Panama, the southernmost country in Central America, is home to lush jungles, tropical waters filled with coral reefs, and a variety of indigenous communities. Modernity and tradition blend in this Spanish-speaking nation. The capital Panama City is in fast pursuit to become a world-metropolis with a rapidly expanding -- and rising -- skyline.
But buildings aren’t the only things booming in Panama. Since 2008, the country’s economy has expanded by nearly 50 percent, and today Panama has the second most competitive economy in Latin America. Meaning, for those interested in interning in Central America, Panama has several growing industries that will give you first hand experience in international work and emerging economies as an intern in Panama.
Is an internship in Panama right for you? If you're in one of these industries -- or interested in breaking into them -- then yes!
Nature and Wildlife Conservation
With 3.5 million acres of natural landscapes, 1,000 species of birds and more than 500 species of animals, Panama is full of natural wonders. Thankfully, Panama's also a very environmentally focused nation. More than 30% of the country has been set aside for rainforest conservation.
Conservation work to protect the endangered leatherback sea turtle population is also becoming a larger priority. As a nature and wildlife conservation intern abroad, you will play an important role protecting the environment with hands-on work in the field, learning more about conducting research, and the complicated world of wildlife conservation in a country other than your own.
With such biodiversity in its borders, it should come as no surprise that biology is a major field in Panama. The Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute is based in Panama and just one of the many organizations that studies the flora and fauna found in the country’s rainforests, mountains and coastal ecosystems.
Biology internships in Panama offer students the opportunity to conduct research on unique species ranging from leatherback turtles to jaguars to manatees.
With its reputation for safety, Panama is one of the top tourism destinations in Central America. The miles of stunning beaches, fourteen national parks and the Panama Canal, are all major draws for tourists.
Since the United States is one of the major contributors to Panamanian tourism, many travel related companies seek interns who are fluent in English and are familiar with American customs and culture.
Planning Your Trip
Sold on an internship in Panama? Here's how to set one up:
When and Where to Look for an Internship
More than 40 percent of Panama’s population lives in Panama City, so many businesses and internships can be found there.
Internships that focus on nature conservation or biology, however, may be located in remote areas where field work can be conducted.
Internships are offered throughout the year, but certain field work and conservation efforts, such as monitoring sea turtle hatchings, are done on a seasonal basis. Several program providers can place you internship related to your field of study, or you may also be able to find unique and exciting opportunities through research of your own.
Cost of Living in Panama
Panama uses the US dollar, so you won't have to worry about conversion rates or exchanging currency during your internship!
A one bedroom apartment in the city center of Panama City will cost nearly $1,200 a month, but if you chose to live in the suburbs or a more rural area you should be able to find a room for the significantly lower price of around $570 a month. Note that some placement programs will provide housing in their fees.
Additionally, many nature related internships that are located in remote areas provide housing and in some cases meals. More information and details can be found at Numbeo.com.
For all other expenses, life in Panama is relative to living in a mid-sized American city (like St. Louis). Some things may be a little cheaper (like fruit and beer), but you can easily spend $1 on a coke, or $5 on a quick lunch.
Visas for Interning in Panama
Citizens of the United States don't need a visa to enter Panama and can stay for 180 days. Paid internships require a work visa. However, internships which offer a stipend won't require the intern to have a work visa.
Work Culture in Panama
- Etiquette: The work environment, like many other Latin nations, is quite relaxed in Panama. Many work places are informal and place a great emphasis on building relationships. Despite the laid back environment, dress is more formal and most companies have a business casual dress code. However, if you will be interning in a remote area, the dress code will most likely be a lot more relaxed.
- Punctuality: While the work environment in Panama is more relaxed than many places in the United States, punctuality remains an important focus. It is seen as disrespectful to be late or not show up for appointments and meetings.
- Language: The official language in Panama is Spanish. Most business is conducted in Spanish. However, due to the history of US involvement in the country, many Panamanians speak English. Internships in science, nature conservation or tourism may also be conducted in English as these fields tend to draw employees from a variety of nations. Having at least a basic knowledge of Spanish will make your transition in Panama significantly easier.
- Titles: Titles are very important in Panama. Always use titles and do not address someone using their first name unless prompted to do so.
Work and Labor Laws in Panama
There are currently no laws protecting trainees or interns in Panama. Unless you have a work visa, you will not be protected under full labor laws in Panama. Check with your employer or program provider about your rights as an intern in Panama.