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Panama - Taxis

Panama City and other major cities in Panama are filled with taxis. It is one of the most popular forms of public transport there are and finding a taxi is relatively easy. Taxis that are not being used will honk at pedestrians in an attempt to get a fare. Rush hour is a little different in that most taxis are being used, but if you are an expat (and do not look like a native Panamanian) you will be given priority as is it widely considered that foreigners can be charged much more for taxi services.

Taxis in Panama City charge a flat fee of less than $2. If you pay more than that then you are being scammed, but as most expats have come from countries where fares are much higher they do not know any different. It is advised that you never ask how much the fare is but just hand over a couple of dollar bills, and make it clear that you are expecting change. Panamanian cabs do not have meters, so there will be nothing showing you what the fare should be, which also helps when they think they have an unsuspecting foreigner in the car.

If you are staying in a hotel in Panama it is advisable that you do not let the hotel’s doorman get a taxi for you. This will cost you a tip for the doorman and then the taxi driver will expect you to pay more than the going rate as the cab has been ‘arranged’ by the hotel. By simply walking a short distance from the hotel you can hail your own cab and it will cost you much less. If you are happy for the hotel to call a cab for you it is advisable to choose a firm yourself from the yellow pages and ask the receptionist to call them while you are there so they are not opting for their own overpriced service. There are many taxi firms listed in the phone book, so choosing your own might seem like a sensible option.

An alternative to hailing a cab in the street is to go to a taxi rank. These are usually located in busy areas, close to hotels and tourist attractions.

It should be noted that most of the cab drivers do not set out to rip people off, but if they have a customer who is prepared to pay over the odds for a taxi they are not going to stop them. In this situation it is best not to be intimidated and just be firm about what you are prepared to pay.

Taxis in Panama are not regulated and it is fair to say that most of the cars are not in the best condition. Tips for foreigners include looking for cabs that have the windows rolled up as they tend to be fitted with air conditioning. The cars normally used as taxis are small cars, which will fit just 4 passengers at the very most.

For those who are moving to Panama on a long term basis should consider making use of taxis rather than buying a car as the low cost of the fares can make it more cost effective than owning a car.

Some taxi drivers will have basic English skills but there are a lot that will not be able to hold a fluent conversation with an expat passenger, so basic Spanish should be a help, but if you can describe the area you want to travel to it will help. Some streets in Panama do not have names and you may have to describe the region and give the name of the building if you know it.

It is also handy to know that in Panama if you need to travel to several different places you can hire a taxi for an hourly rate of around $10. The taxi will take you where you need to go, wait for you and then take you on to your next destination.

Passengers in Panama taxis will generally have to put up with loud music although you can ask for it to be switched off. It is possible to take pets in a taxi, and most services will not charge extra for this.

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