Recognized as Latin America's most cosmopolitan country and home to the only canal that connects the Pacific and Atlantic oceans, Panama is an authentic and exciting destination that aspiring Spanish speakers should seriously consider for language study abroad. Since Panama is the land bridge connecting North and South America, it benefits from a very diverse and exotic selection of plant and animal species. Not to mention the white sand beaches lining the Caribbean Sea as well as the sprawling beaches on the Pacific Ocean coast to match, and don’t forget the majestic mountains in between. You will find everything you are looking for and more in Panama, so what are you waiting for?
Getting to Panama is quite simple with almost 100 direct flights from cities around the world, and once you arrive, you will be pleasantly surprised to find that navigation around the country is safe and reliable. Diversity is one of Panama's greatest strengths; when it comes to language programs in Panama, there are three very distinct locations that host the largest number of opportunities:
Panama City. The nation’s capital city is a cultural melting pot of cultures and people. Panama City offers a diverse array of entertainment, adventure, and cultural experiences. With a population of less than a million people, Panama City is just the right size, which means language students will likely never feel completely overwhelmed nor entirely bored during their studies. Located on the bay of the Pacific Ocean, a nice ocean view will always be just a few blocks away and The Panama Canal runs right through the city.
Bocas del Toro. A gem amongst Caribbean Sea beach towns, Bocas del Toro stands out for its funky vibe, harmonious mix of cultures and races, and extraordinarily beautiful natural beaches. Well known as a popular tourist destination, there are plenty of adventures to be had, exploration opportunities, restaurants, luxurious hotels, and interesting parties hosted in Boca del Toro. Whether you are looking to hide away in a tropical paradise or meet travelers from around the globe, Bocas del Toro will never disappoint.
Boquete. A picturesque town in the cool mountains of the Cordillera on the western end of the country (near Costa Rica), Boquete is a haven for those who love to relax and enjoy nature. On the skirts of the Volcan Baru National Park and Friendship International Park (Parque Internacional La Amistad), you’ll never be far from a winding trail through ancient forests and natural habitats of hundreds of species of birds and exotic plants.
Language Schools in Panama
The majority of language programs in Panama are centered on Spanish language learning. As the national language, all native Panamanians speak Spanish at home and at school, although there are a few native Indian languages spoken in isolated areas. Although English is taught in schools from elementary to university, many Panamanians still do not speak conversational English. Therefore, language students will have plenty of opportunities to practice their newly acquired Spanish language skills with locals in their daily interactions.
The majority of the language schools in Panama focus Spanish courses on teaching conversational language skills. However, the quality of language courses in Panama and experience of local teachers often differs greatly between language schools. The same goes for structure and expectations; some schools are more organized than others. Be sure to verify accreditations (such as with the Cervantes Institute) and read genuine reviews from former students to get the best idea of how legitimate and reputable language schools in Panama are.
Language Immersion Programs. The most popular way for foreigners to learn Spanish in Panama is by attending an independent language school, with teachers specially trained in teaching Spanish as a second language. Language schools in Panama typically provide immersion experiences for students on top of coursework, through homestays, local tours, and cultural activities, in order to give students a fuller experience of their host country. Language courses in Panama can be structured in group or private lesson settings, depending on the school and individual student’s preferences.
University Language Courses. There are a handful of study abroad program providers that offer Spanish language study abroad programs in Panama for international students. Some partner with local universities, but the majority offer separate Spanish language courses and immersion activities. Attending a local university can be an excellent way to earn college credit toward a Spanish major or simply expand Spanish language skills, while learning alongside local students and enrolling in other interesting coursework that can be uniquely studied in Panama, such as ecology or biology.
Diploma Certification Course. If you are hoping to prepare for and/or take the DELE Exam (Diploma de Español como Lengua Extranjera), there are multiple language schools in Panama that offer this.
No matter how advanced your Spanish language abilities, there is a language program in Panama with tailored coursework that can fit your needs!
Costs & Affordability
Since Panama has a higher standard of living than most other Latin American countries, the cost of Spanish language courses is higher. However, language courses in Panama remain incredibly affordable, especially for those coming from industrialized, developed countries. For example, one week of group language courses in Panama costs around $250, while one week of private language lessons will cost slightly more, ranging from $330 to $500. Keep in mind that at almost all language schools in Panama, you will receive a better rate per course hour the longer you plan to study.
The cost of living and general affordability in Panama is extremely reasonable for those coming from the Western world. Lunch at a Panamanian restaurant may cost between $3 and $6, but dinner at an international restaurant will likely cost $10 or more. Taxis vary in cost based on the distance traveled. Taxi drivers, in Panama City especially, are inherently known for raising prices for tourists, so always confirm a price before getting into a taxi. Normally, it should cost less than $5 to travel somewhere locally in any town. Buses and vans are a very reliable and cheap way to travel locally as well as throughout the country. Fares can be as low as $.25 for local routes, and the longest national route is Panama City to Bocas del Toro, which costs $30.
Accommodation expenses vary drastically through the country, but luckily, more language schools in Panama (and other program providers) assist students in securing housing prior to or immediately upon arrival.
Accommodation & Visas
There are all different types of accommodation options located across the country, from homestays to hostels to luxury hotels. Most language program providers in Panama encourage students to stay with a local family to enhance their language immersion and provide a more authentic experience of the local culture. Homestays typically provide students with some daily meals too. Host families are always in safe and secure locations, giving students more security and comfort during their language study in Panama.
For those interested in other accommodation, it is possible to stay in hostels, hotels, and even rent an apartment; although, these are all much more pricey options and availability will be entirely dependent on the location of coursework.
Panama is a very internationally-friendly country overall. Visa are not required for citizens of the United States, Canada, most European countries, and many Asian and African countries. Therefore, most individuals can enter Panama and stay for up to 180 days. However, visitors are required to present details of their return flight and a valid passport with an expiration date greater than six months from the date of their arrival. For specific visa requirements, it's best to contact the Panamanian Embassy closest to you to learn about specific travel restrictions for individuals from your home country.
Benefits & Challenges
Multiple Locations. You can choose to attend a language school in Panama that has multiple locations, if you want to experience multiple cities without the trouble of enrolling in two different programs. This can be a great way to see more of Panama while keeping your language learning consistent and coherent.
Language Travel Consultants. Some language programs in Panama will offer to help you with every step of the process, setting up your language courses, finding accommodation, planning excursions, and arranging your travel, for no extra cost! Take advantage of this, as those advising you will likely be experts when it comes to tourism in Panama!
Limited English. As a benefit for your Spanish language learning, Panamanians generally do not speak English, so you will be forced to begin using what you are learning right off the bat. Although it will be frustrating at first, with more practice you will be speaking Spanish comfortably in no time!