FAQs about Peace Corps in Panama
From Peace Corps Wiki
|FAQs about Peace Corps|
For information see Welcomebooks
 How much luggage will I be allowed to bring to Panama?
Most airlines have baggage size and weight limits and assess charges for transport of baggage that exceeds those limits. Airlines allow two checked pieces of luggage with combined dimensions of both pieces not to exceed 107 inches (length width + height) and a carry-on bag with dimensions of no more than 45 inches. Checked baggage should not exceed 80 pounds total with a maximum weight of 50 pounds for any one bag. Peace Corps Volunteers are not allowed to take pets, weapons, explosives, radio transmitters (shortwave radios are permitted), automobiles, or motorcycles to their overseas assignments. Do not pack flammable materials or liquids such as lighter fluid, cleaning solvents, hair spray, or aerosol containers. This is an important safety precaution.
 What is the electric current in Panama?
It is 110 volts, 60 cycles AC (the standard in the United States). About half of the volunteers do not have electricity in their homes or have it for only a few hours a day from solar panels and the other half have electricity.
 How much money should I bring?
Volunteers are expected to live at the same level as the people in their community. They are given a settling-in allowance and a monthly living allowance, which should cover their expenses. Often Volunteers wish to bring additional money for vacation travel to other countries. Credit cards, ATM cards, and traveler’s checks are preferable to cash. If you choose to bring extra money, bring the amount that will suit your own travel plans and needs.
 When can I take vacation and have people visit me?
Each Volunteer accrues two vacation days per month of service (excluding training). Leave may not be taken during training, the first three months of service, or the last three months of service, except in conjunction with an authorized emergency leave. Family and friends are welcome to visit you after pre-service training and the first three months of service as long as their stay does not interfere with your work. Extended stays at your site are not encouraged and may require permission from your country director. The Peace Corps is not able to provide your visitors with visa, medical, or travel assistance.
 Will my belongings be covered by insurance?
The Peace Corps does not provide insurance coverage for personal effects; Volunteers are ultimately responsible for the safekeeping of their personal belongings. However, you can purchase such insurance before you leave. If you wish, you may contact your own insurance company; additionally, insurance application forms will be provided, and we encourage you to consider them carefully. Volunteers should not ship or take valuable items overseas. Jewelry, watches, radios, cameras, and expensive appliances such as laptops, are subject to loss, theft, and breakage, and in many places, satisfactory maintenance and repair services are not available.
 Do I need an international driver’s license?
Volunteers in Panama do not need to get an international driver’s license because they are prohibited from operating privately owned vehicles. Most urban travel is by bus or taxi.
Rural travel ranges from buses and minibuses to trucks and lots of walking. On very rare occasions, a Volunteer may be asked to drive a Peace Corps vehicle, but this can occur only with prior written permission of the country director. Should this occur, the Volunteer may obtain a local driver’s license. A U.S. driver’s license will facilitate the process, so bring it with you just in case. What should I bring as gifts for Panamanian friends and my host family?
This is not a requirement. A token of friendship is sufficient. Some gift suggestions include knickknacks for the house; pictures, books, or calendars of American scenes; souvenirs from your area; hard candies that will not melt or spoil; or photos to give away.
 Where will my site assignment be when I finish training and how isolated will I be?
Peace Corps trainees are not assigned to individual sites until during pre-service training. This gives the Peace Corps staff the opportunity to assess each trainee’s technical and language skills prior to assigning sites, in addition to finalizing site selections with their government ministry partners. If feasible, you may be able to provide input on your site preferences, including geographical location, distance from other Volunteers, and living conditions. However, many factors influence the site selection process and the Peace Corps cannot guarantee placement where you would ideally like to be. Most Volunteers live in small towns or in rural villages and are usually within one or two hours from another Volunteer. Some sites require as much as a 16-hour drive from the capital.
 How can my family contact me in an emergency?
The Peace Corps’ Office of Special Services provides assistance in handling emergencies affecting trainees and Volunteers or their families. Before leaving the United States, instruct your family to notify the Office of Special Services immediately if an emergency arises, such as a serious illness or death of a family member. During normal business hours, the number for the Office of Special Services is 800.424.8580, extension 1470. After normal business hours and on weekends and holidays, the Special Services duty officer can be reached at 202.638.2574. For non-emergency questions, your family can get information from your country desk staff at the Peace Corps by calling 800.424.8580.
 Can I call home from Panama?
International phone service to and from Panama is good. You can call collect from any public phone or use a major calling card such as those offered by AT&T, MCI, and Sprint. Most Volunteers have a phone in their house, their town, or a nearby town.
 Should I bring a cellular phone with me?
It is often more expensive to reprogram a cellular phone from the United States than to purchase one in Panama. Cellular phones are widely available and reasonably priced in Panama, but many Volunteers live at sites outside of their signal range.
 Will there be e-mail and Internet access? Should I bring my computer?
Internet access in Panama is spreading. All provincial capitals and many other large towns have Internet cafes. At government internet cafes connection speeds tend to be slow. At most cafes the service is $0.50 a hour and generally fastest in the morning when there are fewer users. Internet access for Volunteers is available free at the Peace Corps/Panama office. Some Volunteers can access the Internet in their homes, but this is the exception. A large group of Volunteers have laptops, but most do not. Computers are probably more useful for community economic development Volunteers than those in other projects. Laptops are preferable. If your site has no electricity, it will be hard to charge the battery unless you bring a solar battery and charger. A voltage regulator is also a necessity. Another concern is that computers have high failure rates in areas of high humidity, but in drier areas such as the Azuero, computers seem to last longer.