Attending an international dance exchange to Panama provides a once in a lifetime experience to connect with different cultures through movement, experience a wide diversity of dance styles, and explore the world. Although this experience is an exciting and unique opportunity, international travel can be difficult and, at times, challenging.
Below you will find resources and information that will explain how to prepare for and what to expect during the exchange. With 7 years of experience hosting dancers in Panama, Movement Exchange ensures the safety and security of all participants.
Welcome to Panama, a Caribbean isthmus connecting North and South America. With ten provinces, eight indigenous groups, and a population of about 4 million, Panama offers a rich cultural and environmental diversity.
Panama has a tropical climate, with temperatures ranging between 75-85°F. Panama is extremely humid year-round and almost all of the rain falls during the rainy season from April to December. Panama's rainforests hold the most diversity of all the countries in Central America.
In 2010, the population of Panama was 65% Mestizo (mixed white and Native American), 12.3% Native American, 9.2% Black, and 6.7% White. There are also many immigrants groups from Jamaica, China, Palestine, South Asia, and Syria, adding to the cultural diversity of Panama. While Spanish is the official and dominant language of Panama, many citizens speak both English and Spanish or their native languages.
From the moment the Pacific Ocean was "discovered" by Vasco Nuñez de Balboa in 1513, the Europeans desired to build a bridge between the Atlantic and Pacific Ocean. The French began building the canal in 1881, but due to disease and inefficient equipment, the French declared bankruptcy and abandoned the project. The U.S. took over the project and completed the canal in 1914. In 2016, the Panama Canal expansion was officially opened, allowing for the canal to double its capacity and allow larger ships to pass through.
U.S. and Panama Relations
During the construction of the canal, the U.S. acquired the Canal Zone, 10-mile-wide strip across the isthmus. Over time, tensions grew between U.S. and Panamanian citizens and on January 9, 1964, riots broke out, killing twenty Panamanians and leaving over 500 wounded. In 1977, the Torrijos-Carter Treaty was signed that allowed for the complete transfer of the canal from the U.S. to Panama by 1999. However, tensions continued to rise and in 1989, the U.S. invaded Panama in order to bring down its dictator Manuel Noriega for drug trafficking. The mission took hundreds of Panamanian lives and damaged parts of Panama City. Noriega surrendered and was tried, convicted, and jailed on drug trafficking charges. In 1999, the U.S. ended nearly a century of occupation in Panama and closed all of its military bases and turned over control of the canal. Approximately 20 years later, U.S. and Panama relations have neutralized and cultural and economic ties between the two countries are strong.
Safety and Security
Overall, Panama is a safe country, but Movement Exchange informs participants of precautions that should be taken to prevent issues from arising. Upon arriving in Panama, the Movement Exchange team will notify participants of unsafe areas and review travel safety. Participants should always travel in groups and safeguard valuables and cash while sightseeing, shopping, or dining. Participants should be cautious walking at night and should never enter a taxi if there is another passenger already present. Should a safety or security issue arise, participants should notify a member of the Movement Exchange team immediately. See below for emergency contacts and more information on health and safety.
Meet the Leaders
How to Prepare for an Exchange
Travel Arrangements to Panama:
Flights should be arranged to Tocumen International Airport (Airport Code: PTY). Use an online booking site such as kayak.com to find the best fares from your city to Panama City and send your itinerary to Movement Exchange for approval BEFORE booking your flights. Participants should arrive in Panama at designated times as there will only be one group pick up and drop off at the airport. If participants are unable to arrive during these designated times, Movement Exchange will arrange for a secure ride to or from the airport, but this expense will not be covered by Movement Exchange.
International Health Insurance:
All participants must have personal health insurance that covers international travel. Please check with your U.S. carrier regarding international travel coverage. International health insurance typically costs around $50 and is available for purchase online. Please be aware that if students are traveling as a group affiliated with their university, some universities require students to have international health insurance when traveling to another country. Students should check with their student activities center to determine if this is a requirement.
Vaccines/Shot Requirements for Panama:
There are currently no required vaccinations to travel to Panama. For more information, visit www.cdc.gov.
For a complete packing list, see page 13 in the Panama Handbook. Participants should be sure to pack their passport (and two copies of their passport), travel documents, medicine, music, sunscreen, bug spray, water bottle, and $100-$200 in spending in U.S. dollars. Upon arrival, participants will not have to worry about currency exchange as Panama uses the U.S. dollar. Bringing only carry-on luggage is best as checked bags may get lost or arrive late.
Submitting the Program Donation for the Exchange:
Program donations should be submitted via Movement Exchange's PayPal account accessible on our donate page. A $500 deposit is due three months before the exchange and the final program donation is due one month before the exchange. Movement Exchange is a registered 501c(3) non-profit organization and all donations are tax-deductible.
What to Expect During the Exchange
Participants will have access to internet upon arrival in order to contact family members. Access to internet is not guaranteed every day of the program, however Movement Exchange will ensure that participants are in touch with family via email at least once during the program. If you choose to bring an unlocked cell phone, phone cards are available for purchase in Panama. You may also look into an international service plan for you existing phone, but this is not required.
All participants will be staying in shared room accommodations throughout the exchange. Most participants stay at Magnolia Inn, a luxury hostel located in the heart of Casco Viejo, the colonial neighborhood of Panama City. In the event that the exchange includes travel outside of the city, participants will be notified of their accommodations ahead of time.In-Country Travel:
Movement Exchange provides daily transportation between youth foundations, orphanages, and activities. Participants are not responsible for transportation within the itinerary. If participants wish to travel throughout Panama City during their free time, Movement Exchange team members will help them travel safely to and from their destination.
Health and Safety:
In case of an emergency, all participants will be transported immediately to the U.S. Embassy as it is the point of contact for all U.S. nationals. In the case that participants are not in Panama City, our second point of contact is Malambo Orphanage. Parents/guardians will be contacted immediately if an emergency arises. In case of injury or sickness, participants will be taken to Hospital Punta Pacifica, a world-class affiliate of Johns Hopkins Medical Center.
Participants will be given the Program Director's phone number prior to arriving in Panama. Participants should save this phone number and send this information to their parents/guardians prior to leaving for Panama. Other important emergency contacts include:
911 National Medical Emergency
103 Fire Station
104 National Police
455 Red Cross
355 Medical Rescue
Extending Your Stay:
If choosing to extend your stay, you are required to sign a separate Release of Liability form, as Movement Exchange will not be responsible for your extended time as a tourist and it is not part of your participation in the Movement Exchange program. If you would like suggestions on where to stay and what to visit, contact Movement Exchange or see more on page 17 in the Panama Handbook.