The United States dollar is the official currency of the country of Panama, but the country has the Balboa which is on par value with the dollar and they are interchangeable. Please note that all Panamanian money is in coin and there is no paper money. Panamanian coins are the same size and weight as US coins and come in the same denominations.
Travelers’ Checks and Credit Cards
In theory travelers’ checks and credit cards are widely accepted in Panama but in reality outside of Panama City they are unwelcome. In Bocas very few places accept credit cards and nowhere accepts travelers’ checks….NOWHERE!
Cash is Available From ATM’s
Bring your debit cards or credit cards that permit cash withdrawals and do not forget to notify your bank or credit card company you will be traveling in Panama. Many banks and credit cards will block international ATM transactions if you have not notified them in advance of your travel plans. While this is a great security practice it is a bit frightening when you go to the ATM and your request for cash is declined. If this does happen you can contact your bank and get it straightened out but given time differences this can sometimes take a day, better to let the bank know in advance of your plans.
There are two ATM machines on Bocas and both are at Banco National two blocks from the airport. Be advised on Friday and Saturday they will sometimes run out of cash but are refilled the next day. Each ATM has a $500 dollar limit, but $500 dollars is a lot of money on Bocas, a three dollar transaction fee is charged on each ATM transaction in addition to whatever local bank fees may be charged.
Tipping and Taxes
Until a few years ago there was no tipping in Bocas but it has become more prevalent and the amount is usually 10%. Often the tip is included in the check, so look before you tip. A 10% tax is added on to hotel bills and a 5% tax is on most restaurant bills and if it is not written out ask about it before you pay your bill. Taxi drivers do not expect to be tipped.
Prices are low in Panama but tend to be a little higher in Bocas because it is an island and it costs more to get things to the island. Beware, prices for budgeting in older printed guidebooks are way off, most things cost more than the books suggest but prices are still inexpensive by US or European standards.