A student, a plan, a canal, Panama! Ok, this isn’t a perfect palindrome, but it is a perfect idea. Panama is a small country with big connections. This Central American country literally links the Atlantic and the Pacific oceans via the Panama Canal, a manmade waterway that cuts through the country and is considered to be one of the most important boons to modern maritime trade. The unique East-meets-West setting of Panama makes it a perfect study abroad destination for students interested in a broad range of courses. So, why NOT study abroad in Panama!?
After hundreds of years in turmoil—from the time of its earliest settlers (the Chibchan, Chocoan, and Cueva peoples) through its conquest in the hands of Spain, to the dawn of its independence—Panama is now diversity personified. Panama’s eclectic cultures are spread out from Caribbean archipelagos to misty rainforests to the lofty, futuristic skyscrapers of Panama City.
The country’s capital is the hub of education, and study abroad, in Panama. Panama City is a buzzing metropolis with a spectacular skyline and a knack for uniting old and new. An important trade center, Panama City is international and sophisticated, advancing quickly as the economy booms. It still retains its Central American appeal though; the lush greenery of the surrounding rainforests creep into the city’s parks, and the rush of the city dissipates completely when it meets the dazzling blue coastline.
Further afield, Bocas del Toro is a Caribbean dream. With its myriad reefs, mangroves and rivers, not to mention wide, white-sand beaches, Bocas del Toro provides the perfect setting for studying the different species of plants and animals found on the Panama isthmus. This is the place to be for students interested in tropical ecology, marine ecosystems, and biodiversity conservation, all in a laid-back Caribbean environment.
Adventure-hungry students can lose themselves in the more remote rural areas of Panama. The further you get from Panama’s main urban centers, the more surprises you will get. As well as the wonderful wildlife, traditional ways of life have been preserved in many of these remote regions, creating immersive learning opportunities for students interested in working in areas of agriculture, community, and global health after studying abroad in Panama.
Studying Abroad in Panama
Subject diversity in Panama is almost as high as wildlife diversity in Panamanian rainforests. Study abroad in Panama is often facilitated through partnerships between universities located in different countries, independent program providers, or foreign universities with branches in Panama, all of which have courses available in a broad range of disciplines.
Altogether, Panama has more than 80 higher education institutions, including the University of Panama, the West Coast University-Panama, the Technological University of Panama, and Florida State University-Panama. Its Ciudad de Saber (City of Knowledge) is a government-sponsored cluster of educational institutes, technology companies, and international organizations, like the United Nations and the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF). Many of the courses offered by these institutes are taught in English, paving the way for international students.
The nation’s incredible biodiversity is a huge draw for international students, with popular areas of study in Panama including ecology, environmental studies, and biology. With many opportunities to carry out practical research, observe wildlife, and discover your inner explorer, courses in Panama will be both enriching and unforgettable. Study abroad in Panama is not all about the environment though. Panama is also an ideal location to study business, Latin American studies, and anthropology.
With almost everyone in Panama City speaking English, it’s easy to forget that Panama is a great place to learn Spanish. There are dozens of Spanish language courses available, from quick refreshers to more in-depth, time-intensive courses. Many study abroad programs in Panama involve Latin American culture lessons or Spanish immersion opportunities, to give international students a well-rounded learning experience.
Scholarships & Costs
Panama’s economy is one of the fastest growing and successful in Latin America. In recent years, Panama’s economy has continued to boom, causing development in the country to soar, meaning the standard of living is generally high in Panama City and larger towns. Despite its rapidly expanding economy, Panama remains a relatively cheap place to study abroad. Home to the largest airport in Central America, Panama is also very well connected to other parts of the world, meaning it isn’t outrageously expensive to get to.
However, there is a side of Panama that caters to the elite, with lavish restaurants and hotels, and no shortage of swanky bars where you can fritter away your balboas. If you choose to live like the locals do though, Panama will remain extremely affordable.
Study abroad program fees usually include tuition, accommodation, administrative and academic support throughout the program, and some form of cultural excursions or other activities. Make sure to clarify with your study abroad program provider or host university exactly what is included.
Your program provider will also be able to give you scholarship information to help you cover the cost of study abroad in Panama. Many universities offer scholarships for specific students, but there are also a wide range of generic scholarships aimed at encouraging international students to study in Panama. Check out GoAbroad’s Scholarship Directory to search for financial aid to suit your program and monetary needs.
Accommodation & Visas
Being a student in Panama isn’t all that different from being a student anywhere else. Standard student housing is available for international students and usually comes in the form of international dormitories or group housing. Most study abroad programs in Panama will arrange accommodation for you, so be sure to check in with your program provider to see what’s in store for you.
If you want to break away from the international student crowd, you can either look for an apartment independently or find a homestay. Finding an apartment to share with Panamanians can be difficult though, as many young people live with their parents. In that sense, adopting a family of your own can be a very traditional Panama experience. Staying with a local family is the best way to get involved in Panamanian culture, work on your Spanish skills, and push yourself out of your comfort zone while studying in Panama.
The Panama Student Visa program is relatively straightforward. It provides international students legal residency in Panama for the duration of their studies. Take note though, that this visa is exclusively for study purposes: you will not be allowed to work in Panama while on this visa, unless it is work pertaining to your degree. For more detailed information about visa requirements, you should check with a Panamanian embassy or consulate in your home country.
Benefits & Challenges
Sometimes the best things come in small countries. Studying abroad in Panama will allow you to strip back the diverse layers of Panamanian culture. Indigenous, Afro-Caribbean, and Spanish roots all come into play in Panama, with the unique flavors of each group coming through in the country’s food, art, literature, and of course, music. Studying in Panama means learning the beats (and moves) to reggaeton, salsa, merengue, and bachata; just consider dancing part of your international learning experience.
Then, there’s the location. It’s not called Central America for nothing; Panama is central to numerous travel opportunities throughout Latin America. Whether it’s sailing down to Colombia through the Guna Yala Islands, hitching a ride on a rickety bus over to Costa Rica, or hopping on a flight to Cuba, choosing to study abroad in Panama means you are choosing to perfectly position yourself to make the most out of school breaks.
Panama is known as the “bridge of the world,” and that description couldn't be more accurate. Making the decision to study abroad in Panama means you’ll be bridging cultures and languages to find a new home, new friends, and an education that goes so much further than the classroom.