Panama is mainly known for its canal called the Panama Canal. In the capital, Panama City, you will find many modern skyscrapers, casinos and night clubs. In other areas, you will find colonial buildings. The San Blas Islands are great spots for sailing and snorkeling. Be sure to check out Boquete for the coffee plantations. Panama has it all.
What you may not want to do, however, is to roam with your provider. Roaming can be expensive in many cases, which is why many travelers want to buy local SIM cards so that they can enjoy local rates. In this article, I will go over everything you need to know about buying a SIM card in Panama. Let's go.
Telecom Providers in Panama
Panama has 4 telecom providers: +móvil Panama, Claro Panama, Digicel Panama, and Movistar Panama. All providers have 2G, 3G, and 4G/LTE networks. The Panamanian providers are planning on rolling out 5G in select areas in 2020 or 2021.
Do note that most providers cover more than 90% of the population, but only 40% of the territory in Panama. As long as you are in populated areas, you should have a connection. You should not expect any kind of reception if you go to places where nobody lives. However, coverage is good around the main population centers and over the sea between mainland Panama and the more populated islands.
The Best SIM Card in Panama
If you want to buy a SIM card in Panama, I would recommend going with +móvil or Movistar if you are interested in having the best coverage. If you want high 4G/LTE speeds, then +móvil and Digicel would be the best options.
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Unlike most other countries in Central America, you do not need to show your passport when buying a SIM card in Panama.
Do note that both the Panamanian Balboa (PAB) and US Dollar ($) are legal tenders in Panama. The currencies are pegged, meaning that 1 PAB is $1 and vice versa. You can use both currencies when paying for things in stores, but you will be charged in PAB when purchasing plans. As a result, all prices listed in this article are in PAB.
With that being said, let’s see what Panama has to offer.
Video Guide for Buying a SIM Card in Panama
+móvil Panama, or más móvil, has, together with Digicel Panama, the fastest speeds in Panama. Together with Movistar, +móvil has the most extensive network in the network. They are also the only operator that offers VoWiFi and VoLTE on compatible devices. If you want to use those features, then you need to ask for a USIM upon purchase.
+móvil SIM cards are sold less than 3 PAB in +móvil stores and from vendors. Recharge cards are sold from 2 PAB to 15 PAB in stores or online. Often, you can fivefold your top-up, although the bonus credit cannot be used for data.
The following +móvil combo packs can be activated:
- 3 PAB: 400 MB, 100 on-net minutes, and unlimited Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram, and WeChat for 3 days
- 10 PAB: 1 GB, unlimited on-net calls, and unlimited Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram, WeChat, and YouTube for 7 days
- 10 PAB: 1.5 GB, 300 on-net minutes, and free WhatsApp and WeChat for 30 days
Only interested in data? The following data-only packs can be bought:
- 3 PAB: 650 MB
- 9 PAB: 1 GB for 15 days
- 15 PAB: 2 GB for 30 days
Claro Panama, just Claro, is another player in Panama. 4G/LTE can be found in many places with Claro. You can get a free Claro SIM cards at mall stands, while you have to pay for them in Claro stores and from vendors (2 PAB). Top-up vouchers can be purchased from 1 PAB to 70 PAB. Just like with +móvil, you can fivefold your recharge, but the bonus cannot be used for data.
The following Claro combo packs can be added:
- 1 PAB: 150 MB and 20 minutes
- 2 PAB: 250 MB, 20 minutes, and 5 SMS for 2 days
- 3 PAB: “Unlimited” data, 15 minutes, and 10 SMS for 3 days
- 5 PAB: “Unlimited” data, 25 minutes, and 25 SMS for 7 days
- 10 PAB: 3 GB, 50 minutes, and 50 SMS for 15 days
- 15 PAB: 4 GB, 150 minutes, and 75 SMS for 30 days
It is unclear whether Claro has a fair-use policy for its unlimited plan or whether it is “slow” unlimited data. This applies to the following Claro data packs too:
- 1 PAB: 200 MB and 350 MB for WhatsApp for 1 day
- 3 PAB: “Unlimited” data (for WhatsApp too) for 3 days
- 5 PAB: “Unlimited” data (for WhatsApp too) for 7 days
- 9 PAB: “Unlimited” data (for WhatsApp too) for 14 days
- 15 PAB: 4 GB and 1 GB for WhatsApp for 30 days
Digicel Panama, just Digicel, has, together with +móvil, the fastest 4G/LTE network in Panama. In almost all countries where Digicel operates (the Caribbean and Oceania), they falsely advertise their 3G network as 4G/LTE. In the case of Panama, however, it is real 4G/LTE, and it is extremely fast too.
All of Digicel’s plans come with “unlimited” data, on-net calls, and SMS. Their fair-use policy states that you cannot use your SIM card in a dongle, mobile hotspot device, or use it for tethering (tethering has its own limits). You can only use it in smartphones and tablets. Besides that, it is really unlimited.
The following Digicel packs are available:
- 5 PAB: Unlimited data, on-net calls, and SMS; 1 GB for tethering, and 25 domestic minutes, all for 7 days
- 10 PAB: Unlimited data, on-net calls, and SMS; 2.5 GB for tethering, and 50 domestic minutes, all for 14 days
- 20 PAB: Unlimited data, on-net calls, and SMS; 5 GB for tethering, and 125 domestic minutes, all for 28 days
- 35 PAB: Unlimited data, calls (on-net and off-net), and SMS; 5 GB for tethering, all for 38 days
Lastly, we have Movistar Panama, just Movistar, that has, together with +móvil, the best coverage in Panama. Movistar SIM cards are given away for free in Movistar stores. Recharge cards are sold from 2 BPAB to 15 PAB. If you top-up more than 3 PAB, you get unlimited WhatsApp for 30 days. Like the other providers, your top-up will fivefold, but the bonus cannot be used for data.
The following Movistar data packs can be added:
- 2 PAB: 250 MB, and 5 minutes/SMS for 2 days
- 3 PAB: 525 MB, unlimited WhatsApp, and 10 minutes/SMS for 4 days
- 5 PAB: 1.1 GB, unlimited WhatsApp, and 10 minutes/SMS for 7 days
- 5 PAB: “Unlimited” data, and 25 minutes/SMS for 7 days (unknown fair-use policy and tethering is not allowed)
- 10 PAB: 1.5 GB, unlimited WhatsApp, and 40 minutes/SMS for 15 days
Other Ways to Stay Connected When Traveling in Panama
So far, you have been informed about the SIM card options in Panama. However, that is not the only way to be online in Panama I have already briefly mentioned that you can roam with your provider, although it can be expensive in most cases. Besides that, you can use free WIFI connections, mobile hotspots, or international SIM cards.
Roaming in Panama with Your Provider
Roaming is a term used in wireless telecommunication that indicates a mobile device is outside the range of its home network and has connected to a different, available cell network. Let’s say your provider is Digicel El Salvador, then you would be roaming with Digicel El Salvador in Panama.
You may have read horror stories of people coming back from a lovely holiday, only to be confronted with a roaming bill in the thousands. This can still be the case if you do not review your roaming options before going on a holiday. Luckily for you, I have written about the roaming options you have with various providers around the world, which you can read here.
Some operators offer roaming plans. Others allow you to roam for free in Panama, while several operators let you use your plan’s allowance for a daily fee. As you can see, roaming does not have to be a horrific experience. If your provider is generous and lets you roam for free in Panama, then you do not even need a local SIM card (although I would still recommend doing so, as your connection speed will be much slower as a roamer than someone who is a customer of the network).
No idea how roaming works? I made this comprehensive guide about what roaming is and how it works. It is worth the read – promised!
Pay As You Go roaming should be avoided, as that is how travelers get high roaming bills. One provider charges you about 1000 USD per GB in certain destinations, which is insane. If you really want to roam, check whether your provider has attractive roaming plans. Else, you will be better off with buying a local SIM card.
Using Free WIFI connections in Panama
This does not require a lot of explanation, but using free WIFI connections is the cheapest way to connect to the internet because you do not have to pay anything. Nothing beats free stuff, right? Well, not so fast.
First, you need to find hotspots in Panama. In some countries of cities, you will find so many hotspots that you can try them out one by one and find the one with the fastest speeds. In other places, however, WIFI connections do not seem to exist.
In the case of Panama, you can find plenty of hotspots in Panama City. In other places, however, it may not be as easy.
Additionally, public WIFI hotspots are unsecure. They are a prime target for hackers to steal your data and use it for illicit purposes. That is I use, and would recommend you to start using, a Virtual Private Network (VPN) if you connect to a public hotspot. What a VPN does is creating an encrypted tunnel between your device and the hotspot so that your data will stay private. I use NordVPN, and you can get up to 70% off when you get a NordVPN subscription. Get your subscription now or learn more about NordVPN.
Using a Pocket WIFI (Mobile Hotspot) in Panama
Pocket WIFI is a portable, battery-powered wireless router that allows you to connect your phone, laptop, or tablet without needing multiple SIM cards for those devices to be connected to the internet. They are compact and lightweight so that you take them along with you whenever you need internet access on the go.
Many companies have created mobile hotspots (just have a quick search on Amazon, for example, you will find many). Skyroam and Vision Global Wireless are reputable pocket WIFI providers I know. You can get a discount if you rent a router through Skyroam by using coupon code PHONETRAVELWIZ. Cellular access with Skyroam starts at $8 a day while using a Vision Global device starts at $2 a day. Both services cover more than 130 destinations around the world.
I often recommend mobile hotspots to those who are traveling in groups or with families. They can save groups a lot of money if they are visiting destinations where buying multiple SIM cards would become an expensive endeavor.
I recently wrote an article analyzing the 7 Best Mobile Hotspots for Travelers like yourself, which should be an interesting read if pocket WIFI is something you are considering. I do reviews of individual devices every now and then, so check out my mobile hotspot category to stay up to date.
Getting an International SIM card for Traveling in Panama
International SIM cards are, as the name implies, SIM cards for international use. Well, that does not explain anything. Although most providers allow you to use your card abroad, some actually restrict this possibility. An international SIM card lets you go abroad without having to change SIM cards when visiting multiple destinations. They have been made with the traveler in mind.
All of this sounds lovely, but international SIM cards are much more expensive than local SIM cards in Panama. Not only that, some offer poor service as well for high rates. Some reputable companies I know are OneSimCard, SimOptions, and Surfroam.
International SIM cards are appealing to those who travel frequently or are visiting multiple destinations in one trip. Many countries in Central America require you to register before you can use a SIM card, which can be a hassle for some. Additionally, the language barrier may be off-putting to some travelers, which is why an international SIM card can be handy. You order it before you depart and can use it in various destinations.
My recommendation, however, is to get a local SIM card if you are only visiting one destination. If you are visiting multiple ones, an international SIM card could be handy. If you want to learn more about international SIM cards, check out my international SIM card comparison article, where I analyze 10 international SIM card providers so that you do not have to.
The Preferred Way to Stay Connected When Traveling in Panama
Getting a SIM card from +móvil would do you well when considering a Panamanian SIM card. Be sure to explore the roaming options your provider offers you, as they may offer free or cheap roaming bundles.
You could also consider getting an international SIM card or using a portable hotspot. International SIM cards are attractive for those visiting multiple destinations at once or within a year. Portable hotspots will be useful when traveling with multiple people so that not each individual has to get a SIM card but can use the hotspot.
Visiting other countries in Central America? Check out my Central America SIM card buying guide, covering other Central American countries, such as Belize, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua. Going to other places around the world? Then you should also check out my sim card buying guides for other destinations around the world.
Next Steps to Enhance Your Travel Experiences
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Learn About Your Phone Travel Options
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