Roaming can get expensive for expats, so you should get a Panamanian mobile as soon as you arrive to save money, especially for calls within Panama. You just need to buy a SIM card to activate your mobile, as long as it is not locked to a specific network. Otherwise, you can go to a local electronic store to do it for roughly $15. You can buy the SIM card in any part of the country from a mobile service provider.
The three main providers in Panama are the following:
- + Movil / Cable & Wireless (www.cwmovil.com/)
- Movistar (www.movistar.com.pa/)
- Digicel (www.digicelpanama.com/)
You should know that there is a constant debate on which provider has the best coverage. In some remote areas there is no coverage at all, and in some areas you really do not have much of a choice, since just a few providers work there. Hence, if you plan to live in the countryside, you should first check which one works better there.
Once you have chosen your provider, you will have to choose between a prepaid service or a postpaid contract. If you choose prepaid, you will just have to buy a card (usually from $5 to $40), enter the code in your phone to update it and get your minutes. As usual, the more you pay for the card, the less you pay per minute on your calls.
Contract plans vary between $10 to $200 depending on your personal use, and some come with options such as free calls to some phone numbers and Internet access. As many people do, you can also opt to purchase a contract plan just for unlimited Internet access, especially if you have a BlackBerry or iPhone, and use a prepaid service for your calls. To give you an idea, local calls can be as low as 10 cents per minute, and incoming calls are free.