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The Republic of Panama with an area of approximately 29,700 sq. Miles (76,900 sq. km.), located between Costa Rica and Colombia, forms the narrowest and lowest portion of the Isthmus that links North and South America.

Shaped like an elongated letter "S", which extends west to east some 420 miles (676 km.), the country has a width that varies between 31 and 115 miles (50 and 185 km,) and has a coastline of 490 miles (788 km.) on the Atlantic Ocean and 870 miles (1,400 kin.) on the Pacific Ocean. The Canal, which joins the Atlantic and the Pacific Oceans, is about 50 miles (80 km.) long. Because of the lateral nature of its extension and its curved contour, directions are often surprising. A transit of the Canal from the Pacific to the Atlantic involves traveling not to the East but to the North-West; in Panama City the sun is seen to rise out of the Pacific.

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

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.

Population and Language

The population of Panama is approximately 2.8 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.

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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 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

In Latin America, Panama ranks as one of the best places to live, according to a business survey of 192 cities worldwide by the Corporate Resources Group. Panama ranked among the top three cities in which to live in Latin.

America next to Buenos Aires and Montevideo. The survey takes into account transportation, crime rate, arts and entertainment. In executive living expenses, recreation and entertainment costs and prices of basic goods, Panama ranks well below Buenos Aries, Sao Paulo, Santiago and Caracas (EIU, Worldwide Cost of Living Survey).

Medical Services

Health care is both excellent and reasonably priced in Panama. Many of the country's physicians earn their degrees in the U.S. and other industrialized countries, and the state university offers a top quality medical program. Bilingual doctors are common in all Panama City hospitals. Water supply is safe to drink with few exceptions throughout the country.


Panama is the only city in the world in which a protected, tropical rainforest can be found within city limits. The country has many and varied outdoor attractions from the mountain region of Chiriquí to the beaches on the Caribbean coast.

Attractions & Entertainment

The country's most famous attraction is, of course, the Panama Canal. There are several superb tourism activities that can be easily reached from Panama City. There are five golf courses in or near the city and beach areas. Dining is excellent in Panama City, and there are numerous bars, discos and cafes. Evening entertainment may include live music, movies (in English with Spanish subtitles) or dancing.


Panama is a peaceful country with no military. Unlike many neighboring countries, personal security concerns are limited. Panama and Costa Rica have similar crime rates.