Appointments should be made in advance and punctuality is appreciated. Nevertheless, you should not take offence if in a business meeting the other party is not that punctual. The usual form of greeting and taking leave is by shaking hands. A business conversation usually starts with small talk.
In Panama, titles are very important. People usually address each other by their professional titles. It is also customary to call out to someone with their academic level instead of Mr or Ms, for instance “Bachelor Rodriguez”.
Business cards are usually exchanged upon introduction. If you can have one printed in Spanish as well as in English it will be appreciated. Most business transactions are conducted in Spanish even though most executives speak English.
In Panama, there is not really a habit of gift giving in business. Usually, Panamanian business people prefer to go out to dinner to celebrate the closing of a deal.
Like in most countries of Latin America, smart dress code is fundamental for business in Panama. In general, people dress in a dark and conservative way at work. Men are expected to wear a suit and tie to business meetings and woman are also expected to be formally dressed. Besides clothes, people pay a lot of attention to your appearance, your hair, shoes and nails may be scrutinised.
Standard business hours are 08:00 to 12:00 and then 14:00 to 17:00 or 18:00. Like most of Central and South America, there is a long lunch break culture in Panama.
The government office hours are usually from Monday to Friday, between 07:30 and 4:30. You should also know that people wearing shorts or flip-flops are not permitted to enter government buildings.