Etiquette in Panama

Social situations, tipping and other conditions

Etiquette in Panama

In this section you will learn what is the expected behaviour in social situations and how to mix with the locals. Soon, it will come naturally!

Fashion and style

Panamanians are very stylish even casual dress in Panama is still quite formal and personal appearance and hygiene are a high priority. Even when the heat and the humidity are at their maximum, both men and women wear suits and dresses. Shorts and sandals are not common nor expected. You can wear comfortable clothes but always try to maintain a stylish look, this is especially true in the cities, less so in rural areas.

Social etiquette

When entering a place (whether it is a house, a shop or just passing by), people tend to greet each other with the word “Buenas”, even to complete strangers. When in a more formal situation, like a meeting, you should use the form “Buenos días” (Good morning) or “Buenas tardes” (Good afternoon/evening).

Men usually shake hands, unless they are close friends or family members, and women usually hug each other or kiss in the cheeks. When shaking hands, don’t do it too firmly, it could be considered as aggressive. Panamanians however, do not touch each other when speaking as often as in other Latin American countries.

Titles are quite important as well, so pay attention when making introductions and address people using Don for men or Doña for women, followed by the surname. 

When greeting a professional, address them by their professional title: Doctor/a for physicians, Licenciado/a for professionals with a degree, Profesor/a or Maestro/a for teachers and Ingeniero for engineers.

Panama is quite a liberated country within Latin American standards. This means that, although women in high power positions are common (the current president is a woman) and female enrollment at university has increased in the past years, machismo is still very alive amongst men. It is not unusual to hear whistles and catcalls from men on the street.

Concept of time

Time in Panama seems to be different than in other countries. People are quite relaxed and punctuality when meeting friends is not very respected. Lunches tend to be long (one or two hours), the same as diners, whether they are for leisure or business. If it is a business meeting though, the appointment and punctuality will be respected. 

Panamanians are very social and they will probably invite you over to their houses for lunch or dinner or to any activity they are planning to do. If they invite you for lunch or dinner, the host will refuse to let you pay but you should bring a small gift to show your gratitude.

As a curiosity, Panamanians use their lips to point at things. They make a gesture similar to a kiss instead of pointing with their fingers.

Other considerations

When going to a restaurant, tips are expected to be 10% but tipping in taxis is not necessary.

Some areas offer a free trash collection service, whereas in some neighbourhoods you need to pay for the service. This may lead to situations in which some regions are cleaner than others (people value the paid service more and use it). Don’t be surprised if it does not look as clean as your home country.

Further reading

Does this article help?

Do you have any comments, updates or questions on this topic? Ask them here: