With its endless rain forests and beaches, tropical climate and buzzing cultural scene, Panama is often portrayed as the perfect vacation getaway and may not be a typical study abroad destination. Yet, why not combine both work and play? With its unique cultures and beautiful scenery, Panama has been gaining popularity as a study abroad destination as students search for authentic experiences that are unavailable back home.
Study abroad in Panama to improve your Spanish, get a better understanding of life in Central America, or learn about its incredible tropical ecosystems.
The top 2 universities in Panama - Universidad Tecnológica de Panamá (UTP), Universidad de Panamá – are located in Panama City. In fact, these two public universities are among the top universities in Latin America. UTP is the second largest university in Panama, and specializes in the various branches of Engineering, as well as Science and Technology. Universidad de Panamá, on the other hand, offers a wide range of courses in various disciplines such as Business Administration, Fine Arts, Natural Sciences, and Medicine.
Panama City is arguably the most popular city in Panama to study abroad in. Most universities, and many of the best universities are located in Panama City, the capital of Panama. Home to the Panama Canal and world heritage sites such as Panamá Viejo and San Felipe, Panama City has a rich culture and heritage that would especially delight students interested in historical and cultural studies. Panama City is not only home to colonial-era relics however. With its dense skyline of skyscrapers, Panama City is the political and administrative center of the country as well as the hub for international banking and commerce. It is intensely urban and packed with hot clubs, museums and elegant restaurants – all this with a vibrant spirit and surrounded by a large belt of tropical rainforest. What better way is there to spend a hectic school semester?
Study abroad is about gaining new experiences and exposing yourself to a whole new world, lifestyle and culture – and Panama offers just that. The diversity and vibrance of the region is incredible, and if you are not afraid to step out of your comfort zone, you will find Panama to be perfect for you.
Make sure to check out our guide on what to pack for study abroad in Central America to make the most of your trip.
Planning Your Trip
In Panama, books, bachelor’s degrees and classes happily coexist alongside beaches, partying and nature. Panama has almost 90 higher education institutions, and some US colleges (such as Florida State University and University of Louisville) have even established campuses there! Some of Panama’s top universities include Universidad Tecnológica de Panamá, Universidad de Panamá and Universidad Latina de Panamá.
If you are interested in biodiversity and nature, Panama is a great destination as it is home to the world’s most diverse rainforests. In line with this, there are many study abroad programs focusing on biodiversity and field studies, such as the SFS Program for Tropical Island Biodiversity program.
A piece of good news is that most students who choose to enroll at university need not spend extra time learning a foreign language before initiating their studies. English is spoken widely and fluently in Panama, and this will certainly make adjusting to life there easier. English is also one of the chosen mediums of instruction and education in numerous good schools in Panama, with many locals being bilingual in both Spanish and English. As such, you won’t need to worry about feeling lost in class!
Spanish is the official language in Panama, so if you were hoping to improve your Spanish skills or learn another language, you have come to the right place! Language Immersion Programs are also available to help accelerate your learning. For example, the AmeriSpan Spanish Language Programs in Panama and NRCSA Spanish Language Study Program in Panama City will have you speaking Spanish like a local in no time! Be it taking a new language class in school or simply conversing with locals in the marketplace, there will be ample opportunities for you to brush up on your language abilities.
Accommodation is often included in the costs of whichever program you select, and can take the form of home-stay, apartments or hotels. Some universities have university housing that exchange students like you can be privy to as well. However, the type of accommodation you have ultimately depends on the specific guidelines of your program/university, and can very differ greatly.
You will need to apply for the Panama Student Visa, which is exclusively for those dedicated to studies. As such, you will not be allowed to work during term time, unless this is a course requirement. To be eligible for the visa, you must have a place to study full time at an institution, public or private, which is accredited by the Department of Education. Additionally, you are required to be physically present at an immigration office in Panama at the time of their application. Candidates are also expected to list in advance what they will be studying and the time they expect it will take.
Social Life and Student Culture
Studying in Panama means that there is wide range of activities you can choose from in your free time. Modernity comes in many forms in Panama, from the architectural feats of Panama Canal and Bridge of the Americas, to the vibrant clubs and restaurants in its cities. From the picturesque black sand beaches in Santiago to the tropical jungles of La Palma, it is no surprise that Panama is also a playground for outdoor and nature enthusiasts. Feeling active?
Go deep-sea fishing in Vacamonte or surf in Colon! When fatigue sets in, you can look forward to strengthening friendships while strolling along the charming historical streets of Penonome or appreciating the rich Spanish history of Portobelo.
The wonderful thing about Panama is that each of its cities has its own distinct flavor, and the entire country boasts a plethora of activities that will cater to any interest. Spend your weekends exploring different parts of Panama, and in the off-chance that you run out of things to do, just hop on over to any of Panama’s neighboring countries in Latin America!