Packing list for Panama
General Packing List
This list has been compiled by Volunteers serving in Panama and is based on their experience. Use it as an informal guide in making your own list, bearing in mind that experience is individual. We recommend that you pack light. You can get virtually anything you might need in Panama. You obviously cannot bring everything we mention, so consider those items that make the most sense to you personally and professionally. You can always have things sent to you later. Also, as you decide what to bring, keep in mind that you have an 80-pound weight limit on baggage. And, a final suggestion: If in doubt, leave it out.
For luggage in general, duffel bags and backpacks are much more practical than suitcases. Rolling suitcases especially are not practical for Panama. Be sure to put the following items in a carry-on bag for quick and easy access once you arrive in Panama: passport, baggage-claim tickets, customs forms, World Health Organization card, and immunization records.
Because of the heat and humidity, cotton fabric is always a good idea, especially for underwear. Outdoor clothing with fabric that “wicks away” moisture can be useful, but cotton-synthetic blends also hold their shape and are cooler to wear. Clothing will probably be subject to harsh washing (many Volunteers wash their clothes on rocks) and rugged work and climatic conditions, so be sure to select durable items. Do not bring clothes made of delicate materials.
Panama has clothing stores located throughout all areas of the country. Attractive, practical clothing will be readily available for purchase at very affordable prices. Outdoor gear such as sleeping mats, headlamps, etc., however, will be more difficult (but not impossible) to locate in Panama, as well as high-quality footwear, so when deciding what to bring it is recommended that you prioritize those items over clothing. Finally, bring what you know you will need to be happy, but base your decisions primarily on the type of work you will be doing and your probable living conditions. Do not bring anything that you would be heartbroken to lose.
- 3 or 4 pairs of casual pants (quick-dry pants, cargo pants, jeans, etc.)
- 1 or 2 pairs of nicer pants or skirts for swearing-in ceremony, meetings, office visits, etc.
- 1 to 3 pairs of shorts
- 2 outdoor work shirts
- 4 shirts or tank tops for everyday, comfortable wear
- 3 nicer shirts/polo-shirts for swearing-in ceremony, meetings, office visits, etc. *Buy a PC Polo in training!
- 1 sweater or thermal shirt
- At least 1 bathing suit
- 4 or 5 pairs of socks (dark colors preferable)
- Two-week supply of underwear (boxer shorts and nice bras are harder to find in Panama)
- Hat and bandanna
- Hiking shoes (note that many Volunteers find they primarily use rubber boots, which can be found in Panama)
- Running shoes or sneakers
- Casual shoes (e.g., Chacos, Tevas, or Keens)
- Comfortable dress shoes
Note: Shoes larger than 10 are hard to find in Panama, as are wider sizes. Hiking shoes are available in Panama, but the selection is not as good as in the United States. Rubber boots are widely available.
- This Welcome Book CD-ROM
- Your Volunteer Assignment Description (part of your invitation packet)
- Extra pair of glasses (if you wear them)
- Three-month supply of any prescription drugs you take, along with copies of the prescriptions The following items are strongly recommended to bring or purchase once you arrive in Panama:
- Umbrella or rain jacket
- Small, sturdy backpack for short trips
- Small flashlight (head lamps and LED lamps are hard to find in Panama, although standard hand-held flashlights are easy to find)
- Sleeping pad (note that Therm-a-rest may be difficult to find in Panama)
- Sheets or lightweight sleeping bag
- Start-up supply of toiletries
- 1 bath towel (quick-dry towel recommended), 1 beach towel
- Travel alarm clock
- Water-resistant and shockproof watch
- Digital camera
The following items are less necessary, but you may want to consider bringing or to purchase once you arrive in Panama:
- Jump drive/ memory stick
- Pocketknife/ Multi-tool
- Inexpensive jewelry
- Tampons (available in Panama, but in larger cities only)
- CD player/iPod
- Hand-sanitizer gel
- Small padlocks (for your luggage)
- Photos of family, friends, and your home in the States (for you, but also to show community members where you are from)
- World map (also to show community members where you are from)
- Any items for your personal interests or hobbies (e.g., guitar, snorkel gear, bird-watching guide, knitting needles, etc.)
Batteries, razors, kerosene burners, and kitchen supplies are all readily available in Panama. It is strongly recommended that you not bring them. International calling cards are also inexpensive and easy to purchase in Panama.
You do not need to bring basic healthcare products (such as sun block, bug repellant, vitamins, band-aids, etc.) or a mosquito net as these are all provided by Peace Corps/ Panama. Peace Corps will also provide you with a Spanish-English dictionary when you arrive for training.
Sustainable Agriculture Systems (SAS) Packing List:
From my experience the packing list provided in the Peace Corps Panama Welcome book is very general, and is more suited towards Teaching English (TE) volunteers. For SAS volunteers , and possibly Environmental Health (EH), the list below is a better fit. This list was written from a male's perspective, so I'm sorry women if I got it wrong or left something out.
With that being said, Panama is Hot. Very hot and humid - think always 88°F with at least 90% humidity. You will sweat through your shirt every day, and it will probably take a long time (as in a day or two) to dry back out. A good rule of thumb that I've found here is: If it's metal, it rusts, if it's not metal, it molds. So on that note, don't bring anything you don't want to see get destroyed.
A note on nicer clothing: Nicer clothing is only necissary when you have trainings in the office or when meeting with government agencies. During my time in training we would go into the office maybe once a week, or once every other week. You do not need as much nice clothing as the general packing list suggests (especially if you are comfortable wearing the same shirt and pants a few times between washings). The office dress code is "professional", with the continum streching from "a polo, jeans, and chacos" to "a three piece suit". Everyone in the office is fairly forgiving. Most of the volunteers in my group opted for the polo, jeans, chachos end of the scale (guys ocassionally wearing a non-collared t-shirt and girls in tank tops or sleeveless shirts), but to each their own. The office does not want to see spagetti strap tank tops, shorts, or flip-flops. Other than that, almost anything is acceptable (including hiking pants). I sent home my closed toed black shoes, black slacks, long sleved dress shirts, belt, and ties after swear-in, all of which were molding. Either be prepared to have your nice clothes mold, or get them sent home after swear-in.
The one time volunteers need to look "dress to impress" is during the swear in ceremony. The ceremony is typically at the U.S. Embassador's house in Panama City. For guys I recommend a nice long sleeve, button down shirt, a good looking tie, slacks (any color), a good leather belt, and matching socks and shoes. For girls it's a lot harder to be specific, but just think "nothing too revealing". If you are going to wear a skirt or a dress, the office prefers it below the knee, but above the knee is fine. Wear something you would be comfortable in standing next to someone dressed in a suit.
In the host communities there is power, but it occasionally goes out when it rains. Thus there are washing mashines as well. Dryers only exist in laundramats in Panama, so you will be line drying all of your clothes. The sun is hard on all of your clothes, and cotton clothes get really streched out. At your site, there will most likely not be power. So for washing clothes at your site you will either be using rocks, or a hard bristled brush and a board - both of which are very hard on clothes.
You can buy practically everything here in Panama - including some US name brand clothing lines. In Panama City there is Albrook mall with everything you could ever need, albiet a little difficult to find within the mall. Prices on name brand clothing or items are fairly equivalent to US prices.
Men's shoes over size 12 are impossible to find in Panama. If you wear bigger than a 12, bring all the shoes you will need for two years (or have visitors bring you more pairs later on).
Every day clothing
- Three pairs of quick dry pants. (Quick-dry hiking pants being a lot more comfortable than American style jeans. Panamanian style jeans are about 1/3 the thickness of American jeans, so if you must wear jeans, I recommend buying them here. Also, quick-dry pants are a million times easier to wash by hand.)
- Two to four pairs of shorts/capri pants. (The welcome book says men don't wear shorts, which is a lie. Men wear shorts all the time in Panama. Women here wear short shorts all the time as well. Girls can bring short shorts, just don't wear them in a professional/semi-professional setting. I brough four pairs of shorts - two regular pairs, and then two pairs of board shorts for swimming/bathing.)
- At least four shirts. (Cotton shirts are more comfortable when you aren't sweating than quick dry shirts, but quick dry shirts dry remarkably faster and feel much cooler when you are sweating. I have four every day cotton shirts.)
- At least 14 pairs of underwear. (It's really nice to have a few extra pairs sitting around because a lot of the time you will be showering twice a day and want to put on clean clothes after each shower. And washing them here is really hard on them. Girls, plan accordingly for how you like to wear bras. I've heard different opinions on how easy it is to find good bras in country.)
- Five pairs of every day socks. (I tend to wear my chacos more often than closed toed shoes. I only wear my closed toed shoes for working in, so if you plan on wearing socks and shoes all the time, maybe bring a few more pairs of socks.)
- At least one bathing suit. (I brought two pairs of board shorts that I use for around the house shorts as well as swim trunks. Girls, at the beach two piece suits are fine. In your community, you might feel more comfortable in a one piece with shorts over the top, but again to each their own.)
- One sweater or thermal long sleeve shirt. (You will want a sweater in the office. The office always has their airconditioning on full blast, which feels great right when you get into country, but after you get used to being hot all the time the freezing office is a bit of a shock. I brought a Smartwool next-to-skin 150g wool sweater and that has served me fine.)
- One pair of long underwear. (You typically won't need them, but in the occasional mountain site it gets chilly at night. If you are unsure, you can always buy them here.)
- An umbrella is more functional than a rain jacket. (You will sweat your socks off even with the most breathable rain jacket. You can buy an umbrella here if you don't want to pack it along.)
- Sturdy Sandals. (I recommend either Chacos - which you can get a Peace Corps discount, google Peace Corps discount and you'll find a wikipedia page that tells you all sorts of discounts - Keens, or Tevas. I wear my chacos pretty much every single day. The only time that I don't wear them is when I am working in a finca.)
- Three short-sleeve work shirts that will get ruined over time. (You will sweat a lot if you do anything physical. Cotton shirts are comfortable to work in, but take days to dry. Quick-dry shirts tend to cling to your person when they are soaked in sweat, dry out faster. I prefer to work in quick-dry shirts and I've even had them dry while I was wearing them. If unsure, bring a few of each.)
- One or two long-sleeve work shirts. (Long sleeve shirts are nice to protect you from the sun and bugs, but they are very, very hot to work in. Some people here only work in long-sleeve shirts, I prefer to wear my short-sleeve shirts.)
- One pair of dedicated work pants. (Quick-dry hiking pants are by far the better choice. Your every day pants can double as work pants, but they'll get ruined over time.)
- One or two pairs of dedicated work socks. (I have five pairs of white, every day socks with me. I wear them to work in. I also have two pairs of long smartwool socks that I wear with my rubber boots.)
- A good sun hat. (If you don't want to bring one, you can buy a Panamanian hat in country. Panama is famous for "Panama hats", which are actually made in equador and are very touristy. Panamanians make straw work hats, which are cool and comfortable and a great way to intigrate.)
- Good Sunglasses. (Panama sun is very strong, so a good pair of sunglasses will go a long way.)
- Closed toed work shoes. (A good sturdy pair of work shoes to walk around fincas come in handy. Hiking shoes work great. My opininon is that waterproof is better than not - although waterproof shoes aren't as breathable as non-waterproof, I feel like they are good insurance against the sudden downpores that happen during the rainy season.)
- Rubber boots. (Rubber boots are the most culturally appropriate footware to wear to work in the finca. They are very easy to find and are relativley cheap. But if you have over size 12 feet, bring your own. I wear my boots while working in coffee fincas, or if I am visiting a finca for the first time. Boots are very helpful during the rainy season because mud is everywhere!)
- Two to three collared short-sleeve shirts. (Either button up or polo. The office prefers these over t-shirts. Once you are outside of the political world in Panama City, everyone wears a polo to look professional. Peace Corps sells official polos if you'd like to buy one here - not that I'm plugging them or anything, but they are really comfortable and they look really great too. If you attend church services in your community, it is a good idea to dress up a little bit with a polo or short-sleved button up shirt.)
- One pair of dedicated dress pants. (You will need to look nice at swear in, so one pair of slacks (I've heard linen is really nice in the heat) will be plenty. Other than that, hinking pants or jeans qualify for "dress clothes" in the office.)
- One pair of dress shoes. (I brought a new pair of black, closed toe shoes which ended up molding. The office says chaco or keen sandals are acceptable as long as they are not flip-flop style. The only time you might want black, closed toe shoes is at swear-in. If you bring them, get them sent home as soon as you can after swear-in. For girls, many girls in my group wore dressy looking sandals to swear in.)
- Dress socks. (Again, the only time you will want to wear these is at swear-in, after that, it's preference.)
- One tie. (For swear-in, you are probably going to want to wear a tie.)
- Dress Belt. (One dress belt will do fine. If you don't want to bring one, you can purchase a decent looking, cheap leather belt for about $3 in Albrook mall.)
- Computer. (Even though the Peace Corps book suggests against bringing a computer, having your own personal computer is a huge convenience. Tablets are functional, but are a little frustrating at times. My wife and I each have a tablet for a computer - they were cheaper than buying a computer, and we don't mind if they don't come home with us. The advantage of having a real computer is that Peace Corps requires that you file a report every four months of what you are doing in your site. To file this report you must use Peace Corps proprietary software that does not run on Tablets of any kind - It only runs on Windows and Apple computer operating systems. You can use internet cafe computers to file this report, but they can be a little frustrating to use as well. You can also watch movies, listen to music, or play games at site on a computer or tablet, but sometimes charging can be tricky depending on your site. The benefit of a tablet is that they have better battery life in site, but still work for entertainment purposes.)
- A music player. (A way to play music at site is a great way of keeping your sanity, be it an iPod, a tablet, your computer, your phone, etc.)
- An e-Reader. (An e-reader is very nice because it allows you to have many books in a small place. My wife and I use the free kindle app on our tablets. Also, there are about 1200 free kindle books circulating around the Peace Corps volunteers that you can fill your library with.)
- A good, durable camera. (A rugged camera is a good choice, one that is waterproof, drop-proof, and whatnot. A few people that I know brought their DSLRs, but I was nervous about mine getting ruined by the humidity.)
Misc./ Tips and tricks
- Sheets. (The welcome book suggests sheets or a light sleepingbag. I recommend sheets. They are more versatile, easier to wash, and aren't as hot. Odds are it won't be cold enough for your sleeping bag. If it is, you can get a blanket here.
- Sleepingbag liner. (A good sleepingbag liner works well for traveling in country. You will travel around during your pre-service training, and then occasionally during your service. A sleepingbag liner works really well instead of toting around sheets. If you tend to be a cold sleeper, they make sleepingbag liners that provide a little warmth.)
- A lightweight, backpacking sleeping pad. (Again, very helpful for travel, and very usefu for host families at your site. Some volunteers managed to find very thin foam sleeping "pads" in country. They aren't nearly as comfortable as a backpacking pad from the states, and are a lot more bulky. Cheap inflatable air-matteres are easy to find, but pop relativly easy.)
- A good day pack. (A good day pack that you don't mind getting ruined will be helpful for training, as well as in your community.)
- Dry bag. (A good 25 liter dry bag comes in handy in Panama, because when it rains, it pours. The only place that I found that you can buy a dry bag in-country is at "Los Quetzales Eco Lodge" where Peace Corps Panama has it's yearly Thanksgiving get-together. Supposedly the "Do-it Center" had dry bags at one point, but are no longer there.)
- Headlamp. (A headlamp is a lot more functional than a flashlight because it allows you the use of both your hands.)
- Wide-mouthed waterbottle. (A good reusable waterbottle, eg. a Nalgene bottle. Wide-mouthed bottles are a lot easier to clean than narrow-mouthed bottles.)
- Guitar, or other musical instrament. (If you play guitar, or want to learn, having a guitar at your site is a really nice way to pass the time. You can purchase a guitar in country for around $60 if you don't want to bring one along. The Ultimate-Guitar tabs app is a great way to bring sheet music with you. It's $3 and allows you to easily save tabs/chords to your tablet, ipod touch, or smartphone.)
- 501 Spanish verbs and Spanish grammar books. (I don't know if it still says in the packing lists that the office gives you a copy of 501 Spanish verbs or not, but as of when I arrived in country, they stopped that. All you receive from the office is "The University of Chigago Spanish-English, English-Spanish Dictionary", which is very helpful, but lacking in gramatical help.)
- Tupperwear is a godsend. (Tupperwear are a very handy way of keeping bugs and critters out of your food - your snacks in your room in your training site, or some real food once you're in your site. Zip-lock bags do not stand up to the bugs here, they simply eat their way through. You can find it here if you don't want to pack it along.)
- Photos of home. (Print out photos of home and friends and family so you can look at them when you are homesick, but also so you can show your community where you come from.)
- Movies! (Movies are a great way to pass a rainy afternoon.)
- A Map of the US/World/Panama. (Most people that I've encountered do not know the scale of the US compared to Panama. A map of the world is a really great way to show people just how large the world is.)
- Lysol disinfecting spray. (Lysol kills mold that grows on your things while you are here. I find it handy to have a can around for if a mold emergency arrises.)
- A Cellphone. (Cellphones are easy to find here in country, my wife and I got little Nokia brick phones for $35 each, but if you have a phone that you like and know how to use and would like to bring with you, call your carrier and ask them to unlock your cell phone. That way you can purchase a sim card and use it on Panamanian carriers.
- A Watch. (A good waterproof watch with an alarm and time is very helpful. Try and get a rubber band instead of a cloth or leather band - the cloth band would soak up all your sweat and begin to rot/ferment very quickly.)