the country. Like it or not we live in the digital age and more and more people (especially long-term travelers) earn their bread and butter through online activities, so access to the internet can be imperative.
While staying in the tiny town of Pedasi on the tip of the Azuero Peninsula, our family was able to enjoy the benefits of free internet access throughout the town. While enjoying a bowl of French Onion soup in a cozy cafe, I was able to check the status of an article pending publication, upload photos to Facebook of my son snorkeling, and respond to important emails.
4). Free stopover in Panama with Copa airlines. Panama-based airline, Copa, offers the opportunity of staying several days in Panama before continuing on to your destination with no additional charges. This is a phenomenal deal when traveling between Central and South America.
I will definitely be taking advantage of this the next time I head to Central America from home, here in Ecuador. Say I want to visit Nicaragua for a few weeks. I will be able to fly out of Quito, stop in Panama for a few days, catch some yellowfin tuna or trek through the rainforest, then continue on my way to Managua and the only cost to me is what I spend while in Panama. Sweet!