The construction of the Panama Canal was one of the most influential events in the history of global trade, and with its prestige Panama has risen to be one of the most internationally integrated countries of Latin America. The passageway from North to South America, Panama is a small tropical country with a tremendous amount of biological and ecological diversity. Volunteer abroad programs in Panama provide a safe and enriching environment where volunteers can lend a hand to the country’s gradual, sustainable development.
Panama is a very small country and nearly half of the population lives in the metropolitan area of Panama City. Sitting at the Pacific port of the Panama Canal and surrounded by dense swathes of rainforest all around, the city has had a long history of central influence in Latin America and today is Panama’s political, commercial, and cultural capital. Because of its importance as a major port, those who volunteer in Panama City can enjoy a thriving international life as the city is filled with inhabitants from all over the world.
San Miguelito is Panama’s only other major city, with around 300,00 inhabitants living in the urban area. Many volunteer placements in San Miguelito will place volunteers in small villages or provinces in rural areas. Panama’s landscape is dominated by dense jungles, beautiful beaches, and the Cordillera de Talamanca Mountain range which marks the continental divide. Temperatures remain steadily uniform through the year, defined by a tropical climate of heat, humidity, and abundant rainfall. Be prepared to sweat!
Projects & Placements
Located on the equator, Panama is a tropical country with a tremendous amount of ecological and biological diversity; thus, many volunteer opportunities in Panama are offered by organizations committed to wildlife and environmental preservation efforts, as well as responsible eco-tourism. A lot of volunteer programs in Panama combine work with adventure outings, such as surfing, trekking, and kayaking.
Individuals can also easily volunteer in Panama in the areas of education, healthcare, and community development. Panama is a fairly well-off country by Latin American standards, yet still lags behind the developed world in many measures of social rights, economic distribution, and institutional accessibility. Whether volunteering in Panama City or in rural areas, international volunteers will find ample opportunities to work with children, at health clinics, or spreading awareness of important issues facing the country.
Spanish is the national language of Panama, and it will be a great help if you are at least conversational upon arrival. Individuals can combine language learning with volunteer work in Panama, offering a rewarding opportunity for non-Spanish speakers to improve their language ability while also contributing to local communities.
Most volunteer abroad programs in Panama are offered year round, giving those who want to volunteer in Panama a good degree of freedom in designing their own experience. Adventure volunteer programs, which are more structured with a detailed weekly itinerary, will offer less flexibility however.
Costs & Affordability
Panama is an affordable destination for volunteering abroad, with most costs of living being significantly cheaper than in industrialized countries. Panama City is the most expensive place to live and shop in Panama, but expats still live respectably comfortable lifestyles in Panama City without burning through their wallet.
When volunteering in Panama most programs will charge you upfront for transportation and accommodation costs through program fees. The good news is that once you’ve landed, most meals will only cost you a few dollars, as will clothing and souvenirs in many places. The local currency in Panama is the balboa, although in many places the U.S. Dollar is also an acceptable form of payment.
Accommodation & Visas
Many volunteer abroad programs in Panama will organize accommodation for you, either in a flat or with a host family depending on your length of stay. Living with a host family while volunteering in Panama is a great way to experience Panamanian culture first hand while becoming intimate with a local family (and practicing your Spanish daily). If you prefer living in your own flat, then in Panama City you can typically find an apartment for as little as $500 in rent a month.
Individuals from most countries will not need to obtain a visa in order to volunteer abroad in Panama, unless they plan on volunteering in Panama for more than six months. If you plan on an extended stay or your home country is not visa exempt, then visas are often easy to attain with the help of your volunteer organization.
Benefits & Challenges
Panama is the only country in the world where you can watch the sun rise over the Atlantic Ocean and set over the Pacific Ocean. Need we say more?
Pristinely settled in the heart of the Americas, those who volunteer in Panama will enjoy an enriching and rewarding experience exploring tremendous diversity and helping local communities. Volunteering in Panama will be a cultural leap well worth taking, and one that has the power to influence who you are and whom you strive to be.