Which Currency is Used in Panama? What Should I Budget?


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Panama Currency and Vacation Budget FAQs

  1. How much money will I need to bring?
  2. What money do they use in Panama?
  3. Will I have to exchange currencies when I go to Panama?
  4. Since when has Panama used the US dollar for its currency?
  5. Why does Panama use the US dollar for its currency?
  6. Where can I exchange foreign currency in Panama?
  7. How can I get the best foreign exchange rate?
  8. How can I find out the best time to exchange currencies?
  9. How can I keep my currency safe while I'm in Panama?

Do you plan on visiting Panama? Then one of the things you may be wondering about is what money we use in Panama, and whether you'll have to exchange currencies? Given that, find all the answers to your Panama money questions here, in this FAQ.

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1. How much money will I need to bring?

This question we often get is very hard to answer - we don't know you well enough to guess what you like to spend money on, but we can tell you this. You need to budget around $4 to $5 for a meal at a local Panamanian restaurant (if you cook yourself it can be even cheaper), and taxis will cost you less than a dollar within town in both Boquete and in Bocas. The subway in Panama City is only 35 cents as well as the busses. Boquete is generally a bit cheaper than Bocas del Toro (island living costs more as you need to import lots of things). If you go to a touristy restaurant, you can expect to pay up to $10 - $25 for a meal (obviously there are many a lot fancier), and eco-tours range anywhere from $15 to $175 depending on the tour (check them out here...). Accommodation can go from $10 at a hostel all the way up to several hundreds for an upscale option (check out our lodging options). Using your credit and debit cards is obviously a lot safer and more convenient than carrying cash around.

2. What money do they use in Panama?

The official currency of Panama is the Balboa, named after Spanish explorer Vasco Núñez de Balboa, who discovered the Pacific Ocean in 1513. One Balboa is divided into 100 cents. Since 1904 one Balboa equals one US Dollar and since then, the US Dollar has legally circulated in Panama. In other words, in practice, the currency used day-to-day in Panama is the US dollar, which is also legal tender. For this reason, Panama is considered a dollarized country and was the second economy in the continent to become a dollarized economy. Currently there are Panamanian coins that have the same weight, dimension and composition of the coins used in the USA (1, 5, 10, 25 and 50 cents). Panama also has its own $1 coin. For paper money, only the US Dollar is used (there are no paper Balboas).

3. Will I have to exchange currencies when I go to Panama?

Depends from where you're visiting. If you're visiting from the USA you won't need to exchange any currency. This is because the US Dollar is used in Panama (it's legal tender). On the other hand, if you're visiting from elsewhere than the US, such as the Eurozone, then yes, you'll have to exchange currencies. Regardless from where you're from, you'll be able to extract $500 USD per day from ATMs with a Debit Card and Credit Cards are widely accepted in most places (Travelers' Checks aren't!)

4. Since when has Panama used the US dollar for its currency?

Since 1904, a year after Panama ceded from Colombia to gain its independence.

5. Why does Panama use the US dollar for its currency?

It's so that Panama can benefit from the stability of the US dollar, as the backbone of the global financial system. For instance, this means that Panama doesn't have to worry about out-of-control inflation, as a result of changing exchange rates. This hence makes Panama a more attractive investment and tourism destination.

6. Where can I exchange foreign currency in Panama?

There are several places. The first is the Banco Nacional de Panamá counter at Tocumen International Airport (in Panama City there are also certain Banco Nacionals that have foreign currency). At the airport there are also several currency exchange offices as well as in Panama City. Remember, when you exchange currencies, you'll be receiving US dollars.

7. How can I get the best foreign exchange rate?

There are two ways. The first is to start checking the exchange rate as soon as possible, so that you give yourself the biggest possible window to get a good exchange rate. The second is to check what exchange rate you're offered from different bureaux de change. This is because, depending on who you ask, you're likely to be offered a different foreign exchange rate.

8. How can I find out the best time to exchange currencies?

You can sign-up for a currency newsletter such as Pure FX's newsletter. They'll send you an email alert when the best exchange rate becomes available.

9. How can I keep my currency safe while I'm in Panama?

Obviously you'll get the best exchange rate if you do your research and change your currency before traveling, BUT it's a lot safer if you just change a little bit of money and travel with a debit card. Nowaday there are tons of prepaid debit cards that you can top up with different currencies. If you insist on traveling with cash make sure not to keep it all about your person. Instead, just take with you what you need for the day, and keep the rest in a safe, secure location, such as a safe in your hotel room. Second, instead of keeping the cash in your wallet in your back pocket, consider buying a fanny pack, so that there's no way anyone can get to the cash without you knowing it. For even more advice about saftey while traveling in Panama click here...

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