The unit of currency in Panama is the U.S. dollar, but the Panamanian balboa, which is pegged to the dollar at a 1:1 ratio, also circulates in denominations of 5¢, 10¢, 25¢, and 50¢ coins. (U.S. coins are in circulation as well.) Balboa coins are sized similarly to their U.S. counterparts, and travelers will have no trouble identifying their value.
Travelers with pounds or euros may exchange money at Banco Nacional, which has branches in the airport and across the nation. To save time, you may want to convert your money into dollars before arriving at Panama. At time of publication US$1 is equal to .50£ and .75€.
The easiest and best way to get cash away from home is from an ATM (automated teller machine), available in banks and supermarkets, and identifiable by a red SISTEMA CLAVE sign with a white key. ATMs, called cajeros automáticos, can be found in larger towns only, so if you're visiting out-of-the-way destinations such as an offshore island, plan to bring extra cash. Remember that you can usually only take up to $500 a day out of an ATM in Panama, so if you need a large sum of money, you'll need to start withdrawing a few days in advance. To find ATM locations in Panama, check out www.sclave.com/english.html.
Businesses that accept credit cards always accept Visa and Mastercard, and to a lesser extent American Express. Diners Club is not widely accepted. Most businesses in Panama City and other major commerce centers accept credit cards. In small towns and more remote destinations, be sure to bring enough cash.
Traveler's checks are readily accepted at major hotels, and less so at budget hotels and restaurants. In fact, beyond major hotels and banks, businesses in Panama seem reluctant to accept traveler's checks. Use an ATM for cash if you can, and bring traveler's checks as a backup in the event of a lost or stolen card.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.